(L) A large audience in Fallujah. (R) Capt. Kathy Miller, our host and tour guide.
27 March, Easter Sunday Al Qaim, Iraq , 10:00
Two days since the last report and easily a weeks worth of activity. We have three shows to go- today promising to be our busiest day of the trip with two shows in two different cities, two helicopter rides, Easter church services (one hour from now) and, I’m sure, much more I’m not yet aware of.
At the last update, we were in Fallujah, under the consummate care of Captain Kathy Miller. She did an outstanding job of hosting our team and even arranged some special surprises.
One highlight was meeting the talented team at Fallujah’s K-9 Core. Sgt. Romlein hosted the exhibition while handlers and their animals demonstrated the multiple capabilities of the dogs- obedience, attack, guarding of suspects, search and rescue, and explosive ordinance detection(bomb sniffing). But the most exciting part, for sure, was when we all had a chance to try on the padded suit and “catch a dog”, playing the part of the bad guy on the other end of the teeth! The adrenaline rush was intense, and even through the padding, the bite was forceful. Let’s just say these dogs love their job!
The show that night was in the theater, a multi function building that also hosted Good Friday church services. We had a crowd of about 300 people and another memorable performance. The torch routine set off the smoke alarm, creating a comical moment since the guys from the fire department were in the room and had approved the use of fire. Feeling like I had to try something, I threw a single juggling club up to the twenty-five foot roof and hit the ceiling tile that held the alarm. It lifted up six inches in the air, fell back in place, and went silent. Don’t ask me how I did it, but it was effective and pretty darn funny.
That night we were back aboard a CH46 Sea Knight and flew back to Al Taqqadum to refuel, then on to Blue Diamond base in Ramadi. We arrived about 1:30 am, dog tired and ready for rest. The full moon illuminated the desolate base, a bombed out retreat for Saddam and his sons, now a hot spot of insurgent action. We learned that incoming mortar attacks are quite frequent, but that information did not keep us from sleeping. We got a full six hours rest.
The next morning (yesterday) we ventured out to explore. An imposing convoy of LAVs and up armored Humvees stretched across the base, waiting their orders to go on patrol. We talked with a few of the guys in the rear of the convoy for about twenty minutes. One had been injured by an improvised explosive device. They had all been involved in confrontations which, we learned later, take place during patrols about four out of ten times.
The most impressive feature, by far, is the bombed out Palace at the far end of Blue Diamond. This was one where Uday Hussein spent a lot of his time. The once opulent and grand structure looked as if it could collapse at any minute. The damage was from three J-Dam bombs that found their mark shortly after the start of the war in 2003.
The show took place in the back of the Motor Pool, the only facility that would provide the required space and ceiling height to perform our stunts. It turned out to be the perfect venue.
In the midst of such heavy real life drama, it is easy to down-play the importance of what we do. After all, we are just four funny guys who are there to tell some jokes, perform some tricks, and make people laugh. But our efforts are validated at every turn in powerful, humbling ways. After this show, we received the most incredible quote yet from one of our audience members.
“This morning I was in a fire fight. This afternoon for an hour and a half, you let me forget about it. Thanks.”
After the show, we received a tour of the bombed out palace and were able to enter it and explore the stabilized portions. It was quite powerful to stand there and soak in the past and present of the situation. What the future holds is in large part up to the brave Marines we performed for that day – I can’t imagine a more distinguished audience.
After dinner we caught a couple hours rest before boarding another after lights-out flight to Al Qaim. We arrived after midnight and met Gunnery Sgt. Chris Hayes, a very cool guy who guided us to our sleeping quarters. It was not difficult to crash into unconsciousness.
Al Qaim is the impressive central hub of the Iraqi Rail Road located near the Jordan order. It is not currently in operation, but when we met Colonel Mundy this morning, he told me we would be turning it back over to the Iraqis in full working order, in far better condition than we found it.