Strange things happen when you pluck American civilians out of our convenience-filled and technology-saturated everyday life and fling them into a war zone thousands of miles away. Things like ...
The supermodel gets inspired by the beauty of women whose morning routine focuses on boots and body armor rather than hair and makeup.
The master of the quip finds himself choked by emotion.
A 70-year-old living legend eagerly attends to a 20-year-old lance corporal.
“I was surprised how many women there were as sailors and soldiers,” said Haven who, works as a model when not fire-suited up for IndyCar trophy presentations. “They are young, beautiful, smart women. And you’re like 'Wow.' You see them walking around they have guns strapped to their legs and it’s so empowering. You just look at them and it’s just inspirational, because they’re tough. There just as tough if not tougher than some of the men out there.”
Haven said even her role in the tour — which at first glance seemed to be a cross between eye candy and walking photo op — quickly became more about inner beauty than exterior appearance.
“This was way beyond how I was looking but more about my attitude. That’s what people are going to respond to,” said Haven, who estimates she posed for about 4,000 photos during the trip. “Of course as a model you have to have that outside beauty, and that’s something that’s there, but in my job it’s almost more important to have that inside beauty and that was what I was trying to have come across here on this trip.”
A former Playboy model focusing on inner beauty? That’s almost as flipped-on-its-head as the class clown getting teary and seeing the hand of God at work.
Jack Arute, whose personality idles at “gregarious,” joined a long list of people who discovered that military hospitals administer massive doses of humility and perspective to all able-bodied civilians who dare to visit.
“It’s like the guy I talked about on my blog, who got his legs blown off (Jack’s blog post here),” Arute said. “And he sits there and says, ‘you know I was really lucky because where they amputated it, my prosthesis will fit and I won’t have a lot of problem.’ There wasn’t a single time where he said ‘why me?’, any of them. None of them are sitting there saying ‘boo-hoo.’ The only time I saw this Marine break down and cry only when talked leaving his buddies behind. That he had let them down because he wasn’t there anymore. You know what does to your life? We were all having coffee later and we all said 'our lives are shit (in comparison.)' ”
Arute said that the people in the IndyCar group offered a great diversity of experience that helped them connect with troops.
“Each one (of the group) had a unique story,” said Arute, “and each one had the type of a story that someone in the crowd could relate to. When we were in the hospital, Davey (Hamilton) shared what he went through (recovering from massive injuries sustained while racing). Mario (Andretti) talking about being in a displaced person’s camp after World War II. Sarah (Fisher) talking about women in (male-dominated) racing. It was just amazing. In some cases I think it was divine Providence that no matter what came our way there was someone within our group who could relate to it and share a story.”
Haven said her thrill was in the giving, whether it was making small talk and signing autographs, smiling for thousands of photos or helping give 254 rides in the IndyCar two-seater in Bahrain, Incirlik Turkey, RAF Mildenhall and RAF Honington (British Base) in the UK.
“One of the coolest thing we were able to do was run the two seater in England and some of the other countries,” said Haven “and actually have some of the soldiers experience what it’s really like riding in the back seat of a two-seater with Mario Andretti as a driver. For me, that was just great because now we’re doing more than just going over there and doing presentations and signing autographs. Now we’re really taking their mind off the things they are doing day in and day out and putting it on something most Americans will never get a chance to do. In most countries they just did a raffle, and the people who were chosen to ride were just completely random. You could see the expression on their faces as they got out of the car, just thrilled.”
And while giving everything they could to the troops and offering what seemed like woefully inadequate thank yous, Arute said members of the IndyCar group itself learned more about each other.
“I left that tour with 10-fold more respect and admiration for a man like Mario Andretti," said Arute. "He, right from day one, assumed the mantle of leadership. In all the things I have never been involved in I have never been led with such humility, understanding and energy as I was by him. This guy is 70 years old. We’re talking about a tour where we were lucky if we got two hours of sleep. All the rest of us complained; I never once heard Mario complain. Mario was always there, always said the right thing. This guy … I would go to hell with a bucket of water with Mario Andretti.”
As is often the case, those who seek to give on such trips report they actually receive much more in return.
"We just really wanted to thank them for their service. You can say it every day but every day wouldn't be enough to thank them for everything they are sacrificing," said Haven. "For me to have been in their presence and to have the honor to meet so many of them and to help put a smile on their faces makes me feel great. It’s an experience I will hold dear to my heart for a lifetime and will never forget."
IndyCar participants: Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford, Al Unser Jr., Jack Arute, Sarah Fisher, Davey Hamilton, Larry Foyt, Martin Plowman, Cameron Haven and Dave Lewandowski.
- People traveling on the tour included 27 people with Morale Entertainment group and 10 Air Force crew members on the KC-135 for a total of 37
- The tour visited troops at 7 bases in Germany, Bahrain, Joint Base Balad – Iraq, Turkey and the United Kingdom and visited the Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier (that has 4,900 total personnel sailing aboard)
- Members of the tour also supported a US State Department request at Cukurova University in Adana, Turkey