Some members of the Marlins -- including manager Fredi Gonzalez, outfielder Chris Coghlan and president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest -- are on a goodwill mission to Iraq, where they plan on spending time with U.S. troops over the coming week. Marlins catcher John Baker has agreed to serve as a foreign correspondent, sharing his thoughts and observations on the trip by sending occasional updates to Fish Bytes. Here's his latest.
January 30th 2010 - A day in Basra!!
I titled this entry a day in Basra, and what a day it was. How many times can you say you have been attacked by a dog, flipped in an MRAP, learned everything about an Apache Helicopter one could possibly retain, and fired guns with a certain covert special forces unit that would like to remain nameless. It was absolutely amazing, and the perfect end to our stay in the country.
I would first like to write a little bit about the people that have helped us out throughout this trip. Jimmy and Emma from the USO catered to our every need while we were in Iraq, and let me tell you baseball people and dancers can be a tough group to deal with. While in Kuwait, we dealt primarily with Marcus, Dave and Brad and they also did a phenomenal handling us. The person, however, that deserves the most credit is Colonel Shock. Colonel Shock has been dealing with us on be half of AFE (Armed Forces Entertainment). Where ever we went, he went, and he patiently stood by while we ran late, talked too loud and presented myriad security risks. When I found out that his paramedic number was the the same as my number...21...I gave him my BP top at the end of our tour. He also served as the group photographer and along with Matt Britten did most of the heavy lifting in that field. So, Col...I salute you.
Okay, now to the fun stuff. The first place we went was to the bosses house. We met the commander of the Big Red One...he told us about his company's history, FIRST on the beaches of Normandy, FIRST into the Korean War, FIRST into Vietnam, FIRST into Desert Storm and FIRST into OIF. To say that the army has a bravest unit would sound strange, but are there any braver???
After that meet and greet, we met some soldiers and then made our way to the K-9 unit. We learned about how they train the dogs, what they look for in an animal, and how they live together. Basically, an attack or patrol dog is trained to think that biting is playing, think about wrestling with your dog at home with his chew toy. In the case of these dogs, the toy is one of your appendages. Coghlan suited up first and made his way out into the muddy field. On the handler’s command he took off running until Lucky, the 85 pound German Shepherd/Black Lab mix, caught him from behind, latched onto his suit, and took him to the ground. A bunch of us got into the suit and got run down by various dogs, even me, despite my wheels, was caught an subdued by Baro, the German Shepherd. What is really crazy about these dogs is that they are not vicious at all, they are playing, albeit somewhat aggressively, and when we left the training ground they licked our faces and wagged their tails!! I have posted a picture of me with Baro the German Shepherd.
The dogs were a lot of fun so we thought why not see what it is like to be in an MRAP when it flips over. Jimmy drove us over to the MRAP flip simulator and five of us got in at once. Four in the back, and Cogs in the driver seat. Our operator took us through the safety details, strapped us in, and then spun us around like Laundry before he let us out. Because we were in a four point seat belt, we really had no where to go, but it was still fun. The paradox is that as fun as it was, it was also scary because the threat of being flipped over by a mine or IED in the Iraqi desert is so great they actually have their own flip simulator on base. Our next scheduled trip was to the Apache Helicopter flight simulator with Lt. Terry Mullis from North Carolina.
Lt. Mullis is a member of the National Guard, and like 1st Lt. Brannan, he also joined the military a little later in life. Much like it has been my dream to play Major League Baseball, it was his dream to fly Apaches. He started a little later in life, kind of like I did, but was doing what he loved and making the best out his circumstances out in the desert. Unfortunately, or rather fortunately as we would come to find out, the simulator was broken. Lt. Mullis felt bad, and called his partner to see if they could power up one the Long Bow Apache Helicopters and show us the weapons system up close. It was too awesome of an experience to even attempt to explain. The helicopter has a helmet system with an optical lens that fits over your right eye. You zero the helmet into the computer system and then when you move your head back and forth, and look through your right eye, the 30 MM gun on the bottom of the helo moves along with your head, so all you have to do is squeeze the trigger while you look at the target. It is crazy. I got to sit in the gunners seat and move the gun and camera around. It was an exhilarating experience I will never forget and it was all made possible by Lt. Mullis. We learned some more about the 30 million dollar helicopter, snapped some photos with the guys, then headed to the USO to do another meet and greet. Along the way, in an attempt to get a military style hair cut, Cogs let someone give him a bootleg mohawk for $4.50. The spirit of the act was fantastic, but the result was...well...
After the USO the experience only intensified, we met a group of elite special forces operatives and shot a lot of guns at their private range. I shot an M4 rifle, complete with a laser sight, as well as an MP5 Machine gun that is fully automatic and fires 9mm rounds. The MP5 also had a laser sight and felt like a BB gun. The guns were also very quiet, which was also very AWESOME to see in person. Seriously, I got to shoot a silenced fully automatic machine gun...seriously. One of the guys, “Chris”, let me play Jack Bauer with his 9mm Beretta. I got to hold multiple clips and fire back and forth at targets. I learned how to eject the spent clip with my right thumb, then slam the other clip in and continue firing. I felt like a real badass. This was the kind of stuff you see in movies, and the perfect night cap to an outrageous day. The most amazing part was that we didn’t even leave the base. It was a day I will be unable to forget.
-- John Baker
If you want to read more about Baker and the trip, you're invited to visit his personal blog at www.johnbakerbaseball.com or follow him on Twitter at @manbearwolf. Coghlan is also updating the Iraq trip on his Twitter account: @cogz4Christ