Heat get an up-close look at the Air Force life

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EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, FLA. (AP) - Pat Riley got a kiss from a 5-year-old girl with a yellow ribbon tied in her hair, then climbed the steps toward the cockpit of an F-15 fighter.

It’s not easy for Riley to be awed.

This scene more than did the trick.

Training camp became basic training for the Miami Heat on Thursday, when the team’s players, coaches and staff spread across two U.S. Air Force bases in Florida’s Panhandle for events with airmen, including simulated ground combat, meet-and-greets with families and seeing how bombs get loaded onto jets.

“I think it’s one of the best things that I’ve ever experienced,” said Riley, the Hall of Fame coach and Heat president. “I hope the players take a lot out of it, too.”

Seems like that’s the case.

Around the time Riley took a seat at the controls of the jet _ “I had my finger on the trigger,” he proudly said afterward _ LeBron James had a hand over his heart in another area of Eglin Air Force Base, listening to The Star-Spangled Banner. Over at Hurlburt Field, where practices have been held, Dwyane Wade and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra visited a youth center and toured a flight simulator.

An afternoon without basketball might have been the best part of Miami’s day.

And it was something their hosts won’t soon forget.

“It’s cool,” said All-Star forward Chris Bosh, one of the touted Heat newcomers this season. “I mean, it’s really cool. They’re excited to meet us and see us and everything, and the service that they do, the level of sacrifice for our country, I think it’s very important and it just makes it cool that they’re happy to see us.”

Sadie Grissom, 5, was upset with her parents when they decided Monday night’s arrival ceremony for the Heat was too late for her to attend. So when Tech Sgt. Matthew Grissom and his wife Meredith heard that some Heat players were coming by Eglin again Thursday, that quickly got added to their calendar.

Riley gave Sadie an autograph. Sadie gave Riley a kiss.

“I am flabbergasted,” Meredith Grissom said. “It’s absolutely unreal that they would do something like this.”

The Heat came to Eglin and Hurlburt for the first week of their season for many reasons, one of them being the franchise’s desire to continue honoring members of the Armed Services. It’s been a personal passion of Riley’s for many years, and he quietly found time this week to attend the service for a fallen airman.

For Thursday’s events, they broke out all the stops. Much like the “15 Strong” cards Riley ordered during Miami’s run to the 2006 NBA title, more cards got broken out on this trip. One side said “Home Strong” with a photo of an American flag, the other side said “Forever” _ accompanied by a photo of the NBA championship trophy.

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