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USO Tour Day 5, winding down…

December 6, 2008

Just incredible. Another day spent at bases around Iraq talking to men and women of the US Armed Forces. The day started early…

Sunrise at Saddams Palace in Baghdad

Sunrise at Saddams Palace in Baghdad

We were up and moving at dawn. Nine different hops today to eight bases with a stop off to meet the brilliant men overseeing this world changing event.

Sully, Staff Sergeant Greene (who re-enlisted indef last night, which I mention because she requested my participation in that ceremony when we arrived, which I was obviously honored to do) and Ty and I were off and running.

The Three Musketeers ride!

The Three Musketeers ride!

We had the honor of being joined today by a soldiers soldier. Major Donahue of the 4th Infantry Division was appointed to assist us in and around Baghdad for the remainder of the tour and this guy was just nails. On point and flawless execution of every detail (although there was one slip up which I think he wanted to discharge his weapon on someone over, which I won’t lie, was fun to watch!)

Major Donahue, 25th ID HOA!

Major Donahue, 4th ID HOA!

The only cooler person I met wearing a 4th Infantry Division patch was their Commander, 2 Star General Hammond. This was an absolute honor and the man did not disappoint. The mark, for me anyway, of any good leader is his passion for the people in his unit, and this man had it in SPADES. From the second he opened his mouth you could literally feel his commitment to the men and women serving under him. My first thought upon hearing him speak was “General Patton”. A passionate devoted man who I imagine the men and Woman serving in this unit are proud to serve. He mentioned their brothers and sisters lost in combat in this campaign and you could see and hear that these people were his family. A true honor to meet this man and stand in his company. Oh and you want to know why 4th ID does it’s job? This motto in combat “ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK”….

I had a thought after I met him that really hit home with me. The words “hero’ and ‘warrior’ and ‘combat’ are used far too often and far to callously in sports, always have been. These men and women I think feel every bit as uncomfortable when we talk about them in that fashion as well because you KNOW they don’t feel that way, they feel like every true soldier to wear the Stars and Stripes feels, they are doing ‘their jobs’.

But today another word became much more clear to me. Soldier. It’s a word that has far less impact than it should. This man, and the men and women in the room, and the men and women we’ve met, that’s what they are in every sense of the word. True Soldiers on a just mission doing the right thing. You cannot understand the reality of this place and these people without seeing it. What I’ve read, what I’ve seen, is not what’s happening.

To a person they believe in their mission. Not because it’s what they’ve been ordered to do, but it’s because they know for an undisputable fact that what they are doing is right. It’s honorable, it’s just, it’s a mission that absolutely must be done, and they are doing it. Not only that, but they are doing it far better and far more than any of us knew before we got here. Would they rather be home? Hell yes, I think most would. But they also believe in what’s happening here. We’re winning. By that I mean it’s working. Iraq is on the cusp of becoming it’s own self governing, self securing, self sustaining country and it’s working because the people of this nation are seeing that life is not what many of them have been living for the past 40-50 to 100 years.

They are starting to care about each other, care about their homes and care about their country. If the men and women of Bucca continue to succeed, and the men and women in theater do the same, this nation is heading quickly to a time and place where their country will be able to move forward to a place where men, woman and children will flourish educationally, socially and economically and those same innocent people don’t have to live their lives, or die, on the whim of an egotistical maniac.

It’s a life changing thing to witness. A FOB we visited today is in a town that after the initial conflict had 4,000 citizens in it, down from over 50,000 before the war. US and Allied Troops have integrated FOBS all over and are living and working on a daily basis with the cities people and government and that same city, once at 4,000 people, is now over 40,000 people.

I call that a win. They know it’s not over yet, not by a long shot. But they are winning and they are doing so because I think the people of this country have seen that thing we have all known to be true. Every human being on this planet is born with inalienable rights, and no one has the right to take that from them, no one.

So anyway, we were off…

Our birds are ready to go....

Our birds are ready to go....

We're off and Sully is now "ON" or "HOT" as they like to say...

We're off and Sully is "ON"

The day would see us hitting eight different FOB’s (Forward Operating Bases) that were manned mainly by 2/14 Air Cavalry units. A mix of 4th and 25th Infantry Division men were manning their posts and on mission all day long.

The highlight in the field today was a deployment ‘outside the wire’ meaning our LZ was in an area not inside the safety of an FOB. We hit the ground, Sully, Major Donahue and SSG Greene were off the bird and met by a six-man assault team providing cover as we debarked. These guys were dead ass serious, safties off and ready. The door gunners were in support as we made our way into the FOB but it was about two minutes of intensity that I wasn’t expecting. In as respectful a way as I can say it this was just cool as hell, watching these people do their jobs.

The FOB we dropped in on had had an incident four days earlier when someone assaulted their position with a hand grenade. The tower glass showed some effects of the incident, one I am pretty sure saw them losing.

I got my first close look at the “Stryker”, a behemoth of a vehicle being used inside the city to patrol. On the way there a WWF match broke out…

I think the dude on tops wins....

I think the dude on tops wins....

One big bad ass machine…

Ty's too cool to even acknowledge me snapping the pic..

Ty the cool guy...

Now this version of the Stryker features a fully controllable turret mounted .50 caliber MG. This is cool for many reasons, not the least of which this is how you stay safe, and kill bad guys…

Would you 'swerve' knowing I was painting you?

Would you swerve knowing I was 'painting' you?

You handle the gun via joystick. Oh by the way, the gunner gives me the ok to handle the MG, and about 15 seconds later says in a rather loud voice “Oh! Don’t pull that trigger!”… I’m thinking that’s information I needed BEFORE I grabbed the joystick (needless to say the gun was saftied at that time anyway, but I didn’t know!).

Traversing the turret as they gave me a ‘tour’ of the surrounding neighborhood. They showed us three former ‘hot spots’ where they had bad guys present. Two of those locations were marked with 50 cal “autographs” all over, the third was a building so shot up by the gun it had collapsed.

These men also ‘taunted me’ into pitching. I have not thrown a ball in about 6 months. Not to mention I had surgery in between to detach my bicep. It ended up OK since no one got hurt, but next time around I’ll be ready for it.

I apologize for not remembering which of the first 2-3 stops it was but Cpt Polak of the 25th Infantry Division, as we are departing, leans to me and says “I want you to have this” and hands me his combat side unit patch, off his uniform. “A lot of blood has been spilled for this badge and I would be proud to give you this”. Ya, how do you respond to something like that? The 25th ID insignia is a lightning bolt, they go by Tropic Lightning with a Hawaiin’esque hand sign, one I am proud to say I learned quickly (in no small part to the big Samoan providing organization and security during our tour here).

Wearing it proud...

Wearing it proud...

So we hop to and fro all morning and below are shots of some things we did. One of my other goals was to get as many shirts and hats from units over here as I could. I always wear this stuff on TV when I can and these folks love that. My prize hat today came from Aaron Dorazio of the 2/14th Cavalry, who handed me their unit hat, and signed it as well.

I also received their coin, a poker chip, which I have learned is a highly sought after item!

So here are shots of our travels and stops in the early part of the day.

Another stop incomming!

Another stop incomming!

Sox Nation is EVERYWHERE!!!

Sox Nation is EVERYWHERE!!!

On our way...

On our way...

Over Baghdad

Over Baghdad

Air Cav HOA!

Air Cav HOA!

Over Baghdad, again...

Over Baghdad, again...

Cheer up Greenie....

Cheer up Greenie....

A fraction of what it takes to supply this Army...

A fraction of what it takes to supply this Army...

About mid-day I was on a visit and allowed honor of viewing a field commendation ceremony. Specialist Fears was presented with a Field Commendation in front of his unit, and damn was that cool to watch. The boys were justly fired up at the end and it was another example of just how crucial every facet of an operation this huge is vital to success.

Let's get moving boys, birds are waiting...

Lets get moving folks, birds are waiting!

Damn these helmets suck.... Ty you look stupid!

Damn these helmets suck.... Ty you look stupid!

Mid day it was time for the cool part for us, and stress for the men and women towing us around. Seven stars worth of generals were being visited at Saddam’s former palace grounds, and there was lots of co-ordinating to do around those three schedules. Something went awry as we spent 30 minutes basically playing “Where’s Waldo?” in two Blackhawk Helicopters. Major Donahue got things straightened out and we were set to meet General Odierno, the Commander of all Military Forces in the Theater.

The tip off on what this man was like was the fact that to a person everyone we spoke to him about used works like “incredible”, “Awesome” and ‘Phenomenal person”.

Here are some in flight photos leading up to that.

Saddam's "Palace" grounds..

Saddam

More....

More Saddam's pad....

More? Ya, less than a half mile away are people living in mud huts..

More? Ya, less than a half mile away are people living in mud huts..

So we touch down and enter the Command Center for Allied Forces in the Middle East and this is what we see…..

SWEET! Sox Nation running the show!!

SWEET! Sox Nation running the show!!

There are better pictures out there but basically a HUGE contingent of Sox Nation is holed up at the CC.

This would have been great except this guy…

Is a DIE HARD YANKEE FAN!!!

Is a DIE HARD YANKEE FAN!!!

Ya, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces is a life long die hard Yankee fan. Something I might have held against people of lesser stature, but he was so damn cool and so damn nice it was impossible. He and his staff went out of their way, at a time we should have been the least of their concerns, to make us feel welcome. He also presented me with his “Coin” which I assume trumps all right? Isn’t his coin like the King on the Chess Board???

After his gracious reception we met General Hammond and ended the day meeting General Allyn, a HUGE Sox Fan and another great guy. General Allyn is the MNCI Chief of Staff in Iraq. We swapped Sox stories for a bit, got some photos…

That's me on the left.....

That's me on the left.....

After these meet and greets ended we were off to accomplish the 2nd thing on my “Sully list” of things I wanted to accomplish here: A TRUE High Fade…

.........um.....

.........um.....

There's still more to cut...

There's still more to cut...

High fade accomplished. Oh and the guy in the grey T blows things up, and then builds bridges....

High fade accomplished. Oh and the guy in the grey T blows things up, and then builds bridges....

After a quick haircut, and a bite to eat, we were off again. 3 more stops and the day would come to a close.

Major Donahue riding shotgun, and no longer ready to rip someones head off...

Major Donahue riding shotgun, and no longer ready to rip someones head off...

On the move again..

On the move again..

There's our buddy!

There's our buddies!

Still hanging!

Still hanging!

This sight makes a knot in your stomach flying over a war zone...

This sight makes a knot in your stomach flying over a war zone...

Our last few stops were with more men of the 2/14th Cav. We had a great time as we were able to hang out for an extended period of time with all these guys. I know there is a man named Ryker, wounded in action, who’s going to be receiving multiple ‘gifts’ from his buddies in 2 14 with the word “Ass” written on them….

Stryker makes a very solid background....

Stryker makes a very solid background....

Oh hell no Sully, anothe Samoan????

Oh hell no Sully, anothe Samoan????

Ty, now call sign "Penman" joins the gang...

Ty, now call sign"Penman" joins the gang...

Ty decides to be "that guy" as the Major and I try to bond....

Ty decides to be"that guy" as the Major and I try to bond and talk Sox!

Our last stop of the night came in the city I mentioned earlier. 2/14 had established a FOB inside a government building that was just gutted when they arrived. Today that building stands in the center of a city nearing it’s pre war population after the seen of intense fighting earlier this year, over 10x the population it had at the end of the initial Allied Offensive. Here are shots of the building and the team on the ground as well as two very special pictures for me. The blurry one in the bunk room came out bad which sucks, but these guys are HUGE HUGE gamers. They’ve rigged their X Boxes up so that eight guys in the platoon can play ‘Call of Duty’ together. This place is the definition of utility. These infantrymen are the masters of making something out of nothing and this was no exception.

No Fung Shwey at all...And ya I know that's misspelled...

No Fung Shwey at all...And ya I know that

Here comes the gang...

Here comes the gang...

Settling in to BS for a bit.

Settling in to BS for a bit.

Down here chatting for awhile, hearing the FOB commander talk about their interaction with the Iraqi police and Iraqi army was inspiring. Great things are happening and it’s just fantastic to hear. I turn around and am introduced to Sgt Mortada Rahm Mozel Fleh….

Hanging with Mort!

Hanging with Mort! And he's got a Sox lid on BACKWARDS!!

Not long after that he comes back and offers me a small ring, almost like a pinky ring until I am told about the game. Basicallty the troops when out on patrol engage in a game of hide and seek with this ring and adults in the community. You put the ring in a hand and the opponent tries to pick the hand, As the holder of the ring your job is to bluff as best you can. The kids play this game for hours with the soldiers.

Soon after this some senior officers arrive and we get this one..

Mort representing Sox Nation!!

Mort representing Sox Nation!!

The "Love Tunnel".....

The"Love Tunnel"...

I’ll let that one hang for awhile. SSG Chris Sheeran and his bunk mates in the “Rat Pack” have the MTV Cribs pad of Iraq. This place is the coolest setup we ran across. If they’d let us, Ty and I would have crashed here tonight. Gamers all, and HARDCORE ones at that, there’s nothing they can’t setup!

If ANYONE wishes to spend some money to pick up gifts for the guys in this platoon this holiday season I’ve got a list of things to grab for them, starting with a Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleader Calendar and moving onto PSP’s and games for them (these guys network up to play COD4 and many other EA games that I know of!).

The PSP’s get run into the ground during down time, and they play tons of stuff…

A special shout out to Peter Moore and his Executive Asst. Ms Tana Billingsley, Peter is a GREAT friend and fantastic person who’s helping reach out to the 2/14 and help make some of this happen.

Our last stop before heading out to our billet was Saddam’s ‘Wedding Reception” building… Really? Isn’t a wedding reception a place you hold your ONE wedding reception after you get married?

Check this out….

Al Basrah Suite...

Al Basrah Suite...

The "john"

The"john", well one of them anyway

Some bad images but you get the idea right?

Some bad images but you get the idea right?

Dinner anyone?

Dinner anyone?

Ty drinking a "Dew" with all his friends...

Ty drinking a"dew" with all his friends...

The "foyer"

The"Foyer"

Entry way "lighting"???

Entry way ceiling

So ya, this man built what amounts to a million, well LOTS of million dollar huge palacial building, for a wedding reception? Go figure..

The day was ending, and what an incredible day it was. We headed off to find out lodging and call it a night. It’s 0315, and I am wiped. I’ll likely write up a summary of this entire experience on the flight home on Monday. Need a few days to recover from the 7 days of adrenalin.

To the men and women we met today, thank you all!

God Speed and God Bless

16 Comments leave one →
  1. December 6, 2008 8:30 pm

    Good stuff!!!
    And now, you’ve seen in depth, first hand — how our efforts there have worked.

    Unbelieveable those shots of flying over Baghdad!
    I could never do it. Mostly because I will never, ever, EVER go in a helicopter. That’s one of my biggest fears. But I digress….

    Memories of a liftime – both for you, and the soldiers that you spent time with.
    Good on you! 🙂

  2. December 6, 2008 9:34 pm

    If you get over to Dubai, look up Mobile Security Squadron 6 (MSRON 6). While my wife is a Yankee fan, I’m a diehard Sox fan and I think even she’d get a kick out of meeting you.

  3. Steve permalink
    December 6, 2008 11:59 pm

    Curt,

    CPT Polak is a friend of mine. I worked with his wife for the last few years and I’m sure he was thrilled to have you visit his unit. He is an incredible man, father, husband and I’m sure if you asked any of the Soldiers that serve under him an awesome Commander.

    Thanks for spending time with him and his unit. Seeing his name in you blog made is seem like he was a little bit closer to home!

    Thanks Curt, you’re doing great stuff for the troops over there….I think more then you realize.

    Steve
    Mililani, HI

  4. Stephen permalink
    December 7, 2008 1:15 am

    Curt,

    It was awesome seeing you here at Al-Faw! All I want for Xmas is you back in a Sox uni and on the mound. I had a picture of the Calvin and Hobbs character peeing on some Yankee symbols and Curt signed it. I told him that I hoped it didn’t offend him (hahaha) so he took it back from me and wrote “P.S. I endorse this message!”

    Grew up listening to the Sox games on a transistor radio in Maine. Seeing one of the guys who brought the title back to Beantown in Iraq and getting that picture signed is a memory I will never forget!!!

    Everyone over here thanks you for taking the time to actually come out here to meet us. Christmas came early for us this year!!! Safe travels home and we look forward to seeing you play soon…

    Stephen
    Round Hill, VA

  5. Mike Donahue permalink
    December 7, 2008 2:16 am

    Curt,

    Come on, I thought I kept my composure on the air craft pretty good. Well, maybe not that good.

    Thanks for spending the day with us…best day I’ve had in uniform in 16 years. I know the Soldiers appreciated every second of it. You definitely expanded Red Sox Nation over here.

    Mike
    Baghdad

  6. Ken permalink
    December 7, 2008 8:49 am

    Curt-

  7. Ken permalink
    December 7, 2008 8:50 am

    Curt-
    If we wanted to get them gifts that you mentioned above, what address do we write them at?

  8. SSG Kelly Greene permalink
    December 7, 2008 9:05 am

    Curt and Ty,
    As you know, the experience with the two of you will never be forgotten by myself or for my husband, Charlie (the biggest Red Sox fan I know). Indefinite was a big step for us but traveling with you two all day sure made it seem like an easy decision. You brought smiles to the men and women we visited on those FOBs with a hat, a picture, the bathtub story or even a pitch… but most of the smiles stretched on their faces because you both respected them and the job that they do everyday without hesitation. In one day, we had the opportunity to visit places most people only imagine. Two Football fields – the size of the FOBs – with Strykers guarding the perimeter and only one platoon or maybe a company size element defending it’s concrete surroundings. I trust you will treasure your moments with those infantry soldiers and understand that your visit brought them the boost of excitement they never asked for or expected. Without them, our reports, memorandums, power point slides, uniform exchanges and even fancy dining facilities would be in jeopardy of destruction. They truly are the heroes you will remember. We are proud to serve and to know you support the troops!

    God Bless BOTH of you and I truly hope you send a bag of M&Ms!

    SMILE,
    Greenie

  9. Mitzi permalink
    December 7, 2008 5:23 pm

    Thanks for what you do for the troops, Curt. My boyfriend, in Iraq, is a die hard Sox fan and he was so excited to meet you! I just got the pictures today. You made his day! Thanks!

  10. Audrey Hildreth permalink
    December 7, 2008 5:47 pm

    Oh Curt. I am so sad that I missed you! Lol. I am here on Camp Slayer Baghdad Iraq, and somehow found out a day too late that you were here! Bummer. I am no longer in the military, served in the AF for 9 yrs, and am now a civilian contractor. I can’t say enough how awesome it is that you came out here and met the men and women in uniform. I’m originally from Leominster Ma and never miss a Sox game when I’m home. I actually sent you guys a signed flag from Kirkuk right before we won the series in 2004. I got a package back from the team, and I have to say it was one of the best days of my life! Thanks again for all you do! So sorry I missed ya!

    God Bless and Happy Holidays!

    Audrey Hildreth
    GO BO SOX!!!

  11. soxfanscott permalink
    December 7, 2008 7:58 pm

    Thanks for the enlightened look at the day to day challenges that face our troops.

  12. SoxSweepAgain permalink
    December 8, 2008 1:04 am

    Nice job, Curt.

    Although I’d like to see them all brought home immediately, nice job.

  13. JNC1991 permalink
    December 8, 2008 7:03 am

    After a long and exciting trip around the AOR Curt arrived at the pax terminal for his flight out. Still taking pictures and shaking hands he made the day, if not the tour, for several of my fellow airman. I came to read his blog, as he had directed one of the young troops, and was pleasantly surprised. You, sir, are a patriot and we thank you for taking the time to do this tour. As Curt found out on this trip, many not only serve because it is what they signed up to do, they believe in this mission. Some criticize President Bush for declaring “Mission Accomplished” 5 years ago…but I say to those people, how long was it after Hitler was toppled, how long after we declared our independence, how long after liberating Seoul did it take to rebuild and recover? The Iraqi’s in overwhelming numbers want what we have given them a chance to have and for their courage and sacrifice they deserve our best effort. Cut and run is not a winning strategy no matter how you slice it.

    Thanks to all of those who come out here to say thanks!

    Jason
    Baghdad

  14. Lucky permalink
    December 8, 2008 8:15 am

    I was lucky enough to be one of the members of the Red Sox Nation Baghdad Chapter to meet you at the NMC-I Hq’s (Al Faw Palace) at Camp Victory. In a time when many pro athletes are more worried about their next big contract and what records they can break, it meant so much to everyone to know that you would take the time to come to a very dangerous place to visit us. Its one thing to say you support the troops, but with you there is no doubt! There is a big difference between being a sports star and sports Hero… you are definitely a sports Hero. From the troops over here in the AOR… You are an American Hall of Famer!!!

    Lucky

  15. Charlie permalink
    December 8, 2008 7:23 pm

    Curt, I just want to give my sincere thanks for your visit, especially the time you spent with my wife, SSG Kelly Greene. Thank you for taking the time to be at her re-enlistment ceremony; I appreciate your description of being honored to participate–we both were. Your trip was resoundingly amazing from your blog descriptions. When Kelly called me after you visited the first day, she was so excited and overcome with happiness that she was talking a mile a minute. I didn’t think she would even be able to sleep because she was so ramped up. Take pleasure in knowing that your presence meant a lot to all that you visited and you lifted their spirits. Thank you for being so amazing to Kelly, your time with her will be a lasting memory for both of us forever. Thank you for being amazing to all the troops and giving your time to be with them so generously.

    And don’t worry; I have the M&M’s covered!

    Go ‘Sox.

  16. Regis permalink
    December 18, 2008 1:59 pm

    Thank you Curt for visiting Camp Waleed, my son is there and was thrilled to meet you and get his picture taken with you. He e-mailed a copy as soon as he could. I am sure you made his Christmas. I want you to know our family appreciates your generosity to the military and want to wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas. God Bless

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