Having returned from the Military Appreciation Partnerships (MAP) tour to Europe, Africa and the Middle East, Global Football founder and president Patrick Steenberge has penned a letter of a thanks to everyone the traveling group met while overseas, along with a recap of the incredible six-day, 19,126-mile experience.
What strikes me from meeting and talking with you, the dedicated United States military men and women we encountered on this whirlwind tour is how broad-based your ‘Team’ truly is, and how you all function independently, and as a family. This 5 country / 6 base tour our 15-person Team MAP experienced will inspire us to work more diligently to support you and your efforts, and to help spread the word across America of your commitment and attitude of service, leadership, success and Team.
19 February 2016, 0845 we departed Aviano AFB Italy at the base of the Alps on our way home, back to the daily lives, work and families we so enjoy. We returned with such an enhanced understanding and appreciation of what you do, realizing more fully how it is that through your daily sacrifices we and other Americans can enjoy the fabulous sport of football and those who play the game at every level. Quite simply, I am amazed at what you do, and the attitude you carry into each day, regardless of wake-up time or the tasks you are asked to execute today and every day. While our US military is an all-volunteer organization, each of you has also been ‘voluntold’ where to be, at what time, for what duration, and to perform what tasks. And you perform each task, at its appointed time, with the utmost professionalism and confidence that can only be bred through an esprit de corps inspired by your leadership and carried out through your selfless style of life.
Our Team was a collection of individuals gathered together by Mike Whalen, MAP President, whose life is a collection of stories and personalities encountered along his somewhat mythical career as a Marine, event producer, Notre Dame alum and passionate defender of our military. It is through his vision and contacts that this was made possible. He wisely brought on board Col. Al Hunt, retired, to manage the operations and logistics for the tour, with an uncanny blend of organization, timeliness and personal communication skills. Through this journey we all learned so many things, including how to count to 5. That magical number wove through our daily schedules, impacting our travels often, and making sense when we eventually arrived at the Triple Nickel Squadron in Aviano.
‘Papa Bear’ put together a unique team of highly successful football coaches, event organizers, former political appointees and elected dignitaries, advisers and worker-bees who simply got the job done. While each of these individuals maintains a high level of earned confidence in their unique abilities, never did ego nor personal desires take precedent. Rather, from the rightfully acclaimed SF 49ers Head Coach Chip Kelly to Air Force Academy’s Troy Calhoun and Eastern Michigan’s Chris Creighton each head coach was more than eager to meet, greet and thank everyone they met. Former Congressman Jim Marshall and former Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Bill Anderson along with Si Coleman each added a wise element of gratitude, while ‘swag meisters’ Haven (Wanna Nutt), brother Houston (Bwana Nutt) and Bill Moore, each just went out and did his or her job. Our efforts were strategically documented by the talented Dale Kivimaki and Todd Van Emst, who will help tell the MAP story worldwide in the future. The entire tour was made possible through the funding and efforts of James Taylor, who no way resembles Sweet Baby James, except in kindness and humor, along with Armed Forces Entertainment, led by George De Grella. While each of our entourage only knew a couple of others prior to gathering at Dobbins AFB Atlanta the evening of February 12th, the myriad of personalities quickly meshed. Simply stated, we accomplished our mission of saying ‘thank you for your service’ to all those we met, hopefully bring a bit of Americana to their lives for an all too brief moment in time.
I feel most blessed to have been a part of this team, and to have visited bases in Georgia, Germany, Bahrain, Djibouti and Italy. As our forces often do downrange, we mostly traveled by night in the spacious, somewhat stark C-17, arrived early morning to accomplish a full days’ worth of work, then would head out again at ‘0 dark thirty’ for the next base. Each stop, while totally unique in atmosphere and location, presented itself as a bastion of American pride and dedication.
Individually and as a diverse troop we were each overwhelmed by the seemingly endless myriad of jobs and roles played by our soldiers and by their unique specialties that all seamlessly form the quilt of our military today. From dental specialist Ashley Strong, NCO of the Year in Aviano, to the most impressive General Frank Gorenc at Ramstein; from former John Carroll University star Lt. Dan Accorti at Camp Lemonnier Djibouti, to Col. James Laterza at Landsthul Regional Medical Center Germany; from civilian Legal Counsel Tony in Djibouti (“where hopes and dreams are made”, according to our Loadmaster, SSgt Rachel Huebner), to Daniel Cook of MSR Bahrain; from USO Area Director Konrad Braun to the most gracious wives and children we heartily embraced at Aviano; from pilot Eric Dube in Bahrain (pictured – a former Dickinson College player who was a member of Global Football’s Team Stars & Stripes football team in Mexico 2007) to Col. Trapp Crowell of the Triple Nickel Fighter Squadron; from the chefs, bus drivers, pilots, security, navigators, 173rd Airborne jumpers, Aviano Idol organizers, mechanics, intel officers, air traffic controllers, recreation directors, housing coordinators, WardRoom hosts, to the Generals, Captains, Colonels, Lieutenants, Seargents and multitudes of backstage men and women who form the most impressive ‘Team’ we on board with MAP have ever met, we now hold you all in even higher esteem than previously.
These soldiers and supporters deserve our lifelong gratitude, and our every effort in the future to help spread the word of what they do. The sacrifices they all make so that, as Chip Kelly often noted, “we can all enjoy coaching football back home”, which brings enjoyment to the millions of fans and hundreds of thousands of players at all levels of the game.
A few of us ‘on the bus’ affectionately dubbed this 6-day adventure, which was seemingly jammed into one very full day, the Tree of Life Tour. A half-hour outside the Disneyland-type architecture of Manama, Bahrain, towards the Patriot missile bases and tented landfill camping areas of this brightly sand-encrusted rock terrain towers a single multi-branched mesquite tree. It is juxtaposed to the nearby oil and gas rigs pumping the monetary life of this desolate land out of the ground. This tree, which appears as an apparition in lonely landscape, has lived almost miraculously for centuries, with no apparent water source for its sustenance. How does it continue to live and prosper? Why does it inspire those of us who get a chance to view and touch her massive trunk and deeply textured branches? To each it is very personal, while to many merely a trivial solitary piece of nature. To me, I humbly state, this singular tree verifies my own belief that we each have a life to live to its fullest. We are unique leaves and branches of the place we call Earth, giving forth and taking, hopefully more of the first than the latter. Where our initial life emanates from only our faith can tell us, and how it continues to allow us another day to cherish, science attempts to explain. I just know that the Tree of Life Tour was real, was special, and was worthwhile.
I am more proud than ever to be a part of this Tree, of this Team known as America, and to understand that our US military Tree and Family are powerful, committed, diverse and appreciated.