Blog: A golfer's Thanksgiving in Afghanistan
Dan Boever, the 2008 Re/Max world long drive senior champion, is blogging for Golfweek.com from Afghanistan, where he is traveling with the Troops First Foundation.
Thanksgiving Day started very early, like every other day. We had a lot of people to see so it was necessary to get up and get a good jump on the day. At breakfast, I happened to sit with Gunnery Sgt. Chris Coleman and Private E.J. Goodroe. I had a very interesting conversation with them about why they decided to become Marines.
Coleman grew up in Phoenix, Ariz., and by the age of 17, had dropped out of high school, was kicked out of his house and was living on his own. After losing his job and apartment he decided the Marines might be the answer he needed to get his life on track. After getting his GED, he tried multiple times to become a Marine and no one would take him. After making numerous calls he finally found a recruiter who said he would take him if he scored high enough on his Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery test. ASVAB scores determine what jobs a person will qualify for in the military.
Coleman got the score he needed, signed on and would eventually become a recruiter himself, winning numerous recruiting awards. The week after we were together he would celebrate his fourteenth year as a Marine.
I shook my head in disbelief as the two explained what many of these men and women did at Leatherneck. I was amazed at their description of daily duties and frankly, their bravery. They explained that the real warriors are the Marines out in the field.
“This place is Camp Cupcake,” Coleman said. “We have warm food, hot water, beds inside, everything you need. The guys out in the heat of battle have none of these things. They might go long periods of time without even changing out of their clothes. And baby wipes become their showers.”
It hurt me to think of these guys out there with so little contact with their family and friends. The guys told me one of the duties their group was in charge of was taking a mobile unit out into the field to bring as they said, “A Coke and a smile.” They essentially load up all the good things guys may want and take it to them in a big container. They also take satellite phones and internet so the Marines can call home. It is extremely dangerous work and sometimes they may be out there three weeks on one mission. Unlike Iraq, where they might go out and come back the same day, Afghanistan’s rugged terrain doesn’t typically allow for that.
Our first stop of the day would be to meet the people who train the dogs that work with them in the field. The animals are simply amazing. At one point they asked me to put on a big coat and have a dog chase me down. I respectfully and fearfully declined. The group used all the powers of peer pressure to persuade me to run from one of these highly trained man-eaters. In my 20s, in the best shape of my life, I would have made it three feet before it clamped down on my pitching arm. To think at age 49 I could even get out of my shadow before I was run down and screaming like a two year old was absurd.
They told us they have dogs that not only can sniff out an IED, but can pick up the scent of the person who set it up and go track them. They also have dogs they can speak to on a wireless device from hundreds of yards away and the dogs will obey the commands.
It was a fascinating and eye-opening experience with these men who love these animals like their own family. In a land of multi-million dollar pieces of military machinery, these magnificent puppies provide a one-of-a-kind, life-saving service. In hindsight, I kind of wish I had put the jacket on and made a dash for it. Peer pressure never goes away, does it?
Our next stop would be to visit a number of wounded warriors. These dozen Marines had recently been hurt in battle. When we arrived we kind of took them by surprise. They were watching an Adam Sandler movie and didn’t seem like they wanted to be bothered by the strangers wandering in. Once Tom Lehman told them we were there to thank them and let them know how appreciated they are, they warmed up to us.
As with my trip to Iraq last year, I was struck with how young everyone looked. Many of these Marines didn’t even look like they were old enough to shave. Once again, Victor began drawing images and Matt Snook whipped out the guitar. Requests for pictures and ‘Free Bird’ were immediate.
As Matt was singing I began visiting with Dakota Mortensen from Ephraim, Utah and Corey Sherwood from Billings, Mont. They are friends who had been injured during the same fight. Dakota had a piece of shrapnel go right through his lower leg and Corey had been hit in the arm. Both are recovering nicely and seemed to be in good spirits.
Unbelievably, one of the young men had a small video camera inside one of his front pockets and while they were fighting it inadvertently got turned on. He showed me the action that led to their injury.
“Watch here, you see the flash? That’s when we got hit.”
He apologized for the view not being very clear. It was obvious they were tucked behind a big barrier for safety and that was where the camera was pointing. I called him a wuss for being hidden behind the shield. I told him I would have been able to see more had he been out in the clear. He laughed and jokingly told me next time he would make sure and get up on top of the barrier so I could get a better view.
Before we left, we asked if they ever thought about coming home. A huge laugh filled the room as they all, to a man, said yes. And what would be the first thing you would eat? One of the guys quickly said, “Definitely In and Out Burger. Man, I would get four double doubles.”
After meeting the wounded warriors we headed out for lunch. Once again we ran into Col. Reynolds and she asked Lehman and me if we would like to help serve lunch to the Marines. We were more than eager to do it and I was stationed on the mashed potatoes and candied yams while Lehman got corn and stuffing.
It was 1 p.m. Afghanistan time and it was easy to be thankful. My family, some nine hours behind us, would not even be awake yet. I couldn’t help but think of them as I looked at all these men and women who are away from their families a lot longer than the eight days I would be.
And based on my earlier conversation with Chris Coleman and E.J. Goodroe, I knew that being thankful covers a wide variety of circumstances. For some, it’s being able to speak of your injury and laugh about it, for others it’s as simple as a hot shower and a bed indoors. As I discussed in my first blog, being in Afghanistan over Thanksgiving really makes you take a hard look at the things you complain about back home in the United States.