Coaches USO tour: Day 2

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid (facing camera l) and Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox (facing camera, r) sign autographs for soldiers during a USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour stop at Baumholder Army Garrison in Germany July 1, 2010. The coaches, along with Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress and Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis (not pictured) are on their first overseas USO tour visiting troops in Germany and the Persian Gulf over the course of a week. (USO Photo Fred Greaves)

Earlier this summer, four NFL coaches traveled to Germany and the Persian Gulf to spend times with troops as part of a week-long USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour.  Included on the tour were Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress, Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, and Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid.

Coach Fox recently told a Carolina Panthers reporter about the impact the tour had on him: “It was inspiring. They’re amazing, everybody over there from the leadership to the troops. The sacrifice and commitment they make is probably second to none. It was a neat experience.”

Click here to check in as these former and current NFL coaches meeting and greeting troops in Iraq, courtesy of NFL.com!

NFL Coaches Touch Down on a USO Tour to Europe and the Persian Gulf

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis (back row L), Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid (back row 2nd l) , Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress (3rd r) and Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox (r) pose for a photo with medical staff during a USO tour stop at Landsthul Regional Medical Center in Germany on June 29, 2010. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

For the second consecutive year, the NFL deployed four of its most sought-after coaches to Germany and the Persian Gulf to visit troops as part of a week-long USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour.  Making the journey overseas are Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress, Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, and Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid.

Coach Childress had this to say about the experience: “Since my son has enlisted in the Marine Corps I have learned a new appreciation for the freedoms we all enjoy and take for granted.  Our armed forces are the most highly skilled, best-trained men and women in the world. Their character is on display on a daily basis because they’re an all-volunteer force. We all owe them a debt of gratitude and this trip is a small way of saying thank you.”

Check out our photo essay and get the latest on the tour from the Bengals blog!

Two soldiers brief Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox (standing 2nd l), Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress (standing 2nd r) and Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis (bottom in tank hatch) about the M1 Abrahms tank during a USO tour stop at Baumholder Army Garrison in Germany July 1, 2010. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox visits with MP's at Kaiserslautern Air Base in Germany during a USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour stop on June 30, 2010. (USO Photo Fred Greaves)

Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress gets some help after trading hats with TSgt Tamala Williams, a cook at a dining facility at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, during a USO tour stop on June 30, 2010. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis (2nd r) talks with airmen at the 435th Air Mobility Squadron at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on June 30, 2010. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

(r-l) Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid and Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox sign autographs and visit with troops and their families at the USO center in the Ramstein Passenger Terminal at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, June 29, 2010. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

Coaches Rich Ellerson, Chip Kelly, Tim Murphy and Ron Zook Lift Spirits on First-Ever USO/Morale Entertainment Tour

Four of today's top college football coaches pose for a group photo outside the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. The coaches are in the region as part of a nine-day, six-country USO/Morale Entertainment tour. (Morale Entertainment Photo by Blake Belcher)

“It’s an honor for me to have the opportunity to spend some time with our young men and women serving overseas, who get up every day and fight for the rights of others. The men and women of our U.S. Armed Forces embody the true spirit of heroism.” -Rich Ellerson, West Point

The USO, in conjunction with Morale Entertainment, recently deployed four top college football coaches overseas as part of a nine-day USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour to Germany and South West Asia. Making the 15-hour journey to boost morale and bring a touch of home to troops were West Point head coach Rich Ellerson, University of Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, Harvard University head coach Tim Murphy, and University of Illinois head coach Ron Zook.

As Tim Murphy explained, “This was not something I had to think about and I committed to it on the spot. We have two recent Harvard Football players who are at Camp Pendelton (Calif.) as Marine Corp offices awaiting deployment to Afghanistan and it’s the least I can do to show my spport for them and all the brave men and women of our armed forces.”

This is the first USO tour for each coach. During the trip, the group is scheduled to visit six countries in nine days to sign autographs and take photos.  They’ll also be participating in panel discussions and leading flag football competitions with troops. Among some of the places visited so far are, McConnell Air Force Base and the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

We’d like to thank American Airlines, which provided all domestic and international travel support for each tour participant as part of its office of Veterans and Military Initiatives; and Under Armour (UA), for donating athletic apparel to service members throughout the tour. And, as part of Under Armour’s Freedom initiative, the coaches will guide troops through an official UA Football Combine aboard an aircraft carrier and lead U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force in the 3rd consecutive “UA Dust Bowl” flag football game!

And while the Troops get a chance to kick back with some of today’s best coaches, it’s the coaches themselves who are humbled to take part in their first tour:
“To say that my USO tour has had an impact on me would be an understatement,” said Ron Zook of University of Illinois. “There is something profound about following in the footsteps of our troops and taking part in the activities that shape their everyday lives. I only wish everyone had this opportunity.”

University of Oregon head coach Chip Kelly takes time out to sign autographs for some of his youngest fans as part of his week-long USO/Morale Entertainment tour abroad. This is Murphy's first overseas tour to visit U.S. troops. (Morale Entertainment photo by Blake Belcher)

Harvard University head coach Tim Murphy takes time out to chat with a Wounded Warrior Project representative at the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. In the region to boost troop morale and talk football, Murphy, along with three other college coaches, are scheduled to visit six countries in nine days as part of their first USO/Morale Entertainment tour. (Morale Entertainment Photo by Blake Belcher)

University of Illinois head coach Ron Zook takes time out to sign autographs as part of his week-long USO/Morale Entertainment tour abroad. This is Murphy's first overseas tour to visit U.S. troops. (Morale Entertainment photo by Blake Belcher)

Four of today's top college football coaches mingle with troops during a recent visit to the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. The coaches are in the region as part of a nine-day, six-country USO/Morale Entertainment tour. (Morale Entertainment Photo by Blake Belcher)

Operation Hardwood – Hoops with the Troops: Episode 1

In 2006, 12 NCAA basketball coaches traveled to Kuwait to coach soldiers in a March Madness-style basketball tournament as part of "Operation Hardwood II."

Operation Hardwood was created in by the USO in 2005 to boost morale and bring a touch of home to those in uniform.  The USO has a long tradition of bringing sports figures and sports-related events to troops overseas,“Operation Hardwood” has deployed more than 35 NCAA basketball coaches and sports personalities to Kuwait and Japan.

In 2006, a group of elite coaches participated in “Operation Hardwood II,” coaching the basketball teams in Kuwait, and participating in combat drills, tank simulations, and visited injured troops in the hospital.
As part of a special four-part series, FOX Sports is looking back at this unique USO trip to see how it changed the lives of the soldiers and the coaches.  Through new interviews with some of the coaches – Rick Barnes, Tom Izzo, Kelvin Sampson, and Gary Williams – viewers get to see how their lives have been affected by the trip.  We hope you enjoy this series.  Let’s get it kicked off with Episode 1…

more about “Operation Hardwood: Episode 1“, posted with vodpod

Big East Salutes Our Troops

Coaches and an American President Offer Thanks to our Men and Women in the Armed Forces
By Brian Price, Reporter for SNY

The assignment was simple enough: Take a few minutes at the Big East Tournament to gather some words of appreciation from a few coaches for our American troops.  But everyone wanted in on the action, including President Clinton, who was watching in the stands.

Brian Price: What do you think of our troops and their service in Haiti?
Bill Clinton: The fact that troops made contributions to the Haitian recovery effort (http://clintonbushhaitifund.org) was profoundly moving. They’ve given enough to our country already. I’m grateful for their service and I’m grateful that they care about other people. And those that were not deployed to Haiti should know that, once more, the American military did America proud. They were unbelievable down there. Many Haitians in the street had been taught that America occupied Haiti from 1934 to 1950, and therefore felt negatively [towards America]. When the American troops left there were people running up and down the street begging them not to go. The people begged them to stay because [the Haitians] thought [our troops] performed better than anybody else.

BP: What are some of your most vivid memories of your service?
Lou Carneseca: In 1945, I was serving as a 2nd class pharmacist for General H.P. Freeman in World War II. We were on an AP 143 troop transport ship carrying the 82nd airborne. We pull into port at Yokohama and the first thing I see are four guys playing 2 v. 2 on a homemade backboard. Me and a buddy jumped off the boat and yelled out: “We got next!” I haven’t thought about that in over 60 years but there are certain things you never forget. To all the troops: we love you very much and we all know what you’re doing. Keep it going and God bless you all.

University of Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey, dressed in desert camouflage uniform and boots, cheers his team during the championship game of the USO-sponsored Hardwood IV "Hoops With the Troops" basketball tournament at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, May 27, 2007. Brey's LSA YAH team lost to Wake Forest University's Skip Prosser's Camp Arifjan Defenders, 79-74. (USO photo by Mike Theiler)

Mike Brey, Notre Dame: I was with “Operation Hardwood,” two years ago for the USO. It was unbelievable. I still have my wristband on [showing a green O.H.  rubber bracelet]. They put this on me when I left Camp Arifjan in Kuwait and I keep it on to support the troops. Being with the troops was the most powerful personal experience I’ve ever had. I’ve stayed in touch with guys that played for me over there [when I coached them during Operation Hardwood] and I just recently spoke with our ROTC group on campus.

Being at Camp Arifjan was the greatest example of teamwork I’ve ever been around. I was there two years ago for a week and I look forward to going back and spending more time with our troops.

I told them when I was there: “I so appreciate you having our back. When you return to the United States I have yours.” They’re all winners and exemplify teamwork to the fullest. It was motivating for me, as a leader, to be around that. Many of the sayings I heard, while over there, I brought back to Notre Dame and used with my team.

BP: Such as?
MB: “Always forward,” which is the theme at Camp Arifjan. Also, “Adjust and overcome.” That’s a great military saying and I think it’s a great saying when you’re working with a basketball team. Both those sayings are up on our [locker room] wall.

BP: What can we make people in the sports world aware of when considering the armed services?
John Thompson III, Georgetown: We truly appreciate everyone that serves our country. It drives me crazy when people in athletics use war analogies: “We’re going to war in tomorrow’s game.” No. We’re playing a game and having fun. Our troops are over there. It’s always an analogy I stay away from. We were proud to put the American flag on our jerseys out of respect and love for our troops and our country.

Keno Davis, Providence College: Too often we talk about games being “battles” and “the war.” We’ve all become more sensitive in understanding that our true patriots are out there fighting for it and dying for it. What goes through my mind when we stand during the National Anthem is: there are people doing things so much more important. Yes, we’re playing a basketball game and we’re trying our best to win but at the end of the day there’s more important things out there. I appreciate everything our troops do to allow us to live in the best country in the world.

When you’re in airports and you see people applauding our troops, that means a lot to them. It’s a little thing for us, but I think we all have to do our part to show our appreciation.

BP: Any messages for our troops?
Mick Cronin, Cincinnati: I saw a few soldiers from Cincinnati over Christmas break so I want to say hi to those guys. I know they’re over there following and watching the Bearcats. I hope March Madness can help keep everybody overseas stay positive. You guys hang in there. We’re proud of you and we wish you were back here watching March Madness filling out your brackets, but I’m sure you’re doing it over there. Thank you for everything.

Bobby Gonzalez, Seton Hall University: They allow us to do what we’re doing because of the sacrifices they’re making by being away from their families. We’re free to live our lives and play college basketball because of the young men and women who are over there. It’s incredible. It’s the ultimate sacrifice and we’re all so thankful.

Buzz Williams, Marquette: I don’t know that there’s any group of people that citizens of this country should be more thankful for than our American troops. What they do allows us to play games. Games don’t really matter. What they’re doing is life and death. They’re leaving their loved ones in order to protect me and my loved ones. Words can’t describe how thankful we are and how much we appreciate them.

Stan Heath, USF: Well I’m so thankful and I know my team and university are as well. We’re all so thankful for the troops and the sacrifices they make to be overseas fighting to give us our freedom. Sometimes we think that things we are doing are so important and we realize what they’re doing is so much more important. We always want to give thanks and appreciation for our troops who are serving this country and keeping our families safe and secure. The thing we want most is for all of them to come back home safely.

Compiling this piece was an honor. As the week continues, I look forward to adding more messages from courtside. I also want to note that each individual who contributed took time to close their eyes and find their words with thought and care. Lou Carneseca took the recorder out of my hand and spoke into it as if he was addressing our troops personally.

Hopefully, following college basketball this March will provide some much-deserved fun for our Armed Forces in combat zones and disaster areas throughout the world.

Brian Price is a writer for SNY, the online home for all things NY sports.  The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Brian Price and do not necessarily reflect those of the USO.

More Pics from the “Salute the Troops” Bowl

Be sure to tune into the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl TONIGHT

on FOX at 6pm MST (that’s 8pm EST) and watch the half-time show

for highlights from the “Salute the Troops” Bowl!

Legendary Notre Dame football player Rocket Ismail (l) poses for a photo with a fan in front of a Notre Dame banner during a pep rally in Baghdad, Iraq December 31, 2009. The rally was celebrating the first-ever Tostitos "Salute the Troops" Bowl where legendary college football players and coaches will play alongside the troops. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

US Forces-Iraq Commanding General Raymond Odierno talks with legendary football coaches, players and four cheerleaders from the University of Colorado at Boulder in Baghdad, Iraq December 31, 2009. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

Lieutenant General Charles Jacoby (l) welcomes football great Bruce Smith to Baghdad, Iraq December 30, 2009. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

(l-r) Former notable college football players and coaches Bruce Smith, Barry Switzer, Brian Bosworth, Rocket Ismail, Joe Washington, and Tommy Bowden sign autographs for soldiers at Camp Ali Al Salem in Kuwait December 29, 2009. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

Former Pro and College football star Brian Bosworth (r) talks with soldiers at Camp Buehring in Kuwait December 29, 2009. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

Former Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer (r) shares football stories with two soldiers at Camp Buehring in Kuwait December 29, 2009. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

College football legend Joe Washington (l), playing for Team Freedom, breaks through a wall of Team Liberty defenders during the first-ever Tostitos "Salute the Troops" Bowl where legendary college football players played alongside troops in Baghdad, Iraq January 1, 2010. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

Football legend Tony Casillas (92), playing for Team Freedom, tries to evade Team Liberty's Spc. Aaron decker (41) and college quarterback legend Tee Martin (c) who was playing defense during the first-ever Tostitos "Salute the Troops" Bowl where legendary college football players played alongside troops in Baghdad, Iraq January 1, 2010. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)