Thursday, September 9, 2010

The NFL Kicks Off - In Iraq and Afghanistan

(This is a reprint of last year's post about the first NFL game of the season. We weren't in Afghanistan then. Once again, I'll think of our warfighters as I watch the game, and hope that they are safely gathered around their TV sets watching it too.)

Tonight, finally, the NFL kicks off its season. The first game of the season brings memories of 2003, the year the Iraq war started in earnest. I was working for Harris Corporation, a major defense communications equipment manufacturer. In April of that year, a friend on the manufacturing floor called one day and said it was time we did something to support the troops and I should organize something. So after we put up some posters and had a few meetings, we packed about 60 shoeboxes and sent them to a contact in Iraq. Bear in mind, this was just a couple of months after everything over there started, so the infrastructure for our warfighters was pretty slim. The response from the troops that received our shoeboxes was heartwarming, so we did a 4th of July mailing and pretty much adopted a Signal Battalion in Camp Adder and a Signal Brigade in Mosul. By this time, we were getting some fairly regular correspondence, and it became apparent that a lot of the soldiers really missed their sporting events, so we started planning for the start of football season. We shipped over 350 pounds of chips, peanuts, salsa, nacho cheese sauce, door prizes, disposables, and instructions (for example: Put cheese in disposable pan, cover with plastic wrap, and set on top of humvee hood to heat). The party took place September 7, when the troops watched the first NFL games, with a delay of about 8 hours because of time differences.

Door prizes (the football team cheerleader posters were a big hit!)

Local businesses supported the effort whole-heartedly. Texas Roadhouse donated 100 pounds of peanuts in the shell. Publix kicked in 64 pounds of salsa. Sodexho provided chips for 350, enough jalapeno slices for an entire Army, and disposables. Carroll Distributing provided customized 3 ft x 6 ft Budweiser banners. The Tampa Bay Bucs, Miami Dolphins and the Jacksonville Jaguars each sent posters and team memorabilia. Harris provided 10-ft long banners for each location proclaiming “The NFL Kicks Off In Iraq”, and Harris employees brought in football magazines. Cash donations filled in the holes – nacho cheese sauce, four footballs, ESPN stadium music, and tickets for door prizes. And Harris picked up the shipping costs, which made everything possible.

These soldiers were two of the party committee that set everything up - including spelling out NFL with cups of peanuts. So young, so lovely, so handsome.

The parties were a huge success. We got reports that a great time was had by all – lots of cheering and lots of eating - and that the troops were genuinely delighted that people they don’t know would throw them a party. The goal was to give troops a touch of home, and in the Battalion CSM's words, “Mission Accomplished”! The Brigade in Mosul reported a “blowout” party, even though the satellite card for their TV did not arrive, so they had no football.

We continued our support with Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine's Day parties, with a final banner welcoming the troops home. It's hard to believe that seven years have passed.

So tomorrow I'll get back to talking about beach things, but tonight I'm going to watch football and think of our warfighters around the world and hope they are getting a chance to watch it too. HOO-AH!

No comments: