OWINGS MILLS — It’s not a surprise that Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh agreed to join the inaugural NFL-USO Coaches Tour, which will spend a week in the Persian Gulf this summer visiting U.S. troops.
One of Harbaugh’s best friends from his high school days in Ann Arbor, Mich., is Jim Minick, a Colonel in the Marines Corps who has done three tours in Iraq. And the Ravens regularly invite military personnel to attend practice sessions.
"These soldiers allow us to live freely in our country," Harbaugh said at a passing camp this week. "They keep the world safe. They sacrifice for us every day. If I can help these men and women in any way, however small it might be, I will. . . .
"[Minick] was a big part of the turnaround over there, and we’ve been talking about leadership and teamwork with him ever since he was ROTC at Ball State. These guys are what America is all about. You know, we talk about team and sports. We think team is important, having each other’s back, and it is important, but we’re just a small little slice of what that means compared to the military."
Harbaugh is preparing for a busy schedule of visiting bases all over the Persian Gulf from June 30 to July 5. The trip is expected to include very little sleep and plenty of helicopter rides to meet as m any soldiers as possible.
"It will be over the Fourth of July, and I think that’s going to be pretty amazing," Harbaugh said. "From what I’ve been told, it’s going to be from dawn to midnight, a couple hours of sleep and back up again."
Besides Harbaugh, New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden are also making the overseas morale-building trip.
Harbaugh is the least experienced of the coaches selected to go on the trip.
"Maybe I’m just one of the guys that said, ‘Yes,’" he said. "Who knows? It’s going to be a great opportunity to go with some neat coaches, too. We’ll probably see Jeff this summer and then maybe we’ll see him again in January."
Harbaugh has bragging rights over Fisher following the Ravens’ AFC divisional round playoff victory over the Titans on a Matt Stover field goal in the final minutes
Last year, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell went on a USO trip with several players.
This March, Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, New York Giants linebacker Danny Clark, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and St. Louis Rams linebacker Will Witherspoon traveled to Iraq and Kuwait.
"I think everybody in this country is proud of everything that’s being done over there by our young people," Harbaugh said. "We have them out here all the time. They come out here and watch practice. They talk to our team, guys who have been through some amazing situations.
"I think I’m going to learn more and enjoy it more probably than they are, for sure. What am I going to say to them? I’m looking forward to what they have to say, and it’s going to be a neat trip.”
NOTE: Rookie linebacker Jason Phillips, a fifth-round draft pick from Texas Christian, is recovering well from surgery a few months ago to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his knee suffered at the NFL scouting combine.
Limited to individual drills for the Ravens’ offseason activities and still wearing a red jersey, Phillips is optimistic that he’ll be able to increase his activity at a rookie minicamp next week.
"I’m trying to step up a little more this week," Phillips said. "Hopefully, by next week, I’ll be able to take some reps. I just want to learn and get back into the feel of flying around. I’ve hardly ever sat out a practice before, so this has been killing me. My time will come."
Phillips said that his agent, Jordan Woy, told him this week that contract talks with the Ravens are progressing well.
"It should be done any time now," Phillips said. "We’ll get it done in plenty of time before camp."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.