Troops chat with Coach Cal

Story and photos by Sgt. Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

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University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari and Kentucky Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini talk with deployed Guardsmen via Skype from Calipari’s office in Lexington, Ky., Jan. 8, 2013. The call connected the coach with Kentucky Soldiers in Africa and Camp Shelby, Miss. (Kentucky National Guard photo by Sgt. Scott Raymond)

LEXINGTON, Ky. — For some Kentucky Guardsmen, being deployed overseas got a little bit easier on January 8, 2013 with a unique opportunity to chat with University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari.  A Skype conference from the UK campus connected the coach and Kentucky Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Edward W, Tonini with Soldiers in the Horn of Africa and Camp Shelby, Miss.

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University of Kentucky sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer waves to troops watching a skype conference with coach John Calipari and adjutant general Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini in Lexington, Ky., Jan. 8, 2013. Deployed Guardsmen had the opportunity to talk with Calipari and Wiltjer about UK’s season. (Kentucky National Guard photo by Sgt. Scott Raymond)

“It was really exciting to have the unique opportunity to speak to Coach Cal, a first for me,” said Staff Sgt. Robbie Simpson of the 1st Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery, currently in Camp Shelby. “And is was an enjoyable break from the training schedule. It felt like home for a few.”

To see more photos from this story, click here.

Deployed Kentucky Guardsmen have said that one of the worst things about being away from home is being away from UK basketball. Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery serving in Djibouti, Africa donned their blue t-shirts and hung a UK flag as a backdrop for the call.  The Soldiers of the 1/623rd just recently arrived in Mississippi where they are preparing to deploy to Jordan in the coming weeks.

But for a short time, Djibouti and Camp Shelby might have well been Rupp Arena for the Soldiers, as they reveled in the chance to ask Coach Cal questions and give him their opinions of how the Wildcats are doing this season.

Sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer also made a surprise appearance to talk with the troops and flash his “three googles,” (you may need to be a UK fan to understand that one).

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University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari shows off his 2012 NCAA National Championship ring to deployed Soldiers during a Skype call from Lexington, Ky., Jan. 8, 2013. Calipari took the opportunity to thank the Soldiers for their service and dedication to his team. (Kentucky National Guard photo by Sgt. Scott Raymond)

Calipari shared his thoughts on the Wildcats, both this year and last, and showed off the 2012 NCAA National Championship ring to the troops.  He commended them for their courage, thanking them for their service to Kentucky and the country.

“His remarks and the genuine comments that were made is an example of the true ambassador that he has become for the entire state, not just sports or for the military, but for the citizens as well,” said Simpson.

“Coach Cal has shown an incredible willingness to be with us, to be part of us, we consider him a Guardsman, even though he’s a basketball coach,” said Tonini. “He’s part of our team and everyone knows that and appreciates that.”

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