Childhood friends Tony Glaser and Scott Wittenberg, both 25, traveled with their band, Beautiful Generation, playing classic rock music for American troops at military bases in Kuwait, Iraq, Germany and Italy.
"We've never played for an audience before where everyone was holding a big machine gun," said Wittenberg.
The tour was organized by AKA Productions, a private provider of entertainment for U.S. Armed Forces stationed around the world. The four-member band traveled from base to base in Iraq in Black Hawk helicopters or other military planes.
"These Black Hawk rides were something else," said Glaser. "The hot wind blew through the cabin as we stared out into the vast desert."
Wittenberg, a drummer, and Glaser, who plays the bass guitar, spent the first week and a half in Iraq performing at four bases playing rock and roll classics that the troops knew and sang along with.
"The best thing of all was the joy we got from helping our troops let off steam and feel at home by rocking out with us," Glaser said.
"The troops were so supportive, gracious and thankful, even in the harsh conditions and the 130-degree heat of a war-zone," he added. "To have the opportunity to play for them, to give a little back for their sacrifice, was such an incredible experience that will always be special to me."
One of the shows was performed at Camp Bucca in one of Sadam Hussein's old theaters. The camp is also home to the largest detainment facility in the world.
"Some 18,000 prisoners are being held there now, but most will be released eventually and surprisingly with more skills and education than before," said Glaser.
Between shows, Glaser and Wittenberg handed out shoes and toys to the Iraqi children whose fathers were being held at the facility.
"It was very cool and hectic at the same time," said Glaser. "I would be fitting a kid with the limited and random pairs of shoes we had, while a mob of Iraqi women and children kept trying to sneak more pairs and toys than we could give."
After 11 days in Iraq, the band returned to Kuwait, and flew to Germany and Italy.
The two friends were living in Los Angeles when some folks at the Musicians Institute, where Wittenberg works, said they needed a bass player and drummer for a band to entertain the troops. Glaser had just returned from a three-month tour across the United States with a band called The People's Party.
Wittenberg called Glaser the day he got back with the proposal and said he needed an immediate answer.
"I said sure without even thinking," Glaser recalled. "It's hard to pass up an experience like that if you have any adventure in you."
"My first thought was that the tour was a great opportunity for Tony and a wonderful experience that he would never have again," said Helene Glaser, Tony's mother. "He could do his part in the war by bringing music to the troops. Where we live is very sheltered and they had a chance to see a whole different perspective."
Scott's father, Steve Wittenberg, said at first it was a shock. "Most of Scott's tours have been to Long Beach and San Diego. It was a neat life experience for him and a chance to give back to the troops. But we were a little worried."
Wittenberg and Glaser met in the sixth grade in band at Charlotte Wood Middle School. Scott's love of the drums and Tony's talent for the bass guitar was a bond that has kept the guys together as friends and musicians throughout middle school, high school and into adulthood.
"Tony and I met in Mr. Cerri's class … Our first band 10 years ago was called Pucker Up and we've been playing together ever since," Wittenberg said.
After graduating from San Ramon Valley High School in 2000, they headed for Southern California to follow their dreams of becoming professional musicians.
Following graduation from UC San Diego, Glaser "rushed to L.A. to pursue his music career." The first year, he worked as a substitute teacher in the L.A. Unified School District. Now he is producing two albums, playing in a band called Alma Desnuda with his brother Joe, composing music and substitute teaching.
"I made the decision to go to San Diego State University where my parents met," said Wittenberg. "But a month before school started I decided to move to Hollywood to pursue my calling." He graduated from the Musicians Institute and was asked to teach rock drums and rhythm at the school, which he does during the day. At night he performs with his L.A.-based band, Zen Robbi.
Glaser and Wittenberg advise younger musicians to have fun and be true to what they are communicating with their music.
"Follow your dreams and your heart," said Wittenberg. "You only live once. You'll regret the things you didn't do more than the things you did. How many people get to say that they played in a rock band in L.A.?"
The tour in Iraq was also a rare opportunity.
"Everywhere we went we were enthusiastically welcomed with hugs and smiles," Wittenberg said. "The whole tour was literally a series of once in a lifetime experiences."