PGA Tour Players in Iraq for ''Operation Links''The USO and Armed Forces Entertainment joined forces with a group of professional golfers last week to provide service members in the Persian Gulf region the opportunity to meet with and learn golf tips from some of the best golfers in the world. PGA Tour players participating in “Operation Links” included: Corey Pavin, Jerry Kelly, Donnie Hammond, Howard Twitty, and Titleist staff player Frank Lickliter II. They were also joined by National Long Drive Champions Art Sellinger and Brian Pavlet. Throughout the visit, Frank Lickliter kept a blog for www.pgatour.com which you can read below, beginning with the most recent entry.
Top (l. to r.): Jerry Kelly, Art Sellinger, Frank Lickliter, Brian Pavlet. Bottom: Donnie Hammond, Corey Pavin
ON THE WAY HOME -- As I write this it’s Monday night, and I am getting ready to go to the airport for our flight back to the States. We leave around 2 o’clock in the morning and fly to Germany. I’ll end up back in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., around 4 p.m. on Tuesday. I am really looking forward to getting home, but at the same time, I hate to leave.
This morning we drove about an hour into the Kuwaiti desert to Camp Buehring, which is named after Lt. Col. Charles Buehring, who was killed in a rocket attack in October of 2003. All the troops going to Iraq come through this base and spend a couple of weeks training here. We met a National Guard Reserve unit based in Cincinnati that flies Black Hawks. I was born in Ohio, so it was pretty neat to talk with them. They’ve been here since September and they’ve delivered something crazy like 2 million gallons of water to the base. There’s a gasoline storage facility there, too. The base is all about moving men and equipment. It’s like a Super Wal-Mart for the Army.
While we were there, we hit some balls at a driving range. There was a net at the end made from the same material they use for cover and shade. All the troops who showed up were golf fans, and there were some good swings among them. We gave a few lessons and just talked golf with the troops. Brian Pavlet, one of the long-drive guys, got up and drove a ball clear through the netting. It went another 200 yards farther and someone driving two streets over found the ball 15 minutes later. Art Sellinger hit one through the net, too, but it hit a backpack on a table -- which was lucky for us because our bus was sitting right behind that table.
One of the Morale, Welfare and Recreation guys was telling us today that we don’t realize what an impact our trip will have, and I agreed with him. We really can’t understand. We probably only saw 50 troops today since all the rest of the guys at Camp Buehring had shipped out to Iraq last week. But the MWR guy was saying that our visit would have a ripple effect. They’ll tell their buddies and their buddies would tell someone else, and they’ll talk about it for months. It’s a way of marking time for them. Their days over here are like groundhog days. He said our visit would leave a deep impression on the troops. I know it has on us, too. We just wanted the soldiers to know that they have tremendous support back in the United States. We know they are doing great things for the U.S. and for Iraq.
We also went to Camp Patriot today. What a fitting name. The base is located on the Persian Gulf, and as the sun was setting, we stood on the beach hitting balls into the water. A Marine Corps reserve unit from Texas took us out on their gunboats, too. There was a brick wall about 100 yards long right behind where we were on the beach. You can still see the pock marks from the bullets where Saddam Hussein’s men assassinated people when he invaded Kuwait. That brings it all into perspective. At Camp Anaconda, we saw where Saddam kept his soccer team. Between the soccer fields and the two Olympic-sized swimming pools, you saw where he had some of them killed. There’s a torture chamber there, too. That’s more than enough evidence to make you understand that our decision to depose him was righteous, in my opinion.
I am so glad I came over here. We’ve already been invited back, and it’s something I want to do again. I’ve met people I know I will keep in touch with for the rest of my life. Today has really been a day of reflection. This has been the chance of a lifetime. For me, too, it was the opportunity to spend time with some great guys. Brian and Art are two of the best guys you’d ever want to meet. Howard Twitty -- he’s 57 now, and I can’t believe that it’s been seven years since he’s been out on the PGA TOUR. Donnie Hammond was one of the first guys I played with when I joined the TOUR. Corey Pavin and I bunked together a couple of times this week. He and I were friends before, but now we’re really good friends. It’s the same way with Jerry Kelly.
It’s always a good feeling to come home. I can’t wait to get back to Florida. But I also can’t imagine what it feels like when you’ve been gone a year or more like some of these soldiers we met. They deserve so much. Some extraordinary things are happening over here in Iraq and Kuwait, and it’s because Americans are here.
Blog: Lickliter visits hospital before departing Iraq
Nov. 26, 2006
SOMEWHERE IN IRAQ -- Today I want to talk about our security. We have four men with us who are responsible for our welfare and safety at all times. Their names are Capt. Garnett, Major Ritter, Capt. Stump and Scott Past. It has been a pleasure to get to know all of them. We, as a group, can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done for us, as well as their regular job safeguarding our country. We were all talking the other night, and Major Ritter brought up the fact that it’s pretty ballsy for non-combatants to be in a combat zone. Then, of course, there were the usual questions about our intelligence. But his point was that he respected what we were doing and appreciated it.
There are concrete bunkers everywhere we go -- the mess halls where we eat with the soldiers, our sleeping quarters, the PX. You’re never more than 50 yards from one. There’s T-Wall, a series of concrete retaining walls, all around the living quarters, too. When we get in the Blackhawk helicopters, we wear Kevlar vests with ceramic plates in the front and the back just like the troops do. We have Kevlar helmets, too. We have always felt incredibly safe. I’d like to also thank the Army aviators who have been entrusted with out welfare as we flew from base to base. We never felt in any danger. They are true professionals.
We had local soldiers assigned to our group at each base. Sgt. Richards and Sgt. Hamblin, a pair of medics, stayed with us while we were in Balad. We had dinner with them on Saturday night, and they stayed up until 2 a.m. talking with Brian Pavlet, another member of our group. I think he had a very quiet morning -- kind of like I did the other day after staying up with the troops until 3 o’clock. But I finally got some sleep last night.
Lickliter with some of the troops.
We found out Sunday morning that our flight back to Kuwait was delayed. So we asked if we could go to the hospital, and they cleared it right away. It was an incredible experience and an amazing operation. There are five helio pads for medivac use, and the hospital can handle eight major surgeries at once. If a wounded solider gets to the hospital, he has a 98 percent chance of survival. Some of the best doctors our country has to offer work there. It’s like a modern-day version of M*A*S*H -- they always say without the alcohol, of course.
The actual hospital is set up in tents. We saw the rooms where they handle the triage, as well as the operating rooms. We went into the ICU. Jerry Kelly and I spent about 10 minutes talking to a kid named Sgt. Kim. His face was burned, but we didn’t talk about his injuries. We just talked about where he was from, what unit he was in, how long he’d been in Iraq -- things like that. He really brightened up just talking with us. Plus, he was getting ready to be discharged the next day, and he was really looking forward to that, as you can imagine. We were so impressed with everything we saw. The doctors and nurses are incredible. They’re so dedicated and extremely competent. We are lucky to have people like that tending to the sick and wounded.
One thing you might not know is that the doctors at the hospital also take care of Iraqi soldiers and the local people, too. There is a city of about 30,000 outside the base. One common theme we hear from the soldiers -- and it usually comes in the form of a question -- is that they don’t understand why all the good things they are doing in Iraq aren’t reported to the American people. Like, the 100 kids who came to the base last week and were given books and school supplies. Or how when the Americans first arrived, they helped get the electricity and water up and running in the city outside the base. Things like that happen all the time, but no one writes about it.
After the tour of the hospital, we went back to the tarmac to wait for the C-130 that was supposed to take us back to Kuwait. We were talking about all the things we’d done and everything we’d seen when Scott came on board and told us we were going to escort a fallen soldier back to Kuwait. The bus got totally quiet when he said that, and it stayed that way for a long time. We were there when the honor guard put the flag-draped coffin on the plane, and we were with him the entire way. When we got to Kuwait, we stayed for the ceremony they had. There is nothing I can say that can do justice to the memory of that man. It was a very moving experience for us all, one that we will never forget.
Blog: Lickliter and Pavin hit drives of their lives
Nov. 25, 2006
SOMEWHERE IN IRAQ -- We left Mosul Saturday morning in what is fast becoming our vehicle of choice, Blackhawk helicopters, and flew to Q-West Airfield. One of the runways was closed, and we started hitting golf balls down the tarmac. It was the only chance Corey Pavin would ever have to outdrive those long-drive champs traveling with us, Art Sellinger and Brian Pavlet -- and he did! That was pretty funny. There actually were two MiGs at the end of the runway, and we climbed up and hit balls off the wings. The troops loved that. We had a blast, and so did they.
Afterwards, we went to the mess hall and spent a couple of hours with the soldiers. We met Colonel Mike Farley there. He’s a fantastic golfer, and we are all huge fans of his. He was originally a tanker commander and now he is head of base security. He was really something special, and one of many great, great people we met. Everyone is so enthusiastic about having us there. They can’t believe that we spent our Thanksgiving week with them -– and their disbelief and incredulity is very heartwarming for us.
Then we got back in the Blackhawks to fly to Balad Airbase and Camp Anaconda. As we flew away from Q-West we got to watch the door gunners touch fire 7.62 machine guns. That was pretty awesome. Once we finally got to Balad, I had to crash. I had stayed up until 3 a.m. talking to some of the troops in Mosul and I was beat. We had a three-hour meet-and-greet scheduled for Saturday night, so I slept for about 60 minutes before we went to dinner. We had grilled hamburgers and they were great. You can basically get anything you want to eat over here. We’ve been eating so well, it reminds us of home. We spent several hours in the mess hall tonight, and we got some really great patches. Everyone is so giving. My favorite so far is from the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Unit.
By the way, I’ve got to tell you that Jerry Kelly has now been promoted to lieutenant. He got his combat action badge today when he fell down and skinned his knee. He might get a Purple Heart -- we’ll have to see. All kidding aside, though, you can’t believe how inspiring the guys we’ve met are. They know their mission, and it’s just a thing of beauty. It really is.
Blog: Lickliter's incredible trip continues
Nov. 24, 2006
Two-time National Long Drive Champion Art Sellinger lets one fly off the deck of a tank.
SOMEWHERE IN IRAQ -- Before we left the 82nd Airborne on Friday morning, they pulled a tank up so we could hit some balls off it. That was pretty wild. Some of the troops came up and tried to hit balls, too. We got some great pictures. Then we climbed into the Blackhawks again and headed for Mosul. We had lunch with the troops there and met some truly magnificent people. We eat all our meals with the soldiers, which has been great because we really get to talk to them about what life is like over there. One of the things we’ve found is that we love getting to each post, and we really hate leaving.
After lunch, we hopped back into out Blackhawks and flew north to a post on the Turkish border. There are only about 70 troops stationed there, so we got to spend some quality time with them. We hit balls on a soccer field, and we were really impressed by the first sergeant there, a great guy by the name of Mattingly. That company is from Hawaii, and he’s played a lot of golf there. He hit two drives of more than 250 yards, which is pretty darn good. While we were there, we met the nephew of a man who works at my home course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. His name was Chuck, and his uncle, Doug, works in outside operations at the TPC Sawgrass. In fact, I had talked with Doug the day I left for Iraq. Then four days later, I go as far from Kuwait as possible in Iraq and I run into his nephew. That’s pretty amazing, don’t you think?
As I write this, we are back in Mosul and we’re staying here for the night. We’ll get to spend several hours with the troops here after dinner. We’re staying in connex boxes that have been converted into two-bedroom apartments. We’ve got pillows, sheets, even a little refrigerator. It’s incredibly clean here, too, even though everything everywhere is the color of dirt. You never see any trash between the barracks. We went to the PX today and saw a lot of things you might buy in stores at home. There were tons of magazines, CDs, DVDs and about 30 different cameras. One thing’s different from the malls back home, though. Everyone who walks into the PX is carrying their weapon -- except us, of course. I saw a guy today buying Rice Krispie Treats, his machine gun slung over his back. Things have been extremely quiet, but everyone is constantly vigilant and aware of everything that’s going on around them.
This trip has been incredible. None of us expected to go as far out in the country as we are. We didn’t expect to get to spend as much time with the soldiers, either, which has been really something special. We’ve had some great conversations. They want the American people to know what a great job they are doing, and they feel like they could even do more. There is 100 percent job satisfaction here. The only negative is not being able to see their families. That’s not a complaint. That’s just the reality of the situation.
I woke up around 1 a.m. last night -- my body still is on U.S. time, I guess. As I walked to the bathroom I ran into one soldier who was staying up all night, just walking and pacing around. Turns out, he was leaving the next morning to go home. And we were with guys from one Stryker unit on Thursday that is normally stationed in Alaska. The tours of duty are normally for 12 months, and this group did such a good job that it was called back up after they’d only had three weeks at home. But they understand, and they are extremely good at what they do. The American people should be proud of the troops here -- especially the mothers, fathers, husbands, wives and children of the troops. They are doing a great job.
Blog: Lickliter has Thanksgiving dinner with some troops
Nov. 23, 2006
SOMEWHERE IN IRAQ -- Today was pretty amazing. We went out on the flight line to get on the Blackhawk helicopters that would take us to our next stop. One of the gunners, who is also one of the crew chiefs, gave us instructions on how to get in and out, how to use the seat belts and what-not. They gave us the key phrase for the day, too -- “mount up” -- and that was particularly appropriate because we were going to a place called FOB Warhorse. FOB stands for Forward Operating Base and the Warhorse part is because that’s where the First Calvary is stationed. So we had a great lunch with the soldiers. There were about 400 or 500 of them. We all sat at different tables so we could reach more of the troops. It was really special to get to spend some time with them, particularly on a day like Thanksgiving. After all, that’s what we’re here for -- to tell them how much we appreciate everything they do to keep us all safe. We miss our own families on this holiday, of course, and send our love to them. But having the chance to visit the military men and women in Iraq this week is something I’ll never forget.
While we were at FOB Warhorse, we met the Iraqi governor of that province and spent about 15 minutes with him. His cousin was assassinated two days ago, and he lives with danger every day. Listening to him speak, though, was quite inspiring. His name is Ra’ad and he is very dedicated to re-building a free Iraq. He told us that 98 percent of the Iraqi people are extremely happy that the Americans are here. The other two percent are the psychopaths and insurgents. One thing he told us really hit home. He said, “The tree of freedom will not grow without the blood of sacrifice.”
Our next stop was FOB Brassfield-Mora, which is named after two soldiers who were killed in separate mortar attacks here in October 2003. That’s where we spent the night. While we were there we met two soldiers named Paxton and Gillem. They are two great guys. They’re both from Minnesota. We had Thanksgiving dinner with them, and then they went off on a mission overnight. They came back and stayed up the rest of the night so they could have breakfast with us Friday morning. Just before I wrote this, I said good-bye to them.
Today we’re headed out again in the Blackhawk helicopters. When we fly, we always have two escorts with us. Even though we’ve left Baghdad now, I feel totally safe. I talked with my father on Thanksgiving night. He was worried because he saw on TV that there had been a lot of fighting over here but I assured him that everything is fine with us. This whole experience has been amazing. I really had no idea what it would be like but it has totally exceeded my expectations. I am totally fired up about it. This is the chance of a lifetime. It’s a great opportunity to see the guys who put their butts on the line for us every day.
Blog: Lickliter on his journey to Baghdad
Nov. 22, 2006
(L. to R.): Corey Pavin, Howard Twitty, Art Sellinger, Donnie Hammond, Frank Lickliter, Jerry Kelly, Brian Pavlet
SOMEWHERE IN IRAQ -- We left Kuwait Wednesday morning in a C-130. The plane was making a re-supply run. The whole trip took about three hours. The cockpit was big enough for seven people so we actually got to sit in there for takeoff and landing, which was pretty amazing. We took some unbelievable photos of the Iraqi countryside, too. When we finally landed around 2 o’clock, we heard three words we never thought we’d actually hear:
"Welcome to Baghdad."
As I write this, it’s around 7 p.m., and we’ve already done two meet-and-greets and autograph signings. We have another one scheduled for this evening, and then we’ll be done around 10. Believe it or not, we had Burger King and Pizza Hut for lunch -- and it tasted just like it does in the States. It was great. The only thing was, we were the only ones who didn’t have a gun, either a sidearm or a rifle.
The place we’re staying in tonight is spartan, but elegant. I feel totally safe. The windows are sandbagged up to the top -- three deep, in fact -- but I know that’s a safety precaution that’s been in place for several years. We are in the middle of a war, but none of us have had even a hint of nervousness due to the competence of the people traveling with us. We’re probably a lot safer than in some of the big cities in the States. As I sit here now, you can hear helicopters flying overhead. And about 400 yards from where we are staying, you can see one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. He had 55 in Baghdad, and it’s unbelievable the opulence that was built on the backs of the Iraqi people through terror.
The people we’ve met here are just incredible. We’re here to let them know that we care about them, and to a man and a woman, they thank us. It’s humbling. It really is. We are traveling with people from the USO, Armed Forces Entertainment and the MWR office. That stands for Morale, Welfare and Recreation, and I hope that what we’re going to do over the next few days can help the soldiers in that regard. We’re traveling in a non-descript tour bus. We haven’t come close to anywhere that we’d need an armored vehicle or anything like that. There haven’t been any issues as far as security. It’s unbelievable how dedicated and how squared away these people are. They are efficient, pleasant and they are true-blue Americans. One of the guys who is part of our security team is Trevor Garrett. He’s what you’d call an athlete. He’s got skills. He wants to be a better golfer, too, but I tell him he’s just got too many muscles.
All of us are having a blast. It’s amazing how many golf fans there are over here. There are guys who even recognize Jerry Kelly. (I say that with a smile on my face, of course.) The golf courses are few and far between, as you can imagine, but I have heard that there’s a possibility of seeing a driving range in the future. We brought over 3,500 Titleist and Pinnacle golf balls for the soldiers. We haven’t done any clinics yet, though, because everything we’ve done has been inside different military facilities.
The landscape over here is totally different than anything I’ve seen. It is literally one big sand trap. I haven’t seen a blade of grass yet -- except in a flower box. And there is no alcohol anywhere in the country. Most of us are used to relaxing with a beer but there is none to be had -- and I’ve asked. But they handle it extremely well.
They tell me they’re planning Thanksgiving dinner here for 350,000 people all across the country. It’s going to be amazing to be a part of that. The night before we left, I was thinking about this trip. We are going to be here for a week, and we miss our families like the soldiers miss theirs. But these guys are here during Thanksgiving -- and every other holiday, for that matter. It might be the fourth week into their deployment or the third week before they retire. But they are here because of what they do, and they are here because want to be here. They are doing magnificent job.
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* Reprinted with permission from pgatour.com
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