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

Monday, February 16, 2009 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 5:34 PM, under , , ,

Athens, GA (Feb 16, 2009) - Marc Lanciaux is a freelance audio engineer from Providence, Rhode Island whose career path took an unexpected turn about ten years ago. He became a sort of audio 'perma-lancer' with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

Before that turn, he had done pretty much everything imaginable in television - from the Olympics and X Games to competition darts and bowling; NASCAR to Indian pow-wows, and everything in between. He knows that rule number one as a freelancer is 'never say NO', and that rule even applies to perma-lancers.

Late in 2008, the WWE packed up the ring and a bunch of gear, loaded it on a C-17 and flew over to Baghdad for the sixth annual Tribute to the Troops show, a show which, for the past six years, he had not been able to say NO to.

Marc graciously gave us permission to reprint his three-part blog on his experience, and we are very pleased to offer part I today. The original post is also available on Marc's blog.

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

The final announcement of the night rings through the Verizon Center, "Good night everyone! Thank you, and please drive home safely." Most people will be going home after the show, but a select few volunteers, WWE Superstars and technical crew alike, won't be. Hard to believe, but it's time once again for World Wrestling Entertainment's Sixth Sandbox Invitational - otherwise known as the Tribute to the Troops show.

Another Tribute to the Troops show means another year has flown by; it seems just weeks ago we were gearing up for the Fifth Annual Tribute show. The thought of going to Iraq used to be a source of weeks of trepidation, nervousness and worry, at least for family and friends that think we're crazy for going. The first time, I shared that trepidation, nervousness and worry over traveling to a war zone, but now, six years later, more than anything I'm excited to see how Baghdad has changed. Seems funny to think that now even Baghdad is 'just another place we go.' Not funny like a monkey playing an oboe would be, but funny just the same.

Once the show ends, we are issued official Department of Defense ID cards (this is new), get on the bus (this is not new) and travel to an Air Force Base. The C-17 cargo jet that will be carrying us is loaded, fueled, checked out, and idling on the runway, ready to go (this is also new.)

Past trips have been fraught with delays, but this year's corporate retreat starts off relatively smoothly. The cast and crew trickle onboard, and everyone takes the same seats they had the previous year.

For the technicians, this means right side bench seats. Being veterans of this show, we know by now that the sides are where the power outlets are. Extension cords string along the sides, ensuring everyone has power for iPhones, iPods and laptops.

Veterans JRob, Marty and Sean see, hear and speak no evil.

Before sitting down and becoming unconscious this year, I have my picture taken with some of the talent coming along. The talent don't know me. They are probably surprised to see 'that guy they always see in catering' going to Iraq. Working inside a TV truck has it's disadvantages.

Me and Chris Jericho

Me and John Cena

Me and The Big Show

And of course, I have to pose with the Divas as well. They all recognize me instantly. I know they all love me.

Me and Eve Torres

Me and Lillian Garcia

Mickey James. Not sure if she likes me or not.

Me and Maria. I really think she likes me!

Before take off, I'm not the only one taking pictures, everyone gets into the fun.

Gunner taking a picture of me taking a picture of him. How original!

Jeff Hardy - where else but high above on a pallet.

At 1 AM, playtime is over. The massive engines shake the plane, and 100,000 pounds of crew and gear roar into the night sky. There's not much that I can say about these flights that hasn't been said before. They're long, boring and uncomfortable. People deal with the boredom the best they can.

Those That Can, Read

Those That Have To, Work, Or At Least Try To

Others Just Suffer in Silence

The smart ones disappear into the cargo area, because in-flight boredom usually leads to in-flight pranks. Idle hands and all that. And, as always, The Chairman of Practical Jokes has the most idle hands of all.

Those that weren't paying attention, hiding or sleeping fell prey to Mr. McMahon's idle prankster hands. Veterans know that nobody sleeps until the boss does.

I wandered up to the safety of the cockpit. On Air Force flights, the pilots are armed, so entering the cockpit is allowed.

The pilot was staring out the window, while the co-pilot wrote out her Christmas cards. Occasionally, one would reach over and adjust something, but mostly they just sat. Who knew flying was so easy? I pestered them with my hundreds of questions, and I think they actually enjoyed the distraction. I learned so many top-secret things about the C-17 that I'd surely be shot if I divulged them. That is, if I could explain or even understand anything the pilots told me.

What felt like a few days later, the plane touched down at Ramstein Air Force Base. I joked with JRob that it'd be fine if the plane left without me. I'd be perfectly happy renting a motorcycle and cruising the autobahn, then flying home commercial and looking for a new job. My wish nearly came true.

As usual, we were ushered in the front door of the Enlisted Club, served a nice meal, then sat and waited. Previously, we've sat and waited and waited and sat for hours while whatever has gone wrong with our aircraft is fixed. Once we had a tire blowout on landing and had to switch planes. Another time, something went drastically wrong with an engine, forcing a multi-hour delay while mechanics pondered the problem.

Feeling restless, and positive that many more hours of nothingness awaited us in Germany, JRob and I wandered next door to the bowling alley.

Another Perfect Game!

Since there is no record of the actual score, and since I am writing this, let's just say that the Audio Department crushed, destroyed and completely obliterated the Lighting Department. Yeah, that's how it happened. Exactly. Or at least it would've happened that way if they put up the gutter-bumpers for me...

After his loss, JRob and I debated bowling a second frame. Since nobody knew where we were, and since there was no way he could bear to suffer another stunning defeat from me and my massive bowling technique, we decided staying in Germany, renting motorcycles and racing down the autobahn would be better enjoyed another time and, doing the smart and responsible thing, we returned to the Enlisted Club.

I stood outside the front door, enjoying the cool, fresh air, making a few phone calls and waiting for the buses to return. And stood. And waited. For a long time. Time takes on a slippery quality when you are being shuttled halfway around the world, it's difficult to gauge if minutes or hours have passed. The only way I knew that a significant amount of time passed was my feet started getting cold. I decided to wait inside with the others.

The problem was apparent immediately. Inside was empty. Everyone was gone. If this was a joke, it was a damn good one. My heart thumped and my throat went dry as I croaked out to one of the workers inside, "Where'd the WWE go?!?'

"Oh, they're gone."

"Gone!" I practically screamed, "Gone, as in gone gone?"

"Yeah," he replied, "They went out the back and got on the buses a while ago."

"Went out the what? The back? There's a fucking back door? OH SHIT!"

In the six years we've waited in the Enlisted Club, we've never used the back door. So much for being a tour veteran. I started frantically dialing people, but of course nobody answered their cell phone. At that point, I didn't know what was worse, the possibility of being left behind in Germany and my impending unemployment, or the reality of facing a planeload of waiting pranksters. My heart thumped away, all thoughts of the autobahn banished from my head.

A van pulled up and the driver, motioning me to get in said, "You the one that got left behind?" Great. At least everyone in the entire world knew. We raced off to the flight line, and to my immense relief saw the line of buses heading for the still-waiting-on-the-ground C-17. "Dude," I begged, "I'll give you $100 to get me there in front of those buses."

"I'd do it," the driver answered, "but if we pull out of line, we'll most likely be shot at. These people take flight line security seriously."

My driver managed to craftily park right behind the buses, saying, "Just sneak in, nobody's gotten on yet." I tried my best to sneak into the line, to no avail. I took my imminent ball-busting like a man. Thanks go to my awesome wingman Abi for having my back on this one.

Wingman for sale - CHEAP!

The next seven hours slipped by. After being awake for 27 hours, my fatigue overcame my fear of more pranks, and I dozed off for a while. Some time later I was awakened by the announcement that we were entering Iraqi airspace. The interior lights changed from white to red, indicating we were in a combat zone. The pilot announced we'd be making a tactical decent into Baghdad, saying, "Hang on everybody, this could get a bit rough. Remember, safety is our number one concern, but we aren't Delta airlines." No kidding, Delta Airlines has Deltalina, something the Air Force sorely lacks.

A tactical decent means twisting, turning, and trying to force lunch back up. With no windows, it's hard to tell exactly what is happening, though my stomach reported that it was unhappy with this tactical descent. After a while of this screwing around, reverse thrusters roared in my ears. Fourteen hours and thirty-nine minutes after leaving Washington DC, we'd made it once again. The WWE has returned to Baghdad for a third time!

Now the fun really begins.

The story continues here in part two...

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