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….
I’m a window seat kind of guy. I like the ability to track movement, velocity, elevation, direction, time of day, etc. by looking out the airplane’s window. None of that happens on a C-17. They lock palettes of seats along the cargo hull floor. You sit there. You hear loud, very loud engine noises. You feel the forces of movement, but you have no visual to confirm them. The “checked” bags and the rest of the payload are packed in bins right behind you. You sit there and just accept that in a little while they’ll land, lower the ramp, and you’ll walk out in some other place. Happily, I was able to conk out immediately. The day’s adventures exhausted me, so I slept the whole flight, until that hard bounce landing. The ladies I’m traveling with had a window… they visited the cockpit. Deb freakin stayed up there for the landing. Somehow these attractive, fit, comedy girls make friends with all the troops so easily… How do they do it?
We’re on one of the largest bases in Afghanistan. I’m not supposed to mention where, but apparently, we’re very insulated. There are three layers of security before entrance is granted. Our guide said this has never been breeched … not all three, anyway. But, I must say, I do feel safe. I was told there are really only two dangers. The first would be if a cleared worker was forced to be a suicide bomber, perhaps to save his kidnapped family. The second would be the unguided mortar fire they try to lob onto the bases. I think I may have heard some of the latter last night. But it might have just been low flying jets. I went with the jets, rolled over and went back to sleep.
The billets they put us in are very nice. I have wifi, air conditioning, a window!!! The latrines and showers are about 30 yards away. There’s a concrete bunker about 15 yards away. I have it pretty good.
This morning we’ll do a radio show to promote the performance this evening. They’re actually going to make us do comedy on this base. …some nerve. Then we may go to a gun range. They haven’t told us if we’ll be the shooters or the targets. I guess we’ll see how the radio show goes…
Clearly, a bad idea from the start…
It’s Thursday, right? Three days in Kyrgyzstan and we’ve yet to perform a show. The military folks are entertaining us far more than we’re entertaining them. We’ve also yet to see any danger zones. That will happen tonight when they fly us into Afghanistan at midnight. We’ll be flying in on one of those C-17 massive military cargo planes. (No, mom, we won’t be parachuting out.)
Yesterday we got a terrific briefing from the base commanders about our location, The Transit Center at Manas, formerly known as Ganci Air Base, named for Peter Ganci, the FDNY Fire Chief who died on Sept 11. We’ll be performing at Pete’s Place, still named in his honor. I liked the reminder that Sept 11 is still the reason we’re here. I told the commander that my cousin, FDNY Captain Patrick Waters also died when the towers came down. And my uncle, NYPD Emergency Services First Responder Robert Brady managed to survive, while most of his entire squad perished. This personal connection to the Sept 11 disasters was one reason why I wanted to contribute somehow. I’m glad I finally got the chance.
Yesterday we were also fitted with our helmets and bullet proof vests. The vests weigh 40 pounds. Some of the women I’m touring with barely weigh 40 pounds. We also went to the Air Force’s Birthday party. The bases had a big shindig. On Sept 18, 1947 the Air Force split from the Army to form its own its own branch. There were Army personnel at the BBQ…. I wonder if they were sad. I asked one if he felt like a Brit on the Fourth of July.
Today we get an air craft tour of the KC-135s and the C-17s. Then we get a demo at the K-9 Unit. They’re going to give us a demonstration with one of these killer dogs attacking us. The handler told me I’ll wear a padded jacket, then run for my life as the dog chases and attacks me. What could go wrong? And how did I suddenly become signed up for this? They haven’t even heard the show yet. … must have been that 4th of July comment.
Should be some good pics today…
nice puppy… good doggy… AHHHH!!!!!!