I have just returned from the adventure of a lifetime travelling accross 4 countries in the middle east for 17 days following the band Los Bad Apples on their Armed Forces Entertainment tour to play for troops stationed abroad. I hope through my words and photographs that you can capture some of the excitement and adventure of our travels.
We flew from Austin to London, from London to Istanbul, and then into Manas International Airport, Bishkek. Bishkek, which is the capital and largest city in Kyrgyzstan, is the location of the US Air Force base which was in the news right before we left on tour (because it was reported that the Kyrgyzstan government had voted to cancel the lease on the base).
To give an idea of its location, here is a short list of Bishkek’s interesting neighbors (distances are in miles):
Almaty – Kazakstan – 113
Tashkent – Uzbekistan – 306
Dushanbe – Tajikistan – 427
Mazari Sharif – Afganistan – 530
Sopore – India – 592
Urumqi – China – 651
Once we arrived at the airport, we were greeted by a great ambassador for the U.S. Air Force, Master Sergeant Kenneth Baptiste.
After a long count and re-count of all 32 pieces of luggage, putting all the bags on carts, then through the scanners, then back on the carts; I had to register my lost bag (with my softboxes and two bags of light stands). Then, we were finally ready to leave to load the awaiting truck and get on the bus to bring us down the road to the base.
Once we got off the plane we could already feel the cold in the airport, but as soon as we stepped outside to load the trucks, we could see the snow on the ground and on the trees.
Since we arrived at Manas at around 5:30 am, the next item on the agenda, after dropping off our luggage, was to hit the dfac (dining facility) to go get breakfast and start in on what would have been day 2 without sleep.
After getting situated with rooms and mammoth efforts to set DJ Chick George free after he locked himself into his room, we were off to lunch at the dfac with the EFSS leadership team.
After lunch, with Major O’Donnell as our guide, the first stop included a visit to the location for the next day’s gig at the MWR hall known as Pete’s Place. Ryan is quick to point out the first poster we see for the tour.
Once inside Pete’s Place, Ryan Rooney with Noman Sound set about researching the purchase process to obtain adult drinky treats; he found out there is a limit to the number of drinks one can have per 24 hour period.
Zeale is using code to let the rest of the band know what Ryan is asking about. :)
For some, the opportunity to get online with the free wifi at Pete’s Place was more interesting than an adult beverage.
Pete’s Place, like any other bar, has rules…
and posters…(I’d love to hear the translation for this one :))
and the last remaining element between you and what’s in the fridge–stickers….
There was even a “Don’t mess with Texas” sticker up there. :)
But when you needed something from inside the fridge, this local Kyrgi lady, a member of the bar staff, would check the list and then serve you to make sure you were not over your 2 drinks per 24 hours.
While we were visiting Pete’s Place, set up was going on for the monthly bazzar. This enabled local traders the opportunity to come on base to sell everything from old Soviet army uniforms, watches and hats–as displayed by this vendor–
to fur hats, slippers, jewelry, bags, blankets, etc., and our own Lisa Kaselak, the documentary film maker on the tour, bought a completely fabulous hat….
After the bazzar we saw the fitness center, Liberando’s lair, LRC, Shooters, and a tiny chapel.
Then we saw the travel agency for airmen, and Staff Sergeant Caryl
showed us the staging area for service luggage.
We left the bazzar and got in a bus to travel across base toward the flight line where we met the falcon trainers. This was an unexpected hit with the band. None of us had ever been this close to a bird of prey. The purpose of the falcons on base is to “clear the air” around the flight line to make sure no other birds get in the engines.
We were met by LtCol Stroebel,
and by a civilian contractor from England–Stephen Farrell…
with his bird “Thunder.”
They let each one of us wear the glove and hold the bird while we asked our questions about the birds and their job on the base.
Staying with the flight theme, we went on from the falcons to visit the KC-135 Stratotanker and take a tour inside. Here is a shot of the front of the plane…
and here is a shot of the part of the plane that makes it famous–
the business end of a KC-135. This is the part that is lowered during flight (at somewhere around 500 m.p.h.) to connect with another plane in order to conduct a mid-air refuel.
In order to get this bird up in the air with all its cargo and extra gas, it takes 4 huge engines.
After a few quick lessons for Zeale, Aldo,
myself and Anita and
DJ Chicken George (even got to ask the all important question–“What does THIS button do?”),
we were all allowed to fly for a while ;)
On the way back to the dfac to eat before that night’s show, we met one of the base dogs.
After dinner it was finally time for the first performance of the LOS BAD APPLES 09 AFE tour….
First on stage at Pete’s Place is DJ Chicken George with his 15 minute opening set.
Some of the CDs ready to give away at the end of the show…
At the end of that set DJ Chicken George is joined on stage by Zeale.
In order to show the folks that Zeale has mad skills he rolls in a freestyle number…
with lyrics taken from the audience with the assistance of a serviceman.
After that set, Zeale calls up the rest of the band.
This was the goal from the start–to entertain the troops.
After the music and the dancing stopped, it was time to sign and hand out the CDs and T-shirts to a very appreciative crowd.
Master Sergeant Kenneth Baptiste finds the Los Bad Apples groove impossible to resist and is officially the last man dancing at the end of the night.
He would just prefer that it is not captured on film :)
Thanks to Jerry Sullivan, owner of Precision Camera, Austin Texas, for his generous sponsorship of my tour to the middle east.