Buckeye Banter: Jim Tressel In Iraq On Goodwill Mission

Kristofer GreenSenior Writer IMay 29, 2009

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel had to ask his wife if he still had a passport.

"I've never been overseas in my life, even though my kids have," Tressel said.  "I had to get a passport one other time, maybe seven or eight years ago, for a Nike thing in Mexico. I've got one stamp on it."

Tressel now has a few more stamps in his passport.

The coach, along with fellow coaches Mack Brown (Texas), Houston Nutt (Ole Miss), Rick Neuheisel (UCLA), Jim Grobe (Wake Forest), Troy Calhoun (Air Force), and former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville departed for Iraq on Wednesday.

The eight-day tour, a Goodwill Mission sponsored by the Department of Defense and Armed Forces Entertainment, marks the second straight year that college football coaches will visit military installations overseas, including those in the Middle East.

Besides Iraq, the group is also expected to visit sites in the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, Germany, Turkey, Kuwait, Africa, and possibly Spain. Exact bases and dates are kept confidential for security reasons.

Tuberville, who made the trip in 2008, described the immediate adjustment the coaches would have to make. 

The flight time to the Middle East is about 20 hours, all on a military cargo plane flying into a hostile environment and the average temperature in Iraq this time of year eclipses 100.

"It's a real hard trip in terms of the travel and the nine-hour time difference," said Tuberville, who still described the 2008 trip as gratifying. "It did more for us as coaches than it did for the troops."

Tressel acknowledged his father is one of the reasons he is making the trip.

In 1943, Tressel said his father, Dr. Lee Tressel, had been one of the standouts in Ohio State's spring game, throwing and catching touchdown passes with Les Horvath.

Though he had been recruited by coach Paul Brown, the elder Tressel enlisted in the Navy shortly after and headed to Northeast Ohio for training. He ended up serving in the South Pacific, although not in the heat of battle.

Tressel also gives credit to legendary Buckeye coach Woody Hayes.

''I remember growing up when coach [Woody) Hayes went over to visit the troops and I thought that was an awesome thing,'' Tressel said. ''We all grew up watching Bob Hope's USO tours.

''For our men and women serving, it's almost like Groundhog Day. Every day they get up and have got to do the same thing. It's tough duty. To bring a little bit of home to them and talk football and wear their colors, it's a tremendous honor. I'm sure it's going to be an extraordinary experience.''

When asked if he had any apprehension about the dangers of the trip, Tressel joked ''You don't have to worry about poor play-calling if something happens.''

But Tressel doesn't make light of what soldiers are dealing with as they fight for freedom around the world.  He said he's frequently contacted by military personnel and has a display in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center that includes pictures of Ohio State memorabilia in jet fighter planes and flags that have been flown overseas.

Now taking on the mission of lifting the troops' spirits, he doesn't feel he'll be a celebrity. 

"It should be the other way around. I can't wait to get there...I want to make sure those young men and women know we appreciate what they're doing and that everyone back home is thinking about them.

''I suppose people [will] recognize Ohio State football,'' he said, ''but not as much as they recognize that flag with those stars and stripes.''