AVIANO AB, Italy — Comedian Jay Leno landed at Aviano on Saturday afternoon after a nonstop flight from California.
The host of The Tonight Show, outfitted in a U.S. Air Force battle dress uniform jacket and accompanied by his band leader, Kevin Eubanks, landed at 3;45 p.m. aboard the plane of Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, the U.S. Air Force chief of staff.
As a morale boost for his troops, Fogleman made the modified KC-135 tanker available when he learned that the only way the strapped-for-time; Leno could make it to Aviano to put an a free show was by nonstop government plane,
On hand to greet Leno was NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw, along with top Air Force officers.
Brokaw's presence was a surprise to Leno, who believed the veteran newsman was in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But bad weather in Tuzla forced the Air Force plane carrying Brokaw from Ramstein AB, Germany, to divert to Aviano.
Immediately after landing, Leno headed for Hangar One on the base's flight line to do sound checks with the 40-piece U.S. Air Forces in Europe concert band, in preparation for the two-hour show that was to start at 7 p.m.
Leno then made a beeline for a tent housing 300 Army soldiers from the Southern European Task Force.
The soldiers — the first Contingent of a combat force of about 800 troops that SETAF will send to Tuzla — are waiting for orders.
Leno took one look at the soldiers, all paratroops and most with cropped short hair, and quipped, "This is like a bad day at Super Cuts," referring to a discount haircutting chain in the United States.
Leno then asked the soldiers how long they would be in Bosnia. One of them responded that they would be gone "until the mission is finished in a year." The comedian got a roar from the troops when he shot back, "Oh, yeah Good luck, guy. I can tell this is your first time (to deploy)"
Leno promised the soldiers that he would come back and do a show for them, most of whom wore unable to attend Saturday night's USO-sponsored show.
"They'll probably send us (The Tonight Show) to Bosnia next," Leno said
The comedian had the troops laughing when he put one of their 80-pound rucksacks on his back and a helmet on his head.
Leno made light of the hefty load he was toting, saying, "You didn't tell me it was empty. I could wear this all day."
Before leaving the troops to get ready for his show, Leno told them, "Everyone wishes you guys the best of luck on your peacekeeping mission. God bless you."