Saturday, July 07, 2007

Saintsations Honored by Louisiana House and Senate for Goodwill Mission to Middle East 

Posted by Sasha at 9:23 AM ET

Doug Miller,
Jun 27, 2007

Baton Rouge, La. - The Louisiana State House of Representatives and Senate today recognized the Saintsations for a recent 12-day goodwill trip the cheerleaders made to the Middle East, which included forays into Baghdad and other US Military bases in Iraq and Kuwait. The Saintsations were honored by the state's legislative branch with certificates of appreciation on the Senate floor in an afternoon ceremony.

Tori Nunez, who will be entering her fifth season as a Saintsation in 2007 and eight other Saintsations, recently concluded the trip that took the dynamic cheerleading squad into the heart of US Military bases in Iraq.

"It was as an incredible experience, to say the least," said the Chalmette native and a current coordinator for American All-Stars, based on the north shore. "It was an honor to represent the Saints, the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana."

The Saintsations made the most of their long trip by mixing multiple performances into each day at various bases, coupled with meet-and-greets with the deployed soldiers. "We knew heading over that there were a lot of soldiers from Louisiana, but we were amazed by how many Saints fans there were. They are really excited for the upcoming season and we were glad to share in the excitement with them," Nunez said.

Bethany Tonguis, who is heading into her third year as a member of the Saintsations, made what she thought would be a similar trip to the one that they made last year to Afghanistan. But, she said, it was completely different.

"It was very hard on the soldiers and their families," Tonguis said. "I know that I came away from the trip completely in awe and humbled. The sacrifice our soldiers are making for our country and for the men and women of Iraq is awe-inspiring."

The highly energetic group of Saintsations left Louisiana and headed to Washington, DC before making the long trip to Kuwait. Shortly after arriving in Kuwait, the Saintsations headed into Iraq via a C-130 military transport and traveled to the various military bases throughout Iraq via Blackhawk helicopters.

While the Saintsations were primarily in safe quarters, there were times that they had to don protective gear as the prospect of incoming artillery is an ever-present danger. "There was one point where we were meeting the soldiers and we were told to get into a bunker," Nunez said. "We all grabbed out metal helmets and bolted for the bunker. It must have been some sight, as some of us had our helmets on crooked and backwards!"

In making light of their formal military training, Nunez said the trip was incredibly enlightening."It was great to meet so many soldiers and lift their spirits," she said. "They are all working so hard over there and making incredible sacrifices, and to be able to allow them to reconnect, in some small way, with our society, was wonderful."

Nunez recounted a story of a solider that came upon the Saintsations in a mess hall and didn't realize they were coming. He asked them how long they would be there and was told for only a short while longer, but that didn't stop him from running nearly two miles back to his barracks to quickly garner a Saintsations calendar his parents had sent him just a few months ago. "He was thrilled to get it autographed and to spend time talking to us. I know we all felt honored."

The veteran cheerleader also said that their paths crossed with many members of the Louisiana National Guard and the conversation turned to how their lives were all affected in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. "it was yet another opportunity to thank them for everything they did for our region, and then to run into them in Iraq was pretty mind-boggling. It just goes to show the commitment they have made to all of us."

Nunez concluded that the highlight of the trip was visiting and staying in one of late Iraqi-dictator Saddam Hussein's palaces, which has been temporarily converted into a US military station."we were able to sit in one of his former thrones and take a tour of the palace," Nunez said."It is something none of us will ever forget."

And something, it turns out, that earned the Saintsations special recognition for a job incredibly well done in representing the Saints and the entire Gulf South region.

"I know that now I have a better appreciation for what it means to be an American," Tonguis said."I think that we are all accepting our certificates today with the thoughts and prayers of our soldiers in the Middle East in mind."

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