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Baghdad Next Stop On USO trip

Posted Jul 3, 2011

Whisenhunt spends time in zero gravity and avoids the Red Zone

Coach Ken Whisenhunt (right) joins former coach Jim E. Mora talking football with a soldier during the USO coaches tour in Iraq this week.


Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, taking part in a NFL coaches tour with Gary Kubiak, Jim L. Mora and Jim E. Mora in the Persian Gulf visiting U.S. military personnel, will be giving first-person updates of his trip.

Sunday, the coaches – including Whisenhunt – trek to Baghdad in Iraq. Whisenhunt begins his phone call when he has to cut it short after about a minute when he is called in by a soldier. A few minutes later, he calls again.

I was outside on the call and I had to get in a secure area. They are just being extra cautious, but it does remind you you are in hostile territory.

There were a couple cool things today. We took a C-130 (airplane) into Baghdad. At one point the pilot executed a combat landing, dropping the nose of the airplane quickly and creating zero gravity. Sitting back in the cargo bay, I watched a 40-pound vest rise up off the seat.

We arrived at one base and from that point, took a Blackhawk helicopter from one base to another instead of the route through the city. They have the Red Zone, as they call it, which is funny because you think about the Red Zone in football but here a Red Zone means an area of high risk. So we avoided the Red Zone with the Blackhawk, which was a unique experience. It gives you a great view of the city, from mosques to the palace to the houses. You have a gunner sitting right beside you making sure he’s protecting the helicopter. That was cool. Then after being at that base we took a different set of helicopters back to the original base, and on that it was a National Guard group from Georgia, where I am from, so we had a lot to talk about.

Being here really kind of strikes home the reality of it. Normally you are so far away (seeing it on TV), it takes away the impact of when you are here. You see some of the buildings that have taken hits from missiles and bombs and you see the security that is here around the area. Even though they are in the process of withdrawing troops they are still on alert, they have indirect fire, where a mortar or missile can come in, and they are always on guard for that. It really startles you when you see the Palace, the size of it, the one they bombed the first day. You see where the bombs went in. We actually had a chance to tour the palace. It’s one thing to see it on TV but to see it in person, how lavish it was and the money spent to build it and then to see how it was destroyed, even the ability they had to place the bombs where they did, it really strikes you. It makes it more real.

There is a lot of history here. There are things you have seen on TV where you actually see the spots where it happened. That makes the image stronger. It’s not what I expected. I didn’t know what we’d be doing or where we’d be going. At the outer bases, the landscape is bleak. Now we’re in the city, you see these things, like the crossed swords he had on his parade grounds, to a lot of the other landmarks. You see areas that have taken hits and parts are in rubble.

Actually we have had quite a few Cardinals fans. The number one question for me specifically, besides if we are going to have football, is who is going to be our quarterback? The next one is fantasy football. A lot of these guys are big-time fantasy football players, so they want to know about players on your team and the kind of year they are going to have so they can start thinking about their picks. A lot want to talk about the 2008 Super Bowl because they have seen those games, wherever they have been. I’ve been surprised at the amount of Cardinal-specific fans, although there have been plenty of other fans as well, and they want to get their jabs in for their teams and how they are going to handle us.

I’ve had a couple of guys bring up Pat Tillman jerseys and want those signed and it’s cool. I’ve had one guy who told me he trained Pat Tillman when he came over here. That makes you think about how much Pat meant to so many people. That’s been special.

I think I have been thinking more about (football) because it’s been our topics of conversation. You naturally think about it, so you think about your team and decisions you have to make and what is in front of us once we have an agreement. Instead of what you might think, that it is a week away from football, it’s been a lot more about football.

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