The final day of the trip was upon us. It was a trip that included many miles, many adventures, many stories, and most importantly, many handshakes and thanks to all those who serve.

We were up and at it fairly early, with a full morning schedule of stops on base then a chance to prepare for the trip home. Unfortunately, the troubles of the world that you likely heard about last week had the attention of many on base and our busy morning ended up being just two stops. But they were fun ones.

We had the chance to meet the search and rescue team and check out their modified Blackhawk helicopters! Talk about some cool hardware. And from the “it’s a small world” file, the team currently stationed in Djibouti is from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, AZ—about five miles from my house! I had actually met a couple of the guys before, and a discussion with others uncovered mutual friends back home. The guys all had a chance to get up close and personal with the choppers and take pictures with the people that fly them as well as keep them flying. It’s always an interesting conversation between mechanical men whether they work on helicopters or Pro Stock engines (two- and eight-cylinder versions). Since we were in no rush, we took advantage and spent extra time chatting with these dedicated people.

We then went to meet with some of the base security team. Each time we talked to security people, Eddie Krawiec tried talking them into letting him try out some of the weaponry. These guys—as with all before them—wisely declined! From there it was a last visit to the galley for lunch and back to the house to get cleaned up and packed for the trip back to CONUS (that’s military speak for Continental United States.) It was also an opportunity to chat with the remaining member of the team, Jason Line. Jason has been on more of these tours than anyone as this was number seven for the three-time NHRA world champ. I asked about his initial involvement:

“Fred Simmons asked me. Back then Pontiac was involved, and I think the reason he thought of me was because I was prior military so he thought it would be a good fit. And it was. That was a unique experience and I’ve been lucky enough to do it seven times. And even after so many trips, it’s still a cool experience and a small, little way that we can give something back and show our appreciation for being able to live in the greatest country in the world.”

When asked where this trip ranks with the others he responded:

“It was definitely different. I saw a wider variety of things than I have seen before. This one is way up there. It’s been an interesting trip, that’s for sure.”

I was ready to wrap it up when he chided me about not asking about all the Minnesota folks that he met on this trip. I asked, and he responded:

“It’s shocking, because I’m from a really, really small town, and I met several other folks that grew up within a 75-mile radius of me from really, really small towns. I mean, we’re in Africa! It seems almost impossible, but at the same time, really cool. And hopefully I could bring a little piece of home to them. I guess it really is a small world.”

He added:

“The off season is extremely valuable to us, but without those folks fighting for us to keep our country free and keeping the fight on somebody else’s ground, we wouldn’t be able to race for a living. And I’m happy to take this time to say thanks and to give a little something back.”

After that it was time to board the first of either five or six flights over the next 30-something hours to get home (depending on where each of us was going). I think I can speak for us all when I say it was a long, tiring, and at times, stressful trip. And it was worth every second just to be able to say thanks to those whose commitment to our country keeps all of us free.

Even though I’m back home now (sort of—I’m in Indianapolis for the PRI trade show), I’m still recuperating and processing all that took place. I’m thinking that a final installment of this blog needs to be written, so if you will give me a couple of days to organize my thoughts and kindly check back, I will try to put it all in perspective.

Oh—and against all of our predictions, Jason did get his knife back!

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Author: Alan Reinhart