This month the NFL is continuing its legacy of more than 40 years of sending players overseas to visit with U.S. military troops. NFL Director of Community Affairs David Krichavsky is accompanying three NFL players -- San Diego Chargers defensive end Luis Castillo, Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris and Carolina Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker -- and Sports Illustrated/NBC journalist Peter King on a weeklong tour to U.S. military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. As he has done before, Krichavsky will file a daily journal covering the trip.
Most people know Tommie Harris as the three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle for the Chicago Bears. To the men and women serving at Manas Air Force Base in Bishkek, Krygyzstan, Harris will forever be known as the King of Karaoke. Day 2 found Tommie entertaining the troops at Pete's Tavern at the Air Force base with a rousing rendition of Johnny Gill's "My, My, My" and "Love" by Musiq, while Peter King reported a story that he had long thought about from perhaps the last place he had ever thought he'd be filing it from.
The day also found Harris, Luis Castillo and Mike Rucker touring every facet of the Manas base, meeting with seemingly every one of the 1,000 men and women at the base. With the extremely hospitable and informative Lieutenant Foy and Sergeant Flora as our guides, the guys visited the men and women at:
>> The command center where most of the logistics for OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom, our conflict in Afghanistan) are planned;
>> The medical facility and hospital where injured soldiers are treated; and
>> The airfield, where they saw a demonstration of how tanker planes refuel attack jets at high speed at 21,000 feet.
Nearly every service member the football players met expressed tremendous gratitude that the guys would travel halfway around the world to say thank you. As Air Force Sergeant Peckham of the "West Coast Tankers" unit from Fairchild, Wash., said, "This visit is something that we saw on the calendar and have really been looking forward to for a long time. It's not like we get to meet NFL players often, and for them to care enough to come here ..."
The highlight of Day 2 was definitely the evening gathering at Pete's Tavern, which began with a traditional meet-and-greet during which the players signed autographs, took pictures and chatted with the troops for almost an hour-and-a-half. It is quite impressive how the football players and the soldiers form such natural bonds and have such effortless conversations -- whether the dialogue is about what it is like to sacrifice for a team or the latest free-agent signings around the NFL.
Following the meet-and-greet, Peter King moderated a roundtable conversation with the three players and the group took questions from the audience of 150 or so air-men and women in attendance. Some of the highlights:
>> Luis Castillo's favorite player to sack? Tom Brady.
>> Tommie Harris' most difficult player to tackle? Fellow University of Oklahoma Sooner Adrian Peterson.
After the roundtable, the lights went down and the music went up. Karaoke Night had begun. It was at this time -- and just before Tommie took the mike -- that Peter stepped away to check his e-mail and learned that 12 minutes earlier the wire services had reported that Brett Favre was retiring.
Peter has reported on Favre's career for years and has enjoyed a good relationship with the Packers legend. Within minutes, Peter was interviewing Rucker, Castillo and Harris on what it was like to play against Brett, listening to air-men from Wisconsin tell their favorite Favre stories, and e-mailing his editors back in New York.
By 1 a.m. local time in Kyrgyzstan (12 noon eastern time), Peter's story was filed and he joined the rest of the group in retiring to our bunks to get at least a few hours of sleep before our zero-five hundred wake-up call.
Brett Favre might be retiring, but the NFL-USO tour is just hitting its stride.