Millen gets surprise on NFL-USO tour

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 is traveling to meet and greet service members for several days. Millen sent an update from the tour:

AFGHANISTAN -- After a six-hour flight from Qatar, we dropped into what appeared to be the heart of the conflict in Afghanistan. We flew from our landing site to an undisclosed base, traveling over what seemed like an endless range of mountains. There were farmers below us working outside of mud huts, trying to plow their fields with only a single ox or cow. It was an extreme reminder of how hard life is in this country.

There was a surprise in store for me when we landed at our base. We were approached by several soldiers whom I didn’t recognize, but as they got closer, I realized that one of them was my son, Marcus! I hadn’t seen him in such a long time that it took me a second to figure out that it was him. Marcus is an Army first lieutenant serving in Afghanistan, and he was to accompany us at some point during the trip, but I hadn’t expected to see him this early.

He brought along one of his army buddies, Staff Sgt. Aaron Welch, from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Aaron is a sniper in Marcus’ unit, and he showed us some of the equipment he uses to do his job. It’s mind-boggling to think that some of his targets could be thousands of feet away by the time he’s expected to fire on them.

We were given the chance to see some of the technology the soldiers use to keep themselves safe from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the field. I can’t talk too much about what they used, but it was eerie to watch actual footage of enemy combatants planting roadside bombs. It almost looked like something out of a video game. Merril and I were told that they tend to place the IEDs at turns in the road, because vehicles have to slow down, which makes them easier targets. Merril remarked that there’s no real comfortable setting in the area -- a situation like this force soldiers to be on their toes constantly.

Later, we went to watch some gunnery practice in the door gunner’s spot on a Blackhawk. It really brought home something we had discussed earlier with a group of soldiers -- that the armed forces rely heavily on teamwork. Some of the soldiers told us about being outnumbered and cornered in firefights with enemy combatants only to be saved by the timely intervention of air support in the form of bombers, fighters or helicopters such as our Blackhawks. Who knows what would have happened if that idea of teamwork hadn’t been in place? They didn’t want to think about it.

The funny thing about talking to the soldiers in Afghanistan was that we wanted to speak with them about their jobs, but they wanted to talk about football. Though the stakes a football team faces aren’t even close to the stakes they face, there’s a real parallel between how they operate and how a football team goes about its business. Again, teamwork is so important -- when new people show up, they work hard to integrate them into the system and to become familiar with one another, so that mistakes don’t happen. The trip has been incredibly enlightening so far and brings the importance of these soldiers’ mission in to sharp focus. I expect the rest of the trip to be just as fascinating.