Wow, where to begin? My first day here in Bahrain and I have to admit I woke up before the alarm went off in anticipation of seeing and spending time with the troops. Our first stop was at a highly classified location which was amazing and proved to be an eye opener to see what they entail on a daily basis. At our second stop, we visited the airbase and had the opportunity to have lunch with Army, Navy, and Air Force personnel. This allowed me to have personal conversations with the troops and learn more about their roles in the military. I met a gentleman from Kentucky who basically does overall maintenance on computers and electronics. I also met some pilots from New Jersey and yes I did get them to do a fist pump! After lunch, we were able to check out their living arrangements. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it happen to be a much smaller and confined than I had anticipated. It is hard to believe how they cram that many guys into a small community tent. Plus all they had were sheets separating them for individual privacy. As they were taking us through the tent, they said the temperature can get up to 120 degrees during the height of the summer and the AC unit did not look big enough to pump out a lot of air conditioning. Just one more humbling reminder of what the men and women go through to protect us and make our lives comfortable and safe in the United States and around the world. After a 45 minute autograph session at the same base, we headed over to see the world famous Tree of Life. For as much significance as this tree possesses, it definitely did not seem to be well preserved for being a national landmark. Other than a small iron fence around the base of the tree, it appeared vandalized with name carvings, dates, and other stuff you can imagine. From there we went to a military base and hosted a baseball clinic for kids ranging from the ages of 7 through 13. The camp came with good timing as it gave me a second boost of energy due to the long day. The kids had a great time and of course we ended up getting more out of those kids than they got out of us. It was one of those experiences that I will never forget. As I write this blog before I shower up and prepare to hit the town of Bahrain for a good dinner, I can only imagine what tomorrow is going to entail for us. We start bright and early training with the Marines and it should be a good one if I survive. Rumor has it they are the best of the best.
It is 10:05 p.m., and we are all going to sleep because tomorrow at 5:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m. Saturday night), we are all working out with the U.S. Marines. Logan, John, Jeff and I are competing to see who can keep up with the physical activity that awaits us. The Marines will not tell us what is in store, but I will let you know after we are done. In the meantime, our day today started with breakfast with the Troops inside a fully secure Army Base in Bahrain. Andre had a milkshake, while Logan and I shared a dozen eggs. We then drove to another base, where we passed nothing but desert on the way to a meet and greet at a secure location outside Bahrain. We visited with Troops as they told us stories of what they do every day monitoring situations in the Middle East. We were all struck by the seriousness of war, as we drove by the Persian Gulf throughout the day. Lunch was spent with a different Battalion, and I shared a meal with a Lt. Col. in the U.S. Air Force. While she was a fan of the Boston Red Sox, she wondered whether we would miss Hanley Ramirez if he were to change uniforms. After telling her that he is and will be a Marlin, she stood down. Eating lunch in the Mess Hall was fascinating, due in part to the food, but mostly because of the company. We were able to see the living quarters on the Isa Air Base, which made us even more thankful for how lucky we are to be at home each night with our families. We were able to do a clinic with over 100 children of members of military and Ex-Pats. The dads had just as much fun as the children…autographs were signed, photos were taken, and everyone had a great time. On the way back to our living quarters (hotel), we saw the Tree of Life. In the movie L.A. Story, Steve Martin describes the three most mystical places on earth. One of the three is the Tree of Life, which is located in the desert outside Bahrain. To have the opportunity to actually see the Tree was beyond description. In a desert with nothing but sand, there is one tree that stands high and has been around for over 400 years. Legend says this tree, which has no business growing in the desert, marks the location of the Garden of Evil. In any case, we ended the day back at the hotel and just finished dinner. I will keep everyone updated after the Marine workout.
Night 1 – we have arrived! Our day began at 11:00 a.m. at Miami International Airport. Our group of eleven includes me, Andre Dawson, Jeff Conine, John Buck, Logan Morrison, Sean Flynn, Boris Menier, (3) members of the Mermaid Dance Team, Kim, Ashley and Naty, and John Sulser from FOX Sports Florida. We checked our bags and had to pay excess baggage fees because Andre & Kim over-packed. It was a good thing Kim over-packed, because Naty’s bag did not make it overseas. After check-in, we had our final meal in America in Miami and boarded a plane to Dulles in Washington D.C. That flight was only 2½ hours. We then got on a 12-hour flight and landed at 4:30 p.m. (local time 8:30 a.m. this morning), finally arriving in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Before we got here, the plane stopped in Kuwait where we all had a chance to see the Kuwait Airport during our two-hour layover. We were able to buy some goodies, including Kit Kats, Gummy Bears, and of course, key chains and snow globes (for my daughter, Hannah, who collects them). It was smooth sailing until we got to Bahrain when John’s fancy camera (he is filming the entire trip) was not allowed through Customs and Naty’s bag got lost. She was very upset until she realized she would be able to go shopping in Bahrain, but then became upset again when she realized there is no Prada in this Kingdom. We arrived at the hotel and immediately went to work out in the gym. We are all ready for Spring Training, and everyone in the gym was staring at Logan wondering how a professional athlete could be huffing & puffing so much! We just finished dinner and are going to bed, because our first Troop visit is at 8:00 a.m. (midnight Miami time). Lt. Mark Miner and his lovely wife had dinner with us, and told us that the soldiers are incredibly excited to see us tomorrow. He started dinner as a Red Sox fan, but his favorite team now is clearly the Marlins. We are all glad to finally be here and are looking forward to tomorrow when we will be able to visit Troops. We also plan to play baseball with them. Tensions are high here because of what’s going on in Egypt, but we are all very safe in the hands of Armed Forces Entertainment (and it doesn’t hurt that their hips are bulging). Speak to you all tomorrow.
This is an update as of noon today…we just completed check-in, and the journey is about to begin! We are all together, and Kim won for the heaviest suitcase…actually, it was suitcases. Proud to say mine was the lightest at 44 lbs. The next time we see daylight from outside an airport, we will be in Southwest Asia.
It is 4:20 p.m., and we are leaving in 21 hours. Logan Morrison, Andre Dawson, Jeff Conine and I held a press conference this morning, where the (2) funniest discoveries were that Andre plans to bring a minimum of 3-5 suitcases (he will be the best dressed person to visit the troops in history), and that Jeff plans to watch The Hangover 12 times (it will still be funny the 12th time). I personally just left Walgreen’s, where I picked up enough Good ‘n Plenty and Swedish Fish to feed most of the troops. We have all of our gear ready and are looking forward to the trip, where we will have a once in a lifetime opportunity to entertain our troops overseas.
On a more serious note, we have all spent much time preparing for this trip and thinking of different ways to bring baseball and a piece of home to the soldiers. We have all packed our baseball gloves, as well as enough hats and shirts to convert every soldier to a Marlins fan. We had to change John Buck’s flight arrangements because of the winter storm throughout the country, but luckily, in Florida and Washington, the weather is good (John is flying from the west coast).
Spring Training is coming soon, but in the meantime, this trip is the beginning of our Caravan for the Troops (www.marlins.com/caravan). We will all stay in touch for the next (9) days.
Time for reflection. Up in the air, somewhere between DC and San Francisco, on the last leg of a twenty four hour travel day… As I look back on this experience, the people I’ve met and the things I’ve seen, I am overwhelmed with different emotions. It makes me want to live my life in a much more aggressive and proactive fashion. One can only hear someone say, “When I get out of here and go back home I am going to…” so many times with out feeling guilty. I am home. I am “out of here”. I feel a renewed sense of responsibility to seize life, to make the most of each day because each day of freedom is a gift. Our freedom is protected everyday by our armed forces, take away their power, and we as a nation are powerless. Take away their courage, and we will (and SHOULD) be scared. I feel that I have been generally unaware in the past, not in tune to what is really happening in our nation and around the world. I feel embarrassed in my aloof attitude towards our military affairs and global policies, but vow to become more educated and in tune. I would be lying if I didn’t mention that a few times I looked around and thought “what the hell are we doing here?” I wondered why it is OUR men and women that stand guard at the Iraq and Iran border. How come OUR Marine Corps has to guard the IA General, what is wrong with the IA? But then I talked with the people there and it all became clear. I remembered what we stand for as a country, united against tyranny in our infancy and obligated to protect the weak as we have grown powerful. Not obligated by law, but obligated by our nature as Americans. Many may argue that we shouldn’t be in Iraq at all, but I will say that the overwhelming response from the Iraqis I met is that their country is in a much better place now, than it was ten years ago. They seem very grateful for our help and guidance. Our service members don’t want our pity for their difficult situation, they want our support. They chose their careers. Another interesting aspect is the sense of team and teamwork. Everyone is united in the same goal, everyone works together. They are the type of people that cannot accept a personal compliment. Every time I received positive feed back, it sounded like this, “What you are doing, just being here, really means a lot to these guys, they really appreciate it.” Never once did people say it in an individual way, they are too tough to admit to something like that. They care more about the man standing next to them than they do about themselves. This sentiment was expressed by the lowest of the enlisted and the highest of the officers that we met. This sentiment moved seamlessly throughout each individual branch and unified our entire armed forces. These people risk their lives to protect our country and our interests without regret. They are my heroes. The next time you see a veteran, do your part to say thank you, regardless if you believe in our government’s politics or motivations for being in any conflict. These soldiers are real people that make a big sacrifice for us, never forget that. I never will.
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As we come to the conclusion of our troop visit tour, I must admit- most of me doesn’t even want to come home! Having the opportunity to do the things we have done in the last week has completely changed our lives.
Before going on this trip, I imagined that we would meet soldiers from base to base, shake hands, and then go home, point-blank. NEVER would I have imagined the attachment I have to our troops now. Besides signing autographs and surprising our soldiers with dance performances, we got a little taste of each and every one of them, their lives and families back home, and a reminder of what our American spirit is worth. These men and women are away from their families for so long, and for what? To protect us, our freedoms, and even trying to help others establish their own. I don’t think I could have imagined a better experience with these amazing people. We have made SO many memories here: from base-hopping in Black Hawks, waking up to Lil’ Nat squashing mosquitoes and flies on her “wet chu” walls, riding undercover in MRAPs, Christina (the OFFICIAL klutz) blowing out her hotel room lights and getting herself locked in a bathroom, Stef soaking half the U.S. Navy while driving their speedboats, crossing borders in C130′s, to Colonel Shock being forced to become our official photographer, to the DFACs and PXs, Matt getting OWNED by the General, and the million and a half military acronyms… WOW! And that’s not even half of it. We have learned so much about what our military does on a day to day basis, and I can honestly say that I have gained a newfound admiration and respect for each and every single person there.
I know I’m going to come back and everyone’s going to ask me what my trip was like, did I have fun, etc., etc., but honestly….there are NO words to describe this trip. Being there was an absolute blessing.
I am so thankful for everyone that was responsible for this trip: the Armed Forces Entertainment, the Marlins organization, the USO staff, Colonel Shock, my trip buddies, and my family and friends for their support. Yet most importantly, to the many people that I have encountered and learned from. I will never forget any of you, and I hope to see you home soon, safe and sound…maybe even at a Marlins’ game!
Lots of love,
P.S.- special shout out to all of our base soldiers, and to the Bodega Boys… you’ll make it big one day!
*Long live CRUSHFEST 2010!*
We are in Washington/Dulles for the next two hours until our flight leaves for Miami and everyone is fairly exhausted. However, after a 14-hour flight from Kuwait, what’s a couple more hours??
The evening in Kuwait was uneventful after my last post; we made it through the hustle and insanity of Kuwait City Airport check-in, then I grabbed a coffee from Starbucks, Fredi and Larry picked up some souvenirs at the Harley-Davidson Kuwait store, then as a group we crushed 54 McNuggets, 5 large fries and a chicken sandwich at McDonald’s (yes, there’s even a McD’s in Kuwait City Airport and it’s just as bad for you).
Here in Washington DC it’s chilly outside and the ground is covered in snow. Amazingly it felt more like home 7,000 miles away. A few of us had aspirations of some early Monday sight-seeing in DC, but I think exhaustion may have gotten the better of us for now. I have had a chance during the layover to check in with a few of the many people we met during our trip to Kuwait and Iraq. I may now officially have a friend from every state in the U.S., which I suppose can’t be a bad thing when you’re traveling and looking for a good place to eat!
I am looking forward to getting home, seeing my fiance, sleeping in my own bed, preparing for Caravan and FanFest (which starts next week!) and downloading tons of video and photos from the trip. It may take a day or two, but check out Marlins.com throughout the week for updates..trust me, you will want to see some of this!
I’ll see many of you back home soon!
One hour until we head out and start the long voyage home. Probably much less until my laptop battery dies however, I managed to remember everything on my checklist for 8 days but somehow still left my international electrical adapter at Camp Basra this morning. I have a much lighter load going back as we distributed a few hundred custom Marlins t-shirts along with a few thousand bracelets, pins, autograph cards and other items throughout the week. I am still heading back with an entire duffle bag full of gear that I traded out with various troops, commemorative coins, plaques and certificates that were given to us by several base commanders, and souvenir t-shirts and collectibles. I am looking forward to showing and displaying ALL of these items to everyone back home, as each one represents a story and a special moment in time on this trip.
As I reflect back on the last 8 days, I am thankful for so many things. I am thankful for each and every day that we were here, as they all were unique and special in their own way. I am thankful for each and every solider who we encountered and the few minutes that we were able to connect and spend with each. I am thankful for Fredi Gonzalez, Larry Beinfest, Chris Coghlan, John Baker, Carin, Christina, Steff and Natalie for making the trip – each of the them made the most of this opportunity and we will always have this experience to share with each other. I am thankful for the USO building at Camp Basra being open 24 hours a day so I could check my e-mail and update this blog each night – Beverly, Travis and Scott are the best!
Thank you to Colonel Ed Shock for organizing this trip on behalf of Armed Forces Entertainment and making this all possible, David Samson and Sean Flynn for allowing me to use one of the 10 available spots on this trip, Jimmy and Emma for everything that you set up for us on the busy daily itineraries and being a part of every experience, Brad and Dave for the constant security and making us feel safe, Markus, Clayton and Will for driving us everywhere and being so accommodating, Ruben for the MRAP rollover, the K-9 Unit at Camp Basra, our Blackhawk pilots, our C-130 pilots, Mercy and the Kuwait Little League, the Navy Seals who took us out to the range and let us use all of their ammo, Jamie with AFE for setting up our flights, Jennifer for helping out with all of the PR efforts prior to and during the trip, Bill Beck for coordinating travel plans on our end (wish you could have made it Boomer!), and to all of the troops that we met over the last 8 days who changed our lives for the better..thank you for spending your time with us this week, you make us proud to be Americans and you will be in my thoughts every day. We love you, we support you and we hope you come back soon!
I am have so many more things to be thankful for and so many others to mention, but the laptop battery is almost completely gone, so I’ll check in when we get back to the states tomorrow!
Stop one, At Camp Sa’ad we met 1st Lt. Sion Brannan a former teacher from San Diego that taught math in San Jose, California. Brannan worked for four years in a high school teaching math and when OIF started he figured he should do something about. After the school year he notified his principal, enlisted in the Army and completed all the necessary training to enter the Army as an Officer and a Ranger. It is people like him that are the true Patriots. I also met specialist Lyon (strongest guy in base) and I traded him my Marlins Strength and Conditioning shirt for his army boony with his specialist patch illegally sewn on. The guy was a serious monster and seemed to have spent few hours in their tent weight room. We met the division general that worked on base and had tea with him which was weird. From what we were we told you usually don’t make it out of an Iraqi General’s office if you are not in the ally Military. On a sad note, I met an infantrymen that lost his baseball career to an IED in Iraq during the first part of OIF. He told us that we were living his dream. This trip has been very rewarding, but it is really tough to hear stuff like that.
We jumped back into our Black Hawk and headed to the southern most point of Iraq, the Naval Base of Umm Qasr. This was definitely the most diverse base we had been to as far as the international make-up of the population. We met soldiers from the Royal Navy and Royal Marine Corps as well as IA and Americans. While we were delayed waiting for our helicopters, I got in a workout at their out door gym. I got to test my rope climbing skills and scaled the 25 feet pretty quickly. Luckily, they taught me how to safely descend. We met a Captain from Minnesota, and even a Navy Admiral! We learned about the different Naval Ranks and how they compared to the other branches of the military. From what I was told, the Navy is structured like Star Trek. I also shared my first “near-beer” and was forever linked with the men of Umm Qasr. We took a tour of the base and saw an old Iraqi spy boat, as well as the border of Iraq and Kuwait. Instead of taking our normal transport (two Black Hawk Helos) we had to convoy it to Bucca, our next stop. I will say that the ground convoy was definitely the scariest part of this trip. It is one thing to hover over the ground with machine gun armed guards and watch the desert zoom by below, and another to actually drive out into the desert in a slow moving MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) Truck. The MRAP has a diamond shape to it that deflects the force of any mine blast from below. instead of having a flat bottom that absorbs all of the explosion, the shape causes the vehicle to roll instead of blow up. We are sealed in with automatic doors, so if we were blown up from below and ambushed from the side, all parties enclosed in the vehicle would be okay. Having to get into that big “truck” for thirty minutes of tense, bumpy travel was scary. Thankfully, we arrived safely at forward operating base Bucca!
Named after a fire fighter that died in the twin towers in 9/11, FOB Bucca has the best DFAC we ate in. Because of the weather delays, we only had a small amount of time to meet the troops and sign. We met the Marine Colonel in command of Bucca and he told us about the history of the base and how since the Marines were so much better than every other branch, they only needed one stationed there to make sure everything ran smoothly! He issued us a challenge coin and certificate of appreciation. It is amazing how grateful all of our troops have been throughout this trip. It’s seems that our attendance is the most important thing about us. After a long day, we Black Hawked it back to Basra for a nights sleep in our hard shelled wet chu. (Hard shelled means it is IDF safe. Wet means it has a self-contained bathroom and shower. CHU stands for container housing unit.)
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