AL ASAD, Iraq -- Flying from San Diego to this former Iraqi air base has become almost an annual event for some of the Marines and sailors here. For others, not in the armed forces, it’s a new and unforgettable experience.
The jet lag, jam-packed transient tents, uncomfortable cots, cold showers (or no showers at all) and other details of traveling around military installations in Kuwait and Iraq may seem like normal for service members. Those outside of the military see things with a whole different perspective.
Recently, Tony and Kris, radio personalities from US 95.7 in San Diego, were embedded aboard this former Iraqi air base to personally thank service members for their service in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Global War on Terrorism.
Accompanied by their technical engineer, Kevin Douglass, the dynamic radio duo left San Diego on April 29 heading for the home of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). After many hours in the air and layovers in Germany and Kuwait, the three adventurers touched down in Baghdad.
While waiting for a flight to Al Asad the DJs had an opportunity to broadcast live from one of Saddam’s palaces. “It was amazing,” said Tony.
The next day, after arriving in Al Asad, the DJs and the handy engineer were welcomed by “Wild Dogs” from the 2nd MAW (Fwd) public affairs cell and were taken to what they would call home for the next few days.
The following morning, they experienced a bit of “hurry up and wait” at the passenger terminal on their way to Forward Operating Base Korean Village. Bad weather didn’t let the trio reach their destination, but they said the whole experience of flying in a CH-53E Super Stallion hauling an external load was worth it.
“I had the best seat,” said Tony. “I got to see the Marines hook up the pallet to the helicopter through the center opening.”
Kris, who had heard a lot of Iraq stories from one of his Marine friends stationed in San Diego, said he never imagined flying over Iraq in a CH-53E Super Stallion.
“I would have bet my life savings saying this was something I would never do,” he said. “Everything since we arrived here has been incredibly amazing.”
The disc jockeys stopped by the work centers of the Forward Deployed Preventive Medicine Unit from San Diego Naval Station; Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465, a squadron from Marine Corps Air Station, Miramar, Calif.; Marine Attack Squadron 311, from MCAS Yuma, Ariz.; Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2, from MCAS Cherry Point, N.C.; Marine Air Control Squadron 1, Air Traffic Control Detachment Alpha from Camp Pendleton, Calif.; and spent the better part of their last day here with Marines from Marine Wing Support Group 27 and the Provisional Security Battalion, with whom they went out on a patrol in the vicinity of Al Asad.
“I’ll never watch the news in the same way again,” said Tony. “I’ll know the tiny slice of bad things that they show us isn’t representative of what’s going on. I know about the schools being built, the houses being erected, the people being helped and the children laughing and joking with Americans in uniform. When I see shots of young men and women in the desert I’ll be able to say ‘I’ve been there. I saw them doing their job and loving it. I walked the same dust as them.’”
After a week in Iraq, where they broadcasted live every day from places such as one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces to their quarters in Al Asad, the DJs couldn’t leave without cracking a few jokes on the tight security and the “military poetry” they encountered in all the places they visited.
“I had guards asking me for two types of identification, my passport and my social security number,” said Kris jokingly. “And that was just to go in a port-a-john.”
Tony, joking as well, said the guards were not checking them for weapons or explosives.
“They were checking for markers,” he said. “I even had to show them I didn’t have a marker holster.
Two guys very supportive of the military and their technical engineer did what many are not willing to do.
They didn’t come here to increase their number of listeners, they’re already well known in the Country music community (they received the Academy of Country Music Broadcast Personalities of the Year award a few years ago). They came here because they wanted to give service members a chance to share their stories on the air and send messages to family and friends back home.
“This trip was an experience we will never forget,” said Tony. “We met a ton of amazing young men and women and an impressive group of high ranking officers who make every one of us burst with pride knowing they’re here doing this remarkable, and sadly all too often thankless, work.”
- For more information about the events reported on in this story, please contact Sgt. Juan Vara by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org -