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Supporting "Enduring Freedom" [more photos]
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN, (January 13, 2003) — Nigel Hook has fire in his belly. That fire, some call it courage, sparks his efforts to take on some of the world's best powerboat racers every year on the APBA Offshore race circuit.
In December, the internationally acclaimed powerboat racer took that fire to the United States Army. Hook, throttleman for the Lucas Oil Offshore Powerboat race team, joined several other world class racers from NASCAR and NHRA in an overseas salute to more than 30,000 troops. "We were face-to-face with the true heroes of the world. Their courage is amazing," Hook said. "We're race drivers. Our job is to win a race. But these guys are fighting for a much more important race, our freedom. It was my honor to salute them," Hook said.

The tour, part of the Armed Forces Entertainment Program, in support of "Operation Enduring Freedom," departed in the last days of December and returned after the New Year. "The troops were thrilled to have our group come over," Hook said. "We spent some time in Kyrgyzstan, home of the Coalition Forces. There were forces there from all over the world. It was good to see the peace effort supported at an international level. America is not in it alone."

[photo left: Geoffrey Bodine, Jerry Nadeau, Nigel Hook, and Gary Lewis]

The Army, grateful for the racers' visit, said it made a great difference. "They truly went above and beyond the call of duty," said Maj. Amy Hannah of the U.S. Army. "At every location we visited, their words and presence were an inspiration to the soldiers. They definitely provided them a respite from the daily grind of a long and stressful deployment. They will remember the visit as a highlight in future years."

The 7-day tour also made a stop in Afghanistan. "That was the first time I'd been in a combat zone. It was pretty intense…flying in at night through a combat zone offered a real perspective and appreciation for the sacrifice our servicemen make for our freedom," Hook said. While in Afghanistan the group stopped in Bagram and Kandahar. The tour also included stops in Kuwait.

[photo right: Kyrgystan — Jerry Nadeau, Nigel Hook, Special Forces man and dog, Gary Lewis, and Geoffrey Bodine]

A highlight of the trip: racing's goodwill ambassadors flew from camp to camp in Blackhawk helicopters, drove A-1 tanks, Hummers and shot machine guns. "But the best part was interacting with the troops. They were all so committed to supporting their countries," Hook said. "I'm glad to let Americans know that our troops are very confident, focused and upbeat, displaying a leadership like none I've seen before. John Keane, the 4-star general who is in charge is a magnificent guy, a total leader, " Hook said.

In addition to offering words of encouragement, gratitude and support, the racers, Hook, NASCAR's Jerry Nadeau, Gary Lewis, Brett and Geoff Bodine and NHRA's Tony Schumacher signed autographs for thousands of troops. "Now 30,000 of the world's troops know about APBA Offshore and understand how much we appreciate what they're doing," Hook said. "Because they fight we can live in freedom." [more photos]

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