Will Allen (26) and Michael Clayton (80) were given an up-close look at the operations of a Marine base
Two Tampa Bay Buccaneers players recently accompanied a dozen Buccaneers Cheerleaders and the power pop band The Crash Moderns on an Armed Forces Entertainment tour of U.S. military bases in Okinawa, Japan. Not surprisingly those Buccaneers, safety Will Allen and wide receiver Michael Clayton, came back from their five-day whirlwind expedition with a greater appreciation for the men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces.
But this was not some vague or general feeling of appreciation that Allen and Clayton developed on their trip. While the two Buccaneers certainly share the respect and admiration most civilians feel for the sacrifices made by this nation's protectors, they also now have a very specific appreciation for what takes place on U.S. military bases around the globe.
Allen and Clayton arrived in Okinawa on Saturday, June 20, one day after the Buccaneers Cheerleaders began their tour. Before heading back to the States the following Wednesday, the players visited four bases in Okinawa and witnessed the minute details of an armed force's daily functions.
They were impressed, to say the least.
"We saw all different aspects of the military's operations," said Allen. "They have a million jobs that they do. When you're in the military, you may be in the Army or the Marines, the Navy or the Air Force, but when you're on base you have just regular jobs, like we do here. You may see somebody working in a fire department, you may see somebody that's a police officer, you may see a technician or a mechanic, somebody who works in P.R., somebody who works in marketing, logistics, communications. You see all these different jobs that take place in order to build one unit. To go around and see that and see how dedicated these men and women are to our country and our security, it was eye-popping. It was very humbling."
Clayton was immediately struck by the disciplined standards that the higher ranking officers set for themselves, and how that discipline then trickles down through the ranks. He could see that the maintaining of such standards is critical to successful operation of the bases, particularly since so many of the servicemen and women are still very young.
"The experience of meeting who controls things behind the scenes was incredible," said the Bucs' passcatcher. "The military is its own business. It's so large…I had no clue that it was so massive, and how much discipline those guys have. Some of these kids are just 17, 18-years-old, and their duties, the things they're responsible for…wow. A lot of guys control and monitor electronic equipment that costs millions and millions of dollars. It's just amazing that we're capable of teaching young men and women how to do these things and putting the life of the country in their hands, and the way that they're handling it. They're excited to be there, they're excited about their responsibilities and it was a great experience for me to witness it firsthand."
The officers on the bases through the doors open for their Buccaneer visitors, letting them see the inside workings of helicopters, the capabilities of shooting simulators, the myriad methods of communication, and much more. In return, Allen and Clayton – along with the rest of the visitors on the Shake, Rattle and Roll Tour – did their best to bring a little bit of entertainment and a little bit of home to the displaced Americans.
Allen and Clayton joined the cheerleaders and the Crash Moderns at one of their variety shows at Camp Hansen, a Marine base, helping to pump up an already high-energy crowd and joining in the show wherever they could. They also attended meet-and-greets with soldiers and their families, signed autographs and generally did their best to spread good cheer.
"The military trains you to be a machine, to think one way, live one way and be one way, because at times of war that's the type of mindset you have to have," Allen observed. "They're used to seeing each other every day and doing their daily routines, so when you go over there it's kind of like a breath of fresh air. You can spend a little bit of time with them, say hi, sign some autographs. It just breaks up the monotony of what they go through every day, so I think it was good."
The two Bucs were even able to put their special talents to use in giving back to the members of the military. While visiting Camp Shields, Allen and Clayton conducted a camp to teach gridiron skills to the base's football team. Each base organizes teams in a variety of sports, forming inter-base leagues that play each other regularly. Allen and Clayton found an eager audience of Camp Shields players who wanted to get a leg up on the competition.
For the visiting Bucs, it was a chance to commune with members of an Army Special Forces unit on a topic that everyone cared about.
"We tried to teach them technique, help them get ready for a game," said Allen. "That experience right there is something that I might never get to do again. I may never get to share that again. They were so excited about what they were doing. Like I said, it was humbling to be able to be a part of their lives, and to have them share something in your life. You can't put a price on stuff like that."
Added Clayton: "We had so much fun just giving them pointers about what we do in the league, little things to give them an edge in games. Man, they took to it so well, they really paid attention. The way they listened and applied what we told them to their drills was fantastic. I think it was a great experience for us and them, and I really think they'll benefit from it."
The Army players certainly were grateful for the help, and the easy interaction. In fact, one player, a sergeant first class, approached the two players after the game and presented them with very special gifts. Allen received the beret off the soldier's head and Clayton was given several patches from his uniform.
"Those guys sweat blood and tears for those medals and those honors," said Clayton. "For him to give me the patches off his jacket that he's risked his life for meant the world to me. I'll remember that for the rest of my life. It was a dear moment for me."
Allen and Clayton also visited with some soldiers who had already seen battlefield action, some of whom had sustained injuries. Once again, that helped drive home the seriousness of the sacrifice being made by the servicemen and women overseas, and the importance of their service.
"They're putting their lives on the line and that's what really got me the most, getting to see that firsthand," said Allen. "Even though a lot of the men and women over there aren't actually on the battlefield right now, they could go at any moment. And they're willing to do it…that's amazing. You have to appreciate that. As a community, I think we should be more aware of these people being willing to give up their lives for us. I'm not sure we always have that deep appreciation…this trip definitely helped me to have that."