We started our final day in the Persian Gulf region at the ball field, with Ryan Klesko and Michael Waddell pitching for each side. Ryan knocked Michael off the mound with a line drive on the first pitch. The ball hit Michael everywhere but in the glove. He shook it off like a champ and kept on pitching. Most impressive play of the day: Ryan knocked the ball out of the park, setting an Arabian Gulf home run distance record for a ball that flew over the center field fence and through three concertina barriers. That one will stand in the record books for a while.
It is our last day in theatre and without a doubt our most interesting and enjoyable.
We visited a Patriot missile battery and received a briefing on the duties of the company charged with the defense of the base. The men and women were proud to demonstrate their skills and capabilities.
We received a brief on the camp’s mission from the commanding officer. The size of the responsibility, geography covered and assets deployed is incredible. The base supports on-the-ground activity in Afghanistan 24/7. The commander rolled out the red carpet for us. He had received reports from our visits to other camps and bases and was happy to have us with his troops.
After the briefing we visited a U2 operation where we saw how the pilots are suited up in space suits. We met the pilots and talked with them about their responsibilities and backgrounds. Several within the ranks are hunters.
We were given the opportunity to ride in the chase car that assists in the landing of these specialized aircraft. We chased the U2 at 90+ miles per hour, and the pilot driving the car talked the U2 down. Fascinating! The plane was returning from a 10-hour flight, and piloted by a professional young woman from Atlanta. I believe she is the first female U2 pilot. It’s hard to imagine the discipline and self-control required to do this job. The U2 mission is aerial surveillance over the entire region. By the way, the planes cost $250 million each. The plane itself is pretty basic. The avionics are most impressive.
The F-15 flight line was the next stop. The crew chief gave us a hands-on tour where we talked with young fighter pilots. Just like Top Gun, these are very confident and professional young men. Their mission is the air defense of our Arabian Gulf assets. They are the real deal, one-on-one warriors.
Next we toured an AWACS plane. (AWACS spelled out is Airborne Warning and Control System.) These are radar and communication centers in the sky. I asked the general about their capabilities. He said one AWACS alone could manage a small war. There were quite a few on the tarmac. Several are in the air at all times.
We then had the privilege of going into the Global Hawk hanger. The Global Hawk Drone is a remote-controlled, full-sized aircraft that can act as a communications relay, an offensive weapon or a spy in the sky. Just standing beside one leaves you in awe of our technical capabilities.
We then returned to quarters and packed for the 30-hour trip home. After dinner, we headed back to the Rec Room for conversations with the troops. Many of the troops came back for a second night and to send us off. I feel we made some friends whom we will see again. We made commitments to assist everyone interested in setting up hunts when they return. At 10:30 p.m. (2230 hours), it was loading time for the trip home.
I truly believe we achieved our mission of letting our troops know how much support they have back home. Their jobs are difficult, intense and sometimes very stressful and lonely. All of us who were fortunate enough to go on this tour want to thank Armed Forces Entertainment for making this trip possible.
We also want to thank Susan Korbel for escorting us and making the logistics appear to be effortless.
Mostly we want to thank the men and women of our Armed Forces for the jobs they do every day on behalf of everyone in the free world. These people are the real “1 percent” who need to recognized and appreciated.
We believe that Col. Lew Deal and another group of Outdoor Legends will make a similar trip later in the year. I hope they do and that they will share their experiences with us.
Click here to read more about the Outdoor Legends Tour on NWTF Spokesman Michael Waddell’s blog.