Tag Archives: Afghanistan

COMEDY AT WAR: Returning Home

My first trip overseas to entertain the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq was in 2004. I was 32 at the time. Close to 80% of our current military weren’t even in high school yet. Comedy and the reality of war have been two consistencies I’ve lived with daily since. On every trip to a war zone, I make new friends and can’t help but identify with them. In 1990, I was a fresh faced seaman. Every time I return home from one of my comedy tours, I pray they do the same…return home. Safely. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

Bagram Air Base Afghanistan.

My first few weeks home are always a struggle to readjust my sleep and my mental state. I come home caring about different things and taking a very large majority of the world’s problems more seriously. My girlfriend had to sleep in another room last night because I was reacting to every sound and jumping in my sleep. In the four years we’ve been together, that has never happened before. 

Being an entertainer seems so petty to me, when the handshakes, life talks, courage, selflessness, shared laughter, names, and faces are fresh. It doesn’t just shut off for me. It chips away at a part of me each time, without my really being conscious of it. The mind is brutal when you’re not mindful of it. A big part of it is survivor’s guilt. Although I’m very happy not being in the military anymore, the loyalty and connection to every brother and sister serving never leaves. 

The GI’s Of Comedy

I’m grateful that I’ve been doing this long enough to understand/recognize these steps and I feel like I’m mostly sharing this for my fellow comedians who are also military veterans. For everyone else, my point is that these trips I’ve taken to make service members laugh are a complete privilege, but at the same time they break my heart and are a complete mind f*ck. They have had an impact on my thoughts, feelings & life. 

The reason I’m sharing this is because I’m just a comedian. Just a guy spending a week or maybe a month over there. Please imagine a brave man or woman who lives/lived that life on a daily basis for a very very long time. I HATE war. I LOVE warriors. I know the part I play in all of this and I am grateful for my purpose. It has helped me come to terms with what happens over there.  But not with all of it, I believe that’s impossible. All heroes, friends, and strangers please know that for as long as I am walking this earth, I am here for you. Don’t be too proud to talk! PLEASE! I’m here to make you laugh, have a conversation, or just listen. Family, friends, service members, veterans… any and all.  Humanity is my light…

When I Get To See A Hero Laugh At Home

Last nights second show was the closest thing I’ve had to that feeling you get as a kid on Christmas morning. The lead up, excitement and joy. This happens to me every time I know a Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airmen who I had the opportunity to entertain in Iraq or Afghanistan comes to see me here back home. Knowing they made it back and I get to see them HERE ALIVE! Nothing in my life has this kind of significance, importance and is as internally powerful. The joy is completely fueled by relief. In some cases seeing them can/has been difficult. Life back home is far from easy for a good number of our heroes. But seeing them, shaking their hand & sharing that manly or womanly hug let’s me know whatever fight they may be having at least it’s here on the home front now. My respect, friendship, support and loyalty will never waver and is always accessible. I grew up with only sisters. Who undoubtedly bring my life’s biggest joys. In a way I have always searched for a brother… I have found many. In life, the military and even the entertainment world. What is life without true bonds between humans? Just wandering I would think. I have been fortunate to never wander. Which brings me to last night. My friend here is named Micah Clifton. We met in Iraq where he was in charge of keeping myself and the other comedians safe. I bonded with Micah tighter then any other service member over all my years. I have zero doubt it was do to his great sense of humor that complimented an incredible professionalism. His job was to keep us ignorant, safe & clear of the possible dangers that could and did come upon us. He was/is simply the BEST I have ever encountered at giving you a smile that tricked you into thinking everything is fine. I know this because since he’s been out I have gotten the “let me tell you what was REALLY happening THAT DAY talk”.  When I tell you it takes a truly special kind of person to be able to navigate situation like those. Please understand my words here can never do his courage justice. Micah is one example of so many men and woman who under our colors function in ways most could never even comprehend and they hope you never do. Micah’s just one story, he’s my protector, my Christmas morning… My Brother! You made it f*cking back! Will love you till my final breath!

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An Email From A Soldier

The media has been covering a few stories lately that has put individuals in our armed forces in a bad light. In every large organization there are bad elements. These are humans. I by no means condone the actions I have been reading about. Just want people to remember the United States Armed Forces is a very large group of people. These stories are just a tiny number in the scale of brave people who serve. I know this because I served & spend a lot of time with people that currently do.  I have found a few meat-heads on occasion. Much like the “real” world. But for the very most part they are thoughtful, caring & brave people who stand for something. They stand next to each other when called upon. Now the people that make the called upon decision… Not a fan!

 I open my email inbox and this happened…

Subject: Hey From (MAJ)
PJ,
Hey, you may not remember me but you performed an amazing show at Dogwood Iraq in 2005. Yep, I know it’s been very long time. Since then I’ve been deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 and now, I’m back in Afgahnistan for another deployment.
Hope all is going well with you. I have this saying, “You meet people in life for a reason” in most cases it’s just to meet…. but you never forget them. You’re a person I will never forget.
Best wishes, 
Somehow whenever my mind strays off into the what I haven’t done, what I don’t have … all that just useless way of thinking. The universe sets me straight with how blessed I am. What an amazing life I live. “You meet people in life for a reason” goes both ways. Thank you Major! I also will never forget. I will also never forget this represents who serves our country. Great individuals like the major. I’m not an “armchair quarterback” with opinions achieved by reading & watching the news. I have been there. In the media they say “if it bleeds it leads”. The truth is not as selling. Good people willing to risk their lives for us.  Sad that is not a top story daily.

Memorial Day 2010 – God Bless All Who Serve.

For love of country they accepted death... ~James A. Garfield

I served from 1990-1995. The 1st Gulf War took place on our watch. That time period defined my life, after having only a slight glimpse into the horrors of war. Since then, I have taken a number of trips back over to bring a little bit of humor to our service members. I feel I have to. I am no longer in, but I still have my duty. I still have my sense of family with those in uniform.

Today I see through the eyes of a thirty-something man, who feels somewhere along the line I got lucky in my youth, like I missed a bullet on my watch. Empathy for our service members past and present is with me constantly. The military is where I became a man. Where I gained the tools to achieve anything I set my mind to. Where I got my very best friends, who remain so to this very day. Individuals who don’t know how to leave you when times seem impossible. Part of me wishes I could stand side by side with our brave service members today, but another part of me would be asking many questions regarding the situation we are currently in. I feel each of those sides has come with age, and my cherished experiences with the type of individuals who would be at my side.

There was a point when I had to take a break from going over. I had seen too much & my mind had to really sort all of it out. I had taken trips every summer to Iraq & Afghanistan starting back in the spring of 2004. Then in August of 2007 I found myself on a ship in the middle of the Persian Gulf – again – this time not a sailor, but a comedian. I was with my great friend and fine comedian Dan Smith, standing on the deck of a Naval LPD Ship, taking in the sunset. I remember he said to me, “This is the same ship you were on when you were here in the Persian Gulf… that is insane! Now you are going to do comedy for these sailors… Do you realize how amazing that is? You must feel so proud Peej.” I replied, ”I’m not, Dan. It’s odd? I feel no pride whatsoever. I feel sad. I was here on a ship just like this one, in this same exact place when I was 19 years old. Young people lost their lives. I am here again at 35 and even more young people are losing their lives? I know I have grown… apparently we haven’t.”

I returned again to entertain our troops and sailors this past Christmas 2009. I know they put the uniform on for all of us faceless, nameless Americans. I know how genuinely special that is. I truly with every fiber of my being thank them and love them! Wherever they go, wherever they are stationed, I will show up with my bag of humor, and, just as important, be here for them when this all hopefully ends. We have to be! God Bless All Who Serve!

The following is a beautiful Memorial Day Poem

When I’m Gone –  by Mrs. Lyman Hancock

When I come to the end of my journey
And I travel my last weary mile,
Just forget if you can, that I ever frowned
And remember only the smile.

Forget unkind words I have spoken;
Remember some good I have done.
Forget that I ever had heartache
And remember I’ve had loads of fun.

Forget that I’ve stumbled and blundered
And sometimes fell by the way.
Remember I have fought some hard battles
And won, ere the close of the day.

Then forget to grieve for my going,
I would not have you sad for a day,
But in summer just gather some flowers
And remember the place where I lay,

And come in the shade of evening
When the sun paints the sky in the west
Stand for a few moments beside me
And remember only my best.