The night before last I had an opportunity to participate in a uniquely American ritual. I went to a USO show and saw the modern equivalent of Bob Hope, whom my parents revered for his USO contributions; Robin Williams.
He's my freakin hero, for a number of reasons. But one reason is because he came here to do a performance in a snow storm and entertain a bunch of American service men and women.
The show included Miss America, Lance Armstrong, Lewis Black, Robin Williams and Kid Rock. The whole reason why we made the several hour journey up through the magnificent mountain passes to from J-bad to Kabul was because the young'uns wanted to see Kid Rock. They needed adult supervision, so I went.
I wanted to see Robin Williams.
We took a Navy Commander to Blackhorse, dropped mail off at the Kabul Military Training Center, and proceeded to Camp Phoenix. The weather was miserable; cold and sleeting. It would improve, though. The sleet would soon turn to snow. We settled into temporary shelter in a b-hut, got some lunch, and set about a number of small tasks that we had to accomplish before the evening. Those tasks were the putative reason for our trip to Kabul.
Kid Rock was the spur in the hearts of the young'uns.
The Big Voice came alive about an hour before the scheduled show time of 2000 (8 pm) and announced that the show was postponed till 2030. Oh, well... I was due to be in Afghanistan for the rest of the day, anyway. No problem.
At 2020 a pretty sizable crowd had gathered outside the large Camp Phoenix chow hall in front of the stage made of two truck trailers. An Air Force DJ/Comedian was attempting to entertain the assembled throng with partial success. There were more delays. The weather.
I had opted for my hot weather boots. Hmmm. Not a very bright decision for an old grunt. I wondered when the stinging would set in.
Finally, the entourage arrived. A clot of uniformed and un-uniformed people gathered near the makeshift stage entrance. Roadies began to zip onto the stage to preposition microphone stands and instruments. Every time someone came onto the stage, the crowd erupted in appreciative applause. It became a crowd joke; each individual who entered that big box was roundly applauded.
Finally, a pair of women came out and began pelting the crowd with what I assume were giveaway items. None came our way. Someone said that one of them was the Admiral's wife.
One would figure that unlike the confused naval personnel found scattered around this country, an Admiral would have a great enough affinity for water that he would have realized that Afghanistan is landlocked and as much in need of an Admiral as the Sahara is in need of penguins.
Not so. This Admiral is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Whoa. He gave a short speech, praising us and our international compadres for our efforts and leading into the show. I filmed it. I don't know why. It used up the batteries in my camera. Another brilliant move from the old Sergeant. Swift.
"His wife throws like a girl," observed someone nearby in the crowd.
Miss America was exactly what Miss America should be; waaaay too pretty for Afghanistan.
Lance Armstrong explained how he had forgone a trip to Hawaii to come and see us. I know exactly how he feels. I gave up Hawaii for this, too. It was a bonding moment.
Lewis Black was very funny. His urbane, sophisticated humor was nearly too gentle for the damp crowd arrayed before him. Just kidding; the guy drops the f-bomb like a fleet of B-52's, and the crowd roared.
Finally, Robin Williams! I struggled with my camera, not knowing if any of the pictures were taking because every time I took one the camera shut down. Someone was taping the show for the folks at home, and those of us trying to view the show from the 8 o'clock position were treated to a non-stop show of his backside as he aimed his plastic bag-covered camera at whoever the entertainer of the moment was.
I reached for my right thigh and thought the better of it.
I've never been a huge fan of Kid Rock. Nothing against him... I even like some of his music. I just never really connected with him. We never shared a lost Hawaii bonding moment. But he's a great entertainer. He didn't have a band... just a guitar and his voice. He had the whole crowd singing and laughing. Great job.
As each entertainer came off stage, there were a few who would find their way over for pictures and to try to get a personal photo with them. Each performer seemed very gracious about the whole thing.
In the end, I felt as if I had been treated to exactly what I had wanted. I saw a USO show, Afghan style. Our experience in Afghanistan is uniquely ours. Afghanistan is not the same this year as it was last year, or will be next year. This is not WWII, it's not Viet Nam, it's not any other war. This one is our war, and we've had our USO show complete with the new standard-bearer for the USO. Thanks to everyone who gave of their time to come and do that for us, but thanks a lot to Robin Williams.
Oh, and vote Jack Nicholson for President. Walk softly and carry a big iron.
The next morning I was in the MWR room when someone came in and was obviously new in town, asking about what it took to get on the internet. I glanced at the ruckus, but I was pretty focused on what I was doing at the moment. As I stood to leave, I glanced at the civilian a few feet away.
"Hmmm... that guy looks familiar," I thought.
He turned and glanced at me. Oh, yeah; Lance Armstrong.
"Hey, thanks for coming," I said.
"No. Thank you for coming," he replied. I saw a chipmunk moment coming on and dodged it.
He was a very nice guy. We talked for a couple of moments, and I took my leave. Just a regular guy in a strange country trying to check his email.