Friday, February 29, 2008

Comedians Keep FOB Hammer Laughing

Comedian Bill Dykes, from New Orleans, performs for Soldiers of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, during a comedy show Feb. 25 at Forward Operating Base Hammer, Iraq.

By Sgt. Natalie Rostek
3rd Brigade Combat Team,
3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Soldiers of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team were treated to a night of laughter during a show put on by three comedians, Feb. 25, at the Soldier, Airman, and Civilian Center on FOB Hammer.

Bill Dykes, Touchee Jackson, and James Gleason, who goes by the nickname Cowboy Comedian, left the United States Feb. 11 and since have been bringing laughter and comedy to Soldiers serving overseas. They have visited Soldiers at the Bahrain Navel Base, Djibouti, Africa, Kuwait and Baghdad during their current tour.

Master Sgt. Roy Brown, from Pace, Miss., the FOB Hammer Morale, Welfare, and Recreation senior noncommissioned officer, said he enjoys having the opportunity to give Soldiers the break they need.

“In my 24 years, I know it’s very important to get Soldiers out of the war zone, even for a minute, so they can strengthen themselves mentally and continue on another day,” Brown said.

It was obvious by the amount of laughter in the room, 3rd HBCT Soldiers enjoyed the show.

“I enjoyed the show,” said Sgt. Warren Cach, from Stuarts Draft, Va., Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment. “It’s nice to laugh so much. The Cowboy Comedian was hysterical.”

Spc. Jeremy Allen, from Broadus, Mont., Headquarters Company, 203rd Brigade Support Battalion, agreed.

“The show was great,” he said. “I had a great time.”

This is the first Morale, Welfare, and Recreation tour for Dykes and Jackson. Gleason, a native of Lexington, Ky., visited Soldiers in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia last year.

“It was such a pleasure during my last tour that I wanted to give back more,” Gleason said.

Dykes, a resident of New Orleans, said his motivation came from stories his friends would tell of their experience overseas supporting the troops.

“I begged to get on this tour,” he said. “I really wanted to get it from the guys themselves. Also, after Katrina, and all the support the Army gave, I felt I needed to do something to give it back.”
Jackson, from Houston, is using this tour as a learning experience.

“I wanted to see, up front, what all this was really about,” he said. “I want to give my side of the story to America. Comedians talk to people all the time and I want to tell them the progress I’ve seen out here because most of the time all they hear about is the negative stuff.”

Each comedian, coming from different backgrounds in comedy, said they enjoy what they do.

Gleason had a heart attack and was unable to continue his career in rodeo. He and his wife were watching a comedy show one night after the incident, he explained.

“I’m funnier than they are,” he told his wife after which she suggested he go for it.
“I thank my wife,” Gleason said. “She has supported me through everything.”

Gleason, who hails from a military family, said he didn’t want to follow in his family’s footsteps but still wanted to support the troops.

“I’ve missed Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, birthdays and my wife doesn’t say anything about it,” he explained. “She knows how much this means to me.”

Jackson, who used to write sketch comedy, said he knew stand up was something he wanted to try. He attended an “open-mic night” and did not succeed, he said.

“I tried again and loved it,” he said. “Comedy is something where you are always learning. You are always figuring it out. I’d do this for free. Anything you love doing, you would do for free.”

Dykes has been a self-described ‘smart-alec’ all his life. He said he was strongly encouraged by his girlfriend at the time to attend a comedy class in New Orleans.

“I went to the class and then we did the graduation show,” he said. “The laughter was amazing.”

The comedians said after each tour they are thanked but all agreed the Soldiers are the ones who need to be thanked for what they do.

“Without those guys we wouldn’t have the opportunities we do,” Jackson said.

“I had a guy Soldier come up to me after a show and say ‘thank you’,” Gleason said. “I said ‘dude, you don’t have to thank me. We get popcorn thrown at us … we get heckled ... we don’t get shot at.’”

“Someone told me we were brave for what we do,” Jackson said. “I laughed. They are the brave ones. A Soldier is a special breed just like a comedian is a special breed, only our weapon is a microphone.”

All three comedians said they hope to continue traveling to support the troops overseas.

“I wouldn’t turn this down for nothing,” Jackson said. “It takes the stress away for just a moment.

You learn to appreciate the little things. Soldiers learn to adapt out here and things don’t bother them. It’s an eye opening experience and one I will never forget.”

The 3rd HBCT, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, Ga., has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March.

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