Yokota petty officer adding a little light humor to PBS documentary
May 17, 2008
It’s just a few minutes before 10 a.m. at Yokota Air Base, Japan, and while many U.S. servicemembers are sipping their first cup of coffee, Eagle 810 radio disc jockey Petty Officer 3rd Class Christian Garzone has spent the last four hours rousing his audience with his humorous, fast-talking on-air antics.
His final act on this "Way Back Wednesday," before handing over duties to Tech. Sgt. Deidre Hines, is to announce the number one song from 1987.
"And welcome back to your Eagle 810 Morning Show. It’s the time you’ve all been waiting for — the number one song from our best of 1987 countdown. … If you’re in a bathroom stall right now, geeeet out! It’s George Michael, with ‘Faith.’ "
As Garzone takes off his headphones, Hines slowly shakes her head.
"Get out of the bathroom stall?" Hines asks. "I can’t believe you just said that."
Hines might have been incredulous, but for many who have seen Garzone in the critically acclaimed PBS documentary "Carrier," what he says should neither be taken too seriously nor come as a surprise. Filmed aboard the USS Nimitz during the ship’s six-month deployment in 2005, Garzone is appropriately shown on the 10-part documentary as a wise-cracking, fresh-faced sailor whose slapstick commentary is a breath of fresh air in a series chock full of real-life melodrama.
Since he received orders to Japan in October 2006, the 26-year-old’s ability to make light of most subjects on the airwaves has connected with his military audience and has made him "almost famous" around Yokota and other U.S. military bases on the Kanto Plain, even with those who don’t recognize him by sight. But now, after being plastered all over public television Wednesday nights on AFN’s Prime Pacific, the Clifton Springs, N.Y., native is receiving plenty more attention. It was his amusing spirit that drew the "Carrier" film crew to Garzone, then a 23-year-old undesignated V-2 airman. While most of the personal vignettes on "Carrier" reveal the typical hardships sailors face during a six-month deployment — a young father-to-be unsure of his future with the woman carrying his child, a gay sailor among homophobes, a pilot who must keep focused after learning his wife has miscarried, among others — Garzone and his video-shooting sidekick Phil emerge as light-hearted, often cynical comics with a knack for uncovering the funnier side of a sailor’s day-to-day life on a 1,100-foot vessel. That’s how the "Carrier" film crew spotted the two.
"I make little videos on the side, and I made a pathetic little documentary about the inside of the ship, and the PBS film crew happened to get a copy from Phil," Garzone explained. "After watching [it], they approached me and said they wanted me to be a character on the show."
For much of the rest of the deployment a nearby camera chronicled Garzone’s daily routine among his 5,000 Nimitz shipmates. At first, he said, he was a bit apprehensive about the project’s "intentions," but before long, the PBS crew put him at ease.
Though the film crew made the occasional irregular request, like the time Garzone was asked to strip down to his swim trunks and jump into the shower for some audio, overall the crew members from Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions "were very respectful professionals and very into what they were doing," he said. Garzone appreciates how the documentary steers clear of painting servicemembers with the same brush.
"There’s a stereotype that those in the military all love guns and the war on terror and have a picture of George Bush in our wallet," he says. "But we’re all different, and this documentary truly reflects that."
Since the series began airing stateside in late April, Garzone has received a flood of e-mails and comments — many from people he doesn’t know.
"I was expecting a lot of negative things from people, but I’ve gotten hundreds of e-mails on Facebook and MySpace," Garzone said. "I haven’t received one negative comment."
Even with the adulation, those who know Garzone don’t believe the attention will cause his head to swell. In fact, he said, he has yet to watch the documentary because the 9 p.m. time slot on AFN clashes with his 7 p.m. bedtime. Yet, his seemingly small ego hasn’t come close to quenching mischievous tendencies. Garzone’s antics, once a red flag to his Eagle 810 supervisors, were a big reason why he was once kept off live radio.
"I was really apprehensive at first to have him on the morning show," said Petty Officer 1st Class William "Big Daddy" Price, Eagle 810 noncommissioned officer in charge. "When it was time to put him on the morning show, I said no, but I was outvoted.
"He still likes to come close to the line at times, and at others he takes a running leap over it. But we gave him a shot, and right now he’s my best DJ. In fact, he’s one of the best we’ve had."
Also keeping Garzone grounded is a neurological disorder that struck him late last year. One morning, he said, he woke up with a chewed-up tongue, sore shoulders and shelves thrown all over his barracks floor. After two similar episodes, Garzone flew to a Navy hospital in Jacksonville, Fla., for the official diagnosis.
"I have epilepsy," Garzone said. "I’m kind of here because I can’t be anywhere else. I can’t go back to a ship, because I would be a hazard to the crew, and I totally understand that. I’m in limbo."
One thing Eagle 810 listeners can expect from Garzone, at least until his enlistment ends in December, is more laughs. Even the sobering reality of his disorder seems little match for his sense of humor.
"It needs to be known that some of the most brilliant leaders had epilepsy," Garzone said, slowly and stoically, leading to his next punch line. "Alexander the Great, Caesar, Napoleon had epilepsy, and now Christian Garzone has it, too. This disorder is truly not for the bums and idiots."
When it comes to his newfound "Carrier" fame, he is skeptical it will last much longer than his Navy career.
"I don’t think this will lead to anything, and I’m not waiting by the phones for calls to do more shows. As far as my 15 minutes of fame are concerned, I think I’m at about 14:50 right now," Garzone says matter-of-factly. "What I do believe is that there’s a reason for everything. I believe what happens in my life is because the man upstairs is pushing me in a direction, and I’ll just go that way."
Related storyViewers say PBS show carries its weight