KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait – The 2016 rendition of Operation Appreciation – Summit Racing’s annual trip overseas to visit troops during the holiday season – has begun. Summit Racing Pro Stock drivers Greg Anderson and Jason Line, Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Pro Stock Motorcycle riders Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec, and Team BIGFOOT® 4×4 Monster Truck champs Dan Runte and Larry Swim (who joined the group for the first time this year) are seizing the opportunity to say thank you to some of the men and women of our Armed Forces who are on temporary duty a long, long way from home.
Through a partnership with Armed Forces Entertainment, this year’s Summit Racing-sponsored tour kicked off at Al Jaber Air Base in Kuwait, home base for the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, which traces its roots to the legendary Tuskegee Airmen of World War II.
KB Racing driver Jason Line, who recently won his third Pro Stock world championship in 2016 behind the wheel of his Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro, has been part of the annual troop-morale mission since 2008. The pre-holiday visit never fails to incite a fresh wave of gratitude for the sacrifices made by U.S. troops and their families.
Below are Jason’s thoughts on Day 1 of this year’s trip followed by a complete photo gallery.
“These men and women are kind enough to share a little bit of their lives here with us, and they’re very proud of what they do. They each go out of their way to show us how appreciative they are of the fact that we’re here to visit them, and it means a lot to us to have the opportunity to tell them how much we appreciate the fact that they’re here doing what they’re doing. This trip definitely makes you think and puts a lot into perspective.
As is always the case, everyone was very welcoming today. It started with some time with the guys in EOD, who let us try out the robots that they use to detect and diffuse explosives and gave us a tour of the MAT-V [mine resistant ambush protected military all-terrain vehicle]. To look at those vehicles, you get a sense of what the mission is, and I can’t imagine doing what they have to do. It’s a pretty crazy job.
After that, we went to Commander’s Call and met Colonel Lyons, the group commander. He gave a speech that was really eye-opening and answered a lot of questions we had. He talked about liberating the areas of Iraq and how the Iraqi people are happy that we’re helping them and learning to do it themselves with just a little bit of help from our military. The story from this perspective is a lot different from what you hear on the news, and we appreciate the time Colonel Lyons took to speak with us.
From there we had the chance to meet a group of Italian Air Force pilots, and they invited us to see an AMX fighter jet up close. I was fortunate to take a ride with the USAF Thunderbirds in an F-16 Falcon in 2008, but it was a different experience to see the AMX. Those are cool airplanes with some neat stuff on them. It was impressive to see the workmanship, machining, and some of the things they do to these jets. There were a few things that really caught my eye, and it was great to talk to these men who are very proud of their mission and the fact that they’re supporting NATO and the U.S.
One of the last stops of the day was to see one of the bombed aircraft bunkers that are still there at the base. These enormous bunkers were supposed to be impenetrable, but when the Persian Gulf War began in 1990, they were hit by 5,000-pound bombs that did quite a bit of damage. Looking at that busted bunker up close is looking at a piece of history that makes you think about what was happening during that time. For me, I was in the Air Force in 1990 when the Gulf War broke out. We were at a base in Alaska and were watching this happening on CNN, and seeing these buildings brings me back to that time. The damage is absolutely stunning; it’s just crazy. The structure is 10-foot thick concrete with rebar, and it’s just shredded. It’s pretty amazing to see that kind of power. I’d hate to be on the wrong end of that.
Overall, it was a very interesting day, and we had the opportunity to talk to a lot of really cool people. That’s the reason we’re here, to meet these men and women, see what life is like for them while they’re here, and to say thank you.
Each day, we get to have lunch at the DFAC [dining facility on base], and today while we were there we got to visit with TSgt. Northrup, a member of the Security Forces who was on his way out the door to get back to work but made a point to stop by our table and say hi to us. He’s your typical hot rodder – you know we’re all very proud of our cars, and he couldn’t wait to show us his. He’s building a street legal rock crawler that looks pretty cool, and he showed us pictures and told us about winning a raffle and getting to crush a car with his Jeep back home. It’s just a cool deal to connect with these folks, and we’re all grateful for the opportunity to do so. I know Armed Forces Entertainment has a lot more planned for us in the days ahead, and we’re pretty pumped about the BIGFOOT shows that will be happening here shortly. It will really be something special to share that with the troops. This trip is a big deal for us, and we’re all grateful to be here.”
Day 1 Photo Gallery
Team BIGFOOT grabs a quick photo before embarking on Operation Appreciation. This year, BIGFOOT 4×4 driver Dan Runte (center) is joined by fellow driver Larry Swim (right) and crew members Andrew “A.J.” Straatmann (with camera) and Bryan Bertoletti (not shown).
Andrew Hines snaps a photo of one of the bunkers on Al Jaber Air Base that was bombed during the early hours of the Gulf War in 1990.
Eddie Krawiec gets some practice with the fire squadron on Al Jaber Air Base in Kuwait.
An EOD troop shows Larry Swim, center, how to operate robots that detect and diffuse explosives.
Dan Runte suits up for training with the fire squadron.
Larry Swim got the hang of operating one of EOD’s bomb-detecting robots quickly.
Greg Anderson settles into one of EOD’s MAT-Vs, a bomb-resistant all-terrain vehicle.
Jason Line surveys damage from the inside to one of the blown-up bunkers at Al Jaber Air Base.
At lunch on Day 1, Jason Line and Greg Anderson meet TSgt. Northrup, a member of Security Forces on temporary assignment at Al Jaber. Northrup shared photos and stories of his Jeep back home, a tricked out rock crawler.
The night ended with a meet and greet at Red Tails MWR, a recreation room for the troops. Air Force member Timothy Haag, a huge drag racing fan, joked with Jason Line.