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Guest Article: Iraq IV - Back to Baghdad - Part Two

Tuesday, February 17, 2009 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 8:27 AM, under , , ,

Athens, GA (Feb 17, 2009) - Unlike many other sports properties, and acknowledging that professional wrestling is entertainment and not sport, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is a 52 week a year job, which is not bad from a freelancer's perspective. A typical WWE work week consists of RAW live on the USA network on Monday night, then an overnight bus ride to another city where they produce ECW live for the Sci FI Channel, and tape Smackdown, which airs on Friday night on the MY Network. There are also have fourteen Sunday Pay Per Views spread out through the year.

The team also travels to the war zones in the middle east each year to entertain the troops. In part two of "Iraq IV - Back to Baghdad", audio engineer Marc Lanciaux us behind the scenes of their arrival in Iraq and setting up for the show. The original posting of this story can also be found on Marc's blog.

Thanks again to Marc "Frenchy" Lanciaux for allowing us to republish this excellent series.

Iraq IV - Back to Baghdad - Part Two
by Marc Lanciaux

It's Wednesday, 1 AM Baghdad time, and we're on the ground. Finally. The big group splits off into five smaller groups - four will travel to Forward Operating Bases and entertain the troops, while my group, The Redheaded Stepchildren, get to stay behind to set up the arena and TV production facilities for Friday's show. The other four groups vanish into the darkness, while we start unloading pallets of luggage. Poor Team Cinderella...

The C-17 Gives Birth to a TV Studio

As always, the Stepchildren stay behind and help supervise unloading of the gear. Our 'supervision' includes moving things from here to there, then watching as they get moved back again. This dance goes on for an eternity. Finally the trucks are loaded. At 2:30 we start the convoy that will take us to our makeshift arena.

I climb in the cab of the front truck, and the driver immediately barrages me with conversation. This twenty-two year old soldier has been in Iraq for fourteen months. His daughter, born while he was away, has started learning to walk in his absence. He tells me that now that the CHU's (Crappy Housing Units) have Internet, he video conferences with them daily, which makes being away a little more bearable. He tells me how boring everything is now, and how much better it was when there was combat. He informs me that the lowest guys on the totem pole, like him, are the only ones that really know what's going on. He worries about getting out of the military, and finding a job. He said he tried to find a job as a forklift driver once, but was rejected. "I've driven a fuckin' M1 tank and they don't think I can handle a fuckin' forklift?" He also worries about fitting in to what he calls 'normal society.' He tells me how weapons are being smuggled out of Iraq, and shares his theories about the real reasons behind the war. He says he doesn't like President-elect Obama, "not because he's black, who gives a fuck what color he is? I don't like him because he's going to try and take my guns away from me."

Between my exhaustion and his verbal diarrhea, the ride, the whole night takes on a surreal quality. I happily let him ramble until we arrive at the arena, and, though tired, I am thoroughly entertained throughout the long ride.

At the arena, which is really nothing more than a vacant dirt lot, we're met by another soldier with a pickup truck. It's now well past 3 AM. I'm so tired I feel giddy, almost drunk. It's not bad, except for the swirling feeling in my head, and the faint ringing in my ears. The guy in the uniform motions for me, Abi and Dave to get in the truck. By now, we've lost Marty, JRob and Prof - the three other stooges who make up the rest of the Stepchildren. At this point, high on sleeplessness, you simply do what you're told, in the hopes that a cot is in your immediate future. Wearily, we sit down in the dusty truck.

Our driver takes us to the Joint Visitor Bureau Hotel; fancy rooms inside a fancy palace where the talent are staying. We know from previous years that Redheaded Stepchildren aren't allowed inside. We stay in tents. Rumor has it our luggage is at the JVB, and once we find our luggage, we're assured the nice, warm tent is imminent.

We don't find our luggage. I question the pilot's earlier statement that they aren't Delta Airlines, since Delta manages to lose my luggage with some regularity. We do, however, find Marty, JRob and Prof, who assure us our luggage is waiting for us at the tent. Prof jumps in the truck with us, JRob and Marty disappear again. After talking to his buddies for a while, our driver finally decides to take us to Cyclone City, a mass of tents for 'transients'. One more hurdle - I swear I am not making this up - checking in to our tent, remains. We pull up to a small building with a single light inside.

The heavily mustached Iraqi man behind the desk asks to see our reservations. Reservations? For a tent? In the middle of Baghdad? Oh, of course! I KNEW I forgot to get something from my travel agent! This is too much for us, and we burst into a giggle fit. The guy soon gets sick of us and grumbles we should go to Tent 95.


After stumbling around in the darkness, we accidentally find Tent 95, and sprawl into our home for the next three days. Of course our luggage is nowhere to be found, but at this point, it doesn't matter. My sleeping bag and stuff are in it, but that's tomorrow's problem. I take the bath towel out of my carry-on bag and wrap up in it. I'm asleep before my head hits the... well, there was no pillow, but if there WAS one, I'd have been asleep before my head hit.

Sometime later, Marty and JRob come in. It's about 4:30 in the morning. They tell us they're heading to the arena to get a jump start on the day. These fucking guys don't sleep. Ever. Dave wakes up and joins them. With a weak half-wave, I pass back out, lack of pillow notwithstanding.

The next morning, my former wingman Abi, unemployed since the little Germany trick and I track down our luggage, which is in Tent 24, of course. After moving our stuff to Tent 95, showering, changing into less dirty clothes and eating, we meet the rest of the Redheads at the vacant lot, which will be transformed into a WWE arena in exactly two days. Apparently, the sun has risen in the time that passed since we laid down.

General JRob lets the troops know what they're in for

The day begins with fits and starts. Marty is concerned about a possible generator problem. Everyone else is concerned with other problems. Following a strict military custom, the empty tent we'll transform into a makeshift TV truck needs to be moved before we can fill it with our TV toys. Most of our gear seems to have showed up, though some of it fell five feet from a pallet during unloading. I'm sure the fallen boxes are mine. There's no way to know if anything is damaged or broken yet. All in all, a typical first set day for the Stepchildren.

The Redheaded Stepchildren militia get to work

Hours flow by. Sometime after lunch, our production tent is set up, road cases are positioned, and the real work for me, Prof and Dave begins.

Soon to be Supershooter Green - Some Assembly Required.

Setup continues as it should. Everyone knows their job, knows what needs to be done, and for a change, we actually enjoy doing it. Marty still has an issue with the generator, evidently they've delivered a generator designed for United Kingdom style power, 220 volts instead of our puny 110 volt needs. Marty thinks this is a problem, and tells us we most likely won't have any power until the following day. This means that when the sun goes down, we're done working for the day. This is the best news yet!

Setup continues, and the vacant lot begins to resemble an arena. Soldiers and referees build the ring.

Then have an impromptu match, as any good soldiers and referees would.

Meanwhile, in a tent completely lacking electricity now known as Supershooter Green, serious work continues.

Trying my best to fake my way through another day

Prof ponders the meaning of life

Shoulder deep, Dave helps his racks give birth

Finally, the bright glowing orb in the sky starts to dim, signaling the end of day one.

We may not have electricity to test our possibly damaged gear, but we've done all we can do for the day. Tomorrow is another set day, then, as it always does, the show will go on, one way or another.

Related Link(s)

Guest Article: Iraq IV - Back to Baghdad - Part One

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