John Wayne at Iwo Jima? Check.
Clint Eastwood at Grenada? Check.
Robert Duvall in Vietnam? Check.
Cartoonists in a war zone? Not so much.
It’s not that we aren’t tough guys, but … OK, we’re not tough guys. But it’s not our fault. We don’t have the training. Instead of forced marches up Currahee, we spend our hours all alone, in dimly lit rooms trying to come up with funny jokes and doodles. That doesn’t exactly translate into a cohesive squad of professional war correspondents.
I say this because another group is about to head out to parts unknown. The USO and the military never tell us where we’re going to protect us, or so they say. I suspect they know that we’ll spill the beans the minute we know anything…so they don’t tell us anything.
For the next group, regardless of where they go, I have come up with a few lessons learned about traveling with cartoonists in a war zone that I hope they will find useful.
1. Cartoonists don’t get the “good kevlar.” Most of us received jungle camouflaged vests and Sgt. Schultz helmets. A few guys actually got protective gear with digital pattern, but they were most likely defective (the gear, not the cartoonists…or vice versa).
2. Don’t eat the fish. In Kuwait, the sewage system had been broken for awhile and raw sewage seeped into the gulf. I had shrimp our last night there. They were fresh. I found out we should not eat seafood after I returned to the U.S. I have been pondering this for a week now. I hope to stop pondering soon.
3. The best way to make an entire group of attention deficient cartoonists focus? Mention mortars.
4. Keep cartoonists away from celebrities. They tend to “cluster”, and this scares the stars.
5. Given a canvas, they will draw on just about anything.
6. Keep an eye on them. They tend to wander off. This is especially important in dangerous areas, like airports.
7. If you are housed in open-bay berthing (and odds are you will be), there is a statistical certainty that at least one of you will snore loud enough to wake the others. In our case, I heard nothing. The other nine, interestingly, did. Hmmmm.
8. Be cautious when reading hand-written signs.
That’s about it, except you had better get your arms in shape. We drew for roughly a thousand troops during our adventure, and got a chance to meet many, many more. One thing I can guarantee – you’ll come home tired, but darned proud of the men and women who are serving our country.
And before you know it, it will all be over.
Unless you ate fresh seafood from sewage-infested waters, in which case you’ll have a chance to ponder it all for a while longer.
(Photos courtesy of Ed Steckley and Chad Carpenter)
NOTE: Ed Steckley, a great caricaturist and frequent Mad Magazine contributor, has put together a great pictorial narrative of the trip. You can read it all by clicking here.