Rachael’s first military tour left her proud to be an American

To say that I am grateful to have had this opportunity to travel overseas on a military tour is an understatement. Being chosen as a rookie was an honor. I come from a long history of family in the military, including a brother who was a United States Marine, so I understand the sacrifice on a personal level.  And that’s exactly what I told the military each night when I introduced myself during our show. This tour is pretty hard to put into words, but it’s my hope that my excitement during the entire trip and appreciation for our United States Military is portrayed through this post.

Our two-week military tour in September started off in Cairo, Egypt! When I was first toldimg_7545 I was chosen to travel on this trip, I cried of joy. When I heard we would be visiting Egypt, it seemed extra special. I’ve never met anyone who had traveled to Egypt. I knew how fortunate I was. It’s a place I never imagined I would visit. This country was truly unbelievable. On our first day there, we had some down time in the morning, so the Armed Forces Entertainment (AFE) took us through the city so we could get a chance to see where many Americans live and work. We made our way to the Great Pyramids of Giza. Pulling up to the pyramids was surreal. The sight was something you would imagine out of a history book: astonishing. It’s still hard to wrap my brain around the fact that I saw one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. We took some fun photos with the three pyramids in the background. It was too perfect not to capture some creative shots. We also saw the Great Sphinx of Giza which is the largest and most famous Sphinx in the world (probably the one you’re picturing). It is believed to have been built to guard the tomb where Pharaohs were buried to protect them in the afterlife. It was so interesting to learn about the history and culture of the country.

Shortly after we were off to our first base visit- what we had been anticipating! We visited a school within the U.S. Embassy, where we taught a cheer camp and football clinic led by Miami Dolphins Alumni, Olindo Mare. It was a blast! There were about a hundred kids at the camp, all full of energy… and lots of hugs! Everyone was having a great time enjoying both activities. It was so cool to talk to these young kids, hear about their lives in Egypt and where they were from back in the States. A couple hours (and a couple hundred selfies later) it was time to get ready for our show. That night was our first performance, what an adrenaline rush! During our run through and sound check before the show, I got a little emotional. I am one of eight lucky enough to be standing on an outdoor stage in Egypt about to perform for American heroes- our U.S. Military and members of the Department of Defense. It was a casual setting outside, almost like a company BBQ. It was the perfect start to our first performance, laid back and fun. The kids from our football camp sat right in the front on the grass, while the adults sat at tables outside, enjoying dinner while watching the show. We loved it! The night ended as we signed posters, took photos and met with everyone that came out. Overwhelmed with happiness, excitement and exhilaration, I was reminded of why I loved to perform in the first place. I had never felt prouder to be an American- or so I thought.

The next day was a full day of travel. We landed in Venice, Italy and took a 2-hour bus ride to Aviano Air Base in Aviano, Italy. Running on about 3 hours of sleep, we couldn’t help but be anything other than excited! We were in ITALY! It was my first time there, so I wanted to take it all in. We drove through the beautiful img_7564country side and eventually arrived to the base, which was located at the bottom of a tall mountain coated in white snow. I was in awe of how gorgeous this military base was and thankful to be able to stay on it. We grabbed some dinner on base and met with a few members of the military that were hanging outside the restaurant before the night was over. We woke up early Thursday morning to grab breakfast on base with a few military members. We ate outside, a picturesque backdrop behind us. I felt happy knowing our military was provided with such a gorgeous mountain scene to wake up to each morning. After breakfast, the day was full of visits all around the base! We were able to stop by several different squadrons and learn about each of them. This was one of the main things I had been looking forward to! We visited the Operations Squadron, Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (I felt like I was in the movie Top Gun), Security Forces, and a few others. A couple fun things we were able to participate in included a race to get dressed in firefighting gear (I lost), seeing an attack dog in action and aircrafts taking off and landing. We were also able to meet many members of the Italian military.

We grabbed lunch in the D-FAC (dining facility) where I met two young men who had been
away from home for a while. I thanked them for their service, sacrifice and unselfishness to put their life on hold to protect mine. This was by far my favorite part of the trip at each location- getting to have lunch with the military. Etta and I also met Anfred (Anfred, I hope you’re reading this!) who we will still keep in touch with through social media. He touched our hearts with his personal story. The rest of the day was full of more visits, a radio interview promoting our show that night, a visit to the Base Exchange, a cheer clinic and football camp and then finally getting ready for the show. Our performance was inside a gym on base and the audience was rowdy with many of the cheerleaders from earlier in the day, which totally pumped us up! I ended up meeting a gentleman in the military after the show that went to the same college as me in Texas. We even knew some of the same people- small world! In the morning, we ran into Anfred before getting on the bus to headimg_7835 out. It was pure coincidence, but thankfully Etta was able to tell him how much his story about his wife, family and dedication to the United States Air Force had meant to us. As we drove away, we passed Anfred who saluted our bus. We had tears in our eyes. It was so touching. An American hero… saluting us. Again, a moment I thought I had never felt prouder to be American.

Our next stop was NSA Naples base in Naples, Italy. The night we arrived, AFE and a few members of the military who were stationed in Naples, took us on a scenic bus tour through the city. I felt an overwhelming sense of peace, knowing that our military had this beautiful city to enjoy on off times. It was breathtaking to say the least. For dinner we grabbed some authentic Italian pasta and pizza and we felt very fortunate to be able to soak in some of the culture of Italy! The next morning, we headed to Carney Park just outside of Naples, where we performed during a high school football game. It was Naples vs. Rota, Spain. The football players were all children of the troops. Our Carney Park show was so unique on this trip, not only because our performance was during a halftime football game, but because it is actually the grounds of an extinct volcano! Not your average football field, huh? We walked around before the game started and chatted with military family members. I met several people who were from the Dallas, Texas area like img_7672me which is always interesting! We loved visiting with the Naples High School Cheerleaders and had a blast performing with them at halftime! It was pretty unbelievable to be performing outside for a large crowd on a beautiful day in an extinct volcano in Italy. After the game was over, we hosted another cheer and football clinic for all ages. I remember this spunky crowd in particular because they had such a blast dancing. Even the football players joined in with their uniforms still on!

The next day was an off day in the middle of a busy two weeks. We took a bus ride to the
Amalfi Coast with stops in Sorrento and Positano for photos. It’s probably the most beautiful place I have ever visited. We were able to stop in Amalfi for lunch and make a quick trip to the beach before heading back. This was all just a bonus to us being able to visit our military.

Our last stop in Italy was NAS Sigonella. We unloaded our belongings in the room and had lunch in the chow hall. This visit was the most special to me, because it was mainly U.S. Marines. I had been waiting for this since my brother was a Marine! Ooh Rah! Talking with them brought back many memories of stories my brother had told me. Most of them had been to Camp Lejeune North Carolina like my brother. The timeline of the day was similar to our previous visits- meeting troops, hosting our cheer and football clinic and getting ready for the show. The show was on base in a gym and the crowd went wild when I introduced myself as a sister to a United States Marine! We ended the show with a meet and greet, signing posters and taking tons of pictures. I loved seeing theimg_7774 people that I met earlier that day in the chow hall! The night ended with a delicious Italian meal in Catania and a walk through Duomo Square. Bachelor/ Bachelorette fans, it totally looked like a romantic scene out of the show (insert heart eyes emoji). Before we left in the morning, we surprised a group of Marines who had just completed formation. As they were dismissed, they turned to see all 8 of us standing there unexpectedly. It gave me chills. I could almost see my brother standing there in formation. I was provided the chance to see things he has told me of his daily life as a Marine. I am especially thankful of this opportunity. This base visit impressed me so much that I wasn’t ready to leave.

The last country on our trip was Spain and our first stop was Rota. When we first arrived, were blown away by the beautiful scenery. Our first day there was fast paced. We stopped at a Special Operations Unit and learned about many weapons used in training. One of the highlights was looking through night vision goggles in a dark room! Our visit with them seemed to fly by since we were all so intrigued. We took some photos before a radio interview on base. We had such a blast promoting our show on air! We visited the high school cheer team for Rota and taught them an official Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders dance. They were very talented! We loved hanging out with them and watching them later performing at the game. Now, this football game was fun! So much competition and smack talk. It was Marines vs. Air Force! The players and everyone in attendance had so much fun interacting with us during the halftime performance. This was definitely the liveliest crowd! Pretty unforgettable! A group of Marines joined us for dinner afterward in the local town, where we enjoyed tapas and typical Spanish cuisine.

img_7886So here we are, at our last stop. This military visit and performance in Moron, Spain was bitter-sweet because we knew it was the end. We started with lunch in the chow hall, introducing ourselves and joining everyone for the meal. I met two gentlemen who made me realize more than ever, how fortunate I am to be home with my family, friends and loved ones every day. It was great when the guys showed up to our performance later that night! I felt like I had known them forever. We were able to tour the entire base and see the barracks where the Marines slept. The highlight, though, was getting to sit inside the aircrafts on base. I’m back in the movie Top Gun! These were the actual aircrafts used on missions. How abnormal they were compared to commercial flights! It was interesting to talk to the pilots and learn about their jobs. After our last cheer camp and football clinic, it was time for the show. I think this performance was our best, knowing it would be our last on the tour. How thankful we were to dance our hearts out and perform to the best of our ability for our troops.

In my first year as a Miami Dolphins Cheerleader, this was the greatest experience by far and one of the most memorable of my life. I know how fortunate I am to have had this experience and especially how fortunate I am for the freedom that doesn’t come free. Thank you to every member or family member of the United States Military for your service and selflessness to serve. I can say without a doubt that after this trip, flying home was the moment I have never been more proud to be American.

 

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