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NFL coaches Leslie Frazier, Bill Cowher, Ben Kotwica and Eric Mangini listen in as Major General Mayville (R-Center),  thanks them for taking the time to visit with deployed troops. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)
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PHOTOS: NFL Coaches Go Long for USO Tour to the Middle East

Friday, July 06, 2012

The USO and NFL kicked off summer 2012 with their fourth annual USO/NFL Coaches Tour to the Middle East. Former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach and current CBS Sports analyst Bill Cowher; Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier; New York Jets assistant special teams coach and U.S. Army veteran Ben Kotwica and former NFL coach and current ESPN analyst Eric Mangini elected to spend their Fourth of July holiday with the troops that secure our nation's independence and freedom on a daily basis. As part of the week-long USO tour, the group talked football, shared personal accounts of life on the sidelines and posed for photos with troops.

The USO tour was the second for Cowher, who travelled to Kuwait and Iraq on the first USO/NFL Coaches Tour in 2009 and the first for Frazier and Mangini. As for Kotwica, he is a decorated officer who spent seven years in the U.S. Army. Having spent nearly a year in Iraq in 2004 as well as time in Bosnia and Korea, he is also a graduate of West Point. Wired to be a soldier, Kotwica became a fighter pilot before deciding to leave the service to fulfill his dream of coaching.

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From left to right, Kotwica, Mangini, Frazier and Cowher pose in front of the Pat Tillman Memorial USO at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, named to honor of the former NFL safety and Army Ranger Pat Tillman.

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Soldiers gathered around to inspect Mangini's Super Bowl ring from his days as an assistant coach with the New England Patriots and to pose for photos.

"There's kids from Indiana, Connecticut, California, Michigan, Ohio, Alaska, South Dakota and they're all here together," Mangini said. "They’re thousands of miles away from home. It's hot, they’re wearing heavy gear, obviously the threat they face every day. But yet, it's inspiring … It's so easy for us to forget that we're at war because they do their job so well."

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Cowher poses with the tour's C-130 flight crew: from left to right, Major Steve Shy, TSGT Jeremy Fallecker (wearing Cowher’s Super Bowl ring) and Navigator Capt. Jared Hawkins.

Cowher said: “To understand what we’re fighting from afar takes on truer meaning when you’re here, and you see the focus, the commitment, the youth … the discipline, the teamwork, the understanding of your role, how it fits and just having each other’s back.”

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Major General William C. Mayville expresses his thanks to the group for taking time to visit the deployed troops.

“Hearing how they go about preparing reminds me so much of how we prepare for opponents,” Frazier said. “Now the stakes are a little bit different. If we make a mistake we lose the game. If you make a mistake out here, you lose a life. But the way they prepare, the way they organize, is so similar to the way we approach our opponents when we get ready for ballgames."

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The coaches pose for a group photo with the Chinook flight crew just moments after arrival to one of many Forward Operating Bases as part of the tour.

Kotwica said: "I'm often inspired by their spirit in executing their responsibility in such a hostile, demanding, unforgiving environment, being so far away from home. There’s a thousand things that could distract them from their jobs. But the focus on, not just what they do, but how they do it, is amazing."

* See many more images from the NFL coaches tour of our Flickr site. 

(USO photos by Dave Gatley / Produced by Malini Wilkes, Christian Pelusi) 

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