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.