Perspective from a golf buff in Afghanistan
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
I was waiting on a flight at O’Hare Airport in Chicago speaking on the phone with my wife Kelly when a call beeped in. I didn’t answer right away because I needed to talk with Kelly before I boarded my flight for an event I had scheduled at Pinehurst. She asked who it was and I told her it was Rick Kell with the Troops First Foundation. I jokingly said, “He’s probably gonna see if I want to go to Afghanistan.” My wife asked, “Would you go?” I said, “No way.” After running around the country since January, I was ready to spend November, December and maybe all of 2011 lying on my couch.
I met Rick in November of 2009 when I traveled with his group on a goodwill trip to visit troops in Iraq. I joined singer Matt Snook, as well as professional golfers Tom Watson, Corey Pavin, Bobby Wilson and Tim Simpson. I can say with a fair degree of certainty that Rick, who has been to Iraq and Afghanistan more than 20 times, is certifiably insane. While we were on the trip he insisted we see troops every second that we could. In theory, that sounds patriotic but in reality it’s very exhausting. Between seeing troops, flying and driving all over the place and going to the DFAC (dining facility) what seemed like every half hour, I was worn out the entire time I was in Iraq.
To make matters worse, I quickly learned that Rick and the U.S. Military keep different hours than I do. They seem to think there are things to do at 5 a.m., whereas I feel I’m much more productive starting around 9:30 a.m. I enjoy waking up at about 9 a.m. and comfortably laying there for half an hour before I start in on my daily regimen of breakfast, Sports Center highlights, DVRs of Survivor, Apprentice or maybe even some Oprah. By that time I’m ready for lunch. Of course I will then try to do some work, but sometimes I might succumb to a nap. No, I’m not retired or lazy, I just tend to get more done from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Of course, that is when I’m not traveling 150 days a year for my golf exhibition business. You try to take 120 flights and travel 150 days and have to go to Chicago O’Hare more than once! You travelers know where I am coming from. That’s why I wanted to sleep from November through the end of 2011.
The other major problem with Iraq as far as I could see was that it was hard to feel sorry for myself. And oh, did I want to do that. Tired all the time, riding on those “comfortable” C-130’s, limited communication with my wife and two children, missing sports and school events for the 10 days I was gone. It was tough. And when I did get a chance to call them I had to pay for the calls. What’s up with that? I did get to call for free on Thanksgiving – oh boy, one free day. Well I guess the troops got to call for free on Christmas as well. So that’s two days, let’s throw a party. Or how about this, why don’t we collect the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on election campaigns and send that money over to our troops so they get free calling back to their loved ones? No? Guess I will leave that subject to Feherty and his wit.
On Thanksgiving I tried all day to reach my family by phone. Each attempt failed as it was disconnected or just plain didn’t go through. After 20 attempts I finally reached my 17-year-old daughter and spoke with her for about two minutes before the call dropped. I was so frustrated I didn’t bother trying to call back anymore. I never did speak with my wife or son. It was a happy Thanksgiving for me at Al Asad Air Force Base somewhere in godforsaken western Iraq.
Man it was time to get bitter, but the second I started getting aggravated, I looked around the non air-conditioned call center in every direction at men and women in uniform who had to deal with their own multiple inconveniences every day. I was going home in three days, what about them? How many times had they tried to make a call to a loved one, only to have it get dropped or disconnected? I would be home for Christmas, what about them? I was frustrated with not talking to my family for a few days. What would it be like to deal with that for an entire year … or more? I slept in a temperature-controlled room with clean sheets and a fridge stocked with food and drink. What about them? I didn’t need someone to slap me and tell me I was being a baby, I wanted to slap myself.
And let’s not forget one small component, no one was shooting at me or setting up IED’s where I was traveling in the hopes I wouldn’t make it back at all. As I write these words, I want to slap myself all over again.
When I finally spoke with Rick Kell he said he was going back and asked if I would consider joining David Feherty and Tom Lehman on this trip. For some strange reason I agreed to go again, and this time it would, in fact, be to Afghanistan. I have a feeling it’s going to make Iraq look like the French Riviera.
When I was a kid, I loved Bob Hope and I watched countless specials where he was entertaining troops in some distant region around the world. Oh how cool it must have been to be able to bring that much joy to so many service men and women. I wonder if Bob Hope ever went to Afghanistan. I would love to have heard those jokes. I wonder if he ever whined on any his trips. I suspect the answer would be a resounding no. But mostly, I wonder how hard he could slap.