FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARHORSE, Iraq – Laughter fills the Faulkenberg Theater at Forward Operating Base Warhorse, Iraq, and echoes off the thin wooden walls as the man on stage spouts jokes about the humorous aspects of his relationship with his wife, the late-night menu at Taco Bell and Justin Timberlake. His witty punch lines have the crowd in an uproar, granting him a thunderous round of applause at the end of his routine.
Derek Vana, a stand-up comedian from New Hope, Penn., was part of a comic trio that toured several forward operating bases in Iraq during the month of September, putting on shows for Soldiers from 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, for the sole purpose of entertaining troops and helping them enjoy an evening despite being deployed.
Lone Wolf Entertainment, an entertainment booking company out of Dickinson, Texas, hired Scott White and Bill Dykes from Houston, Texas, and Derek Vana to come to Iraq to provide comic relief to deployed Soldiers. The three comedians submitted tapes of their routines to the entertainment agency, and after review, Lone Wolf Entertainment booked them for the tour.
Dykes enjoys performing for deployed troops. He is a seasoned visitor to Iraq, as his passport would indicate, and a FOB Warhorse alumnus.
“Our whole reason for coming out here was the Soldiers,” Dykes said. “It’s definitely not for the sight-seeing.”
“I’ve been here actually, this venue at FOB Warhorse, two and a half years ago,” he said. “I recognized it at the dining facility when I saw the Stevie Ray Vaughn room I’m like, ‘That’s where we ate!’”
When the comedians are not performing for troops, they do the same thing stateside for their civilian audiences, minus the body armor and Blackhawk helicopter transportation. Though their duties are not as life-threatening, the comics can relate to Soldiers in that their jobs require them to travel and occasionally take their routines on the road. Each of them deals with separation from family and friends as Soldiers do, though on a much smaller scale.
“It’s not so hard for me being away because my wife and I are used to text messages, phone calls, e-mails, stuff like that,” Vana said. “The accessibility in the states is really easy, I can always text her, I can always call her.”
“I have a cat, and he gets pretty mad when I leave him for long periods of time,” Dykes said.
Though Dykes’ support may come in the form of feline companionship, he had a few words of encouragement for Soldiers experiencing difficulty with the separation from loved ones back in America.
“Despite the distance, people are still there with you, and it’s hard to remember when that connection is so spaced out, but it’s still there,” he said. “You just have to value the fact that you have it and hold onto that as opposed to thinking in the moment.”
Vana served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1998 to 2001, and though he may not have served during Operations Iraqi Freedom or Enduring Freedom, he shed some light on the issue of separation from a different perspective.
“It’s almost as hard for families back home as it is for the Soldiers here too,” he said. “Soldiers here have their family, their platoon, their company.”
“For people back home, it might just be them, they just have their small group of friends,” he added.
Soldiers filed out of the theater following the conclusion of the show, still laughing about various jokes told throughout the night. Despite the fact that being deployed is no laughing matter, Soldiers still managed to relax and enjoy themselves.