From what I hear, flying into the Middle East isn't the easiest flight one can make -- or the shortest, for that matter. So common sense tells me that factoring in a New England snowstorm the night before my scheduled departure isn't the best thing for an already potentially treacherous journey into Kuwait. Naturally, it's January, it's New England, and it's snowing like it was during a certain Patriots vs. Cardinals game this past December (which we went on to win, 47-7). But I digress.
My Wednesday flight was to leave at 4:41 p.m. ET, headed to Washington's Dulles Airport, where I would meet the rest of my group and then head to Kuwait, a 12-hour flight ... a 12-hour flight (Gilligan anyone?). As expected, that flight was cancelled and I was then booked on a 2:38 p.m. departure. The problem was that I got wind of this change at about 12:30! Considering I live just under an hour away from Logan Airport, I wasn't very optimistic about making this flight in light of the distance, traffic, and the conditions. It's one thing to play really well and beat the eventual NFC Super Bowl representative 47-7. It's another to trek from my house to the airport and make a flight ... an international flight at that! Well, long story longer, by the grace of God, I made the flight and was able to meet the group and fly together. Which is good, because I wasn't all that thrilled at potentially flying into Kuwait alone.
Our group consists of Jody Pucello, the tour leader, Josh Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, retired offensive lineman Willie Roaf, and three Oakland Raiderettes: Ariel Ogilvie, Jovann Canada, and Meena Shams. I hadn't formally met any of them prior to this tour, other than playing against Josh as well as the Raiders... and beating both teams, I might add!
Seriously, it is great to be part of such a trip with a group of guys/gals that are down to earth and fun to be around -- even though Willie is terrible at dominoes!
We arrived in Kuwait after a long flight, got our bags and headed to our base. We pretty much laid low at that point, resting up for our first day of meet-and-greets with the troops.
Our first day had us going to two bases to sign autographs, take pictures and just hang out with the men and women serving there. Just walking around here is enough to make one appreciate what we have in the U.S. as well as what the troops do to ensure that. My brother is in the Air Force and I've talked to him while on various deployments. I've spoken with troops stateside, but being here is a remarkable experience and one I will always cherish.
On a personal level, coming here is an example of the things I try to teach my kids. Gratitude, humbleness, etc., are all things I've experienced in my short time here. I got to sit and chat with a soldier who happened to be a life-long Patriots fan, and he explained how he would watch our games before departing on a mission and how watching us play would brighten his day. That's just one of the humbling conversations I've had, where a soldier tells me that what I do helps him when he willfully goes into harm's way! Unbelievable.
We were also invited to a naval base and were allowed to not only take a boat ride, but drive one as well! These boats were armored so you know I asked to shoot a couple rounds ... negative! Oh well, I did get a picture while standing behind it with a mean expression, as if I was about to shoot, so I can just embellish the rest! Getting to drive it was an experience in itself. The water was a bit choppy, so probably not the ideal learning situation, but going about 35 m.p.h. in these boats feels a lot faster than doing 35 in a car. I imagine driving on a still surface has something to do with that as well!
As our first day came to a close, I realized a few similarities in how the troops operate as a team and the way I do as an athlete. We both rely on others to ensure success and we both practice in anticipation of the "real thing." Even some of the smaller aspects like the joking that goes on in the shower area and cafeteria reminded me of Randy Moss' hilarious tales!
More to come...
Read Part II >>