The entertainers are entertained in Iraq
Part II: Exit experience illustrates dangers being faced by US troops on a regular basis
That's author-trumpeter Price giving his all with Groove Alliance band in Iraq.
(This is the last of a two-part series on an entertainment trip to Iraq. This is the first of a two-part series on a recent trip to Iraq by a local band. The author, Steve Price, is a fulltime salesperson at McFarland Ford in Exeter and a trumpet player with the nine-piece band, Groove Alliance. He recently spent ten days touring Iraq and playing for US troops and Iraqis.)
After dinner we are invited to an Iraqi club in the IZ. When you are invited in Iraq, it is an insult not to accept, so off we go to the club. The Major was our driver for all road trips. There are roadblock checkpoints everywhere along with 14-foot high concrete walls topped with razor wire. It’s like being in a giant prison, except it’s to keep the bad guys out. At all check points you need your DOD badge [Department of Defense] or you can’t go anywhere. Most check points are manned by guards from different countries. Dark-skinned, big, mean-looking guys with big guns. They know enough English to get by. You need to open the hood of your vehicle so they can check for bombs. A mirror on a handle is used to look under your vehicle. Last a bomb-sniffing dog is used. Once checked out you may pass, and we headed into the club. Once inside a lady who Dri had met at our show that day greeted us. The clubs are BYOB here, and we had no advance warning that we were coming here. A friendly man who we later found out was the Minister of Finance in Iraq started handing out drinks from a very large cooler and announced, “You are my guests!”
The band was traditional Iraqi. It consisted of four men in white head dress and the long shirts down to the ankles. There was a tambourine, a dumbec [an hour-glass shaped drum], a four-stringed instrument that has a banjo-type skin at the base and is bowed like a violin, and the last instrument is a 33-stringed hammered dulcimer. This is played with two mallets to do the chords. All of the men sang in unison. The Minister invited our group to learn a traditional Iraqi dance. You basically hold hands in a circle and do the steps. Everyone enjoyed themselves. At the end of the dance the minister explained the words. The Iraqi people went out of their way to include us and make us feel welcome. This is a part of Iraq I think very few ever see. The kind, caring hardworking folks that just want to enjoy life and don’t belong to any hate group.
Iraqi ensemble entertained with singing and a variety of instruments.
Friday we had our last show canceled due to complications at the hospital. I was ready to go play the show but this would have been the hardest day for me. We had already seen injured soldiers and it was tough to take. We ended up sightseeing and looking for souvenirs. We went to the PX and ran into a bunch of soldiers who thanked us for coming. It felt strange being thanked by the soldiers who put their lives on the line everyday, but I just remember what Captain Tetreault told me “It’s a big deal to these soldiers, because you guys don’t have to be here. You came on your own time to bring a little piece of home and for a short while help the soldiers relax enjoy and de-stress."
The Major takes us back to the GRD compound, our home for the week, and we pack our stuff and go to mess hall one last time to turn in our compound badges and get back our passports. Then we are taken to the Rhino staging area. We will be experiencing a two-hour ride to Camp Stryker. Major Pacheco hangs out with us while we wait for our ride to begin. Captain Tetreault shows up to see us off. There are enough people to fill two Rhino’s. Our escort to Camp Stryker this evening will be an uploaded, fully armed, locked and ready to roll Hummer, a rhino, two more Hummers fully uploaded, another Rhino, two more Hummers and a third empty Rhino, then a last Hummer bringing up the rear. Overhead you can hear a locked and armed Black Hawk helicopter that will travel just above us for the whole trip. I guess having a VIP military badge gets you the best coverage around.
The Special Ops officer steps into the Rhino and gives us the lowdown. “We’ll be running black out for this trip, no lights, no cellphones or light devices. In the event of contact [someone shooting at us or a bomb!] remain calm.” Ya right! “Do not open the door. This vehicle has taken an IED [improvised explosive device] hit. Its nose has come five feet off the ground, come down, and kept on going.” Good news, but it doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy. The officer continues: “There’s a third empty Rhino that in the event of contact that shuts down our Rhino will be moved up next to us and an officer will instruct us to jump into the other Rhino. In the event you need medical attention (because you’ve been shot!), a helicopter from above will pick you up within three minutes and get you help.” With that the door is closed, and after radio contact is checked between all vehicles we’re moving.
The vehicle caravan is stopped several times while the road is IED swept and the Humvees light up the roadsides to check for contact. Taking this ride in the total dark is very eerie. In about an hour or so we reach Camp Stryker which is a tent city transient station, a dark camp in the middle of the desert. Everybody piles out and Private Blair, our sound guy for the week who is traveling back to his unit, gets us to the main tent to get our blankets and tent assignments. We all stick together in tent K13. We turn on the light and settle in with the other soldiers already there to get our three hours of sleep before heading to the Iraq airport. After listening to generators, helicopters, and snoring soldiers in this cold tent, I once again use my MP3 to drown out the noise. I pull my heavy coat over my head and get a little sleep.
Vivid memory: Iraqis grooving.
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