[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.]
Every USO Tour — the participants, the location, the moment in time — feels different from every other that came before it or will come after it. This tour, our first in the 43-year history of NFL-USO tours to feature coaches, was perhaps more distinct than others. But all the hallmarks of an NFL-USO tour were there: a commitment to reach as many troops as possible, strong mutual feelings of appreciation (to the troops for their sacrifice and to the tour participants for making the trip overseas), admiration for the troops after seeing what their day-to-day experiences are actually like and how they handle the physical and emotional rigors of their job, and a jam-packed schedule that included little sleep, constant activity and more autographs, photos and handshakes than anyone could imagine.
In the end, it is always worth it. As Harbaugh told the Baltimore Sun of going on the USO tour: “It’s not just life-changing. It’s life-affirming.”
Every trip has its highlights — memories that will be ingrained in the participant’s minds forever. There is no doubt that the scene and events at Al Faw palace for the Fourth of July naturalization ceremony is one of those memories from this tour. Some of the “inside access” that the coaches were afforded also will not be forgotten. Attending General Odierno’s “Battle Assessment Update” or having a private dinner at his residence with top military leaders in Iraq fit into this category. Spending an hour with the Vice President wasn’t bad, either.
But the highlights of a USO Tour always come down to those precious interactions with the troops — those simple moments when the coaches connect with a service member, whether for 30 seconds when signing an autograph and taking a photo, or for 45 minutes over a shared meal at a DFAC. These moments remind the service members that we care, that they aren’t forgotten and that they have our support. When these moments happen, even just once, it is a beautiful thing. When these moments happen thousands upon thousands of times, it is an NFL-USO tour.
– David Krichavsky