CAMP TAJI, Iraq — Professional wrestlers from World Wrestling Entertainment are used to being cheered by thousands of fans, night after night, during their grueling schedules every year in arenas throughout the world.
Seven WWE superstars found themselves receiving the same cheers from the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, Dec. 2, when they visited Soldiers, here, as part of a WWE Morale, Welfare and Recreation tour, which comes to deployed areas every year since 2003.
The wrestlers, including Mike 'The Miz' Mizanin, Fit Finlay and Mark Henry, signed autographs and posed for photos with 1st ACB Soldiers at the Forward Arming and Refueling Point and the 615th Aviation Support Battalion maintenance hangar to an enthusiastic response.
Mizanin said the tour is his second trip to Iraq, but still an eye opener.
"It's funny because you always see news clips about what's going on out here, so you have an idea ... but you don't really know until you're actually here," Mizanin said.
Mizanin, current WWE U.S. Heavyweight Champion, said he didn't realize how monotonous a deployment can be.
"Morale can get so low here because there isn't much to do except sleep, work, eat and work out," Mizanin said. "That helps gives me a new appreciation of what Soldiers go through and all the hard work they do."
Mizanin said he talked to several Soldiers who had been in perilous situations on previous deployments, something that left him in awe.
"I can't imagine that ... being blown up fighting for our country, for us. It gave me a whole new appreciation for [the Soldiers]," Mizanin said.
Mizanin said he was appreciative of the response from the 1st ACB and all the Soldiers they met in Iraq during their visit.
"The troops are always one of the loudest crowds that we have, so it's always a great time," Mizanin said. "It's been awesome being here, seeing the people and their smiling faces."
WWE women's competitor Layla, who was also part of the visit, said it was amazing to be in Iraq for the first time.
"It's surreal to even think that I'm out here in Iraq," Layla said. "It's very touching and soothing to the heart and lifts my spirits."
"It reminds me we're very fortunate and blessed to be able to go back home and be in our beds and be comfortable and safe," she continued. "Just this brief glimpse of what [Soldiers] go through is pretty scary and I have a lot of respect for everyone here."
Layla said the WWE never forgets the military, which is why they come back to Iraq every year.
"We do remember what [Soldiers] do and even though we're far away this is our way of saying thanks to everyone out here," Layla added.
Layla also had the opportunity to sit on an AH-64D Apache attack helicopter, which she said was a nerve wracking experience.
"It feels like a toy and looking at all the buttons I wanted to touch them ...but if I did something bad would probably happen," Layla said. "I got a lesson from a couple of [Apache] instructors and it was very, very impressive. It was definitely the first time I've seen anything like it."
Meeting the wrestlers was a thrill for Spc. Marcus Archibald, from San Antonio, a fueler for Company A, 615th ASB, who said being a major WWE fan made it a memorable occasion for him.
"I've seen them on TV and been to live events before, but never sat down and shook hands with one of them in person," Archibald said. "I appreciate them taking the time to come over and meet us because I'm a big fan of [theirs]."
Telling his sister back home about the WWE visit was something Archibald was anxious to do.
"I want to send my autographs to her and tell her 'this is who I met and who I shook hands with,'" he said.
Archibald said that appearances can be deceiving however.
"I noticed they weren't as tall as look on TV," said Archibald, a towering figure himself at over six feet tall. "Some of them were shorter than me. The camera makes them look taller I guess!"
This work, WWE superstars help raise Air Cav morale with visit, by Alun Thomas, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.