UTSIDE TIKRIT, Iraq – Mick Foley was eating breakfast with Big Show, Charlie Haas, Eddie Guerrero and some others at the Forward Operating Base (FOB) Paliwoda last week, when he heard a loud explosion.
“We were assured by one of the officers that it was outgoing,” said Foley, in Iraq with a team of WWE Superstars for a holiday SmackDown! broadcast.” A moment later, we heard another explosion. That was incoming. Soldiers went scrambling around for their (bulletproof) jackets and helmets, and we did, too.
“And through it all, Big Show continued to eat his corn pops.”
It’s a frightening story – but one not nearly as unnerving as a conversation I had with Luther Reigns about his visits to U.S. military bases around this war-torn nation.
“If I was 20 years old, I’d join the military,” he claimed.” It’s a license to kickbutt legally, and that’s what I like to do.”
Honestly, I wasn’t too shocked by this comment; Luther’s known to utter things like that. It’s this next exchange that gave me pause for thought.
“Did you fire any guns while you were here?”
“No,” Luther responded, smiling demonically. “Heidenreich did.”
It’s been a busy week for the SmackDown!” crew. Days before the show, the Superstars landed in Iraq, and splintered into groups, visiting troops in various locations. I ended up here, just miles from Saddam Hussein’s hometown, at FOB Speicher – site of the program. A few hours later, I heard some Christmas carols emanating from a recreation hall.
I walked in to see former WWE Tag Team Champions Kenzo Suzuki and Rene Dupree among a group singing “God Bless Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Suzuki struggled with a word sheet, while Dupree was holding a candy cane and smiling.
Senior Airman Lawrence O’Neill, 21, of Wayland, MI, could use the holiday cheer. When he embarked on his first mission on Sept. 16, he immediately came under fire on the road back from Mosul.
“I aimed towards some buildings, like I knew where it was coming from, and the shooting stopped,” he recounts. “Ten minutes later, we got hit with an IED (improvised explosive device) rolled up in a tube. A piece of shrapnel actually landed in the truck with me. I picked it up, and have it in my room.
“Then, when we got back to the base, we got mortared. That was my first day.”
While the majority of the troops I’ve encountered are committed to the U.S. effort in Iraq, I also came across a few who’ve grown to question their government. Army Specialist Jim Hrehowsik isn’t one of them.
“I don’t see this as a war,” the 27-year-old native of Sewaren, NJ, told me while displaying his “girlfriend,” Becky – an M-249 that fires between 700 and 1,000 shots per minute.” I see this as rebuilding a country.”
To show his confidence, he pulled a freshly minted Iraqi “dinar” from his pocket. “Look,” he continued, “I’m collecting dinars. Right now, eight dinars equals one penny. But I expect the value to go up – and to become a very wealthy man.”
He also has another strategy for Thursday’s SmackDown! show.When his commander carries the Delta Company 701st Main Support Battalion flag towards the ring – as part of the pre-match ceremonies – Hrehowsik intends to make his move.
“When the unit’s all around him, I’m breaking away,” he promised, “and getting myself aplace in the front row.”