Texans defensive end Mario Williams and three other Pro Bowlers are currently visiting US troops in Southwest Asia as part of the annual NFL-USO Tour. The players are traveling to nine bases in eight days to visit with troops in the Persian Gulf, signing autographs, participating in meet-and-greets and boosting troop morale.
The tour began on Tuesday, March 2 and will end on Tuesday, March 9. Check out these great photos from the early parts of the trip, courtesy of the NFL and USO.
The first part of the tour saw the players visit an Air Force base in Qatar. David Krichavsky, NFL director of community affairs, is traveling with the group of players and sent us this recap of the first two days of their trip:
Day 1, March 2
After a long day of travel, we arrived in Doha, Qatar and cleared customs. Our traveling party includes four of the top players in the NFL – Vernon Davis, Joe Thomas, Mario Williams, and Jason Witten -- as well as a USO tour manager, USO photographer, and NFL representative.
We met our military escorts at the airport and were transferred to Al Udeid Air Force Base, approximately 40 minutes outside Doha. Al Udeid is home to nearly 11,000 coalition troops -- mainly US Air Force -- and from this base our troops fly combat as well as supply and refueling missions over both Iraq and Afghanistan.
It was after 8 p.m. local time by the time we arrived on base. The Commanding Officer, General Wilson, hosted a reception for the players and the senior officers on base. During this reception, the players had the chance to eat some food and relax after the long flight from the States. They also had their first opportunity to speak with the troops, ask questions about our mission, talk football and boost morale.
Many more of these opportunities would follow.
Day 2, March 3On Day 2 of the NFL-USO tour, our group tried to cover every inch of Al Udeid AB and meet as many of the 11,000 troops on base as possible.
We began the day with an 8 a.m. breakfast that was structured as a "football roundtable Q&A" in which the players sat at a table at the front of the room and the troops in the DFAC (dining facility) had the opportunity to ask the players questions. As a representative of "America's Team," Jason Witten seemed to have the most questions directed his way, although there was interest in a wide range of football (and non-football) topics.
After breakfast, the players toured the flight line, seeing all the different planes and jets that operate out of Al Udeid AB and visiting with the men and women who fly and work on the planes. The B1 bomber was a particular hit with the players due to its precision bombing capabilities. The players not only provided autographs to all the B1 pilots at this stop, but they also were able to sign a few of the bombs heading on the B1s into the war zone. "From Cleveland, with love," wrote Joe Thomas affectionately.
Another highlight was touring the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC). This command-and-control center coordinates all air assets over both Iraq and Afghanistan. In the CAOC building, there are giant screens showing all planes currently in flight above both war theaters. The screens also show everywhere in Iraq and Afghanistan where we have Troops In Combat (TIC). And the most amazing part of all is that we generally have renaissance planes over these TIC areas that transmit live pictures to the CAOC so that those at the CAOC can call in additional air support if necessary.
The players spent 30-45 minutes in CAOC, soaking everything in and signing autographs for all the airmen and women working there.
One other highlight of our tour of Al Udeid was our visit to the K-9 unit. Al Udeid has a dog unit specially trained to sniff out explosives. The players had the opportunity to watch the dogs go through a number of exercises designed to test and refine their training.
After a brief rest and dinner, our group had a large meet-and-greet in the evening. This appearance attracted well over 300 troops from across the base.