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

Wednesday, February 18, 2009 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 8:33 AM, under , , ,

Athens, GA (Feb 18, 2009) - For troops, whether they are in a war zone or deployed to a faraway place, there is nothing better than when people from home come to entertain you, giving a small respite from your duties. For years, Bob Hope did this as part of his U.S.O. tours. These days troops will get visits from entertainers and football coaches. For six years now, they have been entertained by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

The logistics to move a show like this can be challenging, as freelance audio engineer Marc "Frenchy" Lanciaux has described in parts one and two of this series of articles. In this final installment, Frenchy talks about waking up to the Islamic call to prayer (the fard salah), helicopters, and machine gun fire. He also talks about the challenges of not having power...again.

Eye on Sports Media cannot thank Frenchy enough for allowing us to republish these posts from his blog. His writing and storytelling are excellent, and they set a bar for all sports related blogs, including this one, to strive for. The orginal posting of this installment can be found on his blog.

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

You don't need as much sleep as you think.

This, above all else, is a lesson that I have taken home from Iraq. Every year. I'd say that on average, the crew gets about ten hours of sleep in four days, give or take. I was racking up my dreamless hours when, suddenly, my sound sleep was shattered by the Adhan, the Muslim fard salah, or call to prayer. The helicopters flying overhead all night may have briefly made me stir; the sporadic sound of gunfire as patrols leaving Camp Victory test their 50 cal machine guns might have made me roll over; but when I heard the wailing call of the Adnan at 5 AM, I knew I was done sleeping for the night.

So, I did what any transient in Cyclone City would do when wide awake at 5 AM, I ponied up my credit card and signed on to the in suite WI-FI router. If I can't sleep, I may as well rant.

It was a little weird to see the header in Arabic. I tried to sign on. And failed. Several times. I kept getting an error message - in Arabic. WOW, that's helpful! I struggled for a while, until I figured out (by figured out, I mean made a wild guess) that Arabic reads from left to right. Entering my password first, then my username was the way to open the sesame to

The Login Screen I'm Used To

Open Sesame

I wrote a silly little rant, added one picture, then waited thirty-seven minutes while the post and picture uploaded. The Internet may not be free, but at least it's slow. While waiting, I carried out the second half of my Iraq mission, writing the first of two installments of my 'crew blog' for the website. Before the trip began, I was asked if I'd write a blog about what it takes to set up an arena in the desert. I figured I'm going to blog about it here for the Faithful Fifteen to skim, why not write something on a website that people actually visit? The WWE wisely hid my blog from all but the most dedicated fans, including my brother Eric, Unleaded of The Great Nova Scotia Expedition and Air Force fame, and my Dad, who posted three of the five comments I received. To save time and trouble, here's a link to that blog:

Set day number two started much like set day one ended. Dark, with no electricity.

Good Moooorning, Baghdaaaad!

Overnight, the correct generators arrived, but of course, that wasn't enough to solve the problem. No. That would be too easy. The thick cable needed to connect the generators was... frozen. That's right. Frozen. In a desert. Frozen to the giant spool, and impossible to remove.

The electricians worked on defrosting the wire and hooking us up with some electrons all morning; taking frequent breaks for lunch, tea, and to rest from their long breaks. We worked on other things until there was nothing left to do but wait for juice.

Marty, the hardest working man in Iraq

Electricians, well rested from their break, wrestle the electric python into submission

The stage is hidden by camouflage

Kerwin, the director, shows JRob where he wants the sun for the show

Seems like electricity might soon be a reality

While waiting for the wattage to flow, I took a mini field trip, climbing the pigeon-shit crusted stairs to the top of the guard tower.

I wanted to see if my signature left from the 2006 Tribute to the Troops was still there.

It was. I improved on the original theme, and also claimed Iraq for the Kingdom of Rhode Island.

The electricians guarantee power 'sometime after lunch.' Then they promptly go to lunch. They neglect to specify which lunch the power will come after. Those electricians! Such a merry bunch of kidders!

For once, they weren't kidding. After their mandated post-lunch, pre-break break ends, they flip a circuit breaker, we all hold our collective breath, and, rather than filling with smoke like we expected, miraculously, the tent fills with the wonderful sounds of whirring fans, electronic beeping and blinking lights. With half a set day to go, we're in business!

Suddenly, there is a fairly loud explosion not too far away. The second lesson I've taken away from Iraq is - It's Always Something. I flash back three years to the last time in Baghdad. We were waiting to go to lunch when a mortar attack hit the dining facility. Something about a rocket exploding a few hundred feet away really put me off my lunch that day. But this time, nobody's running; nobody's shouting "Get the fuck down!" In fact the soldiers working with us don't even seem to have noticed. I walk outside to see what happened.

Well, whatever it was, it was pretty close. But if nobody else is going to worry about it, I won't either. Back to work! Inside Supershooter Green, racks are set up, and the long, tedious job of patching everything together begins.

Turn that frown upside down!

Prof puts a round peg in a round hole

Abi puts a little box on a big box

Dave does whatever it is that Dave does

Cameraman Stu models his impressive headgear

Day turns into night, and setup chugs on. The lack of power means we are seriously behind on setting everything up, but behind is where we're at our best. Problems are found, yelled at, bitched about, then fixed. Some problems take longer to fix than others. A few times I have to step out of the tent to regroup. The voices of exhaustion in my head are getting louder, and I've starting answering them. Out loud.

The set, surrounded by MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles) HMMWVs (Hummers!) and other impressive looking military vehicles looks, well... impressive.

After suffering through another brief power outage, much briefer than the previous day-and-a-half long outage, I get as far as I am going to get for the day. I'd say that I'm about 80% ready for tomorrow's show, which is close enough for comfort. Speaking of comfort, before leaving for the day, we pour some smuggled adult liquid comfort from a flask, and hoist a red plastic cup to the Best Set Day Ever.

Marty, Abi, Dave, Me, JRob and Prof raise a toast

While Marty, Prof and Dave stay behind attempt to break the Guinness World Record for sleeplessness, I escape to the solitude of the tent, and within minutes pass out cold. Seconds later, the Adhan wakes me - again. Somehow another five hours has past, and show day has arrived with a wailing chant. Wide awake, I ponder the hundreds of things I forgot to do, and say a little prayer that I'll be able to fake my way through this show. Then, I take out my laptop, hack out a second post for, and stagger to my feet to face show day.
Final preparations happen, minor adjustments are made; the four groups reunite, and in the blink of an eye, Kevin, the producer, is counting backwards - a sure sign that some form of television production is about to occur.
Show time - Inside Supershooter Green:

Show time - Outside Supershooter Green:

The WWE entertain the troops the best way we know; soldiers cheer, scream and yell, and maybe, for a little while at least, forget where they are. The show, for all the headaches during setup, is a good, clean show. I can't ask for more than that.
My re-hired wingman - still on probation

In all six Tribute to the Troops tours, there are only twelve veterans that have worked each and every one. Four of those vets snuck out of strike - the long process of repacking and readying everything for travel once again - a little early for some top secret sightseeing.
Our top secret tour guide took us deep into the base, to places we'd never seen before. We drove by the Victory over America palace, which, surprisingly, isn't complete yet. He took us to a palace Saddam Hussein built for his 'favorite' wife. The palace was huge! I'd hate to see what Saddam built for the wives he didn't really care for.
Here are a few pictures from our tour:
Six time Tour veterans Marty, Abi, JRob and Me

We did not, under any circumstance, go to the range and fire machine guns. Without proper body armor and helmets, that would be against the rules, and dangerous too. It simply didn't happen.

And that was that. Seventy-two hours after leaving Washington DC, the show was in the can, ready to be edited into the special that will air on NBC, and on top of that little miracle, for the first time in six tours, the Redheaded Stepchildren got to see something other than dust! Our top secret tour guide dropped us near Cyclone City; we packed, showered, ate, waited on a bus for a few hours, then got back on the C-17 for the eighteen hour flight home.

Related Link(s)

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

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