"It was a trip of a lifetime."
That is how guard David DeCastro described the USO Tour he recently returned from. A tour that had him travel 25,400 nautical miles and go around the world in six days, 17 ½ hours. It was a trip where he spent a third of his time, around 52 hours, on an airplane. A trip that left him without much sleep, and struggling to get back on schedule when he returned, but one he wouldn't trade for anything in the world.
"It's something you don't get to do every day and will never do again," said DeCastro. "It was really special. It was so much in such a little time. It was such a whirlwind, so many cool life experiences. The best trip of my life wrapped into one fast week."
David DeCastro helps support our troops overseas by taking part in a USO tour.
DeCastro was part of a contingent that took part in the USO Tour led by Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Jr. DeCastro was invited by Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, his college teammate at Stanford. Also taking part were Colts Coach Chuck Pagano, tight end Dwayne Allen, American Idol alumni Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young, American film, stage and television actor Dennis Haysbert , Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev, platinum recording artist and season 11 "American Idol" winner Phillip Phillips and motion picture and television personality Jason "Wee Man" Acuna.
The tour began at the Naval Support Activity Bethesda, where they visited the troops at the Walter Reed Military Medical Center.
"There weren't too many troops there, which was nice because you hate to see a lot of them injured," said DeCastro. "It's tough because you wonder how do you relate to these guys and talk to them about what they have been through. Then you talk to them and they open up. I had a lot of good conversations with some amazing people. It was eye opening and changes how you look at life."
It was then that the tour kicked into high gear and the frequent flyer miles started to add up fast. The group boarded a C-17 cargo aircraft, one with the capability of carrying a tank and three Blackhawk helicopters, but instead refitted with seating and cots for the group.
"I couldn't fit on the cot because of the weight limit," joked DeCastro. "It was comfortable, though, and the food on the plane was good. The Admiral brought his chef along and made things on the plane I didn't think you could make on a plane. It was really good food."
The first stop was Ramstein Air Base in Germany where after meeting with military officials it was time to put on the first show for the troops at a shopping mall located on the base.
While Phillip Phillips and the like entertained the group with music, Luck and Allen did football drills while DeCastro said he "just lent them a hand."
The top photos of Guard David DeCastro throughout 2014 season.
"It was mainly those two doing a ball drill, bringing guys up and throwing to them," said DeCastro. "If they caught it they would get a hat. I brought Steelers stuff too and would give out things. I would help out, pick the people out of the audience to take part and have fun.
"There were a lot of great Steelers fans there and everywhere we went. It's crazy. There were times when the Steelers chants definitely outnumbered the Colts chants. I let the others know about it as much as I could."
It wasn't a long stay in Germany, though. After the show it was back in the air for a two hour flight to the Naval Support Base in Naples, Italy.
"There wasn't much down time," said DeCastro. "There was a show in Germany in the morning, then we did a show at a high school on the base in Naples that night for the troop's families."
The contingent set off for their next destination, somewhere DeCastro never imagined he would be, the Middle East. Stops included Bahrain in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan, where Bagram was the main stop. However, a stop in Kabul was cancelled when the Blackhawk helicopter they were flying in couldn't get through the pass in the mountains because of weather.
"I have never been to the Middle East," said DeCastro. "There was a Navy base in Bahrain so we went and did a meet and greet with some of the Marines and the people that guard the base.
We did another show there.
"We took off one morning in a smaller plane where you fly off an aircraft carrier. That was crazy. There was a little G Force. The take off was crazy because you are in a catapult thing where the fighter jets take off. You go from zero to 150 in three seconds. Your blood rushes to your hands and feet. You are holding on, facing backwards. You come off the ship and you dip and climb."
After a stop in Diego Garcia, a tiny island located just south of the equator in the central Indian Ocean, it was on to what would be the most surreal stop of the trip, the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
"It was the craziest. That was wild," said DeCastro. "It was kind of surreal. You were tired, but you appreciated what was going on. There was a building where one side is North Korea and one is South Korea. We were there on a day they don't do tours, but when the guards saw us they knew something was up and they started taking pictures of us. They wanted to know who is who. It's a high tension area and you feel it. It was tense. You are watching over your shoulder, watching your back the whole time."
After that, it was back to the United States where the tour ended in Hawaii and a somber visit to the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, before a show for the troops stationed in the area.
"I had a great time and enjoyed every moment of it," said DeCastro. "I was excited for it. I was like a little kid with all of the things I was getting to see.
"The best part was meeting the troops. I was so excited to see them, see what they go through, what they do. It was a cool experience for me. It was nice to see how happy they were and hopefully we gave them a little morale boost. Seeing the sacrifice, how long they are there, seeing how young they are. I didn't realize how young they are. It made me feel old when I saw some of them. It's eye opening."