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Franken: Politics not an issue on USO tour

Al Franken
Al Franken

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Comedian Al Franken, a frequent critic of the Bush administration and other conservative figures, recently returned from a United Service Organizations tour for American troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries.

Franken discussed the USO trip Friday with CNN's Candy Crowley.

CROWLEY: That must have been quite a trip. It was a feel-good trip for you?

FRANKEN: It was my fourth USO tour. This is the first one in a really active theater of battle. I've been to Kosovo three times. But this was -- we went to Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan -- and it was great. And I always love doing it.

The troops really appreciate it, and I sort of set aside all political kind of stuff and do like a Bob Hope type of show.

CROWLEY: I was going to ask you that because unlike some comedians you are so well-known for your political views as well. Do you find that interferes at all, or are they just glad to have you there?

FRANKEN: They are glad to have me there. And also, I just -- my opening joke usually was, "Anybody here from out of town?" And then, you know, "This Army grub, it doesn't agree with me. I've had three MREs -- those are meals ready to eat -- and none of them seem to have an exit strategy."

So it's a different kind of humor I do, but every, you know, I had a number of soldiers come up to me and say, "I don't agree with you politically, but I so appreciate you coming." And they really do.

We had an urban, girl trio, singing group, and their manager -- we did a show in the hangar in Baghdad where the president had served Thanksgiving dinner -- and a soldier went up to the manager of these girls and said, "It's really an honor to meet you," and the manager said, "You don't understand, I'm just the manager of these girls."

And he [the soldier] said, "No, no, you don't understand. I'm a soldier. I had to be here. I met President Bush a few weeks ago. He's the president, and he really should come here. You don't have to be here. You came here because you care, and I -- so it's more of an honor to meet you." And that -- it's just that kind of feeling. And also, you get a feeling, as you know, a troop of traveling show folk as you are going around.

CROWLEY: I'm curious, because you went to a lot of different places with certainly different dynamics on the ground. Did you notice any difference in the troops in those places? Can you describe it at all?

FRANKEN: Well, I'd say that most of the troops believe in the mission. And the mission, and it depends. Obviously in Iraq, both in Iraq and in Afghanistan, the mission is to bring stability to both areas. We have 130,000 troops in Iraq and only about 10,000 in Afghanistan.

We went to Tikrit. Actually, at one point they broke us into three groups, and Tikrit was deemed the most dangerous, and I volunteered to go to Tikrit, if I could go to the hole. I wanted to go to Saddam's hole. And I kept begging to go to the hole.

We brought two Washington Redskins cheerleaders with us, and I wanted a picture of me with the cheerleaders in the hole for next year's Christmas card.

I didn't get it. Well, it would have involved having a convoy to go to the hole.

Now the manager who I talked about ... these are young girls, like 19, 20 and 22, and he guaranteed their parents he'd do everything to secure their safety. He said "I'm not going to Tikrit. We're going to go to Mosul."

The entire day they were under constant mortal danger because they went to like three bases in convoys, and [at] one point they are in Mosul and took a wrong turn, a la Jessica Lynch, and were stuck at a dead-end in a marketplace, and all were told to get to the bottom of their Humvees. Each girl had a different Humvee and had to back out, a recipe for being killed in Iraq.

And then at night he was told, this manager, that, "Don't worry, sir, the two Iraqis who jumped the perimeter, the fence, with the AK-47s, have been apprehended." Something he didn't actually have to know. So they were -- they were in constant danger. ...

The most danger I felt was leaving Baghdad [International] Airport in a Black Hawk, and you travel about 150 miles an hour, about 100 feet off the ground. They are constantly taking evasive action and hopping over power lines. And a member of the Army band threw up ... but I didn't. But that's the only time I really felt in danger. I felt more in danger before I left for the troops than while I was there.

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