Question of the Day from Marlins.com for January 27th:
Name: Zack Lovas
Question for Larry Beinfest:
How does it feel to be the first MLB club to visit stationed troops in the Middle East?
Question of the Day from Marlins.com for January 26th:
Name: Juan Roman
Question for Chris Coghlan:
As a former corporal of the Marines Corps have you ever thought when you were younger of being in the Marines like your brother and how is the food over in Iraq? What do you feel when you visit our troops? And how do you think they are doing? If you weren’t a baseball player would you consider on being in our troops?
Question of the Day from Marlins.com for January 25th:
Name: Timberly Price
Question for John Baker:
What do you feel when you visit our troops? And how do you think their doing? If you weren’t a baseball player would you consider on being in our troops?
When I visit our troops, the main thing I feel is gratitude. The men and women over here make a big sacrifice so that our lives in the US are safe. I would hope that I could have the courage to, if I didn’t play baseball, join a branch of our military and help protect our Country.
It was quite a relief to feel like we could sleep in a bit as we weren’t scheduled to check out of the hotel until 12:30. I woke up and got a double espresso at the executive lounge in the hotel, then went to the gym (I picked up a sugar free red bull along the way) with Chris Coghlan. Caffeine is a helluva drug. As messed up as my hours are, I have become dependent on energy drinks and double espressos to get me through the day. The problem with all the caffeine is that it becomes harder to sleep, my night sucks, and I need MORE caffeine the next day.
I actually felt great at the gym, I got in a 45 minute total body workout and felt ready to attack the day afterward. Once we checked out of the hotel, we got in the Suburbans and drove up to “The Rock” – Ali Al Salem.
The Rock is made up of basically two bases, one is an Air Force Base that ships troops up to Iraq and Afghanistan, the second is the Army Base which is also known as the LSA. The LSA at Ali Al Salem processes the soldiers that are either returning home, or entering the theater in either Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
The Air Force base was an absolute blast, because of Fredi’s late arrival, we had to stay longer in the Country of Kuwait, so visiting this base was not on the original itinerary. We played a little shuffle board (Coghlan won..weird, I know…just like hitting) and then we met the Air Force Fireman. The guys were really cool. I spoke with one of the men from Oklahoma City for a while and told him my story about his city. It was around midnight in Oklahoma City in July of 2008 when I got called up by the Marlins to the big leagues. We shared more stories and then sat down to sign autographs and meet other service members. The Air Force is really doing something right, Col. Shock, our AFE (Armed Forces Entertainment) rep is really fun to be around, and all the members of the Air Force Fire Crew were positive, upbeat, and in excellent spirits. They seemed to make the best out of their situation and had smiles on their faces the entire time. After we signed and took some awesome photos, we went up to their Fire Station and played some catch with one member of the crew. The the other twenty-five guys helped the mermaids put on the flame-repellant fire suits, I wonder where their minds were!! I brought my Rawling’s catcher’s glove that I used last season, and the glove never made it off the base. I gave it to my friend from Oklahoma City, and he in turn gave us a patch and an Air Force hat to put it on. I hope he likes the glove, because I think that I got the better end of that deal. My hat and patch are something that will forever remind me of the people that I met today.
Our next stop was the Army Base on Ali Al Salem, and it definitely had a different vibe. This is where everyone processes that is either coming to the Middle East to entire a hostile environment, or leaving a place where they spent months fighting a faceless enemy. One solder told us a devestating story. He was an Army Infantry Men who had seen his fair share of battle on the front lines of Afghanistan. When he came to the table to get his autographed baseball card, something in the way he looked at us let us know that he had seen some terrible things firsthand. Coghlan and I both sensed this immediately and we are two pretty clueless guys. He told us that he was just processing back into Afghanistan from a fifteen day leave. He had spent his off time at home with his wife and small daughter.
—”I was in 7-11, with my wife and little kid,” he said. “And a lady approached me and asked me what I did for a living. I told her that I was an Army infantryman and that I had just returned from Afghanistan. She obviously didn’t support me or our fighting over here because the only thing she said to me was, ‘I hope that YOU get killed over there’. What do I even say to that?” —
Cogs and I both looked at him with a blank stare, and then in our own ways intimated that WE appreciate him and everything he does for us and the United States of America. I think sometimes that people back home get so caught up in the politics that they forget about the actual people. Despite what you think about our nation’s motives for being in these conflicts, remember that real people actually put their life on the line so that you can rest your head each night in safety.
I am currently typing these words in a safe bunker in Basra, Iraq. I had never realized how many things I have taken for granted until I came here and met the people willing to die for my freedom.
After the LSA, we got back into the Suburbans and drove to the Military side of Kuwait International Airport. This is when stuff really got real. Part of our processing required that we try on our helmets and bullet proof vests. The moment we put those two pieces of equipment on, the mood changed. This lasted for a few minutes, until Coghlan informed us that he thought it would be cool to get shot by a rubber bullet while wearing his body armor…Larry Beinfest didn’t think that joke was very funny. After the mood had lightened, we boarded a C-130 and flew to Basra, Iraq. This part of out trip was also amazing (I think that thought and feeling has been a recurring theme on these entries). Cogs and I sat in the Cockpit the entire flight and were on the headphones talking with the crew members. The C-130 is an older Vietnam War era plane, it has two large propellers under each wing and seems pretty maneuverable. While we were flying, we got to use night vision goggles to look out of the planes windshield at Iraq, which was straight ahead, and Iran which was directly to our three o’clock (that means to our right in cool person speak). We also got to experience a tactical approach into Basra which was totally crazy and gave me a feeling like one I’ve never experienced. We the force of twice our body weight pressing us into our seat during this maneuver, and Christina the Mermaid almost puked. That is pretty funny.
Once in Iraq, we drove to our little bunkered in rooms and crashed…hard.
Blackhawk takes off at 8:45 AM tomorrow.
The first full day in Kuwait will be a tough day to beat.
My morning started with a light breakfast in the executive lounge at our hotel, I had some fruit and yogurt along with a double espresso in hopes that it would trick me into thinking it was really 7:30 in the morning and that I had actually gotten a six hours of sleep.
We met in the lobby at 0830 hours (I think writing/saying the time this way sounds way cooler than “8:30 AM”) and after a brief stop at a Kuwaiti Starbucks headed to camp Arifjan. Now I am sure someone will correct me on what I am about to write, but I did not take notes, so everything I am putting to cyber paper is strictly from memory.
Camp Arifjan is the largest US Military Base in Kuwait. After Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Kuwait quickly realized that they could not adequately defend themselves from their hostile neighbors without the help of a large military power. Kuwait is a small country that sits on a large reserve of oil. Kuwait is roughly the size of New Jersey but is the tenth highest producer of oil. It is also a large seaport located in the perfect location to stage military operations for any country interested in the Middle East region. The relationship between Kuwait and the US is made out of necessity: the Kuwaitis need military help and the US needs a place to house/train/prepare soldiers and equipment for any Middle East operation.
The first stop on base for us was the PX store, it is like Wal-Mart for the the military. The store has everything one needs, from desert boots to Nintendo Wiis and televisions. I picked up a few things that say “Kuwait” on them for family members. I also bought myself a military watch since I forgot to bring a watch with me. After we checked out, we headed to one of the main buildings for a briefing where we learned the aforementioned information. We were also given a certificate of gratitude and an Army challenge coin. Members of the Army are given the coin unofficially by superiors as an “attaboy” or job well done. Any member can challenge another member from a different company with his or her coin. If the opposing member matches the coin with a similar one, the challenger must buy the challenged a drink, and vice versa. It is a way to build morale and familiarity between different people. Funny that no one is buying any drinks, because Alcohol is prohibited in the country of Kuwait. One of the posted photos is of me receiving my certificate.
After we were briefed, we headed to one of the community rooms to sign autographs and meet troops, we were there for quite awhile and met many interesting people. It was a fantastic first interaction as everyone was very happy to see us. It is very personally rewarding to shake hands with someone and know that you have made their day or maybe even month better. It is also strange because Chris and I don’t really feel like we are doing anything that special. I guess just being here is a pretty big deal.
After we signed for and thanked the soldiers, we joined them in the DVAC for lunch. I sat with a guy that was from the Dallas area that was on his third tour of duty.
He told me fascinating stories about driving patrols from Arifjan all the way to the northern part of Iraq. It is amazing the things these men and women do for us.
We then packed into some Chevy Suburbans and headed to Kuwait Naval Base or KNB. We learned that despite being a Kuwaiti Base, it is fully operated by Americans. I only saw one Kuwaiti person while we were there and he was drinking tea in a guard booth, while members of the US Army patrolled the gate. We met with a company of men from South Dakota, Minnesota, Hawaii and California. The Californian played in a local Jazz Band (Concord Blue Devils – www.bluedevils.org )near my home town in Concord. He also briefly taught drums at the same High School that I attended, De La Salle! What a small world. Half way across the globe and we meet for the first time.
After our briefing, we boarded a small patrol ship with some members of the Navy and the US Coastguard. The small ship was very fast and had three guns mounted on it, the one on the front was a fifty caliber! The gun was the same model used in WWII as an anti-tank weapon, the only update: plastic instead of wooden handles! We cruised around the Persian Gulf, skipping over waves, getting salt water everywhere and having a fantastic time. The crew of our boat was great, they let us take photos with the guns and even let one of the Mermaids, Estefania, drive, until she almost flipped the boat and deposited our team president in the Gulf!!!! This was the most exciting part of our trip to this point.
After we got back onto dry land, the girls performed a dance routine for the guys at KNB, we signed more autographs and met more troops then joined them for dinner in their DVAC. After dinner our entire party was starting to look increasingly weary, thankfully we only had one more stop.
We got back into the Suburbans and headed to the Kuwait Little League Complex. We were greeted with raucous cheers of “Let’s Go Fish!” as we walked into the small outdoor complex. There were a few decently manicured little league fields and around three hundred members of the KLL. The interesting part about the league is that it is the only league in the region run by a national and not an ex-pat. The commissioner of the league was a Kuwaiti man that went to college at the University of Miami and married a Cuban-American women from south Florida. Needless to say they were big Marlins fans, and half of the teams in the league were called the Marlins! We answered a few questions and then signed a ton more autographs, Fredi Gonzalez finally showed up (his first flight was cancelled due to inclement weather in Atlanta), and took some photos with the members of the league. When that was done we headed back to the hotel for some food and some much deserved R&R.
Tuesday was our first full day in Kuwait and it was full of incredible experiences. I am exhausted to the core after today, both emotionally and physically. We all met in the lobby at 0830 and jumped into a couple cars that took us to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. We received a full debriefing about the country of Kuwait, including its history, its government past and present, its relationships with other neighboring countries and its relationship with the U.S. and our military footprint in Kuwait. Everyone in our group received a Certificate of Appreciation from the Area Support Group in Kuwait and we met with several officers before heading to lunch at the base and doing some much needed shopping.
After lunch we departed Camp Arifjan and traveled to Kuwait Naval Base where we went out to sea with Col. Shock and members of the U.S. Coast Guard. The boats were so small that we had to split up and take two boats out together. John Baker, Chris Coghlan, Larry Beinfest and I opted for the faster of the two boats and tried to find out how fast we get it to go without dumping anyone out the side into extremely choppy waters. Amazingly, nobody went overboard but we were all drenched by the time we got back to the base.
We all thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I would encourage everyone to check out the photos and videos at Marlins.com, they should be up sometime on Wednesday. After the ride, we were back to land and off to nearby Camp Patriot for a brief visit and Commaner’s Call, followed by a stage performance from the Mermaids and autograph session with the troops there.
After a quick dinner at Camp Patriot we were off to the Kuwait Little League for an event that materialized at the last minute on our itinerary. We weren’t sure what to expect when we got there and we cerainly couldn’t have forseen the crowd of over 300 kids and parents waiting for our arrival! As we started to walk up the path between fields I started to notice a sea of teal as the vast majority of the kids were wearing Marlins shirts. As soon as the kids noticed us, they errupted with cheers and starting chanting “Let’s Go Fish!” I still have chills thinking about the reception we received and how excited the kids were to see the players and Mermaids. Meanwhile, Fredi Gonzalez’s plane had landed (you may remember that he was not able to get out of Atlanta and join us on our flight Sunday night so he was delayed 24 hours) and he met us at the park for the beginning of the Little League event.
The kids had the opportunity to ask questions for Chris, John, Larry and Fredi for the first 20 minutes, and then they all came up individually to get autographs, take pictures and tell us how important baseball and the league has been to them. The Kuwait Little League has been in existence since just after the first Gulf War and it was a true inspiration to see these kids care so much about baseball and our visit to them.
No matter how big of an impact we may have made on those kids there tonight, it was us who certainly left with memories that will last a lifetime. Our driver Gary, who I have really enjoyed getting to know over the first couple days, is an American who has worked in Kuwait for close to 20 years and he told us that he has never seen an event in all of these tours that touched him so much personally as our visit to the Kuwait Little League tonight. It was a wonderful way to conclude a long day.
The group got together for dinner nearby and then called it a night. Another big day is on tap for tomorrow, including at least two base visits and a possible third before we pack our bags and get ready to head to our next destination.
More updates from SWA soon..
After the flight – The “night” of January 25th in Kuwait…
After we deplaned and went through the short painless visa process we headed to baggage claim and got our stuff. Three out of the four members of the dance team have bags that are bigger than they are. Girls. After we went through customs, which consisted of having our bags put through some sort of security scanner, we were out the door and into a van driving to our next destination…the hotel.
While riding down the freeway, the first thing I notice is how Western this place has become. H2s, Corvettes, and other popular American cars race down the road at break neck speeds. A member of our security detail informs us that the police do not enforce speeding on any of the roads so the goal is to drive as fast as you can without getting into a fatal accident. (I would learn later that this ideal is known in the world of Islam as “Insha’Allah” which translates to God willing. The people truly believe that when it is their time to die, they will die, so they drive with a strange reckless abandon, putting all their faith that Allah will deliver them to safety. They also have a “thirty minute rule” when it comes to dealing with the victims of an accident. The police and medical response units will only intercede thirty minutes after a crash. If you die before that, “Insha’Allah”, it is what God wills. If you last thirty minutes, you will receive medical attention.) We pass a giant mall that looks like a basketball arena and myriad giant palace-like houses that seem to line the freeway. We eventually pass a real palace on the way to the hotel and the best way to describe it (since it is against the law to photograph the building) is with one word: majestic.
Our hotel is super nice, my room, or rather rooms, has a bedroom, two bathrooms, a dining room and a family style room with a big flat screen TV. Much of the programming is in English, so I feel right at home. For all I know this could be transplanted right into the US and no one could tell the difference.
After dropping the bags off at the room and changing into some athletic gear, I hit the gym with Coghlan in hopes of working up a sweat so that I can fall asleep. Being 11 hours in the future is just plain weird. The gym is extremely nice, it is on par with the large health clubs in the states, basically an upscale 24 Hour Fitness. I workout for around half an hour and successfully shake off the stiffness I have developed over twenty plus hours of traveling.
Post workout the four guys on the trip got together for some dinner. We figured that Chinese food should be good in Asia so that is what we had. Basically middle-eastern PF Chang’s, I will say now that we won’t be eating there again.
@manbearwolf on Twitter
6:52 AM Pacific Time
5:53 PM “I don’t even know the name of the time zone” Time (SWA?)
Wow. I am writing this at the tail end of what has been an extremely long yet some how pleasant travel day. We were lucky enough to be upgraded to business class so my seat nearly fully reclined on the second flight. I am on a Boeing 777 and it is a huge plane. From the pictures you can see that it is quite comfortable. Amazingly, the seventeen hours of flying time has not seemed that long. It really hit me when I looked at the in flight monitor and watched the little computerized airplane fly directly over Baghdad and a region marked “Mesopotamia”. It is not everyday that I get to be this close to the Cradle of Civilization.
The flights have been uneventful. I read on the first flight and listened to some music on my iPhone. On a side note, after having this iPhone for less than a week, I don’t know how I lived without one. Currently I am reading Krakauer’s “Where Men Win Glory”. It is the story of NFL Player turned Army Ranger, Pat Tillman. After 9/11 Pat turned down a 3.6 million dollar contract to enlist in the Army and was killed in action two years later in the Khost region of Afghanistan. He was a victim of friendly fire. I’ve only just started the book, and it is already a sad story.
The second flight has actually been kind of fun despite it’s length. Coghlan and I engaged in a spirited debate about life, faith, love, baseball and our motivations for heading out on this adventure. After that he slept, I seriously think he has been asleep for the better part of this flight…like ten hours!! I watched the Tarantino movie “Inglourious Basterds”. I thought it was great, but like I do most of the time when I watch a Tarantino film, it ends and I feel like about half of it went right over my head.
I’ll probably watch another movie in the hotel room tonight, maybe “Food Inc.” or perhaps “Facing Ali”, I feel like a documentary is somehow appropriate. Anyways, can’t wait to get to the hotel, take some of my own photos and keep everyone updated.
@manbearwolf on Twitter
We finally touched ground after a 12-hour voyage across the Atlantic! After check-in, John, Chris and I hit the gym for a while and then met up with Larry Beinfest for an outstanding dinner at the hotel. Everyone has been extremely nice to us and very accommodating.
Hopefully everyone else found a way to get to sleep, not much luck here..it’s after 2AM here and we have a big day planned, starting at 0800 hours! I passed a Turkish coffee shop downstairs earlier and I have a suspicion that we will be getting acquainted in just a few hours.
Plans tomorrow include a boat ride, base tour, photo/autograph session with the troops and a visit to a local little league. I can only imagine how excited the kids will be to meet real Major League Baseball players and we are all looking forward to spending time with them. Who knows, maybe we’ll find a couple future Marlins while we’re there!
Remember to check back regularly this week as we will be uploading video from our activities as soon as possible.
We successfully landed in Washington/Dulles and are about one hour from boarding for Kuwait! It hasn’t been without a bit of unfortunate news as Bill Beck, our Senior Director of Team Travel was unable to fly with us due to an illness, and Fredi Gonzalez has been stranded in Atlanta because of weather. Plans are optimistic for Fredi however, who will hopefully join us in Kuwait a day later and join the tour in progress.
In the meantime, Larry, Chris, John, Carin, Stef, Christina, Natalie and I are watching the 4th quarter of the NFC Championship game and counting down the minutes until we leave for our 12-hour flight to Kuwait. Thank you to everyone who sent us your best wishes and positive thoughts over the past fews days.
Next up we will update from Kuwait!