Aaron Tippin went to Kuwait and Iraq for the Thanksgiving Holiday to entertain our men and women serving our country in remote areas. During this tour, SFS handed out over 5000 prepaid EZScores phone cards so that troops can keep up with the latest scores, plays, news and information on their favorite sports.
“No matter how many times I go to visit the men & women of our armed forces, I always come away very proud to have had the chance to rub shoulders with real heroes!“ – Aaron Tippin
DAYS ONE, TWO AND THREE SUNDAY, MONDAY AND TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 21, AND 22!!! Today I leave for Kuwait and Iraq with country music star Aaron Tippin. Small group – only 6 of us – so we can reach more of the remote sites with acoustic performances. Flight doesn’t leave Nashville until almost 6 pm via Minneapolis and Amsterdam. We arrive at 12:05 am on November 22nd in Kuwait! I LOVE this late afternoon departure though. Got in a killer workout at the gym this morning. Then had time to answer all my “Sunday emails” before we fly. I’m sure I’ll have hundreds by the time we land in Kuwait though. At least there is a long layover in Amsterdam and I know where the Worldclub and internet access is there! And so the fun begins….I talked to Aaron yesterday and he said they would arrive 2 hours prior to departure at the Nashville airport. So, I was going to get there 2 ½ hours prior to departure. Then, his road manager called and said they were getting there 3 hours prior. So, they arrived first and I had all the tickets. Somehow a couple of them were able to check in curbside (for an international flight, which has never happened before) before I arrived. I had to re-check everyone in so that I could spread the excess luggage around between us. Check in was painless but we had 14 pieces of excess which cost me over $2,000. At least I was prepared for it. Had time for a little “group” meeting to go over the itinerary before we boarded. Then we got on the plane and the flight attendant announced that “the long runway in Nashville was closed and there was a ‘weight and balance’ problem”. They asked for 9 volunteers to get off the plane. I KNEW the weight problem was all our excess because all 14 pieces weighed 70 pounds and were huge cases. They gave the volunteers two free roundtrip tickets, hotel accommodations, meals, etc. Not a bad deal. But, they didn’t remove their bags from the airplane. I was very concerned about the plane being able to get airborne since they only removed 9 people and most of those were little women! Aaron is a pilot and I got to “quiz” him about our safety and felt better after he explained everything to me. We did take off successfully and had an uneventful flight to Minneapolis. I sat by the young brother of a musician that I’ve taken to Japan and Korea so we had a nice conversation. I’m almost through reading “The Da Vinci Code” and it’s an awesome book. We only had an hour connection in Minneapolis and since we were late leaving Nashville, we had to run for the plane (sound familiar??). I was more concerned that our equipment would make it. I talked to the ground crew and fortunately the guy in charge was former Army. He assured me that it would make it. We boarded and I was sitting by a really sweet NW pilot – Rich — who was flying to Amsterdam to pick up his plane and fly back to Memphis tomorrow. I’m sure he got tired of me quizzing him about flying but he was very nice about it. He assured me that because I paid to fly the equipment, it was considered “cargo” and would receive priority treatment. That’s why they removed people instead of luggage in Nashville! Keeping my fingers crossed that it shows up in Kuwait. Flight seemed really short after all my flights to Asia. Not any really good movies on and I finished my book. Think I slept about 2 hours. Landed in Amsterdam and am in the Lounge working. You have to purchase an access code to use the internet, which I did. Only the internet was “down” in my lounge. So I’ve hiked up to another lounge where it is working. We have a 4 hour layover here which is great because I can catch up on some of the emails before flying another 6 hours to Kuwait! Sat with Aaron on the long flight from Amsterdam to Kuwait. My video monitor didn’t work but it seemed like a short flight because it was only 5 hours and 45 minutes. Landed in Kuwait and our Visas were waiting for us at the Visa pick-up counter. The Radisson Hotel took care of everything for us. THAT is the way to do it!! Then, I called my office to learn that 3 of our “bags” were still in Amsterdam. KLM had called them and told them. Now, you explain to me how Northwest can get 29 pieces switched from plane to plane in less than one hour and KLM can’t accomplish that in FOUR hours. I was furious!!!! Of course, it’s 3 cases that have 3 speakers in them. We’re fine for tomorrow night’s show because there are speakers here we can use. But, KLM is telling us they may not be able to get the cases to us before we fly to Iraq. I won’t print what I told them in this email. Want to bet our speakers come in tomorrow night? Hotel was ready for us and they upgraded me and Aaron to a suite. It’s nice, but we don’t have much time to spend in it. I’m sort of lost in all this “space”. But, there’s a coffee maker and internet connection, so I’m in heaven! Love this hotel and their staff knows me by name. They even show me photos of their families now when I check in. Could be the generous tips I give them OR the goodies I always bring with me! J It’s now 4:30 am in Kuwait, so I’m going to sleep for 4 hours and then either go running or work out. It’s the rainy season here, so I may have to hit the gym. Tomorrow we depart at 2 pm for Camp Arifjan in Kuwait for our first show. LOVE being back over here with our troops! Jude
REST OF DAY THREE –NOVEMBER 22ND: Had my first migraine headache in SEVEN — count ‘em – 7 weeks. But, I earned this one trying to deal with the lost equipment. Plus I forgot and packed the medicine that I take that prevents them so I was about 24 hours late taking it! Did I mention that we had to match up 29 bag tags to find out what was missing…and one case was missing a bag tag, so we actually had 4 tags with no item to match it too. What a nightmare. Sure hope it comes in today. Got 3 hours sleep and then went running. It is HOT here today. In the 80’s still! Not much has changed along my “jog route”. Still lots of construction. We departed the hotel at 2 pm. All of Aaron’s guys are early for our departures….nice change! I spent most of the morning dealing with the lost speakers. Get this….KLM put the speakers on the first flight out of Amsterdam into Frankfurt. Then, they were to be put on a Lufthasia flight into Kuwait in time for the show. KLM said that there is a “24 hour cooling off period” before they can be flown on anther carrier. I have NEVER heard of anything like that! Bottom line is we won’t have the speakers before we depart to Iraq and once in Iraq, the airlines won’t be able to bring them to us. So, I rented speakers from the only production company in Kuwait. Going to be expensive and I’m going to insist that KLM reimburse me for their mistake! First stop was at Camp Arifjan was with a dear friend of mine – Colonel Brick Miller. And, he is built just like his name implies. He thanked everyone and briefed us on what they do at Arifjan. He has certainly made some much-needed improvements in the quality of life there. Then we went into the Operations Center and got a little briefing. Aaron signed 212 of the photos we brought and I gave out the same number of “EZscores” cards that were donated for me to bring over for the troops. We were supposed to meet with General Whitcomb when we arrived at Arifjan but he had the Secretary of the Army arriving at the same time. He did request that we come by his office before we departed for sound check. He is a HUGE country music fan! There were already hundreds of people sitting on the bleachers waiting for the show when we were supposed to do sound check (over two hours prior to show time). That’s a good sign! Show started right on time and it was the biggest crowd I have ever seen at Arifjan. They bussed in lots of soldiers from outlying areas so that they would get to see the performance. I think very soldier knew every word to Aaron’s songs. Couple of minor problems – MWR didn’t set up a dressing room for Aaron. He had to walk through a very busy gymnasium and sit in someone’s office. There was nothing to eat or drink in the dressing room – not even some coffee! But, we quickly remedied that and everything was fine. Aaron performed for about an hour which is enough for anyone to do acoustically. Then he singed 402 autograph sheets and gave away the same number of EZScore Cards. Now I’m worried that I brought enough autograph sheets and EZScore cards! Got a message that we are NOT departing the hotel at 8 am tomorrow as scheduled. We depart at noon to the airfield. We’ll do a little “meet and greet” at the airfield and won’t depart to Iraq until 3 pm! Then we have to stop in Baghdad for 20 minutes before we fly to Mosul where we will be performing. Supposed to start the show at 7 pm and that will never happen. I told our escort to let Mosul know that they WILL have a show, no matter how late we arrive! A female soldier came up to me in the autograph line and asked me about the dogtag I was wearing. Then she took hers off and gave it to me. Love that!!! The base got DCU’s for all the guys (I already have several sets PLUS a blue flight suit with ONE STAR on it and a Desert Flight Suit with TWO STARS on it. Brought them both with me! Waiting for the perfect opportunity to “show off”! J Picked up two more coins – a 3 Star and a Colonel – for my massive collection that I can NEVER get enough of! Okay. Need to get a little sleep. More tomorrow. It was a perfect day…okay except for the LUGGAGE COOLING OFF PERIOD. Jude
DAY FOUR – NOVEMBER 23RD: Just realized I labeled yesterday’s report as DECEMBER 22nd instead of November 22nd. My, how time flies. My buddy, Brick, is basically “in charge” of most everything at Arifjan when it comes to the housing, buildings, etc. He has made some wonderful changes since my last visit – the most impressive being the quality of food at the DFAC. We always know that there will be plenty of hot food that usually doesn’t taste very good. Dinner yesterday was comparable to a nice restaurant in the U.S. I was very impressed with the improvements he has made in the quality of life for our troops here. With all the “crap” taking place in Congress right now, I’m so glad Aaron could come over and give these guys and girls a morale boost. I will say, though, that they are totally focused on their mission here and all the stupid, negative publicity has not affected the incredible job they are doing in bringing democracy to this country. I don’t find many soldiers who listen to any of the news being broadcast by CNN, etc. They all feel like the truth is never being reported, so why bother? Aaron said it best yesterday when I got in a little “tiff” with a contractor – one who is making a lot of “tax free” dollars working over here. The contractor said something about needing to send our troops home and before I shot back a response, he added, “Well, I guess someone just as bad as Saddam would take over and we’d just have to come back over here again.” Aaron responded, “No, we would not be ABLE to come back over here because we’d be too busy fighting the terrorists in our own country!”. Amen to that. Aaron was the “witness” for the re-enlistment of a young lady on stage at his performance last night. She had been in for 14 years and was re-upping for 4 more. The ironic thing is that she met him in Afghanistan several years ago, so she was delighted to have him participate. Giving out the phone cards last night gave me an opportunity to shake hundreds of hands and give out some hugs, too. Aaron had introduced me from the stage and called me up, but I was backstage digging around for autograph sheets and sharpies in preparation for the after-show autograph session and didn’t hear him. I went out later and sat in the front to take a photo. Someone yelled, “There’s Judy” and then dozens of soldiers started chanting, “Judy. Judy. Judy”. It was the most humbling, sweet thing that happened to me all night. Off to Iraq in a matter of hours. Don’t know WHEN I’ll be able to send this…. We had a quick lunch at the DFAC and then went over to a building where Aaron signed autographs and sang a few songs for the Air Force personnel. They were thrilled to have the unscheduled performance. Our C-130 finally arrived and we departed at 4 pm knowing we would not arrive at our scheduled show time. The good news is, we were originally scheduled to fly through Baghdad and then on to Q-West in Mosul. But, that changed to a direct flight into Q-West (Mosul) and then take blackhawks to FOB Courage. Aaron and I sat on the flight deck for take-off and then stayed up there for most of the flight. There were 5 other military personnel on the flight with us – mostly female — and LOTS of cargo. The flight crew was really sweet and we enjoyed talking to them on the 2 hour flight to Mosul. It was dark and extremely COLD when we landed at Q-West. It was only a 15 minute flight from Q-West to FOB Courage, but they have to fly with the gunnar’s doors open. I always sit in the first row, right side. It was FREEZING!!! We landed and Jason and Gus worked a miracle by getting the entire stage set up and ready for us to play in less than one hour. The show was inside, thank goodness. Probably had about 400-500 people there and Aaron did another great show. There were lots of civilians at this concert and one large group were the security detail. They kept trying to get us to come to their “house” after the show. They are allowed to have alcohol but on my tours, we follow the same rules as the soldiers, so we declined. Aaron signed autographs for hours and only had a couple of people left in the line when our security detail came running in and said, “We’re out of here right now”. I told them we only had a couple of photos left to take and they said, “No. There are explosions around the perimeter and we’re leaving now”. I was the first one out the door! J This particular FOB had several large palaces and several smaller buildings. The main large palace was blown up pretty good during the war and it was the palace where Saddam’s mother stayed when she visited that area. The smaller palace was being used for offices. Aaron and I stayed in a small palace where Uday and Kusay stayed when they visited and I slept in the same bedroom were Condi Rice stayed when she came over this year. Here’s the cool part…. I slept in a t-shirt that my buddy John Vigiano gave me last week when we visited his Firehouse in NYC. The t-shirt has photos of both of his sons on it – one was a fireman and one was a policemen and they lost their lives in the Twin Towers. It was pretty cool to go to bed in Saddam’s palace on Thanksgiving morning wearing that shirt! One bedroom was on one side of the palace with a huge bathroom. Then there was a huge living room and kitchen and the other bedroom/bathroom. About 8 security guys slept on the couches between mine and Aaron’s room. I was able to scam a full set of the new digital camo – pants and a shirt – from a really sweet soldier at that base! We went to midnight chow after the show and they even made me an egg white omelet. Food was excellent. I had a computer in my bedroom and was able to check email on the web. Couldn’t hook up my computer though so couldn’t send out the Road Report. L
DAY 5 – NOVEMBER 24TH: We got up early and had breakfast and then a quick tour of the base and larger palace. The soldiers had expected us to arrive early the day before and were going to let us play in the Stryker Tanks. We really regretted missing that. Our blackhawks arrived and this time I was prepared. I had on my regular clothes but I was able to put my new Desert Camo flight suit – compliments of Steve – on over my clothes. Really glad the flight suit was too big for me because it fit perfectly over my clothes and I would have FROZEN again otherwise. It was an hour flight from Camp Courage to Camp Speicher. But, I was “comfortable” in the flight suit. The wind was pretty bad though. We are so far North, that there wasn’t much to look at on the ground. Mostly desert and occasionally a house. There weren’t even any power lines to jump once we left Courage until we were almost at Speicher. I was at Speicher in December 2003 and they had NOTHING….not even a DFAC. Now we are all staying in a nice “house” with bunk beds and flushing toilets…a real luxury. They got my computer hooked up to the internet but AOL is firewalled and we haven’t been able to get around it. So many people came up to me after last night’s show and mentioned that they had not had ANY entertainment at their FOB since this past May when a country artist came over. Then they commented that the last artist should have just stayed at home. Evidently the person didn’t sing but 15 minutes and refused to sign autographs. It did not make a good impression on our U.S. Military. You will never see me bring a celebrity over who doesn’t have the passion in his/her heart for our military. The people I bring love signing autographs, talking to the troops, and boosting their morale by singing. After we got into to billeting – which is a really nice “house” with bunk beds and showers and FLUSHING toilets – we went to the flight line to look at the Apache helicopters. Aaron would have preferred to fly one instead of inspect it! From there we went to the hospital to visit the wounded. Only 3 of our guys in there and a couple of Iraqis. We also went into the Emergency Unit where a female soldier had just fallen down out at a building at the airfield. She was conscious but her face was all bloody and it looked like both of her arms were broken. She was a huge Aaron Tippin fan so he went over and talked to her and signed a photo for her. She was so embarrassed to have him see her like that but thrilled to meet him. We went by the Operations Center and then on to another Unit to see a Memorial that they made for all their fallen heroes. Last night after the show, a Chaplain came up to me and said that if everyone seemed a little “subdued”, it was because they had lost 2 of their soldiers a couple of days ago. He started crying as he was talking to me and it was really, really hard to handle. I keep jumping around in this report because I keep remembering special moments. The DFAC was beautifully decorated for Thanksgiving…except for the HUGE pig’s head with cherries stuck in the eye sockets right in front of the chow line! They had also made a big alligator out of pineapples. We spread out and sat with as many soldiers as possible. One soldier commented that he felt guilty that they had so many nice decorations when there were probably school kids who didn’t have anything. So typical of all the soldiers I meet here. The show took place in a gym and it was packed to capacity. An Air Force band was performing before us and they were really good. The crowd really enjoyed Aaron’s show. You can tell he genuinely cares about the troops. I gave out 300 photos and could easily have given out another 150 but I just don’t s have them. Have held back 300 for each of our last 3 shows. I think I must have talked to more than half the people attending the show and passed out hundreds of Happy Thanksgiving hugs to everyone. What a wonderful, wonderful Thanksgiving this has been…..except for not being able to get a phone line out to call home or get on email! J Aaron and I went to midnight chow with our escorts. The other guys had eaten before the show, so they went to bed after trying unsuccessfully to get a phone call home. I sat with a soldier who said he missed Aaron’s performance because he spent FIVE hours standing in line to use an AT&T line to call his wife for Thanksgiving. Guess that’s why we couldn’t get a call out or use the internet and that’s fine. Our families understand and it’s much more important that these men and women connect with their loved ones.
DAY 6 – NOVEMBER 25TH: We got up in time to have a quick breakfast at the DFAC and stop by the internet and telephone building so we could try to contact our families. We were supposed to depart at 10 am but the helicopters were late. No one was upset because it’s typical. They are fighting a war here and we are not and should not be the priority. Choppers finally arrived about an hour late and Aaron’s son-in-law was flying one of them. It was great to see the two of them reunite. He’s such a cute young man and of course, being a soldier, so polite. They were going to let Aaron fire the guns out over the desert at a designated shooting area. He wanted this on video which meant that Gus needed to sit in the front seat. I knew that if I sat in the back seat, I’d get sick so I asked if I could fly with the guys in the chopper carrying all the equipment. They cleared out one seat for me so I could fly with them. I had my flight suit on over my clothes again because it was still really cold. Had my “Wolf Pack – Kunsan, Korea” patch on and one of the flight crew said I’d have to change that to fly with them. He ripped his patch off, pulled mine off, and put his on me. See….easy way to get more patches! Hope it works again tomorrow. J I told the flight crew with Aaron to give them the ride of their life – since I knew I wouldn’t be on the chopper. They were in the lead, so I watched them drop out of the sky numerous times while I had a really smooth flight. The gunnar let me move up into the seat with him and gave me the gun. I didn’t realize it was so HEAVY and totally missed the “tank” which is their target in the desert. I had one more change and I hit one of the structures NEAR the tank…think I could have hit the tank on the next pass. We landed at Anaconda in Balad and everything was set up and ready for us. Dropped by DVQ and left our bags and then headed to the dining hall for lunch with the troops. I have learned to find some men and women who have FULL plates and sit with them. Otherwise, I sit down and they finish eating 5 minutes later and have to leave. Have to say the food at this DFAC was the worst we’ve had the entire trip which is surprising. Anaconda is a huge base and they have about 5 DFAC’s. We don’t care but I wish the soldiers had better food. After lunch we went to visit with some of the Air Force and take some photos with them. One of my buddies – Marc Krauss who was Chely’s escort in Korea in 2002 and who I have stayed in close contact with – is stationed here. He met us and we got to talk for a few minutes and he promised to come to the show. We then went to the hospital and visited with the wounded. It’s a really large hospital and they told us that if a soldier makes it to them, it’s a really good chance that they will be okay and will be going home. Aaron got to go into “surgery” and watch them putting a pin in the leg of one of the wounded. We then went to visit the F-16 pilots which is one of my favorite things to do because I have so many good friends who are F-16 pilots. I ran several names by the guys and found someone who knew almost everyone I mentioned. A Brigadier General came by to say hello and thank us while we were in the hangar. We made a quick stop at the Base Exchange and then back to DVQ to “rest”. I called and tried to locate the person who is now handling Operation Iraqi Freedom for Gary Sinise so I could give him a report on that project. Finally located the Major in charge and had a nice chat with him. He said that this is one of their most successful projects and that there will be a need for school supplies for the children for a very long time. Said it is impossible to send too many, so folks, go to the website www.operationiraqichildren.org and see how you can help. He told me that instead of having our U.S. Soldiers distribute the supplies, they have a huge central distribution point so that the supplies can be flown all over Iraq. They have the local Iraqis distributing the materials so that the children will become accustomed to the fact that those people are now “helping” them instead of someone to fear. The locals do tell the children that these are gifts from people in the U.S. who care about them. Love this! I was also looking for Stew Stephenson who was my first escort in Iraq in December, 2003 when I was here with Jolie and Craig Morgan. He’s stationed at Anaconda and I saw him in April when I was here with Charlie Daniels and knew he was leaving to go back home very soon. Couldn’t locate him before the show but knew he would eventually find me. We were scheduled to go over for sound check at 5:45 but at 5:30, the sirens when off which meant we had taken an incoming. Happens all the time at this particular base. They call it “mortaritaville”! We’ve had hits almost every time I’ve visited here but again, they are lousy aims! We had a visit from a Major General in the Army who is from Mississippi and he had an official with the Iraqi Police Department with him. They got into a conversation about how things are going here and it was fascinating to hear them communicate. Finally went over for sound check about an hour late. The building is an old movie theatre that Saddam had and I’ve had Danni Leigh and Chalee Tennison and Chely Wright perform there previously so I know the “layout”. We took a hit while Danni and Chalee were performing and they just put on their flak vests and helmets and finished the show. I ran over to a coffee shop to get a latte but of course, the latte machine was broken! Came back and was getting things ready for the show and Aaron asked me to do the “thank you” intros on stage. I HATE to speak in front of people. It is a little bit easier for me to speak to my soldiers but I still get really nervous and need time to pace and rehearse prior to going out there. While I was stressing out, Frankie Lumm came in to see me. He was my escort in Kuwait with Jolie and Craig in 2003. I knew he was at this base but he had emailed me and told me that he had to drive to Talil and wouldn’t be back in time to see me. Then Stew finally showed up. We had a fun “escort” reunion with my three boys. The time for me to go onstage came much too quickly and when Aaron introduced me, I got a standing ovation. That certainly didn’t help because I choked up and knew I wouldn’t be able to say anything. I remembered that someone had told me if I needed to get through a speech and was afraid I was going to be too emotional, that I should start singing a song in my mind. The only song I could think of was “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”! Don’t know where that came from! But it worked. I got through the speech without making a complete fool of myself. Then we were presented with a certificate and a plaque. When I hugged the Brigadier General from the Air Force that I had met previously, everyone started laughing. I didn’t know what had happened until afterward when some of the guys in the audience told me that he had lifted his leg up behind him when he hugged me. Gotta’ love those Air Force boys. Aaron got a standing ovation, as he should. I love sitting through his shows and watching the audience interact with him. He did a little VIP meet and greet after the show and then signed autographs for over 300 of the men and women in the audience. After the show, my 3 escorts went with us to midnight chow and then I came back and FINALLY got on the internet – first time since we had left Speicher. Bed by 2 am and up at 6 am….normal routine.
Day 7 – November 26th:We had breakfast “catered” in at our lodging and then left for the helicopters. I asked the “equipment” chopper if I could fly with them again so some of the other guys could have a chance to sit up front. They cleared out a seat for me. It was only a 35 minute flight and very smooth except for the one time they did this countdown thing and then flipped the chopper from side to side. This is a Marine base with the Navy handling the medical facilities. We are staying in a building instead of a tent and I have my own room. This was used as a terrorist training camp when Saddam was in power. We went to the DFAC for lunch and I sat with a couple of guys who are with the transportation unit that we were going to visit after lunch. I told them Aaron wanted to blow up something and they were going to see what they could do. After lunch, their area was the first stop on the tour. We saw all the new amour plating that is being used on the humvees and helicopters. MUCH, MUCH better for our men and women. They thought they had something he could blow up but were never able to get the approval. We visited the hospital after that and as we were walking in, the man who was introduced to us as being the person who would conduct the tour asked Aaron what type of blood he had. Aaron told him he didn’t know and the sailor said that someone had taken a turn for the worse in the operation room and they needed O+ blood. Our escort volunteered but the sailor also still wanted Aaron. As they were walking away, I called a halt to Aaron’s participation. I just didn’t want to take any risks with him when we still have 2 shows to do. After we got inside the medical facility, we were told that they no longer needed the blood, which means they lost the patient. It was not a soldier but a local Iraqi. We got to visit the engineering unit and see some of the weapons that have been confiscated and some that our soldiers are currently using. I got to hold this HUGE gun/missle launcher. After all the touring, we went to the main base exchange (very tiny) and signed autographs and took photos with everyone. Aaron did a quick sound check and then everyone had about 2 hours to rest. I decided to take a shower. The escort had walked me over earlier to show me where the latrines were located. But, it was very dark and I go so lost. A marine finally came up to me as I was wandering around in the dark and asked if I was lost. He gave me directions to the showers and I had the entire building to myself…very unusual. When I came back to our building, there were some guys grilling outside. They invited me to have chicken or steaks with them but I didn’t have time before the show. The show was indoor in a sort of amphitheatre setting. It was FULL again. Aaron did a great, high energy performance for them and signed a little over 300 autographed photos. Aaron and I had not eaten so we were planning to go to midnight chow but we had about one hour to “kill” before going. I walked over to the “rotunda’ next door to us to check my email before going to dinner. There was a group of guys sitting around playing poker and smoking cigars. They asked me to join them and I started talking to them. Of course, they were Special Forces. I don’t know how I’m always able to hook up with Special Forces no matter where I go. I am just a magnet for those guys. Turns out, it was the same guys who were grilling outside my building before the show. I got the rest of the guys and we hung out with them for quite a while and ate pizza. MUCH better than the food at the DFAC! We stayed with them until about midnight and then everyone went to bed. Have to be up and ready for breakfast by 8:30 am.
Day 8 – November 27th:My days (and nights) are so busy that I don’t have time to write any of my reports until the next morning. So much happens that I then leave out a lot of the good stuff! Let’s see, we got up at Camp Fallujah and had breakfast. Besides being a “magnet” for the Special Ops guys, my second victim is always a Chaplain! I sat down at a table with several guys to share breakfast with them and of course, one was a Chaplain. Had a nice conversation with all of them but watched my “p’s and q’s”. Our choppers arrived on time and they didn’t do a very good job of loading the one with all our gear. Didn’t leave a seat for me so I had to fly with the guys and they had already loaded by the time I figured this out. I had to sit in the back (where I definitely get sick) but at least I was facing forward. I knew it was going to be a wild ride because we were flying from Fallujah to Baghdad and I was NOT disappointed. Thankfully, it was only a 10 minute flight. When we landed, I was advised that there was a problem with my room….everyone else was fine, but there had been a medical emergency the night before and someone took my room. They were hoping that it would open back up later in the day. We went to the DFAC for lunch and then went shopping at the Bazaar. The main base exchange was closed for some reason today. When we were at a camp the other day, me and the guys were laughing at this lavender “teddy” that was for sale. They were going to buy me one at this camp if the exchange had been open. Dodged that bullet! Afterwards, we went to sign some autographs and take photos at Camp Victory. After that, they took us on a tour of the Palace on the Lake. I’ve seen it numerous times but was amazed by the “renovation” this trip. It is just so “grand” and everyone is always impressed by it. We took photos in the “throne chair” again! J After that, we went to Camp Slayer – which is still within the “compound” but a very small camp. We signed autographs in their MWR facility for about an hour. I like being able to get to the remote sites. Did our sound check and had a couple of hours for the guys to rest while I answered my hundreds of emails that have been accumulating over the past few days. Again, the show had the largest crowd I’ve ever seen. It was very chilly because it was outside but the soldiers didn’t think it was very cool at all. They are so accustomed to the 120 degree heat that the 50’s are heaven to them. I was worried about having enough photos for Aaron to sign because we have given out so many at all the other shows. We barely had enough to take care of the entire line. Then people started coming up and getting in line long after I had distributed all that I had. I gave them the EZscore Cards and wrist bands instead. While Aaron was performing, I met a really nice soldier who is here for 6 months. He gave me and all the guys one of his coins which is definitely the way straight to my heart. Finished up the autograph session in about 1 ½ hours and then stopped by a mini-exchange for the guys to make some last minute purchases. We then went to midnight chow and I had just gotten my food when our MWR escort came up to me and said that I had to take off my jacket. It’s a DCU that a soldier gave me in 2003 and I’ve worn it this entire trip. She said that the rule is that a civilian cannot wear a military uniform unless we wear the entire uniform (pants and shirt). Evidently, it was a Haliburton employee who complained. So I took it off which I’m sure also didn’t make them happy. Still had on my show clothes — low cut sweater with the shoulders cut out of it! Ha!!! When we started to leave, I noticed that Aaron had on his DCU pants. I told him he was lucky they didn’t make him take his pants off! LOL. Came back to the room to work until 2 am this morning on emails! I have to say that we have had some really terrific escorts at every base we visited. They took such good care of us that it became embarrassing. We are not accustomed to having anyone constantly asking us if we need anything. Again, we met the finest men and women in the world. I was so impressed by how focused they are and how much they believe in their mission here. There are so many signs of progress and they all truly believe that these people will be able to live as a free, democratic country. I didn’t find any soldiers who were even aware of the “vote” that took place in Congress regarding bringing them home. They are all so disgusted with the news media, that they simply do not watch the coverage on tv any more. Every tour, I say the same thing…”This was the best tour I’ve ever done”! J Will really be depressed if I don’t get to come over here for Christmas this year! We depart Baghdad to Kuwait via C-130 at noon (hopefully) today. Jude
Day 9 and 10 – November 28th-29th: Didn’t get in bed in time to get up and work out, plus we have to put our bags out by 9 am. Was able to answer a few emails before we left, at least. Our plane was AGAIN delayed…imagine that! But, we’re going on a C-17 instead of a C-130 which will be twice as fast. We were supposed to depart at noon and they told us it would be 3 pm. So, the Air Force set up a little “meet and greet” in the terminal for Aaron to sign autographs and take photos. They also took him outside and let him drive one of the new armored humvees around the parking lot. Then we went to visit the security forces, have lunch in their private DFAC and visit the hospital. We met a soldier who had been shot in the leg last night and talked to him for quite a while. After he walked off, our escort told us that he was very lucky because his two buddies who were with him got killed in the same gunfight last night. Sure hope this kid is going to be okay. We took Aaron over to where they were pouring the concrete for a new basketball gym and fitness center. He got to help with the concrete and I got to put one of my coins in the cement floor. So cool! At about 1:00 pm, we got a frantic call from the terminal saying our C-17 was on the ground and waiting for us. We rushed to get our bags and get on board. The plane was PACKED with soldiers going home. It was great. The little 21 year old soldier that I sat next to said that the minute I walked on the plane, everyone’s head snapped up because they NEVER get to smell perfume. How sweet is that? I went up on the flight deck once we got airborne (take off was quite the “treat”!) and met the flight crew. Handed out goodies all around and brought Aaron up to meet everyone. He stayed up there until after we landed. They had a little female soldier on the flight deck, too. They said that they select the lowest ranking soldier on the flight and let them stay on the flight deck the entire flight. That’s the first time I’ve heard of any air crews doing that and I think it is so wonderful for them to do that for our troops. What a special treat! We found out after we landed that the soldiers had been sitting on the airplane waiting for us for 20 minutes. We had no idea that we even had a plane on the ground. We all felt so bad and wish we had known while we were on the plane so we could have apologized. We would NEVER make a soldier wait on us for any reason…especially not when they are trying to get home. Arrived at the Radisson and they have upgraded me to the Presidential Suite…of course I’ll only be in it for about 4 hours before we fly home. Not even going to get to sleep in the huge bed. But, I got to “run around” in the huge shower stall and shave my legs. My, how I miss the “small” things when I’m “camping” in Iraq! I gave my Suite to Josh – our military escort – so he can spend the night in it. He deserves it. He’s been in Iraq for 10 months and goes home in January. Plus, he’s had to deal with me all of those 10 months! J Took everyone to dinner in the nice restaurant in the hotel and gave each of them a little “gift” from my company. Then they gave me a special little gift and I had them autograph it. My friend, Suleiman from the production company, came by to see me at the hotel before we departed. He had supplied us with the 3 speakers when ours were delayed by the airlines. The speakers that KLM lost were at the hotel when we arrived today. Now I get to FIGHT with KLM about reimbursement! Left for the airport at 10 pm for a 1:40 am flight and it will take every minute of it to get checked in. The Kuwait airport is a nightmare. The baggage handlers REFUSE to go downstairs and get the large luggage carts. So we ended up with NINE skycaps for our 28 pieces. You should have seen the “processional” through the airport. And, of course, I have to tip each one individually. But I was prepared for it and had plenty of U.S. dollars. We finally got in line and a supervisor came over to tell me that he was going to waive the fee on the 3 pieces of luggage that did not arrive on our inbound flight. But, when we got up to the counter to check in, the ticket agent said that the 3 business class passengers could only check 2 bags each instead of 3. I told her that we were allowed to check 3 pieces from Nashville and that the Northwest website also states that World Business Class can check 2 pieces weighing up to 70 pounds plus 1 piece weighing up to 40 pounds. We were well within that limit! We argued back and forth and finally ended up with a different supervisor who allowed us to do this. Still cost me $1,500 for 10 pieces of excess! Got ready to go to the gate and realized that NONE of the business class passengers had boarding passes from Detroit to Nashville. They told us to just get one at the “transfer counter” in Detroit – only Detroit doesn’t have a transfer counter. So, I had to fight to try and get that resolved! I was finally able to pick up the boarding passes at our gate but they had moved all of out of the original seats we had reserved. I was in a bulkhead window – my worst nightmare as far as seating on an airplane. Going to try and change this in Amsterdam. Flight was uneventful and I slept most of the way. We landed in Amsterdam and our gate where we landed was very close to the gate we were departing from. Took the guys to buy some chocolate and I purchased some stroopwaffles. Tried to change my seats for the Detroit/Nashville portion but Amsterdam couldn’t do it. Our flight was 30 minutes late departing Amsterdam for Detroit and I KNEW we would never make our connection to Nashville. When we were walking onto the plane, one of the pilots recognized Aaron and talked to us. They brought us up to the flight deck for a few minutes before we departed. The entire crew was very nice to us during the trip. When I realized that we were going to be in trouble, I asked the Purser if there was any way we would make the connection. He asked if I had requested “VIP SERVICES”. I had no idea that service was available but evidently it is anytime there is a celebrity group traveling and part of the group flies business class. From now on, I will definitely request that service. He radioed Detroit and someone met us at the door of the plane, walked us through the “crew” line at immigration, had two skycaps meet us in baggage claim, whisked us through customs, and then handled re-checking our luggage/equipment for us! There is no way we would have made our connection without this assistance. When we boarded the plane to Nashville, the pilot announced that Aaron was on board and had been over in Iraq performing for our troops. He said that he was especially thankful for Aaron’s service because he has a son currently serving in Iraq! I was unable to change my seat in Detroit because first class was totally full, but Jason traded placed with me. I was sitting next to a really nice man who was a medical supply salesman. He finally admitted that he sells botox….couldn’t bring myself to ask for “samples”! J We talked most of the flight about our troops. Landed in Nashville and ALL our baggage and gear made it. I am already feeling a little depressed as I always do when one of these trips is finished. I always think we should have somehow been able to do more…reach more troops…visit more bases, etc. I know it’s not possible because we were only getting 3-4 hours sleep per night as it was. It’s just hard to come back to Nashville and focus on all the “day to day” work. When we’re over there, we all feel like we are making a difference in so many lives. We keep telling the troops that we honestly get more of a blessing out of the visits than they do! Now I have to start seriously concentrating on getting back over there for Christmas! Jude