In Part One, I told of the first two days of my adventure to entertain the troops. At this point in the story, I am still in Kuwait.
DAY THREE: At Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, we’re finding that maybe things aren’t as tough as we had expected them to be. The troops have two HUGE fitness centers, each the size of a football field, with all brand new state of the art exercise equipment, huge flat screen tv’s to watch the Armed Forces Network (AFN), racquetball courts, basketball courts, tennis courts and baseball diamonds outside.
They have a nice dining facility (D-FAC) where we have unlimited food choices; nice buffet dinner, or fast food, or sandwiches to order, free Baskin-Robbins ice cream.
I’m amazed at how much money was put into this base – and then find out that the Kuwaiti government pays for it all.
This afternoon, we’re driven to Ali Al Salem base, about an hour away from Arifjan. The Army National Guard troop from Hawaii are our hosts. In spite of their being half a world away from where they grew up, they welcome us with such graciousness, such warmth. They bring us what must be treasured gifts from their own families back home: chocolate covered macadamia nuts, roasted macadamia nuts, things that would be hard for them to get here in Kuwait. We share jokes and laughter, and even play a game of Scrabble before the show. During our Scrabble game in the MWR (Morale Welfare Recreation) Center, other soldiers play pool, ping pong, watch a movie, wait in line to get on the bank of computers to e-mail home.
A few hours later, our first show. There’s an outdoor stage, with a huge camouflage backdrop. I’m standing up there, looking out at 50-60 soldiers, and I’m trying to hide the fact that I’m scared to death. What if they don’t like my jokes? What if they were hoping for somebody famous – I’m no Ellen DeGeneres or Kathy Griffin. What if they’d prefer a young, hot beauty queen? I’m middle aged – I could be their MOM. I crack my first joke, saying something about how I feel like I’m Bing Crosby in the movie “White Christmas” when he’s still in the battlefield singing to the troops. They all stare up at me with blank expressions. These men and women are in their early twenties. They’re all too young to know what the heck I’m talking about. Great. So I do my regular material. And they laugh. A lot.
At the end of my set, I take out the piece of notebook paper I’ve brought from home. “Before I left Portland, Oregon, I asked people what they would like me to tell the troops. They all told me to tell you ‘thank you’ and that they realize what you are sacrificing by being over here. They want you to know they’re grateful for the fact that you’re making it possible for all of us to have our freedom. And they told me to give you a hug from them. So after the show, if you want, I can give you that hug.”
Afterward, the emcee tells the troops that the comedians will be available for autographs. I choke on the water I’m drinking. Autographs?? Who would want MY autograph??!!
It turns out that LOTS of these young men and women not only want my autograph, but they want a picture, too. And they want that hug. No, I take that back. They NEED that hug.
(Next month: Part Three of BACK FROM IRAQ: Diary of a Comedian)