I write this as I fly to Afghanistan.
I never thought I’d have the chance to actually say that, since I never thought I’d have the opportunity to serve my Country in any real capacity. Instead of signing up to serve our Country as an Army or Air Force stud, I went on a service mission in my early adult years, and upon my return performing became my calling.
There’s a certain feeling associated with this trip unlike anything I’ve experienced since leaving my family as a 19-year old boy for a 2-year mission to Brazil for my Church. I recall that feeling to this day: I felt completely and utterly sick. Knots in my stomach would have been welcome. I was having a true pain of the sorrow of the unknown, the questions lingered whether I would make it back alive.
Same feeling today, only magnified by about 10,000.
You’d probably never hear this kind of concern from a real soldier going over there, at least I’m not even sure if they feel the same way, since they are incredibly brave and ready for the task ahead of them. But in my vulnerability I sit here in complete fear, coupled with faith, and can only hope for the best.
When I left for my church mission as a young man in 1997, I had graduated from high school 2 months earlier. I had no idea about the world. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, I was ready to spread joy and light to all in my path. However, once the reality set in that I was going to a different country, with less amenities, teaching a gospel I barely knew but felt was right for my life, and to do all of this in a different language, that’s when it hit me.
I may not come back. I may not survive this. Would I see my family again?
And so the preparations began.
I sat for days and wrote letters to my parents and four siblings, for every birthday and holiday, purchased and wrapped presents for every moment I would miss of my family during my two year absence. This was a monumental effort and set me up for my extra cautious methods before every trip from then on. When you see those Mormon boys with nametags and ties walking the streets you might want to understand they work their whole lives to pay for that service time out of pocket, and go unpaid in their efforts, while only having 2 calls home per year: Mother’s Day and Christmas. And then being rejected by 99% of the people they talk with. Sets them up nicely for dating when they come home though….
It’s a lonely, scary, and yet incredible time.
But today the stakes are higher.
I am married now and a father of four young children.
Not only that, but I have a really great career. Things have never been better.
And then I get this call to go and perform for The Troops in the Middle East in the middle of wartime for the month of July. For free. I would have to cancel the couple of gigs I had lined up. Pay out of pocket for those artists replacing me at the canceled shows.
Not only that. I would also be missing out on the main month I had reserved to spend with my family, having booked only a few dates in order to have the month of July together, since most of my year is spent away from home.
And the call came to give something to my Country. A smile. Laughter.
That call had never come before.
It was a no brainer. I have never been so honored to be asked to serve my fellow service men and women in their time of service to us.
I was surprised to learn other entertainers had been invited and turned it down. I don’t know their reasons, and can respect why they would. It’s a very dangerous time out there. It’s a fairly unpleasant travel experience. It’s a long time away from family. It’s hotter than Arizona mid-summer. In fact, I’ve been told it’s between 120-140 degrees right now. For a pale boy like me that’s suicide in and of itself. I’m the guy hiding under a tree at the beach, or my own towel.
All of those things crossed my mind as to why the others wouldn’t go, but it didn’t cross my mind for one second NOT to go just because of the excuses. I even had agents laugh when they heard my enthusiasm for going, retorting, “Wow, you must not realize what you’ve gotten yourself into, every performer I’ve heard won’t go.”
Question I have is: How could I NOT go? To me, this is the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life.
And yet, that HOLY Canolies we could die there, Batman, feeling lingers. A pain that is deep. A concern that is grave.
I have joked in my nervousness that “the insurance is up to date!”, or “Honey, you’ll be better off without me, the house will finally get paid off!”, and “usually I’m supposed to kill on stage, but I’m just hoping to not bomb….” Humor that works to get you through the pain. Darker humor than people are used to hearing from me, but legitimate humor in this case.
And as I wander into the abyss of the unknown, scared unlike anything I’ve ever felt, I wouldn’t turn back due to fear. For what have I to fear compared to those that risk their lives in harm’s way daily? Who am I to feel I am above those who protect us? Soldiers marching into war and I’M concerned about me? No. I pray for them every day. I cry every time I see a flag wave. Every morning I’m home and raise the stars and stripes from our front porch pillar I feel a pride unlike anything I can express for my gratitude to be an American. I know those hosting us will do all they can to keep us safe while we’re there, and I know the general suggestion is that it will be a wonderful experience. But that doesn’t mean I’m not scared out of my mind.
It’s the similar feeling I had before my first day of Scout Camp when I was 12.
Similar as my mission at 19.
That feeling asking my girlfriend to marry me when I was 22.
Closest to that feeling as we sat in the doctor’s office to find out whether my wife carried the genetic disorder of Huntington’s Disease that had ravaged her family, killing her father, sister, uncle, step-brother, grandparents, etc. (Thank our God she was blessed to not have it)
The feeling I had 3 Father’s Days in a row as my wife told me we were expecting a child, and another one, and another one….
That eery feeling I had as I lie awake in the saddle of the Grand Tetons, contemplating bidding for the summit or wimping out.
Sort of that concerned feeling I had last Monday before I took the stage to perform for my peers at the National Speakers Association.
But it’s a different kind of scared. It’s the feeling that I very well am in harm’s way and have chosen to actually risk it all. But it’s that reassurance that if I don’t return at least I went doing something significant. For my Country. And in that I couldn’t be more excited, more proud.
As you’d expect, all of my ducks are in order. Nothing left undone. The will, trust, insurance, passwords, I’ve informed all of “my people” what to do if there’s a problem. There’s a note under my wife’s pillow she’ll find tonight, just as there is every trip I leave for. There are individual gifts for my children they will find through their lives left for them in strategic places. But I do this before every trip. I understand the risks of traveling on planes, yet the irony that it’s safer than driving my kids to school, and even safer than eating at McDonald’s…
As my wife and I returned from a day of shopping for everything we could imagine I may need, appropriate for the region of the middle east, southern Asia, the customs, and mostly the weather, having purchased over $1,000 in desert boots, packing gear, tan mountain man pants, long-sleeve light colored airy cotton/poly shirts, hats that cover a majority of the people in the vicinity, and more sunscreen than you’d find at a beach house for nuns and Irish immigrants, I sat my kids down in the living room.
“Kids, what does Daddy do?” I asked.
“Make people laugh for money!” they shouted with pride in their 8-years and under chorus of voices.
“Yes, sometimes we make some money, that’s pretty cool isn’t it?” I said.
“Yes, you are famous, and everyone at my school thinks you’re funny!” they offered.
“Thank you kids, I am kind of famous at your school, I did 3 assemblies this year, it’s got to count for something.” I stated. “But kids, WHAT does Daddy REALLY do?”
They thought for a moment, “Make people LAUGH!” And then they ran in circles giggling like little Raptors (I don’t know where they get that but it’s cute, it’s only sad when I need to pull out the tranquilizer).
“YES, Daddy makes people laugh, and when people laugh, what does that make them?” I lobbed.
“It makes people HAPPY!” And the screaming and running around began again. So cute. OK kids, sit just for one more second.
“VERY good guys, Daddy helps people feel happy, and joy, and better about their lives. That’s such a neat thing! And guess what? We live in the United States of America….” I began, to which they jumped to attention, hands over hearts, and recited,
“And to the Republic for which it stands….”
“Yes, kids, very good, sit down just for another second and we’ll be done. Daddy has a special job that can only be because we live in a free country. That means we can worship who we want, have the jobs we want, live the American Dream if we work hard enough. And there are countries where people aren’t allowed to have those things and our Country is free because of those people protecting our Country.”
This was the quickest lesson in history, government, and finances I could give my toddlers. But somehow, they understood it.
“So, you’re going halfway across the world to make people protecting us – HAPPY!”
“Yes, my children, isn’t Daddy lucky that Mommy would let me do this? And that you guys would support me leaving to perform for those protecting our freedoms?” I said.
As we ended the discussion I invited each child into my room to give them a special Father’s Blessing, usually reserved for the first day of school, or a birthday, or when they are sick. As an ordained Elder in the Priesthood I have the honor of blessing my children when the time is right. As each blessing began I lost it with each child. I sobbed my eyes out. I normally feel a touch of spirit that will bring a tear, but this was like turning on the faucet at Hoover Dam. After the children were blessed, I offered a blessing on my wife and our home. It was a sacred experience.
I only share this with you because it is my life and is reality. In our sorrow, fear, and concern there must be a belief in something greater, a faith that we will be protected, and we must do all we can to leave this world a better place.
And so we fly through the friendly skies to skies and locations that aren’t.
Whether you approve or disapprove of the military efforts overseas you, like me, support and pray for these Troops incessantly. Whether you believe in the God I do or have your own traditions, how grateful are we to have the ability to choose? Whether we have the chance to serve our Country or just sit back and enjoy the freedoms we have been bestowed, can we not agree that we must be grateful at every moment for the Country we live in?
My children don’t really know where I’m headed. I hope they only find out someday as they hear the stories and begin to realize this is a risky move. As we hugged at the airport and the tears flowed once again, each time I turned around they were running, waving, reaching for Daddy… My two year old asked, “Where are you going, Daddy?” I just embraced and kissed him and said, “I’ll be back soon. I’m leaving to keep you safe.” And they kept running and waving, jumping to see me all the way through the security line….
I’m not a soldier. I could never be so great. Never so brave. But for one moment, I felt EXACTLY what I know each and every one of them has felt as they left their families at the airport. This pit in my stomach of the unknown. And yet I’m only gone for 3 weeks.
I started this writing with the thought that those great people would never have felt like me, they’re just too brave, too courageous. But I know today, for a fact, they’ve ALL felt it, and that is the feeling of Bravery.
To you, the reader, I encourage you to do something BRAVE today in honor of those braving it out in the storm and fight for our freedom. Maybe it’s apologizing to the friend you offended, or working on that task that’s been essential but you’ve put off in order to surf Facebook, perhaps it’s writing a note to a loved one for no reason other than just because, or to finally quit that job and start the business you’ve been meaning to jump in with both feet for too long.
How can you show you are BRAVE?
Or as The Man of la Mancha would sing: “To be willing to march into Hell for a Heavenly cause….”
I am not alone on this trip. Figuratively or Spiritually.
The original call and invitation to go on this trip came from one of my true heroes and Speaking mentors. The man I would consider the greatest speaker I’ve ever heard in any setting, Dan Clark, CSP, CPAE, Hall of Fame. Dan will make you laugh, he’ll make you cry, he’ll make you think and reconsider what you’ve done with your life and reach for more than you ever realized you could. He is the ultimate example on and off the stage of Living The Art of Significance.
When Dan called me I was on the front row of a seminar. When Dan Clark’s number comes up on your cell you leave the seminar. I’m grateful I did, as he needed an answer immediately and I had no hesitation but to accept. Dan has been over there before, loves the experience, can hardly wait, and is bringing me along.
American Idol Finalist, and one of the world’s most beloved young singers, David Archuleta, is on this trip. Actually, we may have been upgraded to First Class at the airport because David is with us! You would have thought the Pope was out for lunch in Rome walking through the Salt Lake Airport with David. I kept pushing people away, shouting, “Just let the boy sing, give him space to breathe and catch the next note!” I think I’ll be his bodyguard on this trip since he’s so shy, kind, and fits in my carry on. Playing keyboard and guitar for David will be the Vocal Coach of The Stars, Dean Kaelin, who’s pupils have gone on to fame and fortune for 2 decades. It is a power packed line-up. And then I’m here, too. The 3D’s and a J.
The flight path is SLC to Atlanta – Amsterdam – Abu Dhabi – Afghanistan. We will perform 18 times in 21 days. We travel to places like Bahrain, Kuwait, Djibuti (pronounced “Ja-Booty”, for which I requested the chance to do my Beyonce impression and sing, “My body’s too Djibuti-licious for ya babe!”, which was immediately knocked out of the running in favor of David singing “Be Still My Soul”), Kabul, Abu Dhabi, etc.
The show will flow as follows: Dan Clark will Emcee with his incredible humor and motivational stories, David Archuleta will then sing inspirational songs such as “Imagine”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, and “Bring Him Home”. The audience will be sobbing by the time I come out on stage, at which time I will attempt to bring them to laughing hysterically.
Rinse and repeat.
Our goal is to flood these wonderful Troops with joy, perspective, love, happiness, memories, gratitude for life and a willingness to hold on for one more day.
Our message is sobering and painful: Suicide Prevention. The leading cause of death of our servicemen and women is taking their own lives. And we will give them An Evening of Music, Comedy and Motivational Theater in hopes that we can remind them they have a reason to live now and later upon their safe return home.
May God be with you, with us, with our Troops, and that our message might give those in need a breath of life and fresh understanding of their significance in order to carry on, to return home safely, and know there is an entire Country cheering them on, to know they are loved, and most of all, appreciated for their sacrifice that none of us can even comprehend.
God Bless America.