Harbaugh Writes From the Gulf

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From BaltimoreRavens.com

Coach John Harbaugh had a chance to chat with BaltimoreRavens.com about the first leg of his NFL-USO Coaches tour in the Persian Gulf this week.

Hey Ravens fans. Well, we made it, and it has really been first-class treatment all the way. We flew into Kuwait City’s airport, and once we got off, we had to fill out all the papers for swine flu and all that stuff. You can’t even get away from it over here!

The customs were really big, too. Not as in going through the international customs line and declaring goods. I mean customs as in who you can and cannot look at, when to signal with your right hand or with your left. We basically all put our hands in our pockets and kept our eyes on the ground as we walked through the airport. We’re just a bunch of football coaches. We don’t know anything about that. They gave us a bound book that had all the different customs and what clothes to wear, everything from A to Z. The guy you have to keep an eye on is John Gruden. He was having a tough time with some of those things.

One funny story is when he and I had to use the restroom when we went through the baggage claim. It took a pretty long time to even find it, because we had to wind around all these staircases and go down some back hallway that was dark and pretty intimidating. I almost thought a van was going to pull up and we’d get thrown in. Anyway, we got to the bathroom and when we left, Gruden got in front of me to walk out. There was a guy looking for tips for the handtowels, but Gruden just blew right by him. I was embarrassed at that point, so I go through the ritual and pull out some money to hand him a few bucks, but the guy just grabs another 10 out of my hand. That’s a $12 tip for pulling the paper towels out. It was an interesting start to the trip.

We first went to the military base where the troops are breaking out into all parts of Iraq and Afghanistan and spent about an hour just shooting the breeze with some of the soldiers there. Then, it was a two-hour flight to Baghdad where we set up shop.

To kick things off, I couldn’t sleep a wink, and I don’t think Gruden did either. I can tell you that Coughlin slept a lot, because he was snoring viciously all night. Gruden is the youngest, so he’s the only guy with a top bunk. Really, it’s kind of like being at camp.

When we set out the next morning, we all got to have breakfast with Gen. Ray Odierno. We got briefed for about an hour on the situation over there – what we are trying to get accomplished, what the mistakes were. It was very honest, and I really appreciated that. Gen. Odierno traveled with us all day, which was incredible because really, he’s the Commander in Iraq.

So to get to the airport this morning, we jumped on a Black Hawk UH-60 called “Ironman I” only to get on Gen. Odierno’s jet to take us just north of Iraq to Mosul, where the Kurds are. That is a hugely contested city. It is all blacked out, and you can tell there has been a lot of fighting. We had a meet and greet with the companies that were there – about 3,000 troops. We signed autographs and really had a great time.

Then, it was off to Kirkuk and Forward Operating Base Warrior (FOB Warrior). That is where the first cavalry is. There is such incredibly tight security on this base, but it still feels like you have to always be aware of your surroundings.

At FOB Warrior, they gave us some really neat gifts, not the least of which was a signed football jersey from the teams up there. It was yellow and white, not camouflage. Maybe Cowher liked those colors.

We had lunch there, and some troops that took me through the process on how to clear a bomb, which was really cool. We were supposed to go to Tikrit, where Saddam Hussein was found, but there was a massive sand storm that blinded the landscape. Because of the storm, we just returned to Warrior to eat dinner and hang out with the troops.

There was a time when I had to do a double take – when coach Cowher said that Iraq would now be named “Steeler Nation” during his speech. I took a little offense to that, as did coach Coughlin and coach Fisher, even though there are a lot of Steelers fans here.

I will say that there is a great showing of Ravens fans that I’ve met. They agreed that Ray Lewis is the best linebacker in the league and maybe even the history of the game. They wanted to know how we would do without Bart Scott, and I said that we’ll do fine with Tavares Gooden and Jameel McClain. The Ravens and Steelers fans were getting after each other pretty good.

I had a chance to speak some more with Gen. Odierno, not only about Iraq and the war, but also about what it takes to be a good soldier and how that relates to athletics. All those things are similar – teamwork, taking care of your job and looking out for others. It was very pertinent to what we’re doing in Baltimore.

And that might be why service members like football so much. It goes back to those basic tenets. We all just have to remember the biggest and most important difference between the two. In football, you might lose a game. In the military, you could lose a life. So many of our troops are young men and women, but they make up the strongest force in the history of man because they believe in teamwork and what that is all about.

You could look back to our rookies and young players, like Joe Flacco or Ray Rice. You have to give them a chance as long as they believe in the team.

We’ve got a pretty busy schedule for the next few days. I think we have to have seen about 6,000 troops all day, and I’m sure we’re going to try to double and triple that over the weekend. We’re shooting out all over the place. I wish I could tell you where we’re going, but they don’t even tell us. I know that we’ve got some great Fourth of July celebration planned, so I’ll check back then.

Talk to you later,

– John

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