NFL analyst Eric Mangini had the opportunity to do something completely different this Fourth of July.
Instead of celebrating Independence Day at a family barbecue like many Americans, he traveled halfway around the world as part of the NFL USO Coaches Tour to the Persian Gulf, visiting troops and observing the holiday with them overseas.
“When you are here, you quickly realize that whatever is going on in your life, this puts things in perspective. You’re not thousands of miles away from home in 120-degree heat carrying 80-100 pounds on your back risking your life. These folks are doing it and they are doing it for us. You don’t know how powerful that is until you see it up close. The soldiers are funny and smart. They have great morale, patriotism and commitment to the mission.
“We were able to visit the hospital at the main base where we are staying, as well as different groups on the base. The medical center, it’s just amazing the level of care that the soldiers are able to get and the wide variety of experts that they have. One of the things that’s impressed me the most about being here is just the coordination with so many things going on in so many different places. The way they are able to coordinate it and the technology they have. Being a coach for a long time, you think you have an idea of organization and logistics, and things like that, then you see an organization of this size with so many people from so many different parts of the country working together.
“We also went out to what they call FOBs, Forward Operating Bases. We flew in the morning in a Chinook helicopter. While we were there, they took us on a tour of the base and we met with the chain of command with different groups of soldiers. We repeated that throughout the day. Typically, these USO Tours don’t get out to the FOBs like we were able to do. That was special because these men and women don’t have many visitors. To be able to sit down with them, you find out they are from all over the country, from all different age groups and backgrounds.
“At the base, we filmed a piece for NFL Live, and one of the soldiers asked to send a message home.
“He got a little choked up because he wanted to say hello to his autistic son. Some of these guys are on their fourth tour of duty. It could be six, 12 or 15 months. They are missing home so it felt good to be able to bring a little bit of home to them.
“There are a lot of NFL fans and a lot of ESPN fans over there. I had a number of troops tell me they were First Take fans. Some guys told me to tell Skip [Bayless] to shut up. One guy told me that he’s able to watch it every day. There are some really loyal fans of that show, which I’m sure Skip and Stephen A. [Smith] will be happy to hear.
“I was able to sit with a bunch of soldiers at dinner. The guy who I was seated next to has been on four tours — been in the military for 10 years. There was a kid across from me who was on his first. It’s like a range of experience. We’ve met people from everywhere: Idaho, Alaska, Alabama, California, Florida, and so on. Some of the people are from different bases, working together for the first time. It’s what you look for in a football team – what do I need to do, how can I help, how can we accomplish the overall mission? It’s complete selflessness.
“Oftentimes we sit at home and lose sight of what these men and women are doing every day. It’s easy to do that because we live in a place that is peaceful. I appreciate the special opportunity to be around these men and women this Fourth of July. It has been inspiring.”