June 1, 2009
UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel and several other college head coaches are traveling in the Middle East to meet U.S. troops as part of Coaches Tour 2009. UCLA football office intern David Raih is also on the tour and sends this update (written Sunday, May 31).
Day 1: Scott Air Force Base (St. Louis) to Ramstein Base (Germany)
The first rendezvous of the entire crew and coaches was at Scott Air Force Base in St Louis. We were greeted by Four-Star General Licht and his entire staff. The whole base was alive with the arrival of such prominent football coaching talent.
A briefing on the KC-135 aircraft ensued and a tour of the whole AOC (Air Mobility Command) was in session. The command center for all mobility aircrafts was quite impressive. It's exactly what you'd picture, with the huge electronic screens mapping flight routes and logistics all over the world. All the room was missing was talented military actor Ed Harris!
From Scott AFB, we boarded the KC-135 sitting on seats mounted on pallets which were surrounded by 14,000lbs of SWAG - T-shirts, hats and everything else you can imagine. The flight was nine hours long with no shortage of excitement. No surprise to anyone, Coach Neuheisel jumped into the cockpit for takeoff. Coach and I took turns lying in the "Boom Operator Vessel" located in the bowels of the aircraft. It has a glass floor, which provides a shockingly unique and beautiful view as the plane soars above the earth....it's especially exciting upon take off!
Day 2: Ramstein Germany
We arrived at 9:00 am and immediately checked into "billeting" - synonymous for lodging - and headed straight for the hospital to visit the wounded. Coach Neuheisel's charm was unmistakable as he and the rest of the coaches brought smiles to the faces of the young men and women at bed side. You can bet he got plenty of laughs from everyone as well.
Following the hospital, we headed to the Ramstein Fitness Center where 1,500-2,000 troops and families were eagerly waiting the coaches panel autograph signing.
That evening, we appropriately dined at the BenHoff German restaurant for some Schnitzel and a tall, slowly-poured Pilsner.
I can not explain how impressed Coach and I have been with the professionalism and enthusiasm displayed by all the men and women in our Armed Forces. We are kindly greeted everywhere we go with resounding applause, smiles and hugs. The young people, similar age to the young men and women representing our UCLA athletic program and school, are experiencing things day in and day out that force them to act with maturity far beyond their years. My heart goes out to these kids. It is too important for all of us to hear the story and support these young people in all they are doing. What once seemed like a far-off place comprised of young people you don't know is now all too familiar due to the common bond we all share as Americans.
The kids in these hospitals and the young pilots flying over the war zone that makes up Iraqi Air Space are fans of all our schools and are doing their duty with an eagerness to get back for family and football in the fall.
I cannot stress how impressed we are. They are the best of the best and are a shining example to young men and women across our nation.
Day 3: Incirlik Turkey
It was a beautiful day at Incirlik when we touched down and the billeting was the best we've experienced. We had the same schedule as Day 3.
Our dinner that evening was in downtown Adana.
Day 4: We have entered Iraq Air Space
We are officially "down range," as they say. We are in a war zone and departed our plane in full Kevlar body armor.
This is wild and so was the landing.
To be continued ... David
Coach Neuheisel called the office for a minute on Monday. He reported to one of the assistant coaches that the head coaches on the tour were currently staying in a place that had belonged to Saddam Hussein. All of the coaches were staying in the same room... in bunk beds.