'24' Star Mykelti Williamson Talks Turkey About Afghanistan
Today's cuppa: Spiced Rooibos Ruby Red Chai (thanks to "24" director of photography
Rodney Charters, a gentlemanly Kiwi who made me a cup of South African rooibos, or redbush, tea on the set)
Last November, "24" star Mykelti Williamson -- who plays Brian Hastings, head of the New York office of the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU), on the drama, airing Mondays on Fox -- reunited with his "Forrest Gump" co-star Gary Sinise (left) and his Lt. Dan Band (named after Sinise's "Gump" character) and headed to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan to entertain the troops.
(Credit for photos below)
Early last December, I spent a day on the "24" set and asked Williamson about the experience.
"I played blues harp," he said. "They went nuts to see Gary and me together. Then we left Bagram and went to Camp Leatherneck. We just stayed there one day. We flew in that morning, had a concert early evening, and we flew out that night.
"It's a Marine base, brand-new, and we got the sense that it probably wasn't safe to stay overnight. So we did a concert for those guys, and then we took off that night and flew to Kandahar for a couple of days."
According to Williamson (right), the Lt. Dan Band was well-received in all quarters.
"I was really touched," he said, "meeting some of the Afghani locals, because they were so happy to have forces from the West over there to try and make a better life. And sweet ... they would remind you of people that you live with here, and I think our troops are doing great work. I really do.
"They're the absolute best of us, and they do a job that a lot of whiners here stateside have no idea about. I've actually talked to some people who have had a lot of negative things to say about the troops, and this, that and the other. Since I've come back, just sharing some of the stories with them -- there are two people I can think of that have had a change of opinion. They don't know; they've never gone.
"When you go, and our soldiers see you, our troops see you in person, it means so much to them. They will hug you; they will cry for you."
Although the trip was quick, Williamson got to spend some quality time with the troops.
"I was in a room with 17 people," he said, "men and women, and I stayed up all night long. I was with a wimpy executive who claimed he couldn't sleep, because I snored like Katrina. So I decided I would just stay up, because I don't like to beef with peoples. So I decided, 'I'll nap tomorrow. I'll just stay up all night on the base and look around, try out my new camera.'
"I met people, they took me in, and I ended up staying up every night in Kandahar and watching movies. The first night we watched 'Forrest Gump,' and I was able to answer questions for them and just sit there and watch this movie that we all loved.
"Then the next night, we watched 'Heat,' and I was telling them stories about Pacino and other people, just hung out. Then when it was time for us to leave, one of the troops looked outside, a lieutenant, and she saw that it was daylight and told everybody, 'He's got to go in two hours.'"
He also got to share Thanksgiving dinner.
"Grown men and women," he said, "I'm talking about master sergeants, sergeant first class, LTs, they're all bawling, because it was Thanksgiving. They knew that we were leaving on Thanksgiving, after we had lunch with them. This was, like, a week ago.
"But we had dinner early. They said they weren't even going to come out of their rooms for Thanksgiving, because they felt they didn't have anything to give thanks for. But when they saw the band, and they met Gary, and they met everybody that was with us -- Kevin Farley was with us -- they just felt so different. They didn't want to stay in their rooms. They came out and thought it was festive. It felt like they were at home.
"So it meant a lot. We were all crying in the room together when it was time to leave, because they were very sad to see us go. But it was great. I look forward to going back."
Asked whether "24" star Kiefer Sutherland (left) might go at some point, Williamson said, "I'm trying to get Kiefer to go. Kiefer should totally go. They would go crazy."
Although Williamson said that there were things he couldn't talk about on the record, he did say, "I saw more beauty than I did anything else when I was in Afghanistan."
It's also a lesson he's brought back to his own children.
"What my wife and I teach our daughters," he said, "whenever we see troops in a restaurant, we take care of their meal. That goes for cops in uniform, firemen, because I want them to see how important those people are to all of our freedom."
Of course, as the head of the Gotham unit of CTU, Brian Hastings has a lot to do with protecting that freedom, but that didn't intimidate Williamson.
"It's a big responsibility," he said, "but I think Soul Brother Number One is up to the task. I really do."
Photo credit (Sinise): BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Gary Sinise and Kimo Williams met in 1997 while working together on a play called "A Streetcar Named Desire," in Chicago. They continued to meet and have jam sessions on the guitar and bass, gradually adding other musicians. The Lt. Dan Band did their first USO tour in 2004, visiting Korea, Singapore and Diego Garcia - since then they average 30-40 shows a year, with 75% of the profits going towards the USO and other charities. The band name was chosen because Mr. Sinise was constantly recognized by a character he played in the movie "Forrest Gump" called Lt. Dan. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Senior Airman Susan Tracy)
Photo credit (Williamson): BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Mykelti Williamson shakes the hand of a service member while on a USO tour with the Lt. Dan Band in Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. The Lt. Dan Band did their first USO tour in 2004, visiting