Tressel Looking Forward To Middle East Trip

Memorial Day just might mean a bit more to Jim Tressel this time around. In late May, the Ohio State football head coach will be one of six college coaches to travel overseas to visit with the American troops in the Middle East. Tressel pointed to some central figures in his life when discussing why he's looking forward to the voyage.

When it comes to college football coaches known for their respect and admiration for the American troops overseas, Ohio State's Jim Tressel has to be near the forefront of the discussion. His team often honors military veterans and allows them to visit practice, and a wall in the team's Les Wexner Football Complex is decorated with mementos from troops who have visited with the team.

For that, the Buckeye head coach pointed to a number of factors in his life, notably the service of his famous coaching father, Lee. Jim said that, after a fantastic spring practice session with Ohio State in 1943, Lee left the Columbus school to join the Navy and ended up going to the South Pacific, though he wasn't located in any theaters of war.

"I recall vividly as I learned more and more about my dad that it was serving his country that came first to him, even more than his football playing and wanting to live a civilian life," Jim Tressel said. "I always admired those people that sacrificed and served."

In addition, Tressel said he remembers former Ohio State coach Woody Hayes' visits during the offseason to visit with American military personnel, including what have become famed trips to Vietnam.

Tressel discussed these memories while talking to the media about his recent commitment to take part in a trip of college football coaches to visit the Middle East in May. The voyage, set up by Armed Forces Entertainment, will take eight days and allow the coaches to visit Afghanistan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to visit with the troops.

"It's a tremendous honor," Tressel said. "They'll see from us that we really believe they're the ones that people should take note of and they're the ones doing the tough duty. That's why we're more than excited to get over there and just let them know that they're the best and we're here for them. What we do over here is a lot of fun and, sure, people recognize Ohio State football and all that, but it's not as recognizable as that flag with those stars and stripes."

Tressel will be joined on the trip by Mack Brown of Texas, Houston Nutt of Ole Miss, Rick Neuheisel of UCLA, Troy Calhoun of Air Force and Tommy Tuberville, the former Auburn coach who went on last year's inaugural trip.

Tuberville went with Miami's Randy Shannon, Notre Dame's Charlie Weis, Yale's Jack Siedlecki and Georgia's Mark Richt. It was a group that Tressel would have joined had his daughter not been slated to graduate college the same weekend.

"There was no question in m mind that it was something I wanted to do, and I know that the guys that went a year ago made an impact and enjoyed themselves," Tressel said. "Every little bit of difference we can make with those people that are serving our country and in the way they're serving, we want to do."

Last year's group dealt with temperatures above 100 degrees while meeting with troops and, at the end, coaching a flag football game between military members. At other times, the coaches signed autographs, met with the injured soldiers and completed question-and-answer sessions. At the end of the voyage, there were whisked to the White House to meet with President George W. Bush upon arrival in the States.

Tressel said that the trip will be the first of its kind that he's ever undertaken, the closest resemblance occurring on an ROTC trip he went on while the head coach at Youngstown State.

His traditional interaction with troops comes through email and visits to the Ohio State practices.

"We hear from military personnel all the time," Tressel said. "We have a big display on our hallway here at the office of all of the people that have visited and have brought flags that have flown overseas and pictures and Ohio State memorabilia from their jet fighter planes, their battalion coins. We have a big display of all the various battalions that have honored us by visiting practice or speaking to our players and awarded us with a coin.

"There's been a lot of interaction, and we make sure they know how much we appreciate what they're all about and what they mean to us."

Tressel brushed aside any concerns about the danger of going into warzones by pointing out that military security will be present. The coaches will be briefed in May about the specific parameters of the trip before heading overseas.

"Our mission is to go over there and make sure our young people know that we feel good about how they are and proud about what they're doing and assure them that there are people over here that are so appreciative (of what they do)," Tressel said.


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