USO Tour Day 1: The right team

[Editor’s note: The NFL is continuing its legacy of going overseas to visit U.S. military troops with the NFL USO Coaches Tour. The current summer tour to Iraq represents the first time the NFL has brought a group of coaches overseas to visit the troops, as three current and two former NFL coaches — New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, retired Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher and former Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden — are on a tour of U.S. military bases in the Persian Gulf.]

It is clear we have the right team. And we know we have the right mission — meet as many troops as possible and thank them for their service.

(Mike Theiler / USO Photo)

Current and former NFL coaches (left to right) Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Tom Coughlin, John Harbaugh and Jeff Fisher pose with their U.S. Army pilots, CW2 Michael Mignogna and CW4 Jonathan Case, on Wednesday. (Mike Theiler / USO Photo)

The trip to Iraq is never easy, and this tour is no exception. Our group met up from various initial points of departure in Washington, D.C. where we boarded a 13-hour flight to Kuwait City. After clearing customs in Kuwait, we got a ride from the commercial airport to a U.S. military base in order to catch a military flight to Baghdad.

While waiting for our flight in a small hangar, our group had its first real interaction with service members. Fans wasted no time seeking out their favorite coaches. One Giants fan from the Bronx and another from New Jersey ran to meet Tom Coughlin; a lifelong Steelers fan (now a colonel in the Army) snapped a photo with Bill Cowher; a handful of servicemen based at Fort Campbell, Tenn., went to chat with Jeff Fisher. I also saw John Harbaugh (the former Eagles defensive backs coach) talking about Philadelphia high schools sports with a couple of Eagles fans. The one interaction that didn’t happen, however, was between CW4 John Case (originally from Texas) and Coughlin. A big Cowboys fan, CW4 Case politely declined to meet his team’s rival coach.

After meeting and greeting the service members in the terminal, the coaches boarded two small C-12 military airplanes to make the final leg of our journey. We landed in Baghdad around midnight local time and made our way to our quarters, not arriving and getting settled until close to 2 a.m. We had been traveling for more 30 hours, and it was time for a few precious hours of sleep.

We are looking forward to a number of full, exciting and meaningful days ahead.

– David Krichavsky

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