Akey in the Mid-East, PART 2

GoVandals.Net is proud to share the entire content of Coach Akey's media session regarding his recent trip to the middle east. It is obvious from his experiences and comments that teamwork will be a major focus with the 2009 Vandal football team when they hold their first practice on August 8th. Inside is Part 2 of our two-part complete transcript of his meeting with the media in Moscow.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Earlier this summer, Idaho Head Football Coach Robb Akey, was invited to travel to the middle east and Afghanistan and participate in a morale-building mission to American troops. Four hours after his return he left for a short vacation and upon his return from vacation Coach Akey sat down with the local media and talked about the trip, the troops, the teamwork, and the Vandal connections.

LINK: Akey in the Mid-East, PART 1

On his feelings on what he reads in the newspapers about the area… now that he has been there during war time:

I think it's limited, what information that we do get, and there are good reasons for that. I don't think that we all know exactly what's going on, and things get portrayed a little bit different, especially if the other guys control some of the media coming out of there. It maybe makes us look a little worse for what we're doing, because I think people look at it sometimes that way. I think I now have experienced it, and we know a little bit better than that.

I pay attention to it more now. I was a sports page guy and I'd turn on the news when the sports came on at night, and that's about it. I've started reading some of the other sections a little bit now, and paying attention to that a little bit more. It certainly was an eye-opening experience.

Again, I can't tell you. Everywhere we went, it didn't matter what their roll was -- it was the outfit that was rebuilding the strikers, the rigs that run around out there -- their pride in getting their job done so it's fit and it's ready for the soldiers because they've got to have it. Their lives depend on it. We were there with the pilots, with the F-16 group. Here are the guys that our lives depend on, and here come these two young guys that get the planes ready for them. They're 19 and 20 years old. Where that fighter jet flies the way that it's supposed to, and operates the way it needs to, is dependent completely on them. The teamwork that they all have. When the firefights do take place with our guys that are on the ground, they're supported by the ones in the air, and they take great pride in having each other's back. You're talking about the Army and you're talking about the Air Force. The Navy's over there in the middle of the desert! That was absolutely awesome. I've got all the respect in the world. I wish the people could understand here what those kids are doing for us.

On the interaction and learning from the other coaches on the trip:

It was a good thing in that I've known Bobby (Hauck) for a long time; so that was a good deal. David Bailiff, the Rice coach, has been a good friend, a guy that I've known pretty well. Mickey Matthews I met for the first time on this trip, and what a great guy he is. He's the JMU coach, had been the defensive coordinator at Georgia before he got the job there. Awesome guys. Chris Smeland was the representative from Army that was there. We were all the same. We got along great.

We did get a chance to talk a little bit of football while we were on planes and some things like that, and that was a good thing in that respect, too -- sharing different ideas -- but we all kinda felt the same way. It was, "Let's go see how many of these kids we get a chance to talk to." That was our goal.

One of the hospitals that we went into, the people that are in there – the doctors, the nurses, the people that run it. Everybody in there. Great pride in what they do, and upbeat about the job that they're doing. We're in there talking to a guy that… he was a Special Forces soldier that was shot in a fire fight. We're sitting there, and he's laying there in the bed and he's kinda sitting up and we walk in and we're talking with him. "What in the world are you doing lying down?" He pops up and he says, "Well let me tell you about this," and he diagrammed the whole thing, and what took place. He says, "I got shot, but we came of it the winners on the deal." That was the theme that stood out. The American pride in what those kids are doing."

On anything from the trip that could go onto the sidelines as a coach:

Well, you know, we talk everyday about pride, and these guys certainly have it for our country. These guys and gals, and more so … I mean, we're playing a game, they're fighting for their lives.

The way teamwork comes into play for them and the way that they rely on each other, and they have to rely on each other or they can die. I think that's one of the beautiful things about athletics. You have the opportunity to teach some life lessons without the same risk involved. We can lose a game. A guy could fall ineligible if he didn't get his grades done. If they screw up out there, they or their partner could lose their life, and they're doing it for the freedom of our country. Yeah. To me that's something very strong to be able to bring back here. We talk about when you get done here take the opportunity to give back, whether it's, you know, while you're here maybe you're visiting the school reading to the kids, doing different things in the community. We try to get our players involved with a number of those things. Well, this was an opportunity for me to put my money where my mouth was. Here's a chance for US to go give back to the people that are fighting for us every day. Yeah. I think there are a number of things within that that can be beneficial to us getting our job done, and those soldiers over there, I mean the leaders over there as well. Their message coming back was "Hey, keep believing in us, and it means everything when we know that you do support us."

On meeting some of the local Afghans:

Not really. We're partnered up with…our mission in Afghanistan is to try to help them become self sufficient. So yeah, we met a number of those people because they're involved with our forces. So, yes, I did in that respect. I don't know that they knew exactly what we were all about in there, but they wanted to come and say, "Hi" and meet us and that kind of a deal.

But you know, our guys are out there fighting missions, and they're teaching the Afghans to be able to do it so that we don't have to be over there any longer. There's a group out of Nebraska that are teaching them how to utilize the land so they can grow more than just the poppies to supply the Taliban with opium. They can become self-sufficient with their own crops and that kind of a deal. Everybody had their job and what they do, and I know I'm getting a little bit off track on the deal there, but they're tied in. So, they've all got the Afghan people that are a part of the mission that they're doing, and that's a lot of trust right there too. There's a lot that goes into that.

So, yeah, I had an opportunity to meet a number from there. There were a number of people from various countries that were there.

On staying in touch with some of the people he met on the trip:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Like I said, getting re-acquainted with the guy that was an equipment manager for us years and years and years ago. He is one that we definitely will stay in touch with. I've got some correspondence back already through e-mail and some letters from people that we had a chance to meet over there, and I most definitely am going to stay in touch with those guys. There are going to be some Vandal flags flying on some missions over there, too. So, that's going to enable us to continue to stay in touch a little bit as well.

On the trip's lesson for the 2009 fall camp:

Be appreciative of what you've got. We take for granted so much, what we have here when we wake up everyday free. Be grateful for that, be respectful of that.

The teamwork end of things I talked about, being committed to your mission, your job, things like that. It's things that we always preach. But, here it is on another level with a lot more on the line with it, the opportunity to bring those things back. When you have the opportunity to give back, give back. In a nutshell, those would be some of them, but certainly the teamwork and what comes from that…that was outstanding. Pride. And Pride is a big, big word.

Q: When you had your poster made up with "Akey's Army," did you know that you were going to go over and do this, or is that just one of those things that kinda came together?

Actually, this came about after we had done the poster. This (the Akey's Army T-shirts) got started with the group two years ago, my first year here, and they made those shirts and a lot of the money coming from it went to Operation Education, which was an outstanding deal and it kinda started to build up a little bit and our marketing people wanted to do a little bit more with it. It seems like that came out all right. I wasn't so sure… it should be made "The Vandal Army" or something like that, not necessarily "Akey's Army." No, this came about afterwards and it carries I guess a little theme. Some things… maybe just meant to be.

Q: If the trip made him think differently about using the word "army" and saying things like "we're in a tough battle" when you're talking after a football game.

You know, I've always tried to be respectful of that because it's not … we're playing a game, and it's night and day different from a battlefield or anything like that. I know because of the teamwork and the things involved, those things get zoned in similarities a great deal, and a lot of history. I mean, some of the great teams in the past when football was getting started were the Army teams. I think that has kinda led over the course of time.

But, no, we're playing a game. The battlefield is a different deal. It certainly is going to help me, I'll be continually more respectful of that. I'm conscious about the fact that we're using the term "Akey's Army." I mean, this is the United States Army. That's what matters. If this can turn into a great deal here I'm very proud of that, but we're a football team, and because of our Army and our Navy and our Marines and Air Force we get the opportunity to live a free life and play a game like this. Yeah. I promise you I will continue to be respectful of that. It's not the same.

On the possibility of making a return trip:

If they invite me, it would be something I would certainly do. Like I said, it was an honor to be able to do that, and just the opportunity to thank those kids and the leaders – not just the kids – the men and women who are over there, and even the private contractors. Their lives are on the line too. It's dangerous for everybody that is over there. Yeah. If it's really true that it can make a difference, absolutely. They might be tired of me by now though, too. I know Toby Keith gets invited back every year, but I don't know if I've got his status or not.

On coaching tips from the soldiers:

Just in regards to take the passion back. Hey, the thing we get in some of the conversations… about how they were with their teamwork and things like that, they'd say [whispers] "Take that back to your team, coach. Take that back to your team. We want to see you have success. Make sure they understand what we're doing over here." Yeah. I got that quite a bit, and I thought that was a great thing.

I got some recruiting tips. I met a young fellow out of Georgia. He was a gunner on one of the AMRAMS (vehicles). They go out there with their life on the line everyday. "Hey coach! You've got to get down to…" There's a county down in Georgia that he didn't feel like got recruited very intensely. He said, "There's some cats down there that can run and can play. Get down there!" I gave him my card and we're going to be in touch, and we might get some recruits out this deal, too. There are some guys over there in our forces that look like they could play. When they get out they've got an open invitation back here.

On bringing some of the returning soldiers to Vandal football games or having them speak to the team:

They can come talk to our team; they've got sideline passes to our games. Absolutely. There's no question about it. The head coach talks to the team everyday. Sometimes they get there and they think, "Well, coach is saying… coach is supposed to say those things." When it comes from somebody else's mouth, the same message comes a little bit louder. Just like it does when the talk is player-to-player. It's a little bit louder voice. So yeah. When those guys are around here, and I've made arrangements with some that are going to be back off their deployment in time to be able to take in some of our games, and some of them will be here at the dome. Some of them are going to be on the road. When there's an opportunity for them to talk to our team, that will most definitely be a welcome thing.

Hey, thanks all of you very much. We're getting closer to kickoff time!

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