After touring the world and performing with superstars like Keith Urban, George Strait, and Brooks and Dunn, Giselle Sanderson admits that her recent tour in Afghanistan was possibly the best experience.
“The level of gratitude is unmatched really,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt so appreciated for what we do for entertaining anybody as I did over there.”
On Aug. 26, Sanderson, a West Montrose native, returned home to Elmira from a 10-day trip to Afghanistan, having entertained the troops with fellow country music singer Beverly Mahood. The Canadian Forces contacted Mahood and asked if she wanted to perform for the troops, and Mahood invited Sanderson along too. The two have performed together for years as part of the country trio Lace and throughout their own solo careers.
“To me, it’s a real opportunity to do something good with your craft. There is a real need for a morale-boost, for companionship. The mingling was just as important with the soldiers and the military as the performance.”
When Sanderson told friends and family that she was heading to Afghanistan, the mother of three says she got a mixed response.
“Everyone was very supportive and appreciative that I would be willing to do something like that, but then there was also the total opposite, saying ‘what are you doing, you have three kids and a family, why would you risk your safety like that?’”
The military made her and the other musicians feel very safe – they were given clear instructions on what to do if there was any danger, she said.
And there were some frightening moments: the base came under attack several times during their time there.
“It’s pretty scary. Sirens go off, you have to put on your full gear, and you have to lie on your stomach on the ground until the siren goes off again to tell you everything is OK.”
Sanderson spent her time performing four shows at several Canadian bases, including Kandahar and Kabul, as well as touring the base, visiting the market and spending time at a school for Afghan boys.
The men and women serving over there really offered an eye-opening experience for her, as well.
“They just want to show you pictures of their kids and their family,” she said. “They get a show like ours coming through the base once every six months, so when we get there it’s a tiny piece of regular life to them. They just want to talk about their home life, and once you befriend them they share some pretty personal stories.”
The opportunity to travel to Afghanistan and play for the troops is one that Sanderson would never forego. She said she would return if the opportunity presented itself again. That said, it was an amazing feeling for her when the plane landed in Trenton after their 16-hour return flight.
“Just to see how lush and green the landscape looked – something so simple that I take for granted daily. We had come from 10 days in the desert, dust and dirt with barely a blade of grass to be seen.”
The treatment of women in Afghan society also struck her, considering she has two young daughters at home.
“They [women] aren’t allowed to go to school. We were also told that in most areas women are unable to even seek medical care on their own – they must have the approval of a husband or father. Needless to say, it was actually emotional seeing my own two girls and being so grateful for the opportunities that lie ahead of them simply because of where we live.”
Sanderson said she can still hear the choppers and the planes when she tries to sleep at night, despite only being there for less than two weeks.
“I didn’t go into this trip as an advocate for the war, and I don’t totally understand it, but I don’t need to. It’s easy to turn a blind eye. I watch the news in the morning, I finish my coffee, and I turn the television off and go on with my day. It was very interesting to go over there, where it doesn’t shut off.”