Overflow Bagram Crowd Enjoys 'America Supports You' Comics
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Aug. 27, 2005 As television star Drew Carey and four other comedians met and mingled with the servicemembers assigned here, signing autographs and posing for pictures, they'd ask now and then, "Are you coming to the show tonight?" Those who didn't say they were coming said they were going to try.
Comedian and television star Drew Carey signs a banner proclaiming America's support for U.S. troops under DoD's "America Supports You" program. Carey and four other comedians have been on a tour of U.S. bases in Afghanistan this week. Photo by Sgt. Adrian Schulte
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Clearly, they all succeeded.
All 600-plus seats set up at the "clam shell" tent here were full for the 8:30 p.m. performance Aug. 26. The side aisles were stuffed with hundreds more. Past the open flap at the rear of the canvas auditorium, the overflow crowd stretched as far as the tent's overhead lights, swinging in a slight breeze, could see.
The comedians already were a huge hit here, and they hadn't yet told a single joke. Some fans said they came because they are big fans of Carey's work. Others said they came because they had met the comics over the past two days. Still others had heard the comedians were super during shows at three forward operating base the day before.
But as soon as the show began, it was clear that those were only secondary reasons for showing up. The crowd wanted to laugh, and the comedians more than obliged. One by one, Carey, Pedro Hernandez, Steve Byrne, Dave Mordal and Jimmy Shubert drew raucous laughter from the more-than-capacity crowd.
Decorum doesn't permit detailing the show's content here. Suffice it to say the comedians got people's minds off their work.
"The show was hilarious -- awesome!" said Air Force Airman 1st Class Ashley Zearning, assigned to the security forces here. "And I really appreciate that they came here for us. It's really patriotic of them to go out of their way like this. It's great for our morale."
An A-10 Thunderbolt II weapons loader normally assigned to Pope Air Force Base, N.C., agreed. "The comedians were hilarious, and gave everyone a huge morale boost," said Air Force Airman Shane Connolly. "For them to come here to a hostile area to do this for us is unbelievable."
As they waited their turn after the show to get autographs from the comedians and have their pictures taken with them, Army Capt. Bill Gau and Air Force 1st Lt. Michael O'Connor commented on the 90-minute performance and its effect.
"It's heartening for the soldiers to know people could have made big money doing something else chose instead to come here for them," said Gau, who is deployed to Combined Forces Command Afghanistan in Kabul.
Adding that he's glad the comics have had the chance to meet so many servicemembers on their tour of the region, he expressed the hope they'd carry a positive message back to their show-business friends and "extol the virtues of the U.S. military."
O'Connor, here on temporary duty from U.S. Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., said the show was "outstanding."
"It was great for these folks to be able to take their minds off the day-to-day things and relax," he said. "It's great for morale. I forgot I was even here for a few minutes."
Mordal said he and the other comedians wanted to do an especially good show because the audience members were troops. He said the comedians were deeply gratified by the reaction they received.
"It was a great atmosphere," he said. "You could feel it on the stage, and it's easy to see the audience could feel it too. I'm glad they had a good time, but I promise you they didn't have half as good a time as we did."
The comedian added that he hopes the comedy tour reminds deployed servicemembers they're in the hearts, minds and prayers of their countrymen. "We appreciate everything they do and everything they go through for us," he said. "Who couldn't support these amazing people?"
After a final show tonight in another Southwest Asia country, the comedians will head home from their nine-day tour, the first overseas morale tour sponsored by the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program and Armed Forces Entertainment.