Day one of my USO tour comes to a close.
Ty and I were talking at dinner tonight and we were both trying to come up with one word to describe the day. My first one was surreal, his was humbled, then I threw out admiration, he came back with respect.
It truly was all that. We had a chance to see all the things you don’t read about and the men and women we met today said as much.
The most important piece of this post though will come near the end. Since Ty isn’t here yet I don’t have the write ups, but we met and spoke with soldiers who we asked for names and a message home. At the end of this post I will post their name, rank and message home. But I’m waiting for Ty to arrive and he could have passed out already.
The morning started with two wake up calls, both of which I was already up for. Tough night of sleep but the morning went great. We ate at the restaurant in the hotel (The staff has been phenomenal and the service exceptional) and it featured the best buffet I’ve ever seen. Every piece of food was cooked as if it was the only thing being served.
As we were heading downstairs I was thinking about eggs, bacon and suddenly realized Pork is a meat with significant religious implications over here, so I didn’t ask. The food was great though.
We started at 0800 and our first stop today was Camp Arifjan. It was about a 40 minute drive and we were briefed on the way in. First item on the agenda was a meeting with Garrison Commander Lt Colonel Pendergast. This man was a hundred times more accommodating than anyone could or should have expected given his schedule and he briefed Ty and I on the mission inside Kuwait for the US Armed Forces as well as some of the methods and logic behind what was happening over here.
We exchanged Q&A for the hour and I know Ty and I left there a lot more informed and a lot more respectful (if that was possible) of the mission these men and women are on.
So we spent a good while at Camp Arifjan saying hello to the men and women serving there. It was beyond awesome. The hardest part was hearing them, to a person, thank me. It was, and no disrespect intended, incredibly uncomfortable. These men and women are over here, lives on the line 24/7, thanking me for flying over to say hello. Isn’t it supposed to be the exact opposite?
The first set of hello’s back home are:
SFC Alan Currie to his son Austin Currie who is a huge Diamondbacks fan!
SGT Ward Baker to his mother Cindy Courtney (Also a HUGE D-Backs fan!)
SFC Comeau says hello and he misses you to Brian, Ryan and Peyton!
Also a HUGE shout out to Sgt Mark Ansbro who missed the meet and greet because he is on a mission at this time. Hello Mark sorry we missed you and hopefully we’ll see each other over the next 5 days.
We had a blast. The true highlight of the day came at the end. We got a chance to meet and say hello to the 1st 134th Field Artillery Ohio National Guard unit. It was awesome for 2 reasons. The first was that I got to hold an automatic weapon called “The Saw” for the photo, and it was cool as hell.
The second was that these men and women were headed home, literally, in about an hour. They were on the final day of their tour and are in flight right now. They were obviously geeked up and excited and it was an awesome sight to behold.
This is a picture of us leaving the base. By the way, the three letter acronyms were flying early and often. OIF, OEF, DMZ, ABC, XYZ, you name it. If it was more than one word it was broken down to 2 or 3 letters. They must save MILLIONS of man hours talking like that. Problem is if you aren’t ‘in the know’ you are hearing the alphabet, in really bad order…
Foe security reasons I can’t publish many photos right now. They’ll come later along with the video ‘blog’ Ty and I are doing while here.
So we headed to the naval base for our next stop. Oh, one more thing. We were allowed to have lunch at the cafeteria while at Arifjan and had the pleasure of sitting with some big time Sox fans. So the second “Hello back home” messages are from:
Sgt Gauthier to his 1 year old daughter Mada, and wife Stephanie “Love you both and miss you very much, will see you soon”
PFC Quinn to his mom Robin and dad Dale “Wish you a Happy Holiday, miss you and Love you”
Spc Moscillo to Jeanette and Robert Ouelette “Love you and will be home soon”
So we arrived. (One other cool highlight was watching the big rigs bring in a load of Bradley Fighting Vehicles as we left Arifjan)
We met with the ranking commanders of the units. Had a chance to talk to them and take pictures and then it was off to the docks.
Yep, we spent the next hour riding in a 25 and 34 foot patrol boat around the Persian Gulf.
A few highlights.
It was quite obvious the two gentleman driving the boats were from the south, accent and all that, you know. What WASN’T obvious was that these two men were quite obviously NASCAR fans as well….
The first 10 minutes were spent PROVING to us that “turn on a dime” was a literal thing when referring to their boats. We were also briefed before hand that any time they would turn hard right or left, they’d call out “Hard right” or “Hard left”. Well that first ten minutes we heard nothing. I am convinced there was a thought that they might get one of two things accomplished:
1) Throw one of us in the gulf
2) Have one/both of us puke
After ten minutes of neither happening, the kind sir piloting the 34 footer says to Ty “You ever ride a roller coaster?”, Ty says yes, he responds “Did you like it?”, Ty says yes, “Cool, hold on”…..
Now a few things pop into my head simultaneously. First off what the hell had we just done for ten minutes if it wasn’t as close to a roller coaster as you could get a boat to perform? Next was “Damn I wish we hadn’t eaten before this ride”.
About 10 seconds later we hear our first “Hard Right” and I’ll poop you not he meant it. The 34 foot boat was pretty much on its side, and I mean that literally. Oh and it was still moving nicely thank you.
That was quickly followed by “Hard left”…. You get the picture.
I should also add that during the brief they told us “You and the boat” meaning one hand on you, and one hand on the boat AT ALL TIMES. About 20 feet out of the dock waterway you knew why. My ass would have been swimming 10 seconds into this trip if I wasn’t white knuckling the boat with both hands. Oh and they told us “Don’t lock your knees, semi bend to squat to make sure you can move with the boat”.
Ty cramped I think as he basically did a 1 rep set of squats for 30 minutes.
We then swapped boats and got onto the 25 footer. The only ‘perk’ this one added over the other was it was ‘armed’. Twin M60s port and starboard with a loaded .50 cal up front (complete with Uranium tipped armored piercing shells). Not going to lie, I was PRAYING they’d ask me if I wanted to shoot it. Best I got was some Chuck Norris like poses while manning the weapon. I can’t imagine they weren’t a little nervous at that sight.
And without further ado, here is that photo!
The trip ended with us back on the 34 footer heading into port. The gentleman commandeering the boat passed by an active, on-patrol boat with what I had to assume were his friends since he basically did a ‘half doughnut’ on them, leaving their boat and parts of the crew a tad wetter than they had been.
All in all an awesome experience with a fantastic group of men and women as well as a new found respect for the term ‘turn on a dime’.
Our day ended with another meet and greet at the camp movie theater. I sincerely apologize for forgetting the young ladies name I met there, she was a die hard Sox fan. She also gifted me with her units Challenge Coin (an incredibly big deal I was completely aware of before getting here, which is why I brought my own coin and one for Ty). She was super nice and incredibly excited, something I tried to explain to her that 10 minutes talking with my wife would cure that ‘amazement’ thing.
We were done around 4:15 and the day was over, or we could hang out and be allowed to dine with the men and women in the mess hall for dinner at 5. Not going to lie, one thing I had heard about our Armed Forces was that in theater they eat well, EXTREMELY well, and they do.
So once again we had the opportunity to dine with the fine men and women and shoot the breeze for an hour. It was a blast and I promise you I enjoyed the experience ten times more than anyone there did.
All in all a pretty flawless day. With one, well two exceptions. The first was our flat tire.. Ya, we had a flat about 10 minutes outside the city.
Now normally that would be no big deal, but there were some ‘different’ circumstances. The first one being I’d elected to wear my US Army camo top, and was now standing on the side of the road, in a country in the middle east, with a camo top on. The second was the traffic. I am assuming due to the priority list on security issues over here that speeding tickets fall somewhere between loitering and exposing yourself in importance. I say that because there was no shortage of folks driving at speeds usually reserved for the oval at the Brickyard 400 or Daytona National. I don’t imagine there are many ‘fender benders’ over here, especially when you combine that with the fact that child seats are literally non-existent and I think Ty and I were the only 2 HUMANS in the country wearing our seat belts.
So in closing I want to extend a heart felt thank you to the men and women serving at Camp Arifjan, and everyone for their incredible hospitality as and respect today, it was and always will be a highlight of both Ty and I’s lives.
Going to try and grab some z’s, it’s 8:45pm ,feels like 3:45am and I need to be up FAR AHEAD of sunrise tomorrow.