Celebrity guests visit with troops at FOB Loyalty
January 3, 2007
FORWARD OPERATING BASE LOYALTY, Iraq — A Super Bowl XX ring is about three times heavier than a college class ring, solid yellow gold, and “it’s dripping, like, totally covered, with diamonds,” noted 1st Lt. Sarah Lund, 23, of Huntley, Ill., who had it on the third finger of her right hand.
The ring’s owner, former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, sat beside Lund, grinning nonchalantly behind dark glasses.
On Lund’s right was former Chicago Bear Kevin Butler, McMahon’s kicker for that 1986 face-off against the New England Patriots. The Bears defeated the Patriots 46-10.
“I can’t believe you’re letting me try this on,” she said, as she admired it, sitting at least six sizes too large, on her delicate finger.
“Wow. That’s the closest I’m ever going to be in my life to that many diamonds,” Lund sighed wistfully, carefully setting the ring down on the folding table in front of her.
Then, it was time for Sgt. Jovell MacAraeg, 37, of Porterville, Calif., to try on the ring.
MacAraeg, who works with Lund for the 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion’s B Co., Military Intelligence, finally asked the question on many people’s minds.
“So, honestly, how much is this thing worth?”
McMahon and Butler were silent. There was an awkward pause.
“Priceless,” someone offered.
“Priceless,” everyone agreed.
McMahon and Butler were part of a small celebrity delegation that arrived at Forward Operating Base Loyalty on Dec. 31 for a “handshake tour” with troops.
It was the first time the 2nd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team has received celebrity visitors at the base, which is close to Sadr City and routinely mortared, since they arrived here in November, according to base spokesman Maj. Sean Ryan.
This was also McMahon and Butler’s first trip to Iraq.
McMahon was motivated to visit after receiving an invitation from a soldier via his Web site, according to Judy Seale, president of “Stars for Stripes,” a nonprofit Nashville, Tenn., organization that organizes celebrity visits to deployed troops and spokeswoman for the New Year’s tour.
The football players, along with Karri Turner, the actress who plays Lt. Harriet Sims on the television series “JAG,” and Dave Price, weatherman and feature reporter on CBS’ “The Early Show,” spent three days in Iraq and visited eight bases, Seale said.
“It’s an honor to be here,” said McMahon, a man of few words — except when discussing football.
Butler said he decided to visit Iraq for two reasons: to thank the troops and “to really understand what’s going on here, the progress — we’re accomplishing a hell of a lot — and the sacrifice.”
Back home, he says, people “think football is a sacrifice. It’s not, or at least, it’s nothing compared to this.
“I’m almost embarrassed to even talk about football. This is a sacrifice. This is real.”
Price handed out to eager soldiers free CDs of Beyonce’s latest album and two Toby Keith recordings: “White Trash with Money,” and “Shock’n Y’all.”
The artists performed for “The Early Show,” and then handed the CDs to Price to take to Iraq, he said.
Turner, meanwhile, offered a movie-star smile and funny banter to her soldier fans, although she refused to take off her baseball cap that covered her trademark blonde mane.
“I didn’t get a chance to wash my hair last night,” she pleaded.
When not shooting “JAG,” she does trips like this one, she said, visiting troops in Iraq a total of four times since 2003 and making trips to Afghanistan and South Korea.