KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait – The final day of the 2016 tour of champions visit with American troops in the Middle East – known as Operation Appreciation – was no less meaningful than Day 1 of the annual event sponsored by Summit Racing Equipment and arranged by Armed Forces Entertainment. The holiday-time trip, established to boost morale and bring a little bit of home to our deployed troops, took place in Kuwait and extended across four military installations. Summit Racing Pro Stock drivers Greg Anderson and Jason Line, Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson riders Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec, and Summit Racing BIGFOOT 4×4 Monster Truck drivers Dan Runte and Larry Swim met with hundreds of members of our Armed Forces on the tour and gained a fresh perspective on what life is like for these men and women on station.
Hines, who joined Operation Appreciation for the first time in 2012, has always had a keen interest in the Armed Forces of the United States, making each excursion an enjoyable learning experience as well as a meaningful opportunity to thank those who are deployed. On the final day of this year’s trip, Hines and the team visited Camp Patriot, a small Kuwait navy base and U.S. Army camp located on the Eastern coast.
“As it is every year, this trip has been a great experience, and one that I won’t forget. Today was the last day before we head home, and we had the chance to see the Stryker chemical reconnaissance vehicles. The guys with these vehicles come before a big troop insurgence to scout the grounds for chemical or biological warfare. They can test the ground and the air. If symptoms are developed later, after a person or a company have visited a specific area, they can go back and test. These specific Stryker tanks are one of 10 different types. They have special equipment that allows them to test everything from inside the truck, and they have the capability to stay maintained inside the truck on their own air supply for 72 hours. They are also equipped to defend themselves with certain ammunitions.
It’s cool to see the kind of support that the Strykers can provide to maintain the health and well-being of an entire battalion. They’re basically the pre-medical team, and they’re very proud of what they’re tasked with. It’s inspiring, really, for us to see. They know that what they’re doing can significantly change the outcome of a situation. It was great to meet all those folks, and it was interesting to note that the highest ranking individual I saw there was a Sgt. She was very in charge of the three trucks there, and her small platoon followed her directions to a tee. We were lucky that they took us out driving in the Strykers. It was a very fun, unique experience.
Later that day, we had a meet and greet at the MWR, which is the recreation room on base. It’s a nice facility to keep everyone’s morale up, and we probably had 60 or 70 people come through in the little bit of time that we were there. For a small base with roughly 700 individuals, depending on who is transferring in or out, we had a good turnout. It was very nice, and it gave us the chance to spend a few minutes one-on-one with some folks we might not have otherwise met. I asked all of the specialists what their specialties were, and there was everyone from the men and women we saw on the Strykers to a few infantrymen either transferring out to there to protect the Navy ships on base. It was good to visit with everyone there, and it’s great to see them smile. They are all very grateful that we’re there, and they want to make sure that we know.
After the meet and greet, Capt. Fritz took us on a tour of the base. He was very informed on everything that has happened there, and later he told us that he has a Masters in history. That made a lot of sense, because he spoke like a true teacher of the time and knew all about the history of this area and of our military. He was very well-spoken, and gave us a lot of insight on what happened here and why, the different cultures and religions battling for what they want as a way of life.
Capt. Fritz took us all the way out to the harbor walls to see the Gulf from a different perspective and show us the geography. He pointed out where the other countries are, and it really gave us the chance to wrap our minds about where we are in the world and how close we are to certain things. He explained what we are defending there and what the goal is for this base. It was a very informative tour, and one that we all appreciated.
Every year is special, and every base that we visit provides a unique opportunity for us. I think one of the things I really enjoy is meeting all of the younger folks. For a lot of the troops, this is their first deployment. It might be the first time in their lives that they’re away from their family, and here they are in the middle of Kuwait. It’s hard for some of them, but I like that we can bring a little bit of America to them. This year’s trip has been so unique because we were able to bring Dan’s BIGFOOT Monster Truck here, and it was cool seeing them really react to that. It was quite the turnout for those two Monster Truck shows, and it was great to hear everyone’s stories about seeing BIGFOOT before or how they couldn’t wait to share this experience with their friends and family back home. It shows that we really were able to bring a little bit of USA here to them.
For some of these folks, it’s their third deployment or so, and they tell you why they wanted to come back. There is a certain amount of normalcy being here, a way that everything is set out and structured, and they really like that. Those will be career folks. And then you have the people who have been here six or seven times. I met an Apache mechanic last night who is a mountain bike racer in upstate New York, and he’s been here six times. You can see the passion and die-hard attitude he has for protecting the United States. We all appreciate every one of these people, whether it’s their first deployment or sixth.
One of the neat things for us is that everyone we encounter is proud to show us what they do, and they do anything they can to make us feel welcome. It’s nice to bring them what little we can to make them know that we really do care. We want to show that support. This experience is something you won’t forget. For every place we’ve visited on any one of these Operation Appreciation trips, I can pick out where we were and almost always single in on at least one individual where you know you made a little bit of an impact, just like they’ve done for us.”