Without fanfare, Wahlberg supports the troops in person
LOS ANGELES - U.S. presidents aren't the only ones who make surprise visits to troops in Afghanistan. Actor Mark Wahlberg recently made his own trek to the war-torn country, but with little media attention that typically follows dignitaries and Hollywood stars.
Dressed in jeans, leather jacket, bulletproof vest and battle-ready helmet, Wahlberg stepped off military transport in December and into the former home of a Taliban drug kingpin who had been ousted by troops. There was no Hollywood-style shootout, though he says he might have felt better with a gun in his hand.
The 36-hour visit days before Christmas was made without much fanfare because, he said, he didn't want any publicity.
"That's not why I was going," he said in an interview this week. "I just wanted to go over there and spend some time with them and [let them] know that we do appreciate what they're doing, and bring well wishes and love and support from home. That's all I wanted to do."
Wahlberg - who currently appears in the critically acclaimed film "The Fighters" - said he wanted to see for himself the conditions under which the troops and the Afghan people are living. "It was something that I was very excited about doing, and I'm very glad that I made the journey."
Wahlberg, 39, rose to fame as a young rapper and later became a movie actor - Paul Thomas Anderson's "Boogie Nights" was a breakthrough role - and producer of the hit HBO show "Entourage," which is based on his own life as an up-and-coming star.
He even portrayed an ex-military marksman in "Shooter" (based on the character created by former Washington Post film critic Stephen Hunter), and said that when he was young and in legal trouble, he considered joining the Marines. His trip to Afghanistan was the first time he has visited troops, he said.
The quick in-and-out was arranged by Bill White, ex-head of New York's Intrepid Air Sea and Space Museum, who met Wahlberg through a friend.
Wahlberg, a married man who has four kids, said traveling into a war zone before Christmas was not an easy decision but that his family understood.
"I've been in a lot of hairy situations in the past, and I felt like, you know, we were going to be traveling with the military, so it can't get much safer than that."
When asked whether he was scared, he smiled and said, "I probably would have felt a little safer had I had my own weapons. . . . But no, I'm a very spiritual guy, and I get on my hands and my knees and ask God to protect me."
While at camps in the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan, the actor showed "The Fighter," his inspirational film about a Massachusetts boxing champion, to about 3,000 troops. He ate with them and visited them in hospitals. They asked questions, took pictures and collected autographs.