On the tour of Manas Air Base, John taught this Servicewoman to crack the whip!
March 10, 0240 (2:40am)
Uzbekistan is beautiful today. Life is so good.
I’m writing aboard a C130 enroute to Uzbekistan , our second stop on the tour. It is as noisy as I am tired, and as I look around the spacious interior, I see my performing partners and two crew members, all stretched out, asleep on the uncomfortable bench seats. I’m seated upright, my back against the red netting that passes for a back rest. This may not be first class, but it is, at least for tonight, our private plane.
Thinking back on the day, I am blown away and dazed by the intensity and sheer volume of experiences. We are seeing and doing things few civilians ever have a chance to enjoy.
After the last email update, I slept for four hours (an average thus far) and awoke at 0900. Took my first shower of the trip; it was long overdue and felt fantastic.
At 1000 we met with the wing commander, Colonel Pray, and his staff in the camp HQ . Colonel Pray is a super guy and inspiring leader. He was already a huge Operation Swashbuckle fan as he had a chance to meet Spence, John and Todd during the previous tour (last August). He spoke with pride about the men and women who are part of this mission and this added validation and motivation for our efforts. At the end of the meeting, we each signed a flag, joining other entertainers who made their mark as they passed this way before us.
Then the tour began- our chance to meet and greet the personnel and see them at work. We went to the Communication Center , then out to the air field to visit with the POL (Petroleum, Oil, Lubrication) crew. After an impromptu show including juggling, backflips and a few jokes, the tables were turned and our new friends did a little show and tell of their own. We watched as they refueled a KC 135, essentially a flying gas station. Ann and Jake were so proud of what they do, and extremely competent. They showed us every aspect of the complex operation, pumping thousands of gallons of jet fuel onboard. Then, we went aboard, in the cockpit, out on the wing (passed clubs around Jake) and even into the rear cockpit where the operator extends and “flies” the boom to fuel thirsty aircraft! It was such an incredible display of technology, pride and skill!
Other highlights: We made friends with an adorable attack dog named Annie. Taught juggling and whip cracking to soldiers. Held a 50 caliber rifle and tried on the bomb suit. Saw the robots at EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) and heat sensing imaging cameras (Predator View) at the Visual Communications Center. Everywhere, we met a tremendous collection of proud and capable men and women.
The day was capped by an awesome Operation Swashbuckle performance for 400 or so enthusiastic people at “Pete’s Place.” We did a ninety minute show and the audience energy feedback was tremendous. One soldier said he hadn’t enjoyed anything so much or laughed like he did in the six months he had been there. Another told us he was headed home tomorrow and appreciated the “send off.”
We packed our gear and enjoyed a celebratory coffee at the “Green Beans Cafe” before heading to the airfield. Now we are on the way to “K-2” in Uzbekistan , gradually making our way farther and farther “down range.” As we do, the amenities will diminish and the security measures will intensify. But we are increasingly gratified to be fulfilling a vital need for entertainment, distraction and novelty for this intense environment.
Better get some rest. Who knows what we are in for tomorrow.
Spencer in the “boom” cockpit KC135 refueling jet, then sleeping as I wrote the above entry.
March 10, 2230 (10:30pm)
Today was a great day to catch up on rest, and we did just that… for at least 6 hours (a new record for this trip). Again, we woke in time for lunch and a quick walk around base.
K2 is an example of a former Soviet facility now operated by the US . It’s strange to see the huge underground bunkers that once housed Soviet Meigs. It’s also famous among soldiers for two outstanding features… great food and an awesome workout facility. Today we sampled both.
After lunch, we hit the gym and spent the rest of the afternoon playing ping pong, hanging out and preparing for our evening performance- our third of the trip. The show started at 7:30pm and was even more fun for me than the last one. The crowd was a bit smaller- about 140 folks, but they were super responsive. And, the best part is that the four of us on stage are really starting to gel as a cohesive unit. These guys are so fun to perform with, and they are absolutely hilarious to watch. I want to tell you more about all the performers when I have a chance.
Our flight tomorrow leaves for Afghanistan (Bagram) at 1230. It’s strictly a travel day, so I should have time to get an update out to you. I’m learning so much and look forward to conveying as much of the experience as possible to all of you!
Front and back views of the ex-Soviet aircraft hangers at K-2, now utilized by our American forces.