For those of us in the United States, the Fourth of July usually means barbecues, friends and fireworks. It’s easy to forget that thousands of miles away, some Americans are sacrificing such pleasures to help keep the country safe.
That’s why the NFL’s annual USO tour is such an important and meaningful event — both for the coaches and players traveling abroad and the soldiers so far from their friends and families on the most American of all holidays. Every year, the NFL-USO tour creates stories that are both inspirational and heartfelt, and this year is no different.
Case in point is Vikings coach Brad Childress, who along with Philadelphia’s Andy Reid, Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis and Carolina’s John Fox, wasn’t at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan for more than a few hours when he happened upon a very special Marine. While unloading gear, Childress stopped to greet a few passing soldiers, one of whom happened to be his son, Andrew, who had been deployed to the Middle East a few months earlier. At first, the coach didn’t recognize his son, who had shed a few pounds and grown a mustache.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has the whole story, including an emotional Brad Childress recounting the meeting.
“Honest to God, I had him by the hand and I didn’t realize who I was looking at until …” said Childress, his voice trailing off as he retold the story during a phone conversation Friday. “I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea that was going to happen. We were in one spot and he’s in another. Somehow they pulled it off.”
Childress said he didn’t expect to see his son before December, but he was grateful for the chance.
“It was emotional as hell,” Childress said. “It was just a great feeling holding him in my arms.”
As he took questions and talked football with the soldiers on base, Childress said one predictable topic repeatedly come up: Brett Favre‘s future. But Childress said he’s not taking the bait, responding: “You know what? That’s part of my [day] job. I’m going to do that when I get home.”
Reid told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the troops’ enthusiasm for the NFL is overwhelming.
“You can tell they live for football and when the season comes,” Reid said.
Reid added he hasn’t been able to escape chants of E-A-G-L-E-S, but another incident has been harder to shake off.
The coaches’ tour began with a stop in Germany at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, which serves U.S. and NATO forces injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. After visiting with injured soldiers there, the plan was to continue on with an overnight flight to Afghanistan.
But soon after taking off, the coaches’ C-17 cargo plane had to circle back after a bird hit the aircraft. Reid said his affiliation with birds has led to endless teasing from the other coaches, who have taken to calling him “Captain Eagle.”
“I’ve been getting killed about the bird,” Reid said.
Happy Fourth of July.