Upon leaving Kuwait on July 15 and our arrival in Afghanistan, following the most sobering flight of my existence and the observance of our military headed into the eye of the storm of war, it was a late night at the Airfield. Greeted by MWR Director, Elissa Weaver, who’s bright eyes, red hair, and ever-present smile gave us the sense that we had found a long lost Aunt in a foreign Country, think Mrs. Potts from “Beauty and the Beast”, sort of an Angela Landsbury voice and comfort, mixed with the no nonsense delivery of a cadet reporting to his sergeant, with the pedigree of knowledge of war of General Schwarzkoff, having been raised a military brat and traveled the world, military service is her life through and through and she loves it, even volunteered to come to Afghanistan to raise the morale of the Troops through entertainment, and she covers the entire country’s needs. And then we were whisked away to our living quarters.
As jets, planes, helicopters flew past us in and out of the busiest airstrip in the Military, Humvees, and M-Wraps (if you watch the movie “Transformers” you will see these vehicles, twice the size of a Hummer in height and weight, able to withstand any size roadside bomb), and traditional Army vehicles, we rode on the bus which would be our transport at Bagram base for the next 5 days as our eyes were wide open to the hustle and bustle all around us. It wasn’t 10 minutes and there was a call of “Incoming! Incoming” which means, “Get on the ground, hands over head, we are being attacked by the enemy”. Following the scare, we couldn’t get our bags for over an hour.
On the bus we listened to Elissa give us the directives for the trip in orderly fashion. In her matter of fact way she let us know our performances in Kabul and Kandahar were cancelled, following a suicide bomber killing some 80 civilians the day of our arrival only a few miles away, as well as numerous soldiers losing their lives in the past week from roadside bombs. Instead, we would be performing for the Prison employees who never have time to see a show, having to deal with the craziest, meanest people on earth, Taliban prisoner psychos devoted to killing anyone in their path, who don’t fear death nor value life. It would be our job to bring a smile to these soldiers who rarely have a chance to escape the walls of their work. We would then fly out the following morning to FOB Airborne, another base in the foothills of the Taliban’s target practice mountain region, the next day in Jalalabad, and finally a closing performance for the base that is Bagram.
Bagram has become the thing of legend. Built up over the last few decades, it was beefed up when the US went after Osama Bin Laden. In fact, when the Navy Seals came in and killed the Taliban leader they landed across the street from our apartment and flew out from there. Rad. So I guess, in essence, Dean and I helped kill Bin Laden, which is pretty awesome.
When you think of war, camps, bases, you probably think of M.A.S.H. with old green tents, limited food, and Alan Alda. That’s not Bagram, that’s Airborne, which I will describe in a minute. Bagram is pretty much the equivalent of an entire city flanked by 15 foot high cement walls called T-Walls that line the entire footprint of this base. It feels like an Army base, but looks like a Concentration Camp. Full on streets, even a road called Disney Way, named after a soldier who was killed in action here, huge buildings in college dorm like living, clam shells (huge tents tall enough to hold aircraft), and building after building side by side for miles. No colors, no parks, no swing sets, no green grass. The landscaping is rocks on top of more rocks, everything is gray – the buildings, the cement walls, the people’s faces from the dust.
Dust is everywhere, more dust than has ever existed on planet earth lives in Bagram. When Adam was made from the dust in the Bible I think they had the dust shipped to the Garden of Eden from Bagram, and when it says he breathed in the air and his nostrils were filled, had he been at Bagram base, his nostrils would have filled with dust. I saw more people sneezing, wheezing, coughing, wearing scarfs in 100+ degree weather in order to avoid the dust. In fact, more corneas of soldiers are damaged here than by anything outside of these walls, although leaving the walls means you are a target and will most likely confront an IUD or bomb along the road.
Within Bagram’s 16 mile radius is the Airfield which we landed on from Kuwait, and features every aircraft imaginable, seemingly sending and receiving flights every 30 seconds. I’ve hung around lots of airports in the states, and seen a lot of planes take off and come in, but this is like a chess match with Bobby Fisher for the Air Force; if it’s not sending a cargo loaded c-130 and two F-16 fighter jets flown by Tom Cruise and Moose, then it’s receiving private jets of contractors and Blackhawks two by two flown by Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. with permanent thumbs up on their hands, as well as the American signal for “We’re gonna kick your trash”: The Smirk. The reason for so much activity is twofold: A majority of the jets and helicopters fly in twos, in order to always have a “Wingman” to cover the butt of the lead craft. The other reason is our diminishing of the mission in Afghanistan, as we (the US Mission Enduring Freedom) leave the area and lessen the footprint, the Afghanistan military is being taught how to protect themselves while countries from around the world also keep stationed here as an effort to protect these innocent people.
When you think of Afghanistan you’re probably like me and think of crazy people, all of which belong to the Taliban who want to kill Americans, who live in the desert, or the mountains, or both, and why in the heck couldn’t we find Bin Laden quicker? Right? That’s what I thought at least. And that’s the shame in my ignorance. For the record it’s not true. They are wonderful, sweet, calm, fairly peaceful people. We are here to protect them from the extremist groups attacking them as well as world peace. I’m a slow learner, folks, I get it, but I had to see it for myself to understand.
As we all know 9/11 changed everything. Any semblance of world peace. It was a new kind of terrorist. It was unlike anything we’d seen since December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was ambushed on a Sunday morning, killing thousands of our troops on their naval base in Hawaii. Thus the start of World War II. Did we not go after those guys that came in to kill us and threaten our security and freedoms? Heck yes we did. And those US Troops had the full support of every American from Seattle to Pensacola, from San Diego to Syracuse. And we beat the holy smokes out of everyone in our path. That’s the US Military, strongest and smartest in the world! So when 9/11 happened we went after a few different groups in an attempt to cover all bases of terrorism: Saddam Hussein in Iraq was still a lingering problem (remember my post on Kuwait), those potentially funding terrorism worldwide in random countries (think “Bourne Identity” meets “Mission Impossible” and the Special Ops guys searching out these lunatics, which aren’t known by the media), and most importantly Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban hidden somewhere in a cave in Afghanistan.
Send out the Troops!
To think that we are helping people the world over, day in and day out, risking our lives to keep not only our FREEDOM intact, but also to offer relief and assistance to those in need, protection to one and all, makes me realize our Military is founded and run upon the principles which the Constitution of our Country mandates!
And so we are over here in Afghanistan as a US Military. The Afghan people are about as poor, nice, docile, and even shy as any people I’ve been around. Having interacted with the poorest of the poor in Brazil on my mission for 2 years I thought I had seen poor, but these people make $.25 per day to live off of. They make scarves, beads, carve camels out of wood and marble, make chess sets out of rocks, and live very simply, hoping to survive in a world of turmoil surrounding their country. Bordered by Iran and all of the “Stans” (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, etc), they are in the middle of a very volatile region. Add on top of that the harsh conditions of the weather. Afghanistan lies within the foothills to the Himilayas, so the mountains are 15,000-20,000 feet high here, and look like giant sand monsters. In the shadows of the mountains is desert, sand, wind. Somehow with wells and ingenuity they are able to grow green, lush, beautiful farms out of nothing, Bedouins survive year round herding camels, sheep, and trailers with satellite dishes (seriously) and live in tents and move every day across this harsh landscape. It is inspiring, as I’ve climbed mountains the past few years where I live, and can’t imagine the native’s ability to walk, maneuver, and climb, wandering day in day out in the beating sun, no shade, no trees.
In Bagram there are plenty of locals who come through the walls daily to help with food service and other needs. They are friendly, love us, appreciate our Military, make more money than they ever have in their lives, and know they are fairly safe from the bad guys if we are here. I imagine they are going to start becoming gravely concerned as they notice we are making our way out over the next year or so. Will their own Military be able to protect them from the Taliban? I hope so. But the people I met are kind, caring, happy and appreciative of our protection. As for the mandate to pull out of the country, I feel it is a good choice. This place is too hostile. If we can maintain a limited presence along with other countries, as well as the local military, and bring home as many troops as possible, then YES they must come home. And grateful many are.
So following that little political rant….
We arrive at our housing unit, take a right off of Disney way. No street signs, dust blowing like a bad mother, we pull up to the location which is surrounded by cement T-Walls (15 feet high and 6 feet wide) stacked side by side for miles and miles, and have to walk around a few of them 3 walls deep to even arrive at the front door. Front door has a keypad entry, inside is a stairwell, another door, and then a long corridor hallway with the names of those staying in each room clipped to the door. To get into your room you need to keypad in, use BOTH hands to turn the knob and handle, and once in you realize it’s better out in the hall. These rooms were so teensy, but much nicer than the tents I thought we’d be hunkering down in. Add to that having a roommate and you have close quarters. Dean Kaelin bunked with me, Dan Clark and David Archuleta in their room. Dean and I were sharing Twizzlers by day 2, sunscreen by day 3, shirts by day 4, and holding hands by the end of the trip.
We are now 2.5 hours difference from Kuwait. Yes, somehow Afghanistan is on the half hour, which I’ve never seen before, and so extra confused we try to fall asleep with the sound of roaring trucks and helicopters outside, and do the math to try and set our alarms for the morning since our phones don’t know what’s up with the half hour thing either. Asleep by 2 AM and up at 5:30 AM to shower in the shared bathroom in the hall, breakfast in the mess hall we can’t get into without a signed document from the General and US Secretary of Defense, and from there we head off to have meetings, performances, and a special tour of an secret location I can only tell you about once and then I’ll have to kill you….
In the evening we perform for the Military Prison workers. What an incredible show! My favorite one so far. They NEVER get their own shows over on this side of the base, or so we are told, and because of Kabul and the incidents there, we have this awesome gig with these guys. In Bagram it’s typical to start out the day with beauty and calm weather, blue skies, no clouds. By noon it’s too hot to go out. By 5 PM the winds have picked up so much there is a hurricane ripping the tent apart we are performing in, slapping against the poles in the wind. But the SHOW must go on – Toto! Where’s Toto?!
Near the end of the show we learn of a young soldier who just welcomed his son to the world today via SKYPE with his wife. A new DAD. His first child is born and he’s over here, serving our Country. Afterward, as we took pictures and told him how awesome he was, tears filled his eyes as he said, “I’ve been a little bummed today to miss being there for my son’s birth, but this show filled me with gratitude that I can be here to protect my family and know I’m in the right place. This is the happiest day of my life!” Such a wonderful guy, person, and now, Dad.
The next day, after a late night in Prison (see what I did there?), we arise early, little sleep, and race off to the airfield to hop on a Chinook.
The Chinook is a helicopter the size of a small plane, with two huge propellers made for hauling giant loads. In one sits our 3 crates/pallets of sound equipment, and in ours sits our “Fearsome Foursome” as we’ve become known in the States since beginning the tour, as well as our MWR director, Elissa, Sergeant David Goins, our Philippine sound dudes (who traveled with us from Kuwait), Donald and Walter, and flanked in our IBA’s (Individual Body Armor) we load the Chinook. Seated against the sides of the copter we begin the flight out. Amazingly the back of it is open, with a fearless Army dude in helmet sitting with his legs dangling out the opening. Yes, he’s harnessed in, but if he falls out he’s not climbing back in unless pulled back up. At the front are the two pilots, and behind them two fully armored soldiers, helmets with black masks, manning machine guns, watching like hawks for any potential threats along the way. Top Gun meets Apocalypse Now, here we come!
As we take off, I’m filming the whole thing out the window as best as I can with my GoPro. Helmets on, Dean to my right, David and Dan across from us without helmets, we are enjoying the peaceful views of the mountains as we cruise to ARIBORNE FOB. All of a sudden – ENEMY FIRE! The machine guys start firing toward the mountain – RAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-RAT-TAT-TAT! Chinook jerks to the right as we drop, more shots fired – RAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-RAT-TAT-TAT! Swoops to the left, more shots fired – RAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT. Huge drop like you’ve just reached the top of a rollercoaster and the gut sinking feeling of the descent, we are headed straight down into the mountain! I see David, grabbing for his helmet, everyone in a stunned panic, holding their hands to their ears or grabbing anything they can, the soldier on the back hanging out the opening is sliding along the edge, freakiest and most exciting thing I’ve ever experienced. Once the craziness subsided I was the only one laughing, everyone else looked a bit shell shocked, but I knew that if we went down it would make for the coolest way to die, and so, alive, I had to laugh. VIDEO HERE
Upon arrival at AIRBORNE FOB we realized we had stepped back in time to the filming location of M.A.S.H. I could hear the guitar music as we came in. The tour of the dusty, sweaty location was so awesome, as we went all around to find some food at the mess hall tent, had a chance to hold and sign a mortar (which is like a mini-missile) and then launch it at the bad guys….just kidding, but I wanted to. As it was going to be fired off at another time in order to kill the meanies I wrote, “Thanks for the Trip!” and signed my name. Yeah baby.
Our show was in a huge tent housing the coolest gym in the world, like Venice Beach indoors, where Army dudes were doing squats with 500lbs, it was my first mini work-out opportunity of our trip and I cranked out a nice set of pull-ups, chest, bi’s and tri’s in 15 minutes.
The show was swallowed up in the echo of the tent, my words to my parodies muffled and reverbed against the walls, and yet everyone still laughed, clapped, and loved it. They hadn’t had a show in who knows how long. They hadn’t had a bath in who knows how long, either. They didn’t even have a venue for a show but created one for us, building a stage out of metal beams and a giant gym mat that melted as it stuck to our shoes. It was all they had and they gave their all. It was the coolest stage I’ve ever seen built or conceived, so awesome. And they were so proud of it, and should have been. Seated all throughout the hall we gave away our traditional gifts: David Archuleta CD’s, Jason Hewlett DVD’s, Dan Clark’s hats he had made for the tour, and I pulled out some of my items I brought special for a day like this: Baby Wipes, Gum, Skittles, Jolly Ranchers, Mints individually wrapped. By the time the bags returned they appeared to have been dipped in a piranha tank, they had raided these treats, and I was so grateful they liked them. Some of these guys sorely needed the wipes, apparently at this base showers are a once every 3 days experience due to the extreme water shortage, and on some of the special ops guys (bearded so they can mingle with civilians outside the gates) you could tell they hadn’t showered in weeks. But everyone keeps smiling, doing their jobs, knowing what they do is bigger than themselves and for the greatest good. So cool.
After signing cards, taking pictures, and learning the stories of a few brave, incredible soldiers, including the story of the blonde, beautiful, and constantly smiling Chaplain Assistant White, with her child at home whom she misses so much and is supporting from thousands of miles away, we hopped on the Chinook and flew back to Bagram. This time there was a machine gun on the back of the opening in the copter, rather than just the two on the sides, as they said, “It’s been a busy day firing at our aircraft”. Nice! We made it back without any surprises, and that night did a fireside in the mess hall private room for the 15 members of the LDS branch. Awesome evening and day.
The next morning we woke up extra early once again and hopped aboard a c-130, which is an airplane with web seating along the outer edges of the interior, and luckily Dean and I were invited by Dan to sit in the cockpit, making up for the missed opportunity from Kuwait with Dan and David on the 5 hour flight over.
We had a 25 minute ride in the front, able to watch the pilots do their job in such a masterful way, as the runway disappeared and the view went from asphalt to sky to billowing clouds unlike I’ve ever seen. It’s one way to sit in the regular seats and see clouds as you go through them, but to see the beginning of the cloud line, the formations, white cotton candy and stuffing of a pillow, I felt like a My Little Pony floating through the sky. Halfway through I put my raised fist in the air and shouted, “Falcor!” but no one laughed, except for me silently to myself.
VIDEO of Take Off and Beautiful Afghanistan Countryside outside the walls of Bagram
Upon arrival in Jalalabad Base we were treated to the best reception of the entire trip. Obviously everyone has been great and welcoming everywhere, but this was so over-the-top, the entire leadership greeted us, took us around, allowed us to look play around in the helicopters, and we had such a fun time with them.
Laughing, high-fiving, I even tried an epic fail “Dirty Dancing” re-enactment of the Patrick Swayze lift over the head of a darling Captain, standing under 5 feet tall, a beautiful African-American woman who ran at me confidently as I almost dropped her on the airstrip. Hilarious and humiliating. She looked like she weighed 80 lbs but with the boots and gear on must have been over 130 lbs or something and I just couldn’t do it. I admit, I am now an old, fat, pathetic man, but I’m grateful I still have the confidence of a young high schooler who thinks he can do anything, including the “Time of My Life” dance lift. No go.
Next we visited the gutsiest group of the bunch: The Roadside Bomb Crew. These are the guys who work all day on making sure their vehicles are safe enough to go out on the streets of Afghanistan, drive around in search of bombs to ensure the safety of the locals while putting themselves in harm’s way. They are extremely proud, enthusiastic, and ecstatic we had a chance to hang out. All of these vehicles are like video games inside, bomb resistant outside.
The show was in the Chapel, housing about 12 rows of chairs, the backdrop of the stage a huge American flag, and our sound system team making it hum beautifully, it was a perfect set up for our show. The crowd was awesome, and the show got even tighter than the last time. We continually tweak it, trying new bits, and experimenting on the best choices for the audience demographic, we feel we are making a difference more and more each gig. The audience loved it, expressed their appreciation, and gave us the ceremonial “Coin in the Hand Shake” ceremony as presented by the highest ranking official at the event. It stands for excellence in the service of the military, every person in charge of a certain section of their military branch has a special coin made and when exceptional service is shown they recognize the individual by shaking their hand and placing a coin. We have so many coins we are going to need a glass case to display them in my office. I pulled a bag of them out of my suitcase last night in front of the military security guys that helped us in Kuwait and they started laughing, saying, “I’ve never received 3 coins in 20 years of service, let alone seen that many in a baggie!” And so it is a big deal and really cool we would be honored that way.
Sweaty and ready for the flight back, we boarded a Chinook back, needed to wear our body armor, and by now it was old hat, we knew exactly what to expect. However, this time we could see the wingman out the back view of ours, and it was like something out of a movie. Seeing the sky, blue and cloudless, we flew low enough to be able to see the bricks which made up the Afghani homes and property outlines, the greenery and gardens, to which turned into harsh desert mountainsides. The Chinook flying behind us to keep us safe and haul our gear was among the lasting images I’ll have of this tour; so surreal to think we are here, especially that I’m here, to be given this great gift that used to send me to the principal’s office for disrupting the class, and now here I am, being escorted on a military aircraft around the southwest Asia territory to make people laugh with that same thing…
We don’t comprehend our own greatness. The reason is that we live with it. Often it has to be pointed out to us time and time again for us to finally grasp that we have something significant to offer, that we are incredible even when we just do what we do naturally. God sent us here to discover how to harness this power, this ability, that only YOU can do for those around you. It is your Signature Move, the way in which YOU bless the world as only YOU can. And as I go from corporate event to corporate event, and now from one country to the next, entertaining the Troops, I realize more powerfully than ever the value of this message that I bring, which is: You have talents I don’t have, and I have talents you don’t want! J We are ALL gifted in our own ways, and to share the light, to spread the love, to give back where so often we only consume.
Flying above the Afghan sky, the screaming sound of a chopper overhead, surrounded by bright red webbing and ARMY green walls, buckled safe in my little seat, I looked admiringly at each person there:
The Pilots – The only way we get from here to there, safely, the most important people on the aircraft no matter what anyone else says or thinks!
The Gunners and Spotters – The only way the pilots can focus on their job and do it well, knowing they have their backs covered by experienced, hawk-eyed machine gun wielding boys who keep all of us safe and literally come to our aid in any issue.
The MWR Team of Elissa Weaver and Dave Goins – Without them accepting our Tour we don’t come here. Without their organizational skills we don’t even get off the airplane upon arrival in the Country, find a place to sleep, get into the mess hall for chow. They became our eyes and ears, our guides and mentors, educating us along the way, keeping us protected and well fed, even doing our laundry and asking questions about our Church (in that order, yesJ ), and making our stay most luxurious as could be.
The Sound Guys, Donald & Walter – Without them there is nary a decent show for more than 10 people in the room. The unsung hero of all performances are the laborers who raise trusses, create the magic, do everything like ninjas in the darkness while the lights shine bright on the performers who only take the stage for 60-120 minutes, whereas the crew often spends 10x that amount of time prepping for that moment for others to shine. Incredible sacrifice and love these guys have.
And then, of course, the 3 Dudes Who Comprise The Tour –
Dean Kaelin – Without his selflessness to simply play background for David, where he could carry a show on his own and kill, without his expertise in helping David salvage his voice at the age of 13 upon receiving news he had a paralyzed vocal chord, etc etc., we have a very different show. Dean is the musical genius among us and I’m not even worthy to share the stage with his greatness, yet he takes a backseat on this tour as a backup player, I’m just in awe of his humility. He also provides my favorite piece of the show, playing his instrumental improv Jazz or Ballad number based upon the phone number of someone in the audience, it’s a sight to behold!
David Archuleta – I’ve said all that can possibly be said about this great young man who is truly one of the great examples I’ve ever been around. His voice is as the angels of heaven, his heart is pure, his obedience rivals Nephi. Amazing ability to craft each song, care for creating a moment for the audience rather than worrying about making it sound good for his own glory, rather hoping they will feel something, and what’s awesome is that they always do.
Dan Clark – The reason we are here. Without his vision, leadership, and ability with words and influence, we are not having the experience we will tell our grandkids about. I’ve known Dan since I was a little kid, I remember crying as a little boy listening to him give a speech and sing “I’ll Build You A Rainbow” at the end. I’ve looked up to this giant of a man for so long and he teaches me continually, and how I wish in the rest of my whole life I could accomplish 1/10th of the things he has in the past decade….The Genius of Dan is his ability to connect with an audience, to inspire, to get the grizzliest, crabbiest, darkest souls in the room to crack a smile, while bringing the happy to tears of gratitude, the concerned to comfort, and the self-unsure to a level of belief they have never experienced. Dan is the Great Storyteller and Humorist of our Time.
And then there’s me.
You can see why I’d feel inferior sitting on such a flight with these people I so admire, friends and new people I am fans of. I just so admire watching others excel in their field of endeavor. It makes me push to try harder, to offer my gifts in a new way, to be surrounded by amazing people all the time is what I strive to do my whole life, and this moment was a microcosm of the life I have created for myself, and the life The Lord has allowed to become for me all at once on that flight. We don’t get there without the support of others, of our family back home, of our wife and children, parents, teachers, loved ones. It all comes full circle to this moment.
And I just sit there and smile. I know it’s a miracle I have this most wonderful life. My eyes water as I begin to imagine my children there with me, one by one, sitting on my lap, with little combat gear on their bodies and helmets covering their buzz cuts and pony tails. I could see their excitement and reaction to the moment and situation, and as I envisioned them I returned to that childlike place of awe and wonder of what I was experiencing, as the tears began to come. I see life through the eyes of a father who worries he has little time left to live, and yet makes the most of each day, and prays for another tomorrow. I see life through the eyes of my children in order to appreciate everything for the first time with a level of heart and excitement most pushed deep down by the time middle school years roll around. I see opportunities to give light, a smile, service, and do so without thought, not talking myself out of it in my head, but rather going for it from the heart. And this is that moment, of pure PRESENT LIVING. I put my camera and phone down, stopped taking pictures and video, and just sat there soaking it in knowing I would NEVER pass this way again.
How important is that for all of us in this life?
So often we see children on stage and parents capturing the moment through a small iPhone screen, with the intention of watching again later, but often not really going back through it, only to feel a little unfulfilled with the moment because we didn’t just LIVE IT. It’s important to capture film and photos, but more important to feel the sacredness of a moment that will not be repeated, and sacred moments most often are not supposed to be filmed. Enjoy every breath. Love your life. LIVE your life. Give yourself to the highest realm of existence and excellence is yours, greatness flows through you, spirit reconnects with soul, heaven and earth make perfect sense in God’s glory.
Arriving back in dusty Bagram we finally had an evening where I could work out in the new facility. What a joy! Having eaten, run to the next gig, sat around, met soldiers, performed, eaten again, traveled everywhere, etc for over a week with no chance to pump iron in a full 60 minute set my body was screaming for it. When I say military base gym you might as well be talking about Gold’s Gym featuring the entire Marvel Series characters, as well as the ones that Stanley hasn’t drawn yet. It was like Mr. Olympia comes to Afghanistan. My goodness! I saw guys doing shoulder flies with 75 lb dumbbells! I walked over and grabbed the 12’s….I looked like Kip from Napoleon Dynamite….the guy cranks out his set, looks at my weights and smirks….so I crack back, “Your Mom goes to college”. To which he rips off his headphones and says, “Huh?!?” And I wimp out and say, “Hey man, that was amazing.” “I know”, he says, going in for the 85’s. “Stop lookin’ at me or you’ll get a roundhouse to the face with these bad boys!”
Who are these people, and where is the gym you’re supposed to join before you join this gym? I want to know where the people that look like me work out. “Yes, excuse me, can you tell me where the pasty, hairy, freckled, non-defined, un-shredded, holes in the shirt in my armpit, listening to Cyndi Lauper in their headphones gym is? Yeah man, as soon as my 4 sets of 6 lunges is over and I crank out 20 sit ups on the ball, I’m going to need a donut and a milkshake. Where is that gym at?” The guy with ARMY on his 50” chest stands there with a confused look on his face and says, “Why don’t you just enlist?”
As I reach for the purple bands, I’m just sort of going through the motions, hoping not to make eye contact with the steroid-looking hulks I’m in awe of, wondering how they got that huge and comparing myself to them. And then it hits me: This is their LIFE. Like literally. I muster up the courage to talk to someone else, someone that looks nicer. Oh, there’s a guy doing crazy pull-up isolation moves, he looks nice.
“Excuse me, sir, how do you do that?” I ask.
He is delighted I’d notice and asks me, “Oh, hey man, can you do pull-ups?”
“Yes, maybe about 10 in a row, I’m not Tony Horton though.” I say
“Yeah bro, you just work your feet around this box, and as you lift yourself you put one leg in front of you, one leg to the side, hold it out, do your pull-ups, killer work-out, and then just do whatever you want with your feet, world’s best ab work-out.” He is a stud.
So I try it. WOAH! I can kind of do it. I don’t look like Will Smith in “I AM” but it’s not as tough as it looks. The Marine is impressed. So I ask,
“How often do you work out here?
Truth comes out:
“Well, I wake up at 4 AM every day, get her eat 4:30 AM and work out until 6 AM, have breakfast, a few meetings, I go to my job from 7 AM -7 PM, and then I come back here and work out until 9 PM, sleep by 10. And I do that every day, just like everyone here, it’s the same guys over and over again.”
A-ha! Consistency. You sneaky devil, you.
The secret to being a great soldier is the secret to being successful in life. He who is consistent at doing something well becomes a master of it. This is evident in any athlete, performer, office admin, parent, lover, teacher, inventor, or soldier.
With the quick conversation I had between a Marine and my hope to create a better, healthier me (as I’ve been trying for over a decade), I realized the level of commitment must go up another level that I haven’t attained. And I so admire him for it. What was cool is I told him that, he said he appreciated the vote of confidence, and then he asked, “What do you do consistently then?’ I said, “This”, and I wiggled my nose. He busted up, slapped his knee and bent his head down, high-fived me and said, “How long did you work on that to be able to just do that?’ I said, “8 years”. And thus it is written – what we work on we become good at. Payoff of the nose wiggle for me is seeing the buff guy laugh, and THAT’s why I’m here. Spreading joy, one freaky bunny impression at a time.
The next morning was painfully early, but for some reason Dean and I never felt terrible about missing a good night’s sleep, as we averaged about 3-5 hours per night through the first week and a half of the trip, yet knowing we were going about serving and doing good carried us through it. On the bus, we went from one station/office to the next throughout Bagram, where we performed MINI-SHOWS for anyone in any office that wasn’t going to get to come to the evening show for the whole base due to their shifts going long. First it was the Air Force Pallet Team, the guys and gals who make sure everyone’s gear gets unloaded upon arrival to the base, and wrapped properly and loaded prior to every aircraft leaving. 1 Million lbs per day of movement through their hands. Unfortunately they also have occasional catastrophic accidents, such as the aircraft loaded with 3 Humvees and 6 crew members going back to the States that had a shift in weight during take-off, making it unable to lift-off and exploded at the end of the runway a few years ago, killing all on board. We drove by the crash site, you can still see some of the remaining debris. And so their job is serious stuff. And it was our chance to lighten the mood. David sang “Fields of Gold” with Dean on guitar, Dan told a few inspiring stories and funny jokes, I did my faces and the Raptor. 15 minutes. A few pictures. Off to the next place: Maintenance of planes, F-16’s, A-10’s, etc. Show, laughs, amazed by David’s song….and we’re off to the NEXT group!
We went to as many buildings as we could to try and bring some smiles and a break in the monotony of their lives. You could see the appreciation in their faces. Even as all of us could have possibly grown weary of the same bits we were doing, over and over, to those watching it was the first time, and the joy in their faces and reaction was priceless. The hugs, the salutes, the coin hand shake ceremonies, the phone numbers given to us to reach out to their family members and tell them we saw them and they’re alright (Dan’s brilliant idea), the videos we made, the selfies I photo bombed….it was so beautiful.
That night in Bagram we had the best show of the tour. In the “Clam Shell”, a full basketball court and a stand alone stage, although the wind was ripping through the area it was a tight, incredible, spiritual experience. Our last night with our MWR friends, Elissa and Dave, and when the 2 Star General came to the stage to give us the coins, the soldiers all standing and clapping, hands over their hearts, our hands over ours, we all just lost it. What a special night. Indescribable. Another unforgettable night. Tears come to my eyes just typing about it. Just one of those shows you’ll never forget as the Spirit was there, all were uplifted and inspired. This was why we had come. It was also one of the nights I had to pay a heavy amount to get someone to fill in for me back in the States for a gig I had to bail on. All worth it. This is where I’m supposed to be tonight.
We were up late packing, up even earlier to leave. After a quick breakfast and shuttle drive to the airfield we gave Dave a hug and Elissa a sad goodbye. Our Mom away from home, she had done our laundry, eaten every meal with us, given us the scoop on history of the area and why things are the way they are, come to every gig, made sure we had every need met, she was just incredible. The tears flowed as she gave us a special shirt and Dan tore a $20 bill in half and talked of the tradition that he will keep it with him, and them with theirs, and we will meet again. So awesome. And we walked to the c-130 for the 4 prop plane flight out of Afghanistan back to Kuwait.
Soldiers boarded after we did, and sitting knee to knee, no room for legs, feet, bags, it was just a crowded and uncomfortable flight as I’ve ever experienced, including not having a bathroom, we spent 5.5 hours flying in Wright Brothers conditions. How it made me appreciate the sacrifice and discomfort constantly experienced by these men and women of our Armed Forces. And yet they never complain, they just endure it and move on. Guy sitting next to me was clean cut, impressive, handsome, heading back home after 8 months as a nurse anesthetist deployed; guy across from me was fully bearded, in street clothes, a Special Ops guy with more crazy stories in one deployment than most ever get in a career….just amazing the people all around us on every flight, the bravery, passion, care for a job well done. (Oh, and BTW, I found a bathroom on the plane, behind the cargo storage, up a few steps, behind a shower curtain is a hole you can sprinkle into with incredible aim – a bit disturbing but so wonderful to have that sensation of AHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhh!)
Back in Kuwait, with our Security Team, was like returning from being a POW to the life of luxury. I don’t want to over exaggerate it too much, but comparatively, Kuwait’s Ali Al Saleem base (The Rock) and Afghanistan’s Bagram are two completely different worlds. Bagram is Aushwitz, Kuwait is Torrey Pines Country Club. In the middle of the sand, desolation, and desert, yes, but everything about it made us feel like we returned home. I had started to fall into a state of really missing my family while in Bagram, not even able to comprehend how the soldiers feel, as Internet was spotty, SKYPE never worked properly, it was really a disaster to call home and just frustrating. To the point that I said to my wife, “Let’s just email, the calls are making me mad”. Sad, that’s how I felt after being in that setting for a few days, how can the guys feel that are there 8 months? Amazing.
We returned to our posh, suite-like rooms, no shared bathroom, no roommates, it was like we just won the lottery. We had a special private Sunday sacrament with the amazing Branch President Kidd prior to their service starting and our departure to our next show in Buhring, and we packed up our gear, sadly leaving the graces of Ali Al Saleem. What a great base. Changed my perspective of everything upon arrival, and made me realize how wonderful the Military really is.
Buhring was in the middle of even more nowhere, as we drove for about 45 minutes through the absolute desolation of Kuwait. You know you’re in desolation when there are CAMELS on the side of the road, dead. I mean, if a camel can’t make it out here, what’s going to happen to us? It reminded me of Sinatra’s New York, New York line, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere,” Well, I beg to differ. Sinatra would have had a tough time in Buhring. And the soldiers living here? What of them? Buhring is just a base on top of sand. Combine the heat, sand, scorpions and tarantulas at night, and then the fact that these guys are stationed 10 miles from the Iraqi border, awaiting deployment to cross the border and go fight real psychos, this is pretty much the last place on earth any living thing wants to be. In fact, upon visiting, I realized I’d like to live the best life possible because if I die and go to hell the address is an outhouse in Camp Buhring. In fact, I think Lucifer has a home somewhere on this base and sends the really bad people, Hitler and Saddam and Osama, over to the outhouses for cleaning duty. Oh my heck. The johns in Buhring are worth noting. I grew up scared of outhouses because we had a cabin in the woods and was always afraid to go potty in there, especially at night because of spiders I imagined crawling up as I sat there and saying, “Mmmmm, what’s this?” Chomp. If you know the smell in outhouses, then put that smell in 120 degree heat, baking in the sun, and NOW take off the toilet and just have a small hole in the bottom of the outhouse. You see, eastern tradition is to simply squat and do your business, shooting excrement into a small hole. Anything that misses is not in the hole and gets baked in the Betty Crocker Oven-o-Death in Buhring’s outhouses, which may have inspired “The Labryinth’s” Bog of Eternal Stench scene. I know that I really had to go, BAD, and upon entering this facility I quickly realized breathing out of my nose just might give me a deviated septum, and breathing through the mouth didn’t help, as you can now taste the air….and in my attempt to only breathe through the corners of my eyes I could feel my own tummy’s need for relief suddenly retreat waving a white flag in my stomach stating, “Hold it. If it gets really bad you can just go lay down by the dead camel”. Oh my gosh. Unreal.
As I came tripping, coughing, choking out of the 140 degree pre-heated oven outhouse it was now time to perform a show of uplifting comedy and music. These are the green rooms of the stars folks, thank you, I’ll be here all week. The theatre style seating for these fine soldiers, mostly ARMY guys, and young, median age 25, made for a comfortable setting for our show. Tough crowd, but Dan always wins them over, even if they live in the 7th Circe of Hell. Usually Sergeants and Lieutenants only come to welcome the entertainment and then leave about 10 minutes into the show, but ours has created the tradition of keeping them glued to their seats, including the majors and generals and everyone else that usually cuts out early. Same thing happened here. And how awesome they were, grabbing hats and CD’s, waiting in line for an hour to shake hands and thank us for coming. So appreciative, so grateful for the break from day to day monotony, so pleased to be indoors away from the black plague stench seeping from the outhouses of their camp. VIDEO HERE
That night we drove to Camp Arifjan and set up in a VIP room situation that was more like a college dorm setting. Seriously, if I sound like I’m complaining I’m not at all, as I figured we were going to be miserable this whole trip sleeping in tents, on cots, no showers, and as much as I don’t want to do that I was ready and willing to, but they have best over backwards to make it awesome in every way for us. I wasn’t able to fall asleep right away and this would be the first stretch of 3 days and nights without internet, so that was the most “inconvenient” part of it….yet a very small problem in the real scope of things.
Monday morning we had early breakfast, quick sound check, and went to meet with the highest ranking officials of the base. We received more of an overview on Kuwait, why it’s essential we have the strategic alliance here, how much they respect us and we them, and received not only the coin handshake but also a plaque for each of us, way nice and thoughtful. We did our show for about 40 men and 5 women in the afternoon in a very nice theater and really was fun to do at Camp Arifjan. Here is a REVIEW of the show. We also met about 10 Mormons, fun to meet our fellow Saints serving our Country in the field, so proud of our good men and women the whole world through. Funny enough, we were asked to sign a young lady’s guitar, which she then proceeded to play for us and sing, so fun to hear others’ talents.
We then packed up and raced to Camp Patriot, which is a part of the Kuwait Naval Base, where we set up for a show that historically only had about 10 attend. The small tent was packed with couches and a tight fit, but we hoped for a good turn out. After driving a few miles and touching the Persian Gulf water (quite warm) we went to eat and began promoting the show. This is also where I enjoyed a monster-sized cheesecake, oh my goodness, best slice of all-time! And luckily we had a packed house, I’d guess about 45 showed up, record broken! Another extremely special show, with young Army guys hollering out once in a while, encouraging, and being funny, David and I just sort of get out of Dan’s way and let him handle everyone, because he’s like a professional bomb diffuser. He is just so good. David’s voice soared through the night sky, as he added, “Hey Brother”, a really fun song, to his set. Even the guys who helped drive us around were saying how much they enjoyed our act because we are constantly tweaking it and saying things differently, so that helps. I also did Justin Timberlake following a guy coming up to me earlier at Arifjan who said, “Hey, I think I’ve seen you before”, to which I said, “No, that’s David you’ve seen”. He said, “No, my wife used to work for Gold’s Gym in Provo and you did our Christmas Party!” I couldn’t believe it. My first recognition on the whole trip of someone who had seen me back home! Crazy. He went on to say, “Yeah, you did that Justin Timberlake Sexy Back/Hairy Back thing with Chewbaaca, that was unforgettable bro!” I thought how interesting because that’s not historically a real favorite, although it’s clever, so I did it that night and they loved it. Funny.
Following the teary-eyed coin ceremony, signing pictures, and people bringing David’s missionary photos up they had copied online, we drove back to Arifjan by 10:30 PM, barely time to shower from a 2 show day in the sweaty heat of the middle east, and left by 11:00 PM for the Kuwait Airport. Our flight was out at 2:30 AM, arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Africa) at 7 AM. We mostly all zonked on the flight over.
I finally got internet in the Addis Ababa Airport and had 5 minutes to call home. Tami had a headache and had gone to bed early, but still answered when she saw it was me. I felt bad to wake her but not sure if I’ll have internet anywhere else. Even in her tired, groggy, pained state she still looks like the most beautiful woman in the world. I am so amazed by her beauty, she remains God’s greatest creation I’ve ever known. And then those kids jumped on the FaceTime call. So cute. Apparently Royal, our 2-year old, had a funny story from Church the day before. Tami took him to the potty and while going Royal said,
“Me is a boy. Ella is a girl. Mommy is girl. Red is boy. Rom is boy.”
To which Tami said, “Well, what is Daddy?”
And Royal says, “Daddy is Famous!”
Oh, the silly minds of my children. They think I’m famous because I have a web site. So cute. They don’t know David yet. Now that’s famous.
It was so great to see their little faces, teeth, lips, hair, bright eyes, hear their voices. I am so in love with them, and miss them so much.
Today is Tuesday, July 22 and we just landed in Djibuti, Africa. Whereas Addis Ababa is located higher up in the mountains, kind of chilly and SO refreshing to walk off the plane, our time was short in such nice weather. We are now in the same type of heat we experienced in Kuwait, with added humidity. Every soldier we told of our trip plans saying Djibuti was last they joked, “Well, that will dampen your ttrip to end there….” Yes, it’s not the Kuwait Country Club, but it is a part of God’s great earth and we will respect it, although I’ve been hiding inside my room since we got here hoping to pretend the reality of where we are will disappear soon…. J We have a break today and have a show tomorrow, so I’m hoping I can get a work out in, get this Blog post up, and have a great Final Show on our Tour for the Troops.
We arrive home in SLC, UT on Friday, July 26, at 1:30 PM on Delta from Paris, France. We’ll have flown for 2 days and nights in a row to get back. I can’t wait to see my little family at the airport. I look back on that first Blog post as we traveled out here, those first feelings of fear, touching the void of the unknown before us, and how naïve I am. But my eyes have been opened to the greatness of the US Military at another level of gratitude and care. I have 3 Organizations I donate my time to without compensation, and I never will charge, and the US Military is one. No matter how many shows they need, if they call me, I will make it happen. I have already in fact submitted to return to perform for the Troops as a solo act somewhere in the world of their choosing, and even perhaps to return out here someday if they’d have me back. We shall see. It’s fascinating what education can do for ignorance, what travel can do for prejudice, what humility can do for ego, and I’ve experienced all of these shifts on this trip. I have also been asked by numerous groups to come and speak in a Fireside type setting about this experience and to share some photos, videos, etc. I am currently putting together an appropriate presentation, and hope to be ready to do Church groups, community events, and corporate events with a new Keynote soon.
What an amazing life-changing trip. How humbling that I would be chosen, out of all of those in the world, to be on this roster of great men, and that it works so well. We are blessed, we are in God’s hands, and His light has lifted the spirits of our Troops, their families and lives. But even as our intention was to come out here and give with the sole purpose of giving for giving’s sake, there is no doubt this trip was for me, to change, to become a better person, to grow, and have my eyes opened to some of the most incredible people I’ve ever seen, our United States Military, their protection of our freedom, their dedication, sacrifice, love, honor, and duty. My prayers go out to their families, my heart goes out to those suffering from sadness, loss, and worry. My smiles are given to those I see pass me in the airports, where I commit to extend a hand of gratitude forever more. My intention is to return home and help my fellow soldiers re-integrate into society: To feel needed, to have a friend, to feel important and loved. To serve the families of those that serve us. I hope all of us will do this, and commit to giving of ourselves to those who give so selflessly to us.
We set up a web site for the Military Families, if there is a way to get it out there and spread the light and joy we brought to the warzones, it is MilitaryTributeTour.com There are only a certain amount of FREE Downloads available, and we hope the families of those serving can enjoy this great web site that will be gone in just over a week.
God bless you, The Reader, for your support and for following us on this incredible journey. I know many have come along in order to see what one person you follow is up to, or another, but I hope we can stay connected into the future and meet in person someday. I am SO Proud To Be An American. I hope you are, too!