Story by Sgt. Lindsey Bradford
Photo by Lee Craker
CAMP VICTORY, BAGHDAD, Iraq -- It is official -- Stephen Colbert came, saw and conquered Iraq, claiming victory on day three of his six-day adventure to the Middle East.
Arriving in a C-17 from Kuwait, Colbert landed at the Baghdad International Airport, June 5, and began preparing for his shows at Camp Victory's Al Faw Palace, as part of his tour "Operation Iraqi Stephen: Going Commando."
"We wanted to call it 'Feelin HOT, HOT, HOT: Papa's got a brand new Baghdad', but it was too many words," he said.
In March, Colbert announced his visit the Persian Gulf, but was forced to remain tight-lipped about the event in true operational security style. Since then, he introduced a new segment on his hit night-time talk show, trying to guess which one of the seven Persian Gulf countries occupied by U.S. forces he would visit.
Iraq was the winner.
In order to prepare for the trip, Colbert attended basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C. The training lasted a total of eight hours, although he says he "might have dipped out an hour early."
Now a slightly trained killer, armed with a smile and his "A" bag full of satirical humor, Colbert was ready to take his show live to Baghdad, where it would be recorded, edited and sent back via satellite to the U.S. It is something the United Service Organizations said was a first for any overseas tour they have organized.
Multi-National Force - Iraq Commanding General Ray Odierno asked Colbert to come and perform for the troops. However, Colbert says he came here for the buzz cut President Barack Obama ordered Odierno to give to him during the opening show at the palace, June 7.
"I also want to claim this as my military time if I decide to run for president in 2012," he said.
Colbert filmed four shows, which began airing in the United States the week, of June 8. The reaction from the service members here has been amazing, he said.
"It's been fantastic," he said of his welcoming. "All these people are so nice out here; I don't understand why they want to fight with each other."
Colbert noted that he knows nothing about the country of Iraq, aside from the few days he has been at Camp Victory.
"It's hot, it's sandy, the sun is blazing. It seems like Texas, but with fewer guns," Colbert said of Iraq.
He added that if he were to describe the country to Americans, concrete and blast walls would sum the landscape, and he compared the air quality to that of an exhaust system.
"Who had the idea to build an entire country in the tailpipe of a car?" he asked a crowd of about 400 people during his first show.
Soldiers, Airman, Sailors, and Marines packed the palace's rotunda every night of tapings, their thunderous cheers echoed off of three stories of marble walls. In addition to Odierno, guests included Iraq deputy prime minister Dr. Barham Saleh; Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby, Jr., Multi-National Corps - Iraq commanding general; Command Sgt. Maj. Frank Grippe, MNC-I command sergeant major; Sgt. Robin Balcom and Spc. Tareq Salha.
Balcom, a native of Houston, Texas, is a military police officer with the 8th MP Brigade, 93rd MP Battalion's 463rd MP Company stationed in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Balcom was nominated for the show by her commanders because of the multiple tours she has served in Iraq. Being on the show was an opportunity she was glad she didn't pass up because it only happens once in a life time, she said.
Salha, an interpreter with 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (Light), based in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, said he enjoyed meeting Colbert because he was such a genuine person.
"He is trying to express what we, as Soldiers, go through in a fun way [on his show], and he succeeded," Salha said. "It was an outstanding experience, and I really enjoyed being able to speak on behalf of myself."
President Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden, John McCain, Sarah Palin and Tom Hanks sent out special thanks to the troops in pre-recorded messages that aired during the show. McCain's comment to "always take the time to remember to clean your musket," drew boisterous laughs, as people shook their heads in amusement. McCain said he learned the importance of a clean weapon during Valley Forge.
Sgt. Jennifer Miller, an awards clerk with Company B, Special Troops Battalion, Task Force Courage, had not seen The Colbert Report before attending the June 7 show.
"His comedy covers all ranges. He is willing to pick on anyone," Miller, a Madison Heights, Mich., native said. "He is very funny!"
Miller said Colbert's antics will definitely keep her watching from now on.
In addition to the night's performances, Colbert spent time meeting and greeting service members on Camp Stryker, another camp located within Baghdad's Victory Base Complex.
Roughly 200 people showed up for a chance at a picture, a laugh and a handshake with the comedian.
"It's a nice break in the day to come in here and meet him," said Staff Sgt. Jason Moldan, an Army Reservist with the 401st Engineer Company out of Oklahoma City, Okla. An avid fan, Moldan said it's been hard to catch Colbert's show since he's been deployed, but he still remains a steadfast member of the Colbert Nation.
"It's really great that celebrities can come over here and see us," said Moldan, a Minneapolis, Minn., native.
When asked if this was a great USO tour or the greatest USO tour, Colbert didn't miss a beat when he answered "the greatest." Camp Victory agrees.