May 22, 2008
Editor's Note: Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis is taking part in a first-of-its-kind tour of the Middle East with four other college football coaches to meet with members of the U.S. military. The tour started Tuesday at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois near St. Louis, then continued on to Germany before Weis and the other coaches arrived in the Middle East Wednesday night. Weis, who returns to the U.S. on Monday, shares his thoughts with the South Bend Tribune's Eric Hansen for a daily diary. This is the second installment in the series.
It's after midnight here in Qatar, and we have to be packed and on the bus, ready to head to our next country by 6:30 a.m.
One of the wildest things about this part of the trip was getting here. We left Germany Tuesday night, and it's about a six-hour flight. I zee-out for a little while, and then I walk up front and I'm talking to the pilots, and they're like, "Oh we're about five minutes away from Iraq."
I was shell-shocked. It's just like you're in any commercial plane going over Pennsylvania, only you're going over Iraq. And I'm talking to the pilots and I'm saying, "How the hell do you get away with this? They know you're here."
The feeling is we control the airspace. It isn't like they control it. Their answer is we're at such a high altitude going over, it's a non-threatening aircraft that's going over.
From the air, Iraq looks very deserty. It would be like you and I were flying over upper Nevada. You see miles of nothing. It's not like you see bombs all over the place. You'd see patches where there was population, but if you didn't know it was Iraq, you'd think you were in the States in the western part of the country, heading to California.
I go back to my seat, and I'm talking to some of the coaches. And I'm saying, "We're flying over Iraq right now. How do you do that?" It wasn't like you were scared, but it's like how does that happen? You're in the middle of the war, and it's no big deal?"
We land here, and they had just finished having a sandstorm. Besides being over 100 degrees, the wind's blowing 50 miles an hour. By the time we landed, it had died down to maybe 25 or 30 miles an hour. Even though it was sandy and it was blowing, it wasn't like the sandstorm we had an hour before we got there.
This country is strategically kind of in-between Iraq to the Northwest and Afghanistan to the Northeast. It's a little peninsula that's the size of Long Island. They have just over a million people, and it's a very, very rich, rich country. Right now they produce the third-most natural gas in the world. They have a facility that they're building, and when they finish, they'll have 200 times the amount of natural gas of any country in the world. Right now Russia is No. 1.
The average person in Qatar makes 80 grand. You'd never know it where we are. We're out in the middle of the desert. There's like one city -- Doha -- where almost all of the people in the country live. They have some oil money, but mostly it's natural gas.
We left from here, which is an Air Force base. We went to an Army base, which is called Camp As Sayliyah. We have to go through customs every time. If you don't have your passport around here, you're done. For the most part, besides going on the tour of the base, it was meeting and greeting soldiers and troops. We did that for a good couple of hours.
We gave them T-shirts. I was in cahoots with the (Notre Dame) bookstore. We gave out the old (official) shirts from last year. With the help of the bookstore, we sent over like 5,000 or 6,000 shirts. Whereas all these other coaches have run out of stuff, we're still handing out shirts. And of course, I'm signing every single thing we're giving out. These people stand in line to get these things signed.
I signed so much today. There were kids from South Bend. There were kids from Mishawaka, kids from Fort Wayne. There was one kid from Cleveland, Ohio. He came in fully garbed in all his Notre Dame deal. He was just going bananas and he was literally shaking. This was my highlight of the day. He said, "I'm the biggest Notre Dame fan. The only bigger Notre Dame fan than me is my father."
So I have this international cell phone. I made the kid call his dad up. It's 4 o'clock in the morning in Cleveland. His brother answers the phone. Now I'm a little concerned because of the hour we're calling that they're going to think something's wrong. He said, "Go get Dad. Tell him I need to talk to him." So I go on the phone and talk to the dad and I give the kid my international phone and said, "Hey, go talk to your dad for a while." Who knows whether these people can call or not?
This kid came back to me and said, "This is the best day of my life." A kid that's over here in this country from Cleveland, Ohio says this is the best day of his life. It's 115 degrees. The wind's blowing 50 miles an hour. It's oppressive. It feels like your whole body is getting blow-dried by a giant hair dryer. And this kid is telling me it's the greatest day of his life? Just imagine that. It was easily the best thing that happened today. Easily.
Later in the day I got to see a B-1 bomber. Not only that, they let you go pick out a bomb and write a message to Osama Bin Laden. They wanted you to write a message on one of the bombs that they'd go ahead and drop. You just literally pulled out a Sharpie and wrote on it. "Go to hell" or something like that. I wrote something like "You will lose. Go Irish." I think everyone might have written something a little nastier, but I was conservative.
But you had to pick out a big bomb or a small bomb that they were going to drop later tonight. I thought that was pretty good -- your own personalized message to Osama Bin Laden.
All five of the coaches, we kind of divvied up and went to different groups. I met with around 30 people, and their main thing is Medovac. When soldiers go down, they fly in and they air-transport them out of there -- either back to the base or back to Germany, based on the severity of the injury.
After that, we had a panel discussion with the other coaches and (ESPN.com's) Ivan Maisel. He asked us questions as did people in the audience. They want to know how Jimmy Clausen is going to be, how the offensive line is going to be -- nothing different than you'd get from any Notre Dame club. Harmless questions, most of them.
After dinner, all the coaches sat at tables outside for about four hours and signed things. We signed and signed and signed and signed. Needless to say, you were spent at the end of that. And it's worth it. They're just so happy to see you that it makes you happy. They're trying to thank us, and we're the ones who should be saying, "Thank you." If you saw the enthusiasm of these people, you'd be shocked. It's infectious. You definitely feel something special here.