Once again, Country Music Star, Aaron Tippin travels to Southwest Asia to visit, entertain and boost the moral of our troops serving in the War on Terrorism. Aaron and his band will be spending their Thanksgiving with the troops in Afghanistan performing 4 shows and visiting several remote camps throughout the day. Last year, Aaron spent Thanksgiving in Iraq.
“Those are the real workin’ men and women, and if I can repay even an ounce of what they are doing for me, my family, and my country by taking their mind off of the day-to-day risks…well, I can’t think of a better thing to do with my time,” Aaron said earlier today. “They have been fighting for the rights we take for granted every day, and I want to make sure they know we’re thankful.” – Aaron Tippin, Country Artist
DAY ONE AND TWO – SATURDAY AND SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 18TH AND 19TH:
Today I fly to Kuwait with Aaron Tippin and his musicians/crew to entertain our troops in Kuwait and Afghanistan over the Thanksgiving Holidays. This is Aaron’s second Thanksgiving tour with me – last year we went to Iraq.
Let me give you a little history on this tour. Everything was all set for us to take his full band into Afghanistan – not an easy accomplishment because of the difficulty of getting production into the area. Then about 2 weeks before we were due to depart several of the musicians decided not to go. We lost the bass player, keyboards, fiddle, and pedal steel. Fortunately, several of the guys who were still going in Aaron’s crew could also play instruments. So now we have electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, and drums with Aaron also playing guitar plus one sound tech. I am using Coaxial out of Kuwait again for my production, and they are sending 2 of their techs with us. They are a really GREAT production company.
So, big sigh of relief that we were able to hold it together and the troops will still have entertainment for Thanksgiving. Actually, that was not a real concern as Aaron was going even if it was just me, him and his guitar! Then last Wednesday, I got a voice mail on my cell phone from Gus – Aaron’s production guy – and I could tell from his voice that something was seriously wrong. I was reluctant to call him back and was braced for the worst. When I called him, he mumbled for a few minutes and then said, “I just need to know when we’re leaving”! I told him paybacks are hell and he is on my list.
Aaron always insists that everyone arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before flight time. That’s really a lot too early, but it’s fine with me. I had my daughter take me and my 5 duffels (full of t-shirts and photos for the troops!) to the departure area and I was going to get a skycap to go down to the parking level to Aaron’s bus to pick up their luggage and gear. My daughter forgot to bring the t-shirts that we had held out of the duffels for the guys flying today, so she dropped me off and went back to my house (15 minutes away) to get them.
I got a call on my cell phone from Aaron’s road manager saying they were downstairs but that a couple of the guys had forgotten their passports and had to go back home to get them. I was praying one of the guys wasn’t Aaron because he lives about an hour from the airport. Plus he never does anything like that. Well, this time, he did. And the other person lived even farther away than him. Thankfully because Aaron insisted that we arrive 2 hours early, if they broke all speed limits, there was a chance they would get back in time to make the flight.
I got everyone else checked in and we were standing around just “waiting”. United wouldn’t let me check the luggage in for the others even though I had their tickets, luggage and a copy of their passports. While we were waiting, I noticed a cameraman and a man with a News Channel Two jacket on filming people in the airport. I went over and asked them what they were doing and they said, “Oh you know. Slow news night. So we’re just out here filming people.” And I said, “Boy is this your lucky night. That is Aaron Tippin and he is on his way to Afghanistan to entertain the troops for Thanksgiving”. J So, they interviewed him and it will air on the news tonight. My daughter had her stepdaughter with her and when they started to film Aaron, she ran up behind him to get in the shot too. We were laughing at her for wanting to be on TV. Then the cameraman came over to talk to me and she ran up and said, “That’s my grandmother”. The reporter said, “Grandmother? Now that doesn’t seem right!”….Thank God! J She KNOWS not to call me a grandmother. We have had that discussion many times. Today she told me that when she talks about my trips at her school, she tells the students that I am her Grandmother BUT she makes sure they know that I’d don’t look old or wear clothes like a Grandmother. How funny is that? She was really excited because I’ve decided to take my son, daughter, son-in-law and her on a short cruise right before Christmas. I told her she’s off the cruise now. LOL! Lindsey left to go email photos of Aaron with the troops from last year’s tour to Channel Two and they will include it in the show tonight. How about that!
We kept calling to see where the guys were with the passports and then the people at the counter told me that they could not accept the luggage after 30 minutes before flight time. They BARELY made it and I was in a panic that the bags wouldn’t make it on the plane. Then they started PAGING me and the others to come to the gate for immediate boarding. I rushed to security and one of the guys took his computer out of his bag to send it through but left the computer case. I saw the red tag on it and said “Give me that”! We cleared security (except for the bottle of water that I forgot to throw away in my panic and RAN all the way to the gate. I couldn’t figure out why we were being paged because when we got on the plane, we still had 20 minutes until our scheduled departure time. The flight attendants were super nice and said they didn’t know why we were being rushed to the plane either.
There were two empty seats in the tiny first class cabin (the plane had one seat on the left and 2 seats on the right) and the flight attendant said we could bring two of our guys up. We picked Dave because he had driven like a madman to take Aaron’s wife back to his house to get his passport and Gus because I wanted to start the “pay back”. When Gus came up front, we let him think that he had something “questionable” in his checked luggage and was going to have to get off the plane. He only bought into it for a few minutes. They also upgraded the only person on the plane in the military – a little sailor going back to his ship – the Roosevelt. He hasn’t been at sea yet but goes out in August to Spain, Italy and Turkey.
I sat by a really nice man who lives in DC and works with computers at the Defense Department. We talked the entire flight about our frustrations with what the media is reporting. The flight attendant gave all of us a “box lunch” that you usually have to buy for the long flight to Kuwait. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that Aaron and I are in business class. She also told the guys that there was no alcohol on the flight to Kuwait. I didn’t think she was right but had to check. We had less than an hour layover, so I ran for the gate to see if our luggage/equipment was going to make it and check on the alcohol comment. The guys ran to the bar!
There is definitely alcohol on the flight; our luggage/equipment is supposedly on the flight AND since I am a “1K” flyer on United (whatever that is!), I have these things called segment upgrades. It means if there is space available, I can upgrade one class of service for free even on international flights. So, they upgraded me from business to first. Now, I’ve flown ONCE in first on United and it is amazing. There is this little “desk” in front of the seat. The seat lays flat and there is a pad inside the desk cubbyhole where your feet go so it is just like being in a bed! United upgraded me and Chalee Tennison several years ago when we were flying back from entertaining the troops in Iraq. I wasn’t even sleepy on that flight but couldn’t resist trying out the “bed”. It was wonderful.
Only problem was, there was no way I was going to move up from business to first and leave Aaron in business. So, they let me use one of my segments and upgrade him, too. Of course, when we got on, the ONLY baby on the entire plane was right across from us and he/she was screaming!
I had a message a couple of days ago that the weather is bad in Afghanistan and we may be “grounded” in the first city we fly into….if we can even get in there. Hope they will send us into Iraq if we can’t get into Afghanistan.
This direct flight from Dulles (DC) to Kuwait and back is new and it is awesome. I expected it to be full of the troops but there weren’t any on it.
Yesterday, we were told the flight was full and today when we got on, it was less than half full. United said that the flight is still profitable because they make their money on cargo that is being flown over to the troops!
The food sure is better in first class than even in business class. No turbulence at all on the flight. We landed and our visas were waiting for us at the Customs desk – thank you Radisson Hotel. All of our luggage and gear made it and I managed to keep the number of skycaps down to 5. They only have the little carts like we use at the airport in the U.S. so there are usually about 2 dozen men ready to pounce because they all want to carry one bag and they all want a tip! Our escorts from Kuwait were waiting for us and told me that the “boss” Clayton Bovey – who I have known for years – is ill again. They said that he’s been getting sick every time I come to Kuwait. Guess I’m bad luck for him. Or maybe he’s faking to avoid me. And I thought he liked me. J
Hotel was definitely ready for us and gave me a nice suite which I certainly don’t need. All I need is my laptop and an internet connection. I took the boys out to dinner in the restaurant which has a fabulous buffet. I think that 3 of the guys may never have been out of the country before. One guy wanted to know what the green things were and I explained that they were stuffed grape leaves. He tried one and said it tasted like varnish! Oh well, he’ll love the greasy fried food on the bases.
I walked Aaron over to the Starbucks which is next door to the hotel and he got a cup of decaf. Then I showed him the fabulous gym they have at the hotel. Came back to my room to answer emails. When I landed our escorts told me that a Colonel who used to be here was under investigation and that he was here under “lock up”. He was a fabulous Commander, so I wanted to know the truth. I emailed his wife and she said it was all just RUMORS. Unbelievable how these things can take on a life of their own. Just happy to know that he isn’t in trouble!
Aaron called for me to come help him install SKYPE on his computer. We spent about an hour getting it set up and then realized he can’t charge to his credit card from Kuwait on their system! So, we’ll work through that tomorrow. My microphone has decided to quit working in my laptop, so I have to deal with that now….
It is after midnight and I’m going to shower and get in the bed. We don’t have to leave for our first show tomorrow until 1 pm. We will be performing at Camp Buerhring which is near the Iraq Border, about a 2 hour drive from here. Below is information on the camp.
Excited to be here and ready to get to the troops!
Camp Udairi, 15 miles from the Iraq border, has served as the staging and training base for tens of thousands of Iraq-bound troops. Since opening in January, 2003, it has been a busy hub for Army Apache, Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The Army’s permanent aviation base camp in Kuwait has been renamed in memory of an officer who died in a rocket attack last fall on the Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters in Baghdad. In a brief ceremony attended by about 50 people on 08 May 2004, Camp Udairi was renamed Camp Buehring in honor of Lt. Col. Charles H. “Chad” Buehring, who had been the senior psychological operations officer in Iraq at the time of his death. A monument and plaque memorializing Buehring were dedicated as part of the event.
Buehring, 40, of Winter Springs, Fla., was a 1985 graduate of The Citadel and served 18 years in the Army, according to a biography posted on the Web site www.arlingtoncemetery.net. He served in the U.S. Army Special Forces and had been working with Iraqi media in Baghdad to publicize the work of coalition troops.
Buehring was killed Oct. 26, 2003, when a guerrilla’s rocket struck his 11th floor room at the Al Rasheed Hotel, home to many officers and soldiers who work at CPA headquarters. He was buried three weeks later at Arlington National Cemetery in a funeral attended by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who had been staying one floor above Buehring at the hotel when the attack occurred.
Camp Buehring is a US Army facility set in the Kuwait desert that is packed with morale and recreation facilities that could rival some US bases. For all the benefits here though, Camp Buehring is still a desert camp, far from home and the friends and families of these Marines and Sailors. A fully-stocked exchange, several phone centers, an internet café, a coffee house, gym facilities, Burger King and a 24-hour Pizza Inn are just a few of the amenities here topping the Marines’ “favorites list.”
However the one favorite nearly everyone agrees on is the dining facility where meals like steak and lobster are not uncommon. The chow-hall, as the Marines call it, is one of the largest facilities on the camp and is capable of serving several thousand troops at every meal. Though the line nearly always extends several hundred feet beyond the entrance, six fast-moving food lines ensure the Marines and Sailors never wait to long to eat.
But services at Camp Buehring obviously go well beyond these basics. Marines enjoy the video-chat services offered at the Internet Café. For five dollars an hour, a Marine can get a computer with a high-speed connection, a webcam and headphones and then connect with a friend or loved one at home, providing they have the same capability.
A unique challenge to Camp Buehring’s surge-related activities is its distinction as one of Kuwait’s few enduring camps, meaning it’s slated to sustain operations for many years. This forces the camp’s command cell staff to continue big picture operations, such as completing important infrastructure upgrades, while still maintaining the camp’s immediate role as one of Kuwait’s largest transient camps.
Heavy-equipment transporters loaded with M1-A1 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles sat in about a dozen single-file lines on a sandy staging area 23 October 2004 at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. An array of 30 or 40 more vehicles dotted the horizon, awaiting the rest of the trucks slated to carry them into battle.
The 256th Brigade Combat Team, sometimes called the “Tiger Brigade,” is the first unit in the third rotation of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Dubbed OIF ’04-’06 by the Pentagon to mark the years the first and last units of the rotation respectively deploy and redeploy, this installment is a leap forward, officials said, in the complex reception, staging and onward integration, or RSOI process of units passing through Kuwait on their trip up north.
Most Soldiers with the 256th, an enhanced separate brigade made up of various Louisiana National Guard units and select Guard units from New York, Wisconsin, Minnesota and other places, were probably unaware of the problems with past OIF rotations. They weren’t around for the long lines, broken cots and other inconveniences that plagued the troops who came before them. They are, however, the first beneficiaries of a number of improvements affecting troops making the transition from Kuwait to Iraq.
The Soldiers lauded the camp’s air-conditioned billets and generous portions of food served up at the dining facility. Staff Sgt. Stanley Shavers Jr., a 256th tank commander, even joked that the unit’s time in Kuwait has been a little too easy.
Hull Technicians from USS Emory S. Land (AS 39 ) joined forces with their Army counterparts in Kuwait to up-armor combat vehicles in January 2005. The 15 Sailors volunteered to assist the Army in the pre-cutting of ballistic steel sheets fashioned into doors and panels and other parts to up-armor vehicles, primarily High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs).
DAY THREE – NOVEMBER 20TH:
After 4 hours of sleep, up to hit the gym. Great gym here. Then had breakfast with my boys, showered, answered email for two hours and met in the lobby.
We departed the Radisson Hotel at 1 pm for our 2 hour drive to Camp Buehring – only 10 miles from the Iraqi Border. Arrived a few minutes early after a JARRING ride down dirt roads to get to the Camp. Had blacktop most of the way but several miles of potholes on the dirt roads. There were sheep and camels wandering along beside the road. Then, you would see beautiful multi-level homes, either already occupied or being built. We also saw tents pitched and were told that sometimes the Kuwaiti’s will “camp out” like that to remind them of their “roots”. As you know, since the Gulf War when we gave them back their oil, no “Kuwaiti” has to work. They live on a government subsidy from the oil money. Anyone working in Kuwait is from another country – mostly from India, Philippines, Malaysia.
The base has really built up since I was there in December, 2003. They have built a nice, big, permanent stage with an air-conditioned green room attached. No need for air-conditioning today. I had to wear my flight jacket. Wind was really strong but died down when the sun went down.
We all stopped by and checked out the stage then Aaron and I plus his drummer (turned videographer) went to meet with the Commander. The Commander was on two weeks leave to visit his family in the U.S. but we met with Lt. Col. Baldy and about 30 other troops stationed at this Camp. They had a terrific slide show presentation for us. We learned that this is a huge Camp but it does not have its own water or electricity supply. There are 9,000 (yes nine thousand) “contractors” who come in each day bringing supplies including 900,000 gallons of water per day! Everyone has to take “combat” showers (which I have done many times). You get in, get wet, turn off the water, soap up, turn on the water, rinse, turn off the water and jump out. ‘Cause if you run out of water, you’re out until the next day!!! All the electricity is provided by generators and they have huge lights strategically placed throughout the Camp. But where there isn’t a light nearby, it is the darkest dark you’ve ever seen…like being in a cave. Everyone has to wear these florescent straps so they can be seen at night. Because it is such a transient base, the number “living” here varies every day. They have 3 huge Dining Facilities plus several fast food restaurants – Burger King and Green Beans Coffee are open 24 hours, plus a Subway, Baskin Robbins, bad Chinese food J and several other places.
As shown in last night’s report, the troops that are deploying to Iraq come to this Camp first for training. They could be here for a few days or several weeks. They also have a Humvee Simulator which simulates a humvee turning over and teaches them what to do and how to get out. Lt. Col. Baldy said that it has saved many lives already.
After the presentation, Aaron took photos with everyone and signed over 100 photos. We were all presented with beautiful certificates thanking us for our support. As if “WE” are the ones who need to be thanked. Last time I looked, we don’t have to ration our water, wear a strap at night because there are no street lights or be taught how to get out of an overturned humvee!
We went to the DFAC (dining facility for you civilians!) and had chow (dinner in this case). It was disappointing because one of the highlights of ever day for me is sharing a meal with the troops and getting to know them. The DFAC wasn’t open when we had chow, so we all sat together with our MWR escorts.
The show started right on time and there were approximately 2,000 men and women crowding as close as possible to the stage and singing along with Aaron. The hotel had given me a huge bottle of what looked like champagne but turned out to be sparkling grape juice. Aaron had me take it with us so he could make the troops think he was drinking champagne. You know that there is NO alcohol allowed in Kuwait, right? He couldn’t remember the song where he wanted me to bring it on stage so I was trying to listen for his “cue”. I was backstage sorting through the t-shirts when he said, “I sure am thirsty. Wish I had something to drink”. I panicked trying to find the bottle and made a wild dash for the stage. Only I forgot there is a step up to get out the backstage door and almost fell flat on my face. Made it to the stage and the roar from the crowd when he popped it open and drank from it was deafening. I thought they might drag him off the stage to take it away from him!
He had such a great show. I walked around and talked to some of the men and women and they were all so appreciative that he was there. He signed autographs for everyone in line which was almost 400 people. I know because I tear the photos off the autograph pads and give them to everyone in line. That’s my way of getting to speak to everyone and learn a little about them. Met several National Guardsmen from my home state – Alabama and a few people from my adopted State of Tennessee. We finished up the autograph session and went by Burger King for Aaron to get something to eat. He didn’t eat before the show with the rest of us. I went to Green Beans for coffee and there was a sweet little female soldier buying coffee too. I paid for her coffee as well and she seemed so surprised. We do little things like this that seem so insignificant to us but really make a difference to these wonderful men and women protecting our freedom.
We were back at the hotel by midnight and I actually got Aaron’s SKYPE mail working so he can call home on his computer. Of course, my office worked on this from their end all day today and of course, my microphone still doesn’t work in my computer.
Tomorrow we fly to Afghanistan. I can’t mention the name of the Camp until after we leave the area for security purposes. Depending upon our lodging, I may or may not have access to email. If you don’t hear from me, everyone have a WONDERFUL THANKSGIVING and please know that we will be giving out lots of Thanksgiving Day hugs to our troops in Afghanistan on your behalf.
DAY FOUR – NOVEMBER 21ST:
We all met in the lobby at 10:45 am – excited to be heading to Afghanistan. It was about a one hour drive to the Air Base in Kuwait and as we were clearing the gate, our escort received a phone call that our flight had been diverted and we would not be leaving at 2:45 but more like 6:00 pm. Happens all the time, so it didn’t come as much of a surprise. Then when we arrived at the passenger terminal, we were told that there were NO flights to Afghanistan today and we would have to wait until tomorrow. That was obviously not acceptable to me unless we exhausted every option on how to get us there. The troops in Afghanistan refer to themselves as “the forgotten war” because they rarely receive celebrity entertainment. It is extremely difficult – travel-wise – to get into Afghanistan not to mention the nightmare of having to fly in ALL the production and backline. But, our troops have been told that Aaron Tippin is coming to perform for them over the Thanksgiving Holidays and by God, we were determined to not disappoint them!
When I questioned WHY there was no aircraft anywhere that could take us to Afghanistan, I was told that the weather was bad in Afghanistan and no planes were being allowed to land. That did not ring true with me because I have checked the weather for Afghanistan EVERY DAY. Before we departed Nashville, we had been warned that they were having a lot of rain and that we might be “grounded” at the main base when we arrived. So, I have checked the weather daily and this morning, the internet confirmed that it was partly cloudy and in the 50’s.
We took the guys to the DFAC for lunch while our MWR rep continued to try and find a solution to our predicament. Afterwards, Aaron went to Navy Customs to sign autographs. I quizzed our MWR rep on WHO told him the weather was bad in Afghanistan. I finally insisted that he take me somewhere with a DSN line so that I could call Afghanistan myself. Once that happened, I confirmed that the weather was fine – partly cloudy and in the 50’s.
I had mentioned to Aaron earlier that day that we should watch the sky at around 2:45 pm and if a C-17 took off, it was probably ours leaving without us. Just like clockwork –at 2:40 pm, a C-17 took off. Coincidence? We will never know. It was an extremely frustrating day.
The Radisson where we had been staying but had checked out earlier today, was sold out for the night. We finally found rooms at the Hilton. They still had my name in their system from when I was here in June of 2003 with the first group of entertainers to come in since the war began. Because we have a call time of 3:30 AM tomorrow, Aaron wanted to eat and go to bed. The hotel restaurant didn’t open until 7 pm, so our escorts drove us all to Applebee’s. I was “skeptical” but it was remarkably like Applebee’s food in the U.S. We had a quick dinner and returned to the hotel.
Going to try and sleep a couple of hours now and give everyone a wakeup call at 3 am. Keep your fingers crossed. We NEED to get to Afghanistan tomorrow because there is a chance we can still keep our original performance schedule and not have to disappoint anyone.
DAY FIVE – NOVEMBER 22ND:
By the way, when we got stuck in Kuwait, normally I would have insisted that they set up a performance for us at one of the other camps. However, all our equipment, guitars and even our autograph sheets had been palletized and taken to a secure area where we did not have access to getting them back. We didn’t even have autograph sheets just to do a meet and greet. PLUS, the guys were only going to get a couple of hours sleep before we had to go to the airfield again.
I got up at 2 am to dress, check out and get the guys going. I was DETERMINED to get us to Afghanistan today. We arrived at the passenger terminal and this time I handled the check-in. We were told that our flight would be arriving as scheduled and we would depart at 9:00. But we were required to attend a briefing at 6:15 am. I KNEW that we should not be in that terminal and attending that briefing. Protocol always sets us up in the DV Lounge and gives us our briefing. I insisted that our MWR rep call Protocol and get them involved. I was amazed that they had not already been told of our visit. When we were walking over to eat breakfast, I overheard one of our escorts saying that our flight yesterday was NOT canceled – EXACTLY AS I THOUGHT. There was no bad weather in Afghanistan and our flight left Kuwait right on time – without us. The flight crew had even thrown people off the plane to make room to accommodate the “MWR” group. Then we were listed as “no-shows”. The C-17 we saw taking off at 2:35 pm was our flight! I was so angry I could have chewed nails in half. If MWR had taken us to the DV Lounge as they always do, we would have arrived Afghanistan as scheduled.
After breakfast and our briefing, the Protocol Officer showed up. He apologized and said he was not even aware that we were there. Then he asked what he could do and I told him, get us on the plane NOW before the other 90 people and all the pallets go on because I want to be SURE we get to Afghanistan. No problem. He drove us out to the flight line and I took t-shirts and coins to the C-17 flight crew and thanked them for giving us a ride. They allowed us to hang out with them for about 1 ½ hours until they were fueled up and ready to go. The flight crew was from Charleston, SC and Aaron is from SC,so they hit it off immediately. Such a great group of guys. Brock, Bill, Pete, Travis, Jules, Sam, and John — 816 EAS out of Al Udeid! By the way, we are flying to Baghram, AB today.
I had a few more minutes of stress because the flight crew thought we were their ONLY passengers. They were surprised to learn that there were about 90 more passengers plus our 2 pallets of gear/luggage and 3 humvees. There was discussion that we were going to be bumped or that our pallets would not make it. Again, not an option. They finally settled on leaving one of the humvees behind.
The flight crew invited Aaron and I to sit on the flight deck with them during the flight. Since Aaron is a helicopter and fixed wing pilot, he loved it. I saw the “islands” that they are building off the coast of Dubai. They are building these with sand in the ocean and they will be shaped like the map of the world. Oprah has purchased one already. Supposedly in 2010, the oil will be gone in Dubai and they are looking to tourism to pick up the loss.
We were delayed by an hour when we were departing because of air traffic. We made up for a little time in air because of a good tail wind. Our flight crew doesn’t even get to rest. They have to fly some wounded troops to Landstuhl, Germany as soon as we de-plane. I had planned to sleep on the 4 hour flight but ended up chatting with the flight crew instead.
We landed at Baghram AB and were met by our escorts for the tour of Afghanistan. We were going to be taking a one-hour C-130 flight from Baghram to Camp Salerno in a few hours. We were supposed to play that Camp tonight and so far the only thing we have missed was our remote visit to Camp Chapman.
We had some lunch/dinner at the food court and then went over to wait for our C-130 flight. While we were waiting, a soldier came up and introduced himself to us. We were talking to him and he rolled up his sleeve to show us his arm. He was an amputee! His arm and hand looked so real and he could even shake our hands. It was amazing and made me so happy to see him back in the area. All of the men and women we meet at Walter Reed, Bethesda, and Landstuhl have one goal in mind – to stay in the military and go back to their “boys” defending OEF and OIF and finish the job. I asked him if he had difficulty convincing the Army to let him stay in and he said it had been a major fight with the Pentagon. But he was there and doing his job and he was even Special Forces!
Flight to Camp Salerno was short and we did the combat landing. Think it caught our “new” guys off-guard when we started banking and dropping out of the sky. We met our MWR reps as soon as we landed and they said that about 900 people had been waiting since 6 pm for us to land. It was 8:30 then and I knew it would take at least an hour to set up the stage. We dropped our bags off at lodging –which were long building with rows of cots. I was at this camp last September with Chely Wright, Dave Price, and Joey Gilbert. The lodging they gave us this time was definitely not as nice as we had then. When we were here before, we performed outside right beside their gym. They have now built a nice stage with dressing rooms attached. It rained here last week and since there is no drainage, there is still mud everywhere. Latrines are a longer hike for the guys than the girls for once!
While the guys were setting up the stage, Aaron signed autographs and took photos with everyone in the audience. We went through over 200 autographs sheets. While I was handing out the photos, a guy came up to me and said that he met me at Camp Summerall, Iraq in 2005! I couldn’t believe he remembered me. He asked about Lt. Col. Kyle McClelland who was his Commander and is now my dear friend. We took a photo together to email to Kyle. I love it when I see men and women that I have met at other Camps. Lets me know that they are still okay and still believe in their mission.
We have two “techs” from the Production Company in Kuwait. The owner had warned me that they were “hard workers” but needed a lot of babysitting. What he did not tell me is that they don’t understand much English! They were responsible for wiring all our speakers, amps, monitors properly. Gus, our sound tech, asked them if they had everything ready and they told him “yes”. When he turned on the power, it blew up the system! So, we had no monitors, no amps, and lost one entire stack of speakers. The troops had to wait even longer for Aaron to start performing.
He finally took the stage at 10:30 pm and it was magic. Until you stand backstage and see the reaction of the men and women – especially when he sings a patriotic song like, “Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagles Fly”, you can’t comprehend the pride and emotion that you feel. I rarely get through an entire performance without at least a few tears and watching the audience makes me realize how proud I am to be an American. He got a couple of standing ovations and we wrapped up the show at around midnight.
Since we have to be ready to go at 4:45 am, I hiked over to the shower and got that out of the way. Got in bed at 1:00 am and had to get up at 3:45 am. Shorter night than usual. It is so DARK here because the base is not allowed to have ANY lights on. The flashlights have to use red, blue, or green bulbs but I remembered that from my last visit and I was prepared.
Climbed into the sleeping bag (and I am such NOT a camper!) and slept my 2 ½ hours. Oh, this base has huge VIPER snakes in the Summer time and wild hogs running around in the winter. THAT makes for a good night’s sleep. J
DAY SIX – NOVEMBER 23rd – HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!
I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up, so I really didn’t sleep even my couple of hours. We were en route to the passenger terminal by 3:45 am. Once we checked in, we went over to the DFAC for breakfast. Breakfast was pretty “sparse” compared to other days because they are gearing up for the big Thanksgiving feast later today. We walked over and passed the Chapel that I had toured last year. I had met the Chaplain at dinner last year and he was so proud of his new facilities.
Wished all the guys and girls in the DFAC a Happy Thanksgiving and went back over to the PAX terminal to wait for our flight. We will take a C130 to Kandahar AB today where we will have the big performance tonight. But Aaron, Dave, Greg and I will immediately chopper out to a couple of remote Camps while the guys are setting up for the show. Kandahar and the surrounding remote camps that we will visit are considered very “Hot” right now. We’ll have to wear our protective gear on these visits but it will be good to let the men and women deployed there know that we care about them and are not afraid to come visit with them.
The flight left pretty much on time and we were the only ones on the aircraft. Flight crew was not overly friendly at first but I gave them t-shirts and coins and they warmed up a little. J Aaron said one of our escorts had told him we were flying to Baghram first to re-fuel. But when we landed, we knew it wasn’t Baghram. Turns out it wasn’t Kandahar either. We had landed at Kabul! On the flight over, we saw some beautiful snow-covered mountains. We were told to de-plane and go into the cafeteria which is called “Air Force One”. We walked around for about 30 minutes and got some coffee. Several guys recognized Aaron so we signed some photos. One of the guys insisted on buying my coffee although I was insisting on buying his! I tried to set up a little “Meet and Greet” but we didn’t have time. Plus the base has lots of multi-national forces and we saw very few Americans. It really doesn’t matter to the troops where they are from though. Around the world, they are just appreciative that someone comes out to see them. I got to chat for several minutes with some troops from Italy. They will be back home before next Summer and will try to come to one of my festivals there. I think. There was a bit of a communication problem. J
We had been informed that a DV would be flying with us to Kandahar but they wouldn’t tell us who it was. I thought I knew all the DV’s in the area over Thanksgiving and started trying to guess. All they would tell me is that I would recognize him when he got on the plane. Well, when he got on, I knew that I had seen him “somewhere” before – probably on the news, but didn’t know who he was. He was introduced as Lt. General Gary North – the Commander of 9th Air Force and USCENTAF! He came over and introduced himself to each of us and chatted with Aaron for a while. I gave him one of my coins (thus insuring that we would get one of his!) and then we buckled up for take off. Only there was a strange noise and about 10 minutes later, the engines shut down. The flight crew said they had to replace a “panel”. So we all were able to stand up and talk. Learned that the General knows my friend General Sargeant who is now in Korea. Also learned that General North was at Kunsan and Kadena in Okinawa – probably in Okinawa when I was taking entertainment to the area. It seemed to be taking a lot longer to replace the panel than they had anticipated and I was getting the feeling that we would be performing at Kabul that night instead of Kandahar. Someone mentioned having to climb up on top of the plane to replace the panel and Aaron immediately offered to do so. Got some great shots of him walking around on top of the C-130 and the great news is – the plane was fixed and ready to fly.
It was a short flight to Khandahar and when we landed we were surrounded by military trying to move us in 10 different directions all at once They were anxious to get Aaron and I and a couple of his musicians into the waiting Blackhawks for a Visit to an FOB (forward operating base). Things were getting pretty “tense” with my group and the folks trying to rush us so I had to step in and try to calm things down a little. I explained to our new escort that if we didn’t wait for the pallets to be downloaded so that we could grab 2 acoustic guitars and a duffle bag full of photos, that there really wasn’t any reason for us to go the FOB. That seemed to make sense to him but he continued to try and make things move forward a little prematurely. We finally got all of our gear and I was “somewhat” confident that the guys we were leaving behind would be taken to the stage to load in.
The big push was the fact that the blackhawks were on the ground waiting for us. But, I had already been told that the choppers were dedicated just for our mission, so I knew they were not going to leave us. When we got to the airstrip, of course all the chopper pilots and crew wanted photos with Aaron which delayed us even more. We were finally boarding the aircraft and I had just put one foot inside to pull myself in when I felt someone put their hands on my bottom and shove as hard as possible. I went down on my hands and knees inside the chopper and looked around to see who had done it. It was the Major who had been trying to hurry us up! Very unprofessional. I didn’t say anything to him because I could have gotten him into a LOT of trouble. Aaron and Dave (his musician) thought I had tripped but I told them afterwards what happened. I thought I was pretty lucky to come out with just bruised knees!
We took off for Camp Lane WAY north of Kahdahar. This is a Special Forces FOB and located in the mountains in the “middle of nowhere”. The guys at that Camp most certainly deserved some Thanksgiving cheer. I have flown all over Afghanistan so the terrain wasn’t a surprise to me. It is always strange to see the Nomads living in tents in areas where there is absolutely nothing but desert and mountains. I don’t know what they do for food but our escort said that the dig wells wherever they put their tents for water. I cannot imagine living like that.
To say that the troops at Camp Lane were delighted to see us is quite an understatement. Aaron signed autographs for all of them and took photos with them. Then he and Dave sang about 5 songs for them. It was really hard to leave and go back to the “luxuries” of Kandahar.
No problems on the chopper back and we were taken straight to the stage where Aaron did a couple of songs for his sound check. I had one of the escorts take me to lodging to see if ANY of my bags had made it. By the time I got back to the stage, someone had taken Aaron to his DV quarters and I had no idea where he was. The guys wanted to eat Thanksgiving dinner with the troops and since I realized that I had not eaten since 5:30 that morning, I went with them. The chow hall wasn’t open for another 15 minutes when we arrived, so I ran an errand while the guys stood in line. By the time I got back, the line was LONG and it took me about 20 minutes to get inside. I didn’t have time to eat more than a couple of bites of food and then we had to rush to get the guys to lodging so they could shower. Only problem is, our van driver had no idea where our lodging was located. I had given my key to Jana (our escort from Baghram) so I didn’t even know my building number. We finally found the guys lodging and I had the van driver take me back to the show site. No one was at the show site other than some really nice KBR employees. They made some phone calls for me and took me to my lodging. It is the same “area” that I stayed in with Little Big Town in 2004. Rows and rows of building with individual room inside each building. Only now they have put the showers and toilets at the end of the hallway INSIDE the building. Before, you had to hike about a half mile to the latrines which were in tents outside. I had told the van driver to pick up the boys at 7:15 pm for the 7:30 pm show. But, Jana said she had someone coming to pick us up. No one showed up and I was getting pretty stressed that I could not get to the stage. Jana finally found a DSN phone so she could call for transportation.
By the time we arrived at the stage, it was 7:35 pm and the band was waiting as was a huge audience. Someone told me that the show had been pushed back to 8:30 pm because the “General” couldn’t get there until 8:15 pm! I was NOT going to make those men and women sit there for another hour waiting for Aaron to perform because of this. Then one of the other escorts said that Kandahar doesn’t even have a “General”! The confusion was unbelievable. I had someone take me over to show me where Aaron’s quarters were located and got him back over to the show site to begin the performance.
They wanted him to ride in on a humvee in the “gunner” position holding an American Flag – which he did – and it was a very cool “entrance”. It was a really great show on a new permanent stage that they have built on the “Boardwalk” which was just being completed when I was here with Little Big Town. It was a very special, moving “Thanksgiving” show and I’m glad this is where I got to spend Thanksgiving. I handed out photos to the autograph line and got to wish everyone a “Happy Thanksgiving”. I also met some troops from Holland who knew the cities where my festivals are located there. One guy even lives in the town where the festival is held.
Aaron had not eaten anything since breakfast and the only thing backstage were some sandwiches that had bread that was now very hard, a paper thin slice of turkey and a slice of cheese…no mustard or mayo! That’s what he had for Thanksgiving lunch/dinner. But, for us, it wasn’t about the “food”. It was about saying thank you to the men and women defending our freedom and we were very happy to have accomplished that.
I arranged for Aaron to go “shoot something and blow something up” early the next morning. That had been his only request for the tour. I got him covered with an escort and told him I was not going with him. Went back to lodging and called home to wish my family a Happy Thanksgiving. They were just finishing up cooking and were getting ready to eat. It’s hard missing holidays with our families but these men and women in our military must do so as a way of life and it’s a small price for us as civilians to do to postpone our celebrations so that we can be with them.
Got in bed at a “decent hour” and will get to catch up on some of my correspondence tomorrow morning before we depart for the airfield at 11 am. We will be flying back to Baghram for a show tomorrow night.
DAY SEVEN– NOVEMBER 24TH – WE THINK IT IS FRIDAY!
Had a moment of joy when I saw the DSL line in my room. But, it won’t let me connect! Can you believe I have not checked email in THREE DAYS. I did ask my daughter to check it for me while I’m away though. I will have about 600 when I can open it again – hopefully tonight!
Had a wonderful shower and then had an hour to catch up on “work” – like writing these darn road reports!! We go to the Airstrip at 11:00 and hopefully depart at noon for Baghram. No time for a remote visit today. L But, the show tonight should be well-attended. We fly back to Kuwait tomorrow and I’m already feeling sad to be leaving. But, I have the visit at the end of December to Iraq to look forward too!
We arrived at the PAX terminal and the person who had promised to have food delivered there for my guys who wanted to sleep in this morning wasn’t around. I finally located someone who knew where it was and was able to get my guys fed. Aaron came in with the Major from “shooting” and then toured the PAX Terminal. This is the terminal where we dropped the J-Dam Bomb that ended the Taliban reign here and it left a HUGE hole. They are never going to cover the hole but have turned it into a memorial. I saw it when I was here with Little Big Town, too.
While I was standing outside waiting for our flight to be called, someone said that 4 Generals were about to land. I was talking to someone when I heard my name called. Michael Peterson and Command Sgt. Major Gainey walked up. CSM Gainey is the person I met at the Pentagon last May when Kyle was showing us his photo in the hallway. He is such a wonderful person and loves his troops and his job. He is the Sr. Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff – Peter Pace. (Steve, HE knows you too!)
Again, the C-130 was not configured for our 2 pallets of equipment and they were telling us that we were going to have to leave it and they would bring it later. NOT!!! We’d NEVER see it in time for the show. They finally agreed to let us take it but bumped some other people off the flight. When I got on the plane, I heard someone call my name and it as Major General Hargett from the Tennessee National Guard!! It was pretty wild seeing all these Nashville folks in Afghanistan!!!
I sat by CMS Gainey on the flight over and had the most fascinating conversation. He is such a great speaker because he talks from his heart. He told me about speaking to a group and asking each one of them if they thought America was at war. He said everyone but one person answered “yes”. He asked the one person who said “no” why he thought that. The soldier told him that he felt the Department of Defense was at war but that America was not at war because the U.S. has already forgotten what happened on 9/11. It was a very accurate statement.
As soon as we landed, we were met and escorted to lodging. My heat was not working and the escort called to have it fixed. We went by Subway for a quick sandwich and then we went to the JOC and visited several offices. We took Aaron on the bridge to meet all the people working in that secure area. I had visited there in September of 2005 with Chely and Dave Price and remembered the area well. That was the tour where I met Lt. Col. (soon to be Colonel) Tim Sughre who has now become my dear friend. Wish he had still been here but glad that he is back safely in Belgium. Aaron signed 250 autographs during these stops! I got another dog tag to add to the ones I have from Iraq and Kuwait. J
Went to the stage for a quick sound check and then to the room for Aaron to take a nap. My heater is still not working in my room! Aaron and I are in DV Quarters which is a suite with a shared sitting area between bedrooms. The heater in the sitting area is working and Aaron’s heater is working so my room was slightly warm from the sitting area heat.
Last time I was here, there was a Fallen Heroes Ceremony and there was another one today. They lost a soldier the night before we arrived. For the ceremony, they close down all the roads and everyone walks out to the side of the road. The casket is draped in a flag and driven past and then loaded onto the aircraft for transport back to the U.S. We have actually flown with the caskets before and it is a very solemn, very painful, moving experience. When a Camp loses someone, it is like losing a family member. These men and women become “family” over here and the joys and sorrows experienced are just as happy and painful as in a real family.
Show time was at 8 pm and the clam shell was PACKED to capacity. The crowd was definitely Aaron Tippin fans! They stood for about half the songs he sang. It was the perfect way to end our tour of Afghanistan. The Command presented everyone with beautiful plaques before we departed. Aaron signed another 400 autographs after the concert. A friend of mine in the Air National Guard in St. Joe, Missouri had given me the names of three people that I was going to say hello too. I had their names announced and asked them to come to the stage. I was surprised with our flight crew from today’s trip came up and said that two of the guys were helping them out. Our flight crew was from Alaska, so I never thought to ask if they knew the two guys. But the Missouri Guard is helping them out. One of the guys was already asleep because he has to fly today but they went and got the other guy out of his quarters so I could take a photo with him to send to our buddy. I gave everyone t-shirts and coins, too.
Got back to lodging before midnight and realized we didn’t eat any dinner. Oh well. Not unusual on this trip! My heat is still not working and I took a shower and the hot water ran out after about 30 seconds. Nothing like a cold shower in a cold room in Afghanistan! I had to use the hair dryer to warm my feet before going to bed.
DAY EIGHT– NOVEMBER 25th – BACK TO KUWAIT:
Just could not get my feet warm all night long! I had on so many clothes, I looked like the Michelin Tire Man when I crawled into bed. At about 3 am, I gave up and got a fleece jacket out of my bag. I put one foot in each leg and tried to sleep. Didn’t work. My feet were still freezing. I finally got up at 6:30 and got dressed for today’s flight to Kuwait. Sure hope we have the same flight crew from SC today. They were so sweet to us.
We went over to the DFAC to eat and I found a table with a couple of men sitting at it and asked if I could eat with them. Got started talking and asked what they “do” on Base. Of course, one of them was Special Forces. I am like a “magnet”. Every time I pick my “victims” at a meal, I either sit with Special Forces or a Chaplain. Always try to find out early on so I can adjust my language accordingly! J
Aaron and I went with our escorts to visit several different offices and sign some more photos for them. By the time we finished up, it was time to go to the flight line. I was going to have Subway make sandwiches for everyone because our flight was scheduled to depart at noon and it is a 4 ½ hour flight. Only when we got to the flight line, they said I didn’t have time to buy the sandwiches!
We were allowed to board first and I repeatedly asked if our pallets of equipment and luggage had been loaded. I was assured that everything was in order. Our flight crew this time is out of Washington State and also really nice guys. There are only 5 crew members this time and they were delighted to have Aaron sit up on the deck with them for the flight. I opted to sit below and work this flight. Lots of work to catch up on. I gave out t-shirts and cds and then the load master came up and said we were ready to go and didn’t have any cargo this trip. That’s when my heart stopped. Our pallets were not on the plane and of course, the crew had not been advised that we even had any pallets. The crew was great. They got on the radio and got someone out to the airplane immediately. I gave them phone numbers for all of our escorts and within 15 minutes, the 2 huge pallets of equipment and luggage were rolling towards the airplane. Got everything loaded and off we went – back to Kuwait.
I did spend a little of the flight time up on deck and this time got a GREAT view of the islands they are building off the coast of Dubai. I even got a decent photo of the “palm tree” islands that already have buildings on them.
Everyone I met on this trip commented on how nice and “down to earth” Aaron seems to be and asks if he is really that way. I tell them they will never see me bring anyone who is not sincere on one of these tours. We don’t get paid to come over here and we all do this from our heart. Our escort said that sometimes they have celebrities who get tired and refuse to sign autographs and that we were a “welcome change” and the “best tour he has had since he’s been here”. J The show last night was even better because he talked from the stage more than usual. When he talks, everyone in the audience knows that he is speaking from his heart, that he understands their sacrifices and that he TRULY appreciates them and is there for one reason – to let them know this. One thing that really thrills Aaron is to have someone come up and tell him they saw him when he entertained with Bob Hope in the first Gulf War. His comment to me was that these people are now in their 30’s so they had to be “babies” during the first gulf war. Our pilots yesterday were in their mid-20’s and already had an unbelievable amount of “in-flight hours”.
Our escorts were waiting for us when we landed. Hotel had our rooms ready and again, they gave me a suite. This is nice but it is such a waste. I never use anything but the internet, bed and bath. My phone didn’t work in the bedroom and the way this suite was configured, I had to go through 2 other rooms to get to the one in the sitting area. Hotel tried to fix it but it couldn’t be fixes until tomorrow – when we check out. I took everyone out to dinner at a steakhouse next door that was supposed to be excellent. It was. Everyone – including Aaron – was SO tired. I’ve seen it before and know that while a lot of it is physical exhaustion, it is also “mental exhaustion” and the let down from being on such a “high” with the troops to knowing that we are going back daily routine of our lives back home. I can’t explain the feeling we all get from knowing that simply by coming over here and entertaining, shaking hands, taking photos, and saying “thank you” makes us feel like we have a “purpose” every day and the instant gratification of seeing our accomplishments.
When I got back to my room, I realized that I had forgotten to get my credit card receipt from the restaurant. I went back over and it took about a half hour to secure a “copy” of it. Got back to the room and my internet connection wasn’t working. After being in Afghanistan for 4 days with absolutely NO CONNECTION, I HAD to get online. I packed up the few things I had unpacked and told the front desk that while I sincerely appreciated the suite, just please move me anywhere in the hotel where the internet connection would work. Stayed up answering emails until 3:30 am.
DAY NINE AND TEN– NOVEMBER 26th AND 27TH – LAST DAY IN KUWAIT:
Up early to answer more emails and had breakfast with Aaron. Answered several emails and then drove the 2 hours to Camp Navistar. This is the base that is right on the border between Kuwait and Iraq. The road we took is the road where Saddam came into Kuwait when he attacked years ago. I quizzed our escort about the little sound techs that had accompanied us They were from India and the Philippines. He said that the “legal” immigrants are probably paid about $50 a month and the illegal immigrants are paid as little as $10 a month. They are all provided “housing” and one meal a day. He knows of a situation where there are 28 people living in a 2 bedroom apartment. The water is only turned on twice a day. So we came in and liberated Kuwait from the dictator rule of Saddam and now that the Kuwaitis have their oil money and never have to work again, they are treating their “workers” the same way they were treated. THAT is very frustrating to me.
The Camp is very small…but everyone is so friendly and delighted we came to see them. Aaron got out of the vehicle and immediately started into a port-a-potty. We yelled to stop him because the sign said “Easterners” on the door. Had to explain to him that he did NOT want to use the toilet that the locals use! We were taken into the Commander’s office and given a briefing and then we asked a lot of questions. The frustration we feel by the inadequate and erroneous reporting by the media is magnified 10 times here. These guys SEE what happens daily and then watch it played back by the National Media with no resemblance to the actual occurrences!
The Commander presented Aaron with a plaque and coin and then we went over to the stage to collect the musicians for a quick tour of the Camp. First stop was the tanks where Aaron got to sit atop one. Then Aaron went to say hello to the Fire Department and the Hospital while his boys played on the tanks. We started the show at 2 pm and everyone kept apologizing for the small crowd – probably 200 people. And, we kept telling them it didn’t matter how many people were there. We just wanted to bring them some entertainment no matter how many people were on the base. The show was outside and it was pretty hot today.
We had only brought a small PA with us and Aaron sang for about 45 minutes. Then he signed autographs for everyone in the crowd. I was talking to a man who has served for 39 years and is a Vietnam Vet. He pulled every patch – including his name tag – off his uniform and gave to me!
The latrines were located across from the show site and the tents where everyone stays were right in front of the latrines. Between the first two tents was a huge inflatable snowman — their Christmas decorations! So strange to see this in the middle of the desert but so touching, too.
We had to drive back to Kuwait City immediately after the show so that everyone could take a shower before our flight home. Fortunately, there was a herd of camels with their herders by the side of the road. We stopped to take photos and the camel herders were so nice to us and spoke perfect English.
Back at the hotel by 5:30 pm and we have to depart to the airport by 8:45 pm. I showered, answered email and repacked everything. Then I met Suleiman from the Production Company downstairs with his baby. He adopted a baby from India several months ago and this is the first time I have seen him. He is 8 months old and an absolute darling. Even though he is adopted, he looks like Suleiman.
We left for the airport in plenty of time to check in for our flight because I always anticipate problems. We managed to keep the skycaps (piranhas – I call them) away from the luggage while it was curbside. But then everything had to be taken off the carts and run through a security scanner and then loaded back onto the carts to take to the check-in counter. That’s where the skycaps get you. There are no carts once you pass through security so you have to use the skycaps. We have 5 of them transporting our 19 pieces!
I had walked over to see where we were going to check in when one of the guys told me Aaron needed me as he was having a crisis. I knew exactly what it was going to be. A soldier had given him a “tank buster” – it is silver and looks like a huge bullet, around 10 inches long and 2 inches in diameter is used take out tanks. Aaron had given it to me to pack in one of my bags and I told him that I didn’t think he would be allowed to take it back to the U.S. I told him if he got caught, it’s HIS not MINE. Well, he got caught. They took his passport and made him stand by while they searched MY bag. They needed a copy of his passport so I gave them a copy that I had to try and speed things along. Then they took EVERYTHING out of Aaron’s bag, checked it and tried to shove it all back in. Aaron had to take time to completely repack his bag. They made him write on the back of the copy of his passport, “I will never try to take a bullet out of Kuwait again”!!!!!
We got up to the check-in counter and it took forever to explain that I wanted to use one of my segments to upgrade him. The counter reps were trying to SELL upgrades from coach to business class for $550.00 each so I knew the flight wasn’t full. We thought everything was fine and headed for the gate. Had to go through a security checkpoint again with all the bags. Then we passed a McDonalds and everyone but me stopped to eat before the flight. Aaron ran into a couple of people in the military who recognized him. When we got to the next security checkpoint, we realized that Aaron was on “stand-by” for the upgrade. We finally got him upgraded and on the plane. Flight attendant announced that it will be a 13 hour flight instead of 14 hoursl
So, barring any unforeseen complications we will be home by 10 am Monday, November 27th. I LOVE this direct flight from Kuwait. Sure wish it operated every day instead of just 3 days a week.
Again, I will end this report by saying it was one of the best tours ever. I wish everyone – not just in America, but around the world – could have the amazing opportunity that I do to see things first hand. I had asked CSM Gainey what he was learning when he was visiting our troops and he said, “Focus. Focus on the mission and pride in their accomplishments”. I have to agree. I can’t tell you how many men AND women I met who are on their 3rd or 4th tours of duty, rotating between a year in Afghanistan to a year in Iraq. They SIGN UP for the deployments. They are not forced to do so. Remember, there is no draft and re-enlistment is the option of each individual. Yes, they miss their families and loved ones but believe that if they weren’t in these areas taking care of business, then we would have already been attacked again in the U.S. No one wants that.
Every time I visit Afghanistan, I realize how desperately they need the entertainment in this area. They still feel that they are the “forgotten” war. Iraq still gets more of the celebrity entertainment for a couple of reasons – Iraq is more “prominent” in everyone’s mind and it’s so much easier to take tours into Iraq than to try to get into Afghanistan. But even with all the flight delays, it’s isn’t impossible and I need to focus more on getting entertainment in that area. When our flights were delayed, I was upset for two reasons – the troops in the areas we were to visit were expecting us and we disappointed them AND the celebrities give of their time and they want to visit as many camps and troops as possible while over there. Hopefully, situations like the one that happened when we were trying to get to Baghram will become fewer and fewer.
Not quite as depressed that this tour is over because in exactly one month, I will be landing back in Kuwait with Karri Turner (actress from JAG) and Jim McMahon and Kevin Butler (former NFL Chicago Bears) for a “handshake” tour of Iraq. Our current itinerary has us hitting 3 camps a day – some of them VERY remote, which is great.
Home at last! Photos will be up on the website by the end of the week.