Have you ever passed a member of the armed forces in an airport and thanked him or her for their service? Or been at a major sporting event when an enlisted member of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, or Marine Corp was recognized by the announcer and the crowd stood and cheered? The sacrifices the American men and women make to serve our country are so steep, difficult, and challenging that when we acknowledge them in person, we feel good about ourselves and our country.
Now imagine performing for the troops, even overseas where men and women are stationed far from their families and friends, often doing difficult jobs for long periods of time. In 2009 Navy Entertainment partnered with Major League Eating and has sent 15 competitive eaters on seven tours to bases in Italy, Greece, Guam, Diego Garcia, South Korea, Japan, and Gitmo.
I have been fortunate to be on six of those tours and as MLE often opens for a band with a Pro-Am, we not only eat for the troops, but with the troops -- each MLE eater is paired with one or two military members and eats as a team.
We've also done ship shows, where we tour carriers, destroyers, and submarines. The feeling of performing for and with the troops is almost indescribable. The stories they have of their day-to-day lives and how they bring America with them everywhere they go fill one with a sense of history, pride, awe, and respect. After every contest we do a meet-and-greet and shake hands, sign autograph cards, talk about home and the future. At Guantanmo Bay, "Pretty Boy" Pete Davekos, the father of two young kids, had never spent more than two days away from his son and daughter. We met a female sailor soldier on her regulation one year commitment, who also had a young kid and she mentioned casually that her young son had just taken his first steps back home. Her service to our country meant that she had missed a huge milestone in her son's life. All of the sudden, Pete understood that commitment. Her calm demeanor describing her son's first steps was amazing as even today, simply thinking about her telling that story makes me tear up. Missing birthdays and graduations, first words and steps, are a party of military service so when Navy Entertainment can send a band, celebrities, or even competitive eaters to far away bases, we try to bring a little bit of home to the troops. The Navy Entertainment tours have been the most important part of my competitive eating career.
I am not allowed to divulge when I am performing for the troops until after I leave a base and travel elsewhere. I can reveal exclusively in this Huffington Post that three Navy Sailor Soldiers (Moore, Kehn, and Babb) are likely still digesting their Nathan's hot dogs from the Yokosuka, Japan Pro-Am the other day. Kehn and I tried to keep up with Babb and Adrian "The Rabbit" Morgan (who on a previous Navy Entertainment tour ate twenty hard boiled eggs in 84 seconds against the CO and other members of the USS Fitzgerald Destroyer). Even Team Rabbit couldn't catch the awesome eating power of 120 pound Moore and 110 pound MLE ranked #9 in the world Michelle Lesco. Eating a major percentage of their body weight, Team Lesco went on to hot dog victory at the Liberty Center on Yokosuka's base. It was not a bun buzzer beater, but the troops enjoyed the show.
Adrian, Michelle, myself, and MLE MC Diamond Dave Keating then headed to the main stage where we contributed to the evening's pop, funk, and scratching (the complete Navy Entertainment tour includes bands A Great Big World, The Kelly Bell Band, and DJs Baby Electronica) with a Twinkie Off. The Rabbit got his revenge as he quaffed ten Twinkies in 24 seconds, a world record pace (Joey "Jaws" Chestnut ate 121 in six minutes at the Tunica Casino last year.)
We then hung out and chatted with other members of the military as A Great Big World belted out, "Say Something", The Kelly Bell Band blew the roof off the theater with their unique funkadelic party tunes, and Baby Electronica turned the place upside down, Diana Ross remix style.
The Yokosuka Naval Base is an amazing place and strives to make everyone feel connected to those back home in America, but it is not easy. For one night though it felt like Coney Island on July 4th and Madison Square Garden on New Year's Eve. The members of Major League Eating on this tour could not have felt more honored, humbled, and proud to do our small part...we love to perform for the The Troops with every bite, chew, and swallow. For the Navy's Kehn, Moore, and Babb, I think they are doing a few extra sit ups today to work off some calories.
Crazy Legs Conti is easy to spot in camouflage at www.crazylegsconti.com