May 21, 2008
Editor’s Note: Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis is taking part in a first-of-its-kind tour of the Middle East with four other college football coaches to meet with members of the U.S. military. The tour started Tuesday at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois near St. Louis, then continued on to Germany before Weis and the other coaches arrived in the Middle East Wednesday night. Weis, who returns to the U.S. on Monday, shares his thoughts with the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen for a daily diary.
Here I am, at almost 1 o’clock in the morning, in a country in Southwest Asia that I’m not allowed to say which country it is until after we leave, but the experience already has been incredible.
I just got off the phone with (wife) Maura and (son) Charlie (Jr.) just to let them know I was safe. It’s kind of amazing. It seems like everywhere you go, there’s somebody with a Notre Dame connection.
The guy who flew us from Scott Air Force Base to Germany, in fact, is a Notre Dame grad, class of 1976. His name is Fred Roggero. He’s a two-star general, and he let me sit up in the cockpit with him on the takeoffs and the landings. We had kind of a funny exchange. He said, “It’s your turn to say the Hail Marys now. I’ve been doing them for the football team for the past few years.”
In Germany, we were at Ramstein Air Force Base. We got there about 7:30 (Wednesday) morning. One of the things we did there was meeting some soldiers. That was both disheartening and uplifting all at the same time. The first thing we did was walk in a room, and there was a guy who had just been blown up by a 700-pound roadside bomb. He had just had one of his legs amputated and his face was all torn up, yet he couldn’t have been more uplifted about our visit.
The next soldier we visited was a kid from Fort Wayne (Ind.), and his name escapes me right now, but his attitude I’ll never forget. This kid was a hockey player who wanted to go to Notre Dame to play hockey. He was pretty tore up, but he didn’t have to have anything amputated.
He had just been given a whole bunch of morphine for the pain, and he looked at me and said, “I don’t know if it’s the morphine of if you’re really here.” I signed a hat and gave it to him, and said, “When you wake up later today, you’ll know it wasn’t the morphine.”
I also gave him my card and told him that when he got back to the States, to give me a call and we’d have him up for a game. He told me he’d definitely take me up on it.
The trip started when (Notre Dame photographer) Mike Bennett, a kid who’s going to be a senior at Notre Dame – Emerson Spartz – and I flew Tuesday to Scott Air Force Base. The guy coordinating things at the Air Force base, Al Hunt, is another Domer, class of 1986. Mike Whalen, class of ’74, is one of the guys who’s coordinating this trip through Armed Forces Entertainment.
One of the things we saw at Scott was called TACC, the Tanker Airlift Control Center. It allows you to track every plane in the air everywhere. It is unbelievable. We got to meet General Lichte, who’s a four-star general, so it’s not like he’s a slappy or anything.
One of the things we did after we left General Lichte’s office was to do a thing where they basically gave us a chance to use firearms. You know how they have those golf simulators, where you hit it into a screen and a simulator lets you see what would have happened had it been real? Well, just envision that same thing with guns. There’s a mock enemy you’re shooting at. I didn’t do very well. The coaches with hunting backgrounds did way better than me.
After that, we signed autographs for about 2 Â½ hours, and then we were off to Germany.
The plane we flew on was a KC-135 Stratotanker. And the coolest thing about the flight was that these big planes refuel other planes in flight. We got to watch another plane get refueled. They actually slide a guy toward the other plane and we were just 15 feet from the other plane. It was unbelievable.
We had a six-hour flight from Germany to get to the Middle East. So I had plenty of time to talk to the other coaches (Georgia’s Mark Richt, Auburn’s Tommy Tuberville, Yale’s Jack Siedlecki and Miami’s Randy Shannon). We got along very well. And all of us are here for the same reason. And that reason just gets reinforced over and over again.
Every single person over here is fired up about what they’re doing and why they’re here. It’s a very encouraging experience.