Where do I begin? Going on a Military Tour is something I will never forget. Now, having the opportunity to go on two of them is just something I did not think I would experience.
Stepping foot off that plane at our first destination just put a smile on my face and I was excited to begin this journey. It began in the UAE and we were just prepared to see what was on the agenda! We got a little feel of what it was like for the men and women living there. I enjoyed having our meals with the troops in their dining facility. I got to know them at a personal level and enjoy their company as I hope they enjoyed mine. We got to experience their little hang out area outside called the Thirsty Camel on base. I played corn hole, Jenga and hung out and talked to them. It was so great to see them have a chance to just relax and forget where they were for a while because being in that fun atmosphere even made me forget I was on a military base. We also had a tour of the base and got to see what everyone’s jobs were like out there. When we were touring the flight line they let us jump in the cars and tag along for a chase. This is when the U2 aircraft is coming down to the runway to land and we are in a car speeding, trailing behind right up until it flies over us and lands according to our drivers instructions. This was such a rush! Definitely like nothing I have ever done before. Our last day there we performed at the Thirsty Camel for them and it was great. Everyone seemed to enjoy it and had a great time and I was happy to bring some entertainment to them.
After we left the UAE we headed to Ethiopia and we were all so eager to land and start our next voyage. This base was very interesting because it was located right next to the flight strip at the airport and it was very small consisting of only about 80 people. This base was a U.S drone base and the soldiers lived off base at a nearby hotel, which we stayed at as well. This was an adventure in itself because baboons and warthogs were around the land at the hotel. We got to tour the base and really got to see what they do there and see the drones they fly. It was pretty remarkable seeing everything and getting to learn what everyone over there was set out to do. Everyone there was very welcoming and took us on different adventures such as one night we went on a hippo run where we ride in their truck and drive around the perimeter looking for hippos and wildlife. My group did not see a hippo but we did see lots of waterbuck, pigs and warthogs, which was so awesome! Another day we got to go on a boat safari where we traveled 40 minutes on Lake Chamo and pulled up to a piece of land where we hiked up a mountain and then got to see the beautiful views. Once we were there we got to see some zebras and so that was pretty cool. Actually on the boat ride back we saw some hippos sticking their heads out of the water so we were all thrilled to see that. Another day there they took us to a local village where we got to learn a lot about the culture of this village and see how they live and eat. We got to try their type of bread they made right there and they performed some of their dancing and singing to us that they do together on a daily basis. From the village, we drove and hiked through a trail that led to a beautiful waterfall. It was very sweet of the soldiers to take us to all these fun places in Ethiopia. I truly enjoyed myself. We did two performances there so the night shift and day shift could have a chance to watch it. Performing in Ethiopia was definitely a huge memory because behind us was a cliff and a beautiful view of the land and mountains all around us.
Furthermore, from Ethiopia we made our way to the NSA base in Bahrain. This base was very big and had a navy ship with about 3,000 sailors that pulled in the weekend we were there, so it was very packed with new people to meet at every corner. We toured the base and met so many amazing people and one of the days there we did a cheerleading/football camp with the military children on base. They were all so cute and the parents loved it! I love doing these camps here in the U.S so to be able to bring a piece of it to Bahrain was fun. We also got to meet the men of the SWCC, which is the U.S Navy’s special warfare combatant-craft crewmen. They took us out on their boats and let each of us have a chance at driving it. This was probably one of the most amazing things I have ever done to drive the SWCC’s actual boat on this beautiful body of water in Bahrain. We did two performances in Bahrain on a stage they had outside and the audience was packed with people super excited to watch us. I loved the crowd’s energy from the troops and I was glad to see that everyone enjoyed their selves. We spent our Super Bowl in Bahrain, which is something I never thought I would do along with everything else I got to do on this trip. They threw a Super Bowl party and it started at 2:30am, which was very interesting to experience. It was a nice event they did and we just got to hang out with everyone and enjoy the Super Bowl. On our last day of the tour we were invited to workout with the Navy during their morning P.T. I was so excited to jump in with them and see how they train together every morning. They started with a run and chanted a song together, which I tried to jump in and learn the words. Then we ended up on a field doing drills across the field and ended with a run. This was pretty fun getting to mingle inside the group of sailors and workout with them. It was such a great way to end our visit there and it was kind of them to open up and let us join in.
This trip couldn’t have been any better and I truly thank all the men and women of our military for what they do every single day for us here in the U.S.A. It was an honor to meet everyone and get a glimpse into a bit of their lives overseas and I will cherish every moment forever. I am just really grateful that I was able to experience another Military Tour because I enjoyed the first one so much that I was sad it was over. So being able to get this chance again was just very heartfelt and I will always remember everyone I met on these trips and everything I experienced because it was definitely once in a lifetime!
“Our job here is nothing else, except to give you a feeling of home; reminding you that America is standing with you, we appreciate you, you’re always kept in our prayers, and all of you are heroes.”
These words have always resided in my heart, but to be able to actually say it aloud on the Armed Forces Entertainment tour to the ones who need to hear it the most meant everything to me. I have seen every risk and every sacrifice our men and women of the armed forces take to be where they are today because I, myself, grew up in a military home. Having to move every three years and watch one parent or the other leave for temporary duty stations and deployments left me a feeling of absence. Looking back, I find myself with a grateful heart because I learned resiliency and to lean not on my own understanding but walk by faith instead. Growing up in this environment created a path of empathy and an understanding of what people in the military go through. It also gave me a huge love for all who serve and fight for our freedom. When I got the news about being selected to go on the AFE tour, you could imagine my excitement and sense of joy that came rushing in.
As a rookie, I felt so blessed and honored to be given this opportunity of a life time and to represent the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders on tour. Knowing that I was believed in and trusted to do a job well done was a Godsend. I could not wait to shake hands and get to know our heroes and what they do on a day to day basis while deployed. Visiting all the different job duties the military offers was such a learning experience. From chasing a U2 plane in a Camaro helping it land in United Arab Emirates, to touring villages and hiking in Ethiopia; then sitting in the cockpits of fighter jets in Bahrain, this was undeniably a trip I will never forget. They welcomed us with open arms and were so thankful about us being there. The special activities they had planned for us were extraordinary and we had so much fun, but my main highlight was being able to simply thank them in person.
Being overseas made everything surreal as I watched our heroes devote precious time in their element, yet enduring the pain of being away from family and friends. Having the chance to make a difference, seeing them smile, and letting them know we support what they do was an honor. Every person I met on this tour is part of this everlasting memory and has a special place in my heart. I can’t express the amount of genuine love and appreciation I have for all who serve in the military, but I will forever be grateful.
My first season as a Miami Dolphins Cheerleader has been a life experience that will forever change me in the most amazing way!
My journey began the moment my name was called at auditions to represent and join the best organization and squad in the NFL. At this point I was so thankful for the opportunity to embark on a new adventure. Not only is it a dream come true, it is absolutely an honor and a privilege to be a Miami Dolphins Cheerleader.
There have been so many incredible experiences throughout my rookie year. I have to honestly say that every day is memorable. There is no greater joy than to prepare and perform for our fans with over 40 beautiful ladies. It began with training camp which was a time of learning new techniques and perfecting our skills for the season. It was a new environment where I was able to get to know my teammates better and learn more about myself. Soon after was the squad photo shoot. WOW! That day was the day I realized that I was truly part of this wonderful organization. It was a great bonding experience with the girls I call my “sisters”.
We start the week practicing and preparing for the games ahead. The popping in the ears will never get old when walking into the training facility for practice. It’s here where we physically and mentally prepare for what’s ahead of us. And then there is the day we are all anticipating….GAMEDAY! Driving to Sun Life Stadium on game day is loaded with Miami Dolphins flags on vehicles and fans waving to you as you approach the stadium. The stadium is plentiful of Dolfans awaiting the game. As I make my way into the parking lot, it is with pleasure to talk with some of the fans and take pictures with them. I approach the locker room to join my teammates to prepare for our exciting day. We attend our assigned appearances throughout the stadium for our fans.
Then the moment we have all been waiting for begins in the tunnel. Butterflies and excitement fill me as we begin our way on the field for our pregame performance. There are no words to describe the feeling of being out on that field with thousands of roaring Dolfans in the stands. I actually feel the energy as the music plays and we perform our routines. I am amazed at how beautiful this moment is. As we line up for player introductions, I take a deep breath and take it all in and appreciate what I’m experiencing. From military jet flyovers, to the heat from the fire canons, to the ground shaking and to the excitement of the crowd, this moment is truly incredible! My entire body fills with emotion during the National Anthem. It is so honorable to be here! Making our way to the sidelines and cheering on our fans is worth it all!
This season has truly been a blessing, one that I will be forever grateful! I’ve grown as a young woman and I am proud to represent the Miami Dolphins Organization. #strongertogether
XO, Adrianna M.
4 year veteran, Melissa arrived in Phoenix yesterday to represent the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders as the 2015 Pro Bowl selection. Announced on Dec. 28 during the Dolphins home game against the New York Jets, Melissa was voted by her teammates to travel to Arizona and cheer among the best in the NFL.
“This team means the world to me. I can’t believe I get to represent such a beautiful, talented group of women,” said Melissa before boarding her flight. “I hope to make everyone proud!”
Being selected as the Pro Bowl Cheerleader is considered one of the highest honors for the cheerleaders. For more photos of Melissa, click here!
The last game of the season is always bittersweet. Bitter, because I know it’s the last time I get to dance on the field. Sweet, because this is the game that I really take everything in. As a cheerleader, we usually have a lot of things on our mind, the game itself, choreography, the clock, and so many other details we have to be attentive of. It’s hard to take in the true beauty of game day. On my last game, though, I took a step back and looked around to find what really makes Sundays at Sun Life Stadium such an amazing experience.
1. The first kiss of sunshine on your skin.
It doesn’t get better than 80 degrees in December. As a cheerleader, walking out of the tunnel and on to the field for the first time never gets old. When I step onto the grass, the first greeting I receive is Miami’s sweet sunshine. That’s when I know I’m home. It can be overbearing if you’re not a Floridian, so it’s also a nice reminder to the opposing team of whose house they’re in.
2. The chills you get when the F16 jets fly over your head.
If you’ve never seen a Miami Dolphins pregame show, you don’t know what you’re missing out on. Before every kick off is 15 minutes of pure energizing entertainment. The cheerleaders’ routine, the National Anthem and my favorite, the fly over. There’s nothing comparable to looking up and seeing those F16 jets flying over the stadium at the end of the anthem. It’s quite a feeling and it makes you proud to call yourself a good ol’ football loving American.
3. Player Intro.
If you’re not hyped up by this time, you’re sure to get pumped during the player intro. The music, the smoke machines and all the players sprinting out of the tunnel, makes you anxious for the game to begin. From a cheerleader’s point of view, being right in the action during the player introduction is so much fun and always gets us ready to cheer on our Dolphins.
4. TD running down the sidelines.
In my opinion and I’m sure in a lot of other DolFans’ opinions, TD is the best mascot in the NFL. You can find him doing pushups when we score, blowing dolphins kisses to the crowd, and dancing with cheerleaders on the sidelines. It’s always a warm feeling to get a hug from TD on the field.
5. Waving your fins side to side.
As if a touchdown wasn’t already exciting enough, celebrating to Jimmy Buffet’s Fins song makes it that much more enjoyable. I just love dancing to it and watching the crowd in front of me follow along with their arms in the air. I mean, c’mon, who can resist throwing their fins up after a score?
6. Watching the wave go around the entire stadium.
The wave is always fun to be a part of, but my favorite part of the wave is watching it dominate the entire stadium. I like to follow it all the way through as orange and teal lift up and fill the crowd. It’s also entertaining to catch the beginning of the wave. It usually takes a few tries to get the wave all the way around and the section that starts it off is always so excited with their success of making it happen.
7. Singing along to the fight song.
Every true Dolfan knows the fight song by heart, “Miami has the Dolphins, the greatest football team!” I’m pretty sure if we didn’t have music, we could dance to the entire crowd singing it aloud. There is so much tradition and history in this song and dancing to it is always so much fun.
Forty home games later, and dancing on the field is still just as exciting as my very first time. It’s easy to get caught up in all the action and forget how much fun a Dolphins game really is, so next time you’re watching a game at Sun Life make sure to take in all the magic it has to offer.
Sunday, I was the first one into our locker room and the famous Miami Dolphins Cheerleading practice studio. For a few moments, it was neat to look around by myself at the place that I had originally come for auditions just nine months before. This place has now evolved into a sense of home for our team. It’s always been a loud place full of life, so to sit in silence there gave me a different perspective. I was able to reflect on my first season and the tremendous journey it has been. We focus so much on perfecting all of our routines, line-ups and performances that I didn’t realize until this very moment that I will only be doing these one last time. As the girls starting entering and getting ready, I found myself taking the time to appreciate that moment with them. Each girl on the team went from being a stranger to now forming a group of sisters who understand not only how much hard work it takes to be on this team, but also how much we each have a love for it.
Entering for pregame, we stood in the tunnel awaiting to be announced. By this point, we already worked through our routines and were prepared to hit the field. This is such an exciting time, so I always take a few seconds to breathe deep and clear my mind for the thrilling game ahead. We started our performance on the field with the sun shining bright and a light breeze in the air. The perfect set up for our final game with anticipation in the air against our rival- the New York Jets. The activity along the sidelines is always action packed. From where we stand, we have the best “seats” in the house. Being able to watch the Dolphins so close is exhilarating!
One experience that I continually found myself wishing that I could share would be to actually feel the ground shake when the Dolphins made a tackle close by, or hearing the helmets and pads hit when the our defense made a stop. It’s incredible to then turn around to a full stadium of roaring fans. This game was especially exciting for the NFL and Miami Dolphins with the record breaking moments. Lamar Millar made history with his 97 yard touchdown run, the longest in Dolphins history and longest in the NFL since 2003. During this game, we also got to witness our quarterback Ryan Tannehill break Dan Marino’s record for most completions in a season for the Dolphins and pass for more than 4,000 yards. This game was just so memorable for myself and every person in the stadium. With the support of our fans, this made for an unforgettable time to be right in the center of the action.
I will definitely miss being able to meet and interact with so many memorable fans. These moments that I adore so much will now turn into a memory that I will always cherish. During the fourth quarter, I couldn’t help but look around at my teammates next to me and think about all of our hard work we put in and the happiness we gain from our job as a Miami Dolphin Cheerleader. I also kept looking up at the fans directly in front of us, the level beyond, and to the very top. I thought about how great it is that we get to come together and cheer on the best organization in the NFL. It takes so many elements and people to make game day so special, and today was the ultimate unforgettable finale to the 2014 Miami Dolphins season. #STRONGERTOGETHER
Since making the team as a Miami Dolphins Cheerleader, my Sundays have been quite a bit different. Normally I would hang out with my family and friends waiting until 1 p.m. to watch the Dolphins play. But this year I’m in the middle of all the action. It’s a surreal experience walking out of the tunnel to see 70,000 Dolfans in white, orange and aqua all screaming with excitement and anticipation for our team to take the field. Being a part of this organization is a dream come true. All the hard work really pays off every Sunday when I put on my uniform and take the field.
This past Sunday was no different, its week 14 and the Dolphins are right in the middle of the playoff hunt. I arrive at the stadium at 10:30 a.m. to see our fans already out and tailgating. Walking to the stadium, I take pleasure in meeting and talking with some of the fans and taking pictures with them before I prepare for the game. When I enter the locker room I see some of the girls getting ready and it still hits me, how lucky I am to be here. It’s a feeling that doesn’t seem to go away even after all these months.
Walking through the tunnel with my teammates we can feel that this isn’t just another game. The Baltimore Ravens were tied with us in our conference so this game was going to be pivotal in determining our future in the playoffs. There was a greater sense of passion from the fans. We walk out to the field and the fans stand and cheer as we perform our routine. The squad lines up for player introductions and the game begins!!!
The Dolphins jump out to a commanding 10-0 lead over the Ravens and the feeling in the stadium is intense. I always enjoy cheering on the sidelines but when the team’s doing well and the fans are going crazy like they were in this game. It takes it to a whole other level. Once again, I get an overwhelming feeling of pride to be here doing what I’m doing. The rest of the game didn’t go as smoothly as we lost control of the lead and unfortunately lost to the Ravens. My squad and I kept dancing to lift the fans spirits until the final whistle.
Being on this team has really been a life changing experience, one that I’ll cherish and talk about for the rest of my life. I’m proud to represent my team every Sunday on the field or when I’m out in the community. We will be back next Sunday to avenge this defeat and continue to make our run for the playoffs. Go Fins!
Let’s face it, when it comes to the Season of Joy, South Florida can be a little, well… different. It’s hard to sing “let it snow” knowing that there will certainly be no snow coming your way. As difficult as it can be at times, I’ve learned to love Christmas in Miami and these are my four favorite things about Miami in December.
Perfect hair weather:
The humidity in Miami makes it close to impossible to have a good hair day. But when that temperature drops, the ponytails come down and it’s nothing but shiny and tame locks all season long.
More holidays to celebrate:
One of the many things I love about Miami is its diversity. It’s crazy to believe how many different cultures there are in one city. In December, more cultures means more holidays. Growing up in Miami, I have friends who celebrate Christmas, “Noche Buena”, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and “Tres Reyes Magos”. It’s so much fun to celebrate more than one holiday and it makes the season that much brighter.
Christmas Palm trees:
Like I mentioned before, Miami isn’t exactly the ideal place to celebrate the holidays. Rather than a front lawn covered with snow, we have Palm trees wrapped in Christmas lights and plastic flamingos wearing Santa hats. We may not be ideal, but our twist on a Winter Wonderland is always something to sing about. Especially if you’re singing “Feliz Navidad”.
What I love most about the holidays is giving back. This time of year, I try to volunteer more than usual. There are so many great organizations to get involved with, especially during the holiday season. You’re not only helping out with the community, but raising your own spirits. There’s no compensation comparable to the feeling of knowing you voluntarily made a difference in your community, even if it’s a small one.
So although I can’t have a snow ball fight or wrap myself in warm, winter clothing, I always look forward to the tropical holiday season Miami brings.
Happy Holidays, Finatics!
Lots of love,
It was Monday morning and I was filled with excitement for what I was told was going to be the most impactful experience of my life. I checked off my packing list over and over again and went over my routines in my head. I did anything I could to make the hours pass by quicker before it was time to board the plane and start our 15-day journey. We traveled for almost a full day. When we landed in Kuwait, the first people we met were our PSD (Protective Service Detachment). They picked us up from the airport and knew all our names and faces off the bat. We were really impressed and at that point we knew we were safe in their hands. We had a night to rest before our first big day.
We woke up early and drove to Camp Beurhing. The very first thing we did was have lunch at the D-FAC (dining facility). The eight of us split up to different tables and sat with different service men and women while we ate. We did this for every meal, which I loved, because this was pretty much the only time we could sit down and have a real conversation. After “chow”, my teammates and I would share stories and tell each other about the people we met and the bonds we made. After lunch that day, we met the Army General Officers on base. We told them a little bit about ourselves and we got to know more about them, not only their life as a soldier, but back at home as well. After meeting the General Officers, we got to visit the airfield, and check out a few air crafts. I was even able to hop into an Apache Helicopter and was given a short lesson from one of the pilots on how everything works (I’m still in the beginners’ level, though). After touring the base a little more, we got ready for our first performance of the trip. All day we had been telling everyone about the show, but we had no idea it’d be such a great turn out. It was a packed and loud crowd, which gave our performance that much more energy. After the show, we signed autographs and took pictures. That night we had to say goodbye to our friends. It was time for our next stop, Bagram.
Flying to Bagram was really cool, because we flew with the military in a C17. It’s a huge aircraft with seats along the side of the plane and cargo strapped down in the middle. When most of us heard the word “cargo”, we thought it would be crates and boxes filled with equipment. It turns out cargo can also mean two M-A TVs. That was definitely a fun ride. I mean, how many people can say they sat next to a massive military tank on a C17? We arrived at Bagram in the middle of the night. As soon as we got off the plane, we met our guide, Elissa, who told us what to expect for the next few days. We were given our IBA (individual body armor), and then Elissa briefed us on the safety procedures and took us to our bunks to get some rest.
The next morning we took a black hawk to the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) headquarters. Riding in the black hawk through the mountains of Afghanistan was absolutely breath taking. We flew with the door open and if you looked down you could see the streets and homes just below you. That ride was by far THE coolest experience of my life. At the ISAF headquarters, we met Four Star General Campbell, who took the time to meet with us and talk to us about the ISAF operations and the improvements made in the past decade. I could hear the passion in his voice while talking about his mission in Afghanistan. He showed his appreciation for our visit and for lifting the morale of his soldiers and we showed our appreciation for what he and his men and women do every day. After our meeting, we toured the rest of the base and had a photo and signing session with everyone. After our eventful day, we flew back to Bagram and called it a night.
The next day, we flew over to the NATO base of ISAF Joint Command in a black hawk again. This time I got to sit up front and wear the headsets, so I could talk to the pilots during the ride. We arrived at the NATO base, which had more than 30 representing countries. I thought this was so cool, because it was the melting pot of military bases, so many different languages and cultures working together on one base. We got to meet and perform for everyone and whether they were American, Italian, German, or Mongolian, they were all so happy to have us. Before we left, we met the Army Sergeant Major and Lieutenant General, who thanked us for being there. We were actually given our first challenge coin, by General Anderson. Coins are given to people who provide outstanding support. It’s considered to be a great honor to receive a challenge coin and to be given one by a man with such a strong character made it so much more special. We left the NATO base that evening and returned to Bagram.
We woke up the next morning, had breakfast at the D-FAC and stayed on base to visit the air field. We met the crew that inspects and fixes the aircraft weapons, the ones who check and repair the actual air crafts and then we met the flight crew for the A10 and F16 aircrafts. It’s crazy how many different jobs and responsibilities go into one single aircraft. Every job is important and everyone truly appreciates one another for what they do. It was nice to see that camaraderie. That night we made our way over to Camp Sabalu Harrison, where the Military Police showed us the MRAP vehicles. They were huge, but we managed to climb up into them and explore the inside. It was almost time for us to perform for everyone, but before we did, we had the chance to talk to the Commanding Officers of the camp. They wanted us to know a little more about the camp and its history. We learned that it was named after two fallen soldiers, Master Sergeant Sabalu and Colonel Harrison. We found out more about these men and why they had made an impact on everyone at that camp. By the end of our talk, I was in tears, but after hearing their stories I felt inspired and motivated to put on an amazing show for these troops. They were excited to have us and we had so much fun dancing for them. Although they weren’t there to see us, I feel that I performed that night in honor of Master Sergeant Sabalu and Colonel Harrison.
We spent the next day touring the JOCC (Joint Operating Command Center) and met the 10th Mountain Division. Right outside this building is a piece of steel from the world trade center, marked “WTC 9-11-01”. Their unit brought it with them from New York to remind them every day why they’re there. I read the letters and numbers carved into that piece of steel and took a deep breath. This is what these men and women are defending. This wasn’t just a piece of steel. It represented all of us back home. It represented freedom, bravery, and fortification. It came with them to Afghanistan and when their job was done, it would travel back home with them. I thought this was a beautiful concept and a great way to help them remember every day that they are there with a purpose.
That night was the big show at the “Clam Shell”. I was so excited for this performance, because this was the camp we had spent the most time on. We told everyone about the show and had spread the word as much as possible. Just as we suspected it was a full house and I could see familiar faces out in the crowd. After we performed, we took pictures and signed autographs for everyone. The Clam Shell was filled with so much joy that night and I was so happy to be a part of it. We spent our last day making a few more visits around camp. Our last visit was the fire station. We met the fire fighters on shift who let us ride in the truck with them and showed us around the station. They told us about a fire fighter from their station that had passed away on duty. In the middle of the station was a locker with his name on it. Inside the locker was all his gear, untouched. They decided that it wouldn’t be replaced and every year they do a workout in his name. They graciously gave us gifts so we could remember them back home. That night we were getting ready to leave camp for our next stop. I remember getting teary eyed while packing my bags, because I didn’t want to leave. I met so many wonderful people at Bagram and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Before boarding the plane, we hugged Elissa and our bus driver, who spent the every day with us. She thanked us from the bottom of her heart for visiting and lifting the spirits around the entire base and awarded us a challenge coin for our professionalism and charisma. What she told us after meant a lot to me and stuck with me for the rest of our trip, with a lump in her throat she said “thank you so much for making my boys so happy.”
We said goodbye to Bagram and boarded the C17. I think it was hard for all of us to leave, but we were excited for what was to come on the rest of our tour. Allison and I had a chance to sit in the cockpit during takeoff. It was the middle of the night, so I could see the stars like they were right outside my window and as cliché as it sounds; I actually saw a shooting star. That was another incredible view. After our long journey, we finally landed in Kuwait. This time we’d be visiting Camp Arifjon. The first people we met were the Commanding Officers. We went around and introduced ourselves to each other. We learned about the common goal at Arifjon and eventually it turned into a casual conversation about hometowns, favorite football teams, and what sports and activities we were involved in growing up. It was nice to see a different side of these higher ranking officers and I could tell they enjoyed talking about something other than work. After the talk, we were awarded with a certificate and a challenge coin. The General shook my hand and said “Thank you for being here. You really are making a difference”. All I could do was nod my head and smile. It wasn’t the first time someone had told me this, but it really sank in that time. We toured the camp and met some more troops. That night was our show. We met a lot of Dolphins fans at this base, which I thought it was so cool. They had all their Dolphins gear on and had us sign it for them. I never thought I would find so many Finatics in Kuwait. We had the next day off before our flight. We got to spend that night with three Marines in downtown Kuwait. We shared stories and told jokes over dinner. It was a great way to end our stay in the country. Later that night, it was time to board the plane to Djibouti, which meant it was also time to part ways with our amazing PSD. I thanked them for everything they had done for us and they thanked us for everything we did, and handed us a coin to show their appreciation. Each coin that was given to me had its own special meaning and with each one I received I was even more humbled.
We flew from Kuwait to Ethiopia and from Ethiopia to Djibouti. When we landed we met our guides and took a bus over to Camp Lemmonier. Growing up in Miami, I thought I could handle any type of heat. I was wrong. Djibouti is eleven degrees above the equator, which means the sun is unforgiving. I couldn’t imagine walking around camp all day, but these guys do it on a daily basis. The number one survival tip on Camp Lemmonier is to stay hydrated. After we settled into our rooms, we headed over to meet the Master and Senior Chiefs. We were staying in a naval base, so the rankings and names for people and facilities were different from what we were used to, which I thought was pretty neat. The Master Chief told us about what goes on at Camp Lemmonier and how it was different since it was a naval base. I really enjoyed our talk with the commanding officers. They were very welcoming and appreciative of our visit. They awarded us with a beautiful U.S. Navy coin and thanked us for coming. We then paid a visit to the medical center and met the medical personnel. We toured the center and on our way out, we met a man who was recovering from an accident. As soon as we walked into the room he couldn’t stop smiling. He was getting ready to get cleaned up, which can be a painful procedure, and for those few minutes we were able to take his mind off of everything. The nurses kept telling us what a hero he was and he would just modestly shake his head and say he was just doing his job. He didn’t say it in that super hero kind of way either, he said it with sincerity. I was glad we could be there right before he went into the operating room. I saw him later that day around base. He was patched up and feeling much better, once again with a smile on his face.
That night we were invited to join the troops for Karaoke. Now, I’m a dancer, not a singer, so I wasn’t sure how well this was going to go, but it ended up being one of the most fun nights of the trip. We watched different groups get up and perform and some of them were actually really talented. The floor then opened up to anyone who wanted to participate and my teammates and I went up and sang- you guessed it- Call Me Maybe. The patio was packed by the end of the night and I had met so many people. What I loved most about that night was that we could see the troops in a relaxed environment. We sang and danced all night until it was time to go.
The next morning we had breakfast at the galley and then headed over to a swim meet. There was a competition going on throughout the base called “Captains Cup”, where teams got together and competed in different sports and activities and the swim meet was part of it. After the meet, we got to watch a reenlisting happen and then visited the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), where I got to work the robots that are used to dispose of explosives. I also volunteered to try on the bomb suit. It was heavy, but I was somehow able to dance in it, which the guys found hilarious. We then stopped by the Navy Seal 303 Rescue Division. If you’ve seen Lone Survivor, this was the unit that picked up the fallen warriors after the mission. We were able to check out the actual black hawk that was part of that mission and I even got to sit in the Pilot’s seat. After that, we paid a visit to the QRF (Quick Reaction Force). This is the group that responds to any type of emergency, typically within ten minutes or less. They showed us some of the weapons they use and the tanks they drive. We took a few pictures on the tanks and stayed to chat for a little while.
That night was the performance, so we had some time freshen up and get all our costumes and props ready. This was our final show of the trip and we wanted to end it strong, so we were pumped for tonight. I remember peeking outside the dressing room and seeing a full crowd. We had already performed several times, but I was still as excited as the first night. The show was just as amazing as we expected and by the sound of the audience, I could tell they thought so too. After the performance, we signed autographs and took pictures with everyone. It was bittersweet knowing that this was our last night of the trip. After the show, a few cheerleaders and I got to meet some of the Commissioned Officers who couldn’t make it out to the show. We signed autographs for them and took pictures. We stayed for a little while so I was able to talk to a few of them. Some showed me pictures of their kids, I saw home videos of their dogs, but there was one who I remember most. We met him earlier that day at the EOD and he told me about his fiancée who he was going to marry when got home. He seemed stressed out about a lot of things, but when he talked about his fiancée, it’s like all his worries had vanished. I loved that anytime someone talked about home, the mood changed. Whether it was their dog’s hugs, their son’s laugh or their upcoming wedding day, there was something to keep them moving forward with their head high. I thought about all the things I have back home that I take for granted, the same little things that bring a smile to these men and women. After my talk with the EOD officer, I wanted to give him something for opening my eyes and reminding me why this trip is so important. I thanked him for everything and wished him a safe trip home and a beautiful wedding day. I went to shake his hand and inside my palm was an official Miami Dolphins coin. It was something to keep his head up during the rest of his deployment. He thanked me and said he wished he had something for me. I told him not to worry. He had already given me enough.
It was our last day in Djibouti, which also meant it was the last day of our trip. Before we left camp, we toured a Navy Rescue boat and took pictures with the boat crew. It was almost time to leave, so we packed our bags and got ready. The entire time, I was thinking “this can’t be over already”. Two weeks came and went and suddenly this trip of a life time was over. In just two weeks, I had changed in so many ways. My view broadened and my gratitude grew. I wasn’t only grateful for what I have back home, but for who I have protecting me oceans away. On my way home, I looked back on the entire trip. I thought of the wonderful people I met, the difference I made for those people and the difference they made for me. I went on this trip to give back to these men and women, but what I gave couldn’t amount to what I’d be taking back with me. The plane landed and we were back in Miami. It was Monday morning and I was filled with happiness for what had just been the most amazing experience of my life.
Thank you to every person that has served and currently is serving our country. Your sacrifices are greatly appreciated back home.
The military appreciation game was my favorite, most exciting and rewarding game thus far this season. We take for granted coming home and hugging our loved ones, talking about our day, celebrating holidays together, and, last but not least, watching football games with friends and family.
I was born 24 years ago on an Air Force installation during the Gulf War crisis because my dad was on active duty and packed to deploy. Growing up, I have a lot of memories that stand out about the military. We moved every three years and my dad wasn’t always present, but I had faith he would come home every time. When you are in the military, home is not a place where you physically reside, but a place where you make memories when you are together. The one constant memory that is near and dear to my heart is that I was taught integrity, love, respect, and the sacrifices these courageous men and women make each day for our freedom.
As I walked onto the field, my familiar goose bumps took over when I saw all the military branches wear their uniforms proudly. This feeling of appreciation once again reminded me how special it is coming together to sing our national anthem. It was an honor sharing the field with those who put their lives on the line so that we may live in freedom. It brought chills and tears of thankfulness to my eyes when I saw our American flag wave during the firework display to celebrate the home of the brave.
All of the military members were so thrilled to be a part of the player intro and our players surely showed their appreciation for the military during this game. The Dolphins were relentless and won by standing firm and never giving up. Having this opportunity to cheer for such a persevering team and being able to bring joy and smiles to the lives of others through dance makes me feel incredibly blessed. As a ‘Dolphins Nation’ we know that nothing is possible without the teammate next to you, which is also a key trait that the military holds. These are our heroes not just today, but everyday… we really are stronger together. We salute to your service!