Visiting the military

Published 2:31 am Tuesday, June 30, 2009

COLUMBUS — Take it from Jim Tressel, now an experienced world traveler. There are few places like Djibouti in early June.

‘‘Djibouti was warm — probably 130 or something when we left,’’ the Ohio State football coach said last week of the African nation. ‘‘We were taking our malaria pills. I’m still taking ’em.’’

Tressel was part of a group of coaches — including Mack Brown of Texas, Houston Nutt of Mississippi, Rick Neuheisel of UCLA, Jim Grobe of Wake Forest, Troy Calhoun of Air Force and former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville — that toured various military installations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa this month.

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‘‘I’d never really been anywhere, and all of a sudden I was on four continents and seven countries, and flying in military planes,’’ Tressel said. ‘‘Just seeing those young people and what they do and what they sacrifice … was impressive.’’

He said the coaches were well-received everywhere they went, but that luxuries were few and far between. Never was that point more evident than when the coaches arrived in Baghdad in the middle of the night, weary from a long day.

‘‘Coaches, when we go to a hotel (on football road trips), they have us a nice room and usually a little fruit basket,’’ Tressel said.

So when he heard they would be spending a couple of nights in one of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s palaces, Tressel was thinking comfortable bed, if no fruit basket.

‘‘We walked in with our bags that we could barely carry, we were in our bulletproof vests that were 40-something pounds, and we were thinking, ’Man, I can’t wait to get into this room and have a little bit of fun,’’’ Tressel said. ‘‘And we walk in and there were four bunk beds, one restroom.’’

They made do, of course, and found time for perspective in Saddam’s palaces in the coming days.

‘‘The next night we had an hour or two before we went to bed and we sat outside on his porch, looked over at his other palaces, thought about the kids we’d met that day, thought about what had gone on before there and just looked at one another and said, ’Here we are, these sorry football coaches, sitting in Saddam’s palace,’’’ Tressel said.

‘‘We might have even had a cigar — I won’t tell you for sure. But it was like, ’Wow, if the boys could see me now.’’’