Country singer Aaron Tippin and his friend Bill Cowan, a commentator for Fox News, spent the Thanksgiving Holidays in Iraq entertaining and boosting the moral of the troops deployed to the area. For the past four years, Aaron has spent Thanksgiving in Iraq or Afghanistan touring with Stars for Stripes. This tour marked Bill’s second tour to Iraq over Thanksgiving with Stars for Stripes.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 20TH:
Today Aaron Tippin and some of his musicians left for Washington, DC. Tomorrow Aaron will perform at the annual Toys for Tots Christmas luncheon. The other two musicians in his band will join us in DC tomorrow. Colonel Bill Cowan (retired) from Fox News will also be joining us once again for this trip. We got checked in and had a quick lunch before departing. Flight landed on time which was a first for me into Dulles. Usually we circle in turbulence for about 40 minutes. Because we landed on time, there was no gate available for us. Go figure!!! After 45 minutes we finally got to the gate and there was no gate agent or stairs. Unbelievable. Lots of people missed international connections.
I was trying to call the driver of the bus picking us up and it went straight to voice mail. Finally reached the limo company and they called him to come around. It was FREEZING in DC. The heater in the bus didn’t work and we got stuck in traffic. It was over an hour drive and we were all shivering by the time we landed. There was no bellman to be found at the hotel, so Aaron grabbed one of the big rolling carts and started loading luggage. Bellman finally showed up and we got checked in. Nice hotel at least.
Mike – our Secret Service buddy – met us and we had terrific sushi in the hotel restaurant. Then it was email time for me until 2 am in the morning.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 21ST & SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 22ND:
Up at 7 am to work out with Aaron. Decent Fitness Center at the hotel. After working out, I went to check out the room for the performance and our sound company. Everything was great! Quick shower and back down to check out the backstage area. Got Aaron’s computer set up with SKYPE again (this is an annual event for me) and then downstairs for sound check. Aaron only got to perform 4 songs but it was great. He put a child’s bike together while singing the last song. He does this at all his shows in the U.S. and then gives it to Toys for Tots. It’s a “show stopper”! Awesome that he got to do it for “Toys for Tots” national headquarters. He signed autographs for about a half hour after the performance.
My friend from AFE was supposed to meet us at the end of the show. I knew he had other things to do so when he didn’t show up, I figured he couldn’t make it. Aaron and I took a taxi to a nearby mall to buy him a pair of jeans to wear during the shows. Almost as soon as we arrived Colonel Shock from AFE called and said he was at our hotel. Fortunately, I had taken the phone number of the taxi driver and after quickly buying a pair of jeans, we rushed back to the hotel. I got to meet the Colonel’s wife for the first time and we had a few minutes to sit in the restaurant and chat. Then I had to go “pack”. For the second time today, my room key quit working and I had to go all the way back down to the lobby to have it re-keyed. I was on the 25th floor! The bus driver had arrived 30 minutes early and was waiting for us. The heater worked in this bus!
When we arrived at the airport for check-in, the counter agents were less than friendly. I explained that we were on “military orders” and one of them argued with me that we weren’t “military” and the orders were only for contractors. I explained that in Nashville we were allowed to show our orders and check all the extra bags. She said, “Well we are obviously more “savvy” than the Nashville agents”. I responded, “The Nashville agents are just so nice and friendly. It’s the Southern way.” That shut her up very quickly. I had guitar picks made with Aaron and Bill’s photos on them. I debated giving the agents one because they had been so rude but decided “what the heck”. Gave everyone a pick “card” and you would not have believed the change in attitude. All of a sudden, they were our best friends. J
We went to the Red Carpet Lounge and met Aaron’s other two musicians. Bill Cowan lives in DC, so he was “en route”. Answered some email, then when Colonel Cowan arrived, we went to try and find a decent restaurant….not easy to do in the airport. Finally found the ONLY sit-down restaurant in our terminal and ordered. It was really, really terrible food. I’m thinking we should have taken our chances and eaten on the airplane.
Our flight was scheduled to leave on time and we went out to sit in the gate area to wait for boarding. As we were sitting there, a group of Homeland Security Agents walked up and started checking boarding passes and passports. Then when we started boarding the plane, there was another group of them in the jetway. Never seen that before. Glad I have Colonel Cowan with me. He’s so funny. He has been missing a tooth for as long as I’ve known him. It’s on his upper left side. He told me he as getting an implant and was having it made out of black pearl with a little flashing light. Well, he got the black pearl but couldn’t find anyone to do the light (thank goodness)! LOL
The person sitting with Bill turns out to be the CSM for the Corps of Engineers so I coined him and he reciprocated. I also gave all the flight attendants picks, coins, and autographed photos. I keep telling my boys that these aren’t “bribes”. They are “incentive packages”.
For those of you who keep up with my road journals, you know that my daughter gave birth to twins – Zac and Zoe – two months prematurely while I was in Baghdad a couple of weeks ago. They are doing great and are so beautiful. They have started gaining weight and will probably go home from the hospital while I’m in Iraq this time. I’ve gotten to hold them a couple of times already. They already have very distinct personalities. Zoe is a bit of a “Diva” and gets lots of attention. When she sleeps, she curls up in a little ball, legs tucked up to her chest and arms folded under her chest. But Zac-man, he throws his arms up over his head and stretches his legs as far apart as he can. He was sleeping on his chest one day and had managed to scoot down so that one leg was off the mattress. Then he managed to swing it up and rest it on the plastic side of the “isolette”. As soon as I tried to snap a photo, he put it back down. They had feeding tubes until a few days ago and they hated them. They were constantly trying to pull them out. I was standing over Zac and asking the nurse about the tubes. She said that yes, they were not “pleasant” for them to have but necessary. She went on to explain that they had to learn to “suck” before the tubes could be removed. We had a short conversation about this and the next day when I went in the hospital and was standing over Zac, he was “sucking” as hard as he could. Nothing in his mouth to suck on, but he was “showing” me that he definitely knew how to suck. I called the nurse over to show her. A couple of days later, they got the tubes out and bottle feeding began. Zac continues to express himself by sucking as loudly as he can when he eats. Guess he wants us to be sure we KNOW he doesn’t need that tube again. J
Okay, we are in terrible turbulence. Bill and Aaron are out cold and I’m having a panic attack. Fine with me to get shot at while in a military aircraft but I hate these commercial flights.
We landed safely and just as my foot left the aircraft and hit the jetway, I remembered I had left my jacket in the overhead. I turned around to go back on the plane and the agents at the door started yelling at me that I couldn’t. I pretended not to understand and kept going. Grabbed the jacket and a flight attendant was waiting for me to “escort” me back out so I wouldn’t get yelled at. I can see not allowing me to re-enter the plane if I was already in the terminal but for God’s sake, I had one foot still in the plane. Ridiculous.
ALL our bags arrived which is a huge blessing. Escorts waiting for us as usual. Hotel had everything ready for us and know me like family now. Aaron, Bill and I went to the health club to work out for an hour. We’re a good influence on Bill. He never worked out with us last year. He also never drank water and now he does, which is very good for him. We all had dinner in the fantastic restaurant after working out. Then it was unpack and email time for me. It’s 1 am and I am going to bed “early” for me. Love it!
Tomorrow is the first show in Kuwait, then we head into Iraq. Aaron’s son-in-law will get to spend Thanksgiving Day with us if nothing happens to our proposed schedule!
Sunday, November 23rd:
What a DAY! Got up at 6 am and ran on the treadmill for an hour. Was going to run outside but the wind was blowing too hard and the dust was “heavy”. I had the hotel do Aaron’s wake-up call for me at 7 am because I didn’t want to wake him up at 6:30 am when I left for the gym. When he came into the gym, he said he never fell asleep last night. Just could not sleep. He’ll definitely pay for that later today. Sure hate it for him.
Grabbed my usual egg-white omelet and then showered and dressed. About an hour of email later, we all departed for Camp Buehring. This is the huge camp where troops “train” before they go into Iraq. We met lots of guys who may get to see one of our performances in Iraq since they are going to camps where we will be performing.
Drove for almost 2 hours to reach Camp Buehring and once we arrived, we went straight to the DFAC for lunch. After lunch, we had a Commander’s Office Call where everyone got a certificate and a terrific briefing explain what Buehring’s troops are involved with. Then it was “fun time” for the boys. Took them to the shooting range where they got to “kill some terrorists”. Gotta say, these boys were not very skilled and I wouldn’t want them to have my back. LOL. But they had a blast for about an hour and a half.
Musicians went to the stage for sound check and Aaron, Bill and I went to the base exchange. Pretty good selection at this one. All the MWR folks and our military escorts are SOOO nice. After sound check, Aaron did a quick interview with a British Radio Journalist. Then, it was time for dinner at the DFAC and SHOWTIME. I have NEVER seen so many people at Camp Buehring. They said that we set the record for attendance and for the length of the autograph session after the show. Aaron had more people at both events that the recent “MySpace” cybercast. It was so cool. Bill Cowan introduced him and spoke to the troops for a few minutes. Then Aaron took the stage and absolutely rocked them for an hour. He told them about his “Trucker” cd that is coming out in February and they went wild. Hope this translates into a hit cd for them.
Aaron’s guys are the best at handling the autograph line. I’ve often said that I’d love take them on the road with me to handled EVERY autograph session. He finished the entire line – over 500 photos used – in about 2 hours.
While the show and autograph session were taking place, I was completely stressed out because they said we had to be at the flight line at 3 am for manifesting. I was constantly on the phone with our escorts at MNC-I and was being told there weren’t any other flights. Since Aaron didn’t sleep at all last night, I did not want to tell him he would be sitting at the terminal all night and then taking a 6 am flight to the camp where he will have his first performance in Iraq. I spent hours trying to find someone who could assist and when I finally reached my Air Force contact, I knew all would be well. And it was. We are now leaving the hotel tomorrow afternoon for an early evening flight. We’re going to be late for the show, but I’m sure everyone won’t mind waiting a little while so we can set up and perform.
I had asked prior to coming over if there were going to be any afternoon “remote” visits and was told no, not going to do but one full show each day at one camp. So I told the guys to leave their acoustic guitars at home and cancelled the small pa system. Of course, the first thing I’m told in these departure negotiations is the fact that we were scheduled to go out to a FOB. Wouldn’t have mattered. If we had flown early morning, all we could have done would be go to bed and sleep until time for sound check that afternoon.
Aaron was so tired he was about to drop when we finally arrived back at the hotel. I am SOOOO glad he didn’t have to pack up and fly tonight. I’m not at all sure he could have made it. Thank you SOOOOOO much SpoonR for making this possible.
It is now 1:30 am and I am about to fall over as well. Won’t be able to send Road Reports for several days so HAPPY THANKSGIVING!
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 24TH:
Forgot the funniest part of the show last night. Bill Cowan was on stage introducing Aaron and I was standing backstage with him. I kept looking at him thinking something didn’t look “right’. Finally, I said “Where are your ‘in-ears’”? He panicked because he had not put them on and we didn’t know where they were. I had to run onto the stage to ask Dave where they were and then had to get someone to tell Bill to talk longer about Aaron. He got them on and the audience never knew the “last minute scramble” taking place backstage. Tomorrow night I’m sure we’ll all be checking him before any introductions are made.
So…..I figured our flight time would change and I was right. Got a call at 8 am that we had to depart the hotel at noon instead of 1 pm. I knew the guys could be ready in 30 minute, so I went to the gym for a very quick 30 minute workout and was going to call them after that. As I was leaving the gym, the attendant said someone was looking for me. Escort had already called and said he was on his way to the hotel and we had to leave NOW. I knew that wasn’t possible but since he was one hour from the hotel, figured we could get close. We were all ready to go on time but then the luggage truck didn’t show up. It finally arrived about 30 minutes later and we “barreled” to the air field. I also knew that the escort always wants us there 3 hours before flight time and since I was working with Protocol, we didn’t need to be there until one hour prior. When we arrived, the escort said the plane was on the ground waiting for us. I knew no one had eaten any breakfast and since it was an hour and a half flight, there wouldn’t be any food until late afternoon. AF Protocol guy is FANTASTIC. He called the flight crew and told them we would be there “soon”. We went to Subway and purchased sandwiches to eat en route.
The flight crew was out of Washington State and so nice. It was a C-17 instead of a C130 — MUCH larger. There were broken down old airplane seats inside which was nice for a change. We were supposed to meet Captain Nathan Phillips who is a C17 pilot from Qatar. He is accompanying the tour so that the AF can see first hand how important it is for our flights to be as scheduled. Since he had spent the night at Ali Al Salem and didn’t have a cell phone, we had no way of finding him to give him the new flight information. But, since we were on a C17, I knew they would be able to locate him. He got on the plane before we took off and is a super nice young man. We only had 44 other passengers (military) on the flight with us so there was LOTS of room. Aaron sat up on the flight deck the entire time and I sat with Nathan and got to know him. The flight was only actually one hour instead of an hour and a half.
We landed at Camp Speicher. I have been there several times including last Thanksgiving with Aaron and Bill. When we landed two helicopters pulled in right behind our C-17 and I had this sinking feeling they were waiting for us. They were. Speicher did not cancel the acoustic show at WarHouse and all the troops were waiting for Aaron there. We had not held back any acoustic guitars or PA but we grabbed the guitars off the pallets and Aaron, Bill, Ricky, Dave, Scott (MNC-I escort) and I hopped on the choppers to WarHorse. There was a large crowd waiting for us so while Ricky got their “in-house” PA up and running, Aaron signed autographs for everyone. Then he sang 4 songs and we jumped back on the helicopters. WarHorse is where Aaron, Bill and I ate Thanksgiving Dinner last year. The sun had gone down and even though it was only a 40 minute flight, it was freezing on the choppers with the windows open for the gunners. Bill Cowan was sweet enough to give me his leather jacket since my fleece was in my luggage back at Speicher.
Arrived back at Camp Speicher just in time to do a very quick sound check, grab an even quicker meal at the DFAC and then it was show time. Usually we perform in a gymnasium at Speicher but they had built a nice outdoor stage right in front of the old soccer stadium where Uday executed the Iraqi Soccer Team when they lost the Olympics. Nice guy, huh?
Stands were packed again. It was another fabulous show. Bill Cowan does an awesome job intro-ing Aaron and really just speaking from his heart to the troops. Then Aaron ROCKS. Certificates were presented to everyone after the concert and then the autograph line began. Last night, he signed over 600 of the photos I brought with me. Tonight, there were more than 500. At this pace, I’ll run out before the last show. L I’m only giving one per person because I’m worried about not having enough. Of course, they all have other things for him to sign as well plus he takes a photo with everyone. His guys do such a great job of moving the line along that we usually finish with that many people in about 1 ½ to 2 hours. Of course, Aaron loves that part more than the performance.
I actually got a couple of cons last night. Haven’t been getting as many as I’d like on these past tours. Just too busy to really “work” it.
We are staying in individual “chus” with a shared bathroom. No one is on the other side of me, so I have a bathroom all to myself – a rare luxury in Iraq. Nice bed, heater, desk and OH MY GOD – a DSL cable. Usually these only work for government computers but I HAD to give it a try. Guess what? For a mere $10 on my credit card, I got 24 hours of internet IN MY ROOM. A blessing and a curse because I stayed up late working and will only get two hours of sleep so I get up early to finish up. The internet is as slow as a dial-up but I don’t care. It works! J
Last time we stayed here, they put all of us together in this “house” and I shared one bathroom with 12 guys. THAT was fun. NOT!!! This is also the Camp where the “stinkbug” was following Aaron around on the rooftop. He hadn’t been taking showers very often and we accused him of being the “daddy” of the little bug. Wonder if he’ll come looking for Aaron this time?
Tomorrow we fly to Balad AB – my FAVORITE base because I have known the last 3 AF Generals in Command there. Met all of them at the Wolf Pack in Korea years ago. Only problem with our visit this time is the fact that we won’t get to spend the night. The Marines are flying us to Ramadi tonight – hopefully in an Osprey. Aaron really wants to fly in one of those and is the only reason I would agree to a night flight.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 25TH – I THINK
Really have no way of knowing what day it is without scrolling back up to the top to see what I typed last. Got up at 4 am as planned an answered all my emails. We were supposed to be ready to leave at 7:45 am but I know Aaron Tippin. He was outside ready to go at 7 am. We ran by the DFAC and had breakfast and then headed to the flight line. That’s when the problems began. We were told that the C130 aircraft crew had not been advised that we had two pallets of equipment/luggage. They could either take all 15 passengers and one pallet or take two pallets and no passengers. Either way didn’t work for us because we couldn’t do a show that evening in Balad without everything on the pallets. They were working several options such as flying us over on blackhawks and just taking the pallets. The problem was the fact that there were 41 military personnel leaving for Kuwait with all their personal belongings to go home after a long tour of duty. They had two pallets of gear. We were NOT going to bump any of them. I kept asking to please let me call my friend at Balad and see if they could help since that’s where we were supposed to perform that night. The General at Balad is my buddy I referred to that I met years ago in Korea and is the base commander. They finally agreed to “send me in”. I made one phone call and within 5 minutes, the problem was solved. They were going to take one pallet of the troops’ gear off the plane and fly it to Kuwait to them later in the day. Since the troops have to wait in Kuwait several days for their flight back to the states, they would not need it when they arrived. Also, they had personnel flying on that later flight that same day who could “escort” it. We went over to talk to the Army Commander to make sure he was okay with that and also to apologize. I don’t ever want anyone in the military to think we are the priority. My concern was the fact that we had thousands of people expecting a show that evening in Balad. Plus the fact that everyone donates their time to come over and thank the troops and we really hate to cancel a performance.
We finally took off and landed several hours late. Capt. Turner is our escort and has been great to work with. We went to the DFAC for a quick lunch and then checked into the trailers (really nice trailers again with a shared bathroom) where we won’t be spending the night tonight. Sure wish we could stay here. This is where we had the “cigar/near beer” party with the Honky Tonk Tailgate Party and Siren in September with the General and his guys. I was disappointed that one of the General’s staff – Sal – was not there. He’s home on leave which is great for him. But he was so helpful last time we were here. Truly a nice guy, so I left him some “thank you goodies” even though we didn’t get to see him this trip.
After lunch, we were taken to the Special Ops compound. They don’t let a lot of people go into that area, so it was a special treat. I actually had a dear friend who served there this time last year and we saw him on Aaron’s tour. The guys got to “play soldier” and shoot every type of gun there is. They sat in an MRAP and fired and also went to the shooting range. Did a mock situation of breaking down doors in a building and “securing” it. They had a blast – literally. It was late afternoon by the time we departed and got to the stage where our Coaxial guys were setting up. Only problem is, there was no power to the stage! Soundcheck ran very late and we didn’t have time to go to the DFAC. Food was provided backstage though. The General and some of his staff came by to say hello prior to the show. He had flown today but still wanted to stay for Aaron’s concert. The show was held outside in a stadium and we had a huge crowd. Bill Cowan added a joke to his little speech which went over really well. He’s keeping that in his routine now. J Aaron performed for about an hour and then chatted with the General again after the performance. He signed autographs for over 500 people. I’ve been counting and in three shows we have already gone through almost 2,000 photos. Sure hope I don’t run short. Still have Ramadi, Baghdad (which will be huge) and Tallil to do.
After circling the entire base for about a half hour trying to find “de-caf” coffee for Aaron, we went to the airfield to take the Ospreys to Ramadi. The two Ospreys landed about 30 minutes later than anticipated and they were certainly a “site to see”. If you don’t know what it is, “google” it and check it out. We were all standing out on the tarmac waiting to board when they took off without us. The explanation was “mechanical problems”. Hellooooo….I knew better than that. An aircraft with mechanical problems does not fly away. We boarded the bus and went back to our lodging that I was hoping we would get to stay in anyway. I went into the main building to check my email and just as I was ready to log on, our escort came in and said there were choppers back on the ground waiting to take us to Ramadi. By this time, it was after 1 am in the morning. We boarded the bus again and when we arrived, the two Ospreys were sitting there and our gear was being loaded. Scott (our escort from Baghdad) realized he had left his rucksack with all his gear at the lodging. I sent him back to get it because I knew it would take a while for them to load the choppers. I also realized that none of our luggage was there because the luggage truck had been sent to lodging as well. It took almost an hour for someone to locate the truck and get it back out to the airfield. I refused to get on the Ospreys until we all identified our personal bags. After what happened with Bo Bice, I was NOT taking any chances on losing a piece. It finally arrived and we packed into the Ospreys. Aaron got to sit in the jump seat but we were all in the back. It was closed up tight with all our gear beside us. We couldn’t see anything and it was a strange feeling to lift straight up. I was holding on to poor little Nathan’s arm so tight. They finally lowered the back of the chopper and we could see outside. We were flying really high and the lights of the city below were beautiful. It was about a 20 minute flight and although uneventful, I kept Nathan’s arm in death grip the entire flight. We landed and were taken to our quarters at Ramadi.
I knew lodging would be “primitive” here from my past visits. But, at least we all had private “chu’s” again. Only problem was, there were no blinds or curtains on the windows. The guys were bargaining to get the one across from me. Luckily our escorts realized this and hung a sheet across my window. LOL. There is a female Lt. Colonel “living” in the other side of the chu. All her stuff is in the bathroom and I feel so bad for having to share her “home”. It was 3 am by the time we got to the lodging so I didn’t meet her. Tell you what though. Sure keeps you “humble” to know that this is where she will live for a year or so. And, she is one of the lucky ones who gets her own chu because she is a LTC. Kept me from whining.
The bedroom has one of those window combo air conditioning/heating units. It either keeps the room stifling hot or freezing cold. The bathroom does not have ANY heat at all. I passed out at around 3:30 am and got up at 8:30 am – a long night’s sleep for me. Had told out escorts to let the guys sleep until 1 pm when we would all go to lunch.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 26TH:
Taking a shower in a cold bathroom is really fun. I didn’t know whether I should do a “combat” shower or not. Didn’t want to take the risk of running out of hot water since it was so cold. But the hot water held through the shower.
Got dressed and “walked” down to where I thought Green Beans was located. Found the stage and a couple of “my guys”. They said Aaron had gone to the gym. Guess he forgot to knock on my door so I could go with him! Went to the MWR facility and got on AOL. Only have 133 new emails but every time I would try to respond, it was not send the email due to an “error”. Switched computers and even had a tech come look at it but no luck. L Horrible to see all those emails and I can’t answer.
Found Bill and Aaron “sitting in the sun” on what is soon to be a football field. J Ran into Nathan headed for the gym and Scott walked over and joined Bill, Aaron and I for a few minutes. This place is either incredibly DUSTY or MUDDY depending upon the last rain. I swear to God, it keeps me humble and I don’t complain nearly as much about “trival” things back at home.
After lunch at the DFAC, we spent the day touring the various outposts. One of them was where they train the Navy Seals and Special Ops. THAT was a real highlight of the tour. Met some truly nice guys. They are all so good-looking! Almost as cute as fighter pilots…almost! J
Visited several other outposts and signed autographs for guys and girls who might not get to attend the concert. The concert is being held on a small stage in the “food court” area, right in front of Green Beans Coffee which is very convenient. Did a quick sound check and then back to lodging for a few minutes. I met the lady in the room next to me. Very sweet ‘Reservist’ who volunteered to come over here and serve. We meet so many wonderful, patriotic people like this on our tours. She is married and has a daughter and will be here for at least a year.
Concert was PACKED and it was a great stage because everyone was “up close”. Much better for the entertainers. Aaron signed autographs for the crowd afterwards and this time we only went through a little over 400 autograph sheets. But, we had signed over 200 during the day on our visits.
We were supposed to fly to Baghdad tomorrow morning but as usual, things changed and they have us on the “Judy Seale Forbidden Night Flight”. At least the choppers were on time. This time we flew on Marine choppers but they weren’t the kind that “leaked hydraulic fluid” all over us. It took two choppers just for us and our luggage and then the equipment had to be brought over later.
Since we weren’t scheduled to arrive until the following day, we did not have “lodging” in the Palace. They had us all split up in different trailers outside except for Aaron and Bill who were inside. When I got to my trailer, the key would not unlock the door. Then some lady opened the door! They forgot to tell me that there were other women sharing with me. I hated waking them up but not as much as one of them hated me for doing so. It was an “Admiral” in the Australian Navy and she had been promised her own private trailer but had been stuck in the “shared” lodging for a week. I don’t blame her for being upset. I threw my luggage inside and learned that ALL the bottom bunks were taken. I had to go work on the internet and answer tons of emails, so I suggested she leave the door unlocked and I would lock up when I came in. She wouldn’t even consider that option so I knew I’d have to wake her up again at around 2 am when I finished and then again after I brushed my teeth and washed my face. I finally decided to just go to bed with all my clothes and makeup on and get up at 6 am to shower. What a miserable night that was!!!
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 27TH – HAPPY THANKSGIVING:
So, my alarm went off at 6 am and I shut it off. When I tried to “quietly” get up the go to the shower, the two Australians got up as well. They were very nice in the latrine and I apologized again for waking them. I explained that I would be moving into the palace the next morning and sharing a room with my 13 guys. I hung my towel on one of the stall hooks and put my shampoo and conditioner inside the shower stall. Turned around to get something out of my bag and one of the Australians had gotten into “my” shower. Since I didn’t want to use it after she did, I just grabbed my towel and reached inside the curtain and retrieved my shampoo and conditioner!
We all went to the Al Faw Palace for another quick tour…my 5th one this year. General O is out visiting the troops so we’ll miss him….AGAIN!!!
Had time to do some shopping at my favorite jewelry shop and they gave everyone great prices in exchange for “photos” with them. They made necklaces for Zac and Zoe for me and wouldn’t let me pay for them!
Went to lunch at the DFAC and it was awesome. All the Thanksgiving Day trimmings and I cheated and had pumpkin pie for dessert. There was a soldier dressed up in a “turkey” suit and we wondered what he did to deserve such harsh punishment! The DFAC was all decorated for Thanksgiving Day and even had lots of ice sculptures. We had some free time after lunch and everyone went to the JBV to take a nap. We had all taken our bags out of the trailers that morning and the desk clerks had moved everything into one huge room in the Palace. About 5 minutes before I was going to wake everyone up, a group of men – some in military uniforms and some in suits came in and started putting things on the bunks. I told them that they were in the WRONG room. Evidently there was a screw-up in their lodging, too.
Aaron went to a re-enlistment ceremony and took photos with the guys who re-upped. Then we did a quick sound check and a little more shopping. Went to the DFAC for the same food we had at dinner. After dinner we went to the show and realized the crowd was not nearly as large as it should have been. The two-star General for that particular Headquarters had insisted on moving the stage from in front of the base exchange to right outside his headquarters! A friend of mine said there were people still over at the exchange after the show had started asking where he stage was!
Highlight of the evening was Aaron’s brother-in-law coming by. He flies General O around and had been out with him all day. Aaron got to spend some quality time with him.
Even with the smaller crowd, there was probably 2,000 people there and Aaron signed autographs for everyone afterwards. I had to say good-bye to SpoonR because he flies home tomorrow. Really will miss him over here. L
Called my daughter and son and wished them a Happy Thanksgiving. I got the cutest photo of the “twins” snuggled together today. Wish I could be with them for Thanksgiving but being here with the troops is the next best thing. Almost midnight so I am going to “quietly” get ready to sleep with 13 men! Sure hope there aren’t any snorers!!! LOL
Friday, November 28th:
Can’t say that I “slept” for 4 hours. Ricky snored so loudly I don’t think anyone actually “slept” but him. Anyway, got up at 4 am and took a shower as quickly as possible so others could use the facilities. Had to drag our bags to the lobby by 5:30 am and everyone was on time. Breakfast was supposed to begin at 6 am but we learned it didn’t start until 6:30 am. They were able to get it out by 6:15 am and everyone had time to eat before we departed at 6:45 am.
Joe – my AF buddy from the last tour – came by to say good-bye (again J ) and asked where Scott (our escort) was. Told him I hadn’t seen him all morning. When we were ready to leave, he still wasn’t around. Joe left to go to Scott’s trailer to see if he had overslept – which would absolutely MAKE my day. Scott is 22 year Army lifer who thinks we all should just “Soldier Up” for a week and not worry about EVER getting any sleep.
Our security detail is excellent this tour and we arrived at the PAX terminal right on time. Only, no one knew how to get to the DV Lounge. Our security detail guys have only been in country a couple of weeks. I thought I remembered how to get there, so we set out on a trek. For once, I really did have a “sense of direction” and we found it easily. About an hour after we arrived, Joe came in and I asked him about Scott. He really, really didn’t want to tell me but I knew that Scott had definitely overslept. Ahh….poetic justice. J He walked in and we immediately began ragging on him.
C130 landed and we loaded up. Aaron got to sit up top but they also had an Army General for the Chaplains who was up there, so I sat in the “belly” by Bill Cowan and slept almost the entire 45 minute flight. Landed on time and Amanda our cute little Army escort was waiting for us. She walked us to lodging and I was lugging my 4 bags through the gravel, my ankle turned and I went down hard. I heard something “tear” as I fell. Not good. It immediately began swelling and the pain was almost unbearable. Knew I had to see a doctor, so Amanda got me there immediately. They were so great. Had 3 x-rays and was delighted to know it was not broken….just sprained. However, it hurts like hell and is about the size of a baseball. They gave me an ankle brace and lots of drugs. I don’t have time to “slow down” and let it heal though.
The guys had lunch while I was with the medic and then toured the Ziggarat – birthplace of Abraham. Since I’ve already been there, I “sat” that one out! They have several other tours this afternoon that I may or may not try to do. Will definitely go with them to see the medics though.
Took a pain pill and slept for about an hour. When I woke up, the foot was swollen even more and very stiff. Found that it’s better to just keep it moving.
I went over to the hospital with Aaron and thanked the doctors and nurses again. There was a guy there in the Emergency Room and he had sprained his ankle by turning it on the rocks. The doctors said it’s nothing for them to see at least one person a day with the same injury. I know that the rocks are used to keep down the dust, but most bases use the smaller pebble-size rocks which make a lot more sense. We left the hospital and went to sound check, DFAC for dinner and then it was time for the show. I had received a text message from Penny and the subject was “Andi” but I couldn’t open the message. It worried me because Andi is a very dear friend of mine. I decided to spend the $5 a minute and call Penny. Found out that Andi was in India with a group called “Synchronicity” and was in the café that was hit by the terrorists. She has shrapnel in her leg and face but is supposedly going to be fine. I am so worried about her. CNN showed a photo of her on their coverage. The President of the organization and his 13 year old daughter were both killed in the blast!’
The concert tonight was awesome. Another record attendance and over 600 autographs signed after the show. Aaron called Bill and me up on stage to participate in “Kiss This” and it was a blast. This was the perfect ending to a great tour. Always sad when it’s over. Aaron and his boys didn’t want me to hand out the photos in the autograph line because of my ankle. But this was the last show and my last opportunity to say “thank you” one-on-one, so I overruled them.
We went to the DFAC after the autograph session and tomorrow we take a C130 back to Kuwait and fly home tomorrow night. So very sad when it’s over! 🙁
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 29th and Sunday, November 30th:
Slept with my foot elevated last night which wasn’t easy to do. Just rolled up clothes and stuck them under my foot. The swelling is way down but the entire ankle and most of the foot is one huge bruise!
Got about 5 hours of sleep but depressed because I couldn’t go to the gym with Aaron to work out last night or this morning. This ankle thing is REALLY an inconvenience. Think I might be able to ride a stationary bike in a few days at least.
I didn’t go to breakfast with the boys but opted to shower and watch Fox News for any word on my friend. She hasn’t been mentioned since I saw her last night. Sure hope she is okay.
Everyone went to lunch and that’s when I realized, I don’t have my passport. Fortunately I have two of them. Went back to lodging to see if it was there and then went to the MP’s see if it had been turned in. That’s when I realized that the last time I had it was a midnight chow. I had put it in the pocket of my fleece so it wouldn’t fall out of my pants pocket. The fleece is packed but since I have two passports, I’ll at least get out of the country.
Long wait at the PAX Terminal DV Lounge. The C-17 finally landed and we boarded first. They let Aaron sit up on the flight deck again. We had about 50 troops on the flight with us plus all our pallets of gear. I sat in the front seat so I could stretch out my leg but my foot still “ballooned” on the flight. The pilots decided to give us a “ride” on take off and landing. We pulled about 3 “”G’s”. It doesn’t usually bother me but then I’m usually up on the flight deck when it happens. There was a soldier who went into the toilet right after take-off and we realized he never came back out. When we landed, the door to the toilet flew open and he was just sitting in there. He was a black man who had turned pretty “green”. Poor guy!
Our escort was waiting for us but it took an hour and a half for the pallets to arrive from the C-17. They unloaded them while we were getting on the bus so I don’t know why it took so long to get them to us. Meant we were very late getting back to the Radisson Hotel. We had a quick “wrap-up” dinner at the fabulous restaurant at the hotel, quick shower, and then headed for the airport. The terminal was PACKED and most of the people looked like they were from India. I suppose everyone was trying to get home to make sure their loved ones were safe.
The flight home was miserable because my foot rest was broken. We sort of “rigged” it so that I put my backpack underneath it and kept it sort of propped up. I got Bill to put the ankle brace that the doctor gave me back on my foot. It is Velcro and also laces and I can’t figure out how to put it on by myself. Really wish I hadn’t worn it because I think it made my foot hurt more with it on. I know it make it swell more. I was pretty miserable the first few hours and finally gave in and took one more pain pill. That knocked me out for the rest of the flight!
They started serving breakfast and we hit horrible turbulence. The carts went flying and flight attendants were struggling not to fall. It lasted for quite a while and you know how much I enjoyed that. Poor Aaron. I’m sure he has claw marks on his arm. He’s such a good sport about my fear of flying and I love having him along because he can explain all the “noises” that freak me out on the airplane.
We finally landed in DC on time and made it to our connecting gate. When it was time to board, they made an announcement that they were having to “change a tire” on the airplane we were taking. Fortunately, it didn’t delay us too much and we were able to take off almost on time. Landed in Nashville and everyone was happy to be home but even happier that we had such a great tour.
Emails are starting to pour in from the troops and civilian contractors that Aaron and Bill performed for in Kuwait and Iraq. We made their Thanksgiving special but they made ours even more special. It’s hard for us to leave our families over the holidays but we know that the people serving overseas are giving up a lot more holidays than we ever will. Remember to say “thank you” any time you see someone in uniform. They deserve our utmost admiration and respect.
I’m home until December 10th when I leave for Kosovo with Chely Wright. Then back to Iraq for New Year’s Eve.