PEARL HARBOR DAY

How ironic that our continuing tour of American military bases brought us to Hiroshima on the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This was a very special anniversary since the Society of Pearl Harbor survivors is being disbanded this year as most of the remaining men are into their 90’s. This is the last year that survivors will be brought to the site.

We arrived in Hiroshima on Tuesday night and immediately drove to Hiroshima Peace Park. As we made our way to the actual site of where the bomb fell, it was incredible that the entire city that was reduced to complete rubble was now a fully built modern city. At the park, the remnants of the 1 remaining structure stood at the edge as a memorial. Since the bomb hit the building but then dispersed outward in all directions, only the subject of the direct hit remained standing as a skeleton. I had a certain uneasy feeling standing at this memorial since I knew that it was our US army that had bombed this place and wondered whether the locals still maintained some resentment or anger. I guess there is a little truth to it since US army personnel are prohibited from entering the city on August 7th each year, the anniversary of the bombing.

We continued our travels and checked in at luxurious Kintai Inn on the Iwakuni Marine base. I guess for $30 a night, one should not expect the Plaza. We had a fully packed day on Wednesday and needed to get some rest.

Our day started at 6 am, where most of the Marlin group ( I will not disclose who didn’t answer the bell) joined the Marine Wing Support Squad 171 in their morning physical training. It was dark and chilly when we arrived but felt so exhilarating going through the same routine of calisthenics, stretching, running in formation with the appropriate cadence and chant along with the full company of marines. We did not have to worry since there was a medic ambulance with us the whole time.

Our next stop was the Combat Logistics Company 36. This company had guys who had performed many tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and were the first to arrive and last to leave the devastated area in Northern Japan hit by the earthquake and tsunami. There support of the relief efforts is that area were critical, but unfortunately, many of these soldiers were exposed to high degrees of radiation.
After a brief Q and A with all of us, the Mermaids agreed to do a quick improvised dance session for the group. They prepared in less than 10 minutes and were ready to go, but we couldn’t find a boom box for the music. One of the Marines drove his car into the hanger where we were siting and blasted out the music from his car stereo with what seemed to be 5000 amps. The girls were great.

We headed over to a demonstration from the unit K-9 group. We were fascinated how they were able to train their dogs to attack if necessary, to sniff out explosives and contraband and to be able to search in difficult places. We were completely safe, or so we thought, during the presentation behind a barbed wire fence. After the presentation when the Marines came out with their dogs on leashes for some handshaking and autographs, the meanest most ferocious dog in the group, completely unprovoked, attacked Ashley. Ashley, who can be pretty tough herself, subdued the German shepherd in seconds.

After lunch we rejoined the group who we had participated in PT at 0600. This group was responsible for driving and maintaining the fleet of heavy equipment used in their ground operations. The older guys with more than 25 years experience described how much improved the equipment has become over the years. Now they actually had cabs with AC and heat, night vision screens and sophisticated radar and navigation systems. Although the fleet is well maintained, I was surprised at how rusty the inside of an armed transport could be with only 11,000 kilometers. I asked the staff sergeant if they rolled back the odometer to get a better resale value? He explained that the vehicle was new but when it is shipped from the USA by boat, the salt water splashes on the vehicles and it only needs a paint job.

Our next stop was with the Marine Fighter Attachment 242. Shockingly, the Marines maintain their own mini air force to support their ground troops. Historically, they have found it beneficial to have these disciplines under 1 roof since they speak the same language and have more confidence in each other. The pilots are a great group of guys who are flying around $60 million pieces of equipment at speeds in excess of MACH 1. Even more surprising is that these aircraft are serviced and maintained by 21 and 22 year olds . The pilots must maintain a huge level of trust and confidence in these youngsters. We climbed into the cockpit of an F-18 Fighter Jet and viewed the different type of bombs that are carried by the aircraft. Every pilot has a nickname given to him by his squadron. That name stays with him for life and it makes it easier for them to communicate in the sky. There are some cool stories behind each name.

We headed off to a park and baseball field where we spend the next 4 hours. The first 2 hours incorporated the players running a baseball clinic for about 40 kids ranging from 5 to 15, the children of service personnel. The kids had a great time and ended the day with a game of pickle. It was not a game that I had heard of but closely resembled my childhood game called running bases. One of us stood on each base, and we had to tag out kids who were running between all 4 bases. If you were standing on a base you could not be tagged but if you were caught between bases, you could be caught in a “pickle”. The last one standing was the winner. Meanwhile, the mermaids were doing what they do best, teaching about 30 girls a new exciting dance. The level of excitement and enthusiasm was breathtaking. When they were done, the girls performed a show and appeared as if they had been working together for weeks. Everyone then lined up for a massive autograph session.

Nightfall had rolled in, the temperature had dropped but the Miami Marlin group was still going strong. It was time for our group to participate in a softball game made of all-stars from the base’s 10 teams. Stanton captained 1 team assisted by Peterson while the second team was coached by Hayes and assisted by me. The captains picked their squad based on looks without any prior knowledge. The game was rolling along when the 4 of us decided to take an at bat for our teams. Petey hit first and grounded out to the first baseman. I was next and hit a deep towering fly to the wall in left field that was caught by Petey with a great leaping catch. ( The writer is allowed a certain amount of leeway). Then Hayes hit an absolute smash that went right through the Marine’s legs at third. We then reached the crescendo where big Mike came up. The entire focus was on him and the couple of hundred people in the stands were on the edge of their seats. Mike took a huge rip on the 20 mph slow pitch arced softball and was about a month early. This was then followed with 2 similar swings. The pitcher immediately took the ball out of the game and had Mike sign it. He was really good-natured about it. Hayes team ended up winning 21-1.

Mermaid Madness

Currently in the beautiful country of Japan, our experience so far with the Miami Marlins “troops visit” has been spectacular. Not only has the trip been a real culture shock, it also has been a true blessing to be across the world with such amazing men and women in the armed forces. With Captain John Gilleland by our side since day one, scheduling and planning the different meet and greets for the group, it has been a pleasure traveling with a marine himself. So far, the Miami Marlins players and Mermaids, along with front office personnel, have been to three different bases in Japan. “Yokota” Air Force Base, “Camp Zama” Army Base and “Yokosuka” Naval Base were the locations visited as of today.

At Yokota Air Force Base, there were three special events with the troops that we had the chance to participate in. We visited and toured the Yokota Fire Department, where we met a few men who greatly appreciated our visit. We mingled, and really got to see up front what it’s like to deal with fire emergencies and situations that occur. Another fun activity was a signing at the grand opening of an on-base Mexican restaurant called “Banzai Burrito”. There were many family members and children so excited to greet us there and it made us extremely happy to spend time with the actual family members who are out here in Japan supporting their relatives in the armed forces.

At the other two bases, the mermaids had the opportunity to teach two dance clinics and spend time with some young cheerleaders, and teen cheerleaders, from Kinnick High School. The girls and couple of boys were so appreciative of our presence at their school and had continuous fun with the dances we taught and performed. It was our pleasure to actually see what the children of the troops could do dance-wise. And it was even more fun to perform with them and make their day a special one.

On the naval base of Yokosuka, the best experience so far on the trip, was touring the enormous USS George Washington ship. The ship was incredible. It holds 6,000 men and women and can pretty much be called a “city on water”. We all had the opportunity to eat lunch and mingle with the navy on the ship. We were so happy to sign autographs for them and do something as simple as pictures and giving them Marlins apparel. They greatly appreciated us. I personally had a moment of shock on the ship because I actually reunited with a friend named Eddy from high school! It was so amazing to see a familiar face so far away from home, and to know that he was safe and well, fighting for our country along with the others.

So far, our experience on this trip has been like no other! It has been so great to greet the men and women in the troops at these bases. We appreciate them so much and can’t wait to continue this adventure overseas. Stay tuned!

Ashley

Semper Fi

So far on our journey we’ve visited an Air Force base (Yakota AB), an army post (Camp Zama) and a naval base (Yokosuka Naval Base). Although they’re all run with the military precision we’ve come to expect on this tour, they each had their own distinct feel, as if each branch of service has its own culture. Today, we visited yet another location in the picture puzzle that makes up the U.S. military presence in Japan. MCAS Iwakuni, located in southern Japan, is a small marine base with about 5,000 people (including families). We arrived after visiting Hiroshima’s Peace Park, a somber and sobering experience right in the heart of the city.
Being at Hiroshima’s ground zero on December 6 (just a few days before the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor), was a fascinating addition to the visit. Japanese students amassed in the park with their teachers and tour guides, reading about the A-bomb blast, and initially I worried if our presence would be unwelcome. In fact, the Japanese students cheered when they saw the Marlins players arrive, scrambling to take photos with them and the Mermaids while displaying peace signs and enormous, happy grins.

After visiting the memorial, we traveled to MCAS Iwakuni, where we met some of the warmest and most friendly people we’ve come across to date. We participated in physical training (aka physical torture – ha!) with Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, where we stretched, did some calisthenics and ran to some great chants, including one they created especially for the Marlins! Then we went on to Combat Logistics Company 36, where we learned about the vehicles and plethora of hi-tech equipment it takes to keep the U.S. Marine Corps up and running in the Pacific region. After that we were on to the Provost Marshall’s Office where we were amazed at the skill and patience that goes into training military K9 dogs. The handlers each showed us what their dogs could do, while helping us understand their goal is never to have to employ their dog as a means of force unnecessarily. Next up was a meet and greet with all the members of MWSS-171, where we met some very young marines (some as young as 19) who had assisted with the relief efforts in Japan after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami took place, often exposing themselves to high levels of radiation…but all proud to have served and helped the Japanese people after the disaster.

Last, but certainly not least, was VMFA 242, a marine fighter attack unit that flies F-18s. We got a briefing on the unit’s mission before stepping out to view the planes in the hangar and on the flight line. What a sight to behold! After donning a helmet and ear protection we were allowed into the cockpit for an explanation of the tools and equipment a pilot has within reach during a flight.
Each of these groups of marines couldn’t have been more gracious or more excited to see the Miami Marlins players and the Marlins Mermaids. They signed autographs, posed for pictures and chatted with the men and women while we learned more about where they call home, how long they’ve been in Japan, and how much they love America’s favorite pastime. There were definitely some strong loyalties to their hometown baseball teams, but it was all in good fun, and everyone enjoyed the visit immensely.

After all this excitement, Stanton, Hayes and Petersen hosted a baseball clinic while Ashley, Jackie and Stephanie taught a dance clinic for children of the marines stationed at Iwakuni. The looks on the kids faces while they got pointers on throwing and catching or learned a dance from the Mermaids was absolutely priceless.
But the highlight of the day for me came shortly after, when the marines all gathered to play a softball game at Penny Lake Field. We weren’t quite sure what to expect from the game, but when many of the marines showed up in full uniforms, we knew we were in for a treat. Master Sergeant Roy Whiteney, part of MWSS-171, introduced us to the group, and Stanton, Hayes and Petersen served as coaches for a softball game I will never forget. These marines taunted and laughed, cajoled and supported their teammates and opponents through seven innings of softball, and the Marlins players even took a few swings while the opposing teams heckled. From the marines on the field to the friends, families and co-workers in the stands, the feeling of family and camaraderie was palpable throughout the entire game.
I’ve never before felt that close to family with a group of total strangers, but by the time we left Iwakuni this morning I think we were honorary members. These marines embraced us with open arms, hugged us and thanked us for coming, and they couldn’t have been more appreciative of the effort made by the Marlins to come halfway around the world to visit them. I have family members who have served in every branch of service, but today I feel like an honorary marine. Thank you, MCAS Iwakuni, for your kindness and hospitality. It was an honor to meet each and every one of you, and thank you for your service and sacrifice. Semper Fi!

Jennifer Milikien
Public Affairs Director
Armed Forces Entertainment

Tokyo Conquered

Well Marlins fans, I have a lot to catch you up on since it’s been a couple of days since my last blog entry. I’m happy to report that we now have successfully completed our tour of the military bases in the Tokyo area. After all the fun and incredible activities we had at the fire and rescue station, security headquarters, youth clinic, and burrito shop grand opening on the Yokota Air Base, we headed down the road to see how the Army’s soldiers were living at Camp Zama. Because it was a Sunday, we didn’t have as many activities lined up out of respect for the soldiers’ day off, but we were able to interact with many of them at a meet and greet session we had at their shopping center on base. Just as it was with the airmen at Yokota, the soldiers at Zama were very excited to host the Marlins group on their base, talk some baseball, take pictures, get some autographs and free Marlins gear, and tell us their stories of service and sacrifice. This was again a humbling and extremely enjoyable experience for us.

Now, while meeting the soldiers was a great experience, I have to confess that one other memorable thing happened at the meet and greet. Yes, I’m talking love folks. To be blunt, I was struck by Cupid’s arrow. I mean absolutely taken and love struck from the moment I laid eyes on her . . . she was absolutely the cutest little baby girl I might have ever seen . . . American father, Japanese mother, both incredibly nice, and just the cutest baby ever. If Luis hasn’t uploaded the pictures yet, I’m sure he’ll get it posted soon so that you all can fall in love with her, too.

So, after I fell in love with this little girl, and her father absolutely refused to relinquish custody of her to me (lol), we moved on from our official duties at Camp Zama. That night, we had our first opportunity to get off base to check out some of the local culture. First we had a light dinner at the sports bar on the base and caught up on some of the college football and basketball scores from back home. That is where we met our soon-to-be tour guide for the night, and one of the more entertaining characters we’ve met on our trip so far. His name is Mike Larkin, but he specifically requested that we refer to him as “Mike Lowery” (based on the character from his favorite movie). Lol. What a guy. He’s been managing restaurants on the Japanese military base for more than 20 years and was like the unofficial mayor of the town who knew everyone.

So after getting to know Mike and asking for his recommendations on places for us to check out off base, he decided to invite himself on our outing for the night and serve as our honorary tour guide for the night. Hilarious. It was good to have him, though. Not only was he a constant source of comedy and jokes all night, but he also was a useful guide. We wanted an authentic experience for the night, so we decided to do it like the locals and, instead of hiring a van or taxi for the night, we schlepped it on foot, from our hotel to the base exit, then from the base to the local train station. Mike showed us the way and then helped us navigate the Tokyo train system – which is easily the most complex train and subway system you’ve ever seen in your life. They have like four or five different trains running on the same track and same color line, and about eight different train/color lines all weaving in and out of one another. It’s enough to make your head spin before you even get to the fact that IT’S ALL IN JAPANESE CHARACTERS, TOO!! Haa. So, suffice it to say, we would have been in some serious trouble but for our man Mike.

Once on the correct train, we made our way to a little town called Machida, which is like a little mini-Times Square and took in some of the local culture there. We all were pretty spent by that point in the evening though, so we didn’t stay long and made a short night of it so we could be fresh for our journey to the navy base in the morning.

On Monday morning, we journeyed down to what was an incredibly cool military base – theYokosuka Navy Base, which is the U.S.’ largest navy base in Asia. They have more than 25,000 people (navy sailors, family/civilians, and Japanese nationals) who live or work on the base!! This place literally was a full city, with its own shopping district, eight-screen movie theater, restaurants, etc. And, boy were the views beautiful out over the Tokyo Bay. The ships in the U.S. fleet there also were some kind of impressive. While we had a very enjoyable experience doing the baseball clinic with the Yokosuka base’s high school boys’ baseball and girls’ softball teams, and doing the meet and greet with the sailors that evening, the highlight of the day was touring the USS George Washington – the aircraft carrier docked at Yokosuka. Now if you want to talk about an impressive piece of machinery, you’re talking the USS George Washington! This ship is essentially a city at sea . . . it is several stories tall, the length of a 10-story office building, and has several different cafeterias & eating areas, and seven different gyms on board! This ship has everything needed to hold thousands of sailors at sea for several months at a time. Truly remarkable.

Seeing the flight deck and hearing the details on how the fighter jets take off and land on the carrier while at sea also was unbelievable. Given how precise and advanced these tactics are, it just makes you feel like what you do every day is just elementary level stuff – both in terms of complexity and importance. These sailors are at sea for months at a time keeping the borders of our territories and those of our allies safe, so we owe them an incredible amount of gratitude. And their sacrifice is especially great because they not only are stationed away from America for multiple years at a time on their tours of duty, but those stationed on the ship have to live on the ship at sea for several months at a time. You talk about being separated from your family and loved ones . . . Wow, what a sacrifice.

So the activities at Yokosuka wrapped up our official business for the Tokyo area. Even though we were dog tired, it was our last night in Tokyo before flying to our next destination, so a group of us decided to rally and made our way all the way into downtown Tokyo (75-90 min journey) for the night . . . and yes my friends I am talking Roppongi!!! I mean you can’t go out in downtown Tokyo and not go to the Roppongi district, can you?!? Lol. And let me tell you, it lived up to the advance billing. Beautiful, colorfully-lit downtown streets with all types of activity going on . . . restaurants, bars, lounges, shops, street vendors, etc . . . it was like Times Square on steroids! Just imagine Times Square, but cleaner and slightly more modern, then multiply the size by five . . . now you have Roppongi. And this was a Monday night, so I can only imagine how active it would have been on a weekend night. In any event, given our schedule, we weren’t up for the full “Roppongi experience,” but we did want a taste . . . so we found a nice authentic restaurant to enjoy some of the local cuisine (yes, that meant taking off the shoes and sitting on the pillows on the raised floor – which was pretty good). After dinner we popped in and out of a couple places then settled on a very cool New-York-style lounge called Vanity on the 13th floor of a building and had a breath-taking view of downtown Tokyo out of the large windows of the lounge. So we stayed for a bit then finally called it a night and headed back to prepare for our travel the next day. So that concluded our activities in the Tokyo area.

Given all that we experienced in our four days in the Tokyo area, it’s hard to believe we still have two-thirds of our trip still ahead of us. I can’t wait to see what our next stop has in store for us. From what I understand, we’ll have an opportunity to do physical training with the troops at our next stop, so that should be really cool. I can’t wait. So, please check back in a couple days for my next entry.

Again, I want to thank Armed Forces Entertainment (by the way – please follow them on Twitter as well (@armedforcesent), the men and women of the U.S. military, and the Marlins management for giving our group this incredible opportunity. It’s truly been the experience of a lifetime for all of us, and we hope we’ve been able to represent the Marlins family and general civilian population well and provide some joy and excitement for the service men and women we’ve met on the trip.

Derek Jackson: The Troops Visit Through A Lawyer’s Eyes

Alright Marlins fans . . . I know you’re ready for the report on our first full day in Japan! But since it’s my first time on the Blog mic, allow me to give you a quick recap of my journey to Tokyo and my initial impressions of Japan after arriving yesterday. First off the flight . . . I flew out of New York, and my flight to Tokyo was a clean 14 hours. That’s right, a full 14 hours . . . up over Canada, then over a whole lot of water, over the north pole, then down across the body of water that I believe is the Pacific Ocean at that point, then down over the Siberian mountains (yes, SIBERIA), then over more of the Pacific, and then finally into Japan . . .
The flight actually was very smooth and not as taxing as I expected. I had the Ipad loaded up with movies, books, etc. and surprisingly I never got around to watching one movie or tv show. I was so excited about the trip that I just knocked out some reading I had to do, then I just read about the places we would be visiting, the things we would do, and chatted it up with people on the plane – including our friendly flight attendants. I love learning people’s “story” (meaning how long they’ve been doing their particular job, how they ended up in that job, what their plans and hopes are for the future). Everyone’s story and journey through life is so interesting to me, and I think it’s a great way to connect with people and see how they view the world and see what brings them joy in life.
Japan . . . WOW is all I can say. The people are so nice, so respectful, and so friendly. I can see why people fall in love with this place and why many military officers and their families request deployments here. All of the locals seem so happy to have Americans here and are excited to interact with you. So even though the culture and customs are very different, the people really make you feel comfortable and welcome. Anytime we spoke to someone, they were incredibly warm and friendly . . . but always very formal and extra respectful. I also was blown away by how good everyone’s English is too. Just makes me feel like Americans are so far behind by not learning as many languages as other cultures. From what I saw of Tokyo yesterday I can also say that the people and the culture are very different from America. In many ways it felt and looked like any other big city in the world, but in many other ways it was entirely different and you could tell that you were in an entirely different part of the world!
Now on to today – our first FULL DAY in JAPAN. We stayed on the military base last night and spent most of the day visiting the troops, military families, and different operations on the base. What an experience. First, interacting with the military service men & women has been incredible. They are so happy to see us and so appreciative of our journey here to spend some time with them to see how they live and what they do to serve our country. Learning their individual stories also was fascinating and made us fully appreciate the sacrifice they are making for our country. In just today, we toured the fire and emergency response station and learned how they put out major fires in combat action and on base, and how they respond to accidents and other emergencies. They were so gracious to let us try on their fire suits and check out all their gear and facilities . . . and they even let Billy The Marlin climb on top of the biggest fire truck you’ve ever seen in your life! (Check our site for the pictures of that!) We also toured the security command center and learned about how they keep everyone on the base safe and protected. How thankful we are for them! We also did meet and greets with the military families at Chili’s restaurant and at the Grand Opening of a new Mexican restaurant that opened on the base today. Really interesting how all of the restaurants on the base are pretty much every type of food EXCEPT Japanese! At first it seemed weird and we all wondered where the sushi was, but then we figured it out. There is sushi (and other fine Japanese cuisine) ALL AROUND the base . . . I mean it’s TOKYO for goodness sake!
Now, while these experiences all were very cool, the highlight of the day was without question the youth baseball clinic this afternoon. We had about 40 kids ages 7 – 14. About half were U.S. military kids and the other half were some very joyous but very serious young Japanese little leaguers who came fully dressed in their little league uniforms and ready to show us how seriously they take baseball here in Japan. The Marlins players were great with the kids – Mike Stanton, Brett Hayes, and Bryan Petersen all were wonderful and gave the kids memories they will keep for the rest of their lives. After stretching the kids out and doing some drills with them, we split the group up into 4 teams and had a chance to see what they could do in game action. Let me tell you, this had to be one of the most talented groups of little leaguers I’ve ever seen! Both the American kids and the Japanese kids were smacking the ball ALL OVER the place. There were several home runs, a number of doubles, some very hard singles and a bunch of other hard hit balls. Sorry to rat you out – Bryan and Brett (the pitchers for the day)!!! Haa. The kids also flashed some great glove work in the game. So great to see the love for our American pastime like that.
I have to thank the Marlins players and Marlins dance team members for being so warm, friendly, and patient with all the kids and families who came out to the clinic this afternoon and at all the other stops today . . . taking time to accept every photograph request, engage in every conversation, and sign every autograph requested (even for Japanese names that it took them several times to understand and to have spelled out letter by letter). Also a big shout to Billy The Marlin who kept the kids in stitches all day!
Before I shut it down for the night, I have to give a big shot out to Armed Forces Entertainment for putting this trip together and allowing the Marlins group to enjoy this incredible experience for the 4th time. We are so lucky to have a chance to see this part of the world while also meeting the men and women serving our country over here and sacrificing their lives to keep us safe. Everything has been handled beautifully and run like clockwork so far. Some of that thanks also has to go to our boy Luis who has kept everything on track here and is doing a great job so far coordinating everything on the Marlins end. Man, I can’t believe we’ve only been here for a little over a day . . . I can’t wait for the activities and interactions of the next 12 days!
Until next time Marlins fans . . . Sayounara!!!

Part IV

So we begin. For those of you who may not know, the Marlins are about to embark, once again. The Organization and Armed Forces Entertainment are teaming up for our FOURTH TOUR together supporting our men and women who serve and protect our country. The first three visits covered the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Germany/The Balkans and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. This one will be visiting the Pacific: Japan, Guam and Hawaii, in 15 days to be exact. The attendees are listed at the bottom of the marlins.com/troopsvisit web page.

After a 5AM call time (my apologies to that) and tears in our eyes as we left our loved ones, we traveled more than 7,000 miles and 17 hours in the air. If it wasn’t for the gloomy weather when we landed, we would have seen the sun for nearly 20 hours! I met a couple of Japanese natives on the flight, and the one thing I was amazed at most was the number of times they travel from our country to theirs. They must love the U. S. of A!

Before I close for the day, I’d like to give a grateful thanks to Jennifer Milikien, Public Affairs Director for Armed Forces Entertainment, Captain John Gilleland, Circuit Manager of our tour from Armed Forces Entertainment and Atsushi Uchino (“Spike”), one of the coordinators from Armed Forces Entertainment who helped us begin our journey. Without them, the entertainment and support of the Miami Marlins and Armed Forces Entertainment would not exist.

So now the main objective begins. 15 days, 3 countries and 4,400 soldiers to visit. Our mission…To Show Our Support To Our Troops. I encourage every reader / follower to ask us any and every question they want an answer to relating to the attendees and the trip. Send your questions to troopsvisit@marlins.com and let us know who’s asking and from where! Ask everything from how much gel does Bryan Petersen put in his hair, to anything about all of our visits. We’ll let you know how Billy The Marlin’s new look and attitude is going as we debut Billy for the first time to the world as a Miami Marlin!

LET’S GO FISH!

Sincerely,

Luis Dones, Supervisor of Game Presentation & Events                                                                             XoxXoO

 About Armed Forces Entertainment: As the official Department of Defense agency for providing entertainment to U.S. military per-sonnel overseas, Armed Forces Entertainment and its performers have the honor of supporting soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines by bringing them the very best in American entertainment. Today, Armed Forces Entertainment hosts more than 1,200 shows around the world each year, reaching more than 500,000 personnel at 270 military installations. Musicians, comedians, cheerleaders, and celebrities of sports, movies and television are just some of the talented people recruited to perform for our troops. It’s their way of saying “thank you” for the sacrifices U.S. military personnel make during their tours of duty.

Saludos from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba(Day 1)

Hey Marlins fans,

Early this morning, Gaby Sanchez, Chris Volstad, Stef, Jen, and Carin from the Mermaids jumped on a U.S. Navy C12 plane and took off for Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.  This is the first visit for the Marlins down here and day one has been great.  First, on the way over here, Gaby and Chris took a turn at the wheel of the C12 sitting in the Co-pilot’s seat next to our Navy pilot.  These guys actually had a chance to “take the wheel” for a little bit and let’s just say we’re all glad to be safely on the ground. 

 

Once we arrived, we took a ferry from the leeward side to the windward side of the island where we got our first glimpses of Guantanamo Naval Base.  This is a 45 square mile area that houses about 6,000 folks from all the branches of our military.  We hosted a baseball and dance clinic at Cooper Field in the afternoon for the kids that live on the base.  This is the local recreation facility on the base where they have baseball/softball fields as well as a football/soccer field and a track.  Everyone was excited to see us and the kids were able to take part in some baseball drills with Gaby and Chris as well as learn a basic routine from the Mermaids.  After the clinic, we signed a few autographs and took some pictures with the families in attendance. 

 

Next up, Monday morning is PT(physical training) with the Marines.  Let see what kind of shape Gaby, Chris, and the Mermaids are in after that.  It’s very warm over here and it’s already close to 90 degrees by 7am!  It’s been great so far and very rewarding being able to come down here and thank these folks for all they do for us on a daily basis in serving their country.  On Monday we will also be going over to Marine Hill which is near the fence line that separates the base from Cuba.  Until next time…

Gre aus Kaiserslautern (Logan Morrison)

Germany has been a great experience so far. We had the chance to try a “doner” last night. It is similar a gyro but better.  And the French fries….better than McDonald’s any day. I would rate the “doner” above a chicken shawarma but below the lamb shawarma.  The food here is great. I will be hitting the gym hard when I get back this weekend in preparation for spring training but I won’t lie…I am looking forward to a traditional German meal tomorrow in Wiesbaden.

I can’t believe we are headed back to Miami in two days. It has been around the world in 8 days. I could not be more grateful for this experience. I know how much family means to a military brat since I grew up one while my father was in the Coast Guard. At each stop on this trip, it feels like we have made everyone very appreciative and happy for our visit.

The real heroes are the kids we had the opportunity to visit today at schools around Ramstein Air Base. While their parents are volunteers, the kids are not.  They have grown up far away from their parents and especially while in a foreign country.  It was awesome seeing them so excited to see us.  While visiting each school, the Mermaids performed for middle & high school students (and the young lads got pretty excited after the routine). The real star was Andre. He not only had moves on the field but he had them on the dance floor as well. It was much better than my performance (stayed tuned for video). Those new knees aren’t stopping him from getting down on the dance floor.  I think he could make it through a few rounds in Dancing with the Stars.

We hosted another baseball clinic with a youth baseball team. We had a potential prospect on our hands until he threw the ball about 20 feet away from me and hit an Air Force Captain. He still has a few more years to develop but he might be there some day.

At The Exchange store, we conducted an almost 2-hour autograph session and met over 300 people. It was great! Afterwards I finally got to hit the gym. I am looking forward to our last stop tomorrow.

Mermaids Adventure At Sea (Naty)

Hi Marlins fans! This is Mermaid Naty writing to you from Southeast Asia. Our trip overseas to support our troops had been beyond words.  I am amazed and honored to be a part of this life changing experience. My favorite and most memorable event in Southwest Asia was our Mermaids adventure at sea with the United States Navy. On Sunday, we took a boat ride in the Persian Gulf.  Before hopping on the boat, we had to strap on these heavy bulky life jackets and tie our hair back.  We quickly jumped on the front of the boat in order to get the best view. We were warned that we were going to get wet, but we thought it is all or nothing and decided to ride it out in the front. We should have known were in for a special treat when all the other passengers rode on the back of the boat. As we were admiring the beautiful view and listening to our guide, the waves suddenly started getting real choppy and the captain increased the speed at which we were traveling. We quickly realized we were going to get soaked! Let’s just say when we arrived to our destination, we were all soaked from head to toe. Ashley, Kim and I were laughing nonstop as we were getting splashed on because our hair and makeup turned into a complete disaster.  We held on tightly to the railing to maintain our position as the boat soared through the harbor.  It was quite an adventure and a moment we all will always remember (especially the sailors who warned us). The once pretty, dolled up Mermaids ended up soaked but feeling like true troopers.  I look forward to sharing more stories with you soon!

A Once-In-A-Lifetime Experience (John Sulser)

Day 1 is finally over, although somehow we’ve actually been at it 3 days. We departed Miami on the 3rd, lost a whole day due to travel and time changes, landed on the evening of the 4th, and it is now midnight on the 5th here. The flights overseas were not quite as bad as everyone thought they would be. It was over 17 hours of travel time and more than 7,800 miles covered – but we all managed to make it in one piece.

Unfortunately, the most important “piece” of my week is sitting at the customs office in Bahrain. Apparently a form with the tourism board was not filled out correctly, so they seized my camera right after I got off the plane. The weekend in Bahrain is Friday (their holy day) and Saturday – so we’re hoping the ministry can clear it up tomorrow and I can get my camera back.

In the mean time, thank goodness Boris and the Marlins brought a small handycam that I’ve been able to use to film all of our goings-on. Last night we all had an introductory dinner at a restaurant in our hotel with our guides who will be accompanying us this week. Jamie with Armed Forces Entertainment has helped coordinate the entire event and will be with us the entire trip all the way to Germany. Kari and Mark lead the contingency of people on the ground here in Bahrain who are helping us get around and coordinating all of our stops. They had different baseball allegiances 2 days ago – but I think they’re all fish fans now.

This morning we awoke early and headed to breakfast at the base. The place we ate at is almost like a mini-mall on base complete with a coffee shop, Taco Bell, A&W, pizza place, and a full cafeteria mess hall. There is even a HUGE store with everything from Valentines gifts to magazines to groceries to “Hard Rock – Bahrain” t-shirts.

After breakfast we went to our first visit at a battery here on the island nation of Bahrain. The soldiers were incredibly friendly and welcoming and were ecstatic to greet our group. After some short introductions the guys and the Mermaids sat down and had an autograph session where they signed pictures, balls, and hats for the soldiers. Then it was a photo-op for everyone and on to the next base.

We headed to ISA Air Base and had another meet & greet with a group of soldiers in their mess hall. What struck me most was how everyone decorated the place with little pieces of home. College posters, NFL pennants, and flags adorned the walls so everyone could be proud of their hometown Cleveland Cavs, the St. Louis Rams, or the Florida Gators. We had lunch at another part of the base and then were given a tour of the facilities by Sergeant Patterson.

We were all amazed at what these soldiers have to persevere while serving in the gulf. The live in incredibly cramped quarters, 136 degree temperatures in the summer, and have to be away from their families, their loved ones, and their country for long stretches of time. I think we all gained a new appreciation for what goes on after we realized the hardships these folks go through on a daily basis… And I haven’t even mentioned the stresses of living the daily life of a soldier ensured with our safety and security!

There was a meet & greet again that afternoon with a large contingency of air force, army, marines, and navy officers all stationed in Bahrain. The players gave away hats, t-shirts, and autographed balls – but I think the autographed photo of the Mermaids was by far the hottest item being distributed. Everyone at ISA was incredibly welcoming and receptive and it was hard to tell who was getting more out of the day, the Marlins or the soldiers.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped off at the famous Sharajat-al-Hayat (“Tree of Life”). It is a 400 year-old mesquite tree located in the middle of the desert on a 25-foot-high hill. It is believed that tree is rooted into and underground well because there is no rhyme or reason why such a large tree should exist in the middle of nowhere. Some locals even think the tree marks the location of the Garden of Eden as various historical texts place it somewhere in this region.

In the evening we headed to a small school for English speaking students in Bahrain where a local baseball league plays. Their field gave new meaning to the term “sandlot” as it was a gravelly dirt field with not a blade of grass on it. Still, the youngsters playing ball there seem determined to learn the game. Niner, Hawk, LoMo, John Buck, and David Samson drilled the younger kids in various aspects of the game and then held a clinic for the older kids where Andre Dawson provided some sage advice and hitting tips.

At this point everyone is completely gassed and we’ve been running on adrenaline for 2 (3?) days straight. And it doesn’t get any better tomorrow as our day starts with PT training with the Marines FAST Company at 6:00AM and ends with a Super Bowl party on base a 2:30AM followed by an early morning flight to our next stop. It’s been crazy, but I don’t think any of us regrets coming as it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

John A. Sulser – Fox Sports Florida, Marlins Producer

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