RAMSTEIN AB, Germany --
Six-time NHRA Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson, two-time NHRA Pro Stock champion Jim Yates, Top Fuel veteran Cory McClenathan and 2006 Pro Stock champion Jason Line (who joined the group for the first time this year) represented GM and the sport of drag racing during the troop-morale mission to Kuwait and Germany. The drivers distributed over 1,500 goody bags that included racing caps, tee-shirts, racing decals and other items, signed an even larger number of photos (supplied by the USO), and brought a precious few minutes of home to everyone they met. Many NHRA sponsors contributed to the gift bags and the troops were very appreciative of what they received.
Jeff Anthony served as USO tour manager and provided valuable guidance for the drivers' group during their stay in Kuwait.
In Germany, the Army Special Forces Association, Randall Shughart Chapter 64, based in Carlisle, Pa., once again served as the vanguard for the group's visit there, and the 435th Services Squadron at Ramstein AB hosted the group during its stay.
The 2008 USO tour began on Friday, Nov. 21, with each member of the contingent converging on Washington Dulles International Airport for the 13-hour flight to Kuwait. After arriving in Kuwait early Saturday evening (local time), the drivers cleared customs, received their temporary visas, and then departed for the Radisson SAS Hotel in Kuwait City where they were headquartered during their stay.
After lunch with the troops at the Camp Arifjan dining facility, the group journeyed a few miles east to Camp Patriot, Kuwait Naval Base, for a commander's welcome briefing, and while there, LTC Robert Lesher presented Certificates of Appreciation to each member of the drivers' group. The drivers were then entertained with an exciting 45-minute ride aboard Navy gunboats around the Kuwait Navy Base harbor, and then signed autographs for personnel at Camp Patriot before returning to their hotel.
On Tuesday, the group made their way west out of Kuwait City to Ali Al Salem Air Base, which is about 40 miles from the border with Iraq. Ali Al Salem is a Kuwait air installation, but it is shared with U.S. Army and Air Force units, and it's where many U.S. troops come for a few days to unwind before flying home. Ali Al Salem is nicknamed "The Rock" by the troops stationed there because of its strategic vantage point high above the Kuwaiti desert.
"Every time we make one of our post-season visits, whether it's in Kuwait or in Germany, or seeing the wounded at Landstuhl, wherever we go, we're once again reminded of the professionalism and dedication of all of our soldiers," said Pontiac's two-time NHRA champion Jim Yates.
On Tuesday morning around 5:15 a.m. local time, the group arrived in Frankfurt, Germany, and was greeted by snow and a 60-degree swing in the temperature. The drivers made their way through customs, had their passports checked, collected their luggage and were then met by SFA Chapter 64 members Wayne Reed and Sonny Womelsdorf for the 90-minute ride to Ramstein Air Base.
The drivers were then off to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center where they spent considerable time with the hospital patients in their rooms, including four Canadian soldiers whose Humvee had recently been hit by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. All four of the Canadians had suffered wounds, but were thankful to be alive and appreciated the time spent with the NHRA contingent. LRMC has treated approximately 17,330 wounded in the last eight months.
The late afternoon of the first day at Ramstein was spent at the USO Lounge at the PAX terminal greeting troops on their way home for Thanksgiving, and then a stop at the USO Lounge at the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility. This special group of medical personnel greets every wounded person coming in from downrange and also prepares wounded troops for further transport to the United States.
"This just once again defines how small the world is," Line said. "To travel overseas and basically run into someone who I had served with in the Air Force what seems like eons ago, was one of a number of highlights of a great experience. I was really proud to be a part of this NHRA/GM group and I feel extremely fortunate that Fred (Simmonds) asked me to go."
The drivers' group then left for the 435th Vehicle Readiness Squadron for a Wednesday afternoon autograph session and Thanksgiving dinner with the troops, followed by a return trip and commander's briefing at the 21st Operations Weather Squadron stationed at Sembach, and two more autograph sessions for military personnel and their families at the Ramstein BX, and the Ramstein PAX Terminal.
"It is very rare in everyday life that you see the kind of teamwork and dedication that you see demonstrated by the men and women of the U.S. military," Johnson said. "The sacrifices made by each and every one of them make you appreciate that much more the freedoms we enjoy in this country, and I hope this USO tour is something we can do every year for many years to come."
The USO is a nonprofit, Congressionally chartered private organization that relies on the generosity of individuals, organizations and corporations to support USO activities. The USO mission is to provide morale, welfare and recreation-type services to our men and women in uniform. The original intent of Congress - and enduring style of USO delivery - is to represent the American people by extending a touch of home to the military. You can make a donation to the USO by going to www.uso.org or by calling the USO directly at 1.800.876.7469.