George’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 4

Departed Camp Arifjan for the 30-minute escorted mini bus ride to the Kuwait International Airport. As much as we have enjoyed the Kuwaiti experience, we are ready for the next stop. We have no idea who we are going to see, what the conditions will be or how many troops we will meet. But we are ready.

As we leave our quarters at 3 a.m., the temperature has dropped and the wind is gusting to what must be 40 mph. Dust storm! We have heard about them and seen videos of roiling black clouds obliterating the sun. It never seemed real until now.

We come to the main gate to leave Camp Arifjan and are told the highway is blacked out. We will be delayed for at least an hour for a possible break in the storm. We immediately begin to think about the implications of missing our flight. We could possibly lose the rest of the trip.

Who’s thanking whom? Even though the Outdoor Legends Tour is a way for us, on behalf the hunting community, to thank the military for their service, we’ve received so much gratitude in exchange from the servicemen and women. I’m so humbled to be a part of this entire experience.

Fate is on our side. After only a few minutes and an appeal to the main security center, we are told there is a break and we can proceed. Off we go. The conditions seemed OK, so what’s the big deal?

By the time we reach the airport, the bus is being buffeted by the wind and visibility is terrible. Will the flights be delayed? Again we’re in luck. We clear immigration without a hitch, except Ryan Klesko lost his visa and has to go through a special line.

We make a few suggestions about the “special” treatment we hope he receives.

Pleasant surprise, the Kuwaitis are very efficient and forgiving. Ryan sails through with no drama, and we make our departure. (Did I mention the Kuwaitis waive all visa expenses for Americans? They appreciated our friendship in Operation Desert Storm.)

At 6:30 a.m., we land to change planes and have a 4-hour layover. Then on to our next destination, a camp in southwest Asia.

We land at the airport at 6:30 p.m. to friendly people, beautiful grounds with acres of oil palms (or date palms, I can’t tell the difference). On the way to camp we see an emerging city in the desert where there were nothing but Bedouin tents 30 years ago. The rest of the scenery is desolate, aside from a few goats, cattle and an amazing number of camels. There were a few olive trees that looked barely alive. Nothing is green without irrigation. It’s just rocky, sandy hills as far as the eye can see.

Upon our arrival, we had time to catch a little shuteye after not having much for the past 48 hours.

Here are our living quarters at the camp in southwest Asia. It’s great to see first-hand how well our troops are cared for over here. The food is delicious!

That evening we headed to the mess hall for some great food. Our troops are well looked after.

We then went to the Rec Center for a poker game, where I lost my a** to a couple of friendly reservists from Maine. I was the first to retreat to our quarters.

The next morning, I was somewhat encouraged to learn the reservists proceeded to fleece our entire group.

Maybe I am not that bad a poker player after all.

— George

Click here to read more about the Outdoor Legends Tour on NWTF Spokesman Michael Waddell’s blog.

George’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 3

We arrived Kuwait City at midnight and were met by American Entertainment and security personnel. We then headed to Camp Arifjan, arriving about an hour and a half later. Reveille sounded great! Off to breakfast in the mess hall. The food, by the way, is outstanding.

Started meeting and talking with personnel immediately at this impressive facility. It’s basically a city of 30,000 constructed in the desert to defend Kuwait and maintain a firm regional support base. We are the guests of the Kuwaiti government as a result of liberating Kuwait from the Iraqi invasion.

We were briefed on the Camp Arifjan mission by the unit’s commanding officer, Colonel R.G. Cheatham and Command Sergeant Major D.L. Pierce. Both are active outdoorsmen and were delighted to receive us. We then moved to a meeting of more than 100 soldiers from all over Kuwait. Some had driven more than three hours from the Iraq border to see us. We had the opportunity to share our personal stories, as well as the missions of our respective organizations. We took questions and shook hands with each one.

Our soldiers are great hunters and anglers, and all miss home and the opportunity to be in the field with friends and family. There are lots of NWTF members and even more turkey hunters stationed here.

Off to Camp Patriot, a joint U.S. Army and Navy base and port shared with the Kuwaiti Navy. It’s the smallest U.S. base in Kuwait but key for supporting embarkation and deportation of personnel and materiel into the region.

We met with the 106th Armored Artillery from Minnesota and shared hunting and fishing stories from their home state. These guys are in the Army Reserve, serving on their third deployment, an incredible personal sacrifice on their part.

Commander, D. T. Lahti and 1st Sergeant J.J. Benson are big outdoorsmen. We shared a great dinner together, then headed back to Camp Arifjan.

We had promised to come back for an informal meeting at the Arifjan Recreation Center. More than 80 men and women came to meet us. Major Gen. Randy West and I left to go to a Friday night Gospel church service, but heard they had a great time. All formality was dropped as they shared non-stop stories of hunting and fishing back home. Tour members say Waddell was on his A-game and entertained everyone with stories of growing up and learning to hunt in Booger Bottom, Ga.

Major Gen. West and I enjoyed the Friday night service, where he gave a moving testimonial of his Christian life journey and the challenges to his faith he had to overcome as a young aviator in Vietnam. There were more than 100 people at the service.

We returned to the Rec Center for more fellowship and to collect the group. By 10 p.m., we were back at quarters to shower, pack and go to the airport for our next Persian Gulf destination before daylight.

I left Kuwait with these observations:

  • The older Kuwaiti generations are warm and friendly. They appreciate America, our role in helping them regain their freedom from Saddam Hussein, as well as our continued presence in their country. Can’t say the same for the 20-something generation. There seems to be a lot of resentment and anger about our presence. I guess it is human nature to forget history and take comforts for granted. A real reminder of how fragile the region is.
  • Kuwait is an extremely rich country with every citizen guaranteed a minimum income that we could only dream of. It can and does lead to a sense of entitlement, which is most evident in their driving behavior. Driving in Kuwait makes driving in Mexico City, Paris, San Paulo or New York look like bumper cars at a county fair. Aggressive to the point that some Americans leave their radio off so as to not be distracted.  Can you imagine driving in a country that prohibits touching anyone in an automobile accident for 30 minutes for religious reasons, Muslim or Christian?
  • Kuwait has a population of 2 million Kuwaitis and more than 2 million guest workers. Kuwaitis spend the winters in large tent camps (There are thousands of them.) out in the desserts, riding motorcycles, four wheelers and horses. They really enjoy getting back to their Bedouin roots.  Sounds familiar, especially to those of us who enjoy the outdoors. For all of their idiosyncrasies and the blessing (?) of wealth that they have, they are a lot like us. Lets hope that they continue to live in a stable region and enjoy their freedoms and privileges.

— George

Click here to read more about the Outdoor Legends Tour on NWTF Spokesman Michael Waddell’s blog.

George’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 1

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.

You can learn a lot about folks around the poker table. I’m certain I’m a sitting duck to card sharks Ryan Klesko (a shifty dealer), retired USMC Maj. Gen. Randy West and Jerry Martin. Keep your friends close and your wallet even closer…

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.

— George