By Mike Mooneyham
Dec. 24, 2006
It was one of those rare moments of clarity. Adam Copeland knew, without a doubt, that he was in the right place for the right reason.
Copeland, better known in WWE circles as Edge, “the Rated-R Superstar,” admits he didn’t quite know what to expect when he signed on for the company’s annual goodwill trip to the combat zone.
But the instant his feet landed on Iraqi soil, he says, he sensed it would be an experience he wouldn’t soon forget.
It was a surreal juxtaposition, he says, “hanging out with the troops, eating breakfast and watching the news,” with mortars landing only several hundred yards from where the WWE crew was setting up the ring.
“That really brought everything back into reality of where you were.”
A new experience
Copeland says he was a little hesitant when first agreeing to take part in the one-week holiday tour. It wasn’t because he didn’t like the idea of entertaining the combat troops. It was more the prospect of an extremely long flight and a badly aching body. The thought of a 20-hour trip, which emanated from the Charleston Air Force Base following a Monday Night Raw show at the North Charleston Coliseum, wasn’t exactly appealing to the two-time WWE world heavyweight champion.
“I dread long travel days. The way my body feels now, the longer the flight, the worse,” says Copeland, who suffered a serious neck injury in 2003 that sidelined him for nearly a year.
Going over in a C-17 transport plane didn’t help matters.
“The accommodations on the plane aren’t the most comfortable,” says the 6-5 Copeland. “Fortunately I bought two hammocks and hooked them up to some equipment. I slept in that thing the whole time, and it was amazing. It was actually fun sleeping in the hammocks.”
His colleagues, he says, were “a little jealous” because they didn’t think of it. “I put the hammocks high enough so had they cut me down, I would have been seriously injured, so no one even tried,” he laughs.
Copeland was one of 19 WWE performers on the trip, although the actual wrestling personnel was outnumbered by the production and film crew.
The only scary moment on the flight, he says, was when they approached the war-torn area.
“I can’t say I was afraid over there, because they made us feel really safe. We had to go into stealth mode when we were flying in and got really close. All the lights, all the DVD players were turned off. You could hear a pin drop. Everyone just shut up. I think that’s when the gravity of the situation kind of sunk in for everyone.”
From the moment the crew landed and hit the ground in Iraq, says Copeland, it was amazing – and fun.
“Once you get over there, you’re just so glad you came. It was fun to the point that you would forget you were in a war zone until something would happen. Then it would be pretty sobering, and you’d get back to the realization that we’re in Baghdad, not Boise.”
That realization came early in the trip for Copeland and the WWE crew.
On Dec. 7, a day after arriving, mortars struck in the vicinity of where WWE was constructing a temporary ring for matches at Camp Victory.
“We had a mortar land close to where we were putting on the show the next day,” says Copeland, who was off the base at the time with one of the four groups of wrestlers assigned to visit nearby posts.
Copeland, though, says he didn’t think about the incident when he was in the ring performing.
“I was just having fun when I was out there.”
Support for the troops
It really doesn’t matter which side of the political fence you’re on regarding the conflict. What does matter, says the Canadian-born Copeland, is that American troops are there fighting for our freedom. War is real, and these men and women are paying a real price.
The risk wrestlers take in the ring, says Copeland, pales in comparison to the dangers the troops face every day.
“I went over with the mentality of just trying to put some smiles on faces. And, at the end of the day, we’d get everybody back here safe.”
But then, Copeland says, he took a long, hard look at what was around him. What he saw were the deplorable living conditions the Iraqi people were trying to escape, and how dedicated the troops were in helping them reach that goal. It provided Copeland some serious food for thought.
“Even if you don’t think we should be over there, we are now. Support the fact that they’re over there trying to do something good. Thankfully I don’t ever think it would ever be like a Vietnam where the troops were almost vilified when they came back. But everyone needs to know that they’re doing a very good thing over there. I really got a new understanding and respect for the good thing that they’re doing by seeing it firsthand.”
Copeland says signs still exist reflecting the disparity between the former ruling powers and those who lived under their oppression.
“You could see palaces in the background that Saddam built for his son to indulge in his carnal pleasures,” says Copeland. “He built a palace for his daughter in the shape of her favorite perfume bottle. His children loved The Flintstones, and he built a Flintstones village for them. It seemed ironic that he would build a Flintstones village, yet he wanted to kill America.”
It was quite a different story for the Iraqi citizenry.
“Then you see how the citizens are living,” said Copeland. “They’re living in huts and hovels. Whether you agree with the war or not, those people are in some horrible living conditions. I think what sometimes gets lost is how appreciative the Iraqi people are. There are going to be different sects and tribes and things like that, but for the most part they are very appreciative we’re over there. ”
Copeland, 33, says while he’s amazed at the morale there, he finds it disturbing that the media is front and center relaying gloom-and-doom news while the troops try to maintain peace and stability. He says it’s hard to get an accurate grasp of what it’s really like in Iraq by merely listening to and watching media reports.
“I never heard one soldier complain about being there. But they do watch the news and hear all the negative things that are being said. You get mostly negatives because bad news seems to be what sells. You hear a lot more negatives than positives, and that’s unfortunate because there are a lot of good things being done over there.
“The troops see what they’re doing, and there is a sense of accomplishment. They’re on their way to something. It was almost surreal sitting there and watching CNN with these guys, and seeing reports of things that are happening in Iraq. They’re watching this stuff. They’re hearing it and they’re seeing it. To me that would be demoralizing.
“Whether you agree with the war or not, at least support the troops who are there and doing the job they’re assigned. Obviously not everyone is going over to Baghdad to see the living conditions of these people, but I think if they were to go over there, they’d have a new understanding of why it’s being done. That’s what I got from it – a new respect for why we’re over there.”
Copeland says he and his fellow wrestlers got to know many of the troops quite well.
“Most of them are fans. They get our show over there. We’ve been doing it for years now. We got to interact with them so much on a personal level that I felt like I knew half of them by the time I came out (for my match).”
One of the more interesting aspects of the program, he says, was that messages were recorded by the troops.
“That was one of the coolest things about the show. A guy can say hi to his family back in St. Louis. It’s just a feel-good show. We’ve always said it’s outside of the scope of our regular show. We don’t include it in with the rest of our storylines. It’s just an opportunity for us to go over there and try and put smiles on faces, and to bring them a slice of home.” The receptive soldiers reacted in the proper manner for the matches, says Copeland, which means they heartily booed and jeered his Edge character.
“The first thing I really wanted to do was to go ahead and slap hands with everybody. But I didn’t since the fans were playing along with us.”
Copeland says the one thing that impressed him the most during the trip was the morale of the troops. “I didn’t know what to expect. Just to see the positivity was amazing. I didn’t hear anyone complaining. They were just on a mission. I was really impressed by that.
“I talked to this one kid, who was probably 22, and we were having coffee one morning. He told me he had just got back from the infirmary and had been ‘blown up’ for the sixth time. He was still over there, he still had a great attitude, and he could actually laugh about it. To see that and hear that was really something. So when you get back home and don’t get relish on your hot dog or can’t get your macchiato exactly the way you want it … it kind of puts things in perspective.”
Copeland says he would gladly return if asked next year.
“Without a doubt.”
WWE’s fourth annual Tribute to the Troops, including matches and out-of-the-ring highlights from the trip, will air on the Christmas night edition of Monday Night Raw from 9-11 p.m.
– Roddy Piper, who is battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma, recently told the WWE Web site that wrestling fans saved his life for a second time.
Piper was sent home early from WWE’s November tour of the United Kingdom and hospitalized. While in the hospital, he underwent a four-hour surgery, where doctors removed a mass at the spinal cord with an enlarged lymph node. The mass was completely removed, but the lymph node was positive for lymphoma.
“This is the second time wrestling, and the wrestling fans have saved my life,” said Piper. “When I was 15, it took me off the streets and kept me out of jail. This time, thanks to WWE fans who voted me in for Cyber Sunday, I was able to find cancer.”
“I’ll walk down that Raw ramp again, or I’ll be dead,” joked the 52-year-old Piper.
Piper has begun radiation therapy for the low-grade lymphoma. The treatment is scheduled to last four weeks. Because the lymphoma was caught early, doctors say his chances for recovery are excellent.
The cancer wasn’t Piper’s only problem. The surgery also revealed a damaged disc that threatened to end his career. “This doctor put me on the slab, and it turned out, I had a bone about the size of a potato chip, and about that thin,” Piper told Canada.com. “And it was starting to cut the nerves inside my spine. It was just a matter of me moving too much one way or the other, and I would have been paralyzed.” Piper, who is married with four children, said he feels terrible for putting his family through such a trying ordeal.
“I love my kids so much,” said Piper. “Me, I don’t care so much about. They don’t deserve that kind of worry, especially around Christmas. I think that’s the hardest part.”