I’ve always wanted to do a military tour with the National Football League (NFL). I’ve actually signed up for three tours in the past, but unfortunately was unable to attend. Finally, everything worked out, and I had a chance to join the Miami Dolphins recent military base visit to Honduras’ Soto Cano Airbase. I didn’t come from what I would consider a military family. My father did serve in the army, but it’s not something he speaks about often. So I was really excited to take this trip to visit with the troops and learn firsthand what it’s like to serve this country on foreign soil. Little did I know it would be a life-changing experience for my mind and soul.
I’m not sure where to start because there were so many amazing people we met.This was a pretty unique base, in my opinion, because it’s a shared base with the Honduran Military. Both the United States Air Force and United States Army are jointly deployed at the base. There’s typically up to 800 American troops stationed here at any single time. And while these troops aren’t in “harm’s way” daily, they serve a vital mission in Central America. The base is considered a temporary location even though it’s been here for 33 years. The Soto Cano Airbase is best known as the home of Oliver North’s headquarters. Any of you remember the Iran-Contra affair of the 80s? Did I just date myself?
Time to Visit Some Troops…
There is so much talk about the youth of our country. Can they be or will they be as strong as the generations that came before? I can’t say I have a definitive answer to that question and share the same doubt. But what I can say is those who have chosen to serve this country do it with pride and the strength that we all can/should be proud of. One of the most interesting things I noticed on the base was the large number of female and minorities in leadership positions. Maybe that’s my own bias of the past thinking that the Army would be “behind the times“.
After speaking to some staff sergeants, they informed me that the Army has made great strides in the last five to ten years to be more inclusive regarding females and minorities in leadership positions. We were here to provide the entertainment for the troops, and I am thankful that we were allowed a “hands on” with their daily duties. After exploring the on-base fire station, we got a chance to try out and feel the power 700+ PSI firehose. After serving as captain of the Army vs. Air Force flag football game, I got a chance to don the suit and have the attack dog chase me and try to take me down. Note: two of the cheerleaders tried as well and they went to the ground like a flung sack of wheat!
We got the opportunity to tour multiple aircrafts, from helicopters to jumbo jet planes. We spoke with the female commander of the Chinook Helicopter Division. She did not grow up in a military family, yet told us she knew when she was 12 that she wanted to fly helicopters for the Army. It was quite a thrill to be in those aircraft. We begged them to take us up for a test flight, but the Base Commander was not having that on her watch.
Time for the Show...
Finally, the evening came and it was time for us to put on a show. Well, the soldiers really came to see the cheerleaders. It was a strong crowd and they did a fantastic job of interacting with our entire group. When I got called to the stage, I was greeted very warmly. I talked for a few minutes then turned my time into a Q & A session, which they seemed to really appreciate. It was so fulfilling to be up in front of this group of soldiers and really be able to thank them from the bottom of my heart for their service.
As our plane lifted over the mountains of Honduras, my thoughts drifted back to those 700-plus service men and women on Soto Cano Airbase. I met American soldiers from all parts of this country on my visit. Not one of them was perfect; each one had their own outlook on their time on the airbase. Each soldier I asked could tell me the exact number of days he or she had left on the base. They also knew their next rotation or deployment and to where. The one thing that they all had in common whether black or white, man or woman was the knowledge that they were all on the same team. Unified and resolved, they vowed to carry out their responsibilities to the mission. Often when you choose to give back by serving others, you receive so much more in return.
I can’t wait to do this again…God Bless the United States of America
Keith Sims –Former Miami Dolphin All-Pro OL and Dad of Soulful RV Family