Kyrgyzstan - Decorated combat veterans have descended upon the mountain sierras of northern Kyrgyzstan sharing stories ranging from the jungles of Vietnam, Island of Granada, Canal and Runways of Panama to the streets of Mogadishu.
For the first time ever the Department of Defense Armed Forces Entertainment Office has turned four hardcore special operations soldiers loose... not with rifles and knives, but instead Books, Sharpies and Stories.
“Get outta here ... that’s Col Danny McKnight... from the battle of Mogadishu (Black Hawk Down) standing over there...” says a young US Marine waiting in the chow hall line to another of his battle buddies who like him have just returned from Afghanistan and are at Manas for a few days, while awaiting a transport flight back to the United States... and Home.
American300 Warrior Tours, a nonprofit troop support organization that volunteers for the DoD’s Armed Forces Entertainment shop developed the ‘RANGER Profiles in Extreme Courage Tour’ as the first of a series of troop resiliency tours, featuring distinguished combat veterans... heroes. (Plans are underway to create similar tours with our Navy, Marine, Coast Guard and Air Force branches of service)
While not a single one of the hardened combat veterans involved with this first ever effort think of themselves personally as a heroes, the deployed troops that they are meeting and spending time with this week throughout the middle east certainly do. “What these veteran patriots are doing, in coming to this base and others, sharing their stories of past and present is having a profoundly positive impact on our troops.” said LTC Richard Roberts, commander EFSS of the 376th AEW Transit Station Manas. “I know they’re stoked to get ‘downrange’ (combat zone) and the Air Force is proud to be taking them there”
Mad Max Mullen, one of the four RANGER’S on Tour is quick to point out that while he served for over 26 years and got deployed and fought in Operation Urgent Fury (Granada) it’s... “nothing compared to what today’s service members are going through, I’ve meet so many young studs that have been in deployment cycles ever since they turned 18 and joined.” Mullen, points out “ so many of these warriors don’t know as adults what it’s like to live in a time of peace... they’ve never experienced it, but they’re still charging hard and I’m honored to be meeting so many of them.”
From guard tower to guard tower, tool box to tool box the RANGERS have been moving around this Air Base over the past several days. “We’re ‘zero timing it’” says volunteer tour leader and former mountain infantrymen Robi Powers of American300, who leads over 10 tours a year for the DoD. “We believe in Slowing it Down for Resiliency... give these RANGERS and others who we bring over an opportunity to really connect with as many troops as possible, but in a way that is face to face... there’s as little ‘grip and go’ (quick hand shake a never see the person again) happen on our tours as possible. Sure it happens, but our mission is to connect, share... really allow these special visitors we bring over through Armed Forces Entertainment the time to make a bound with today’s warriors.”
Slowing it down and seeking out the behind the scenes service members has become a tradition and Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for American300 “When we send Robi out with a tour we let it be known that his people like to engage with troops 20+ hours a day, that they’ll sleep in bunkers, on the floor, stay up all night long if necessary... basically do whatever it takes to seek out the hard to find, behind the scenes service members at our most remote and hardship areas of deployment around the World” says Colonel Kathleen Weatherspoon, Chief of Armed Forces Entertainment which is headquartered at Andrews Air Force Base.
“Back in ‘the day’ I LRP’d (long range patrol), we got dropped behind enemy lines in Vietnam and set up ambushes, patrolled, performed reconnaissance.... now 40+ years later, American300 has us ‘behind the scenes’ and I love it” says Charlie Manas, who served with the 151st Delta Company RANGERS referring to all the troops that he’s spent time with in guard shacks, maintenance areas, EOD and K9 shops transit administrators to name a few.
“Two nights ago we showed Black Hawk Down the movie, Keni (Thomas) and I provided narration to a theater packed with troops... followed by 3 hours of question and answers” said Danny McKnight, Col ret Ranger Battalion Commander, adding “we got done at the movie theater around 0220... then went straight over to a Joint Service Shop that runs 24 hours a day and spent an hour meeting with Army, Marine and Air Force personnel... Robi told me we’d be running and gunning 20+ hours a day and he wasn’t joking... best part is that all of us wouldn’t have it any other way.”