FORWARD OPERATING BASE PASAB, Afghanistan — Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division were in for a treat, March 18, when six National Football League players were part of a United Service Organization tour across southern Afghanistan.
Champ Bailey, cornerback for the Denver Broncos, said this was his first trip to Afghanistan.
“It’s definitely an experience of my life,” said Bailey. “I’m learning a lot. These guys, they act like nothing’s going on. They’re so positive about everything.”
Nearly 30 Soldiers had the opportunity to eat lunch with the players prior to an autograph line for more than 750 Soldiers and civilians.
Pfc. Blake Ehninger, a Soldier from 62nd Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade from Fort Hood, Texas, enjoyed his lunch with the athletes.
“They’re all my idols,” said Ehninger, a native of San Antonio. “It was just awesome to sit by Champ Bailey, especially because he’s a legend. To sit next to him and actually eat with him and talk to him … it’s pretty cool.”
The Soldiers spending time with the NFL players see the athletes as legends or heroes. The players have a different point of view.
“It meant a lot to me for them to even ask me or consider that I could be a part of this,” said Bailey. “Why not take the opportunity to kind of give back to our troops, because they really are the true heroes in this.”
As the line took more than two hours to filter all of the fans through, Soldiers had items of every shape and size for autographs. Some Soldiers used parts of their uniforms to have signed, some had game tickets, footballs, jerseys and other sports paraphernalia sent out to them for the occasion.
Staff Sgt. Aaron Larson, a Soldier with 3rd Bn., 41st Inf. Regt., was excited to see J.J. Watt, defensive end for the Houston Texans.
“We saw him in college, so it’s cool to see him come over and hang out with the troops,” said Larson. “We got our badger flag going. It makes a nice interruption to the mission and the day-to-day stuff.”
The other NFL players in attendance were D’Qwell Jackson, Cleveland Browns linebacker; Davin Joseph, Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard; Von Miller, Denver Broncos linebacker; and Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers wide receiver.
“Hopefully we’ll have everybody back home soon, and you’re going to come back to a great place,” concluded Bailey. “Because there’s nothing like the United States and I’m glad they’re fighting for us.”