Headed off on another USO/NCS Cartoonist Tour...

 It's only been a few short months since I got back from a grueling tour of Turkey, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan, and it's time to embark on another.

I'm not allowed to disclose locations until after we head home, but I can say we're flying into various spots in Europe as well as an Eastern country in the middle of nowhere.  

Me and Mason 'B.C' Mastroianni, blending in on our last tour, flying out of Afghanistan.
See if you can find us!
Joining me on this trip are Bruce "Punderstatements" Higdon, Paul Combs, cartoonist from Fire Engineering Magazine, editorial cartoonist Tom Stiglich, Lola and Mad contributor Todd Clark, In the Bleachers artist Steve Moore, and good ol' Sam Viviano (Mad Magazine).  Rick Kirkman of Baby Blues was scheduled to go, but got sick and had to bow out.  Get better, Rick!

As I write this in NYC it's snowing and blizzard-y out, so hopefully we'll be able to head out on time!  
Wish us luck!

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Talking in Boston in March!

2014 is off to a hectic start.  All the advertising work I can stomach, another big international USO tour in February coming up, and now this:

Click to see a bigger version...

If you're intested in attending, Click here to download the RSVP form....

Or, just email Mark Parisi by Clicking here....
He'd love to hear from you!

See ya in Boston!

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Sons of Anarchy print now available!

Looking for the perfect gift for all your tattooed biker friends?  Well, your in luck!  I finally went and had some nice poster sized prints of my Sons of Anarchy cast caricature made up. 
Order one now and you'll get one of a limited edition run, signed by me (guaranteed to instantly lower the value!)
Actual size is 20.5" by 8.5", on heavy duty poster board.  I've only got a few of these so hop on over to my Etsy page if you'd like one...  I also updated the Etsy store, so take a look around at the other *good* stuff I've got available!

Click to embiggen...

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Recap of my USO tour to Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan

 On September 1, me and a group of rag-tag NCS cartoonists departed on a 10 day tour that began in the country of Kyrgyzstan (man, that's hard to spell), circled around Afghanistan and back to Kyrgyzstan.

Pictured: Mason "BC" Mastroianni, me, Ray "Mad Magazine" Alma, Paul "Drawn by Fire" Combs, Pulitzer prize winning political cartoonist Michael Ramirez, Bruce "Punderstatements" Higdon, Tom "Mad Magazine" Richmond and Jeff "Family Circus" Keane.

On Sunday the 1st, well all met in Istanbul, Turkey.  The group and our USO guide were alreay pooped from that long flight over.  Ray and I had it the easiest since we were the East Coasters.  But we were sure not to rub that in.
We all boarded a plane to Manas Air Force Base in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.  
Our billets in Kyrgyzstan!  Pretty comfy digs!  Note the southern tip of the Himalayas in the background.

We arrived in Manas at around 2 in the morning, and knew were flying out that same afternoon to Afghanistan.  

Luckily, they had arranged accomodations for us, so we got to catch some ZZZs before heading out.  Even better, since this was also our stop on the way out of Afghanistan in a few days, and no one had reserved our billets between now and then, we got to leave some stuff in our rooms to make the travel less brutal.  This AFB was pretty awesome- good coffee, some shopping and *gasp* a bar!  More on that later for the return trip...

Every base has stuff like this, even though the regular Dining Facilitis (DFacs!) are almost always open, and have really good food.  I guess it's something about the taste of home... though I've heard they never really taste... 'right'....

There's an intimidating bunch!  We have to wear IBAs on board any military flights.  And we look tough doing it!  L to R, Bruce, Mason, me, Michael, Ray, Jeff, Tom and Paul.

From Manas in Kyrgyzstan to Bagram, Afghanistan.  Bleary eyed but ready for action!
Photo by Tom Richmond.

I know this was taken between bases in Afganistan, but you'd never know!  
Sand.  Lots and lots of sand.  And properties surrounded by 10 foot high mud walls.  And nothing more.

Bagram AFB, chillin in a bunker.  Photo by Mason M.

Cool MRAPs, Kandahar, I believe.  Photo by Paul Combs

One thing about these trips is that me and everyone involved posts a lot of pictures of the OTHER stuff of the trips.  Scenery, cool machines, this and that.  It's very hard to find shots of what we actually do on these trips, which of course is to draw for the troops!  As can be expected when we're actually working, nobody wants to stand up and take pictures- we're busy talking and getting to know the soldiers.  That's the cool think about these trips, and there's very little evidence of that floating around!  
Here's one posted by the USO in Bagram on their Facebook page:

This was posted to the USO/Bagram AFB's Facebook page!  Upper left, Tom R, upper right, Jeffy K, me.  Bottom left, Ray A.  Bottom right, Michael R and Bruce.

This really is a shame, because that's the reason we're out there, and what brings us all back.  These trips are very emotional endevours; hearing everybody's stories and about their families, etc, and there's very little visual documentation of that sort of interaction.  Maybe that's for the best.

Anyhoo... We set up in the USO center in Bagram on day one in Afghanistan and drew for a few hours.  This session was particularily brutal, as we'd all flown around the world, and had just gotten off a noise, uncomfortable C-17 (though I got to sit in the cockpit during takeoff!) to top off our 30+ hours of flight time to get here, and we were all just dragging.  It doesn't take long to get back into it, though, as the interaction and buzz of what we're there to do kicks in.  And coffee helps.

Our digs in Bagram!  Not bad...

Just like camp!

The latrines were a long walk away.  Pictured: Mason, figuring this out the hard way.

In the middle of the night, the latrines being so far... well... *ahem* here's a shot of the area just outside our door, outside of any spotlights or windows.... No reason... I wouldn't walk to the right of that path is all I'm sayin'...

Was thankfully an early night that night- we were beat!  Up early (0315!) for our STOL flight (Short Take Off and Landing!) to Camp Leatherneck and Camp Bastian!
Will post more on those as I get the free time to compile my pics and notes....

Photo: Paul C.

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