A Dancer in the Desert
During the War in Afghanistan as with previous conflicts the Military organized regular shows for the troops to keep up morale. These shows are often put on with celebrities, beautiful women and bands. for the men and women serving far from home this is a welcome respite from the horrors of war.
During WW1 there was soccer matches, stage plays and more. The British Army invited a concert party to come from England as early as December 1914, the French Army authorized the first theatrical performance given by civilians in February 1916. The entertainment varied from country to country but the goal was always the same.
In the Second World War the big famous show that made this so well known was the USO shows. The United Service Organization (USO) was founded in 1941 to provide morale and recreation services to U.S. uniformed military personnel. They provided comfy chairs, showers, food and more. From 1941 to 1947, the USO presented more than 400,000 performances with famous celebrities such as Abbott and Costello, The Andrews Sisters, Fred Astaire, Gene Autry, Lauren Bacall, Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Ingrid Bergman, Milton Berle, Humphrey Bogart and so many more.
During the Korean War and Vietnam the shows for troops returned with celebrities of the era, by now it had become a well ingrained tradition and would continue on into the modern age. Below you can hear the story of Sarah's trip overseas and her experiences with the troops. I have included it in her own words as there is no better person to hear the story from.
Canada to Kandahar in Her Words
In the fall of 2005, I was part of a dance company that selected 4 girls to join a group of performers doing a show tour in Afghanistan. My understanding at the time was that Canada was deployed in Dubai, Kandahar, and Kabul as part of a peacekeeping mission. How much of that is true I am not totally sure.
We spent a few days at a military base in Ontario to practice and finalize details before flying to Dubai where we spent a week. The base we were on there was mostly Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand soldiers. That is where I met a few Canadian, Australian, and Kiwi soldiers who acted as our tour guides while we were there. It was called camp Mirage because supposedly the base wasn't supposed to be there.
We performed our show a few times here but mostly just hung out with the soldiers as part of building moral. It was a lot of fun. I was rescued by one guy from some crazy scorpion spider thing that was out to get me during a beach volleyball game we were playing. This particular base was pretty cushy and had a lot of amenities and entertainment. I'm not sure of the exact timeline but we headed to Kandahar via a plane they called a herc (perhaps short for Hercules). It was a beast of plane and definitely felt very military. We were strapped in in rows with full PPE (personal protection equipment) on us while in it. I think I fell asleep because of the loud engine and vibration force of the plane.
The base in Kandahar was a lot less ”luxury” than the one in Dubai. It was rows of tents with with different countries designated to different areas. Because we were with the Canadian troupes we (all the performers) stayed in separate tents in the Canadian ”headquarters”. We were given briefings daily about safety and had our PPE safely stashed in our tents. I have a lasting memory of the alarm sirens going off and the sound of a missile or something whistling in the sky. We all raced to our tents and nearly had heart attacks only to hear that it was a test. I actually thought in that moment I was going to die.
Although we stayed with the Canadians, we were free to roam and interact with any and all soldiers there. I personally took a shining to some of the French and Americans who were a lot more fun and had crazy stories. This was during the time when America and France weren't on good terms... the era of freedom fries. However, on this particular base these were the closest allies. I'm pretty sure some of these soldiers fought and died together and that those challenging circumstances fostered a brotherhood that trumped any political bullshit their countries may have faces .
On the French side was a bar called the Halo cafe. This was where all the cool kids hung out. It was the only place (that we knew of) where you could get beer. We weren't allowed to drink but we partied with them anyways. This is where Jeff (the soldier who gave me the signed uniform) introduced me to Desperadoes, I believe they are amaretto infused beer. I got super drunk one night and I remember being very well taken care of. I was brought safely back to my tent to sleep it off. I have no memories of anyone behaving inappropriately towards me or my crew. Maybe because we were pretty young, or maybe because the consequences would have been devastating for them, but I like to think its because they were gentlemen.
My memories are hazy so I'm not completely sure of the timeline but after a few days or maybe a week we went to Kabul via some kind of armored military vehicle... I wish I could remember the name of it. It was completely shielded with no windows except for 2 little flaps you could slide open to look through out the back. I remember before this journey I felt super scared for the second time on this trip. We were given a briefing and the person speaking to us and the driver was rattling off what seemed like a laundry list of where land mines had detonated on the same road we were taking. Luckily we didn't come across any on our trip. Through those back window flaps was the most I got to see of actual Afghanistan. It was pretty barren desert with only a few locals out and about. Kabul was just a day trip but the military there was by far the most grateful to receive us. The base had a completely different vibe to the others (sort of gloomy) and the soldiers there seemed much more worked and tired.
We left Afghanistan and spent a few more nights at Camp Mirage before going home. It was a pretty incredible experience and one that I'll never forget (even if my memory of details are hazy). The reason I was allowed to go on this trip was because at the time we went, only one Canadian soldier had been killed there and it was at the hands of an American who accidentally dropped a bomb on him (something along those lines).
However, it wasn't long after I returned that I saw the front page of a newspaper that had rows of faces of the fallen Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. I was sorry to say that I recognized some of them but sadly couldn't name them. I'm glad we were at least relatively safe while we were there!