For Heap, USO tour provides new view

Pro Bowl tight end is part of NFL group to greet U.S. troops in Germany


May 08, 2004|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Todd Heap looked into the eyes of U.S. soldiers about to go to war this week and found new perspective on Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"I've always felt like I've had a great appreciation for all the troops and all they've been doing over there for us, and for the war in general," the Ravens' two-time Pro Bowl tight end was saying yesterday from Wiesbaden, Germany.

"But coming over here and experiencing it firsthand, it's opened my eyes, just to see people and look into their eyes. I've gained a greater appreciation knowing that the person I just talked to might be going over [to Iraq] and might be laying his life on the line for me, for my freedom, for my family, for all of us who enjoy the luxuries we do in the U.S."

Heap has joined an NFL contingent that includes commissioner Paul Tagliabue and two other players - Warrick Dunn and Keith Brooking of the Atlanta Falcons - on a four-day United Service Organizations (USO) tour of American troops in Germany.

Starting Thursday with the group's arrival at Wiesbaden Army Airfield, Heap has taken part in question-and-answer sessions, posed for pictures, signed autographs and shaken hands.

Interestingly, Heap said he has received more than he has given through the first two days of the whirlwind tour.

"I can't tell you one person that I talked to that looked discouraged," he said. "All seemed very focused. Just me going over there, I get more out of it than any of those guys do. I look into their eyes, see their determination, their enthusiasm, their mind-set. If they were discouraged, they weren't showing it to us.

"They were upbeat and excited about what they were doing. You could tell they really believed in what they were doing."

Still, Heap said he sensed frustration over the issue of mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners.

He said U.S. soldiers in Germany, either on their way to Iraq or coming from the war zone, were concerned about the negative impact of the scandal.

"They were trying to tell us about all the positives, how they're building schools over there," Heap said. "They're talking to all the kids and families and helping kids go to school, trading candy for guns, all the positive things going on.

"That's what they were trying to tell us. Some of them were telling me they're really sick of hearing all the bad things, negative things, and they'd like to see a lot more positive things [emphasized] that go on over there."

Yesterday, the three players visited soldiers from the 1st Armored Division and the 3rd Corps Support Group in Wiesbaden. Then, accompanied by Tagliabue, they went to Rhein Main Air Base to visit the 64th Replacement Company.

In Rhein, Heap caught what promises to be one of his indelible memories from the trip. He shook hands and signed autographs in a line of soldiers that led directly to the plane that would take them to Iraq.

"Man, that was something else," he said. "Just to be able to see the expressions on their faces and see what their mindset was, was really a great experience."

Today's itinerary takes the group to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where the players will visit wounded soldiers.

"I imagine that's going to be an emotional deal," Heap said. "I'm looking forward to it."

NOTES: Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller, who wore No. 8 his rookie season, will change to No. 7 this season. It's the number he used at California and was vacated this year with the departure of Chris Redman. ... All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis will be this year's cover athlete for EA Sports and the spokesman for the Madden NFL video game.

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