Tom Dienhart Rivals.com College Football Senior Writer
Illinois coach Ron Zook is a famously fabulous recruiter, so there is nothing he likes to do more than meet people.
That meant he was built for Tuesday night's event on the 2010 Coaches Tour, which is being put on by the USO/Morale Entertainment/Armed Forces Entertainment. The event was an autograph session at the Naval Support Activity Center in Bahrain, an island country near Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf that is ruled by the Al Khalifa royal family.
The tour also features Oregon coach Chip Kelly, Harvard coach Tim Murphy and Army coach Rich Ellerson. The tour stopped in Germany to visit the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center on Monday before jetting to Bahrain early Tuesday morning.
Zook, entering his sixth season at Illinois, shared his thoughts about the Tour and its impact on him.
This is an opportunity to thank the troops and give back to them. I tell our players all the time that what they do over here allows us to live the way we live. And sometimes we take it for granted, the sacrifices that these guys over here make for our country, our nation and our way of life back home in the United States.
Tuesday night, I met people from Ohio, people from close to where I grew up [in Loudonville], people from Illinois, people from Texas and people from all walks of life. And I think the neat thing that we talk about and try to take back is that football is a team game and you usually only are as good as your team is.
The military - the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, everyone here - it's about the team, it's about cooperation, and these guys all do that. If they don't, nothing would work very well.
There was a submarine that just came in here. How about those guys? There were 120-some-odd guys on that sub who are out there for months at a time and they are very close friends. They embody teamwork.
Those are some of the things I want to try to take back to my team. I want them to have that kind of teamwork. If you can just get your guys to have that kind of teamwork, we could have a very good season. I wish my players could see all of this. I think it would help any team get better if they could see how our Armed Forces work.
The crew that is flying us around is another good example. There is a chain of command in place. Orders are given and followed. If not, there could be problems.
Wednesday, we are going on an aircraft carrier, the USS Eisenhower. I have been fortunate enough to have that experience, and the teamwork that you see is just unbelievable. I also have had a chance to fly with some fighter pilots, and that was an entirely other experience that showed the capabilities of a finely tuned machine.
Seeing all of this, you don't take what you do for granted. We need to be thankful for these people, for the people who are supporting us and protecting us. They do the best they can every time they have the opportunity.
We will end up in Iraq. I'm not sure what to expect. Flying here to Bahrain today, we came close to Iraq air space. We were up pretty high, at 30,000 or so feet, but you could look down and see it. All the things you've heard about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan the last few years, you see it on the news, all the places, all the people that have been over there and through this - we will get a chance to meet some of those people.
We visited a hospital Monday in Germany, which is where all of the wounded are first brought before they are sent home to usually one of two hospitals: Walter Reed in Washington, D.C., or San Antonio [the Military Medical Center there].
There was a young man I know about from Champaign, Ill., who lost a leg in the war. I texted his friend, Jay Ramshaw, who played for me as a tight end at Illinois. And I told Jay that I was sure that his buddy had come through that hospital.
It is amazing what these people do for these young men. These people are sacrificing their lives, and it's something that people need to know.
Before we left, we were fitted with body armor to wear when we get to Iraq. The danger of the situation kind of hit home then. You have body armor for a reason. When they start talking about metal-piercing bullets, it lets you know that we are going into harm's way. And these guys live it every day.
I'm sure we won't be in any areas where we are in imminent danger, but these guys live it. It kind of puts it in reality, the sacrifices they do each day.
Before I left for this trip, I told my wife that I was going to be gone for just a week. Some of these people are gone for a year, six months. I was talking to a guy here who has a 5-year-old son who he is going to be away from for a long time. That's a big sacrifice.