When we do these USO cartoonist tours active war zones we fly commercial flights up to a point, but eventually we switch over to military flights.. On our way back home we planned on spending a full day there drawing prior to shipping out for the States.
Saturday, Sept 7th–
Our trip back was a real “red eye”. We were supposed to leave KAF on Saturday afternoon, spend the night, draw the next day and then leave for home early Monday morning. Instead, out flight was scheduled for midnight. Military flight times often get changed at the last minute, and our flight didn’t depart until about 0330, and we arrived about 0800 pretty exhausted from a busy day of drawing and touring in Kandahar.
Because of the change in flight times, we ended up with a full day in theater with nothing scheduled to do, and we were able (with the permission and escort of the base command) to go into Bishkek and do some sightseeing
Back at the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing, we spend the evening hanging out at “Pete’s Place,” a large tent/hall structure with outdoor decking.
They had a fun show that night by a local entertainment/dance troupe that included a little magic and comedy as well. We hung out there with several of the officers who were our base liaisons.
Sunday, Sept 8th-
This was our business day at the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing. We started out with a briefing by a colonel assigned to the base that was really fascinating and event presented him a drawing from each of us on a single piece of paper.
We had two drawing sessions planned, the first at 1400 on the outer deck of Pete’s Place. We drew for many base personnel as well as soldiers in transit…mostly thought coming back from in theater. I drew several pilots who were fresh from a deployment where they were training Afghan pilots and personnel for their air force. Since most of the people we drew were either stationed at the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing or on their way home, you can imagine the tension levels were significantly lower than in Afghanistan.
One of the artists drew a soldier who worked in the Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) unit on the base, and he got permission for us to visit the EOD shop that afternoon. If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Hurt Locker”, you’ll know what kind of stuff we got to see. There were several robots that are used to approach and handle possible explosive devices, lots of cool gear and, or course, the “bomb suit”. Paul Combs got to try this 80-plus pound protective suit on!
The EOD center
A bomb-handling robot
The Hurt Locker suit
Paul suits up…
That night we drew again, this time inside Pete’s Place starting at 1900. Prior to our session the Col. presented each of us with a very special keepsake… a flag that was flown onboard a KC-135R during an actual combat refueling mission. According to the certificate that was with the flag, that mission delivered 30,000 lbs of fuel to two A-10 Thunderbolts and two F-16 Fighting Falcons in the skies of Afghanistan on August 7th, 2013. I’ll be framing that and hanging it proudly in the studio.
Our last drawing session went long, and while we were pretty tired after a week on the go throughout Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan, I don’t think any of us wanted it to end. It really is a great and genuine honor to meet with and bring a few smiles to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces who are sacrificing much to defend our freedom overseas. I’m very fortunate to be able to take part in these USO trips. I have some friends who disagree with much of what the US government is doing in the Middle East, and a few of them don’t understand how I can support these efforts like this. Most understand that there is a clear difference between the policies that have us involved in these wars and military actions, and the people who are send there to do their jobs. All politics are put aside when it comes to showing support for our troops, and once you meet these folks that becomes very easy to do. These people really are heroes, and it’s my honor to be able to meet with them and tell them so… and to make fun of their faces, of course!
Monday Sept 9th-
We had a bag call at 0430, and after 30 hours of travel I get back home by 10 PM Minneapolis time. A long but great trip. I’m hoping soon we won’t have to do these anymore because all our soldiers will be home safe and sound. However, anytime the USO wants me to do a tour, I will always be willing.
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