Brad Butler's 10-day visit with U-S troops stationed overseas was one that the Bills guard was anticipating would be memorable, and he was not disappointed. But getting a true sense of how unpredictable war zones can be is what attached a different meaning to the whole experience.
Butler was first flown overseas to the Middle East nation of Qatar where he was driven to a rest and relaxation base for troops that were due for R&R from the fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I had two of the Buffalo Jills with me," said Butler. "We had a 45-minute drive out to the base and I was impressed with the living quarters they had for the troops out there. They have these huge warehouses, which are cargo containers on big ships, and they turn them into individual rooms and they stack on top of one another two levels high. So I caught some sleep there that first night."
The next morning Butler had a meet and greet at breakfast with the troops and found that the military makes every effort at the R&R base to give the troops a touch of home.
"The base is known as having the best food of all the military bases in the Middle East," said Butler. "They actually had the trophy right there. They try to get these guys some things that come from America. They had a Krispy Kreme donuts there, a Popeye's, a Chili's so they could get some food from back home instead of the MREs that they're used to."
When evening arrived Butler and his traveling party made their way back to the airstrip as they were scheduled to travel into Bagram, Afghanistan that night. However, those plans were quickly changed.
"We were informed at that time that there was an issue that arose, which prevented us from flying into Bagram," said Butler. "So we were not going to be able to leave that night. We then ended up finding out the next day that our whole trip to Afghanistan had been canceled because of an incident that occurred there. So I got all the way out to Qatar and unfortunately because of an incident in Bagram we weren't going to be able to fly out for a few days so they canceled our trip because they wouldn't have had enough time to get us back to catch our flight back to the U-S."
Forced to spend his entire troop visit in Qatar, Butler was naturally disappointed.
"As great as it was in Qatar I would have really enjoyed getting to visit with the troops on the front lines," he said. "Most of the guys in Qatar had been on the front lines. Most of them had gone weeks at a time without more than a half day off. So to have three or four days after eight months of hard work meant a lot to them."
Butler and the Jills made the most of their time at the R&R base with the troops that were getting some much needed rest.
"We got to watch the Super Bowl wit the guys and being an R&R base they had a nice big TV room for the guys to watch the game," said Butler. "It was a real nice base to let the troops unwind. They had a movie theater, a bowling alley, a putt-putt course. They did a lot to make these guys feel at home."
The Bills lineman also went on an excursion with some of the troops, which included a sand dune tour and a day at the beach on the Persian Gulf.
"We hung out for the day with the troops," said Butler. "It was a good time. It was impressive to see guys my age that have seen a lot and have been in the military for seven or eight years already. To see so many guys over there that were my age are there really left an impression on me. It was good to kind of bond with them."
He also pumped some iron with the troops, but no impromptu competitions arose.
"We lifted with the guys," said Butler. "They had a nice weight room there. They were very respectful of everything. We tried to take full advantage of everything while we were there."
But an image that stuck with Butler most was seeing what some troops did upon arriving at the R&R base where the military has actually grown patches of grass for the benefit of the soldiers.
"They put in some grass since most of the troops have not seen grass in over a year," Butler said. "And some of the guys would actually take their boots off when they'd come back from Iraq and just walk on the grass. It made me appreciate even more what we have in the States. We take so many things for granted every day. For them the simplest freedoms like being able to get a hamburger is a big treat for them."
What also stayed with Butler was the selfless nature of each and every troop he met.
"They were all very, very humble and appreciative of us being over there," Butler said. "I kept trying to thank them for all that they do and they wouldn't have any of it. They don't want to tell stories. There's no bravado about them. I had a really good time with them."
And though he felt the experience was rewarding, Butler is determined to get to Afghanistan to see the troops that are in a more heightened state of readiness to fully grasp what it is that they do each and every day.
"I absolutely will try to go again next year," said Butler. "Obviously the main goal is to get to the Super Bowl and I'd love to make it far in the playoffs next year and that will be the number one goal. If that doesn't happen then the second goal is to make it over to Afghanistan and see those guys."
Butler speaking at Lafayette HS
Fresh off his trip to the Persian Gulf, Butler will be speaking at Lafayette high school in Buffalo Wednesday morning Feb. 11.
"My message will center around famed distance runner Roger Bannister who broke the four-minute mile barrier," said Butler. "I believe that mental barriers not physical ones are what keep you from attaining most of your goals, so I'm going to encourage the kids to push past those."
Butler was to be paid a $500 stipend for taking part in the school's speaker series, but he has asked that it be donated back to the school and awarded to a student upon graduation.