BACK FROM IRAQ: Part 5
by Sharon Lacey, Portland Comedian
DAYS SIX – TEN:
Many people think Iraq is a hot oven all year. It’s not. It can snow in the winter, and it definitely felt cold enough to snow last night here at Meraz Base near Mosul. The heater in my bunk just couldn’t do the job, and the one thin blanket supplied didn’t help much,. During the night I put on my winter coat over my clothes, and added gloves, muffler, two pairs of socks, and leggings. And yet I awake this morning, shivering. I’m staying in the VIP quarters. I can only imagine how cold the soldiers must be.
Over the next four days my two comedian cohorts and I ride on Blackhawk helicopters to seven more bases, and do our best to make the brave men and women there forget for an hour that they are in harm’s way.
There are no women at JSS Love Base, however. This is a small outpost, far away from any of the larger bases. Fifty guys come in to the primitive wooden structure for a lunch far more basic and drab than what the guys at the bigger bases get. They sit on benches at long tables and wait for us to perform. These are young guys, and I’m told by the officer in charge to do my bluest (raciest) material. I do. And it’s all wrong. I get a few laughs, but it just isn’t going as well as my earlier shows. I’ve chosen the wrong jokes, and I’m failing miserably. I feel horrible that I haven’t given them a show that would make them laugh hilariously. I’m so embarrassed, and after my set I go to a little room behind the lunch room and just cry privately to relieve the stress. I feel like I’ve let these guys down, that I’ve let myself down, that I didn’t do my job. As a comedian, you win some, you lose some, and each night you just get back up on that stage and try again. But here, these soldiers deserve nothing but “win somes”, and I feel terrible.
Thankfully, the other two comedians, Davin and Dennis, are both huge hits, and their acts give me time to pull myself together, wipe away the tears, and put on a smile for the autograph session after the show.
As the men file by, I give each one a hug, and thank them for their service. In the helicopter on our way to the next base, Davin and Dennis try to console me, but I just feel terrible for letting those soldiers down.
All of the following shows go much better. We go to two or three bases each day: Brassfield-Mora Base, where we go to the rifle range and shoot M4 rifles, M-240 machine guns, Saw machine guns, and a 50 caliber machine gun out of an armored truck. Turns out one of the soldiers in the truck is from Oak Grove, Oregon, where I live! He even went to the same high school as my daughter! Later, we’re honored to sit at a head table and have dinner with the soldiers before our show; Normandy Base, where we perform on an outside stage as helicopters fly overhead and drown us out with their noise (I’m glad they didn’t shoot!); Woodcock Base (named after a young fallen soldier there), where the officer in charge shows us a huge map of the nearby Iraqi town and pinpoints the exact neighborhood where insurgents are living; O’Ryan Base, where five Iraqis come up to me as we’re leaving and gently grab me, saying, “Yellow! Yellow! Yellow!” (meaning my blond hair), and signal that they want to have their picture taken with me; Summerall Base, where the Command Sgt. Major greets us and lets us try our hand at shooting an AK-47 and a 9mm Baretta before we go inside and perform for his 400 soldiers.
We spend our last night in Iraq at Freedom Rest on Speicher Base, which is a place where soldiers who are completely at the end of their rope, who are in need of a break in a huge way, can come for a brief respite. Waiting for me are two e-mails from soldiers at JSS Love – the base where I felt I had failed. One of the soldiers writes that he appreciated my coming to their base, and that he really needs someone to talk to, and would I please write to him? The other e-mail is from a soldier who says he appreciated the hug I gave him after the show, that the hug had come at a time when he really needed it. My heart is filled, knowing that I had meant something to some of those men, and had helped them in some way after all.
We are tired, but we don’t want to go home. We’re supposed to have this last night off. Instead, we arrange to put on an extra show, specifically for the Blackhawk helicopter pilots, gunners, crew, and their entire brigade. It’s our best show yet.
I still write to those two JSS Love soldiers to this day, and several others, too. My journey to Iraq ended all too quickly. I would go back tomorrow if I could. Ten days earlier, I had boarded a plane heading across an ocean to a war zone, intending to have an adventure. But I discovered something far greater: The men and women of our United States Military put their lives and families on hold to be over there. Whether we agree with why they were sent there, or why their orders are to remain there, the fact is they ARE there, serving with courage, humility, and valor. They deserve nothing but our utmost respect and gratitude. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all, and I thank your families back home who wait with open arms for your safe return.