Texans right tackle Eric Winston is visiting U.S. military troops in Afghanistan as part of the 2012 NFL-USO Tour.
Four other players are on the trip: Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack, former Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones, Carolina Panthers punter Jason Baker and San Diego Chargers linebacker Takeo Spikes.
"It's definitely great to see all the troops and everyone that's over here defending our country and sacrificing so much so we can do whatever we want back home," Winston said Tuesday on the phone from an undisclosed military base in Afghanistan. "It's been real neat."
Winston and the other players have been in the Middle East since Sunday morning, visiting multiple bases each day. They stay at different bases each night and travel in Blackhawk helicopters and other military vehicles.
"Mostly it's just meeting with guys, meeting with the troops and seeing people, trying to get to as many people as we can," Winston said. "That's what this is all about is seeing the guys and trying to take their mind off of everything – even if it's a handshake or a five-minute conversation, talking to them about anything that they want to talk about, the football season, how the Texans did, where you think Peyton (Manning) is going to go. Whatever it might be, we hope that we might be able to take their mind off the hardships they're going through out here."
Winston joins Texans head coach Gary Kubiak (2011) and linebacker Mario Williams (2010) as members of the organization to participate in an NFL-USO Tour. Over the course of the NFL and USO's 45-year partnership, more than 200 active and former players and coaches have traveled to more than 20 countries.
After asking about doing the tour a couple years ago, Winston was thrilled to be selected this year.
"It's something that's very special," Winston said. "These (troops) obviously are part of a family, and you can tell that they all treat other like that. It's pretty neat to see.
"Honestly, meeting the guys and just getting a chance to talk to 'em whether it's over some lunch or just meeting some of those officers out here, whatever it might be, everyone is just incredibly professional, incredibly dedicated. It's really neat watching everyone work toward the same goal in whatever duty they might have.
"It blows your mind how well-constructed some of these bases are and how well laid out, and all the hard work that had to go into building something like this in such a short period of time. It just goes to show you how talented the men and women of our services are. Seeing things from up close, going around and seeing the countryside and seeing kind of what the country's like, it's been a great learning experience for me."
Winston has interacted with servicemen and women from the Houston area, and a good number of Texans fans, so far during the tour.
"I've met a lot of Fort Hood guys," he said. "I met a Special Forces Marine that's from Kingwood just yesterday. It's been neat. You definitely get a big welcome, and you hear from them that they've been sitting up watching the games at 4 a.m. sometimes on a Monday morning to watch the noon games.
"Everyone's pumped about last year, and everyone's just excited as can be. A lot of these guys, they can't stop telling you how much football means to them, how much they love watching the games. They all get up at 3 a.m. knowing that they might not sleep that much that night, but they're willing to do it because they want to watch football. The passion they have for it and how big of fans they are, it doesn't stop just because they're halfway around the world. They love it just like a typical fan, so it's been neat being here and just being able to say hi to 'em."