News: Special guests visit troops in Tallil on Super Bowl weekend
LOGISTICAL SUPPORT AREA ADDER, Iraq " Four football stars from the National Football League and Bonnie Jill Laflin stopped here while touring Iraq to spend Super Bowl XL weekend with the troops.
Keith Byars, Bryan Cox, Nick Lowery and Christian Okoye joined former cheerleader, actress, and ESPN sportscaster Laflin bringing the troops a piece of home.
"It feels good to know that they are making a difference. I was just trying to come and bring a taste of home to here in Iraq," said Byars, who spent 13 years playing for the Philadelphia Eagles, the Miami Dolphins, the New England Patriots and the New York Jets. "I can only imagine being in their shoes, you know, what it would be like just being away. Because they are here, it gives me an opportunity at home to cherish the freedoms that I have."
The stars signed autographs and watched the game with the troops on Sunday, all while gaining an unforgettable experience.
"The stories and the experiences that I have, you know, this week . . . will last me a lifetime," Byars said.
A Nigeria native, Okoye said one of such unforgettable moments was meeting an Army major, Vincent Nwafor, who moved to the United States from the same Nigerian tribe.
I'm from Nigerian and I met a guy, a major, who came from Nigeria. He's in the U.S. Army now," Okoye said. "It's always good to see somebody from your home country and when I saw him, I could see his face, that he was so excited to see somebody from his country coming to visit like I am and then, of course in return, I was very happy to see that somebody like him from Nigeria is serving in the U.S. Army."
The stars cited a variety of reasons for choosing to forego Super Bowl parties in Detroit to spend time with the troops. For Byers, who spent last year's Super Bowl with troops in Kosovo, coming to Iraq was simply the next natural step.
Laflin also credited visiting the troops in Korea and Kosovo before as a reason for coming to Iraq this time, while Cox said that he wanted to visit because neither he nor his siblings have served in the military and he wanted to do what he could to show his appreciation. Lowery said that visiting the troops was "a thousand times more meaningful" than attending the parties in Detroit because of the similarities between serving in the armed forces and playing professional sports.
"The bottom line is the camaraderie, that is one of the reasons why you love playing a professional sport, the kind of connection and the trust and the loyalty to achieve a really meaningful goal, I mean that's what the military is about," Lowery said. "It's a blessing to be here to see these guys . . . It's a difficult life out here and it gives us even more respect for the Soldiers here."
Soldiers who got to see the group thanked them for coming while getting autographed mementos. Though many were excited to get footballs and hats signed, the most popular autographed item was a photo of Laflin that appeared in Stuff Magazine's November 2005 issue. She signed it for Petty Officer 3rd Class Timothy Salmons, an aviation electrician with the Navy's VP-8. The servicemembers said the visit was a boost to their morale.
"The football players coming in, or like concerts, people coming in, it gives the Soldiers good morale because a lot of people miss their families and miss their loved ones. It brings a little piece of home to right here in Iraq," said Spc. Anthony Comeau, a driver for the 16th Corps Support Group's sergeant major.
"Players like him need to show up here more often, they make our day," said Nwafor, a supply management officer for the 16th CSG.
Command Sgt. Maj. Ricky Driskell thanked the visitors for coming on behalf of the 16th CSG.
"I want to thank them personally for coming. I know it took a lot to come here, especially during this season," Driskell said. "They are giving up their free time to come down here and spend time with Soldiers, which is a good thing."
"It lets the Soldiers know that the people back in America still support us and they are still on our team. So it's one team, one fight, "Driskell said.
While delivering that message to the troops, the visitors also made predictions about the outcome of the game. Lowery predicted Pittsburg would win by three, while Cox thought the Steelers would win by 8. Cox came closest to the actual outcome of the game, 21-10 Pittsburg.
As they returned to the States, the stars told the Soldiers that support for the troops is strong at home.
"I think there is a lot of support at home," Laflin said. "Regardless of how people view the war, whether they are against it or for it, I think they support the troops, which is the most important thing."
"Keep up the good work, you know you guys are very much appreciated, you are loved, respected and honored by all of us . . . we're glad you're here doing a good thing," Byars added.
Lowery invited Soldiers and their families to visit a journal of the group's experiences during the tour on his radio station's website at www.headgamesradio.com.