Multi-platinum selling country music group, LONESTAR, and comedian Greg Vaccariello, traveled to Kuwait and Iraq to entertain the troops as part of the Inaugural Tour 2009. This was the first trip to this region to visit and boost the moral of the troops for both, Lonestar and Greg Vaccairello.
Lonestar has 18 top 10 singles, 10 of which went to #1; “No News”, “Amazed”, “Smile”, “I’m Already There” and “My Front Porch Looking In” just to name a few. Comedian Greg Vaccarirllo has done film, theater and has appeared in several sitcoms, ‘Hope and Faith’, ‘The King of Queens’, ‘Ed’, and ‘Law and Order; CI and SVU’.
“Going to Iraq and performing for our troops was by far the most amazing, gratifying and moving experience of my entire career. Seeing them laugh and watching them sing along to Lonestar, and meeting them after the show is something that I will never forget. I’ll take the memories of working with Lonestar, Judy Seale and hanging out with the troops with me for the rest of my life.” – Greg Vac, Comedian
“Sometimes I don’t understand what the news channels show, but seeing is believing, and they really are doing a great job over there. No matter what the soldiers are going through and living without, they’re professionalism and generosity still stands strong. I admire that. You don’t realize how much time and workout soldiers are putting in for our freedom until you see it with your own eyes. …..“one of the best experiences I have ever had.” – Cody Collins – Lonestar
PHOTOS (Courtesy of Richard Ortega)
SUNDAY AND MONDAY, JANUARY 18 AND 19:
Today we departed Nashville to Kuwait…..Again! Second home for me now, I think. ‘WE” is country music superstars “Lonestar”. Also have a comedian – Greg Vaccarriello – joining us from Los Angeles. Everyone was on time or early at the airport for check-in, which was great. Our flight was a few minutes late departing but since we have a 6 hour layover at Dulles, we weren’t overly concerned. I had a foreigner sitting by me and he was speaking loudly into his cell phone and reading the “Exit Row” instructions. I swear he studied the instruction on the plane itself and then got out the little card in the seat back and poured over it for 20 minutes. It was freaking me out a little bit. But, I guess everyone is a bit nervous after that crash into the Hudson this week. How awesome was THAT pilot? Of course, he was former Air Force. J I, however, would have been the one fatality had I been on board. I would have looked out the window, seen the engine on fire, and immediately dropped dead of a heart attack! Have I mentioned in this Road Report yet how much I HATE to fly? When they put the landing gear down, JAM (I brought him along to assist with this trip) was sitting by a large black girl and she screamed bloody murder. She also grabbed his leg and he’s a little guy so I’m sure he’ll have bruises. Cracked everyone up on the plane. JAM said she was hilarious. When she boarded the plane to sit down, she looked at him and said, “Yep, you get to sit with the fat girl”. Then a few minutes later she assured him that she wasn’t always that fat. LOL No turbulence and we landed safely. My “seatmate” bolted from his seat before they turned off the seat belt sign. The flight attendant came on and admonished him and said you MUST sit down until the seat belt sign is turned off! He sat and “Ping”, the seat belt sign was immediately turned off. The whole plane erupted in laughter. Had a little problem getting my guys into the Red Carpet Lounge but my friend – Jackie with United – was in the terminal and came down and smoothed things over for us. She is so wonderful! We had one guy flying in from Atlanta and he arrived before us, so no casualties so far. Greg is supposed to arrive at around 7 pm, a few minutes late. I told Jackie that I’ve just been qualified as “Global” and she was really excited. I was “1K” on United (which is higher than Gold or Platinum) but just got “promoted”. Evidently “Global” is a “secret society….so secret that no one knows the benefits. There is nothing on their website and they have to MAIL you their package explaining what the benefits are at that level. When I got the notice, I emailed them back and asked if one of the benefits was being give a bottle of water in business class. I’m sure they are going to revoke my invitation after that comment. L Greg arrived on time and that’s when I learned that he was in Coach Class. When my office had asked about “Greg” being in business class, I thought they were talking about another Greg on the tour. I had to pay to change his ticket from coach to business class but thankfully there were seats available and everything worked out. He was really nice about having to fly coach all the way from LA to DC. Our flight to Kuwait left on time and the flight attendants were really nice. AND, they brought me my own bottle of water – and I drank the whole thing during the flight. Dana from the USO was sitting across from me and we had quite a long conversation about the tours going into Iraq. It was really good to compare notes. She has David Cook – the new American Idol – on tour with her. He wasn’t on our flight as he had to connect through Frankfurt due to all the flights being full during the Inauguration. I watched a really horrible movie and then tried to sleep some. My mind wouldn’t shut down so on Dave Price advice, I took a couple of Tylenol PM. Must have worked because I definitely slept. We landed on time in Kuwait and all our luggage and gear made it. We were outside getting ready to load the truck when one of the guys in Lonestar said he had left his video camera in the overhead on the airplane. It was not in a case and didn’t have any identification on it. Our escorts were going to have to go back to the airport to pick up the David Cook group and said they would check on it. My feeling is that the cleaning crew found it and has probably already sold it! When we arrived at the hotel, there was massive security everywhere. We even had to put our bags through a scanner and go through a metal detector to just walk into the lobby. Traffic from the airport was the worst I’ve ever seen it. Evidently there is a big Conference taking place so it’s going to be interesting this visit. JAM and I got everyone in their rooms and their luggage delivered. I answered emails for hours and then went to the gym for an hour workout. While I was gone, Lonestar’s tour manager left me a message that one of the other members of Lonestar had left a $400 Ipod in his seat….again no case and no identification. I’ve asked our travel agent to try and find out “where” the items would be if someone turned them in. I just honestly don’t think either guy will ever see them again. It’s LATE here now and I really want to go to bed but have too much work to do. Tomorrow we perform at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. We don’t find out what time our flight departs for Iraq until 10 pm tomorrow night but something tells me it’s going to be ugly. I was informed that I am no longer allowed to work with Protocol at Ali Al Salem. In the past, we arrived 1 ½ hours prior to flight time and protocol escorted us to the airplane. Since I can’t contact them, we will have to arrive 4 hours prior to flight time and the hotel is a 1 ½ hour drive from the airfield. If we have to be there at 7 am, that would mean performing our show, rushing back to the hotel, packing up and immediately driving to the airfield no later than 1:30 am…to sit on a bus for 4 hours until our flight departs. That means no sleep for the group and we hit the ground running when we land in Iraq with an acoustic show in the afternoon and a full band show that evening. I really, really hope we don’t have a call time that early because starting out the tour like that just kills the group for the remainder of the tour. We shall see… Jude
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 21ST:
Today we are flying to Balad, AB in Iraq – my favorite place to visit. 4:00 AM came MUCH too early. Got everything packed up and in the lobby. I had ordered breakfast to go bags for everyone and we departed on time to the airfield. If I were still allowed to work with Protocol, we could have slept 2 more hours. That’s another story. So we arrived and sat on the bus for about an hour. Then went inside for a roll call that we didn’t need to attend. Back on the bus to wait for our Kevlar and then in the terminal to sit for 3 more hours. On another bus to the flight line where they said it would be another hour. But as soon as we got comfortable, they told us to go to the plane. Our plane is a C17 and flight crew was out of McCord. We had the regular flight crew plus several “Ravens” on board. The Ravens were there because they provide security for the airplane when it is on the ground. We were told that we had to stop through Q-West and that’s why the security was needed. I gave them all gifts and talked to them and then we sat again. I asked why we were waiting and we were told that Balad didn’t want us to land early. I assured them that Balad would LOVE for us to land early. We also had David Cook (American Idol) and his large entourage on the plane with us. They were going to fly into Balad and immediately take numerous blackhawks to Warhorse. They have 3 pallets of gear, so that will take a lot of blackhawks and a lot of trips. Personally neither I nor the USO rep think it is “doable”. Finally got approval to depart and were told we don’t have to stop through Q-West since there were no passengers going there. Our Ravens decided to stay with us anyway. As we were about to take off, the flight crew invited me to come up for take-off. I felt guilty for about 3 seconds and then said, “Okay”. As I was sitting there one of them came up and said one of Lonestar asked why I got to go up there since I’d done it lots of time and none of them ever had. I told him I’d switch and let one of them come up but the flight crew wanted me upstairs. Our takeoff was further delayed by a mechanical issue but got it fixed after about 15-20 minutes. Take-off was unbelievably smooth. Hard to believe that an aircraft that large could travel so effortlessly. I stayed up on deck for a little while and then asked if my guys could rotate up. Went down and apologized to Dean but told him, “Ten Million Records Sold would never beat out ‘T&A’ with men in the desert for several months. J I asked the pilot to give us a “fun” landing but I guess we had too much gear on board because it was uneventful. Our escorts were waiting for us. I knew we needed to move quickly but also knew my guys HAD to eat a hot meal. We drove over to a food court where everyone grabbed to go bags. Then back to the terminal to sort through personal luggage and acoustic PA version full band production. Got that sorted out and rushed to lodging to drop off bags. We were late for the acoustic show on the Special Ops side so we took photos with everyone as soon as we arrived instead of performing first. It was a crowd of about 100 people and they were SO appreciative. That side of the bases rarely gets shows there and they can’t leave that side to attend one the concerts elsewhere on the base. The guys and Greg performed in the DFAC. It was a great, intimate setting. After the acoustic show, we had to rush to the theatre for soundcheck. Seems like we haven’t slept in a week and are constantly playing catch-up. They guys are being great about it. Oh, yeah, Dean left his video camera at the DFAC but we got it back. J Quick sound check and then a quick trip to lodging to freshen up. Had to get to the venue by 6:45 pm so my guys could meet General Bishop (my friend from Korea). They did an on-camera interview with him and he asked them if anyone got to sit on the flight deck during landing. They told him that no, but SOMEONE got to sit up there for take-off and pointed me out. Then they shared with him – on camera – my reasoning for getting to sit up there. I was so embarrassed. Guess they paid me back, huh. Greg did a great job of opening the show. The theatre is PACKED which is great. There are obviously lots of Lonestar fans from the crowd response. It sure helped liven the guys up after being so sleep deprived. Everyone is hanging in there but it’s definitely taken it’s toll. We have to come up with some other way rather than sitting at the flight line for 8 hours. The General came backstage and thanked everyone after the show. Then he guys signed autographs for a couple of hours. We got our flight call time – we have to DEPART lodging to the airport at 5:30 am. Ouch. Some of the guys went to the food court after the show but most of just went back to lodging. I checked emails to see if there were any “fires” and then took my shower. In Balad, we stay in these really great trailers – one bedroom on each end with a shared bathroom. But there was no one in my trailer but me so it was really nice. Got in bed by 1 am, so I’m getting a little more sleep than the previous night. One disappointing thing is that since the Air Force has taken over, all the “food service” at the DVQ (Distinguished Visitor’s Quarters) has stopped. Usually there is coffee, cereal, bagels, things like that 24 hours a day. We count on that because we rarely have time to eat properly on these tours. I told my friend in the Air Force how disappointed I am that the Air Force cut out this service. Evidently, it was a very expensive “perk” for us. L I really love visiting Balad because there were so many “firsts” for me there…first time we took a mortar hit in the middle of a performance and had to finish the show in body rattle; that’s where my friend Joe Bowser lost his leg; where my bag fell off the truck and Jason Meadows saved it from being blown up by the bomb squad; where all my truly wonderful Wolf Pack friends have been the “Commanding General” — First Robin, then Burt and Now Brian; lots more too numerous and boring for you to hear me write about.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 22ND:
We all got up right on time and departed to the Pax Terminal. We fly from Balad to Baghdad today. We passed the UMV (that’s military for unmanned vehicles) and I thought about my friend who commands the unit in Nevada that operates those things. It’s still amazing to me that they can be controlled from thousands of miles away with a computer. There was a Green Beans coffee right beside the terminal and wireless – although extremely slow – free internet. That was nice. Was working with our new “rep” this time – Air Force – and he was great. Our flight was on time and the flight crew was from Little Rock and SOOOOOO nice. I gave them all the usual gifts for flying us. I asked if a couple of my guys could go up on the flight deck and they agreed. I guess my guys talked them into having a little fun because we had a “combat” take-off and pulled a couple of “G’s”. Dean also got on the mike and made several hilarious announcements. Landed 30 minutes after take-off and as we were leaving the Pax terminal, thankfully one of our Kuwait sound techs noticed 6 of our bags just lying on a pad on the ground. Good thing he saw them or we might never have seen them again. We went to the JVB, got checked in and had some “cereal” for breakfast. I am sharing a room with Dana and one of the managers for David Cook. We went to the Al Faw palace for my 18th tour and as usual, I learned some new things. The guys loved seeing all the “gawdy” decorations. We had been told that General Odierno was scheduled to meet with us at 3:30 pm this afternoon after our acoustic show. As we were departing the palace, we were told to step across the road as the General was coming in. However, his security detail let me stay and wait for him once I told them I know him. He got out of his car and said, “Who is that pretty lady standing there waiting for me”. Then he gave me a big hug and kiss. I thanked him and told him how proud we are of him and what he’s doing. He asked if I was getting everything I needed and thanked me for bringing the entertainers over. I didn’t tell him we were scheduled to see him again later that afternoon. It was a wonderful, special moment for me as it was only the two of us, standing out front of the Al Faw Palace talking! We left the palace and went to shop again. I picked up the necklaces that I had purchased on my last trip. The owners gave Greg this beautiful cross that he was admiring. Grabbed a little food and headed back to the Palace for the acoustic show. This was an “invitation” only show and it was great. Held out back of the JVB right on the lake with all the palaces in the background. An Airman wanted to propose to his girlfriend, so they brought him up and he proposed on “camera” and the PAO was going to send her a copy of the video. He teared up and had everyone almost crying. Then the band sang her favorite song, “Amazed”. At one time, that was my favorite song, too, but it was when I was dating a psycho and now it only reminds me of that nut job. J General Stein came to the show and apologized that General Odierno wasn’t going to be able to meet with us but he brought us all coins. I’m wondering if he canceled the meeting because I had already gotten my “private” time with him. Had a few minutes to check email and then we went to Stryker to perform a full show. It is COLD outside here at night and the show was outside. Only a couple of hundred folks there at first but then hundreds more came in. Guys did a fantastic show as did Greg the comedian. They signed autographs for about 2 hours (inside!) and then we returned to the JVB (one of Saddam’s palaces where I always sleep in Baghdad). A “fireman” that I met in Taji in 2004 and have stayed in touch with emailed me a few weeks ago and said he was deploying again and would be at Slayer (right next to the BIAP terminal). He came to the show tonight and we reminisced about our time at Taji. I was there with Chely Wright on that tour. These tours have allowed me to meet so many wonderful men and women who will be lifelong friends. We have to depart at 6 am tomorrow for Camp Delta in Al Kut. Have been there several times this year already and look forward to seeing all my buddies again. Jude
FRIDAY, JANUARY 23RD:
The only way I know it’s Friday is by looking back at my Road Report days. Today we are flying to FOB Delta. It’s a remote camp and I came here first with Honky Tonk Tailgate Party in September and again in October with Bo Bice. Realy nice people talking care of us – Vanessa and Mike (the Mayor). The USO group got in really late and since I’m sharing a room with two of the girls, I didn’t get much sleep. They had to shower and by the time they finally got in bed, it was after 2 am. I was up at 5 and in the lobby by 5:45 am and almost all my guys were already in there. I asked why they were there so early and they explained that there are only 3 bathrooms and 12 of them. They had to learn to “share”. I teased them about last night being “Man Love Thursday” in this area. That didn’t really go over very well with them. We departed for the Pax Terminal, got checked in and headed to the DFAC for breakfast. Slayer has the best DFAC on the complex. The guys were really happy to have a hot, really good breakfast instead of a muffin or nothing at all as has been the case several mornings. Got a message that our plane was leaving 45 minutes early so we headed back to the terminal, “geared” up and walked to the plane. Our C-130 flight crew was from Little Rock again but different boys. I gave them gifts and asked if Cody and Mike could sit on deck since Dean and Keech sat up there yesterday. They were more than happy to accommodate. Tomorrow I have to get Greg up there. Flight was only 45 minutes and when we landed this soldier with a huge booming voice got on board and asked, “Is this the Lonestar band”. Matt – our escort who is also a soldier – yelled ‘Yes sir”. The soldier responded, “How many are there?” and Matt yelled “All of them”! We cracked up. That has got to be the line of the tour. Had to wait a few minutes in the terminal for our buses because we landed so early. Vanessa is someone I have worked with twice before and she is awesome. Takes great care of us. The “Mayor” of Camp Delta is also a buddy and his name is Mike. Both are military. Then we went to the tent we always stay in. I have the back bunk with a blanket hung between two sets of bunks for “privacy”. Right! We were going to try and take a nap until lunch time. Several of the guys wanted to go shopping but I stayed in the tent so I could wake up the ones who wanted to nap. Our luggage had not been delivered, so no one had alarm clocks yet. We only had 2 hours to sleep and after one hour, the luggage came and was delivered – very noisily –which woke everyone up. Then the air conditioning went out in the tent and since it’s a beautiful day, didn’t take it long to get up to 90 degrees in there. Every time anyone opened the door to the tent, the light from outside also woke everyone up. Finally, our guys came back and stood right outside the door of the tent laughing and talking loudly which also kept everyone awake. So much for a 2 hour nap. We got everyone up and went to the DFAC. I had forgotten that Camp Delta has one of the best DFAC’s we visit. They have a main line, short order line, salad bar, sandwich bar, pasta bar, healthy heart bar (with cheese pizza???), potato bar, desert bar, ice cream bar, and milk shake bar! Boys were happy again. J After lunch, some of the guys went to the motor pool to play on the MRAPS and some of them decided to try and nap – again. I wanted to check email, so I went into an office to see if I could get on line. The internet for the entire base has been shut down because they lost a soldier yesterday. It wasn’t war related but rather a vehicle accident. The family hasn’t been notified, so all email is suspended until that can happen so the news isn’t accidentally leaked. After about an hour of attempting to get on AOL, I succeeded. The connection is slower than a dial up. Only had 38 new emails. Not bad. Went back to the tent to check on the boys left napping and stayed there for an hour with them. Then I took the guys who wanted to sound check down to the hangar. They have brought in heaters backstage to try and warm up the place. Think I’ll bring my big jacket tonight, just in case! Everyone we talked to today thanked us for coming and said Lonestar’s visit is a tremendous morale boost for the guys and girls at Camp Delta. I love being able to get out to the more remote spots and giving them some entertainment. I went over to a little Green Beans coffee shop and bought most of the workers backstage a cup of coffee. A nice KBR man took me over and we both had two trays of coffee to carry when we returned. We had just started walking towards the building when a huge explosion sounded – close by — and the sky lit up. I was ready to toss the coffee and hit the ground when he stopped me and said he “thought” it was outgoing. Turns out he was right, thank goodness. The show was fantastic….again a big difference because the troops are so appreciative at this remote location. Autograph line was long but the guys knocked it out and finished a few minutes before 10 pm. I was standing backstage talking to JAM and there were some Iraqi soldiers standing nearby. I took some of the calendar magnets and autographed photos over to them. John walks up and says, “So when do you guys get to go home?”. I looked at him like he had lost his mind. Fortunately the soldiers did not speak English. I pulled him aside and he thought they were from El Salvador! So, now he has taken the crown for the “line of the tour” away from Matt. I went to the Mayor’s Cell to check email after the show and the guys participated in the “ritual” of cigar smoking here. Got a few emails answered before the line went down. Back to the tent and off to take a shower while it isn’t so crowded. The shower I took at the JVB in Baghdad only had cold water the other night, so I wanted to make sure I got in this one before the “rush”. We are not scheduled to depart until 1:30 pm tomorrow which is not good. We have an acoustic gig scheduled at a really remote site that only has 100 troops and never had any entertainment. Then Tallil, AB gets a full show tonight. We started trying to work on choppers out of Delta just for the acoustic group but doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 24TH:
Up at 5:45 am to get dressed. Since we are all in the tent together, I tried to be super quiet. Had to dress by flashlight which was a challenge. I got one leg of my jeans on while lying on the bed but was struggling with the other leg, when I fell over right into my big duffle bag. I was trying not to laugh and wondering if anyone heard me. When the heat kicks on, there is this huge roar and then the air rushes down this gigantic “tube” that runs the length of the tent. Every time it kicked on during the night, it scared me to death. I figured everyone would just think it was the heat. I did ask the guys later and they ALL heard me fall and didn’t have a clue what it was. Most of us went to breakfast at 7 am and then I started trying to work out a way for us to get to the little remote FOB (FOB Hunter). We went into one of the offices and tried calling for choppers and I typed up a long email listing possible ways to solve this problem. Just as I hit “send”, the internet and all the phone lines went down. Evidently, a generator had to be replaced and this happens frequently. They expected lines to be down 3 hours. It also meant that several of my guys who were taking showers were suddenly without water and electricity! This only happened on our side of the Camp, so we drove to another Commander’s office and made our calls. Our escort at Tallil assured me that she would have the helicopters waiting for us when we arrived. Our flight departed a little after 1 pm and true to her word, the choppers were sitting on the airfield waiting for us. We had carried on the guitars and things we needed for the acoustic show, so it was just a matter of handing our carry-on bags to one of the guys who was not going and jumping on the choppers. It was about a 30 minute flight to Hunter and it is definitely “remote”. The Camp is growing – up from about 100 troops to over 800 now. They have a landing strip for a C130 but one only comes in twice a week on Monday and Friday. Boy were the troops at this camp happy to see us. Said they had been promised entertainment several times but the shows were always cancelled due to flights, weather, etc. The guys performed outside and Greg did a great job of warming up the audience. Lonestar sang about 5 songs and then we took photos with everyone and gave them autographed photos. We also ate with them but they don’t have a DFAC. Food is prepared there and then you walk into a small trailer, pick up a plate, and everyone gets the same meal. Last night we had instant mashed potatoes, English peas, and a round, white “patty” that appeared to be pressed turkey. Fortunately there was a great “dessert” selection because the pumpkin pie was about the only thing that was “tasty”. Really feel sorry for the guys out here but no one was complaining. We had a few minutes to spare before our choppers arrived so we got to see some of the missiles that had been launched at the camp and also a video of one with the terrorist setting it up. Choppers arrived on time and we flew back to Tallil. Only we made a stop for fuel and didn’t even get in the air again after we got the gasoline. They made us get off the choppers and then right back on to “taxi” across the tarmac. The venue at Tallil was packed and it was the perfect last day and perfect last two shows. The crowd at Tallil was WILD. They didn’t want to let Greg off the stage and tried to bring Lonestar back even after their encore. We had a huge cake made for Keech’s birthday and brought him and the two females that were also celebrating their birthdays up on stage to sing to them. We also sang to Keech when he was at FOB Hunter. He said it was the best birthday he could remember. Autograph line was very long and we got the message at around midnight that we had to be at the airfield by 4 am. I managed to get that bumped an hour so that we didn’t have to arrive until 5 am. Got everyone back to their rooms and I started looking for John to retrieve my bag from him. He finally came by the room and then had to walk 3 miles each way to bring me the bag. While I was waiting for him, I got a text message from my dear friend Colonel Kyle. Kyle is the Commander I met at Camp Summerall in 2004 and he’s the one who lost the young soldier the night after Chely performed for him. I’ve stayed in touch with him ever since and he is one of my dearest and closest friends. He’s on his way back into Iraq and was at Ali Al Salem waiting for the flight. It was weird to be text-messaging back and forth with him at 2:30 am from Iraq. We’re hoping to see each other when we land at Ali tomorrow on our way back to the U.S. By the time John showed up with my bag, it was too late for me to go to bed. So, no sleep at all for me tonight. The heating unit in my room doesn’t work very well (could be pilot error) and my feet were frozen by morning.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 25TH:
Everyone was on time and we departed to the airfield. Found out we didn’t have to weigh in, so I took several of the guys to the coffee shop nearby. Plane was supposed to be on time and our escort had hot breakfast delivered to us. Just as we were getting ready to go out to the plane, I was told that it would be an “Angel Flight”. I had Matt explain the ceremony to everyone and then we all walked outside to watch the military carry out the solemn process. The fallen hero was a young man who was killed yesterday in a forklift accident – not combat related. So very sad. We departed a few minutes late and right before we left, the air crew told me that we were stopping at Kuwait City International Airport before proceeding to Ali Al Salem. I had been text messaging Kyle all through the night because he couldn’t sleep either and was hoping to meet him when we landed. I called our escort in Kuwait to let him know we might be later than expected. When we landed in Kuwait, we were invited to participate in the ceremony for the fallen hero. I’ve done this many times before unfortunately, but it never fails to make me cry. It was experience that my guys got to witness that certainly brought everything into perspective for them. When we had left the plane for the ceremony, I learned that our Kuwait escort had met us at KCIA instead of Ali. That was great because it was a 30 minute drive to the hotel instead of 1 hour 15 minutes. But, it meant that I wouldn’t get to see Kyle. L Sent him a text and told him I was sending him a “gift” with our escort who was going back out there that afternoon. Heard from him a few minutes ago, and he got it!! We departed to the hotel and I got to chat with my friend Tracy from the USO. He’s in country with a Rap artist who was leaving for Iraq a few minutes after we arrived at the same hotel. Then instead of getting to sleep, I repacked all my bags and tried to answer at least half of my emails. Took a shower and slept for exactly one hour. Then met all my boys downstairs for a “wrap up” dinner. I thanked everyone for the truly wonderful tour for the troops. I know that it was life-changing for everyone and the emails are starting to pour in from the troops. Greg told us a hilarious true story at dinner that was the perfect way to end our tour. Someone knocked on the door and said something in a different language. Greg thought it was John and said, “Oh for God’s sake. That’s the worst accent I’ve ever heard”. Then he decides to get him back and throws open the door wearing nothing but his underwear and a pair of black socks. There stood one of the hotel staff with a bowl of fruit! Greg was horrified. J So glad we made ALL our shows on this trip. I was worried a couple of times but even thought it meant a lot less sleep, I’m glad we didn’t disappoint any of the troops. Sitting at the airport now waiting for them to call our flight. I am going to be asleep the minute the wheels are up! J Jude
MONDAY, JANUARY 26TH:
Forgot to mention that Dean left his video camera in the van when we arrived at the airport. I picked it up and gave it to Mark who held onto it to see when he would miss it. Dean realized he had left it in the van and went running to stop the departing vehicle. Thankfully Mark let him off the hook before he chased them down. But, then, Mark left his watch at the first security checkpoint and they wouldn’t let him go back through. I sent him to the United office and they went up and retrieved it for him. I never make fun of anyone who leaves or forgets anything because it is so easy to do considering the lack of sleep everyone gets. The plane was freezing when we got on. I closed all the vents but it still didn’t warm up very much. Told the flight attendants that I did not want to eat, took two Tylenol PM (thank you, Dave Price) and was asleep the minute we took off. I slept like the dead for 4 solid hours – my usual sleep time. Woke up and went to the lavatory and thought it must be close to time to land. Couldn’t believe it had only been 4 hours! It was still freezing, so I looked in the empty seat between me and John for the extra blanket. Wasn’t there. John had the extra blanket and extra pillow and his coat all covering him. Decided he must be colder than I was, so I left him alone. I went to the lavatory just prior to landing and when I came back there was a huge bottle of water in my seat. I looked at it for a few seconds and then the flight attendant came over and said, “Jackie asked us to give you a bottle of water but you were asleep”. DUH. Could she not have LEFT it for me while I was sleeping? They darn sure didn’t refill the water glasses in flight. I told her I really didn’t need it now that we were landing and I couldn’t take it through security. DUH, again! The flight attendants were not very friendly on that flight and extremely rude to some of my people. They seemed to spend more time in the galley chatting about their personal lives than they did taking care of the passengers. We landed a few minutes early in DC but the line for Immigration was extremely long. I had applied for Global Entry a few weeks ago when I was in LA and was supposed to receive an email stating that I had been approved within 2 days of my application. I never received anything. If I had that number, I could have whizzed through the computer kiosk without standing in line. They will be my FIRST call when I land in Nashville! Once we finally got through Immigration, I left John to collect the rest of the group and Dean and I ran for the gate to try and hold the plane to Nashville. As we ran up, they were asking for 6 volunteers to give up their seats on the Nashville flight. I went up to talk to the gate agent and told them where we had been and that I had 8 more people coming for the flight. They promised not to give their seats away. Everyone arrived before we started boarding and then two of my guys decided to give up their seats for the free roundtrip ticket United was offering! The flight did not board at the time posted and an announcement came on that they were waiting for the flight attendant. It’s a tiny little plane with one seat on one side and two on the other (my favorite – NOT!!!). About an hour after we were supposed to depart, they found a flight attendant and we got on board. Only it had started snowing and now we had to wait for the machine to de-ice the plane. That took about another hour plus I was not happy to be flying in that kind of weather. We finally took off and everything was fine – no turbulence. John sat by me but I swear I slept almost the entire flight. I did finish my John Grisham book but I was mad because it didn’t end the way I wanted it to end. The “bad guys” won. When we landed in Nashville, all our luggage arrived which is always a good thing. It was another successful tour – both for the troops and for the entertainers. Greg and Lonestar said they are getting lots of emails to their MySpace accounts from troops who saw the performances and their families. Looking forward to working with them again. I’m home now until February 8th when I go back over with the rock group “Filter”. Mentioned them to the troops and there is a lot of excitement about that visit. Photos from this trip will be up on the website by the end of the week. Check them out! Jude