Straight From the Hart III
Hey, WWE fans. I know I said you wouldn’t hear from me until Monday,
but I had to share what happened to us on Saturday with you right
away. It was a great day. It started at 6:15 a.m. I’m
the first one downstairs in the restaurant to order my Jimmy Hart Southern
Boy Special, which you all know is pork n’ beans and French
fries. I’m used to eating this scrumptious meal on my own, but
this morning, I’m with Henry, our photographer. Much to my
surprise, Henry is here to try the Southern Boy Special for the first
time. After a few bites, he declares it might be something he has to
get used to. Twenty minutes later, we are joined by the one and only
Ron Simmons, who also, for the first time, orders the Southern Boy
Special. Ron has no trouble adjusting his palate to my dietary
delight. Then Richard and Ryan show up promptly at 7 a.m. to pick up
our crew. Having tried the special yesterday, and finding in the evening
that they did not have the stomach for it, they declined my offer to try it
As we proceed to the lobby to meet Maria, Ashley and Gary, I am approached by a gentleman who asks if I would take a photo with a pretty young lady at the check-in desk. As I go over to take the picture, I find, much to my surprise, that the young woman is one of the American Idols from Season 4, Jessica Sierra. She tells me that her Dad and she are giant wrestling fans, and she grew up a big fan of Jimmy Hart and the Hart Foundation. Jessica is here to entertain the troops in Kuwait and Iraq, and is off to a base in Kuwait this morning with her local AFE escorts Contee and T-Mac.
Meeting Jessica reminds me of the time that Hulk and I met Simon Cowell in England when he was an A&R man for a major record label, and well before he was American Idol’s most reviled talent judge, an act I think we can agree is modeled after the Mouth of the South. Simon talked the Hulkster into recording a single, a remake of the song “Leader of the Gang” by Gary Glitter. It went three weeks in the Top 10 in Europe, peaking at No. 1. However, the Hulk’s greatest recorded accomplishments in music are his own recordings with the Wrestling Boot Band.
We get into our two-van “convoy” and begin our journey to Camp Arifjan, the heart of U.S. military operations in Kuwait. We spend some quality time with the camp commander, Colonel Brick Miller, and his Commanding Master Sergeant of the Army Ray Middleton. These guys are first class all the way. We receive a thorough briefing on activities in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. Camp Arifjan is the hub for troops and supplies going into and out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and can process more than 75,000 people a day at the camp. The camp is also the base of operations for special training for the troops to deal with evolving combat conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Colonel, like others to whom we speak, tells us of all the great civic accomplishments of our troops in Iraq, particularly in the northern and southern parts of the country, areas outside of the violence we hear so much about in the media. He relays stories of young Iraqi girls attending school for the first time, using books, pencils and paper secured by the troops with the support of their home towns. He speaks of accomplishments of restoring infrastructure and helping to put America in a better light through the actions of our troops in working with the local citizens. He sees the tide turning through a younger generation of Iraqis that will ultimately ensure Iraq maintains and builds upon its newfound freedoms despite the threat of terrorism. We all shake our heads as to why our news media keeps these success stories a secret from the American public.
When we get to the autograph signing at the base gym, it is jam packed, with a line out the door. It’s very well organized by the camp MWR’s “Little General.” Also on hand is Clayton Bovey, Entertainment Branch Manager for AFE in Kuwait. I do my usual thing, introducing Ashley, Maria, and last, but definitely not least, the three-time football All-American from Florida State, Ron Simmons. I couldn’t believe how many Florida State t-shirts and footballs the servicemen bring for Ron to sign. And, of course, like all the other bases we visit, the servicemen have magazine pin-ups and covers of Ashley and Maria to be signed. I am pleasantly surprised to see all the young soldiers who bring the new WWE DVD, “The World's Greatest Wrestling Managers,” for me to sign. I sign so many, I have to make sure more than once that they aren’t like the bootleg CD of “See No Evil” I gave to Gary to give to Vince.
After two-and-a-half hours of taking pictures and signing memorabilia, Maria, Ashley and Gary visit the Mess Hall while Ron and I, along with Richard and Henry, visit the Armed Forces Entertainment base office to thank the staff there – guys like Broadie, Mike and Eli -- for their help with the tour. Maria, Ashley and Gary were joined at lunch by Ryan and Chris Pace. Chris had just flown in from his base of operations in Baghdad, where he is in charge of securing programs and entertainment for the troops in Iraq. Our Divas report that Gary and they struck up a conversation with Vivian Ratliff, Kenneth Williams, Sean McDonald, Steven Valentin and Justin “Tiny” Brown from the 37th Transportation Group, who are some of the people that drive the truck convoys bringing supplies from Arifjan to the troops in Iraq. Tiny is particularly interested in a possible wrestling career if football doesn’t work out. He is currently playing defensive tackle for Morgan State, but his career is on hold while he serves in the military.
After a quick lunch, we have a 90-minute drive to our next destination, Camp Patriot at the Kuwait Naval Base. Yes, Kuwait has a Navy, which it uses to guard its coast on the Persian Gulf. The base also hosts the largest contingent of the Army’s troop carriers, making it the Army’s largest port. Marine and Navy personnel also use the base as a point of redeployment to varying assignments around the world. The Air Force runs the camp’s administration and we get a great tour of the facility by Chief Master Sergeant Wayne Barron from Memphis, Tenn. It’s great to see an old home boy. He tells me more about my early career in Memphis than I can remember. He assures me it was legendary.
After the base tour, we do our next autograph signing and photo session with the troops on base. These men and women make us feel welcome and are very rambunctious. Two young men express their admiration for Maria and Ashley by writing their names in permanent ink on their chests. Ron and I are asked also to sign their chests, to which I reply, “Sorry, we just ran out of ink.” I think Ron was about to say something else until I remind him, “You are an All-American.”
After a presentation by Camp Commander Lieutenant Colonel Tim Henke, at which we receive some nifty Certificates of Appreciation and Operation Iraqi Freedom caps, our duty is done and it is time to head to our base of operations. Along the way, Ryan, with whom we were now driving, says we are low on gas. However, we can’t find an open gas station, as happens on some Saturdays -- which in Kuwait is the equivalent to a Monday in the U.S. Many times, Kuwaitis get the “Saturday” blues and decide to take the day off, an accepted practice here. Chris, who is riding with us, suggests we go to a nearby military refueling station, but by the time we arrive, the station is closed. I do get to sign a bunch of autographs for the MP’s on duty. Ryan eventually finds a gas station just before we hit the big E. By the way, gas is 35-cents a gallon over here.
We have a great dinner in Kuwait with Ryan and Chris inside an historic replica of a Kuwaiti sailing vessel. After dinner, we receive a commemorative iron spike. It looks nice, but what do you do with it. I give mine to Gary as another present for Vince, just in case the “See No Evil” DVD doesn’t work. I told Gary again, no need to mention my name; he can have all the credit.
Earlier in the day, I try to call the Hulkster on our satellite phone to see how a taping of a recent episode of “Hogan Knows Best” is going. I had been invited to be part of the episode that is also set to feature Brian Nobbs, Brutus Beefcake, Greg Valentine and Hacksaw Jim Duggan. However, my trip to visit the troops keeps me from participating. I wanted to tell Hulk that Hulkamania is still running wild in the Persian Gulf, as we have sighted several Hulkamania T-shirts as part of our autograph signings -- almost as many as the "The World's Greatest Wrestling Managers" DVDs I’ve signed.
It’s another early morning assignment for the Legends and Divas team on Sunday as we get set to visit two more bases. Please don’t forget our troops in your prayers. It’s their heroic actions that enable all of us to sleep soundly in the good ole’ U.S.A. every single night. As for us, we’ll also sleep soundly knowing these brave men and women are defending our country. Each day, we become caught up in their energy and determination. Just remember, championship belts are won and lost, but legends last forever.
Read: Straight from the Hart I
Straight from the Hart II