I’m gonna try to crowd-fund the two short films I’ve just written. There are plenty of CD, DVD, t-shirt, and download rewards for contributing to this campaign. Please check out the project’s Kickstarter page if you have even a mild interest in participating. – Direction & The Exchange Kickstarter Page
I want to thank you for coming to Bagram and putting on a great performance.
I think the sign of a good show is if people are still talking about it and repeating the jokes two days after you left, and I assure you we were.
I’ve extended my tour here until Dec. 31, 2014, the day combat operations end in Afghanistan and U.S. involvement in the war is over….for all practical purposes.
If you come back before then, please let me know. I’ll still be here and will buy you a free meal at the DFAC. That’s the least I can do. No seriously…that is the least I can do. I’ve tried to think of other things, but there is nothing even remotely less than that.
BTW, feel free to make lots of President Karzai jokes. If you haven’t figured it out yet, he very well may be bat-shit crazy.
I’m glad you are reading my posts now that you are gone, rather than before you came, otherwise you probably would have changed your mind about coming.
Thanks again for your four-man USO show and what you did for the troops. You and the gang are great Americans and Bob Hope would most certainly be proud.
Stay safe, and stay funny.
Each stop along the way on this trip, we were met with enormous gratitude. The point of going overseas to entertain the troops is to thank them for their service. To thank them for putting their lives on pause. And constantly at risk. But all they did was thank us. All they did was give us gifts and take us on amazing tours and show us incredible demonstrations. The troops were eager to chat and show us what they do each day. Every solider I sat with seemed relieved to be having a conversation with someone outside the military. They were so happy to get a smidgeon of attention from some homefront civilians – they seemed so thrilled to see that someone had some interest in them, someone remembered them.
Thursday night we played our last show. It was at the same venue, the Manas Transit Center, that was also supposed to host our first show last week, but that show was cancelled due to travel changes. Looking at the arc of our trip, in a selfish way I’m sort of glad we did the Manas show last. The Transit Center is the stop in Kyrgyzstan where troops are either arriving to go in to Afghanistan, or leaving the region to get away from Afghanistan. Since there’s no war going on in Kyrgyzstan, troops are much more at ease. They’re even allowed to drink alcohol. The venue was packed. Maybe four or five hundred people. And a good number of them were heading home. Hundreds of soldiers, in uniform, heading home from war. As were we. And even though it’s a silly character, I’m dressed as a quintessentially American rhinestone cowboy and standing on a stage with a huge American flag backdrop behind me. It was absurdly larger than life, while somehow at the same time more grounded than I’ve ever been. This wasn’t a movie set or a play, this was real. And easily the most patriotic moment I have ever and could ever possibly experience. So here I am, ready to entertain and thank these soldiers in this surreal surrounding. But what do they do? Before we can perform, they present us with gifts of thanks. And not just greeting cards, they held a ceremony on stage in front of everyone and presented each of us with an American flag. Flags that flew on planes during refueling missions. Flags that were part of the war. I’m on stage and supposedly about to do a comedy show… I just about burst into tears.
Why did they thank us so much? That ceremony. The tours and demonstrations we were given. The trip itself. The gratitude during shows. None of it was about the particular comics touring – of course not, we’re all no-namers. But, no one we met cared about our lack of fame one bit. All the shows were packed. They learned our names as we learned theirs. And we were all happy to meet. Events like this tour are about the melding of our armed forces with the folks they protect. The separation between military and citizen has become enormously distant, but somebody in the DOD and the USO knows that relationships are about communication. As comfy citizens, we mostly don’t have any real concept of the sacrifices these brave volunteers make for us. And the troops spend many months or years overseas in strange, unwelcoming, and often inhabitable places with the huge potential to feel alone and maybe forgotten because they rarely hear from home. Trust me, days in Afghanistan go slowly. Sure we four comics made them laugh – there’s a chance that at this very moment a couple dozen soldiers are out patrolling while they hum ‘I miss her… vagina.‘ And I hope that helps out at a certain level. But more importantly, this trip made us realize that our privileged lifestyle comes at a price. A fare these troops are paying for us. The countries we travelled through clearly struggle; their quality of life is so far below the American expected standard, it’s not even comparable. It’s our incredibly strong and dedicated military that protects the standards of living we’ve come to know. We must thank them for this. And remind them that they are part of the family too. And show them that the gifts and efforts they give are not unappreciated.
It’s terrific that the internet and social networks have allowed us to share the pictures and stories from this incredible trip. It feels like it wasn’t just the four of us who travelled to the war zone, but maybe four hundred. Maybe more. I experienced quite a paradigm shift in my appreciation for the sacrifices our troops make. Perhaps some of our Facebook friends did too. I now feel as though I didn’t only go over there simply to entertain, but really to learn. And also to share. Thanks for following along. Feel free to approach Debbie, Lang, Suzy or myself to ask about our experiences. But be warned, we may drone on about it for a while… perhaps as long as the US-Afghani War.
And I must mention a special thanks to all of the MWR personnel who made this trip such a wonderful experience – Tammy, Rebecca, Jeff, Marc, and Jean – and so many more. Your efforts and contributions need to be acknowledged and thanked too. Sure, you’re bringing a bit of home to the troops, but you’re also sending an admiration for these service men and women back home in our hearts and stories. Deep thanks to all.
I wrote the first part of this blog on a C-17. Wish there was a font I could use to show what my handwriting actually looks like while journalling back here.
We spent one night in Bagram, a city/base close to the Pakistani border. It’s a more pleasant terrain compared to Camp Leatherneck, which seemed to be in the middle of a horribly dusty dessert in the middle of nowhere. But, Bagram has shrubs and trees; the troops there seemed more content than those at Leatherneck. …which says a lot about shrubs and trees when you learn that Bagram has mortar attacks more or less daily. We experienced one during last night’s dinner. Dinner in Bagram goes like this: Grab all the food you want to eat (always way more than you need), engage in pleasant conversation, hear a strange alarm sound off, watch half the people in the DFAC (dining facility) dive under their tables, check out the shock and fear in your fellow comic’s eyes, watch them dive under the table, realize the pleasant conversation is now happening under the table, decide to join them. There were 4 terrified comics and about 40 annoyed staff members lying on the floor. The other 50 people eating in the place went on with their dinner as if nothing had occurred. We had to wait in the DFAC for about thirty minutes as security scanned the impact zone. So, of course, I grabbed more ice cream. If I’m going to die.. I’m going down with Cookies N Cream.
While in Bagram, we met with General McConville. …You know, the guy in charge of this sector of the war. We met in his office. He had a terrain model map of the region and showed us exactly where the Taliban are, where we are, and where Pakistan is (just a few miles away). We went over our strategies. He told us winning this one means training the Afghanis to defend themselves and he believes they are just about able to do so. We gave a few suggestions… I simply asked that after we win, would he please change this stupid 1/2 hour time zone thing back to something normal. He was quick to tell me that Nepal, Chatham, and parts of Australia have time zones that are offset by 15 minutes. … I was stunned… No wonder those people are always late. Guess we’ll be invading Australia soon. I also asked him who Stan was and why every country around here was named after him. I thought I stumped him, but he deferred to his First Lieutenant who was also his interpreter; he told me that ‘stan’ means ‘land’. I didn’t see that coming. These guys are smart. And were extremely generous and friendly. This General was a Boston guy. Grew up in Quincy. Sox fan. Even took some classes at Tufts. We all bonded. And we promised to play for him again in his next war. As we left, he asked if we were now going to do General jokes. I told him absolutely not… comedy is all in the specifics.
After tonight’s show, we leave the war and head back to the battle… on a 3am flight heading towards LA. The trip may be over. But life with a new perspective is about to begin.
(Great shot of the Old Russian Tower and the USO Brass Band that opened for us.)
I’m not exactly sure how long we’ve been here at this point. The days are starting to blend together. It’s weird that it’s not the same day that it is back at home – its almost a twelve hour differential. In fact it is an 11 hour, 30 minute difference from Pacific Standard Time. Afghanistan HAD to be different. They couldn’t agree on which time zone to be in, so they had to be difficult and created their own right in the middle. So now I miss half of every show I try to TiVo! It’s very irritating. No wonder every country invades… (just kidding, Ajmal)
But between the strange time, the jet lag, the heat, and the packed schedule, it’s become exhausting. It’s been about a week and I have to admit I’m kind of ready to go home. But then I think it’s got to be really tough for the troops and support folks.. they’re here for 7 to 9 months at a time, if not more.
It does energize me to meet and chat with the people over here. For the most part, they all seem to be excited to tell us about their function and experiences. I was concerned that they might be annoyed to have ignorant civilians hanging around, but it’s quite the opposite. Everyone’s happy to have us over to their base area and show us their toys and purpose. The group we performed for last night was the air rescue squad known as PEDRO. They are actual superheroes.. They swoop in from the sky in helicopters, often under fire, grab injured soldiers, perform medical aid as they fly them to hospitals. These animals are often hoisted down on ropes to grab the wounded and flown away while they’re dangling. They’re all freakin stunt people… but it’s not a movie and it’s definitely not special effects. This has to be the most exciting job on Earth. They told me there is often a huge emotional release from the soldiers when they realize they are actually going to live. How rewarding must it be to save someone who believes they are about to die. Incredible. When this is all over, how do these superheroes just go back to their desk jobs in the accounting department?
Our scheduled trip to another base today was cancelled. The V-22 wasn’t available to fly us back. And the girls voted down my idea of hitchhiking, so we stayed put and just rested. Tonight is our biggest show on this base, it’s in the Town Hall center, which is just and extra, extra large tent. There will probably be a couple hundred or so in the audience. .. and I’m just counting machine guns.
Tomorrow we fly to Bagram for another show. Stay overnight there. Then back to Kyrgyzstan for our biggest show. Then home. I’m tired right now, but I’m really going to miss this place. Well, that’s not true. This place sucks. But this experience has been amazing and the people have been welcoming, grateful, and happy to see us.
Tough Crowd… Literally. I told them I wanted to take a picture for the folks at home to show them what Saddam Hussain saw when he climbed out of his hole… he must have thought all the folding chairs were strange. Zoom in and count how many machine guns you can see. Some guys are watching the show with them strapped around their neck. Others were kind enough to put them under their chairs.
We did our first show last night. It was for the Special Operations Group which includes Army Rangers, Green Berets, Navy Seals, plus special ops forces from Britain and Denmark. I guess the show went well… no comedian was shot or gutted.
They let us play on an RG-33 MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected) vehicle. This literal monster truck has a V shaped hull to deflect mines and IEDs, operator controlled pressurized tires that inflate based on terrain, and a 50 caliber machine gun on top that is operated remotely by an occupant using a heat vision camera and video game controller. All these guys do is play video games! The driver took me for a spin around the base – I said we needed milk and eggs. He told me I could buy one of these MRAPs for only 1.5 million dollars. I agreed to purchase after he assured me next year’s model would be available as a hybrid.
This morning we met with the Garrison HQ commanders. Two were from Long Island and two were from SoCal – my peps! They were all civilians – some retired military, some just looking for adventure. A civilian force here is essential. They handle the base’s maintenance and operations needs, allowing the skilled military personnel to focus on their defensive missions and tasks. It’s as if this has all been planned out or something. Very impressive. The place runs very smoothly. But everyone seems really bored to be honest. No one is ever in a rush. It may be the insane heat. It was 109 Thursday and 104 Friday. Driving 15 mph is fast- probably because the cars have A/C. One soldier told me he hasn’t been in a rush to get somewhere since January. I guess if you’re in a war, boredom and the lack of urgency are terrific problems.
Today we get a tour of Scan Eagle…. the drones!!!!! Look, I love peace and tranquility more than anyone, but these toys are so cool.
Tonight we have a show at the Afghan Cultural Center for representatives of the local community. We Can’t do any sexually offensive material. Our show should be about a minute forty-five….