Straight From the Hart V
Hey, WWE fans. Well, today was a little different. I wasn’t in the lobby at 6. We had a 10 a.m. pickup to go to Camp Virginia, which is the base camp where troops from the U.S. and most other coalition forces redeploy back home after serving their tour of duty in Iraq.
Even with a later start, everyone seems tired, having been kept awake by explosions in the night. As you know, there is an historic sailing vessel and restaurant right near our hotel, and, at first, I thought it must be cannons firing from the ship. We later learned that it was the Army blowing up unexploded bombs, a reminder that even in Kuwait where we are perfectly safe, the spectre of war is ever present.
We arrive at Camp Virginia just before noon to have a briefing with Lieutenant Colonel Matt Hearon of the 3rd Battalian, 116th Field Artillery and Camp Commander. We note that the flag of the State of Florida is flying along with the flags of other nations when we get to the Command Center. Colonel Hearon explains that most of his troops are from the National Guard in Florida. He himself hails from Plant City. Knowing that Ron Simmons is coming with us, the three-time All-American from Florida State, he has the flag raised in Ron’s honor. My God, I’m in the WWE Hall of Fame. That should count for something!
We soon learn that Ron’s presence is a bit controversial as the troops from Florida are split between their allegiances to the Florida Gators and the Florida State Seminoles. The Command Sergeant Major, Ronald Watson, epitomizes this struggle. He is a Gators fan. His wife is for the Seminoles, and, of course, she orders her husband to get Ron’s autograph. Ron is very gracious to the Sergeant Major, noting that he has no issues with Florida because he never lost to them during his college career.
On the white board when we enter the conference room, were two messages for our Divas: “Maria, will you marry me? – Love, Lorrell Lovett” and “Ashley, would you put me in a headlock. Would you marry me, too? – Luis T. Rivera.”
Ashley is quite impressed until we learn that Luis is two-timing her, having written the same thing on the white board for American Idol’s Jessica Sierra. Busted, Luis!
I mention to Colonel Hearon about the military coins and Certificates of Appreciation we received from Colonel Eichhorn at Camp LSA. He exclaims, “I won’t be out done by Colonel Eicchorn.” He surprises us later at our autograph signing and photo session with coins, certificates….and T-shirts!
After a quick stop at the Mess Hall, our camp escorts – Major David Patten, Corporal Koby Veillon, and Specialist Brandon Senge – take us to the recreation hall and we are ready for our autograph session with the troops. I lead the charge by introducing three-time All-American, former Heisman Trophy candidate, and wrestling legend -- Mr. Ron “Farooq” Simmons. Then we bring out the 2005 Diva Searcher winner, now appearing on SmackDown (so watch on Friday nights) -- Ashley. nd next, you see her on Monday Night RAW, you see her doing interviews with the Superstars, and, on RAW Unlimited, you see her with the Kiss Cam -- Maria. As usual, Gary has everything set up and Henry is ready for photographs.
Gary’s assessed the crowd and identified how we’ll do our autographs and photos. This session, we do autographs first, and then a group photo with each soldier in front of an American Flag that has been placed on a wall behind us. ne by one, the soldiers get their autograph mats signed and then get a photo with our group. They are all smiles.
After a two-hour session, we stop at the PX. We’re approached by two members of the camp medical staff who ask if we can visit the camp hospital. We say, “Show us the way, baby.”
On the way out of camp, thank goodness we had some extra signed autograph mats for the guards at the gate. We leave no solider disappointed on this tour.
After visiting the camp, we head into Kuwait City for some unfinished business. Ron and I want to check out how many WWE DVD’s are available in the local video shops. We find VHS and DVD copies of bootlegged WWE videos about Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Hulk Hogan, Triple H and others. Just about any DVD you want on WWE wrestling you can get in Kuwait City, baby.
In the meantime, Gary and Henry are visiting with our new Kuwaiti friend, Raza Ali, who runs Sagir Jewellry. Raza makes tremendous jewelry pieces, and is recognized across the country for his work on a type of necklace called a cartouche. Ron enters the shop and he is greeted enthusiastically as Farooq. Raza mentions that one of his jewelers from Bangladesh is also named Farooq, and Ron coaxes his namesake to pose for a photo with him. “We Farooqs have to stick together,” Ron tells his new-found friend.
I mention to Raza that I have the megaphone with me, and he asks if he can have a photo with it, being a long-time wrestling fan. I agree and ask if he will walk with us to our vehicle where I have the megaphone stashed. As we are walking, I ask Raza how he feels about the American military presence in his country. He tells me the most harrowing story about his family’s experience during the first Gulf War. Raza’s family had to evacuate to Saudi Arabia, where they lived in tents for one month. He said they had nothing. But the American soldiers helped to keep his family fed until they could return to their home in Kuwait. Can you imagine living in a tent in 120-degree heat with no shower, no air conditioning and very little food for over a month? Raza said his family returned under the protection of the American troops, for which he will always be grateful.
As we get to the van, Raza asks if he can have one of my “Mouth of the South” T-shirts. I check the van, but I don’t have any left. The only one I have is the one I am wearing. So I take the shirt off my back, sign it, and gave it him. That leaves me with my Jimmy Hart Blue Light Wal-Mart Special Jacket with no shirt. I feel like Liberace having to wear my jacket shirtless through the hotel lobby. Boy, do I get a lot of looks.
We go upstairs and clean up. We head to the historic ship with Richard for our final dinner together in Kuwait. Ryan could not join us because of other AFE duties that evening, but did leave us with some parting gifts from Raza’s jewelry shop. I thank everyone for a job well done. We couldn’t have a better crew for this trip. Maria and Ashley were phenomenal. They were great with the troops. They went beyond the call of duty, always upbeat and bubbly, never complaining even when they were dead tired. I can see why they are two of WWE’s top Diva fan favorites. Ron Simmons. Wow, now I know why he was an All-American and WWE champion. He always knows the right thing to say to get a laugh from the troops. He’s first class all the way, baby.
Let me tell you, brother, what our troops our doing out here in the Middle East is unbelievable. Unless you have been here and seen what these guys and gals are sacrificing by being away from their loved ones, with the temperature fluctuating between 110 to140 degrees, you really can’t imagine the full impact of the experience. We don’t hear half of what is really going on with the war in Iraq, and nowhere near the full story on all the positive things our troops are doing for the Iraqi people. Raza and the people of Kuwait do know, and, boy, let me tell you, they do appreciate it.
It’s been an honor for all of us to be here. You men and women of our military have our admiration and respect for the job you are doing and how you represent our country. We are very proud of you.
Thank you, Vince, for giving us the experience of a lifetime. If you are going back to Iraq this year to perform another holiday Tribute to the Troops, sign me up right now, baby.