Chad Kagy pulling off a trick in front of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
It may be hard to believe, but the war in Iraq has already gone on for more than seven years. Ever since the war started in 2003, everyone from entertainers to athletes has volunteered time to make soldiers' lives that much more bearable in the Middle East. Beginning last year, some of the best in the BMX world have done their part through a program called Bikes Over Baghdad, sponsored this year by Harley-Davidson Motor Company. Now in its third tour—which returns to the U.S. today—B.O.B. sends a group of top riders to Iraq and Kuwait, where they perform multiple shows at seven military bases, meet U.S. soldiers, and give away tons of free Harley schwag. To get a better grasp on this experience, we had a chance to talk with Chad Kagy, a seasoned pro who has been doing Bikes Over Baghdad since its inception, and Anthony Napolitan, an up-and-comer who we interviewed on the eve of departing on his first B.O.B. trip. Find out what Kagy had to say about his previous experiences with the soldiers, as well as how Napolitan prepared for his trip...
Interview by Jose Martinez
Complex: Chad, you have been to Bikes Over Baghdad before.
Chad Kagy: Yeah, this will be my third trip. This is the third one for the Bikes Over Baghdad tour, and I've been a part of it from day one. It's been a good time.
Complex: And Anthony, you have never been involved with Bikes Over Baghdad before?
Anthony Napolitan: Yeah, this is my first time there.
Complex: Have you talked to any of the other people that have been there to get their perspectives?
Anthony Napolitan: I'm pretty close friends with a lot of the guys that have gone in the past. They have told me nothing but good things about the event.
Complex: Have they told you anything to watch out or be prepared for?
Anthony Napolitan: They have all told me that, overall, it's a great time. They keep saying that I will be surprised how much the troops over there really appreciate us coming over and doing the shows for them. They told me that it's like nothing you have ever experienced before, and there are really no words to describe it. They always say, "Once you're there and see everything, you'll know what I mean." So, I'm excited to see what they are talking about.
Chad Kagy performs a 360 whip at Camp Liberty in Iraq on the Bikes Over Baghdad tour in September 2009.
Complex: Since you've been there before, Chad, could you describe what goes on at Bikes Over Baghdad?
Chad Kagy: The idea for Bikes Over Baghdad is done in a unique way that's different from sending a band or comedian over there where someone jumps on stage, performs, and takes off to the next stop. We build ramps during the day with the help of a couple of the soldiers. While the builders are doing that, the rest of the crew is doing tours around the base, stopping by different posts to do meet-and-greets, hand out autographed posters, talk to the guys, and invite them out to the show. Instead of just showing up, performing, and disappearing, we actually get some one-on-one time with the soldiers. If you think about it, the age bracket of a majority of the soldiers is 18 to 25, which is the younger crew of adrenaline junkies, and what we're doing fits that whole profile of what they want to watch or be a part of. For all the men and women that don't get to go home for Christmas and spend time with their families, we go over there and take their minds off of things a little bit. Maybe give some of the guys a bike or a skateboard that they can give to their kid for Christmas. It's really an eye-opening experience. It sounds like we're going out there and just giving, but what we get to take home from the trip is a whole new perspective on things.
Complex: What made you want to get involved with Bikes Over Baghdad?
Anthony Napolitan: I had known about it even before it happened. A longtime friend of mine, Nathan Wessel, was one of the guys that put all the riders together for the first couple of B.O.B. tours. I think he has always wanted me to be a part of Bikes Over Baghdad, but my schedule never quite matched up with theirs. Nate told me the first time that it was going to be awesome, but unfortunately, I couldn't make some of the stops on the tour. It's good to finally just get on the tour and know that I'm going for sure. Also, it's a cool event to take everyone over there and do shows in Iraq for the troops. BMX riders don't typically travel to the Middle East to do anything [laughs]. It's a good opportunity to go and see what's happening over there, and it's for a good cause, too.
Chad Kagy: It's nice being able to go to Iraq and bring a little bit of what we do to the soldiers that are out there. Right after our first demo, we had a line of about 300 soldiers and this one girl stood in line for probably two hours just to shake our hands and say thanks for coming out to a war zone to entertain them. She said, "I've been here for 11 months and this is the first time that I have forgotten that I was in Iraq. I forgot I was here for the last hour. Thanks for bringing a little bit of America and freedom." I mean, when someone says something like that to you, you're like, wow, for me to be a part of that is amazing.
Complex: When anyone talks about going to Iraq, people are concerned over their safety. Does that cross your mind when going there?
Chad Kagy: A couple of things go into that one. You're obviously going to be wary of what's going on and your surroundings, and wanting to be safe. But those people have to risk their lives every single day. I'm going to go there and minimally risk my life for two weeks. Some of the spots we go to feel like the safest demos I've ever done. I have felt more at risk in downtown New York doing a demo for the people out there. I mean, who knows, there might be just as many guns at that demo. We're doing demos for 300 to 500 soldiers at a small base. If there are 500 soldiers, there's 600 assault rifles and firearms, and we're surrounded by armored vehicles and people that appreciate us and want to protect us. So it's basically a give and take. I think we're giving and receiving enough that the risk is worth it. I mean, my job on a daily basis is to risk myself. This one, at least, I am able to give back.
Complex: What are you hoping to take away from your time in Iraq?
Anthony Napolitan: Just a life experience, and getting a better perspective on how life is over there. I'm sure that, in the end, I will learn something from going over there. It will be a lot easier to describe it once I come back.
Complex: Were there any stories or memories that you have taken from your previous trips?
Chad Kagy: There are nonstop stories. We shoot photos the entire time. We got to tour a couple of random places. I can say that the coolest and most random thing I've been able to do on my BMX bike is that we got to tour a lot of Saddam's palaces. We were able to convince some of the commanding officers to allow us to take our bikes into a couple of the palaces, so we can do some street riding. The latest Ride BMX Magazine has a 12-page article with interviews, text, and photos of all of us doing wall rides inside of one of the palaces, and grinding down a couple of the rails. You never would have thought that a palace like that would ever have BMX bikes in it. It's just a really awkward situation, but it's so different and cool.