“I spent two weeks in Afghanistan.”
It’s not a response people are expecting to hear when they ask me what my favorite trip has been, but that is always the response I like to give.
As a former NFL Cheerleader for the Miami Dolphins, I was fortunate during my four years on the team, to travel to manybeautiful locations. Some of those being the Dominican Republic, Mexico, London and the Bahamas, to name a few, and yet my favorite, and most impacting trip of my life to date, was a two-week military tour in Afghanistan in 2012.
After traveling for what felt like 5 days, three of my fellow cheerleaders, and our fearless coordinator landed in Kyrgyzstan, for the first of manybases we would be visiting. From there, we would take a Black Hawk Helicopter into Afghanistan.
This was by no means a glitz and glamour trip like manyof the others, although the military personnel did treat us exceptionally well. We visited numerousmilitary bases throughout Afghanistan during the two weeks. At the bases we slept in barracks, on bunk beds, with minimal electricity…no electricity if you count all the times, we blew the generator’s fuse. The bathrooms seemed to be miles away from our barracks. Let’s justsay that if you forgot your tooth brush that night, chances were you probably weren’t going to brush your teeth. And by the time you showered and walked back to your bunk bed, you’d be all dusty again from desert sand.
I’m sure you’re thinking, “this chick is crazy to say this has been her favorite trip” and maybeyou’re right. It feels like our country has been fearful ever since the attacks on 9/11. To your average American, who might not have any family members in service and watches the news regularlylike myself, taking a trip to Afghanistan seems absurd. This is a place of war, death, sadness. At least that was my mentality.
The reason that my time is Afghanistan was so meaningful, is because I truly got to know the men and women who put their lives at risk so that we at home can enjoy football Sundays, traveling abroad and the freedom to walk down the street without the fear of being bombed. I had the opportunity to see how these brave solders lived for weeks on end, the challenges they faced, and the bravery they displayed.
During meals, our coordinator would encourage us to split up and eat our meal with different groups in the cafeteria rather than sitting amongst ourselves. At first, I hated this idea. I mean how awkward right, just walk up and introduce yourself to a group of people you have never met and try to hold a conversation with them during meal. I thought I didn’t have anything in common with these soldiers. Sitting with these men and women in uniform and justchatting with them over lunch showed me how much I related to them. They were so much like my friends and family members back at home. They were fathers, sons and daughters. The soldiers were so happy to tell me about their families, fun experiences they’ve had, and how much it meant to them to serve our country. I was able to get a firsthand perspective from the people who had been through it all, rather than the stories spun by the media.
There were also some fun and exciting part of the trip, like riding in Black Hawk helicopters, flying an airplane simulator, and shooting some really big guns, but all of that was small in comparison to the impact of getting to know the soldiers.
Naturally, being on a military base we did experience a fewminor attacks during our two-week tour. The landing strip of one of the bases was completelyblown up the day right after we took a flight from it!
And during our tour of one of the bases, we were suddenlyrushed off and placed into a conference room for about an hour with no explanation. We later found out that this was doneas a precaution because the Taliban were attacking the base at that verymoment.
When I felt myself becoming homesick and scared, I thought of all these men and women who go days and months without being able to communicate with their friends and families. These brave soldiers, who face the future with uncertainty, all for the greater good of their country. This was truly what made this experience so memorable and for that reason, my answer to the question “what has been your favorite trip” will always be “When I spent two weeks in Afghanistan.”