ENTRY 3: Dec. 10, 2005:
Well, we're finally airborne now, after a slight 10 hour delay. We're leaving Afghanistan and our "Tribute to the Troops" tour is behind us, though I think it's safe to say that all of us will bring home memories to last a lifetime. We'll be back in the U.S. in about 20 hours or so, giving me plenty of time to write, which is nice to know since I feel like I have a lot to write about.
As I look around the plane, I wonder what specific memories will be brought home. I'm sure all of us felt privileged to have been there. Yet, I wonder what specific memory each individual wrestler, Diva or crewmember will take with them. I wonder whether there was a moment in a Blackhawk, a conversation with a soldier, or even a real deep look at the bleak landscape of Afghanistan that really registered in the memory banks.
As for me, I'm haunted. And no, it's not just the memory of my Santa vs. Santa match with JBL that's causing this! Sure, the match was really stupid…….really bad too! It's was also really fun though, and I hope the ridiculous memory of two Santa Clauses slugging it out with such devastating objects as toy sacks, down pillows and salad tongs will put a smile on some soldier's face at a time when he can most use one. No, it's far more than Santa vs. Santa doing the haunting. It's the memory of a little boy in a tiny cot in a small hospital on Bagram Air Force Base, and lessons I hope that I learned from having the privilege of being in his company.
I was in Group 3 on this trip……the laughing stock of this trip! Our wrestling roster was divided into three groups of six or seven people, and over the course of our time in Afghanistan, each group set off for different locations. During last December's trip to Iraq, I was in the "cool" group…..the "macho" group! We got hit with rocket fire. We wore helmets and bullet proof vests! We crisscrossed the country via Blackhawk. I even went to the perimeter in Sumarrah. So what if video evidence showed my reaction to enemy gunfire to be slightly less than hardcore? I was there…..brother.
Not this time. While Shawn Michaels and John Cena camped out with the Special Forces in the mountains, I was watching Chris Masters lose to an Airman half the size in an air mattress jousting contest! Yes, an air mattress jousting contest!!!! So, while Vince McMahon, Triple H, and even Candice Michelle visited weary, thankful soldiers at Forward Operating Bases, I was visiting the camp's Post Office. Yes, if the previous night's autograph session note-passing incident brought back memories of ninth grade gym class, this special Post Office visit brought back memories of a fifth grade field trip! Oh wait, I did get to do an impromptu meet and greet when our bus made an unscheduled stop so that Gene Snitsky could take a dump……the results of which he actually took photos of! Which I guess if I posted on this site could give a whole new meaning to the term "web log."
We also visited the base hospital, and I've been haunted ever since. I knew I wouldn't be seeing any severely injured servicemen. The badly wounded are are usually sent to Lundstuhl Hospital in Germany, where they spend a short transition period before being flown back to the United States. Over the past few years, I've been a pretty regular visitor to the Walter Reid Army Medical Center and The Bethesda Naval Hospital, both in the Washington D.C. area. I pride myself on being pretty good with the wounded service members. More so, I think they just feel comfortable with me not because of any special talent I have or any special wisdom I can offer to them.
I cannot claim, however, to being very good with burned children especially one who has never seen me on his living room television set and who doesn't speak my language.
Our group was understandably weary following our day of jousting, Post Office visits, and spontaneous Snitsky stops when we arrived at the small hospital. I stopped to sign an autograph and found myself quickly separated from my colleagues. Had it been a larger facility, I would have attempted to catch up, but it was just two hallways intersecting in the middle. Getting lost did not seem like a possible option. So when a chaplain asked if I would like to say hello to wounded Afghan civilians, I allowed my fellow Group 3 members to wonder where I might be, and accompanied the chaplain. "There is one child, in particular, who wants to say hello," she said. She then pointed to the rear of the room, which housed about 10 or 12 injured Afghans, mostly male, who lay on small green cots that lined both walls in groups of five or six.
I asked the chaplain if the boy was familiar with WWE. "No," she said, "he just knows that you are famous and he's very excited to meet you." I immediately looked at the young boy, who flashed an excited smile. I was then informed that the man in the cot across the aisle from him was a detainee, a status which required the presence of an armed guard at all times. I gave the detainee half a smile, which he chose not to return. At that time, I did not know the nature of his physical condition or the reason for his detention. Had I been aware of the reason, I would not have offered him the smile.
The detainee had apparently been making an improvised explosive device (generally referred to as "I.E.D") which exploded and blew off both of his hands. The wounded detainee then showed up at the gates of Bagram asking for help from the same Americans whose lives he would have gladly ended.
I then walked over to a boy who wore a cast on his foot. I never did learn the nature of his injury because then I became distracted by another boy, much younger, whose injuries were literally breathtaking. I know the word "breathtaking" usually carries a positive connection, as it is most often applied to incredible views or beauty - human, natural or other. Yet, the extent of this poor child's injuries literally took my breath away. His face thankfully had been spared from the worst of the burns on his body. Most of his body seemed to be one large mass of scar tissue, as if he's been wrapped up in a bodysuit of angry scars. His hands were the first thing that I noticed, as they lay outside of his blanket. One hand contained the vague outline of his former fingers. The other hand, the right one, seemed to be nothing more than a deformed pink and purple circle connected to a wrist. It was this hand that he extended to me when I stepped over to his bedside.
The child, the chaplain told me, was the victim of a kerosene heater explosion, an occurrence far more common to the impoverished in Afghanistan than I could ever comprehend. These explosions, the result of poorly built heaters and cheap kerosene gasoline mixtures, are an everyday occurrence. I even saw photos of a two day old child whose entire tiny body had been engulfed in hideous flames. I've never been a witness to such horrible consequences.
I dedicated my 2000 children's book "Christmas Chaos" to a little boy named Antonio Freitas, a burn victim from Massachusetts, who touched my heart in a profound way. A line in the book reads, "What pain this little boy had known, such suffering for a child, but the thing that touched dear Santa most was the magic of his smile."
Antonio had a magic smile. This poor child, Midikula, did not. Like Antonio, he knew pain and suffering, and his little face reflected it. As I mentioned, his face was almost scar free, but sadness and despair were etched all over it.
Within seconds of our meeting, the little boy began to weep and shout out anguished words. An interpreter laid out the sad translation. "He says when he leaves the hospital, no one will care for him, He is only happy here." Happy is not a word I would ever associate with that room of 10 or 12 patients, including one terrorist. Although I have been allowed into the hospital rooms of suffering children many times and have been a patient myself a few other times, despite the best intentions of caring should and the tremendous assortment of board games, video games, DVDs and televisions, I have never thought of hospitals as places where children are happy. There were no board games, video games, DVDs and televisions in Midikula's room. There was just a tiny green cot and the love and caring of a few dedicated professionals. Perhaps these words, love and caring are the keys. Perhaps this hospital was the only place he's ever witnessed those emotions.
The interpreter spoke again. His words did more than take my breath away. They put tears in my eyes, a lump in my throat, a knot in my gut and a chill down my spine. "He wants you to take him back to America," she said. I'm not sure if I have ever, in my 40 years felt so helpless or like such a pathetic liar when I simply said, "I can't." "I won't" would have been more of the truth. "Can't" is a strong word. In fact, it's not a word that I used or accepted very often during my career.
My wife and I have a half-joking tradition when I am set to leave for developing countries. "Don't be afraid to bring a child home," she always says. She said it when I went to China in 2002 and Iraq in 2004. We used to talk about adopting an Afghan child after the initial U.S. invasion of the country. I shared that thought with a few friends and actually received disapproving feedback, as if the existence of Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan was the handiwork of orphaned children. Now here was a child begging for a home, and I simply said, "I can't."
The boy was scratching at his scars, lowering his blanket as he did, revealing to me just some of the terrible damage that the explosion had done to his torso and abdomen. The chaplain later told me that one leg needed amputation because the damage was too extensive. His other leg, despite the efforts of physical therapy, had lost all range of motion, becoming permanently fixed in a locked angle. A prosthetic device, I was told, was almost an impossibility. The money just isn't there, and even if it was, the boy's rural rugged landscape would render the device almost useless. A wheelchair would fall victim to the environment as well. Ramps and elevators aren't exactly accessible in the countryside.
I searched my pockets for some kind of gift that I could give to this poor child. I also searched for some soothing words, but even with a translator's help, those were tough to find. I handed him a coin that had been given to me by a base commander. The coins are given out in the military for excellence, and I guess my Santa vs. Santa match qualified as such. The translator asked for one, but I told him I was out - the second lie I had told while standing at this child's bedside.
As I prepared to leave, I told Midikula that I would send him a box of toys when I got back home. Through the translator he told me that he would like two large white stuffed animals, a dog and a cat. I then touched the boy's head and with the best smile that I could manage, I exited the room.
I returned minutes later, bearing gifts. When I told the chaplain that my good intentions to good deeds ratio was low and that I'd be much more likely to follow through on these intentions if I purchased toys on base, she took me instead to a small trailer outside of the hospital that contained a few boxes of donated toys. While there were no large white stuffed animals, I was able to secure a small white beanie baby cat, a grey beanie baby dog and a Wyle E. Coyote that looked like a consolation prize at a second rate carnival.
I'll be honest; the kid didn't care much for Wyle E. Coyote. I guess if one is not aware of his "Roadrunner" shenanigans, he could look a little creepy. Through the translator, he worked out a trade - Wyle E. Coyote for a red breasted robin.
Before I left the hospital, I gave the boy a wallet-sized photo of my younger children. I'm not quite sure why I did this? I think so that he might have something directly from me instead of through a colonel or chaplain.
Last night, as I lay down, hoping sleep would find me, I again thought of that poor child. I thought about the terrorist as well. I thought about our service members and the sacrifices they have made. I thought of the holidays that would pass without their loved ones near and the dangers they face every day. I still don't know what to think of our adventures in democracy in both Afghanistan and Iraq but if democracy brings with it food, shelter and kerosene heaters that don't set little kids on fire, then by all means, these adventures will be worth the price we've paid. But I don't know if that will happen? I do know that brave Americans like the ones I've met at Bagram Air Force base have sacrificed their lives in pursuit of this bold goal. I also know that mere feet from where our service members breathe, lay two Afghan citizens, separated only by a six foot white tile aisle and an armed guard. I know that their feelings toward our country cannot be more opposed. One sees the United States as pure evil, while the other, sees the U.S. as an answer to his dreams.
Sometimes the United States seems to me to be like a brilliant, privileged student, bragging about his C+ grades to a classroom full of disadvantaged failures. We may not be the best and brightest in that classroom, but we are capable of better and we are a long way from being evil. Can the U.S. truly be the answer to one's dreams? For millions, it has been. Although I don't think this is true for Midikula. Maybe I was the answer to his dreams, and instead I gave him a carnival doll.
I've been thinking about an old Irish prayer that reads, "God grant me the strength to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference."
It's troubling that I have that wisdom that will haunt me most of all.
ENTRY 2: Dec. 9, 2005:
Mick Foley continues his Web log from Afghanistan while getting ready to go on MSNBC's "Rita Cosby: Live & Direct." Mick describes his encounters with WWE Champion John Cena, two lovely Divas, a snoring Gene Snitsky and much more. Tomorrow, Foley will file Entry No. 3, which includes a highly emotional story from a visit to a local hospital:
5:15 a.m., local Afghan time:Let me state for the record in this, my second handwritten Web log entry, that Gene Snitsky can snore louder than any man on this planet. Perhaps somewhere on the plains of Africa there lies a pregnant rhinoceros (maybe the one Tajiri spoke of so eloquently on our last episode of RAW), making more offensive, guttural sleeping noises than Mr. Snitsky … perhaps. But as far as people go, Snitsky gets the nod. He's the loudest there is, the loudest there was and the loudest there ever will be.
Several of us are scheduled to appear on Rita Cosby's live MSNBC show this morning. Now, Rita's show airs live at 9 p.m. (ET), so due to the fact that Afghanistan is somewhere in the vicinity of way the hell over on the other side of the world, I knew our wakeup call would be coming at a very early hour. I did not know, however, that Gene Snitsky's own, personal alarm clock would see to it that no other wakeup call would be needed.
Writer's note: It was so loud that in between the first and second paragraph, I took solace on a doorstep in 30-degree weather in order to evade Snitsky's onslaught.
I think we're all very excited about Rita's show. Not only has she treated us all right, but through adventurous and memorable days, she has become almost like one of the gang. I am truly thankful for her decision to take the trip with us. Most of us in the wrestling business accept that the mainstream news media is either going to ignore us or knock us, and I think most of us understand that Rita's show will allow people back home to see us in a different, far more positive light than the one they've previously viewed us in.
My enthusiasm for this whole Web log thing may fizzle over time, but until that fizzling process begins, I am determined to offer WWE fans not only a different perspective on the big WWE issues of the day, but also a perspective on the smaller, sometimes overlooked moments that make the WWE experience so unique. After all, our WWE photographers and film crews do such a great job of capturing actions and emotions that describing them in words seems kind of unnecessary. I mean, fans can see in a heartbeat how excited the fans are about our trip. A vivid, Mick Foley description of "why the troops are excited" probably doesn't add a whole lot to the situation.
But taking my pen and marble composition tablet behind the scenes of last night's huge autograph extravaganza to reveal the clandestine and heretofore unreported note-passing process that took place between the table of Mick Foley/John Cena and the table of Ashley/Candice Michelle, I truly feel like my Snitsky-induced early wakeup will not have been in vain.
I have another statement for the record, at the time of the autograph session, I was tired. Really tired. Goofy tired. Understandably tired. We were finishing up our second, nonstop day of visiting bases and were giving the option of either eating at the mess hall or rest in our "hooches," Army-speak for small, wooden buildings where several large wresters all sleep — separated only by some plywood. Do you know how fatigued WWE wrestlers have to be to all bypass a free meal in favor of a nap?
Writer's note: It's 8 a.m., and we have just returned from Rita's show, which went really well, with the exception of my having casually mentioned on national television that I was writing a Web log about passing notes to beautiful girls at our autograph session. In other words, my clandestine encounter is not so clandestine anymore. Even worse, my wife will now find out about her husband's note-passing ways and expect a full explanation.
Well, here goes: With more than 1,000 members of the U.S. military lined up in the cold to meet their favorite WWE Superstars (and Coach, too), you would surely expect each and every wrestler, Diva and TV personality to be at their most fired up for the good of the fans. Not this WWE Superstar. For the first half-hour of this extravaganza, I yawned, nodded off and displayed such little charisma that I was mistaken for Al Snow. To make things even worse, I couldn't help but notice that the reaction I was harnessing — even when seated at the same table as WWE Champion John Cena — was not what I was expecting or used to. What was the deal? Gradually, after careful study, I came to realize just exactly what the deal was.
Cena and I were seated at the second table from the entrance, with the other members seated two-to-a-table for a total of 10 tables that looped in a semicircle around the building. Now, in my mind, a good autograph session is like a good wrestling card. It should build slowly, travel a tragedy of brilliant peaks and gentle drops and then climax with a crescendo. There in lies the problem: Cena and I were basically the second match on the card, following the opening match … Candice and Ashley. What a predicament! The fans were going absolutely crazy for the girls, who responded in kind by really lavishing attention on the service members. The crescendo, the climax, was occurring immediately, and Cena and I were left to try to pick the crumbs from the girls' plate. Fearing for my reputation, I fired off an angry note to the Divas. As a Foley Web log exclusive, here is the angry note in its entirety:
Dear Candice and Ashley,
The Hardcore Legend and the WWE Champion are sitting together, but by the time fans get to us, they couldn't care less. I was so excited about this autograph session, and now you've ruined it. Thanks a lot; you guys are really great friends.
Mick Foley (The Hardcore Legend) & John Cena (The WWE Champion)
Really mature, right? But hey, it seemed to be just what the doctor ordered. Just seeing the two Divas laugh revived me in a way that a Red Bull, a diet coke and a double-shot of espresso had failed to do. We even got a note back — meaning that since for the first time since ninth-grade gym class, I was engaged in a full-fledged note-passing session. It was awesome.
So awesome, in fact, that there was only one way to top it: photo defacement. It started innocently enough with the blacking out of a couple of Lilian Garcia's teeth on a "Tribute to the Troops" glossy photo of WWE Superstars and Divas. It graduated to drawing aviator goggles on Vince McMahon (a questionable move at best, considering that he signs the checks) before setting our sights firmly on the image of Coach. Time seemed to fly and Cena and I directed our considerable artistic talents into as many Coach creations as time would allow. There was Afro Coach; Mohawk Coach; Hasidic Coach; Pinocchio Coach; Kung-Fu Coach; El Coacho (Mexican masked wrestler); Mickey Mouse Coach; and others too ridiculous to mention. We even tried to create "Helluva Announcer" Coach, but we gave up in frustration when we deemed the task impossible. Hell, Vince McMahon has been trying to do the same thing for three years, and even he can't pull it off.
I went back to the hooch in high spirits. Our time in Afghanistan has not only been a time of accomplishment, it has been a time of extreme laughter, bonding and even note-passing. It was a night to remember, a night to relive, which I was in the process of doing when Gene Snitsky's snores, like a ringing alarm cutting off a wet dream, ruined it all.
ENTRY 1: Dec. 7, 2005:
In his first entry, Foley explains his feelings about joining the world of online writing. In future entries, Foley will provide his first-person account of what is sure to be a memorable and unusual experience:
Okay, I'll admit up front that I'm a little nervous about writing this following Web log. For, I fully understand that once I give in to this whole computer thing, there may be no turning back. This is not technically the first time that I have contributed to the WWE Web site. I do believe that I wrote an article for it in the summer of 2003 and even kept a book tour diary throughout much of that same summer. But back then, I could comfort myself with the idea that I was not so much giving in to modern-day technology as much as I was blatantly trying to induce people to buy a book I had written. But this? This is different. This is Mick Foley entering a Web log simply to keep fans in the loop to let them know what I'm doing or thinking just for the mere … pleasure of it. It's Mick Foley, the Hardcore Legend, the guy with the closet full of red flannels, finally giving up the good fight and accepting that the world has indeed changed and that I actually have to change with it.
I crumbled. So what? It happens to the best of us. At least I put up a fight. All good things eventually come to an end. I remember clinging on to my virginity with the same type of intestinal fortitude some 20 years ago until I finally accepted that minor — although it didn't seem so minor at the time — lifestyle change. And in the end, I've given in to modern technology on my own terms. Two terms, to be specific: My first term was simple and non-negotiable. I would write the damn Web log, but I wouldn't punch it in or type it in. I'd actually write down the thing inside my son's 99-cent marble composition pad and let someone else on the WWE team type it or "punch it in" or whatever computer lingo people are using today.
That brings me to my second term: I'm fully intent on never using the word "blog" on my blog. Sorry, on my Web log. I will never be a "blogger," nor do I want my Web log considered part of the "blog-o-sphere." These are my conditions. Stick to them, and we'll be fine. As much as it pains me to say this, I'm actually looking forward to writing more of these. As I write this, I am a little more than halfway through the longest day ever recorded — sitting on an Air Force transport plane — wedged into a seat that was never made for an ass like mine. I have a lot of thoughts about our "Tribute to the Troops" tour in Afghanistan, and I am looking forward to sharing them with you — sharing them with you via pen and paper on this, my very on Web log.