Coaches travel to Middle East to meet troops, hold clinics

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- With a daughter serving in the military, Randy Shannon particularly understands the importance of supporting American troops.

He'll fly a long way this spring to make that point.

Shannon is among five college football coaches who'll head to Kuwait and other military bases in the Middle East this May to meet with U.S. troops and participate in some clinics. He'll be joined by Notre Dame's Charlie Weis, Georgia's Mark Richt, Auburn's Tommy Tuberville and Yale's Jack Siedlecki.

The trip is scheduled from May 20-26.

"I'm thrilled to do it," Shannon told The Associated Press Wednesday. "I mean, you get to go over and support the people over there in the military. And most of the coaches kind of know each other: Mark Richt attended the University of Miami, Tommy Tuberville coached with me, Charlie Weis I know from the NFL. Everybody's excited about it and we're going over to support the people that support us."

It's believed to be a first-of-its-kind tour by college football coaches. College basketball coaches have made similar trips in past years, with Notre Dame's Mike Brey, Maryland's Gary Williams and Michigan State's Tom Izzo among those who've headed to Kuwait for "Operation Hardwood."

Shannon, whose daughter is stationed in the Far East, said that aspect makes this trip even more important to him.

"It really does. It's something special to me," Shannon said. "I haven't told her yet. When I tell her, she'll give me some spots to go to. It's something you can bring back and say you did something special and supported special people."

The coaches will greet soldiers at various bases, run flag-football teams and host symposiums with question-and-answer sessions.

"We want to support them not only in prayer but also in person," Richt, who has family ties to the Air Force, Army and Marine Corps, said in a statement. "I look forward to meeting as many of our men and women in the armed forces as possible."

Weis said the timing of the trip -- just before Memorial Day -- adds significance to him.

"My family and I believe this to be a small way to thank and support our troops for defending our country," Weis said in a statement. "As a proud Notre Dame alumnus, I consider this trip to be a privilege and I'm looking forward to this with great anticipation."

The trip is sponsored by Armed Forces Entertainment.

"College football is an All-American sport. It truly showcases the drive, determination and teamwork that is similar to the U.S. Armed Forces," said Air Force Colonel Edward Shock, Chief of Armed Forces Entertainment. "We are proud to bring this tour to our military men and women and my hat goes off to these coaches for spending their downtime with our troops."