Comic Carries 'America Supports You' Message to Troops
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Aug. 26, 2005 Though he's well aware that differences exist among the American people concerning the global war on terror, comedian Pedro Hernandez said he's here to carry the message that no matter what people think about the war, America supports its troops.
Comedian Pedro Hernandez talks with a servicemember in Afghanistan before he signs an autograph. Hernandez was part of a comedy team headed by Drew Carey touring the country as a joint venture between Armed Forces Entertainment and the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program Aug. 25-26. Photo by Sgt. Adrian Schulte
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Hernandez is on a comedy tour featuring television star Drew Carey and three other comedians, a joint venture between Armed Forces Entertainment and the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program.
"Especially in times like this, when the country is divided in several different ways about what's going on here," he said, "I think it's important that ... these troops know the country is behind them. This is just my way of helping to spread that message."
The comedy troupe performed at three forward operating bases in Afghanistan on Aug. 25. It made for a grueling, but satisfying day, the Detroit native said. "We got here in the wee hours of the morning and left in the wee hours of the same morning to hit the field," he said.
But despite a lack of sleep and intense heat, Hernandez said, it was easy to perform once he saw young servicemembers with "rifle on their backs, pistol on their hips, sweat on their brows, dust all over their faces, not knowing when the enemy is going to strike, and not knowing when the next mission is coming."
"That gave me all the adrenaline I needed to say, 'Let's do a show,'" he said. "Let's give these guys something just to keep them going out here."
Hernandez said many servicemembers at the forward bases expressed their appreciation and told him no other entertainers had ever to come to them.
"That felt good to sort of be the first to reach out to those guys," he said. Noting that the comedians performed in a chow hall at one location and on the back of a flatbed truck at another, Hernandez said the setting didn't matter.
"Those guys were hungry to laugh, to forget about the fighting and the shelling and the bombing," he said. "They just wanted to relax for a minute, and I think we were able to do that. The love and appreciation we got after the shows was just overwhelming, and it's made the experience that much more memorable."
Hernandez noted that the comedy clubs where he's used to performing normally have a two-drink minimum, so he was especially gratified that the "dry" audiences here enjoyed the shows so much. "These guys were on pure water and air, and they were loving it," he said.
Seeing how the troops have reacted to Carey, Hernandez said, has been a big part of his own enjoyment of the tour. He said on one occasion, he was walking behind Carey as the group was going from one place to another on the base, and a couple of soldiers passing the other way were surprised to see Carey right in front of them. Carey greeted them and shook their hands.
"As they passed me, one of the guys was like, 'I just met Drew Carey,' and he said it in a way that suggested it had made his whole experience here worthwhile," Hernandez said. "That meant a lot to me just to hear that. It made me understand how significant this visit is."
The level of professionalism he's seen among the military men and women during the tour is the thing that has impressed him the most, Hernandez said. "I've spoken to teenagers with a lot of responsibility -- in charge of millions of dollars worth of equipment, with the power to take life and to protect life," he said. "Looking into their eyes, I just saw solid individuals with good heads on their shoulders. I have full faith that they can handle their missions here."
Hernandez said he was surprised to see so many women in uniform, but that he realizes they have what it takes. "Women have fought for a long time in this country and in this world for equality and the right to stand side by side," he said. "They're really doing it out here. They're in the fight. They're out there battling too."
The comedians perform here tonight before continuing the tour in another Southwest Asia country.