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Stars For Stripes In Afghanistan

Stories such as the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina have pushed Afghanistan off the front page. It was in the weeks after the Sept.11 attacks that U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan and drove the government that harbored al Qaeda out of power.

The fight isn't over, but sometimes the soldiers there feel forgotten.

The Army often brings celebrities to Afghanistan to give morale a boost, but it can't always get to troops on the front lines. So a group called Stars For Stripes is on a mission to entertain soldiers on the most remote bases in the country. Last week The Early Show's Dave Price went with them.

His first glimpse of Afghanistan was Bagram Air Base, just north of Kabul. He was traveling with country music star Chely Wright and middleweight boxing champion Joey Gilbert. The plan was to drive to their first show but that morning insurgents fired at the convoy ahead of them. They changed plans and flew via helicopter.

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Pilots fly low and fast, usually about 50 feet off the ground. Because insurgents shoot at helicopters, there was always an apache gunship on their tail, literally watching their back.

To reach forward operating base Salerno, you have to travel over some of the most rugged mountains in the country. The place has had numerous rocket attacks but a soldier who gave Price a ride sounded like she actually looked forward to being shelled.

"You'll love it," she said. "If we get some tonight, you'll love it."

The young female soldier said, "I joined the Army for many reasons and, to tell you the truth, I love what I do. I love being in the 82nd and I love jumping out of airplanes. This is my third deployment, and I volunteered for this deployment."

The same attitude applies to the guys on the big guns. "Business is good for us," one sergeant said. It turns out they've been trading fire with the enemy nearly every day and night.

Price said he didn't hear any complaints.

"This is worth it sir, definitely," the sergeant said.

The soldiers are on duty all day, every day, in a place most people never think about. So, Stars For Stripes wanted to give them a break.

As Price took the stage, he was received with overwhelming applause. That night, they got lucky: no incoming rockets, no snipers, no medevacs — just a lot of laughs and some very, very bad singing from the commanding officer. But the crowed went wild.

Within hours they would be back on duty and Price's team would be on their way to another base.

The next stop was Orgun-E, a tiny combat base at 7,000 feet. The troops' mission here isn't all about bombs and bullets. Soldiers helped build the first paved road the town has ever had.

"What you see on TV is not what it really looks like over here," a major told Price. "You've got good friends with the people here. It's just like anywhere else. You've got 2 percent bad eggs and the rest of the people are all real good, and they're trying real hard."

Most of the soldiers were out on patrol, so the audience was smaller — but no less rowdy. There was also plenty of talent to go around. In the end, it didn't matter that the audience had to sit on gravel or that this base regularly came under attack or that it would be a long time until many of these people saw home again. The show was an excuse to laugh and forget about the harsh realities that wait beyond the barbed wire fence.

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