Hoffman Bikes' Brad Simms didn't know what he was getting himself into when he checked his Facebook account in May. In his inbox, a message from Nicole Burdett of Pro Sports MVP, asking Brad if he would be interested in traveling to Kuwait and Iraq to meet with the U.S. military. Never one to say no to a fresh travel opportunity, Brad agreed to the trip. Thinking back, Simms is quick to credit his online accessibility for the opportunity: "I always tell people to actually check their messages on MySpace and Facebook because that's the only way some people know how to get in contact with you."
On July 13, Simms, along with skateboarder Jen O'Brien, freeskier Sarah Burke, and snowboarders Nate Holland and Grete Eliassen, embarked on a ten-day meet and greet journey throughout Kuwait and Iraq under the banner 'X Games Meets The Troops.' Created by Pro Sports MVP, a full-service sports and entertainment marketing firm that has already implemented nearly 100 goodwill military tours and programs for the Armed Forces over the past several years, X Games Meets The Troops is next in a long line of professional athletes and Hollywood stars that have visited troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait courtesy of Pro Sports MVP.
According to Pro Sports MVP spokeswoman Nicole Burdett, "The meet and greets and walking tours of the bases serve to bring a smile to the faces of the soldiers as they have a rare opportunity to meet their favorite extreme athletes, and get a welcome change in their often monotonous routines." Adding that the X Games granted Pro Sports MVP permission to use the X Games name, Burdett goes on to say, "ESPN and the X-Games agreed that this tour is a great morale boost to the deployed troops and were happy to officially be a part of the cause."
The same could be said for Brad Simms. Though the seasoned street vet has traveled the world to ride and compete, including X Games Dubai in December of 2007, this trip marked Brad's first time in both Kuwait and Iraq. Not to mention his first time fishing in manmade lakes outside of Saddam Hussein's former palace, flying in Black Hawk helicopters or sipping Seattle's Best Coffee in Baghdad. While stationed at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Brad hit up ESPN BMX for the following interview. By the time you read this, Brad will be competing on the street course at X Games 15 in Los Angeles. But just one week before that, he was flying around in military helicopters, enduring 135 degree temperatures and doing his part to give back to his country. Here's Brad's take on the tour.
Hey Brad, how's it going?
Good. It's nuts out here. Saddam's palace is crazy.
You're fishing in a man made lake at Saddam's palace?
I was earlier today. I caught two fish. Sarah Burke (Canadian freeskier, also competed in X Games) caught this pretty decent sized carp. Probably around four pounds. I thought it was going to pull her in the water. Everything is going good though. We're base hopping tomorrow in a Black Hawk helicopter. So far I've been on it four or five times. And two rides in the C-130.
What's a C-130?
A big plane. The huge planes they use to fly around tanks.
Do you feel safe or is it sketchy?
I feel alright. I want to go into downtown Baghdad but we're not allowed.
How hot is it there?
115 today, but when we were in Kuwait it was 135. It felt like I was walking around with a blow dryer in my face. It's no joke. And when we fly into places on the C-130, we dive in combat style. They dive straight down.
Are you gonna join the army now?
No. More good is done out here than I ever imagined though.
I was talking to the general the other day and I said "Wow, I didn't know you all were doing good things too! I personally thought you were just blowing s**t up." But they're showing the Iraqi leaders how to run a democracy with trial court systems and everything.
It felt like I was walking around with a blow dryer in my face.
Yeah. The crazy thing is we don't really know anything. 90% of the time we're on a need to know basis.
Because of safety reasons?
Yeah. It's really high security.
Have you shot any guns yet?
No, tomorrow I will. I watched this soldier fire some warning shots out when we were on the Black Hawk yesterday.
What's the craziest thing about that place?
I don't know. I've heard a lot of crazy s**t. Supposedly, there is a manmade safari around here that Saddam would go and hunt with his friends. Hyenas and whatever else you can think of. I also heard there is a solid gold toilet here.
Are they keeping you busy?
Not really busy. It's just we have to base hop with the Black Hawks. Suiting up and waiting for them to get here takes time.
What kinda suits do you have to wear?
Helmet and Kevlar vest.
Is that blast proof?
Depends what you get blasted with... You know one really crazy thing he did to the people around here. Guess how he filled up his man made lakes around the palace? He took the city's water supply for six months. All the water around the palace is tap water.
Give me some more Saddam dirt.
I think his sons might have been worse. I heard he lined up his whole soccer team on a firing line and killed them because they loss some game.
Good thing he didn't have any riders in the X Games.
Seriously! I would have been dead a long time ago.
Have you gotten to meet a lot of Iraqi citizens?
I met quite a few today. They have this place called the Bazaar. All of them spoke really good English. It's a village market place, and there are soldiers from Uganda at all the entrances with loaded weapons. They'll put some hot ones in you without a doubt.
Are the troops psyched on talking to you?
For sure. Some of them are let down about not getting to see a demo but they're happy to see new faces and talk about new things to people. One soldier had the Ride BMX mag with my recent Q&A in it. That blew my mind. He was a rider. And two or three others rode too.
Never in a million years did I think the soldiers on base ate this good. First night I got into Kuwait, I had steak and lobster. They have huge buffets, with practically anything you want to eat.
Yeah. Subway. Pizza Hut, Cinnabon, etc. I was eating this really big t-bone steak last night and this soldier says to me, "You like the food here?" I said, "Yeah, what's wrong with it? You guys eat good out here." He said it was terrible! I was like, "Well you could be on the field eating that pouch food."
Have they told you any stories about soldiers getting ambushed?
Yeah. Afghanistan is where is the real deal is at. Basically what they say is that they don't fight fair, but what fight is fair? A few years back, before you were allowed to bring backpacks into the lunch room, some Iraqi guy walked in with a backpack on and blew it up inside. He killed quite a few people. The general we partied with last night was in there.
Yeah, the deputy general.
Are you looking forward to coming back home?
Yeah, I need to escape the heat. This is the first time I've ever warn sunglasses every day all day before in my life.
Thanks for that Brad.