(In Part Two, I told about my third night in the Middle East – our first perfomance, at Ali Al Salem military base in Kuwait, where I began to realize what I truly had come here to do.)
DAY FOUR: Yesterday’s visit to Ali Al Salem base opened my eyes. The men and women stationed here may have a few amenities like fast food places and fitness centers, but the one thing they don’t have… is “home”. And whether my jokes are funny or not, it seems my presence here is giving some of these great people some much needed respite from their feeling of isolation and homesickness.
Something else made me glad I was chosen to be a part of this comedy tour: Several female soldiers came up to me after the show to thank me specifically for providing entertainment for THEM. They said a lot of the entertainers they get are beauty queens, cheerleaders, and misogynistic comedians. Fun for the guys, but not all that fun for the female soldiers who need entertainment, too. I guess I fit the bill for them, and I was so grateful I had this opportunity to do so.
Three hours’ sleep.
Then we rush to get on the huge C-130 cargo transport plane. I’m wearing a heavy Kevlar flak vest, an ugly green helmet, and I’m sitting in this hollowed-out plane alongside and knee-to-knee with the other two comedians and a hundred soldiers and private contractors. We’re packed in like sardines. They all sleep. I’m too excited to sleep.
Ninety minutes later we’re in Iraq, at the biggest U.S. base there: Balad. It looks like a small brown/gray concrete city. No green anywhere, except for a tiny patch of grass that somebody took the time to water every day.
We tour the base hospital. Parents of soldiers stationed in Iraq, let me ease your mind a bit: Everything is state-of-the-art at this emergency facility; nothing but the best in equipment and personnel. The doctors tell us that if a soldier is brought to them within an hour of being injured, there’s a 97% success rate for recovery.
I hear the screams of a small child. It’s an Iraqi toddler, the victim of a house fire due to indoor cooking. The child’s mother hadn’t understood that she was supposed to change the bandages regularly, and now they had to be peeled off while the child suffered excruciating pain. Local Iraqi people come here for emergency medical aid. Part of America’s commitment to helping them. They have nowhere else to go.
The hospital tour ends in the wing where a group of our soldiers wait to be flown to Germany for further medical treatment. They won’t get to come to our show tonight. We want to perform for them, or talk to them, or do anything for them that will help them feel better. It feels awkward. They’re watching a movie, and we don’t want to interrupt them, but yet it sort of feels like some of them want to be interrupted.
So I just blurt out, ‘Hi guys! Hi ladies! We don’t want to interrupt your movie, but we just wanted to say hello.” That breaks the ice, and some answer. I ask where they’re from. Montana, Texas, Colorado… We chat, but it’s a struggle. One guy from Montana asks if I’d write back to him if he e-mailed me. “Sure! Of course! Here’s my e-mail address!” He sends me a short e-mail right that very minute, while we’re still there. He is skeptical that I will really write back to him.
The nurse in charge says our time is up. She whispers apologetically that most of these wounded soldiers are pretty drugged up right now.
That night, I e-mail Josh Leete, injured soldier from Montana. We still e-mail each other to this day.
(Next month: Part Four of BACK FROM IRAQ: Diary of a Comedian)