Bo Bice, American Idol runner-up to Carrie Underwood, traveled to Kuwait and Afghanistan to entertain the troops. This was Bo’s first trip overseas to visit the military and it was a life-changing experience.
“The trip to Kuwait and Afghanistan was a life changing experience that I’ll never forget. I made friends over there that I will have for life and the opportunity to go and perform for the the men and women that keep us free has been a privaledge. I can’t wait to go back again.” – Bo Bice, Artist
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 4TH AND TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 5TH:
Today I am leaving for Kuwait and Afghanistan with American Idol Star Bo Bice. Yes, I have a long list of autographs for him to sign from my “female friends”. He has one guitar player (Thomas) and a sound engineer (John) with him and I make the fourth “man” on the tour. J I have never met him but have talked with him on the phone. The fact that he and his guys volunteered to go over and thank our troops is all I need to know about his personality.
I was supposed to meet them at Customs at 10:30 am to register equipment. I planned to get there 15 minutes early but at 10 am my cell phone rang. They were already there. Good to know that they fall in the “Charlie Daniels/Aaron Tippin” category of if I tell them we are leaving at 9:30 am, they will be in the lobby ready to go at 9:00 am. Some groups I have to “pad” the departure time the other way since they are always late.
No problem checking in and didn’t even get charged any excess by the young United Airlines agent who was “smitten” with Bo. I did give her one of his cds though.
We were advised that our flight was going to be one hour late departing Nashville to Washington Dulles. Since I had built in a 6 hour layover in Dulles, I was not worried. Got to the gate and realized I had forgotten to pack my flight suit (thanks, Steve!) and would really need it for the helicopter tours. Also, Bo’s guys – John and Thomas – both had colds and I wanted them to start using Zicam Swabs, but had packed all of those. I had my daughter bring those items back out to the airport to me.
Now, the reason I forgot to pack things. About 4:30 am on Saturday morning, I woke up to a horrible smell in my house. It was so bad I could not sleep and didn’t want to breathe. I got up and checked everything but had no idea what it was. Seemed to be coming through the heating vents! I had not gone to bed until 3:30 am, so I really needed to sleep. I tried every bed and even tried the sofa but the smell was horrible. My son was out of town, my daughter’s husband was sick, and JAM (my artist) was out of town…everyone I could call on to help was MIA. When it finally got to be a “decent” hour, I called JAM in Arizona where he was attending the Super Bowl. He said it smelled like a dead rodent and asked if I had a pest control service. I do and they had just been out the week before. He said that they probably put out some traps or poison and that accounted for the stench. Thinking he was right, I decided to go for my long run to “clear my head”. I did not smell anything once I got outside.
When I got back from my run, I called the pest control service only to be told they had not set any traps. He said it sounded like I might have a gas leak. That freaked me out. Called the gas company and told them how bad it smelled and they told me to get out of the house immediately…not to turn anything on or off as it might cause a spark. I had to wait about 5 minutes before they had a guy in my driveway. He got out of the truck and immediately said, “You have a skunk”. I asked him if he smelled it outside and he confirmed that it was very strong. So, I made him come into my house. He agreed it was much worse inside.
I walked around and around my house and finally found a hole underneath where I assume the skunk entered. Called my pest control guy back and he gave me the number for “animal removal”. Seems you can’t just kill the little fellas. Have to “relocate” them! This guy tells me that it is impossible for him to come today and he will come first thing Sunday morning. I got one of those little surgical masks and sprayed it with vanilla scent. Then I put candles all over the house and turned on all the exhaust fans. It was still unbearable. Since I had to pack for Afghanistan, going to a hotel was not an option. Worked all day and by that night, I decided the smell was better. I ordered a pizza and when the guy brought it to the door, I asked him if he could smell a skunk outside. He confirmed that he did and so I asked him to step inside and see if he could smell it. He nodded “yes” and bolted back outside. Not good. Now my nose has been desensitized to the smell. Or maybe it’s the mask.
My girlfriend called from LA and when I answered the phone she asked to speak to me. I told her it was me and she said, “it doesn’t sound like you”. Oh yeah, let me take off the “gas mask”! I had to sleep with the mask on and was worried about either suffocating or burning the house down because of all the candles I had lit in every room. So, not a very peaceful night’s sleep.
The next morning it seemed to be a little better and the “redneck remover” showed up at promptly 8 am. This guy was right out of a Jeff Foxworthy skit. I unlocked the little door to my crawl space outside and he stuck his head in and started gagging. Was afraid I would have to give him mouth to mouth and he had a big “chew” in his bottom lip. Gross. He was very sweet but very, very “good ole redneck boy”. Charged me $395 with another $100 due when he catches the skunk. Left the trap and said he would check it in a few days. In a few days???? What about the SMELL???? Obviously not his problem. But, I convinced myself that it was MUCH better.
My daughter showed up this morning to take me to the airport and confirmed that the smell is not any better. Great. Now I can’t smell it and my clothes and I probably smell like skunk, too! I did cautiously sneak around the side of the house last night to see if anything was in the trap. Nothing. Secretly, I am delighted that I will be away for 10 days. J My daughter kept insisting that the car smelled like skunk and I argued with her. Not smart. She had Bo Bice put his head in my car to see if it smelled like a skunk. He agreed with her. Said he had one at his house once and the smell lasted a full year. Nice to know that an American Idol Star smelled my car for “skunk odor”.
Anyway, that’s why I probably forgot to pack half my things that I will need this trip.
We went to the gate to wait and I got on the internet. Then an announcement was made that the plane would not depart Chicago until at least 3 pm, arriving in Nashville at 4:30 pm with a 5 pm departure to DC. That’s when the trip turned into my usual “Chevy Chase” vacation fun. I was sitting in the waiting area between Bo and John and this really cute young girl walks up to John and says, “Aren’t there any restrooms in this part of the terminal?”. John looked like a deer caught in the headlights and Bo and I had ceased working on our laptops and were staring. John says, “Yes. Right down there. See that big sign that says ‘Restrooms’?” The girl pretended that she was seeing the sign for the first time and started walking that way. Bo and I looked at John and said, “What in the world are you thinking. She was hitting on you”. I pointed out that if a girl were really looking for a restroom, she would have walked up to me (another female) and asked that question, not some strange guy sitting right beside me! John just continued to sit there looking dazed.
I kept monitoring the flight situation and it began to look even bleaker. Flights were not coming in from or going to Chicago. About an hour after the restroom incident, this guy got out of line at the counter and started stumbling towards us. He had a rolling bag with a duffle bag strapped to the front of it. Only the rolling bag was turned upside down with the duffle bag underneath. He was trying to roll it and falling all over it, mumbling something. Evidently he had spent his long delay in the bar. Everyone waiting was watching him and laughing as he finally made his way back into the bar. Bo jumped up and announced, “I’m going to buy that guy a drink” and took off to the bar himself. He got applause from the waiting passengers. He came back a few minutes later and said he bought the guy a hot dog in hopes of sobering him up. Evidently it didn’t work since a few minutes later six cops showed up with a cart and a stretcher. I don’t know if the guy was really drunk or had some medical problem but they strapped him to the stretcher and away they went. How many Nashville Policemen does it take to arrest one drunk? You’ll never see six policeman at a 10 car pileup in this city!
Our flight finally arrived from Chicago and they announced that we were boarding. We will be performing in Kuwait the day after we arrive and then heading into Afghanistan. I hope the flight attendants and service are better on the flight from Dulles to Kuwait. I already know that they won’t give me any water, so I’m going to “stockpile” several bottles before we depart! Given the price we pay for the tickets, you’d think they would give each person a bottle of champagne. Instead we can’t even get the little individual bottles of water! It seems that the service on airlines outside the U.S. is so much better than our carriers. If this were not the only direct fight, I’d definitely check into other options.
Right after we got on the plane for our flight to Kuwait a “Supervisor” came around and introduced herself to everyone. Never had this before. So I took advantage of the situation and bent her ear about the horrible service we had always received in the past. She seemed sincerely concerned and gave me her business card. Service was MUCH better. This time, instead of coming around and taking my water glass while I was asleep, they actually refilled it over and over again. Quite an improvement. Doesn’t take much to make me happy. J
We had absolutely no turbulence, flight landed on time, visas were waiting for us, all our luggage/gear arrived, and our escorts were waiting for us. Short drive to the hotel. Bo is impressed with how “modern” Kuwait is. I told him to enjoy it because Afghanistan would not look like this! Hotel had our rooms ready and had upgraded me to a suite again. While standing in the lobby I noticed that the President of the USO was there. I went over to say hello and learned that the first USO Center in Iraq will be opened at Balad AB on Thursday.
Only problem I had at the hotel was the internet. It was so slow, I couldn’t open my mail. I called the front desk and evidently, it is like this in the entire region. A fiber optic cable was severed in the MED and many places don’t have email access at all. I quit whining when I heard that because at least I can open mine eventually. A friend of mine in Iraq had told me that they were having that problem earlier this week, so I guess it is pretty wide-spread. (Thanks, Willie!)
Went down to the gym and ran on the treadmill for an hour, ordered a salad from room service and finished answering emails. Going to bed now so I can get up early and get in another work-out before a very busy day in Kuwait.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 6TH:
Slept for 5 hours and then went to the gym for a quick workout. Forgot one thing that happened on the flight yesterday. When we landed, we were told to move to the right side of the plane because there was a medical emergency and they needed to keep the left side open for paramedics. Our guys told us that evidently someone would not wake up. Said the flight attendant was standing over them and slapping them in the face yelling “wake up” but he wasn’t moving. My guess is he OD’ed on Ambian. Never found out what happened on that one.
Ready to visit two Camps today – handshake and Commander’s visit at Arifjan and performance tonight at Buehring. Supposed to get to do some fun things with “guns” today. I don’t do road reports from my U.S. trips but let me say that I visited the Secret Service Training Range a couple of weeks ago with Aaron Tippin. I fired an MP-5 machine gun at a paper target WITH MY LEFT HAND (and I am right-handed). I nailed it every time – in the crotch – exactly where I was aiming. Actually, that was the only “clear” spot on my target since Aaron had already hit him in the head and heart. J
So many wonderful things happened today that I know I am going to forget a lot of them. We departed the hotel to Camp Arifjan. Had a nice briefing and received certificates and coins from the super folks there. Ate at the DFAC and I selected a table of “victims” to have lunch with. I can see their eyes staring at me as I walk past each table searching for guys/gals who have full plates. I don’t want to sit with someone who has already eaten half their meal because once they finish, they have to return to work and will leave me sitting there all alone. Sat with some really nice young men and spent my time talking instead of eating. Great diet.
I know I’ve reported this from my previous visits, but Arifjan is huge – the largest base in Kuwait and it is a “logistics” base. Buehring is where the troops spend 2 weeks before deploying to Iraq. So, you never know how many troops are going to be on the ground when you visit either of these Camps.
Drove from Arifjan to Buehring. That’s a long drive – like 2 hours and we took the “Scenic” route. Don’t know if I have mentioned it, but the locals drive like crazy people over here – about a hundred miles an hour and sometimes going the wrong way on the interstates. We saw the most amazing thing ever. A guy on a four-wheeler was doing a wheelie on the interstate. And someone in a white car tried to cut him off. They were racing back and forth and finally the white car pulled over to the side of the road. The four-wheeler pulled over and the guy spit on the car! Bo was loving every minute of it. Said it will be hard for anything to top that as far as what he saw in Kuwait!
When I was here with Aaron Tippin, he and his guys decided that the Arabic writing on the “Stop” signs looked like two guys in a canoe. I thought they were crazy. Today we’re driving out to Arifjan and Bo says, “Hey look at that stop sign. It looks like 2 guys in a canoe”. Must be a redneck thing. Then we saw this truck with a big sign that said “Danger”. They decided the Arabic writing looked like two guys in a bass boat. Bo quipped, “Bass Boat, Will Robinson”! J
Went straight to a “training range” so the boys could play with guns. The first one we went into had a large class, so they walked us next door. As we were walking through a room, I spotted a familiar face. Turned out to be Chief Wilson who was my escort at Bethesda Naval Center for the past 2 years. He has only been in country for 2 days. He had called me right before coming over but I told him we wouldn’t be coming to Iraq and didn’t expect to see him. I don’t know who was more surprised…him or me!
The boys got to shoot guns and it was like shooting at “real situations” because they shot at a video on a screen. My boys did really well…better than some of the troops that were also shooting.
Left there and went to the stage to sound check. The lady who usually handles the shows – Miss V – was on vacation. I was really looking forward to seeing her. But we had some other terrific folks helping us out. We were, of course, running late and didn’t have time for dinner prior to the performance. I had my first migraine in 6 months, darn it! Had a large crowd and Bo gave them a terrific performance. His guitar player is supposed to be singing background vocals, but he has that horrible cold and can’t sing. We took him to a medic but all they gave him was OTC meds. He needs antibiotics! Chief Wilson and some of his friends came over and we got to talk for about an hour prior to the performance.
Bo signed autographs and took pictures with everyone in line. He and his guys are “genuine” in their love and admiration for our military and it definitely shows.
We grabbed Taco Bell after the show (Yuck) and drove back to the Radisson. We were originally supposed to depart to Afghanistan tomorrow at 10:15 pm (night). I asked if we could do a performance at the Air Base we will be departing from since we would have all day to do nothing. Got everything set up for a performance there at 4 pm and then our flight departure time changed to 9:30 am (morning!). At least with the earlier departure it means we won’t be arriving Afghanistan at 2 am and then getting back up at 6 am to fly to our first Camp.
It’s very late and I have to get up early. I feel sure I will not be able to send Road Reports from Afghanistan. So don’t worry about me and I’ll be back in touch on Valentine’s Day! J
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 7TH:
Got 3 ½ hours sleep and was ready to go by 9 am….I thought. Looked at the clock wrong and it was actually 8 am. Oh well, more time to answer email before we leave.
We departed exactly on time and Ali Al Salem Air Base was definitely ready for us. Unbelievable how hospitable they were. Really felt bad that we did not get to perform a show for them this afternoon. They took us to a building with billiard tables and other “games” and Bo signed autographs for 2 hours. I think we had more people come through there than we did at the show last night and this was just a “last minute” deal. I made sure that we got Thomas to the Medic and this time he got “real” antibiotics…exactly what he needs before going into Afghanistan.
Took the boys down to the food court to grab a sandwich or pizza before our flight. It will be a 3 ½ hour flight to Bagram, Afghanistan. Sure hate to say goodbye to our excellent escorts in Kuwait. I’m really hoping that things have improved in Afghanistan as far as “celebrity visits” because it was very bad the last two tours I took over. I’ve given them instructions on some very simple things that need to be done – nothing demanding – but am still worried.
Our C-17 (HUGE PLANE) showed up on time and the plane is out of McCord but our flight crew is out of South Carolina. There are only 4 people – Bryce, Jeff, Robert, and Brad – and I learned very quickly that Brad is the “entertainer” of the group. Amazing that it only takes 4 people to fly the huge C-17 and takes 6-7 for a C-130. However, the C-17 can basically fly itself. I gave everyone gifts and Bo and I sat up on the flight deck for the flight. I did leave for an hour and give John a chance to go up for the experience. The C-17 is great, too, because it has a real toilet whereas the C-130 only has a honey bucket. Turns out Brad was on the flight crew that flew the SMA’s tour a few years ago when Karri Turner, Mark Wills, and Darryl Worley were on the tour. I was going to call Karri and Mark and let him say hello on my cell phone but it was 4 am in the States.
We flew over Dubai and I had taken a photo of the man-made islands that are shaped like palm trees with all the glitzy hotels on them from the air last time. I switched seats with Bo and let him film it. As we got closer to Afghanistan the huge snow-covered mountains came into view. Out pilot said he was going to have some fun on landing. They have the capability of dropping the airplane out of the sky at 10,000 feet per minute! He was only going to do 5-6,000 feet per minute but we knew we would have things levitate. Sure enough, the entire mattress, pillows, etc., flew out of the bunk right behind us and landed in the floor at our feet. It was pretty exciting from the flight deck and I can just imagine what if felt like in the base of the plane. Bo was hoping Thomas threw up because he said Thomas hates things like that.
We landed exactly on time and Bo signed autographs and shook the hands for the approximately 20 men and women (troops and civilians) who had flown over with us. Then we waited and waited and waited for our escort to show up with a bus to pick us up. I knew that they knew exactly what time we were coming in but no one was there. Over an HOUR later, one of our Air Force contacts showed up with a truck that would not fit everyone in it. We had to make two trips to the PAX terminal and then no one had bothered to “clear us”. That took another half hour and everyone was getting really hungry. The MWR director that was our main contact did not meet us. When I asked where he was, I was told that he was probably sleeping as he was not feeling well. Our flight crew was so nice to let us hang with them on the plane all that time, especially since they had to turn around and fly another 4 hours back to Qatar. We told them to request our flight from Bagram back to Kuwait on the 12th so they can fly us back.
We finally left the airfield to drop our bags at lodging. I had specifically requested that I not be separated from Bo by more than a one minute walk. Obviously, no one paid any attention to that request either. It had snowed here 3 days ago and snow was piled knee-high along the roadways. The sun came out today and melted what was still on the ground and then re-froze it into sheets of ice. Made walking anywhere treacherous. My lodging is a long way from where the guys are staying and I’m the only one over here.
We went to the DFAC and grabbed a quick dinner. It was a nice DFAC but not the best one on the base. However, given the late hour, we didn’t have much of a choice. I’ve been here enough times to know where to go and I also know that DV quarters are available for celebrities. I had Chely in one and Aaron Tippin in one. Lodging is much better than it was when I had them here, so there is really no reason why Bo could not have been accommodated. I did learn that the Secretary of the Air Force (General Wynne) is here and Condi Rice is in Kandahar where we go tomorrow.
I went back to the office of the MWR escort and the guys went to bed. Had to check emails and then made a couple of calls on their DSN line (Hello, Texas!). By the time I finish this, it will be 1 am and I have to get up at 5:30 am. Our escort isn’t going to handle the manifesting for us and is making us get to the flight line 2 hours prior to departure. Going to see if I can get that changed to 1 hour prior on all future flights and have the escorts handle the manifesting.
Afghanistan so desperately needs the entertainment but the MWR folks need to learn to differentiate between a celebrity and a non-celebrity tour. I am probably the easiest person they will ever work with on a celebrity tour and if I am frustrated and disappointed, I can only imagine the reaction from other celebrity visits. When a celebrity and everyone on the tour, including myself donates their time and their talents because they want to say thank you to our troops in the remote locations, it’s not asking too much for them to be treated as DV’s.
Friday, February 8th:
Took my shower last night and got up at 5:30 am this morning to get dressed. I brought Special K and milk with me from the chow hall last night and so I didn’t have to be ready at 6:30 am for breakfast. They are picking me up at 7:30 am for our flight (hopefully) to Kandahar. One show there tonight and then off to Jalalabad for Saturday night show. Still so disappointed that Bo only brought one musician so we could get out to visit the remote sites and now that is not going to happen.
Got to the airfield and there did not seem to be any reason why we had to personally be there. We never went up to the desk or talked to anyone. Going to try again to see if I can get our escorts to handle this without us. We went over to the Pat Tillman USO Center and hung out for a couple of hours. Found out we are going to be flying with Blackwater (contractors) on one of their small prop planes. There is a “weight” restriction, so we all had to weigh with our carry on bags in our hands. The plane had real “seats” instead of the drop down seats on military aircraft. Flight crew was real nice and it took us about 1 ½ hours to fly from Bagram to Kandahar.
Our escorts – Callie and Foster – were waiting for us and definitely had their act together. They have only been in country for a couple of weeks but I can tell that they will do an excellent job. Evidently, the information they need regarding the tours is not being provided them though. They were only told on Wednesday (today is Friday) that Bo was coming in and had to scramble to find lodging for us. Again, I’m no where near my boys. I have a really nice “suite” in a long building and there are toilets/showers at the end of the hall. Nice not to have to hike around outside for those. Of course, my room is as far away from the toilets as possible, so I’ll get to run down the long hallway several times in the middle of the night. Can’t drink as much water as I do and not have that problem.
We landed late, got in our lodging and immediately went to the chow hall for lunch. Definitely not as good of food in Afghanistan as they have in Iraq. I had pasta with what I thought was marinara sauce but turned out to be some kind of spicy tomato sauce with chicken (I hope) in it. After lunch we took Bo around to visit lots of the troops who will not be able to come to the show tonight. This is a NATO base and we have 42 countries supporting us. One of the most difficult things about this is the fact that the other countries troop deployment is only for 3 maybe 4 months. Just when they build a relationship with someone, that person leaves and they have to start over. Most of our Army guys and girls are here for 14-15 months.
Spent all afternoon letting Bo sign autographs and take photos with the troops. Did a very quick sound check, came back to lodging where I took a very quick shower, and then headed to the DFAC for chow. I had the exact same thing I had for lunch except instead of a salad with my pasta, I had fruit. Had to go from the DFAC to the show site. Evidently, 7:00 pm was the wrong time to have a show as that is “shift change” and everyone goes to eat. Doesn’t matter how many people attend, Bo will give them the same great show. He actually performed for 30 minutes longer than requested tonight because people started coming in about half-way through his set.
He signed autographs for over an hour afterwards and then we all came back to lodging to crash. I have a nice queen-size bed and all the furniture in a normal bedroom suite. Even have a coffee maker.
Going to bed at midnight and have to get up at 5 am. Flying to Jalabad early tomorrow morning. BUT, our escort here who is so great talked to the Pax Terminal and they said we only have to be there one hour early, not three. That helps a LOT.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 9TH:
Got up at 5 am after sleeping almost 5 hours and that’s when the day started falling apart. Evidently, there was a mix-up in the “times” that everyone was given to be ready. I was told 6:30 am and the guys were told 7:30 am. So, I had a lot of “sitting around and waiting time”. We had everything out at the flight line on time. I took the boys over to see what is called the “Taliban’s Last Stand”. It is the building at the terminal where we dropped the J-Bomb on them, thus ending their reign of terror. Pretty impressive and from what I understand there are no plans to ever “repair” the damage.
A small plane landed like the one we took to Kandahar yesterday and we all went out to load our things on it. Only, it wasn’t our plane and was not going to Jalalabad. Came back to the terminal and that’s when they told us that our aircraft would not be coming in because of maintenance problems. We had a dedicated aircraft from Blackwater, so we asked about a military flight. The only milair flight between Kandahar and Jalalabad that day was at midnight….much too late for us to do a show there and then possibly be stuck there the next day.
We stayed in Kandahar and the worse part was having to contact the folks at Jalalabad and tell them we would not be there. They don’t get a lot of entertainment up there and we were really looking forward to cheering them up. But, we made the most of it at Kandahar. Took the boys to the base exchange and then to the local “Bazaar” for some shopping. Grabbed a quick lunch at Pizza Hut as no one wanted DFAC food again. Then we got to go see the Predators. That was fascinating for the guys. I’ve seen them many times before but it is always impressive to hear what they do. After that, we went and visited several offices and Bo signed autographs and took photos for a couple of hours. They got to see some of the new up-armored humvees like the ones we saw in Iraq. Evidently, Iraq got the first shipments and now they are coming to Afghanistan. I think I mentioned that I saw one with Aaron that had been hit 13 times and there wasn’t a scratch on it. The gunner is protected in those vehicles whereas he was usually the one who received the worst of the blast in the old vehicles. There is also a robotic arm on the front with a probe that detects IED’s which is still the main cause of injuries to our troops. You need to understand how genuine and thoughtful Bo is to everyone he meets. He spends a long time chatting with each person, not just signing an autograph. I’m amazed at how many Alabama people are at this base. I’ve had to suck it up and admit that I grew up in Alabama, too. Fortunately, most of the people I meet share my sentiments of not wanting to go back there. J
I had told the base that morning that we would do another show that evening in the same place. No reason to just sit around when there is a possibility of performing for the troops. Bo rode back to the show site in a humvee and the guys did a quick sound check, I came back to lodging and showered and then we went to the DFAC for dinner. Pasta has become the main staple of my diet. Ever since I got food poisoning from scallops when I was in Kosovo with the Bellamys, I stay away from seafood and meat on these tours.
There was a good, enthusiastic crowd at the show and again Bo signed autographs afterwards for a couple of hours. The highlight of the show was when Bo brought up everyone in the audience that was from Alabama. As I mentioned, we had met quite a few people. He had them sing with him on “Sweet Home Alabama”. Gave me chill bumps. After the autograph session, he decided he was going to have a Karaoke contest with some of our escorts, so I left him to it and came back to lodging. At least my nice room was still available for tonight. I came here for the first time in 2002 then back in 2004 and 2006. I have to say that there have been a “few” really good improvements for the troops but overall, facilities at Iraq look like a Ritz Carlton compared to these bases. There are still bombed out buildings that haven’t been touched for repair. Maybe they never will be but from what from I’m told, with the amount of money that is being spent to upgrade this base, it will be a permanent facility. Again, with all the NATO forces here, it may not be strictly a U.S. facility once we begin pulling troops out of here. One of the Units that we met yesterday (Infantry) had lost two guys last week and Special Forces lost one just a couple of days ago. KBR has a huge presence here and are doing an amazing job. We treat those employees the same as we do our troops – thanking them for their service by working in such a desolate and dangerous area.
The one thing these tours will teach anyone is patience and flexibility!!!! Have to get up at 5:30 am and it’s 12:30 am now, so goodnight.
Sunday, February 10th:
Up and ready to go early. Will have time for one last phone call on the DSN line before we depart. Know my military friends will be happy when I no longer have that service available in my room. They probably don’t appreciate 6 am “wake-up” calls from me wanting to say “hello” while I’m in the area (Huh, TMT?).
Got out to the flight line and was waiting in the lounge for the guys to come over. When Bo arrived, he seems to have the same cold that the other guys had. We left immediately for the Medic Tent. It’s a Sunday here and the hospital is NATO forces, mostly Canadian. They were extremely nice and Bo only had to wait about 45 minutes to see someone. They wouldn’t give him a shot but did give him antibiotics. Hopefully, those will kick in within 12 hours.
We were notified that our plane was on the ground and started rolling all the equipment out to be loaded. As we drove up from the Medic Tent, we noticed our crew guys rolling all the equipment BACK to the terminal. Not a good sign. Evidently our plane landed with one propeller. They were going to try and repair it OR get another plane from Bagram. Not trusting either of those options, I told Calle to please check on getting us on a MilAir flight today. I went into the terminal with her and we were told that there were 2 flights – one in just a few minutes and one later this afternoon. I gave the guy an “incentive” package to get us on the earlier flight. The only issue was our weight restrictions. They got everyone “weighed” and hopefully we’ll get on it.
We met the nicest Special Ops guy who had a beautiful dog with him. His name was Ron Warren and he is from Ft. Campbell, KY – our neighbors. His wife was with Public Affairs at Campbell and is now with the Ft. Campbell newspaper. I am pretty sure she is in my email address book. The dog’s name is Mara and has the record for the most “finds” for explosives (caches, IEDs, etc.). She travels with him everywhere. Fascinating to hear him talk about how she “operates”.
Just been notified that our flight won’t be landing until at least noon. Patience! I went over to Burger King and bought “to go” lunches for everyone because we were told that we had to be in the PAX terminal by 12:15 pm. After eating, I went up to the nice young Air Force guys at the desk and asked if I could check my email. Got to talk to them for quite a while as I was doing that. Another young Airman came in and was talking about coins. I told him I had one I would “swap” him. He, or course, didn’t have a coin so we started “bargaining” for other items. His patches wouldn’t come off his uniform, so that wasn’t an option. I already have the new cap and his DCU’s were too big for me. He finally ran into his room and comes back with a deck of cards. On each card is a dirty joke. Deal! J I honestly felt bad though when he told me that mine is the very first coin he has ever received. I tried to give him the cards back but he assured me that he has lots more in his room.
Ran into the pilot who was flying the plane that had one propeller out. He said that they were sending another plane for him and that he would be flying back to Bagram today, too. Said we could ride back with him if we were over the weight limit for our flight. THAT is a concern. At this time, we are 400 pounds over. I asked him what happened with our flight yesterday that was canceled due to “maintenance” issues. Evidently a “de-icing vehicle” ran into it and damaged the tail! Unbelievable. We were finally told that we could board and I ran into the Blackwater Pilot who flew us from Bagram to Kandahar. He was there trying to assist with getting the broken propeller fixed.
We boarded the plane and I immediately went into a slight panic. It is much smaller than the one we flew 2 days ago and we are overweight and will be flying over mountains the entire trip. Thomas is even more afraid to fly than I am. We got everyone on board and had 4 other passengers as well. Then, the co-pilot shoves this huge step ladder into the aisle. It reaches the entire length of the aisle. Not that anyone was going to be getting up during the flight, but I was worried about the weight. We were all thinking about Aleya (sp?) and when her plane went down in the Islands. Once we took off with no problem, I relaxed a little but kept looking out the window. The terrain was nothing but huge snow covered mountains. If we had a problem, there was no way we could land anywhere. I watched both propellers the entire flight. I know that the pilot who had the one propeller go out told me that they could fly with one prop, but not with all that weight. I think we would have just flipped over.
We hit a little turbulence and the pilot came on and said something we could not understand. Like placing an order at a drive-thru! That’s when the real turbulence started and I really started worrying. I was sitting in front of Bo who was sitting directly across from Thomas. The only thing that finally helped settle me down was the fact that I saw “flat land” ahead. Then, I noticed that we had flown past the runway and about that time, the pilot made a “U-Turn” with a steep bank and I thought we were going to turn upside down. I’ve never experienced anything like that. Every time a “buzzer” would go off in the cockpit, I’d look at the pilots to see if they looked concerned. We finally landed and Thomas started breathing again. Told my friend Craig that the Diamond Rio song “One More Day” kept running through my mind! Whew! Give me my MilAir boys and a Military plane and I’ll fly anywhere, any time. But I don’t want to do any more of these “contracted” flights!
Our escorts were waiting for us once we landed and took us to lodging and the techs to the Clam Shell to set up for the show. I gave Bo the option of not doing the show if he didn’t feel up to it but he wants to sing. So, set up, sound check, quick dinner, 8 pm show, autographs and do it all over again tomorrow. We’ve been told that the show tomorrow is a very intimate “acoustic” show for the F-15 pilots at 1 pm. Should be fun. My priority tomorrow – other than the show – is to find my friend Michael’s son and find the Tennessee Air Guard!
Sound check was painless and then we went to the DFAC. MUCH better food here than in Kandahar. I seem to have acquired a “room mate” in my hooch even though I am supposed to be the only person in there. She was asleep at 5 pm when I got there and so I never got to introduce myself. Her alarm went off about 30 minutes before I had to go to sound check but she kept hitting snooze and I never met her. It is really hard to move into the quarters and try to be quiet and keep the lights off so as not to disturb another person. I had to do everything with a flashlight in my mouth.
The show was great. Bo got the Alabama folks back up on the stage to sing “Sweet Home” with him. This time I was “prepared” and videoed part of it. The autograph line was pretty long, but again he spent quality time with each person who came through. We finished up at about 10:30. I talked to everyone in line who had on a flight suit because I’m trying to find my Tennessee Air Guard C-130 boys. I seem to know a lot more about where they might be than our escorts. I met one guy who is a medic with the F-15’s and he gave me the information I needed. We are performing a small, intimate, acoustic set for them at 1:00 pm tomorrow in their “break area”. Since the Medic won’t be able to come to the show, we’ll go by and say hello to them afterwards.
Went to check my email in one of our escorts’ offices and it was “light” because it’s the weekend. His DSN phone didn’t work because he had left it out of the cradle all day and the battery was dead. I had him take me to the MWR Tent so I could make my calls. Came back to the hooch at midnight and my roommate was asleep. I had to undress in the dark and try to be quiet enough not to wake her. Got in bed at 12:30 pm and our first event tomorrow begins at 11:30 am. So, I figured out how to walk to the gym and the DFAC and I’m set. Of course, I KNOW I’ll get lost, but that’s okay. There are lots of people walking around who can help me!
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 11TH:
Only had to get up twice to go out I the freezing cold (and yes, there is still ‘frozen’ snow and slush all over the ground) to go to the latrine. But, when I came back to the room the second time at 4:30 am, something started making this high pitched whine. I assumed it was my roommate’s alarm clock and she didn’t hear it. But then I checked one of mine (yes, I use TWO!) and saw that the battery was dead. I pushed every button on it and nothing worked. I couldn’t find the cover for the battery so I had to go back to the latrine and try to fix it. Found out I needed something to unscrew the battery cover, so back to the room to get my Swiss Army Knife. Finally got the darn cover off and took the battery out. I would have just thrown it away but I’m sure the bomb detection squad would have thought is an explosive and evacuated all of us.
Went to the gym and had a good work out. Amazing how much better I feel when I can get in a workout first thing every morning. Walked to the DFAC to get some coffee. Only had to ask 3 people where it was. J As I was leaving, I spotted some guys in flight suits and as I walked by, I checked out their patches – YEP – Tennessee Air Guard. I stopped to introduce myself and I think they thought I was some crazy woman. I was all sweaty from my workout, no make up, and babbling about being from Tennessee. I finally managed to drop the right names with them and learned that one of them is one of the names I was given as a “contact”. How about that? Told them we would be by at 4 pm today to visit with them. I’ll have on makeup and can hopefully redeem myself at that point.
Back to the hooch for a shower and get ready for the day. Some guy knocked on the door and when I answered he said he was with billeting. Wanted to know who was in the room. I gave him my name and told him I didn’t know who the other person was. He said that no one else was supposed to be in here with me. He came in and checked the name tag on her luggage. Evidently, she was supposed to leave yesterday and since she didn’t, she was supposed to check in with them because they would have moved her to another area.
Today we visit Base Ops for autographs and then do the acoustic show for the F-15 pilots, then get to “pet” their planes. From there we go to AFN for a radio interview, then to the JOC to say hello. Then we’ll go visit my Tennessee Boys and the Medics, have dinner, and then go to the hospital. Hopefully there won’t be anyone in the hospital.
I have to find time to go to the Exchange today. Yesterday, I broke my $300 pair of Prada sunglasses. I have NEVER paid that much money for a pair of sunglasses for that very reason. At least there is a warranty on them but it will be a hassle to return them.
Today was such a wonderful day! We started out at the Base Ops and signed autographs. Then went to visit with the F-15 pilots. They really laid out the “red carpet” for us, but that’s my “Air Force”. Bo performed for about 40 minutes and then signed autographs for everyone. We were given a “tour” of the flight line and that was a real thrill for the boys. Had to wear ear plugs because it was SOOOO loud. Then we went into the area where all the pilots were. We were all impressed by the one female pilot that they had. They say she is one of their best.
From there we went to the JOC (Joint Operations Center). This is the “nerve center” of Operation Enduring Freedom. Then – here’s my favorite part of the day – we went to see my Tennessee Air National Guard boys. They were so excited to see us…almost as excited as we were to see them. I left caps, coins, bracelets and cds for everyone. Bo promised to come and see them when they return to Nashville and perform for them. Met a really nice, funny pilot Delaware who was there working “jointly” with them. The entire visit was so awesome. And, they all talked like I do…except the crew from Delaware! Dolly Parton’s niece is really there with them but she was out flying while we visited. I told them the story of how I met her and asked them to relay it to her.
We went across the street and visited the flight line surgeons. I had met one the night before at the show and promised him we would stop by. He was kind enough to tell us exactly where to find the TANG boys. He was surprised that I kept my word. They gave us a bunch of “drugs” to help with the colds (I don’t have it yet, knock on wood). Truly nice group of guys and one female.
We had a little time to kill so we went to the base exchange and purchased a few things. Then we went to eat at the “bar-be-que pit”. Everything on the menu is grilled outside. It was better than the DFAC although not as much of a selection. After dinner we had a little time before going to the hospital, so I checked email and tried unsuccessfully to call a couple of DSN numbers. My buddies in Iraq have probably blocked my calls because I’ve call so much these past few days!
Went to the hospital and signed autographs. The best news was the fact that there wasn’t any injured military personnel there. One of the doctors found a guitar and talked Bo into singing one song. Our medics also treat the locals and there was a little baby with a cleft pallet and a young boy who looked to be about 14. They brought him out and had an interpreter with him. I went over to talk to him and so did Bo. He was so sweet. I gave him a cap and a bracelet and he immediately put it on. Also gave him a coin and a cd and that really thrilled him. Bo gave him an autographed photo. We talked to him for quite a while and took lots of photos with him. I learned that he had a head injury from falling off his house but that he had been treated and was fine. But, he developed pneumonia once he went home and had to come back in. We took photos with him and he was wearing the Stars for Stripes cap. Pretty cool
We went back to lodging to try and find out what time we are flying out tomorrow. The plan is to depart lodging at 8:30 am but if something changes, we will depart at 2:15 am! I am sleeping in my clothes just in case. I met my “room mate”. She is not military but is a contractor going to a little camp way up north to help with “rebuilding”. She is very nice and we chatted for a few minutes. The reason she is still here is the same as usual, her flight got cancelled! She doesn’t know when she will get out of here.
Going to be now.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 12TH:
Someone was pounding on the door at around 12:30 am. I jumped up and one of our escorts was standing there. I immediately assumed that we were going to be taking the 2:15 am flight. Not so. More bad news. Now our flight is not departing until 1:30 pm which means we have to be at the flight line at 12:30 pm. The later we fly and the more delays there are, the less our chances are of getting out today. If you hear about a loud explosion in Afghanistan today, I will have been the cause if they tell us we can’t get to Kuwait!
I had my alarm set for 6 am and forgot to change it after the midnight news. Went ahead and got up and went to the gym to work out then to the DFAC for coffee and cereal. And, I didn’t get lost ONCE and did not have to ask anyone for directions. Amazing. All the bases always have great gyms. This one was very crowded at that time of the morning. They have great cardio equipment but none of their “machines” are nautilus. They are the kind that you have to stack your weight on. Have a few free weights. Better than nothing!
Came back to the room and checked the “shower” situation. It is only supposed to be used by females in the DV suites which would be a small number. However, it is always full with a line of people waiting to shower. Guess it must be nicer than what some of the females have in their areas, so they sneak in here. Not surprised to find it was full, so I decided to check out my cell phone service. YIPPEE….I have a couple of bars. Called JAM and Lindsey and talked for a very few minutes because it is so expensive. Then I decided to try and find the MWR building so I could check my email and make a DSN call. I told Lindsey that the escorts just drop me off and I have no way of reaching them and have no idea how to get to the area where my boys are. Very frustrating. Lindsey asked if I noticed that the escorts purposely keep putting me farther and farther away from them!
I was able to find the MWR building by asking directions only once. Probably because it is located right behind the DFAC where I was this morning. J Got my DSN call made and then tried to call the one number I have for our escort. Of course, he doesn’t get into the office until around 9 am or so.
Came back to the hooch and the shower was finally available. All packed and now I am going to go back over to the MWR building and try to call our escort again. If they tell me the flight has been delayed, I will be having him pick me up so I can go to the PAX terminal and see if I can figure something out!
Called Protocol at Ali Al Salem as I figured they would be able to track our flight. They had me call them back in 30 minutes and said that we are definitely manifested on the flight that departs at 3:00 pm! I went back to lodging and waited for my escort and told him that the flight isn’t departing until 3 pm. He and I went to the DFAC for a very quick lunch as Bo and the boys had just finished eating. Once we got to the PAX terminal, it was, of course, not necessary for us to be there. Our escort could have taken our passports and signed in for us. We all walked over to the Pat Tillman Center to “wait” and use their internet/DSN phones. I was really happy to have about 2 hours where I could work on email on MY computer. Of course, the wireless was down and did not come back up while we were there.
Our flight arrived on time and we boarded at 3 pm. We thought we had the same great flight crew that brought us over because the plane was from McCord. But, it wasn’t. However, this crew was just as nice. They really are from McCord instead of Charleston. Let us go up on the flight deck and hooked Bo up on headsets this time. We should arrive in Kuwait at 6:30 pm Kuwait time. Still glad I planned for us to fly home tomorrow night instead of tonight. MUCH less stressful.
A couple of things that stand out in my mind from the tour. I’ve already told you how nice, sincere, and caring Bo is. But, two things that he said make me realize “why” I do these tours – not just from the perspective of needing to do them for the troops, but for the impact it has on the celebrities and the people traveling with them. Bo said that American Idol changed his life, but this tour topped that. The things he saw and learned about our troops and their purpose for being here was life-changing. He also said that the only other thing that meant more to him in his life was the birth of his son. Today, he mentioned that seeing the Afghani man and the newborn baby in the hospital brought home to him exactly what we are doing there and what we have accomplished. It’s about teaching the Afghani’s a new way of life…a life of freedom that so many of us take for granted. Yes, it’s about freeing them from a rule of terror, but our troops are showing them love and compassion – something that they will share with each other and with others throughout the world. Even with all the frustration of not getting to the small FOB’s that I wanted to visit, the tour was a success. If you get a chance, next week go to Bo’s websitewww.bobice.com and read his journal from the trip.
Thomas sat up on the flight deck for most of the flight with Bo while I worked. Then I went up for landing. This flight crew put us both on headsets which was great. They also let us use the night vision goggles which was really cool. The pilots were like 21 and 23 years old. Makes us feel so old. Then, they decided to do a “fly over” landing and a “dead stop”. That means they fly over the runway and then do a U-turn and a steep bank and then land in a little of 1,000 feet of runway space. We pulled a couple of ‘G’s’ as we were coming in and it was pretty amazing to think that the huge C-17 could be handled like that. I was very impressed with our flight crew.
We landed and I knew Protocol would be there to pick us up. While we were waiting on them, I called our escorts to see where they were and when I looked up, there was an F-16 pilot that I had met in Iraq and stayed in touch with via email. I was so surprised and happy to see him, I hung up on the MWR Director that I was talking to without saying good-bye. Small world! We invited him to come into Kuwait and have dinner with us at the Radisson.
All our luggage had been palletized with the bags for the military. It was a nightmare finding everything but we did and headed to the Radisson. I rode with my pilot friend and enjoyed watching him freak out about the other drivers. We were on a 6 lane interstate and at one point, a car came flying around our convoy on the left-hand shoulder of the road. We finally made it to the hotel and everything was ready for our check-in. They upgraded me to a suite again.
We had a really fun dinner and Bo and his guys got to hear first-hand about the war and our efforts from my friend. We sat and talked for a very long time and for once, I just could not deal with answering emails and went to bed!
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 13TH:
Got up earlier than I planned and answered part of my 283 emails. Went down and had breakfast with my boys and then met them in the lobby at 11 am for our trip into Kuwait. As many times as I have been to Kuwait (more times than I can count!), I have never had time to go into Kuwait. I am so happy that we decided to book our flight out for later tonight instead of taking the chance that we would get back from Afghanistan last night and then have to fly back to the U.S. a couple of hours later. THAT would have been brutal. Bo and John were surprised by how modern the city is…they loved seeing Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Cinnabon, etc. The coast line is beautiful and dotted with high-rise hotels. We took photos of the famous “towers” and then went to a local “sook” for shopping. Bo purchased gifts for his family but I didn’t see anything that I haven’t already purchased in other countries. Pashima’s, pearls, knock-off purses and watches abound. Too hard to get the copy bags back into the country though. We went to the local “Hard Rock” Café and purchased several items and had a quick lunch. No one in our group was hungry because we had eaten a late breakfast at the Radisson but our escorts who were nice enough to come with us needed to eat.
We were supposed to go by the Embassy but evidently there was a “political” issue because our military escort had arranged the visit at the last minute and it was supposed to go through the proper channels. Rather than cause any problems for him, I made the decision not to go by there. Then the security escort asked if the Marine General’s wife and family could come by the hotel to get autographs and photos with him. Bo and the guys wanted to walk on the beach and take some photos, so I told him to have them come by at 4:30 pm. My friend from last night was back in the area, so I invited him to share our final dinner with us. I hung out with him the rest of the afternoon. Bo signed autographs for a couple of families that came by from the Embassy and were thrilled to meet him. The Marine General’s wife was so nice and she had 3 young daughters who were thrilled to get his autograph and photos taken.
We all met downstairs for dinner and it was a really fun, lively evening. We shared our funny stories from the trip with my friend and he told the guys some more stories from Iraq. Everyone agrees that the tour was life-changing and they want to do more. I want to take him into Iraq next time and let him bring his full band. Our dinner was the perfect ending to a wonderful tour. The buffet at the Radission is amazing. Every type of food imaginable for both breakfast and dinner. All my groups always look forward to eating there – especially after a week of DFAC food.
We departed for the airport at 10 pm and didn’t have any trouble checking in for the flight. They charged me a lot for excess but I expected it. We went to the lounge to wait for our flight but barely had time to sit down and have a cup of coffee before boarding was announced. Bo and I had already discussed the fact that the food was so bad on the flight, we were not going to eat (that’s also the reason for our dinner at the Radisson before we left). We got on the flight and immediately “passed out”. I am in a row where I am on the aisle and there is an empty middle seat and then a man sitting in an aisle seat. The overhead light over the middle seat would not go out. I thought I could sleep through it, but couldn’t. I talked to the flight attendants and they were able to put some paper up and “block” it finally.
No turbulence on the flight and we landed only a few minutes late. Strange that it takes 11 hours to fly to Kuwait and 14 hours to fly back. We flew way north this time, up over Iceland. We had a very short connection in DC and the line for customs was very long. They only had two agents working Immigration and it took almost 30 minutes to get through just that area. At least all the luggage had already come out and was waiting for us. We rushed through Customs and Security and finally found a departure board. Our flight was delayed from 8 am until 9:40 am. Wish they would post that information where we could see it in Customs and not have to “run for the plane”.
We went into the Red Carpet Lounge to wait. Had a problem getting on the internet and by the time I finally got logged on, it was time to go to the gate. When we arrived at the gate, they announced that the flight had been delayed again and would not depart until 10:33 am! We went back to the Red Carpet Lounge to wait another hour. The flight finally departed at 11 am. I had booked our seats on this flight and evidently United in Kuwait took it upon themselves to change our seats. Bo and I were in bulkhead, which totally sucks. Then the flight attendant said that everyone in the first 3 rows had to move to the back because of “weight distribution”. It is one of those tiny planes – 1 seat on one side and 2 on the other, so I picked the 2 seat side and had an empty seat beside me. Much better!
Arrived Nashville and all our luggage came with us. It was a great tour for Bo and I know he is going back again.