Bucs T Roman Oben could have had the White House on the phone by pressing one button on General Franks' phone Tuesday
The front wall of SCIF – Scope Command Intelligence Facility, inside the Central Command building on MacDill Air Force Base – is dominated by several strategic maps of Afghanistan and the Middle East, plus one large, flat video screen in the center. The screen itself can split to show multiple images, such as news broadcasts and scrolling information.
On Tuesday morning, a running CNN broadcast had been minimized into the corner of this screen to make room for several large head shots, with vitals listed underneath. Who were these individuals on display, figures in the war on terrorism being tracked by military intelligence?
Marco Battaglia and Roman Oben had better hope not.
Battaglia and Oben are players for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and on Tuesday they were part of a large group of Bucs to visit MacDill Air Force Base as a show of support. Though security at the base has been increased dramatically on the eve of the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Battaglia and Oben's group was allowed access to SCIF, the nerve center of the base and the room from which General Tommy R. Franks runs the day-to-day operations of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan. Few civilians ever see the inside of this room; in fact, few of the servicemen and women at MacDill have ever been invited in.
But Battaglia, Oben, S John Howell and several other Bucs players and personnel were allowed into SCIF, where they gazed wonderingly around the small, high-tech space. Battaglia and Oben's faces were just part of a welcome on the front screen, but the surrounding maps displayed much more serious business. One tracked the movements of each U.S. plane currently in the air over Afghanistan, another displayed the whereabouts of ground trips and yet another showed the naval support in the nearest waters. Some of the information was scrambled or encoded, of course, but the impact of the room was still enormous.
"To see what goes on to protect us while we're sleeping at night is very impressive," said Howell. "To meet these people first-hand is just an amazing experience. Obviously, they couldn't show us everything, but what they did, the area that they're covering and the amount of aircrafts and everything involved with this is impressive. You just can't even imagine what all goes on in there. To know that they can touch anywhere in the world that they want, from that building, from that room right there, is just impressive.
"Not too many people get a chance to come out here and see where our country is being protected from. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I wanted to take advantage of that and come out and thank some of the people that are protecting us."
That last bit, of course, is why the Bucs were at MacDill on Tuesday in the first place. It was a morning of mutual admiration. Over a dozen players, plus General Manager Rich McKay, took their one off day to personally give their thanks to the MacDill servicemen and women, and the military personnel responded to the visit with appreciation and occasional awe.
"It lets them know the country is behind them," said Command Chief Master Sergeant Lewis E. Monroe III of the Sixth Air Mobility Wing. "It lets them know that the players have everything in perspective, that a game is just a game and what really matters are our freedoms. When they come out to say thank you for what you're doing, for standing for their freedoms, it means a whole lot to these young men and women."
Among the visiting players were Battaglia, Oben, Howell, T Lomas Brown, C Jeff Christy, G Russ Hochstein, CB Corey Ivy, G Kerry Jenkins, QB Shaun King, LB Ryan Nece, S Jermaine Phillips, WR Karl Williams, DE Ellis Wyms and TE Todd Yoder. Upon arriving in one bus and one humvee, the players split up into four groups escorted to various spots on the base in military vehicles. At each stop, they distributed Buccaneer hats and t-shirts to every serviceman and woman they met. As Chief Monroe explained before they left the original rendezvous point, every person they would meet that day was either in support of or directly involved in the country's war on terrorism.
"We wanted to get out and let these guys know that we appreciate everything they do," said Williams. "They've been working hard, long shifts since what happened last September. You never really understand the importance of what these people do until something like this happens, then it really touches home. These guys are out here fighting for our freedom, and you just want to get out here and let them know you really appreciate it."
Among the spots visited by the players were a hangar housing General Franks' plane, a training room for safety equipment for Air Force personnel, a fire station and, of course, Central Command. After taking the tour straight through the SCIF nerve center, Howell's group also ventured upstairs to walk through Franks' personal office and the adjoining conference room where a briefing with Washington is held every morning. Franks was not on the base on Tuesday, so the players took turns sitting behind his desk and pretending to use the ominous-looking red phone.
Those Bucs were then introduced to Lieutenant General Michael DeLong, whose own office was nearby. Both Franks' and DeLong's spaces were filled with military memorabilia and 'trophies' – unlike the sports trophies the players were probably used to, these were mostly weapons of battle.
At the end of the tour, the Bucs also met Major General Select Wayne Hodges, Commander of the Sixth Air Mobility Wing. Hodges ended the day with a more traditional trophy, a signed football by the visiting players. In turn, he gave all of the visitors commemorative coins and a good-luck tip: Every professional team that had previously visited the base won its next game, according to Hodges.
Monroe was also on hand with his commanding officer to wrap up the visit. He wanted the players to leave with a sense of the importance of their visit, and the importance of the daily activities on the base.
"I'd like them to see the teamwork that goes on out here, the dedication of these young men and women," said Monroe. "Whether you realize it or not, they've sworn to give their lives for the freedoms of this country that you and I enjoy every day. That's an awesome thing.
"Sunday, when (the Bucs) strap it up, they'll be (the servicemen and women's) heroes. I just wanted them to realize that they needed to have the same sort of conviction about the outcome of their season as we do about the outcome of this war on terrorism."
Williams, who had first met Monroe on a similar base visit a few days after last year's terrorist attack, then again when Monroe and some of the base personnel visited a Buccaneers' practice, appreciated the chief's words, not to mention the delivery.
"He's like Coach Gruden, he gets you fired up," said Williams with a laugh. "I still remember his speech from last year when we came out here while everything was going on. You could just see the determination not only in his eyes but in those of a lot of the people working on this base. It's there now, too. You can see that they mean business."