Operation Punchline entertains deployed personnel with comedy show | Article
It was a hot night at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo in early May 2022, a perfect evening for the comedians arriving to support and entertain service members with laughter. Operation Punchline was on the scene and would soon put on a memorable show on the Morale, Welfare and Recreation scene.
This particular cast consisted of comedians Slade Ham, Chase Durousseau, Tre Tutson and Paul Oddo, all from Houston, Texas. The tour is part of the 15th through 20th rotation that Operation Punchline has conducted under Armed Forces Entertainment, and will take the comedians through Kosovo, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Poland, where they will perform only for a military audience.
AFE has a long history of entertaining soldiers overseas. Established on September 13, 1951, the Armed Forces Professional Entertainment Office became a division of the Department of the United States Army. The mission was to entertain military personnel at military bases around the world. The sole reason was to bring fun and relaxation through comedy, music, drama, magic, dance and sporting events. The Air Force became the executive agent for the bureau in 2006, changed the name to Armed Forces Entertainment, and now administers the program jointly among all branches. Former AFE Operation Punchline artists include George Wallace, Alonzo Bodden and Tammy Pescatelli.
“I really enjoyed the comics that arrived at Bondsteel on Thursday. It was nice that we had the opportunity to relax, interact and laugh with the comics and each other. For my first comedy show on a deployment, I would definitely call it a victory,” said Sgt 1st Class Shannon C. Riddle, operations noncommissioned officer in Regional Command East, Kosovo Force.
Riddle was referring to the countless laughs that audiences enjoyed at the hands of the Operation Punchline comedians. It was laugh after laugh, at least for a few hours, and provided an experience the soldiers will remember for the rest of their lives.
“It’s very rare that I can see a tangible impact of what I do in the world and also be able to see the world,” Ham said. He thought about how he can sympathize with the soldiers by giving them something else to think about for at least a moment.
Ham reflecting on his tangible impact identified well with the service members in attendance, as noted by Chief Warrant Officer 3 William T. Johnson.
“I really enjoyed the show and appreciate the effort put in by the MWR team in bringing us outdoor entertainment here in Bondsteel,” said Johnson, Brigade Mobility Officer at KFOR RC-East. “I was looking forward to the show from the moment I saw the event announcement and the comics did not disappoint.”
COVID-19 has imposed additional hurdles on the lives of soldiers over the past two years, impacting missions and morale-building opportunities. As the world opens up to some form of normalcy, comedy remains a constant advocate for a healthy mind among service members.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States, which signifies the importance of promoting a strong body, mind, and soul through different coping mechanisms and techniques. Operation Punchline provided this to deployed soldiers when they visited RC-East.
“I actually came here before in 2019, before the pandemic, and they gave me the opportunity to do these tours again,” Oddo said. “I’ve always said, if I had the chance to do it again, I’d drop everything I do and come do it because it’s one of the most rewarding things I can be part of right now. pertaining to stand-up comedy.
Although deployed soldiers receive a great deal of support from family members back home, MWR programs are designed to maintain a healthy life balance, whether through physical activity in sports, recreation through music, or, as in this case, by art, exactly what the comedians provided for RC-East Soldiers.
“A chance to share some joy and laughter and have a good time with the people who protect our freedom,” Tutson said. He added that it was important to him because it felt good to perform in front of soldiers.
The upheaval in the room was noticeable by a crowd that didn’t know exactly what they were going to get.
“The laughter of a deployed soldier carries indescribable weight,” said Durousseau. “My dad was in the military and I remember one time I decided to pursue acting, after coming back from entertaining soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait, giving him all my certificates and coins and memorabilia that I collected he was really proud and couldn’t believe I have to do it just by being funny.
Soldiers gathered at the end of the event to show their appreciation to each comedian and thanked them for bringing joy during our deployed environment. Many soldiers like Riddle and Johnson left with an abiding impression of the importance of having these types of events, especially overseas.
The 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 29th Infantry Division, Virginia Army National Guard is deployed as the 30th US Rotation to Kosovo as part of Headquarters RC-East. RC-East soldiers support KFOR’s ongoing mission to maintain a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all communities in Kosovo.