Saturday, March 01, 2008

Ben-Gals in Afghanistan 

Posted by Sasha at 9:10 PM ET

View photos for this story at Bengals.com

Feb 2 2008 - We Made It!

To all our loved ones back home, we have arrived safely to Afghanistan and this is the first time since our leave on the 31st that we have had any access to Internet and phone, so don't worry we are fine.

There are six of us on the tour, Kat and Stephanie representing the Cincinnati Bengals, Cooper Carlise a linebacker from the Oakland Raiders, Jason Baker a punter from the Carolina Panthers, Ben Hartsock, a tight end for the Tennessee Titans, and Jeff Kennedy from KA Sports as our guide. We have all become like a little family on this trip and it has been so rewarding for each of us.

We have our very first appearance tomorrow because we have been traveling since the 31st but the guys are so excited to have someone from back home bringing them some cheer. Once we arrived in Qatar, we went bowling with the troops, which was so much fun! Then we woke up after one hour of sleep to board a military plane for Afghanistan. This was an adventure for all of us because they allowed Kat and Stephanie, along with the players, to sit in the cockpit with the pilots. Kat flew the plane and Stephanie switched the fuel tanks.

If you ever wondered how to scare NFL players, allowing two girls to control the plane is the way to do it! Once we landed, we have just eaten and been settling in. We are having an amazing time so far! We have seen the Persian Gulf and we also flew over Pakistan. It is cold and dusty here, but the mountains in Afghanistan are beautiful. We are looking forward to watching the Super Bowl with the troops. That's all for now, we will send more later.

Stephanie and Kat

Feb 5 2008 - Tuesday Update
Hello everybody!

We are having the best time. This trip has been truly amazing so far! We have been very busy for the past few days. We visited a hospital on base, and were able to meet the medical staff and patients. Many of the patients are locals who were brought on base to be treated. Through visits like these, it has become clear that the United States has such a tremendous impact on this country and its people.

It is especially amazing to meet the men and women who dedicate their lives to not only our country, but to the general welfare of all people.

We also watched the Super Bowl with the troops, but we woke up at 3:30 in the morning to do it! It was very cool to hang out with the soldiers. We have also been touring the base and seeing many different types of planes and helicopters.

Overall, we are happy and having a blast but we are freezing! There was a snowstorm here and we are snowed in today. Everything is a sea of white and very slippery. We are hoping that it will lighten up and we will be able to visit other local camps.

Kat and Stephanie

Feb 12 2008 - Checking In

I wanted to give one last blog stating an overview of the last 11 days that has impacted my life and will be the one trip I will always remember. The trip is now over but I'll try to give you a recap of some of the more interesting things we've done here in Afghanistan/Qatar.

On January 31, Stephanie and I left Cincinnati for Washington, DC to meet up with the rest of our traveling group. Little did I know that not only was this trip going to be inspirational but that we would leave with four new brothers. The flight to Qatar took about 13 hours and by the time Chief and Captain Reyes came to pick us all up we were exhausted. We ended up at Camp As Sayliyah in Doha, an R and R place for the soldiers to go on their four-day break.

They took us to drop off our baggage and then we all went to the recreation area, which is where they have bowling, karaoke, pool and a tavern where they are allowed to have a three-drink maximum. We hung out with the some of the soldiers taking pictures, playing a few games with them and then off to bed because we had a very early flight the next day to Afghanistan.

We boarded a C130 that morning and stopped at the pick-n-go for some food before boarding our plane. It was a pretty fun flight ... for a five-hour flight. Once we got situated the pilots found out that we were with the NFL and asked if we wanted to join them in the cockpit for the flight. Only two could fit at a time and I lucked out and was the first one up in the cockpit (that and my hand went up the quickest when asked if anyone wanted to head up there). They let us get up and stretch out on the seating (which was basically netting). Stephanie got to change the fuel tanks over and I got to turn the plane (I finally got to fly, one of my goals this trip).

Welcome to Bagram! We finally made it after about a day and a half of traveling. We were picked up by our new "travel guides," Sergeants Stovall and Allen who have been awesome! They set us up with our new accommodations. The boys stayed in a B-hut (which is like going to summer camp with rows of bunk beds) and the girls stayed in these little apartments with three separate rooms. Each of us though had to walk through the snow to get to the bathrooms and showers. You need shower shoes so here we all were running through the snow in our flip flops. Talk about getting cold feet.

We were now snowed in for the next five days unable to fly out and visit other local camps around Afghanistan. So here are the activities we were able to do while visiting Bagram: The Super Bowl was on Monday and located in the clam shell a big tent filled with tons of guys cheering for the N.Y. Giants. It was one of our first appearances in uniform and since it was so cold and snowy out we wore our catsuits, which the soldiers loved. The entire group was on hand for autographs and pictures during the game. We also had giveaway prizes like T-shirts and footballs during the Super Bowl, which came on at 3:30 a.m. our time (their motto here is "Sleep when you can, Eat when you can."). At the end of the game the place went crazy with soldiers celebrating the Giants win; it was great to see such a large turnout considering how early everyone had to get up.

One of the visits that really hit me the hardest was the base hospital where we met with the staff and toured the hospital facility. We were told that there was only one army soldier there and it was such an honor to meet with him and hear about his stories. Here he was giving everything of himself for us and our country and he was thanking us for being there with him. After thanking him for his service and taking some pictures he said to us "We do it for you." I hope we all continue to remember that; I will never forget.

Although it was the Afghani children who were the ones that really pulled on my heart strings. There were a couple of Afghani children in the hospital being taken care of for stepping on land mines or being in some kind of an accident. Because it is so cold and they live so primitively, the children often get really sick. This one Afghani child named Roman could only say truck but we were able to communicate through coloring together. The soldier there said that this is the most movement from him in a week.

We were taking pictures with the surgery staff when a little boy who couldn't have been more than 3 or 4 years old came rolling into surgery from an accident. He looked so helpless but the staff rushed to his side trying to do anything to help the child survive. This was the only time during the trip where my emotions got the better of me and you couldn't help but shed a tear. Our soldiers are heroes and it was shown right in front of me of their dedication they have not only to our country but to helping all of God's children of the world.

Our group did get to do some group hands-on activities while we were snowed in at Bagram. The visits included seeing some Pave Hawks, F-10's, Apaches, signing a couple of missiles and driving a "Hummvee on steroids," as the Special Forces called the vehicle. We also took part in some simulations where we flipped over in a Hummer and had to get out of the vehicle upside. Needless to say I hit my head the first time really hard. Some other simulations include trying to shoot and fly Apache's, shooting guns in a war simulation (I am a terrible shot, but Stephanie really was the pro, outscoring everyone), and computer war games with a Hummer. I even got to learn how to protect myself against an attacker with Jujitsu.

Although, my favorite must have been playing the Wii with the guys from Special Forces (I want a bowling rematch). Every activity we went to, the soldiers there were so happy to have a little piece of home there to let them know how much we appreciate everything they are doing over here not only for the U.S. but also for trying to create a place where the Afghani people can have protection from terrorist threats. Also, on all of our visits it was really important to let the staff know when we were coming so they could cover anything that was of National Security. They take this very seriously and make every precaution to keep us protected and safe.

On Wednesday night we had to fly out early from Afghanistan back to Qatar due to another snow storm that was about to roll in on Thursday. We would be snowed in again if we did not leave (it was 1 a.m. when we were at the airport). We boarded another C-130 and much to our surprise it was the same flight crew that had originally flown us over from Qatar to Afghanistan. The flight back was a little harder on me this time for the pilots fly out with no lights on until we are safe out of harms way. Also they do swaying maneuvers as a safety tactic (not good on the stomach). However, the guys gave us one of the best gifts - an American flag. Stephanie and I decided we would hang the flag in our dressing room in honor of our trip. This was a way now for us to share something with our team every game, a connection to all the soldiers overseas.

Thursday was our first full day back at Camp As Sayliyah in Doha, Qatar. The camp services every branch of the military from Navy, Marines, Air Force, DOD Civilians and Army. The camp is known for their four-day R and R passes that soldiers can use during their tour of duty. Our group was able to play catchup on some much needed sleep before going out later that night into the city of Doha, which is trying to be the city that will host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

We did some shopping and had some TGI Fridays; we were all missing some food from home. Their style there is much progressed although you will still see some of the Qataris wearing the traditional Burkas. We ended up back on the base and went straight to the recreation area to hang out with the soldiers. Both men and women there are so excited to get visitors, they just light up and it can't help but warm your heart. The group didn't stay too long because the next day was going to be filled with visits to different divisions within the camp.

On Friday, our last day in Qatar, we all met for breakfast before Stephanie and I had to change into our two-piece (the weather in Qatar is warm and beautiful). At lunch was our final uniform appearance. Each soldier came up to our table with smiles on his face with appreciation to us. The entire time I kept thinking that really it was me who was thankful and appreciative to them for giving up their time with their loved ones back home and devoting their lives to protecting me and all of my loved ones. We were the lucky ones for getting to meet them.

I can't think of a better influence for our children's lives. These men and women that give their lives to represent our country with no million dollar contracts or Hollywood paycheck; these men and women are our heroes. With our children and teens having very little to look up to with what the Hollywood media has given our youth to emulate, it would be easy to say that here are your role models.

We flew out the next day said our goodbyes to our guides and started to head back home. The flight was long but it was more bearable then saying the goodbyes to the great group of guys who turned out to be more like a family. Thank you Ben Hartsock (Tennessee Titans), Jason Baker (Carolina Panthers), Cooper Carlisle (Oakland Raiders) and Jeff Kennedy, our guide from Koeberle & Associates, for making this trip full of laughs and for always letting us girls feel safe. We truly gained four brothers who Stephanie and I will never forget.

My final thoughts are just to say thank you not only to these amazing men and women who every day put their lives on the line for us back home, but also to Charlotte Jacobs, Jeff Kennedy and Koeberle & Associates for giving us this opportunity that not only changed my life through this amazing journey but has given me the appreciation and shown me the compassion that our military forces go through every day. I truly believe that it would benefit everyone in the United States to get the chance to see what our military goes through on a daily basis and the impact our soldiers have to make a difference.


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