Six months ago retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Lew Deal of the Paralyzed Veterans of America contacted me and asked if men and women in the outdoor, hunting and conservation communities would be interested in visiting our troops in the Persian Gulf. What a question! Of course we would! He put together two teams to undertake the trip.
After all the waiting and planning the opportunity to visit our servicemen and women in the Persian Gulf theatre is finally here.
Our mission is simple: Travel to a military hospital and forward bases to express the gratitude of all Americans to those who defend our freedom and keep harm away from our shores.
I am traveling with retired USMC Maj. Gen. Randy West, former Major League Baseball player Ryan Klesko, Bass Pro Shops TV host Jerry Martin, NWTF national spokesman Michael Waddell and outdoor TV personality Jim Zumbo. We’re all relieved to be boarding our plane because just three days ago, the other half of our group had had their tour delayed because of things heating up in the region. Everyone in that group — TV host Jim Shockey, Mossy Oak’s Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland, North American Hunting Club Executive Director Bill Miller, NWTF national spokeswoman Brenda Valentine, and Deal — was bitterly disappointed to suspend their visit.
We are the guests of the Department of Defense’s Armed Forces Entertainment, whose mission is to provide entertainment to troops around the world. We are told that this tour is the first of its kind in that we will be on the ground, meeting one-on-one with servicemen. We all feel a great sense of responsibility to carry the best wishes of our fellow countrymen to sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines serving overseas.
We met up at Dulles International Airport for a flight to Frankfort, Germany where we will tour Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Landstuhl Air Base. This hospital is the first stop for our severely wounded veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq.
As a distraction from the delays of travel, and I suppose from the seriousness and gravity of the world we are about to enter, we have resorted to poker. You can learn a lot about folks around the poker table. It’s obvious to me that Klesko spent way too much time in MLB baseball clubhouses, buses and planes. The games he deals are only understood and won by the dealer. Gen. West and Martin spent a lot of hurry-up-and-wait times in their military careers. They are like patient, quiet sharks in the water. DO NOT let them hold your wallet. I am somewhere between a place holder and a victim, but I’m learning fast. Waddell and Zumbo are feigning inexperience, sitting on the sidelines like predators watching prey. I expect they’ll make a move in the next day or two.
Off to bed after a full 30-hour day. More after we return from Landstuhl.