JAX IRAQI BLOG:
I talked to someone after the show last night that had
a brother in the Marine Corps in
Read in the paper where it's 140 degrees in Now on a quest for cool clothing.
Now on a quest for cool clothing.
Got an e-mail today: We're still on even though i t's
really jumpin' over there. The UN HQ bombing happened
yesterday, more attacks on U.S. Soldiers, hints that al Queda may be involved
in the UN bombing, etc. And according to the news, fighters are coming in
from other countries. I bet we get heckled. I've never met this
agent face-to-face. We have always communicated on the telephone or e-mail.
He seems like a nice guy but he is an agent so I'll keep an eye on him. He's
supposed to join us the 9th day of the tour. It's... well let's just say it's some name
other than... "Ears." (Which they're going to hate themselves for
not thinking of when they see me.) We leave two weeks from today.
We're still on even though i
t's really jumpin' over there.
The UN HQ bombing happened yesterday, more attacks on U.S. Soldiers, hints that al Queda may be involved in the UN bombing, etc. And according to the news, fighters are coming in from other countries. I bet we get heckled.
I've never met this agent face-to-face. We have always communicated on the telephone or e-mail. He seems like a nice guy but he is an agent so I'll keep an eye on him. He's supposed to join us the 9th day of the tour.I also found out my "code name".
It's... well let's just say it's some name other than... "Ears." (Which they're going to hate themselves for not thinking of when they see me.) We leave two
weeks from today.
Got some more info today about the shows, although not that much more info. But from what I can tell it looks like we're going to be pretty busy doing shows everyday and moving around inside Iraq a lot. And here's the good part: we're going to be traveling by helicopter! I read where mercenaries in Iraq were taking prominent peoples hostage and then telling them the ransom money is for stinger missiles so they 'can shoot down U.S. Helicopters. Man, I hope they laugh at my jokes. If I get killed I'll just be dead, if I die onstage I'll have to live with that forever. One of the more interesting aspects of going to Iraq right now is peoples' reactions here in the U.S. All of a sudden my family wants to see me before I go and my wife has recently informed me she has a "bad feeling about this." Great. Well, I'm comin' back in spite of em. Anyway, we're 'celebrities', they take pretty good care of us... right, guys... right? Well in any case there will be stories to be told. Stay tuned.
I'm helping my wife get ready for a party we're throwing. It's a "wedding" party... too bad we didn't leave last week. I'm packing ever so meticulously so I don't have to take much. Got some new pants today. Finally found what I was looking for: they zip off at the knee to convert into shorts. A lot of Muslim countries frown on wearing shorts especially on the Sabbath so these should be pretty adaptable. They're also very lightweight Cotton/Nylon blend and should be easy to pack and good for the heat.
Starting today I'll try to keep the "Blog" updated daily or as close to that as circumstances permit. I also learned that we'll be staying in Iraq a lot more than we had been told before. Earlier we had heard that we would be staying in a neighboring country and helicoptering in and out of Iraq but I assume most all our plans are fluid and could change at any moment. Since I may not have access to the internet daily I'll write everyday and post it as I can. I'm trying to find a good deal on a flash memory card for my Pocket PC, then I can use it not only as a notepad but as an MP3 player as well, which is great for standing in line at the airport. I also learned we have a 10 hour lay over in London. That'll probably be boring and expensive. I should pack my "Iraqi Playing Cards" but since I am a mediocre poker player that could be expensive as well.
Busy day. Getting stuff, packing, filling out Susan's paperwork, etc. All the family calling, you'd think I was flying NASA. Still trying to get my Pocket PC to play MP3s but it's looking hopeless, am packing my CD Player in case. Hope the world can last without me for 3 weeks. Tomorrow we begin.
I'm scrambling around doing last minute preparations for the trip. We leave this evening around 7pm. I wanted to get up earlier but stayed up late as a friend stopped by to see if he could have my good stuff if I die. I drank too much partying and am coming online a little slowly but everything seems to be in coming together. I'm traveling light and although I'm not taking that many things it makes insuring each piece is there more crucial. Before I go I want to find a a New York Times crossword puzzle book to pass the time in airports if need be. At 4pm I head for the airport to insure having the full two hours beforehand as the airline requests for international flights. I'm assigned a middle seat which I would normally ask to change but since the other comics are seated around me I'll tolerate it to initiate the 'camaraderie' aspect of the trip. At about 6:30 pm we board the plane. Wouldn't you know it, the other comic have indeed changed their seat assignments so that they are no longer next to me and I am alone in the midst of strangers fighting for armrest room. Just before takeoff a woman and her teenage son board and he is assigned the seat next to mine and his mother is seated behind him. He asks the fellow on the aisle if he would be willing to change seats so that his mother could sit next to him. The fellow insists he must have the aisle seat so I offer my seat and move to the seat directly back which is also a middle seat. After I get seated the woman sitting next to me who has a blanket over her body removes it and I discover that I have now situated myself next to not only her but her 6 month old infant who has been asleep underneath the blanket until now. "Check and Mate." 12 hours later we arrive in London. The baby was surprisingly well behaved. At Heathrow we have a 6 hour layover so we jumped the "Tube" and went a couple of stops to a small town called Northfields where we had our a bite and imbibed some English flavor at a pub called J.W. Duffy's then we 'Tubed' it back to the airport to catch our flight to Kuwait City. When we arrived there was no boarding gate information for our flight on the monitors, seems they don't post it until less than an hour before flight time, security reasons I suppose. When we got to the gate there were very few people waiting to board. From that point on we were all assigned middle seats and asked about changing but were told no other seats were available. After we got onto the plane it appeared that there would be room to change the flight appeared to be only about half full and we were cautiously optimistic about getting out of the middle seats. As departure time neared we were even thinking that we might be able to stretch out over two or three seats and have a relaxing flight to Kuwait. Then at about 10 minutes before we were to leave everyone else showed up en mass and the plane did become indeed 'full'.
After 8 more hours hours of travel sitting upright and elbows unakimbo we got to Kuwait City at about 9 am this morning. After everyone but one comic got our baggage we began passing through customs with ease until I stepped up. As my friends disappeared I was led off into a back room of the airport, my paperwork was taken away and I was seated and told something I couldn't understand but assumed it meant to wait until I was told something else. About 30 minutes later I was apparently deemed okay we left the airport. At the airport we were met by the AFE representative, "John" and 121 degree heat. Everyone in the group was beat and looking forward to getting a shower and some sleep in a supine position so we asked about going straight to the hotel. But John said he didn't know anything about a hotel and he took us to Camp Doha just outside of Kuwait City. There he put us into a windowless room with five bunks, no towels and told us we were lucky he could get us that. Then he said he would back in a few hours to drive us to the show. This was our second surprise in as many minutes as we had been told we were to be able to relax and recoup this first day and would be starting our shows on the second day. So I downed a couple of Melatonin, put on a sleep mask and earplugs, (I soon discovered one of the guys snores) and grabbed a few hours of rest, then John returned and we rode an hour and a half to Camp Arifjan to do the show. The show was outside in the blowing dust and at 7pm it was still 117 degrees. But the soldiers laughed as though it was barely a hundred and ten. Everyone in our group expressed surprise at how much older the soldiers were as in previous shows we had done overseas and later we learned that this was primarily because a lot of them were reservists and not regular military until Operation Iraqi Freedom came to be. So they were the 'weekend warriors' you used to see on the street and in Walmart that now found themselves now in a warzone for a yet indeterminate period. A few said they were getting ready to go home but most were unsure as to when that would happen. Everyone seemed in good spirits though and afterward they lined up to tell us how much they appreciated us coming. Our interim tour director (the comic with us that had the most tours under his belt) got on the phone and did indeed get us into a hotel, I'm going to put him in for a commendation. We checked into the hotel at about midnight. It's now close to midnight and still over 100 degrees. I'm taking a much need shower and going to a much needed bed. Although plans can change at any moment we have another show scheduled somewhere here in Kuwait tomorrow night.
Feel much better after a good nights rest in a bed. The hotel is nice and is located in an area near food and shops. One of the weird things about it though is that my side overlooks a vast cemetary. It's huge and it's decrepit. Gravestones are toppled, some are sunken in, it's kinda ghoulish. I don't look out ther much. Everyone is in good spirits and ready to do a show tonight. There are bases all around here, some are to be closed and rejoined with others in the near future but right now they're all over the place which requires a lot of traveling in a car. The troops are not allowed off base and are stranded with not so much as TV, newspapers or radio and are extremely happy to see us. The sand blew all day and visibility was maybe a half mile at best. I'm from West Texas and am accustomed to blowing sand but the sand here is light and white so it adds an ethereal quality to everything. The good news is that with the wind chill factor it was only about a balmy 110 today. And "balmy" is probably the wrong word as everyone tells us they haven't seen it rain the entire time they've been here. Tomorrow we are told we get our "Battle Packs. Apparently that's a flack jacket, helmet and some other stuff that we'll be taking when we leave for Iraq. Our show tonight is at at Camp Victory about 12 miles from the Iraqi border. Today we went to the "Souk", which is an open market. The prices are great and the Kuwaiti people couldn't have been nicer. I got an email from my wife and she had to go to the company picnic without me, I owe her a lot. Better hit the "Souk" again tomorrow to get something for her.
Also it's heartening to know that all the people that I know and talk to in the U.S. In spite of their political opinions of the war are 110% in support of the troops, we tell them that, too. John tells us the show tonight is a two hour drive and that he will pick us up at 3pm for a 7pm show. We whine that we certainly don't need to be there 2 hours early and cajole him into picking us up at 4 pm instead. He doesn't seem too happy about that but we are as we get an extra hour of downtime and are still acclimating to the time and travel. So at least 5 of us are content and after all that's a majority. John picks us up at 4pm, we drive 45 minutes and get to the show 2 hours and 15 minutes before showtime, our sarcasm about that discrepancy eludes John but after all we are comedians. We kill time checking out the PX and the area. Things go great and everyone seems to have a good time. We get to go back to the Hotel and get a good night's sleep.
This morning we play golf on the hotel's indoor golf simulator. I wouldn't say we were bad but I lost two balls. We're having fun and enjoying having the hotel to relax during the day. Everyone is coming back online from the time change and we have time to venture around the area and I grab a quick workout in the gym. Tonight's show was at Camp Udari another short drive. This time John picks us up so that we arrive about an hour before the show. He seems to be getting used to us more. The sand doesn't blow so much today and I find myself kind of missing the wind as it makes it cooler. The soldiers of course loved us and a soldier from the 82nd Airborne gave me a cool beret. I had a cap from the 101s before but was foolish enough to trade it off to a guy on a plane with assurance that I would get a cap from the Australian Navy in return, I never did so this was an appreciated gesture. It took a little over and hour and a half to get there and another hour and a half back because the road was nonexistent. The crowd at the show was smaller than usual tonight because the crowd to get into the PX was very long as one unit is headed home tomorrow. Can't blame them a bit. The PX by the way is a small trailer and the entire camp is a tent city. We ate at what is their third mess hall as the previous two had burnt down. The wind and tents are a dangerous combination. Everyone here is carrying M-16's everywhere they go, even in the Dining facility, our motivation to do a good show is even stronger. Tonight we got our "Battle Rattle." In the Duffle bag is the flack jacket and helmet I mentioned but much to our surprise there is also a canteen, sleeping bag and pup tent. I hope it's just standard issue and that we won't be needing it.
We're in the truck headed back from a show at Camp Virginia. All of these bases are "FOBs" (Forward Operations Bases) and are situated close to the Iraqi border. We've got a little over an hour ride back to Kuwait City. The crowd was great tonight as they have been each night. We could be awful but you wouldn't know it from the responses we get, these people are just happy that someone came to see them. Sometimes they seem more amazed than happy. All the camps are rudimentary and have no diversions other than what the AFE gets them. My wife has been reading the blog and sent me an email asking some questions so I thought I'd answer them here:
"What are you eating?"
Each Camp has provides us with a trip to their mess hall before the shows. The longer you're here the better it tastes. I tried a joke or two about the food the first couple of shows and the response was light either because the jokes were weak or they've been here a long time or they've lost their tastebuds. Later I found out that they have been existing on MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) for months and up until a few weeks ago, so I imagine the Dining Facility food it a huge improvement.
"Do you have plenty of water?"
Water is one thing we do have plenty of. Everywhere we go they offer us bottled water. We were told at the onset that we were 'ordered' to drink two gallons a day. They also showed us how to tell if we were becoming dehydrated. Apparently we're doing pretty good in that area. There was also a warning about not drinking too much water either as we are told we could actually "drown." I find that plenty hard to believe but the guys that said it swear on it.
"What is the night sky like there?"
The past couple of nights it's been very dusty and the moon has been barely visible but tonight it is clear and the moon is full. You would think there would be a zillion but all I see is the Moon and Mars. I assume it's because of the dust in the air and also the camps are illuminated with bright lights that probably keep them from being visible.
"Are you feeling healthy and A-OK given the weather, heat, unusual schedule, etc."
One day I started feeling queasy. I started drinking lots of water and it went away. So I guess you're destined to spend a lot of time in the bathroom in either case.
"Are you missing a cold beer?"
There's no alcohol here. Surprisingly enough I don't miss having a beer too much. I'm sure I'll get used to it again as soon as possible though. They sell "Near Beer" in the PXs. I see some people drinking them but haven't gotten that desperate yet.
"When you see the troops, you said most were a bit older, are there any women soldiers? Do they come to the show?"
There are lots of women soldiers. We are told to be careful about material that debases women and that is chauvinistic just for that reason. I don't like that type of material anyway so there's no problem.
"What does a flak jacket feel like? Hot? Itchy? Sweaty? Safe?
We'll find out tomorrow, we leave for Iraq in the morning.
It's 8am, I awoke at 5am, my time is still off. Had some weird dreams last night but have every night. I assumed it was from the Melatonin I was taking but I didn't take any last night so must just be the difference in time and all. In the nightmare last night I was playing with a rattlesnake and saw my Dad who died a few years ago. Pretty weird. I don't believe in prophesy but do believe in subconscious imprinting so I'm attributing it to that. It's good I got up early as I have some last minute packing to do and have to get my "battle rattle" gear in shape. We don't have to wear the flack jacket or helmet on today's flight so that's something I don't have to adjust to yet but I am now carrying an extra duffle bag as well as my backpack and suitcase and that alters logistics and yer spine a bit. The agent that booked this tour came in this morning and I met him at breakfast. His name is Rich and he's with us from now until the last few days of the tour.
Seems like a nice enough guy and he smokes, too! (I fell off the wagon immediately after leaving the states.) John picked us up at 9am for a scheduled 10am call time for our flight. It was an amazing trip to the airport. The area where the military aircraft load and unload is off by itself and apparently difficult to find. After driving in circles, unloading and reloading baggage and taking endless ribbing John finally got us to our flight. We boarded a C-130 for our flight into Iraq. It's a huge four engine turboprop used for troop and equipment delivery and we were the only passengers so there was plenty of room. We're now wearing our flack jackets and helmets and if we though it was hot before we're certain of it now. One of the other comics and I played Poker to pass the time along the trip, I came out ninety cents ahead. We landed in Mosul in the Northern part of the county and after about an hour and some at the Mosul airport where we informally entertained what soldiers were there, took pictures and passed time talking. We also met our liaison that will be traveling with us into and around Iraq. Sergeant David Hairston. He seems to be a super nice guy but we haven't done anything wrong yet either. He said his wife is also in the Army and she's stationed in Germany where he also was until recently. Then we jumped er... climbed into a Blackhawk helicopter to head even further north. The conditions aboard are cramped and confined. You're strapped with seatbelts as well as shoulder straps so that you can't move much which we find out is good because the movements are sometimes sudden and unexpected. There is a machine gunner on both sides directly in front of us and they're constantly scanning the area. After about an hour we arrived at Camp "Q-West" which is named for the town in that area and which apparently no one can pronounce so the soldiers there call it "Key West" and it looks just like the one in Florida except totally different. The sand is like moondust and when it blows, which is constantly, it hangs in the air making it look like it's foggy. The Blackhawk stirs it up when we land at Q-West and through it all we see our liaison for that camp, a Captain Chris Irwin. He puts us into his very dusty Humvee and we head to our quarters which we share with several other soldiers. This is a somewhat dilapidated Iraqi building which is in the process of being slowly brought up to what most would consider tolerable living standards. But these guys have been in tents and outside so they're more than happy with it. It has no door and one large room that is our living area. It does however have electricity and in one end is a DVD player and television which is in constant use until late into the evening. There are also ceiling fans and the breeze makes the it fairly comfortable. The floors are covered with gypsum from the wallboard that they've just put up and the dust it creates is comparable to the dust outside except a little lighter in color. We cart foam rubber mattresses and cots from across the way and set them up to bunk on. I snagged an extra one to put on the floor to stack my junk on in an attempt to keep it somewhat clean. One of the other comics tries to abscond with it and we briefly have a tug-of-war but I insistently end up with it; hope I'm not getting too testy this early in the trip. We didn't have a show tonight as we got in too late and I'm beat so I go to sleep.
The shower is outside around the side of the building. The water is delivered frequently and is stored in a galvanized container on the roof where it's heated by the sun. We're told that the water is cool in the morning and hot the rest of the time. You conserve water by showering with the rinse, turn off the water, lather, turn on the water, rinse, turn off the water method. We pile into the Humvee and go to get breakfast. Every where we go is in the back of Capt. Chris' Humvee. He goes out of his way to take care of us and even let one of the other comics drive it. Unfortunately the rest of us were in the back and when he did and when he nearly failed to negotiate a turn and rearranged us sitting in the back into a clump we dissented and had him demoted back with us. He also gave us a grand tour of the base which includes mostly bombed out buildings and bunkers.
We're scheduled to perform one show at 7:30pm in a tent tonight but end up also putting on an earlier performance in the afternoon for the soldiers that can't make the latter. This show was at an outdoor theater and the soldiers were sitting at the far end of the audience area in the only shade available when we arrived. Our tour coordinator coaxed them closer to the stage where they were now sitting in the hot sun. It helps to have your audience near you in standup comedy but I hated to see anyone drug out into that heat. Nonetheless they did and we did and they seemed to have a great time. They do seem starved for entertainment, as well. We did a little more sightseeing, some laundry, ate, (We did more before 9 am than most people do all day) etc. At 7pm we did the second show inside the DFAC tent. I think outside would have been better as we are now in northern Iraq and it's very nice out at night now but nobody asked the show went well anyway. During my set a worker came up behind me and began servicing the coffee machine. I ignored him for a moment but when it became evident that he was going to continue and perhaps even be a while I started talking to him. Since he didn't speak English and I only speak English, it became pretty funny and I had a fun set. After the show and upon emerging from the tent we noticed a huge fire in the distance and learned that it was an oil pipeline that rebels kept blowing up. Some of the soldiers don equipment as well as their ever-present guns and head off to put it out. I'm thinking they oughta take their time because the burning oil smell would be a welcome change. Everywhere near the camp the air is permeated by the smell of "Port-a-Potty" refuse being burned off. It's a very 'distinctive' smell and one that seems like you shouldn't be breathing it. A couple of the comics head off walking toward the fire to get a better view. I tell them 'somebody's going to get hurt' and the rest of us head back to our bunks and the ever present 'sound and lightshow' of soldiers watching a movie on the DVD player. Having brought a supply of earplugs and sleepmasks I didn't notice after about 2 minutes and slept very well.
Up this morning to find our flight has been moved from 7:30am to 12:30pm. After chow Capt. Irwin takes us out to the flightline and we checkout some Blackhawks being serviced. Since we're flying in them I have a bunch of questions and get educated answers. These guys know everything about these birds. I also am happy to find out about the missile defense system on the Blackhawk and the "Disco Ball" involved in doing that. This makes me feel better and after the interrogation we jump back in the Humvee where we learn our departure time is now 1:30pm. So we head over to the internet access area. The access is slow and thus expensive. I do get my email and get a few, "I'm fine" messages out however. Then when I go to pay I get Iraqi money in exchange. Now this stuff is worthless but I figure it's the easiest to carry souvenirs I could find so I swap him four bucks for 24 more of them, it's a win-win situation.
At one end of the base we're taken to a small shop run by Iraqis. We stop to look at their wares which are everything from slightly used clothing to varied outdated electronic items. I find nothing I particularly want or need but do purchase an orange soda just to be social. Out front of the store is a concrete monolith with an embossed representation of Saddam Hussein which appears damaged but kept intact just to provide an incentive to get traffic in by providing a souvenir photograph incentive. Most of Saddam's likenesses have been taken down. Also out front is new bicycle for sale that has the front wheel removed and on it sits a much too small for it Iraqi boy pretending he's riding it to places untold. He loves having his picture taken and we accommodate and leave him with spare change and several "Comics on Tour" stickers which seem to make him happy which is good because initially he wanted our cameras. Then we eat and head for landing area for our chopper. We got to the area at about 1:15PM and begin a long wait for the chopper. We're told this isn't unusual as sometimes they are sent out or diverted to last minute missions. During the wait we ambled over to a nearby area that had several Iraqi shops and small cafes. They had losta doodads and food but I didn't eat anything just socially had another orange soda. About 4pm our Blackhawk arrives and we say goodbye to Capt. Chris and our newfound friends and head off toward Mosul.
We arrived in Mosul about 45 minutes later. Since we didn't have that long before the show we hurried to the dining facility, cleaned up and then did the show almost immediately afterwards. Then we got back into the chopper and headed to our 'hotel'. The hotel was a multistory building located on one of Saddam's Palace's grounds. It is now being used by the Americans for dignitaries and civilian contractors in transit. We arrived there about midnight. The lobby area was totally empty except for a desk with a soldier in charge. He gave us our room numbers as there are no keys and we head up to the sixth floor. We walked by an elevator and I punched the call button, it didn't light but optimistically we waited and waited... just as we were about to walk off it came so we jumped in and got a jerky ride to the sixth floor. Later we learned it was a good idea to stay off of the elevators as they tend to quit working at inopportune times. After stepping off the elevator it was dark. There were lights on in the lobby that provided some illumination up through the atrium but it was pretty dark. After about 10 minutes of searching for numbers we found our room. I was in with Sgt. Hairston and Rich, our tour coordinator. The rooms were pretty much devoid of any amenities such as furniture or lights other than a single bulb lamp and some cots but we were beat it was now home so we crashed and slept pretty well.
This morning upon awakening we discovered our view from the sixth floor. We face a major highway and just beyond that the Tigris River. There was a lot of traffic as it was rush hour and the vehicles ranged from a donkey cart to beat up cars and trucks to the occasional SUV. The river was calm and serene, it was an interesting dichotomy. Then we packed up our stuff, schlupped it down the stairs as the elevators had quit in the night and headed over to the Palace compound for breakfast. After that we did a little looking around. The Palace had been ransacked as well but you could still see the opulence and massive spaces lined with marble. That was the only thing they didn't carry off. But not because they didn't try, there were place where you could see they had attempted to get it loose. I didn't begrudge the Iraqi civilians for taking advantage of it considering the contrasting lifestyle they led but it was bleak in comparison to how it must have been.
We headed to the helipad to await our Blackhawk, which showed up on time. We piled in and headed for Tikrit. We got to FOB Camp Spiker at about noon, we ate again (It's beginning to seem like we do this a lot) and they took us to our quarters. It was a small, modern looking house in a row of about ten of the same like Condos. They were apparently used by the Iraqi officers stationed there. These too had been stripped and were in the process of being renovated for use by our forces. There was no water and the toilet filled the house with a terrible smell. We carried water in and flushed the toilet which helped a minimal amount. There were no lights in our room so we navigated via flashlights that night. We're away from city lights now when it gets dark here it's... inky. The stars are really out, it's a beautiful sky. That afternoon they delivered a box with a bunch of toiletries in it and a couple of cases of MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat). Even though we eat at the dining facility at most places now we elect to try the MREs. Sergeant Hairston instructed us in their preparation. I had Chicken Raviola and it wasn't bad. When I was in the military they had C-Rats, they were okay too... if you only had to eat one or six but on a daily basis they would get old fast. The show was outside again on a trailer bed and afterward we went to a Salsa dance held nearby and visited with the troops as most had been to the show. There were some really good dancers, probably a good ability for dodging bullets as well. They had near beer which to me has always seemed like sex without an orgasm and who needs that? Nevertheless I tried one because someone wanted to 'buy me a beer,' I nursed it for a while and then tossed it, ugh! I headed back about midnight to get some sleep and after fumbling around, looking for my stuff in the dark in our stinky condo for a while, I did.
Got up this morning and was pleasantly surprised to find that a mobile kitchen was set up just across the way. Didn't have to walk to the DFAC and that's good because it's really dusty here and even though it's a loosing battle to not get covered in the stuff I don't walk in it anymore than I need to. After breakfast we packed up and convoyed to Camp Packhorse on the other side Tikrit. We had Humvees with machine guns in front and behind us and we're in the middle of the convoy in the back of a big, canvas-sided truck. The canvas didn't make me feel any better but at least we're wearing our flack jackets and helmets. Everything went smoothly and I only felt slightly vulnerable during an unscheduled stop at a roadblock that was set up because American troops had found and detonated a bomb near the highway. During the stop a car with about 5 Iraqis pulled up near the truck we were riding in and one starting hollering at us. At first it was somewhat disconcerting but come to find out the guy yelling was a worker at the camp in Mosul and had seen our show and was telling us he enjoyed it. Things are pretty basic at the camp here. Scratch that, they're damned basic here. We just thought they were basic in other places. This camp is relatively new and a lot of the soldiers are in unairconditioned tents. The dust is like what you saw Neil Armstrong step into on the Lunar surface. I'm currently waiting to do the show in the MWR (Morale, Recreation and Welfare) tent. It's air-conditioned and still about 95 degrees in here. Everyone says the conditions have improved dramatically so I can only imagine what it was like before. The temperature outside is about 105 and apparently we're lucky we didn't arrived a month ago when everyone tells us every chance they get that it was 120 to 130 everyday. We dropped off our luggage at the place we're going to stay tonight, it's a large tent that's supposed to be air conditioned but according to the soldiers that are it's permanent occupants, and our hosts, it only works sporadically. The tent sits next to what apparently was a horse stable that Saddam used, it is peppered with bullet holes and bomblet craters. The shower is a wooden enclosure and the water is warm, period. Better, I think than cold, period. The show tonight is outside on a trailer bed but they've gone out of their way to make it nice and comfortable. When we came thorough the front gate some of the solders asked if we were the comics and said they were looking forward to the show. Which is great because on several of the bases we've been to the word was put out late and not well so several people we talked to later who had missed the show and in fact didn't even know there was one. Shame to come this far and miss someone because the word wasn't out. They also had a "greenroom" set up for us; which was actually an office with soft drinks but it was a nice gesture. There is no Internet access so I can't post this until we hit a place with that does. There are about 500 soldiers here and from talking to them most have been here about 6 months and have their fingers crossed that they only have about more 6 more to go. They also say the locals here are not as pleasant as they seem further north. I suppose that may have something to do with this being Saddam's hometown. We bunk in a tent with several other soldiers. The air conditioning only works when the town's electricity is on and is not on when we get there. It's hot but we have cots, are tired and everyone crashes at about 11pm.
The air conditioning came on in our tent last night at about midnight and ran all night long. By morning it was like a meat locker and I couldn't wait to get out in the warm morning air. Seems it's either a choice here of really hot or really cold. After breakfast we left Camp Packhorse and the Tikrit area at about 11am this morning. But before we left the Camp Commander, Col. Gore treated us to a trip to the firing range where we all showed our lack of prowess with the M-16 rifle. It was great fun though and a nice gesture on his part, thanks. The show was a blast. The troops are constantly amazed that a bunch of comedians are touring Iraq. We're still traveling via Blackhawk helicopter. Flack Jackets and Helmets are a requirement and along with the dufflebags and luggage it is quite an endeavor for us to clamor on an off in the 3 to 4 four minutes we have. We arrive about 11:30am. On our arrival we went directly to the DFAC (Dining Facility) and ate again. As much as I think I couldn't be possibly be hungry again by the time we get into the DFAC and smell the food, I'm hungry. Our liaison here is Lt. Rickmeyer. She is from New York, is very nice and has a great smile. This base is the largest in the area and supplies the other bases so our accommodations are in permanent buildings for a change. We are three to a room with bunks but we have air conditioning again. As usual it stays on constantly and I'm gearing up to stay warm through the night by wearing clothes in my sleeping bag on the cot. We don't have a show tonight and I caught up on some email and phone calls. I got my wife's answering machine again but will try again if possible before we leave. I couldn't post this tonight because I started reading a paper journal that I'm keeping and there is a lot of additional information that I'm planning on incorporating into the blog later.
Still haven't posted but am working feverishly to get that done either tonight or tomorrow. We got the grand tour of the camp and the computer center had a 24 hour waiting list. So I have to either stay up until wee hours and try to get in or get up really early and see if I can use the HQ computers again. This camp was home to the Iraqi Air Force and was built to accommodate only about 500 soldiers. They left when the invasion started. There are now about 15,000 U.S. Soldiers stationed here, so it's pretty crowded and extremely busy. The traffic is like Los Angeles and goes on 24/7. We saw several bunkers and concrete fortified hangers that had large bomb holes in them that had been patched. Probably damaged from the Gulf War in '91. We also toured the hospital which is in a tent and told the patients there some jokes since they couldn't make the shows. There were also several Iraqi prisoners of war there, they watched but didn't laugh much. The gym was closed for cleaning so I couldn't workout again today and I'm beginning to feel like Veal so I did a few calisthenics, stretched and tried to get at least a moderate bit of exercise. We did the show in a stadium apparently built for soccer games and the like. There were about 1,500 people and it was another fun show. Afterwards we stayed another hour and signed autographs. Later Sergeant Hairston gave us the info on the shows and transportation tomorrow. Seems we leave for breakfast at 8:30am, catch a Blackhawk at 10am go somewhere still yet undisclosed to do a 1pm show then get back onto the Blackhawk and go to a camp at a town named something like "Al Asad" (We're not sure yet) and do a 8pm show. Will be a busy day. I skipped the showers tonight and just used the Baby-Wipes they gave us to clean up. The showers are about a block away and by the time you walk back in the dust you're dirty again anyway. I went outside to brush my teeth and the night sky was full of stars which was amazing to look at but the smell of the burning Port-a-Pottys drove me back in. If I never have to smell that smell again it'll be too soon.
I got up earlier than usual this morning (6:30) so I could get this emailed. I'm sending it to my friend Marty and he's posting it for me because I don't have access to the correct program to post it. We went out to the runway at 9:30am to catch our Blackhawk but it was delayed. Some of the guys played basketball but as you know I don't pivot and didn't and fortunately no one was injured this time. I wait on the bus in the air conditioning (it's about 110 degrees) and read to pass the time. We finally got airborne at about 11:45am. After about an hour in flight we made a stop at a town called Ar Ramadi to refuel and pick up a couple of passengers: a Newsweek or somebody reporter and their translator. When we were airborne again and I got on the helicopter intercom and told a few jokes. I was doing pretty good and then a couple got a little racy and I was a bit embarrassed when I discovered our pilot was a female. When I was talking to her later I mentioned it and told her about it. She said it was no problem and she planned on using a couple of my jokes herself. After that I put in a request that maybe she could iniat a few manuevers or what some people would call "aerobatics" for us on our next flight. She did and over the Euphrates River along the way and that was a hoot. It was a short flight to our next stop which was Camp Tiger at Al Qaim just a few miles from the Syrian border. Their mission is stopping insurgents from coming into Iraq. It is a small base and we did a show for them in the dining area. The make shift stage was plywood sitting atop of boxes of MREs and the sound system was so unintelligible that shortly after starting we ditched it altogether and just yelled out our jokes. They didn't seem to mind and had a great time. I'm sure being in the military had inured them to yelling. After the show we tore the stage down and had the MREs for lunch before reboarding the helo. I had the Thai Chicken, I think. We lifted off late because we had to wait on the reporter and her translator to return from their assignment. Apparently the helicopter ride there was the translator's first ever flight and the aerobatics convinced him to wait for ground transportation instead. We arrived at FOB Al Asad at a little before 6pm and went to our quarters: a large room with cots set up in it in a room next to the projection booth at an outdoor movie theater on base. The folks that took us there were very proud of the fact that they had just set up a shower trailer nearby and that we were the first to use it, they were also excited to announce that it had "hot water" like we needed that. It was certainly nice though and I was more appreciative of it than I would have been 2 weeks ago. Our show was in an indoor theater just next door to our quarters. It was extremely hot inside and we were all ready for the showers afterwards. Later in our room some of the soldiers billeted nearby helped us connect a projection unit to the DVD player on one of our computers and we started watching Monty Pythons "The Holy Grail" up on the wall. It was hard to hear though and after about 10 minutes I went to sleep.
Up at 7am and a spritzer bath out of a water bottle. Then we head over to the DFAC to eat breakfast. There we meet up with a Warrant Officer that we had met at the show last night. This guy came up after the show and told me thanks for coming over and he'd like to show us the Apache Helicopter that he's a test pilot for. He also invited us all over to the hanger to see the birds in various states of dismantlement, so we put it on our thing to do list for in the morning. He seemed a little... unique and when during the tour he pointed his 9 millimeter at one of his mechanics I assumed he was and hung out with the mechanics mostly. They were great and answered all my questions with alacrity and military demeanor. When we left the warrant officer gave us some Iraqi money as a souvenirs. Since he didn't ever pull a gun on us I'm listing him as being an overall pretty nice guy. I suppose you have to be somewhat eccentric to be a test pilot anyway. We went back to our quarters for a bit and I went to the barbershop and got one of those $5.25 haircuts that lasts a while and I was still the longhaired guy leaving the joint. We went to the flightline at 10:45 and waited around until 2:45pm when our choppers arrived and then we headed for Babylon. We arrived there at 4pm and were taken to our quarters: his was a tent that was initially and still occassionally is used for conferences and such but that is now housing four Polish soldiers and is now to be used to house us as well. The Poles are a part of the Coalition and plans are for their contingent to take over this base eventually. They seem cordial and preoccupied. Our extra 7 cots pretty much fill the tent and there were about 4 inches space of between each one. Some of the soldiers bunking with we learned were on duty at night and so during the day we hesitated to turn on the lights to move around lest we disturb them thus we navigated by touch mostly, in the dark, which is a great way to make new friends. That afternoon we toured the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon which was located about 200 yards away. It was interesting but was basically a just a bunch of somewhat could-have-been-a-dwelling looking, mud brick, dilapidated, things. Glad I was there, though. It was very hot and after about an hour and a half we headed back. The nice thing about the camp was that it was located next to the Euphrates River which was green and had lots of Date Palms along it's banks. It was cooler and greener than a lot of the places we had been. The show that night was in an outdoor amphitheater that the Iraqis had rebuilt from the ruins of Babylon. It was capable of seating about 2,500 to 3,000 people so the 5 or 6 hundred that we had looked somewhat small in there. They were cool though. A couple of soldiers came up and did a dance number before the show and the crowd as very appreciative and got into the moment. It's such a pleasure to work in an environment of no alcohol because I normally work in clubs and for events where alcohol is not only served but emphasized and it makes a big difference. Sober crowds are better. The audience was about half Marines and Army although there were a lot of the Polish, Hungarian and Central Americans soldiers (our coalition) there as well. Those people were fun to talk to... not that our guys weren't too but they have a unique point of view. There was an Australian officer there that one of the comedians was smitten with and he stayed and talked to her all night. During the show I was made aware of the fact that some of the Polish guys had a bit of a party going on nearby which also had some... uhm... 'illicit libations'... they had Vodka and Whiskey. Since the show was over and I had the opportunity to drink in a place where drinking was a no-no, I went. I won't name names or give details but it was a nice diversion an put me to sleep as soon as I found my cot.
Up at 7 am. I'm still diverted. I am slightly hungover and trying to navigate via penlight in a dark, crowded tent. I keep bumping the cot next to mine that isn't a comic, I keep apologizing, he keeps mumbling something in Polish (I assume) and re-adjusts and then goes back to sleep. I gather some of my stuff, go outside, brush my teeth head over for chow.
The flies here are horrible. They drive you crazy when you go outside. The only escape is in the Port-a-Potties. Even they won't go in there. Someone kindly offers to show us around the area but most of us are tired and apologize for our lack of interest and just relax for a few hours. About noon we ambled down to the main gate where the Iraqi have a small Souk set up with about thirty little stands made of wood frames and cardboard walls set up. I had thought the flies were aggressive but the vendors were all over you as you tried to move from stand to stand. They would step in front of you and attempt to block your way. At first it was intimidating but after a while you adapt and simply move around them. I bought some Irai money for souvenirs and passed on the orange soda this time. We caught our chopper at about 2:30 pm but before we boarded the Crew Chief insisted we listen to the evacuation and safety procedures. This was kind of funny because it was the first time we had gotten this information and this was the last of our helicopter rides. Better late than never, I suppose and so we listened, nodded and were on our way to Baghdad. Along the way we stopped at Camp Victory where we are to do a show tomorrow night to drop off a general. Camp Victory is located in and around Saddam's main palace which we only saw from the air today. The soldiers call it "Seaworld" as it is surrounded by huge lakes. It is massive as are his other palaces. When we leave here it's only about a 10 minute flight to Baghdad International Airport and Camp "BIAP" which is "Baghdad International Airport" which was changed from "Saddam Hussein International Airport" because we removed him. When we get there there are people all over the place waiting to board planes and go other places. Cot's are set up everywhere. While we wait on our ride we visit the PX and talk with the soldiers, several of which have seen our shows in other camps. Later we are taken to our quarters which is another conference room in a building near the runway that is set up with cots for us. There are Port-a-Pottys nearby but the showers are about a 10 minute walk, I use the Baby Wipes. The good news is that we have a little bit of room as there are no other soldiers bunking with us this time... after a while it becomes the small things in life. We hit the DFAC and afterwards have a bit of time to relax before the show. Some of us find some plastic tubs in which to do laundry in an area on the roof, we cart water in five gallon jugs from a 'Water Buffalo (A tank on wheels) about a block away. The show was in a hanger on the airport. The place was huge. 9 Stories tall and about 100 yards by 75 yards wide. There were helicopters parked inside along he wall in various states of repair and others were taking off just outside causing a lot of noise. It was difficult for the audience to hear except up close to the stage. Onstage it was almost impossible to hear anything because the noise was coming at us. There were about 500 to 600 people again and they were a great crowd. Afterwards we went back to our quarters and since we were in a building that has offices as well we found some sergeants that hooked us up to the internet so I could post this tonight. We also learned that someone else is coming in to bunk with us tonight. Tomorrow we convoy through Baghdad to Camp Victory for a show. And we're going to the midnight meal tonight which is good because I missed lunch today.
We got up at about 6:30 this morning and headed to the DFAC. I was just here a few hours ago at midnight chow and am amazed that I can actually eat again. It is smoky in here today and the AC didn't seem to be working very well so we sweat through a meal as rapidly as possible. The flies here are a constant pain, too. The Captain that is our liaison came in a small bus with which to give us a tour of the camp and the airport area. There isn't much to see as most remnants of the war have been carried away by now. We did attempt to tar a visit to a secure area on the airport that is the home of Special Ops. These are the guys that do the stuff you don't hear much about and when you do they have to kill you. As we neared the area of the gate to the Special Ops area we were stopped by a heavily armed guard, spikes, razor wire and who knows what else. A lady lieutenant with persona that was with us got out and talked to the guard for a few minutes, he telephoned someone else and after about 5 more minutes we were told we could pass inside and look around. About 30 feet inside the compound an officer in an SUV appeared out of nowhere and used his vehicle to block ours. He then boarded the bus and told us that we could not enter and said that one of us had been seen taking a picture of the front gate and asked who it was. I told him I had and he instructed me to erase the picture from my camera as he stood there. I did, it wasn't that photogenic of a gate anyway. Then we left and finished up our tour with trip to the PX. All of the PXs have pretty much the same things and I didn't see anything I might want except for a hat but they didn't have my size and there was no Orange soda. At 2:30 we "Cowboyed Up" (Put on our flack jackets and helmets) and loaded up into a convoy for our trip to one of Saddam's former Palaces. The convoy consisted of two Humvees with gunners on the top and a Truck with a tarped over area in the back. Three of the comics rode in the truck with two soldiers on the back and two in the from the other four in our party rode in the backseats of the Humvees with two soldiers in the front. All the soldiers are armed and just before you begin to roll you hear the distinctive sound of rounds being chambered in all the guns. The trip through Baghdad was fast and uneventful, thank goodness and the only thing you could see were the cars you were passing with Iraqi civilians at whom our gunners kept in their sights. About thirty minutes later we arrived at the Regimental Palace. It is now the home of several military units and carries a number I can't remember for a military designation. The Palace is massive of course and it is also bomb damaged and in a state of being repaired by contracted Iraqi civilians. At the Palace we meet a First Sergeant that is a lifelong friend of the First Sergeant that is our tour coordinator among other things we learn his nickname is "Goob" which take great delight in now calling him. He takes it in stride as he has all of our antics. We get a tour of the compound as well as the palace. The destruction is massive and we are informed that 4,000 bodies were pulled from the ruins. There is also a zoo that Saddam kept that still contains Lions. Human remains were found in the pens that house them. We are not staying in the actual Palace as it is home to troops and Headquarters personnel. We are however put in a room on the grounds and are given cots and mattresses, a treat. It is air conditioned and as an added treat there are showers down the hall. We are 'living large.' There is also a former tennis court where now about 20 Iraqi prisoners are kept although we never see them playing tennis. At 6:30 we 'cowboy up' for another convoy to the Convention Center in Baghdad City Center for the show. The place eats about 4,000 but we only have about 500 in the show. One of the things that is annoying is that the information about the shows is sporadic and sometimes erroneous getting to the troops. The 500 that are there are great though and we have a great time. During the show we venture out onto the front steps of the Convention Center and can hear gunfire in the nearby areas. Overall though it's pretty quiet for a city of it's size. As an added surprise I meet a soldier at the show that had tried his hand at standup comedy at the the Comedy Workshop in Houston at the same time and same place that I started at some years ago. He is now a in public affairs with the Army and we talked and recalled stories and friends, small world. After the show we 'cowboyed up yet again and convoyed back to the Palace compound. That night we watch Monty Python's the Holy Grail and the soldiers were nice enough to bring up a late night snack of Chili and Rice. After that it was 'Dream City' for me.
This morning we we got up it was a nice surprise to find that the First Sergeant had brought a coffee maker to our room. A great treat that pleased the Caffeine crowd in our group and was an example of the super hospitality we've been shown. We then took a last look at the Palace, dined outside with the flies and donned our flack jackets and helmets for our convoy to another Palace and our last show in Iraq at "Camp Victory" a few miles away. Camp Victory is the camp that our liaison, Sergeant Hairston is from. He knows lots of people here and is home again. It's also the home of another of Saddam's Palaces. We got a tour of it today from a Sergeant Major that is in charge of it's upkeep. He took us all through it and it was in better shape than the other ones we had seen. We went onto the roof where the view is spectacular. The top is about 6 stories high. One of the comics found a spent round from an M-16 on the roof. We also saw a hole where a JDAM bomb went in. The entry hole is small but it gets larger as it descends and the damage below is catastrophic. It's one of those bombs they call a "Bunker Buster." After seeing the damage at some of the palaces it makes me wonder if Saddam may be at the bottom of all that rubble. And since none of them have been completely excavated the soldiers there agree it was very possible. The good news for us is that we are in an air conditioned tent with showers nearby. There is also a trailer with toilets so we don't have to use the PAPs all the time and that is a step up. The camp we were at yesterday had TV and a DVD player and to tell you the truth we would have swapped that for this convenience. We also have no internet access here. One of the soldiers offered to let us use theirs in their office but it didn't work very well. Our show tonight is on a stage they have set up in front of the Palace. After the show they had a DJ play music, people danced and we had a few Near Beers and watched. I found out that some Near Beers are better than others. It was a great turnout and the soldiers had a good time. We thought we were going to have a day off tomorrow in Kuwait but found out that we are not leaving here until 1am the day after tomorrow. We will have to wait here until before dusk tomorrow evening and then take a convoy to the airport because they don't travel outside the camp at night because of the danger of attack. We will just have to wait at the staging area until our flight time, about 6 hours. The staging is a gravel covered parking lot with minimal conveniences. As I mentioned before people were camped outside on the ground when we arrived because there is little room inside. I'm predicting we'll get back to our hotel in Kuwait at 3am. We're all pretty much ready to leave. I feel for the people stuck there.
Waiting around, killing time before the flight. Slept late (10am) and getting ready for the long trip back to Kuwait. Kind of a bummer having to kill a day off like this. Then at 1:30pm the Sergeant Major showed up and offered to take us into Baghdad for a little fact finding mission. This is unusual because going into Baghdad is something that isn't normally done unless it is absolutely necessary. So we 'Cowboy up' and got into a convoy and headed downtown where we saw Saddam's "Four Head" Palace and government center. It's called "Four Head" because atop it it has 4 giant metal busts of him in military regalia on the top of the building facing the front. He seemed to like his likeness a lot. The building is as huge and ornate as the rest of his palaces. There were civilians in suits all over the place who we are told are in the process of forming a new government. There are also a lot of bomb damaged buildings all around it. I would have hated to been in the area when the bombs fell as it must have sent giant chunks of debris flying in all directions. We also saw the parade area where one of the soldiers said was blood and bullet covered the firs time he saw it shortly after the invasion. Now it was just barren and torn up. Our First Sergeant refused to get out of the vehicle here saying he had no desire to be a "Sniper Target." We did however and took pictures. No one fired at us thankfully. About 4pm we headed back to our tent, slept a bit had dinner and awaited our convoy to the airport. At 7pm we convoyed to the airport where we waited for 6 hours before setting off for Kuwait in a C-130. We've been rejoined by our Kuwaiti liaison and a Marine lieutenant attached to her office. He and I talk Jarhead stuff and play cards and bet rocks to pass the time. We arrive at Kuwait International Airport at 1:30am. Unfortunately as is becoming commonplace the bus is not there to take us to the terminal. Our luggage leaves and still we sit waiting. Thirty minutes of sitting on the tarmac with our goal in sight the bus arrives. Thirty minutes after we arrive at the terminal our luggage, which left thirty minutes before we did, arrives. We get to the hotel we give John back our duffle bags and 'battle rattle,' good riddance. And we check in, it is now 3am, we have a Bingo! After a bit of difficulty I get an internet connection. I am now going to attempt to post this and go to sleep.
I couldn't get to sleep until 6am this morning and then I woke up at 11am and went out to see if there was any coffee to be had. That's when I discovered we had gained an hour back and I had forgotten to reset my watch and it was now only 10am which is good because breakfast is served until 10:30, I had some. The rest of the day is spent running errands and just relaxing. That evening we go out to Camp Doha and do a show there. The stage is a trailer that folds out, it has lights and a pretty good sound system. The audience is great and if we hadn't have had great shows all along I'd say this was the best one. We get back to the hotel at about 10pm and all retire forthwith.
Life is good in the hotel. We have a meeting this morning with a Colonel at the base, he thanks us for our endeavors and presents us with a certificate expressing their thanks. He also presents us with a 'Company Coin'. These are medallions that each unit has that are awarded for excellence. They are also used in a ritual in bars to get free drinks. If you present yours whoever doesn't have theirs on them has to buy the drinks. Kind of a moot point in these countries where alcohol is forbidden but hopefully it'll be an advantage when everyone is out of here and back home. The visit with the Colonel is fine until he starts explaining how the Army is better than the Marine Corps and then for me it kinda started to drag a bit (just kinda kidding, Colonel.) After that we head back to the hotel and finish packing up as we have to be out of our rooms by 2pm. We keep one room for everyone to stay in until our flight which is at 12:40am. Some hit the Souk one more time, some watch movies, trade pictures and just kick back. I think we're all starting to realize how exhausted we are and are attempting to keep the energy up until we can get on that plane. At 9:30 John picks us up and we head out to the airport. This time there's no circling around and we arrive about 20 minutes later. John is a nice guy and helped us in every way that he could. I'd like to say, "Thanks." The airport was bustling with people trying to figure out where to go for their flights. Here you have to run all your bags through the screener before you check-in so the line was hectic with people trying to handle their luggage and pick it up on the other side. After that getting through Customs was easier leaving than it was coming in. Then we killed a couple of hours and boarded and left Kuwait at about 1am. I was planning on having my first beer in a while after we took off but fell asleep as soon as the wheels came up.
We arrive in Amsterdam at 6:30am. Three of the comics have 28 hour layovers and head into town to.. whatever. The other comic and I have a flight at 11:30am so after computing the logistics we decide that's enough time, put our stuff into a locker and take the train in, hit a coffee shop, take a walk around. What a cool place Amsterdam is, especially after 'coffee.' At about 10am we head back in time to grab a bite, some flowers and catch our flight. 12 hours and some indeterminate amount of alcohol later, we're home.
Been home a week today and thought I would try and summarize our trip from a new perspective. Being home, of course is always great. It actually gets cooler at night here and that is a big difference from there. The heat is taxing there and although our troops there seem to take it in stride I now realize how much more effort it takes to do everything. There is also a feeling of safety here and that is something I don't think I felt when we were over there. Even though we were safeguarded by being in the middle of the Entire U.S. Forces there is a constant feeling in the back of your mind that something could happen that generates internalized stress. I also emphasize even more now with the fact that the people there don't know when they're coming home. We knew when we were coming home and we did. They are being told one thing and then another. That unknowing undermines morale more than anything. I got to hand it to the troops for going about their jobs stoically and with a sense of honor and humor. I am more proud now to have been a part of this tour than before. At the beginning I was wondering exactly what my motivations were. I now know that being able to help those people out for a minute is the reason I'll remember most.