A TRIBUTE TO THE "NATURE BOY" RIC FLAIR

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                   Ric Flair With Troops in Iraq

THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN IN LATE 2004 AND CREDIT ON THIS ARTICLE GOES TO CELESTE SMITH OF THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER

RIC FLAIR VISITS TROOPS:THEY BOOST HIS MORALE

Professional wrestler Ric Flair hoped to boost morale among troops with his trip last week to the Middle East and Africa.

He came home to Charlotte this week -- in awe instead at how the troops buoyed his spirits. One soldier who earned a bravery medal for serving on the front lines gave it to Flair as a gift.

Flair and other visiting wrestlers also received a plaque with a piece of the American flag that had flown on an aircraft in combat.Even military members in the hospital conveyed no complaints or fears, Flair said.

"It was the most rewarding thing I've ever been involved in," Flair told the Observer on Wednesday. "Not one negative person. ... I was really amazed at how overwhelmingly positive the guys and gals are over there."

World Wrestling Entertainment arranged the four-day trip to visit troops around the Thanksgiving holiday. Wrestlers Chris Benoit, Val Venis, Hurricane Helms, Lita and Trish visited Qatar, in the Persian Gulf region, and Djibouti in eastern Africa. At first, Flair admits he wasn't enthusiastic about making the trip, thinking "I'll come home and be dead tired ... I'm totally ashamed that I had any negative thoughts at all."

During sessions to write thousands of autographs, Flair met members of the Charlotte-based 145th Airlift Wing and posed for pictures with Staff Sgts. T. Wendell and P. Morrison, and Tech Sgts. Doug Bryant and B. Broome.

Flying on a C-130 on a 5 1/2-hour flight from Djibouti, the transport lost one of its four engines. "I wasn't crazy about that," he said. But the wrestlers never met any strangers. "They get (wrestling) over there on the Armed Forces Network," Flair said. "A lot of the kids grew up watching us."

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