Camp Bastion/Leatherneck – Helmand Province
I came to Afghanistan courtesy of the Estonian military, with two other comedians, Louis Zezeran and Stewart Johnson. With us were the Rock Cheerleaders from Tartu Estonia, seven beautiful young women. And yes, you can imagine who the troops were happier to see.We’ve been here six days now, and it feels like six months. I can’t imagine what it’s like for the men and women who are here for 6 months to a year, or even longer.
Getting here was interesting. Traveling with the military is slightly different from flying commercial. Everything is a secret. Normally when I get flown to a gig its either First or Business Class. Here it’s None-of-your-Business-Class.
And not being familliar with how things work, surprise is a constant companion.
For example. We flew here from England courtesy of the Royal Air Force on a former Pan Am L-1011 Tristar. A plane I know very well. I also know how old it is.
Next surprise. Before boarding we were issued body armor and a helmet. No one said there would be body armor and a helmet. I do not look good in either. Then, about 30 minutes out of Camp Bastion, someone gets on the aircraft PA and announces, “Helmets and body armor on please.” The Brits are so polite. I am mildly concerned.
Then as soon as we are suited up, they make us pull down all the window shades and plunge the cabin into darkness. For the next 30 minutes the cabin is dead quiet. I’m thinking either this is normal or all the soldiers are just too cool to show any fear.
I, on the other hand, am thinking serious thoughts: Is this it? Have I lived a rich, full life? I wonder if the guy sitting next to me can smell that I soiled myself?
I never knew how long 30 minutes could be.
But finally, with a jarring thump, we landed. Can you say sigh of relief? Sure you can.
Arrival formalities consisted of playing us the incoming attack warning siren and the all clear sound. Welcome to Afghanistan.
We finally made it to our tent and passed out.
On our first day the temperature hit 122 degrees. I didn’t think that was possible. But take my word for it, it is. The remaining days were cooler. Mostly 117-119 degrees. Nine-thiry at night is a balmy 102.
We have done two shows for Estonian, Danish, Lithuanian, Polish, British and US troops. All of whom have been absolutely fabulous.
We get to go home tomorrow, at least in theory, because military transport is…different. But the soldiers, men and women, will remain..Doing a tough job, in an inhospitable place.
But these soldiers, men and women, have earned my undying respect. They bitch and complain, because after all, that is a soldier’s lot, but they do the job and they do it well. Total professionals.
I can never describe what it is like being here. You have to experience it. I will say though, that being an International Relations geek, someone who is well versed in foreign policy and reads Foreign Affairs magazine the way other men read Playboy, being at the sharp end of the foreign policy stick is a unique experience.
Like most people, I will read a short item in the morning paper about soldiers being injured or killed by IED’s or in firefights. But it’s abstract. I note it and then move on to the next article.
Here at the Estonian camp, we are across the street from the landing pads of the medevac choppers.
And what is happening here is made terrifyingly real when the choppers roar over head and land 300 yards away and you see stretchers being loaded onto ambulances.
Even as I write this it is just about midnight and two medevac choppers just landed across the street.
Once again, the abstract becomes real. You can’t move on to the next story.
It changes you.
My thanks to the Estonian military and all the men and women at Camp Bastion/Leatherneck. Get home safely.