"Gunny Hartman" visits troops in Babylon

8 Jul 2003 | Pfc. Samuel A. Soza

Applause resounded through the chow hall as Marines, soldiers, and sailors got their first glimpse of a legendary screen Marine who had come to express his gratitude and support for all the troops involved with Operation Iraqi Freedom. "I am Gunnery Sergeant Ermey," shouted R. Lee Ermey, echoing his lines from the movie "Full Metal Jacket." "I am your senior drill instructor. From now on, you will speak only when spoken to. The first and last words out of your filthy sewers will be sir. Do you maggots understand that?""Sir, yes, sir!" the crowd responded.Ermey, famous for his immortal role as the Marine Corps drill instructor Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in the Stanley Kubrick classic, visited Camp Babylon June 8 during an impromptu tour of Iraq.Today, Ermey is the host of the high-rated show "Mail Call" on the History Channel.After his introduction, Ermey talked about his views on the celebrities that protested the war.Later, Ermey addressed the recent concern from the people in America about the morale of troops deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom."Do you guys have a morale problem?" Ermey asked the troops. "I don't see it."Ermey went on to add his perspective on the overall war."I think that George W. Bush is an outstanding commander-in-chief and I think the troops feel the same," he said. "(Bush) assigned General Tommy Franks, and he knows how to run the war."The 59-year-old actor and his crew had recently finished a two-week tour in Kuwait, where they shot a live episode of his show "Mail Call" June 6 at Ali Al Salem Air Base. While there, he also spent time meeting the troops.After returning to the United States for two days, he immediately departed to visit the troops throughout Iraq. Earlier in 2003, Ermey visited thousands of service members in the U.S. before they were deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom."I must have talked to 40 units before they came over," he said.However, he explained this second tour was neither for the show nor to see the sights. It was strictly to visit those troops serving far from home."When I go to see units I like to spend some damn time with them," Ermey said.Ermey says he greatly enjoys being with the troops and appreciates their hard work and sacrifices. As proof, after his talk, he continued late into the night signing autographs and posing for pictures with those who stood in line.Besides his busy work schedule Ermey, a native of Emporia, Kan., said he receives two to three requests daily for him to appear and speak to servicemembers.Just last year, he had 30 speaking engagements with Marines. He was the guest of honor at seven Marine Corps birthday balls as well as two Navy birthday ceremonies."I like to tease the Navy," Ermey says. "I like to start out saying, 'I didn't even know the Navy had a birthday.'"Despite all the travel that is demanded of him, Ermey's fondness for American troops keeps him content with his duties. He says that if he has a free day, his assistant isn't doing a good job. Ermey's relationship with the military goes back to 1961 when he first enlisted in the Marine Corps. He served 11 years, including a period in Vietnam, but was medically discharged due to wounds he sustained. After his discharge, he studied drama and criminology at the University of Manila in the Philippines. In 1987, he got his biggest break when he was hired as a technical consultant for the movie "Full Metal Jacket", where his job would be to coach the actor that played the drill instructor.Ermey did a 15-minute video where he threw out harsh insults without repeating himself once and, instead of being a consultant, was cast for the part of the hardened drill instructor. In recent years, he has picked up a new fan base with the popular "Mail Call.""Our show is the highest rated show on the History Channel," Ermey said.On the show, people email questions they have about the military, any branch, to the History Channel. As the host, Ermey addresses the questions and educates the viewers on various military topics.Previously, Ermey had done another show for the History Channel called "Sarge's Forum."Then as military history week was being promoted on the History Channel, Ermey was approached to do a commercial. The History Channel devised the concept for the show and went straight to Ermey with their proposition that he be the host.He consented, with the agreement that he could have some control over how the show was presented."I wanted it to be light, funny, easy to watch," he said.After only 23 episodes, "Mail Call" had doubled the ratings of the next highest rated show on the History Channel. The flexible schedule does allow him time to pursue other interests, according to Ermey."The best part about the show is that I can just do lumps of episodes for 'Mail Call' that can be shown to free my time to do feature films or spending that time to visit the troops," he said.Ermey ended his speech in Babylon to the troops by voicing his appreciation for President Bush and the troops working for him."And God bless America. Ooh rah!"