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Tuesday, March 15, 2011
NFL-USO Tour visits remote bases

By Matt Millen

Matt Millen, a former NFL linebacker, executive and current ESPN football analyst, is joined by ESPN NFL analyst Merril Hoge and Hall of Fame offensive lineman Anthony Munoz on an NFL-USO Tour. The group traveled to meet and greet service members for several days. Millen sent an update from the tour:

Matt Millen, Merril Hoge and Anthony Munoz
Matt Millen, back left, Merril Hoge, back right, and Anthony Munoz, front right, spent Day 4 of their tour in Afghanistan flying from one Foreward Operating Base to another, meeting with troops.
DUBAI -- We spent our last few days on tour traveling between forward operating bases (FOBs) in remote parts of northern Afghanistan. Their names seem like a blur to me now. Some of them seemed like proper military bases, with advanced facilities and buildings, while others were tiny and almost insignificant -- we could barely see them as we approached. New soldiers will get their feet wet in the smaller FOBs, where they can learn the ropes in Afghanistan and see how to be part of a team.

What struck me most about Afghanistan was the disparity between the technology on display in even the smaller FOBs and the reality of life in the country for its people. We would fly over the Hindu Kush mountains and spot a lone house in a clearing with nothing around it for miles. Other times, we’d see a small collection of houses -- a village without electricity or running water. It was almost like going back in time.

I made an unexpected connection when visiting one of the FOBs. We were talking with a group of soldiers, and it turned out that one of them had grown up in Fair Lawn, N.J. My father-in-law, Dick Spifak, was a health and physical education teacher at Fair Lawn High School. It turned out that this soldier had been one of Dick’s students. He was one of seven brothers who passed through my father-in-law's class. It’s strange how you can be confronted with an unexpected familiarity on the far side of the globe.

Our last night in Afghanistan, we sat down with Brig. Gen. Sean P. Mulholland, who talked with us about his troops and their mission. We were incredibly grateful to him for taking time out of his schedule to chat with us. As with all the service members we talked to, I feel like I learned so much more from him and his soldiers than they could have ever learned from me.

My son, Marcus, and his friend, Staff Sgt. Aaron Welch, accompanied us throughout the rest of our trip. It was bittersweet to say goodbye to my son as we finally geared up to leave, but I was so happy to see him during our trip, and grateful to the NFL and USO for arranging it. My birthday was March 12th, and I couldn’t ask for a better present than to spend it with Marcus. Afghanistan was an amazing experience, and I encourage everyone to make the effort to learn more about our soldiers and their mission.