Saturday, January 30, 2010

Traveling to Iraq with the USO

When I'm not writing novels, I work as a video editor on documentaries, TV commercials, and corporate videos. This year I was invited to travel to Iraq to edit a TV commercial. On January 1st, 2010, Tostitos and the USO hosted a "Salute the Troops" Bowl game, where the soldiers stationed in Iraq got a chance to play flag football with some celebrity football players and coaches from the United States. Among the celebrities traveling with the USO were Coach Barry Switzer, Coach Tommy Bowden and eight football players: Tony Casillas, Rocket Ismail, Bruce Smith, Brian Bosworth, Ty Detmer, Tee Martin, Tommy Frasier, and Joe Washington.

I was part of a video crew that filmed the entire event to produce a TV commercial, Hi-light video, and documentary. I got the privilege to travel to Camp Liberty military base in Baghdad to edit on site. On January 4th, the two-minute commercial played during the half-time show at the Tositos Fiesta Bowl. You can view this a the bottom of this article. First, I have posted several photos from the trip.

First stop: London.

On our way to the Middle East, we stopped off for a day in London to change planes. Since we had a ten-hour layover, we decided to take a day trip into the city. We took a train to to Picadilly Circus, which reminded me of New York's Times Square. We ate dinner at a pub called The Sussex. I ordered Fish 'n Chips and had a beer with the crew. Below is a busy street where there were many billboards advertising musicals and shows.

Me posing outside the pub.

After an overnight flight from London we landed in Kuwait.

We spent one night at the Radisson Hotel and ate some wonderful Middle Eastern cuisine. Below is Kuwait City on the coast of the Persian Gulf. I found the city to be beautiful with a mixture of modern architecture and Arabic buildings. There was even a space needle like the one in Seattle. The people in Kuwait were very friendly.

The next morning we were escorted by U.S. soldiers to the military airport where we boarded a C-130 cargo plane. Flying on an Air Force plane was one of the most exciting parts of the trip.

Inside the plane we all sat across from one another.

We were required to wear helmets and Kevlar vests in case we were fired upon. Missile tracers were fired off to make sure our path was clear. Behind me is the cargo area where all our gear was stored.

We were able to go up to the cockpit and watch the pilots in action.

On December 29th, we landed at the Baghdad airport. This was a very surreal moment for me. We were greeted by a welcome party of troops and members of the USO.

Two of my heroes, Coach Barry Switzer and Tony Casillas, getting off the plane. Switzer coached the Dallas Cowboys in the mid-nineties when they went to a Superbowl. Tony Casillas was also a member of the Dallas Cowboys and proudly wore his Superbowl ring.

The flight crew posing with cheerleaders from Colorado University. The cheerleaders came on the trip to cheer at the pep rally and football game and to boost the troops's spirits.

The legendary Brian Bosworth (a.k.a. "The Boz") from the University of Oklahoma.

Here are quarterback Tee Martin and running back Joe Washington being greeted by an Army officer.

Former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver and Notre Dame star Rocket Ismail visiting with an Army officer.

Campy Liberty. Every day choppers flew over the base in Baghdad.

The base encompasses several lakes with beautiful palaces that had once belonged to Saddam Hussein. These palaces are now used as military headquarters.

Here are two young men from Uganda who were hired by the military to guard the posts. They were very serious about their jobs. My hand is hovering over one of the guard's shoulders, because I started to put my arm around him, and then I stopped short, thinking, "Woah, he might not like that."

The JVB was a palace converted into a hotel for soldiers and civilians who come to visit the base. This is where we ate three meals a day in the mess hall. Our sleeping quarters were in trailers surrounded by concrete walls to protect us from mortar fire. There were four bunk beds to a trailer. Sharing a trailer with three other people, I felt like I was at summer camp.

Above and below are views from the back of the JVB hotel where we ate.

Below is a sequence of soldiers in action around the base.

I got the opportunity to work at Saddam's main palace, which is considered the Pentagon of Iraq.

My editing suite was a very small storage building beside the palace. It was very cramped quarters.
On New Year's Eve, I was working inside this tin box when I suddenly began hearing explosions right outside. The booms were the loudest I had ever heard. The repercussions made the walls shake and rocked the ground like an earthquake. A U.S. soldier came into my edit room and told me we were under attack and that we needed to take refuge in the palace. He gave me a helmet and handed a Kevlar vest to a producer I was working with. We began running for cover. My heart was racing as we ran flat along the palace walls. We heard sirens going off and the rotors of helicopters as we took cover inside the palace foyer. There were at least a dozen soldiers coming out with guns drawn. It was quite exciting. Within a half hour the base was secure. I found out later some Iraqis had pulled a truck up to the base wall and fired 9 mortars. They exploded at random places around the base, but thankfully no one was hurt. The film crew and celebrity players had been in the middle of their pep rally at the gym when the explosions started happening. They all hit the deck and had to lay flat on the gym floor until the sirens stopped.

After the barrage of mortar shells, it was back to work. We had a film to make. Here I am editing footage the camera guy just brought me.
The entire week the soldiers got to hang out with the celebrity football players.
Bruce Smith posing with two soldiers.

Rocket Ismail and Sgt. Taylor
One of the troops posing between football greats Ty Detmer and Joe Washington.

Tee Martin and a soldier.

The Colorado University cheerleaders.
Me in front of Saddam's palace.

Tony Casillas with several fans.

The entire Tostitos and USO crew.

Traveling over to Camp Liberty in Iraq was an amazing experience. I met so many wonderful troops and returned home with a deep sense of pride. Below is the two-minute commercial that I edited for the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. My next project is to edit a longer documentary which I will post at a later date.

If you are looking for a great way to support the troops, I recommend donating to these two charities: Books for Soldiers and the USO.


  1. Hey Brian! Read the whole thing and watched the video! Really enjoyed it! I wrote a book about greeting the troops in Bangor, Maine. Also, my dad, my husband, my brother and my son were in the military.
    Thanks for your great work!
    Lynne Cole

  2. Brian...awesome work! Your photos are fantatic, and, having worked for AAFES for 20 years now (we go where the troops go!!) I can completely appreciate your efforts. Thanks so much for posting, and your commercial was wonderful! Robin

  3. Great job Brian! Can't wait to see it on the "big screen"!

    Sounds like you are getting to the Big Time!

    Happy New Year!

  4. OMG, great pics. Good job.

  5. Hi Brian,
    Read about your trip to Iraq. Must have been something, ah! Wish I'd had the chance to meet you while you stopped over in Kuwait! Didn't you remember I lived here? And incidently, I was in fact at the Raddison Blue on the 30th night attending an associate's art exhibition :) Well, all said, hope you have enjoyed the trip.

    Shabana Shaikh
    From Kuwait

  6. I'm inspired by what you did. I enjoyed seeing the photos and the commercial was awesome.

    I am a big supporter of the USO and have contributed many times to them. Great Job!!

  7. Wow Brian-what an amazing adventure! You are so lucky to get to fly in a real cargo plane, I'm jealous! Great photos & video!
    Sally Harper

  8. What an amazing experience! You are a very lucky man. I'm sure you can use this experience in your future novels. Great job with all the pics.. I'm also an editor. Helps for writing no? Is that an Avid? I've been an editor for 15 years.. I still work in tv but only freelance, generaly sport..I did News for 10 years but done with that. Very stressful. I concentrate on writing these day.
    Well done again..

  9. i guarded the jvb toc (tactical operations center) in 2007. Glad you enjoyed your stay.

  10. Thanks Jacob, I appreciate your service to our country. It was quite an experience to get to stay at a military base in Iraq and witness the daily operations first hand. I gained a ton of respect for our troops.