DAY ONE: TRAVEL TO THE MIDDLE EAST
Flight from Los Angeles to Frankfurt to Kuwait
We met the tour group in Frankfurt, Germany at the gate to head to Kuwait. I had just been on an 11-hour flight from L.A. so I was tired but excited to go on this trip. It was nice to meet up with the guys and meet the USO team. I had just seen Cameron Jordan on a trip we went on to Israel, but it was the first time I met Byron Maxwell.
DAY TWO: ARRIVE IN KUWAIT
When we landed in Kuwait and walked outside, the first thing I saw was McDonald's. Crazy that in a country so different from ours, this was the first thing I saw. I of course had to get my selfie with Kuwaiti Ronald McD.
DAY THREE: CAMP BUEHRING, KUWAIT BASE VISIT
1300 hours: First day and I'm excited to head to Camp Buehring, (referenced by base leadership as "Scorpion Base").
We landed late the night before so I wasn't able to see anything out of the bus window until now. It's endless sand for miles and miles. Very different. We turned down this one road and there was just an entire strip of desert full of camels. We of course had to stop and meet these guys.
1400: Our first troop visit was awesome. We got out of the bus and there were hundreds of soldiers waiting for us. They showed us their tanks, Humvees and all sorts of other military vehicles.
I met Master Sgt. Woodward, who is in charge of one of the tanks that we toured. He was telling me about how he prepares the soldiers on his team and I realized how similar it was to football. Older, more experienced guys coaching younger ones. He was a leader and was taking the younger guys under his wing.
After he showed us the tank, he asked us if we wanted to participate in a re-enlistment ceremony. This is when a serviceman or woman decides to volunteer for more years of service. The unit lines up and each person repeats an oath. After this, they shake the Master Sgt.'s hand and then we were able to go down each line and shake their hands as well. We thanked them for their service and presented them with NFL Military Challenge coins.
1500: Commander's call. We got to meet the leadership of "Scorpion Base" and find out more about the strategic mission of the location and why Kuwait is part of the bigger puzzle that makes up the Middle East.
1700: Chow time at the DFAC (dining facility). We sat down with the troops and just got to hang out with them. We talked about everything from relationships, to missions, to what they did that day. It was cool to have time to just hang with them and hear about their day-to-day.
It means a lot to me to hear about why they choose to join the military. I'm worry free because of them. I don't have any fear that our country is going to be attacked because you see the training that's being done and hear their stories. They are ready to protect and serve. There are a lot of young ladies and males that are ready to give up their life to protect the country.
1800: After we ate, we walked outside and the USO had an NFL experience competition ready and waiting. The troops were pumped. They had a tug of war competition, relay and agility races, and a Humvee push race.
During tug of war, I realized I have never seen people so committed to working together like this. It looked exhausting but the troops never gave up and fought until the end and that just shows me the courage and the attitude that the guys have.
After the game we gifted a military unit with a trophy as well as a sports-themed USO2GO kit -- complete with a portable putting green, soccer ball, flag football gear, etc. The USO2GO program launched in 2008 and is designed to deliver much-needed electronic gaming, sports/musical equipment and personal care items to service members in remote locations to help them relax and recharge. To date, the USO has shipped more than 1,600 USO2GO kits to more than 1,000 remote locations around the world.
DAY FOUR: UNDISCLOSED LOCATION IN SOUTHWEST ASIA
1200: Lobby call. We are heading to an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia that due to operational security, I am unable to reference by name or location.
1400: We arrived at the base and were immediately welcomed by an officer named "Heat," who talked about the mission of the base and why they were there. Pretty crazy and felt pretty real after seeing some of the fighter jets.
1500: The Marines were welcoming and showed us their equipment and sent shout outs to their families back home.
1700: Chow time. We ate on the base at the dining facility with some service members. We just walked up to their table and sat down. While talking to them, I started to realize how young they are but also that they're in a similar place that we're in. They're just trying to figure out how to best play their role, and try to figure out their next steps.
1800: USO is back at it again -- "A minute to win it" is what they called the games. Similar to the night before, teams of service members competed in NFL-like agility races and a tug of war. It started out as a competition between branches, but the Marines killed it and got first and second place. These guys are built like tanks.
2000: After the games, we gifted yet another military unit with a trophy and a sports-themed USO2GO kit. We then participated in a USO meet and greet inside the local MWR center, where we took a lot of photos and signed autographs.
DAY FIVE: TRAVEL TO U.S. FIFTH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS
Landing in into this country was sweet. You could see the buildings light up from the sky. The city was lit.
DAY SIX: U.S. FIFTH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS
0900: An early start today, we are on our way to a U.S. Fifth Fleet area of operations, where we are going to get to meet more of brave servicemen and women who selflessly serve our nation's armed forces. During our tour stop, we all proudly wore our Force Behind the Forces USO T-shirts to show our pride for our heroes in uniform. The shirt is part of the USO's annual T-shirt campaign and was selected and voted on by thousands of service members around the world from Afghanistan to Alaska. To learn more about the T-shirt and ways to join us in supporting troops visit USO.org/t-shirt.
1100: While onsite we learned how the bombs work into the overall mission and how they connect to the different planes. These bombs were huge -- 500 pounds, 1,000 pounds and 5,000 pounds.
Crazy to see these guys working on these things.
We also got to opportunity to attend another re-enlistment ceremony, and even assist with pinning on of a service member's new rank.
DAY SEVEN: TRAVEL TO OUR THIRD COUNTRY
DAY EIGHT: VISIT TO YET ANOTHER UNDISCLOSED LOCATION IN SOUTHWEST ASIA
1030: Lobby call.
1100: Got to see yet another re-enlistment ceremony. This soldier gave four more years to the service. When they re-enlist, they get to sometimes ask for something special for their re-enlistment oath. This guy wanted his boss to be in a bomb suit and wanted a robot there. I was cracking up. NFL players surprising him was also pretty cool I'm sure.
1130: Patriot Missile site.
We just got done seeing some defense missiles. They're basically missiles that will defend the base and surrounding areas if there were air strikes aimed at them. We got to see the whole set up, and how the whole operation works.
1200: Chow time with Army.
1300: Traveling to another base, we stopped to see the Tree of Life. This tree is in the middle of the Arabian Desert and somehow lives out here. It is full and green, with no water supply for miles. The locals say that if you pour water on it, you'll have a prosperous life. So I definitely did that.
1400: We went to another Patriot Missile site and here we actually walked up to the missiles and saw them up close. These things were HUGE.
1600: This base has Army, Navy and Marines on it. We went to meet with the Marines next. We met Maj. Albright, but he introduced himself as Spazz. He was the leader of the ACES Squadron. He showed us Harrier jets that his unit sends into the sky every day. They're these planes that are small, I barely fit in the cockpit. These Marines fly for hours and hours each day (8-10) and take part in all different missions. After seeing the jets, we went to their 'locker room.' Surprising how much it looks like a football locker room. The military really is a team like we are.
1700: Military dogs. The best. What these dogs can do is crazy. We got to meet two of them. One was an attack dog (German Shepherd) and one was a bomb-smelling dog (lab). You can adopt military dogs when they are done being in the military and I'm thinking of adopting one!
1730: Dinner at the DFAC again. A new one this time, run by the Navy. We talked with some Navy at dinner and they asked questions about our pregame rituals. I had to tell them about my socks, which I wear every game no matter what. Completely ripped, and my toes are coming through them, but can't mess up and not wear them.
We also talked to them about our meetings and weekend schedule before a game. Many of them didn't know how many meetings we have and that we have to stay at a hotel even for home games. It was cool to compare the meetings they have and how their policies and protocols work compared to ours. Once again, so many similarities.
1900: We did one last meet and greet at the base. We met the commander and thanked him for all that he does. It was then time to head out and head to the airport for our flight back to the States.
DAY NINE: TRAVEL BACK TO U.S.
I will never forget this USO/NFL tour. I can't thank all of the military out there enough for doing what you do. You are the ones that allow me to play football and all of us to play the sport we love. You are the ones sacrificing it all for us. You're the real heroes. Special thank you also to the USO and all of the military bases and sites we visited. It was so eye-opening to see what's important work is happening out here by our servicemen and women, and how it all works. I hope to go on another USO/NFL tour again. To learn more about the USO and ways you can join me in become a Force Behind the Forces visit USO.org/message.