June 6, 2010
- 2010 Spring Football Central
- 24 Hawkeyes to Watch
- Take the Hawkeyes With You: Iowa Podcasts
- Download your Iowa Hawkeye iPhone app!
- Iowa Football wallpaper
IOWA CITY, Iowa — It is often said that football serves as a microcosm of life. It was through a foreign football goodwill tour that two University of Iowa coaches learned more about life than could ever be choreographed during 60 minutes of play on a fall Saturday.
Hawkeye graduate assistants Charlie Bullen and David Raih completed a 13-day journey that began May 19 and took them from Iowa City to Wichita, Kan., to Germany, to the Persian Gulf and back to Washington, D.C. During the voyage Bullen and Raih did their best to momentarily touch the lives of 15,000 U.S. troops, who in turn, made a powerful — and permanent — impact on theirs.
Bullen and Raih were among 34 in a group organized by Morale Entertainment with the support and sponsorship from Armed Forces Entertainment and United Services Organizations (USO). Once the party took off from Wichita on Sunday, May 23, it made eight stops in eight days, traveling 17,000 miles and visiting 15,000 United States troops serving overseas.
“It’s almost a shame how naïve I was to what actually goes on and the sacrifice they actually make,” Bullen said. “To realize what they’re doing over there and then to realize I had no idea; I can’t believe I never knew that. They do so much and I just watch college football all day.”
The five distinguished guests accompanying the Iowa assistants were Richard T. Devereaux, general in the United States Air Force; Rich Ellerson, head football coach at Army; Chip Kelly, head football coach at Oregon; Tim Murphy, head football coach at Harvard; and Ron Zook, head football coach at Illinois. Bullen and Raih were among the support staff that organized inventory, unloaded personal luggage and prepared up to 10,000 pounds of giveaways for each stop.
The group made stops at Ramstein, Germany; Bahrain in the Persian Gulf; the USS Eisenhower in the Sea of Arabia; Ali Al Salem in Kuwait; Joint Base Balad in Iraq; back to Ali Al Salem; and to Rota, Spain, before returning to Andrews Air Force Base In the United States.
“You’re in such foreign territory that the troops you come in contact with my be an Iowa Hawkeye fan or they may be an Auburn fan, but they are so happy that anybody within the United States is over there representing NCAA football or anything that reminds them of home,” Raih said. “Whether they’re getting shot at or not, they are in such tough conditions that you’re humbled at the whole experience.
You see these young people in the hospital; whether you’re a Hawkeye fan or an Alabama fan, you realize everyone is on the same team over there. The team colors just disappear.”
“It’s almost a shame how naïve I was to what actually goes on and the sacrifice they actually make. To realize what they’re doing over there and then to realize I had no idea; I can’t believe I never knew that. They do so much and I just watch college football all day.”
UI football defensive GA
Bullen, 25, is in his second season as graduate assistant for the Hawkeyes, working on the defensive side of the football. A native of Palatine, Ill., Bullen also worked two seasons as a UI student assistant. Raih, 29, is in his first season as a graduate assistant for the Hawkeyes, working with the offense. A native of Edina, Minn., Raih played quarterback for the Hawkeyes from 1999-2003. For the past two years he was an intern for Rick Neuheisel’s staff at UCLA.
While Raih was at UCLA, he received a call from Mike Whalen of Morale Entertainment. Wahlen was recruiting head coaches to participate in the 2009 tour and Neuheisel — Raih’s boss at the time — agreed to attend as one of the featured guests. Raih went along as well. The event made such an impression that when he returned to the UI, Raih was excited for a return trip and he asked Bullen to join him.
“That would be like asking a huge Hawkeye fan why would you go get sideline passes again?” Raih said. “The experience is so intense and so unique that you would go 10 times. The things you see, the things you smell, the things you hear, the people you’re in contact with, the soil your feet are in; it’s kind of overwhelming when you realize you’re actually in the Persian Gulf or actually on a carrier in the middle of the Sea of Arabia. You’re speechless.”
Bullen and Raih said UI head coach Kirk Ferentz was “in immediate support” of having Hawkeyes on the Coaches Tour.
“He said, `Absolutely, go,'” Raih said.
For the two Iowa coaches, this trip was more than a road game in a hostile environment, but neither felt in danger.
“We’re with the best security in the entire world, so if we’re going down, we’re going down,” Bullen said.
One of the more interesting stops for the duo was in Balad, the largest base in Iraq with approximately 25,000 troops. Raih said that “undoubtedly, this is where some of our best leadership is.” The insurgents must concur. The base is nicknamed “Mortaritaville” because it is constantly under attack. During a flag football game between the troops (in which the coaches coached and Bullen and Raih officiated), the base came under attack twice.
“They stopped to tell us where the bunkers were in case the sirens went off,” Bullen said. “The troops didn’t even blink. We played during a sandstorm and all they wanted to do was kickoff and get started.”
“That would be like asking a huge Hawkeye fan why would you go get sideline passes again? The experience is so intense and so unique that you would go 10 times. The things you see, the things you smell, the things you hear, the people you’re in contact with, the soil your feet are in; it’s kind of overwhelming when you realize you’re actually in the Persian Gulf or actually on a carrier in the middle of the Sea of Arabia. You’re speechless.”
UI football offensive GA
The tour party traveled in the mornings on Air Force aviation. Once the group landed, it would unload the pallet of giveaways, meet and greet with wing commanders and the authorities at the base, have lunch and an autograph signing at the mess hall, visit a hospital and then play a flag football game with the troops playing, the coaches coaching and Bullen and Raih officiating.
Bullen and Raih took 1,500 University of Iowa T-shirts and 30 autographed photographs of Ferentz.
“For the Hawkeye fans we met, one person waited two hours for us to bring him a picture of coach Ferentz,” Raih said. “In terms of troops who were Iowa fans, there were about 20 who were really fired up.”
Morale Entertainment began in 2008 with a mission “to tap into the love of country and vast bipartisan resources to bring the best of America to military women and men overseas.” The Coaches Tour 2010 was sponsored by Under Armour, which donated $500,000 worth of giveaways and American Airlines. Also accompanying the group were Ryan Kules and Bruce Nitsche of the Wounded Warrior Project. Nitsche lost limbs in Vietnam and Kules lost his right arm and left leg in Iraq.
“It was an incredible experience having the Wounded Warrior Project represented,” Raih said. “It was a big deal to have a soldier our age there. They became distinguished guests and received standing ovations everywhere we went.”
The Hawkeye coaches said the experience to the Persian Gulf doesn’t make their jobs back at the UI any less significant, but they now have a better outlook because of the example being set by the United States troops overseas.
“They have a positive attitude in their environment and we can come back here and give it our all because it’s not nearly as hard as what they do,” Bullen said. “They take such pride in everything they do and it was impressive to see such young people contributing with such huge responsibilities.”
“It’s so important for football coaches to go because they directly influence the same age-group of people in the United States,” Raih said. “They can also help solve the disconnect between what is going on over there and what is going on over here.”
Bullen and Raih returned to the Hayden Fry Football Complex on Tuesday, June 1. It was a whirlwind journey with little sleep, but the rewards outweighed the hardships.
“If I get asked, I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Bullen said.
“Me too,” Raih added. “In fact, I would think we would want to keep building these relationships with the military.”