May 24, 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. This is the third installment in the series.
I have some catching up to do since we were out in the Persian Gulf Friday and there is no cell phone service. If there’s no service, there’s no service. I missed not getting a chance to talking to (wife) Maura and (son) Charlie.
We started out Friday flying on a military plane from Qatar to Bahrain. Then we helicoptered out into the Persian Gulf, to the USS Nassau, which is one of the ships we have in the Persian Gulf, and we spent the whole day and part of Saturday in the Persian Gulf.
It was about a 45-minute ‘copter ride. I can’t tell you distance. This is Navy ship with Marine support, so they have tanks and stuff like that. It carries helicopters, too. You do get the sense that you’re closer to the action here. They practice what to do every day. The U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf are as much for a presence as anything else. Not only do they track Iraq and Afghanistan, but they also keep an eye on Iran, because Iran will fly people over just to keep an eye on what the (U.S.) is doing, to tell you the truth.
We weren’t going to go to this ship originally. We were going to go to the USS Ashland. But it was way farther out in the gulf. The Nassau was a little bit closer. And let me tell you, that was fine with me. This has been a Dramamine special for me. The helicopter ride and the ship aren’t my cup of tea, if you get my drift.
We got a tour of the ship, and everyone is so proud of the ship. They want to show you every part to it. You listen to the dissertation of all their jobs and what they do.
We did a big meet-and-greet with a whole bunch of these guys and then we ran a combine (skills competition) on the deck, like an NFL Combine. They ran the 40-yard dash, the short shuttle, all that stuff. Then we brought them in the weight room and did bench press reps. Going into college, they use 185 (pounds) as the mark. Going into the NFL, it’s 225.
The winner had 29 reps. (For comparison sake, that matches the number put up by the top-performing linebacker at the most recent NFL Combine and was two more than any of the tight ends put up.)
We went and ate with the lower-level guys, the young guys. They really get packed in. They don’t get treated as well as the older guys, as you know. We just sat at a cafeteria table with a bunch of guys. It’s funny the two guys sitting across from me, one guy was from the Bronx and one guy was from Queens.
One was a Yankees fan like me, and one was a Mets fan. So we were bantering back and forth between the Yankees and the Mets. We signed stuff and took pictures for about three hours ’til about 9 o’clock. To be honest with you, by the time we were done Friday night, we were pretty spent.
On the way back to room, the commanding officer of the ship invited us to stop by his quarters. Captain James R. Boorujy is from Basking Ridge, N.J. He grew up about 20 minutes away from me. We had some good conversations about Jersey.
After stopping by the CO’s room, I got back to my room maybe about 9:30. I wanted to sit down for a couple of minutes and watch a little TV, then take a shower and go to bed. Their TV consists of a couple of channels that play a different movie every two hours.
We got up Saturday morning and visited with some different people in a different part of the ship (the ship is 20 stories high, had nine elevators and weighs 40,000 tons. It contains a 300-bed hospital.) Then we hopped on the helicopter and flew back to Bahrain.
When we got to Bahrain, they canceled the football clinic we were going to host, because they wanted to have a Q-and-A and take pictures and have us sign stuff instead. These bookstore T-shirts from last year are the big hit now. There are more green shirts floating around the world now, because everyone’s got them.
We are staying in Bahrain Saturday night. We’re leaving at 5:30 (Sunday) morning to fly to the United Arab Emirates. We’re going to Al Dhafra Air Force Base. It’s a couple-hour flight from here.
Not everyone here is a Notre Dame fan, now. I have run into a whole bunch of Michigan fans, but Saturday it was a USC fan who really got my attention. This USC fan has a wife who is a Notre Dame fan. She’s back in Scranton, Pa. He comes up for a picture (Saturday) night. He’s got on a USC football shirt, and I refused to take the picture with him.
He goes, “C’mon coach, you can’t do me like that.” I said, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll put it up for a vote. I’ll put it up to your buddies, see what they think.” So I said, “How many of you guys think I should take a picture with him with this USC football shirt?” Everyone’s saying “Noooo. Nooo. Boo.”
“How many think I shouldn’t?” And everyone raises their hands. He went and put on the green Notre Dame shirt. He said, “My wife is going to rag me for the rest of my life.” It was one of the more humorous moments of the trip.
There was this young woman who was shivering, just like the kid from Cleveland from the other day. She was shivering not for herself, but she said, “My father would have a heart attack if he were here.” She was literally shaking like somebody had just come out of the freeze. We signed the picture like we do for everyone. And we had a Notre Dame football left. I had the guy go and grab the Notre Dame football. I signed it to her dad. I remember his name was Fred. I signed it “Happy Father’s Day.”
Being over here on Memorial Day weekend is really very different than the way a lot of people celebrate Memorial Day back in the States. The real meaning of the holiday is a constant reminder. It slaps you very clearly in the face.
Memorial Day, to me, almost takes on a greater significance in the grand scheme of things. You’re thinking about, “I’m only here for a short amount of time.” These people are putting their lives on the line and they’re doing it every single day. They are, literally. It really makes you feel proud, to tell you the truth.”