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    Good will tour

    Good will tour

    Photo By Lt.j.g. Bryan Mitchell | A group of five cheerleaders and two former players from the Miami Dolphins spent...... read more read more

    FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAIRATAN, AFGHANISTAN

    02.26.2014

    Story by Lt.j.g. Bryan Mitchell 

    ISAF Regional Command North

    FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAIRATAN, Afghanistan – Blinding snow, bone-chilling cold, frozen tundra.

    It’s a long way from Miami.

    And they couldn’t be happier.

    The worst snow storm of the winter struck hours after a group of cheerleaders and former players from the Miami Dolphins arrived here in northern Afghanistan for a weeklong good will tour.

    The thick snow drew operations here to a near standstill but failed to slow down the feisty group of young cheerleaders determined to raise spirits in the bitter cold with several dancing performances as well as informal conversations with scores of troops.

    Here on the northern most American military outpost in Afghanistan, that equated to dancing only moments after an arctic helicopter flight over a blindingly shimmering landscape and a hasty lunch in an otherwise vacant dining facility.

    “I’ve never even seen snow before this trip, and to be here when they have so much of it has been amazing,” said 21-year-old Lilly. “But for me, speaking with the troops, understanding what they’re going through here, and hopefully cheering them up a little bit will always be the most memorable part of this trip.”

    The trip provided a unique opportunity for the cheerleaders and former players to learn not only about the American military mission here, but also the diverse coalition supporting NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and the complex nature of Afghanistan.

    “There’s just so much going on here that you don’t hear about in the media,” said 20-year-old Megan, who, like all of the Miami Dolphins cheerleaders only goes by her first name for security reasons.

    “To see how much we’ve been able to help the country, and to learn about all the opportunity women now have here. It’s really incredible to meet the soldiers who are making just a huge difference here and to realize our time here is not wasted. We are doing great things.”

    Both Alison, 21, and Grace, 21, were struck by the natural beauty of the country and the diversity of the coalition serving here at Regional Command North.

    The headquarters base of Camp Marmal is situated on the northern edge of the Hindu Kush mountains and is named after Mount Marmal, a peak towering over the nearby city of Mazar-e Sharif. Light, fluffy snow began falling hours after the South Florida contingent arrived, covering the region is a thick blanket of snow and creating a stunning winter wonderland backdrop for their visit.

    “I was expecting the worst and was shocked to see how nice it is. You really aren’t prepared for how beautiful the country is and how much potential there is here,” Alison said.

    Grace was impressed by the cooperation of troops from 17 nations serving aboard the headquarters base. Led by a German contingent under the command of a two-star general, Regional Command North is arguably one of the most unique fighting forces ever assembled.

    American helicopters from an Air Cavalry squadron share the skies with F-16 Fighter Jets piloted by the Royal Netherlands Air Force as well as Swedish medical evacuation Black Hawk teams. A contingent of Mongolian soldiers serve as sentries at the gates while a group of Hungarian soldiers train the local Afghan police.

    And the base is managed by a group of National Guardsmen from Georgia.

    The blended nationalities make for a colorful base life. It’s a place where you can hear a half dozen languages in line for chow and where residents are just as likely to travel around base on bicycles as they are in tactical vehicles.

    “You don’t hear about all of these others countries back in America, you think it’s just us,” Grace said. “But we spoke to so many troops from so many countries and you realize they are all fighting to keep us safe.”

    Fellow cheerleader, Rochelle, 24, echoed that sentiment.

    “What they show you in the States and what you see really goes on over here, it’s a totally different experience,” she said. “And I know we all feel so fortunate to come here and learn for ourselves what a difference our soldiers are making.”

    The cheerleaders were joined by two alumni Dolphins players.
    Lousaka Polite, 32, played college football at the University of Pittsburgh and also suited up for the Cowboys, Bears, Patriots and Falcons in the National Football League.

    Like other celebrities who visit a conflict zone, Polite spoke about the troops giving him more than he could reciprocate.

    “I believe in giving back as much as I can because that’s the way I was raised,” he said. “But when you’re here, and really interacting with the troops and hearing their stories, you realize that they’re giving so much to you. So much knowledge and understanding and respect.

    I try to give as much of myself as I can when I do stuff like this, but I always feel I get more out of it than the troops because I’m so impressed by their sacrifice and commitment.”

    Derrick Rodgers, 42, spent 10 years playing linebacker for both Miami and the New Orleans Saints. He played college football alongside Pat Tillman at Arizona State University. He also served four years in the U.S. Air Force before playing college football.

    “This is something I’ve wanted to do for so long now. They didn’t have to ask me, I’ve been begging to go on one of these trips for years,” he said.

    He said service to the country is similar to playing professional football. But even more challenging.

    “Sometimes, in football and in life, you get to be part of something bigger than you. And when I talk to these soldiers, I thank them because I know being part of this is very big and very important and it takes so much more than what I did. To be so far from family and all that you know, there’s no comparison to anything like that.”

    The Miami Dolphins cheerleaders and alumni players who completed their tour Armed Forces Entertainment tour here earlier this month are not the first from the venerable football club to visit troops in a combat zone.

    The team has sent dozens of representatives around the world to support the country’s men and women in uniform in the past decade.

    In coming to Afghanistan, the contingent join a long tradition of American celebrities and entertainers traveling to the far stretches of the planet to boost the morale of soldiers far from family and friends.

    From the iconic Bob Hope cracking jokes to olive drab clad troops and his contemporary counterpart Stephen Colbert broadcasting from Iraq and Afghanistan to professional athletes, rock stars and television personalities throughout the ages, celebrity morale trips are an enduring swath of the cultural fabric that is the American combat experience.

    Jamie Quadrozzi, 29, coordinates these trips for the Dolphins. Her recent journey was her second to Afghanistan and her fifth to visit the troops.

    “It’s difficult to describe how tremendous this opportunity is for us, especially for these young girls who are basically still college students,” she said. “These are life lessons they will never forget.”

    “They are different people after they take this trip.”

    On a previous trip, a different group of cheerleader and alumni players arrived shortly after an insurgent attack killed several Americans and left massive damage to the installation. The experience drove home the danger inherent in even a weeklong trip to a combat zone.

    “There’s a lot of competition to get this opportunity. We only take our top performers and they all want to be invited despite the danger,” she said. “Everyone in the organization knows from our past trips, this is such an amazing experience.

    These girls are so professional and give so much of themselves but get even more from the troops. And that makes it worth the risk.”

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 02.26.2014
    Date Posted: 02.26.2014 16:47
    Story ID: 121208
    Location: FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAIRATAN, AF

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