When Charlie Daniels left Iraq in April 2007, he vowed he would return and continue to show his support for our military. Two years later, and after a successful knee replacement surgery, Charlie is keeping good on his word.
PHOTOS (Courtesy of Randy Mendenhall
PHOTOS – AL ASAD (NMCB 24 / CMZ HARMON)
MONDAY AND TUESDAY, APRIL 13-14, 2009: Leaving for Kuwait (again!) today with the Charlie Daniels Band. As most of you know, Charlie has been to Iraq, Afghanistan, all the other “Stans”, Korea, etc., etc. many times in support of our troops. He is amazing. He is 72 years old and entertains like he’s 18 years old. He hasn’t been to Iraq for me for a couple of years because he had to have his knees replaced so he could jump off the helicopters again. He’s making up for his absence this year by going to Kuwait and Iraq this week and Korea in September. No problems checking in at the airport and we have our regular Skycaps on call. United ticket agents and security scanners were very sweet and helpful. The gate agent even allowed us to all board the aircraft first. Couple of the guys were late arriving as they said they didn’t get the message about the arrival time at the airport….which translates as they got the same information everyone received but they didn’t read it. J Still arrived in plenty of time for everyone to eat lunch before we boarded the flight to DC. My email stopped coming through on my new Blackberry yesterday and I have been on the phone with them several times. At first T-Mobile said I just needed to reset my account and I told them they needed to do it for me since I was traveling and didn’t have access to a computer. When the representative didn’t ask me for my password, I KNEW he didn’t reset it for me even though he said he did. Still no email. Called them again. This time they said there was a “system-wide outage by T-Mobile for all Blackberry devices and they didn’t know WHEN it would be repaired. I doubt it. Told them I’d been a customer since 2003 and spend a lot of money on roaming charges with them but I was going to change my service if they couldn’t get this problem corrected. It actually happens every few weeks and the last time they told me to go get a new SIM card – which I did last Friday. Obviously, that didn’t work! It was the flight from HELL. I knew it would be. We had horrible tornados last week (right in the city – Murfreesboro – where my daughter and son live!!) and they were predicting more of the same today. We were on one of those small jets (I HATE THEM) and take-off and the first 30 minutes of the flight were sheer hell for me. The turbulence was breath-taking. I had John’s arm locked in a grip so tight I’m sure he had absolutely no circulation for the entire 2 hour flight. Fortunately, it smoothed out after that and landing at Dulles was relatively painless. My friend at United cleared everyone for the Red Carpet Lounge and we’ve been sitting here for almost 4 hours. Almost time for us to get on the flight to Kuwait. She wasn’t able to meet us as she had some health problems yesterday and was off work today. Mike – my friend in the Secret Service – also wasn’t able to meet us today. So, we’ve just been in here harassing the Lounge staff for hours. Actually, the staff has been great this time. Very friendly. Maybe the flight attendants will be, too. That might be asking TOO much. J We boarded the flight and that’s where I got my first surprise. My travel agent knows I have two hard and fast rules – no window seat and no bulkhead. I will change flights if those are the only seats available on an overseas flight. My office staff knows to double check my reservations to make sure I’m in an aisle seat that is not bulkhead. We got on the plane and Bebe, John, David and myself are in the bulkhead row. Not sure how that happened but need to get it corrected before we fly home. It was pretty miserable, even in Business Class. Flight took off on time and we hit some pretty severe turbulence the first hour then it smoothed out. The flight attendants were very nice but I guess there have been even more cutbacks financially since we were not given menus this time. The flight attendant just came by and said here’s your choices. A few flights ago, they only had one menu and everyone had to share it. Guess that one is gone now. They can certainly use one for every flight because the meal selection NEVER changes. It’s always the same items and it’s always horrible food. If the restaurant selection at Dulles weren’t so bad, I’d eat before I got on the flight every time. Sure wish Delta would go to every day service with their flights. Just no comparison in the service. I’m flying Northwest when I get back from this tour. Two and a half weeks all over Europe with the Bellamy Brothers. Will see how their service is since I haven’t flown them since last October. Okay, FINALLY something interesting to report. More like my “typical Chevy Chase Vacations”. J When we landed, Charlie pointed to a local female waiting for us with a sign that said, “JUDYHILL SEALE”. It was just too close to NOT be me but she had no clue why she was meeting me. My middle name is “Gail” (please don’t tell anyone), so maybe that’s where they got the “Hill” – sort of rhymes with Gail??? Anyway, I finally figured it out because she was only meeting ME – not the Charlie Daniels Band. I am something called “Global” on United which is the highest elite status you can have on their airline (because of my constant trips overseas). It’s like a “secret society” and there’s no information about it anywhere on their website. They sent me a “card” but didn’t really tell me any of my benefits. Anyway, she walked me (with 13 people behind me) to Immigration to pick up our Visas, then stayed with us until we got our luggage and exited Customs. All our bags and equipment came in – Thank Goodness – and Clayton, Broadie and our MWR escorts were waiting for us with a bus and trucks to transport us. Bebe and David were talking about how horrible the food had been on the flight. I had warned them but they weren’t really prepared. They both had the Ravioli (as I did) and said it just blew up in their stomachs. Reminded us of that movie “How Big Is This Thing Going To Get”? J We drove to the hotel and it was still daylight. Very strange as it is usually dark when we arrive. They switched to Daylight Savings Time when we were here in March. Hotel had all our rooms ready by us and after dropping bags and answering about 100 emails. Email was still not coming through on my Blackberry so I called T-Mobile on Skype. I told them I am in Kuwait and the call was costing me $4 per minute (didn’t tell them I was on Skype at 4 cents per minute). Asked him to put me through to an “expert” if he didn’t think he could help me. He immediately focused on “Kuwait” as being the problem. I spent 10 minutes explaining to him that the problem happened in NASHVILLE. Then, he asked me what “city” was close to Kuwait!!! Unbelievable. After giving him a geography less explaining that Kuwait City is in the country of Kuwait, he decided to move on to something else. I have a “buddy list” on AOL and when my friends sign on or off, there is a “sound” that is transmitted depending upon what their “logo” is. One of these sounds is a very loud, obnoxious DONKEY that says “Hee-Haw” several times. I didn’t realize that when I am on Skype and AOL is on, the people I am talking to can hear that sound. Well, Mr. Donkey signed on and started braying. The T-Mobile rep said, “My God is that a camel”? I assured him that it was and that I was staying in a tent in the middle of the desert and it was imperative that I get my Blackberry Email up and running. He had it fixed within 5 minutes. Actually the Radisson is a 5 Star Hotel on the Beach and we won’t see any camels until we drive to Camp Arifjan tomorrow. LOL I went to the restaurant to join the group for dinner and the meal was fabulous, as usual. Came back to the room and JAM and I got all the Walkie-Talkies in their chargers. They lost a lot of the charge on the flight over. I was working away on email when my computer died AGAIN. Last week, the screed went black and I had to fedex it back to Panasonic to replace the LCD. Supposedly all that was wrong was the backlight on the monitor went out. But, then when I was working on it on Saturday, the entire computer died. I mean NO POWER. Panasonic wanted me to ship it back to them again but I needed it for this trip. I took it to Best Buy and they ran a scan on it and made some changes to the settings. They also sold me a “fan” to place underneath as they think it might be overheating. It worked just fine all weekend until today. Just totally dead again – no power!!! I turned it off, got the “fan” out of my bag and got it hooked up. So far so good. I am going to bed very soon. It’s almost 12:30 am. I had some stitches right before leaving Nashville and didn’t realize that I would not be allowed to exercise or lift anything heavy for TWO WEEKS. It’s killing me. Had I known this was going to be the rule, I would have waited a while for the stitches. Tomorrow we perform at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. Then depart for Iraq on Thursday. Jude
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 15, 2009 – CAMP ARIFJAN, KUWAIT: Let’s see…where do I begin. I went to bed at 2:30 am and woke up at 3:30 am thinking I had slept all night. Didn’t have much trouble going back to sleep and then got up at 8 am. No exercise. It’s killing me! L I showered and worked for a while waiting for JAM to call me to go to breakfast. When he hadn’t called by 9:45 am, I went to eat without him. I was reluctant to call him because he has such a hard time sleeping over here. I finally called him about 15 minutes before they stared serving breakfast. He had not gone to sleep until 5 am! We departed for Camp Arifjan at 12:30 pm. Charlie’s watch was wrong, so he’d been sitting in the lobby for an hour wondering why everyone was late! J I met Karen Fritz in the lobby of the hotel. She handles tours for the Navy and had a Rap Group here. One of the DJ’s had a seizure and was hospitalized. They were going to miss their flight out and depending upon what the medics said, might have to cancel the remainder of their tour. They had been in Iraq for 7 days and were going to Djbouti and some Naval Carriers. Sure hope he’s okay. Seems he had a history of seizures but didn’t mention it to anyone. Our first stop was for the Commander’s Office call and Lt. Colonel Luis Jones gave another awesome “briefing” on their role in Kuwait. I think he was very impressed by the questions that Charlie asked. He presented everyone with a certificate and a coin. The band and crew left for the stage and Charlie, Bebe, David, Dean and I went to visit the hospital. The last time Charlie and his staff visited the hospital in 2006, everything was in tents. Much different now with beautiful facilities. Not many patients, thankfully, and no “war injuries”. Next stop was the Warrior Return Unit where Tim gave Charlie a great tour and overview of their services. By the time we finished these visits, it was 4:30 pm. Charlie went to a “green” room behind the stage to rest and I started my “pre-show” checklist. Also had to go to the base exchange to purchase another bag to use as my “FOB Hop Bag”! The Show began on time and there were THOUSANDS attending. It was an awesome performance. Charlie dedicated the performance to SSgt. Scott Lilley who was deployed to Iraq with the U. S. Air Force and injured on April 15th, 2007. The doctors didn’t expect him to live. I met him at Bethesda in May of 2007 and stayed in touch with him and his family to follow his progress. Last May, I invited them to be my guests at our SemperComm Gala in DC. Scott is 100% recovered and serving in the Air Force again. When Charlie gave the crowd the details of this, you could have heard a pin drop. I think everyone was expecting a sad ending and when he said that Scott is fully recovered and serving in the USAF again, Scott got a standing ovation and cheers. I still get chill bumps just thinking about it. THAT was the highlight of the show for me! I knew the autograph line would be long but had no idea how long! I had separated the photos so that I had 400 for the 5 evening shows and 200 for the little FOB hops – 3,000 total. They are all pre-autographed. I went through the 400 photos and had to start giving out guitar picks. Gave out 200 of those! So 600 people came through the line. Definitely a record. We got back to the hotel by midnight and I hope to go to bed by 2 am. We are leaving the hotel at 9:30 am IF we can fly out. There is a “condition RED” which means no visibility. This exists in Baghdad and is heading South. The good news is, the Marines are flying us and they can fly in ANYTHING. I know the pilot because he has flown me a couple of times before (D. B. Sweeney in May and Chely a few weeks ago). Hoping we don’t get stuck in Kuwait for days like we did with Filter! Won’t be able to email until we leave Iraq on April 20th. Jude
THURSDAY, APRIL 16TH – AL ASAD, IRAQ – MAYBE!!!! And so it starts… I could not fall asleep last night. My heart was racing for some reason. Finally slept about 2 hours, showered and headed down for breakfast. My cell phone rang and it was Broadie telling me that our flight was delayed (weather in Iraq) and instead of departing the hotel at 9:30 am, we would depart at 11:30 am. That means we’ll miss our acoustic FOB Hop to TQ today. I just pray we are able to get out of Kuwait and into Iraq today. I do not want to spend 3 days here at the Radisson like we did with Filter. I can’t believe the weather this year!!! When we were at breakfast, JAM and several of the other guys were complaining that they couldn’t sleep either. Not so unusual because of the jet lag but they all had the same symptoms – their hearts were racing and they couldn’t wind down. We were in the lobby having coffee when our escorts said, “We have to leave now”. I’ve heard that before, but quickly rounded everyone up and we departed to the air field where our plane was no where in sight. Nor had it even landed. Nor was it close to landing! Amazing how no one can ever get the right times over here. We were told that it was delayed not because of weather but because they had to add another leg to the flight. Charlie signed autographs for the people at the terminal and I met Leonard Lewis who was the person I worked with on putting together the Al Asad performance as well as the previous visits last month with Chely. Leonard is on his way home so he won’t be there for Charlie’s show unfortunately. Really nice guy, too. They gave us our flak vests which were already tagged with our names. Only thing is, they gave me an XL and I wear a Medium. There is no way I could have carried or worn that thing around. Fortunately, there was an extra “medium”. The flight finally arrived but had to take on fuel and load all 3 of our pallets. It was after 2 pm when we finally boarded. My friend — Jeff Morgan who flew me with D. B. Sweeney in May and with Chely last month — was there. Charllie and I sat up on the flight deck with them and it was great. We talked almost the entire way to Al Asad – 1 1/2 hour flight. There was a little turbulence but nothing bad. They were able to get the weather report for us and said that it was supposed to get bad — as in DUST STORM — at around 9 pm tonight. With a 7:30 pm, show, that would work out okay. We were told in Kuwait last night that it was supposed to go “Red”, too (again, major dust storm/storm) but if it did, it happened while we were asleep. It was pretty dusty this morning and by the tme we departed Kuwait this afternoon it was VERY dusty. At one point the pilots were talking about the fact that they had to fly around TQ air space. Charlie asked why it was a no-fly zone and they said it was probably one of the unmanned aircraft that was causing the detour. I figured it was my friend who flies those because he knew we were supposed to be in TQ that afternoon. 🙂 Hated that we missed our acoustic performance at TQ but think we were pretty lucky to have weather good enough to allow us to get out of Kuwait! Pilots had a little fun on landing because I brought David up to film. Definitely pulled some G’s. Our new escort – Harriet — and lots of Marines were waiting for us. We sent the band and crew to the food court and then to the stage. I took Charlie to shop for leather gun holsters made by the Iraqis. He had purchased one in 2006 in Baghdad and wanted to purchase 10 more. We found them immediately and he bought everything the shop had — all 10! That was one happy local salesman. We went to the DFAC for a very late lunch, early dinner. Then went to lodging to get our bags into our rooms. Charlie, David, Dean and I have private bedrooms but Charlie is the only one with a bathroom inside his room. Bebe and Colonel Burt are sharing and the band/crew have 3 rooms to share. I went over to the stage to get the “show bags” sorted out. I was telling a Marine working security that there MIGHT be someone name Jason Lilley who came looking for me and he was definitely to be brought to me. Just as I said that, our escort walked up and said there is someone named Jason Lilley who says he knows you! As explanation, Scott Lilley’s father emailed me last night and said that his nephew (Scott’s cousin who was very close to him) was at Al Asad. Jason is a former Marine and is now serving as a civilian working on helicopters. Scott’s Dad had emailed Jason and told him to go to the show and ask for me. I went over met him, and gave him a big hug. Then I told him about the “dedication” that Charlie did to Scott last night and before I told him, I warned him that I would have a hard time telling him everything without tearing up. Which I did, which made him cry, too. I told him how I met Scott and his parents and stayed in touch with them. Even told him the story about General Robin Rand and connecting him with Scott. I kept him near me for the rest of the evening, even through the autograph session. We had two huge tents behind the stage to use for a dressing room and for autographs. The stadium where they were performing was where Saddam executed his entire soccer team because they didn’t win the World Cup! Very freaky feeling being there. There was a sweet young female who sang the National Anthem (great voice) and then the Colonel introduced Charlie. Just as Charlie put one foot on the stairs, I looked at the sky and saw the “Wall of Dust” rolling in. As you know, I was in a horrible dust storm in Kuwait in February. But, THIS was unbelievable… It came up so fast and furious, we didn’t have time to prepare. The dust is like talcum powder (they call it moon dust). We couldn’t see and couldn’t breathe. The wind was blowing so hard, things were falling over. Charlie insisted on performing because there were over a thousand troops in the stands. I don’t know how he could breathe, much less sing. Bebe had gone into the Port potty and came out just as it hit. She was disoriented and thought that a helicopter had just landed. Had no idea what was going on. One of the Marines brought us face masks and goggles for everyone which helped somewhat. We kept trying to get Charlie to stop the show because I was worried about the Production Equipment. We still have 3 big and 3 small shows to do and I know what that dust does to the production equipment. We finally convinced Charlie to cut the show in half and he sang for about 40 minutes — his biggest hits. Just as we were getting him off the stage, it started raining. We moved the autograph session into a nearby “theatre” because there was too much dust in the tents to breathe. My eyes were burning and I was already losing my voice. When we arrived at the theatre, the smoke detectors were going off and they were too high up on the wall for anyone to turn them off. One of the Marines wanted to shoot them, but they wouldn’t let him! 🙂 Someone finally brought in huge ladders and just to tell you how bad it was, I didn’t even notice when they got them turned off. Great – blind, no voice and now my hearing is gone as well. LOL. There were 744 people in line tonight and everyone got an autograph and photo taken with Charlie. We didn’t finish until 11 pm. When I was leaving the theatre, I saw a Marine that I met several years ago with Chely Wright. He is the one who took me out to see the Iraqi Army training and I gave them Chely Wright t-shirts which they immediately wore. He stayed in touch for a while but I haven’t heard from him in months and didn’t realize he was back over here. While I was handing out the photos, another Marine who flew us last month with Chely and who I also met on the tour several years ago with Chely came up to say hello. He had emailed me a few weeks ago telling me that he flew me but didn’t get a chance to say hello. We did get to talk for a few minutes tonight. He flies the General around (General is an F-18 pilot) and the General actually flew the chopper we were on a few weeks ago! Some of the guys went to midnight chow, but I went to take a shower. When I took off my thin cotton purple top, I noticed that my bra was a different color from the one I had put on that morning. Purple was now a nice brown.! I went to my room to work for a couple of hours. There is an internet connection right on my desk and I was thrilled. Until I turned on my laptop and realized that my computer screen is dead AGAIN. I am now on the laptop that was provided in my room, typing my road report. The internet connection is unbelievably slow. It takes about 20 minutes to open ONE email. It’s 2:30 am and I am giving up and going to be. We have to depart at 10:30 am for the airfield (weather permitting) and then fly for 20 minutes to Balad. Jude
FRIDAY, APRIL 17TH – BALAD, IRAQ: Was going to skip breakfast and get another hour of sleep but it was too “noisy” in the hallway to do so. So I got up and dressed and went with everyone for breakfast at the DFAC. We had about an hour after we came back to lodging before we had to depart. Drove over to the PAX terminal and waited about another hour (which is short for this area) before our plane finally came in. I recognized several of the flight crew from our previous visits. Charlie sat up on the flight deck and David went up and filmed. It was a 30 minute flight instead of 20 minutes. Now, those of you who read my Road Reports regularly know that Balad has always been my favorite bases in Iraq. The past three Air Force Generals have all been friends of mine from Kunsan, Korea starting with General Robin Rand, General Burt Field, and current General Bryan Bishop. One of the things I liked most about the base was the fact that the Air Force realized that as “civilians, we have our “limitations” and they never treated us otherwise. Things have definitely changed since I was here in February. In the past, our Coordinator/Escort has been one of the best we’ve ever worked with. This time, every ball that could be dropped was — many times. It began when our flight landed and there was no one there to meet us. I had emailed them our approximate arrival time, but in all honesty, I do not have to do that. They can look up flights in a few seconds and be a lot more accurate. We had to cram everyone — including Charlie — onto a small bus with all our carryon bags and battle rattle. That bus only took us to the terminal where no one had been waiting for us until Colonel Burt made some calls. We then sat on another bus for 30 minutes because there were about 30 people all standing around “doing nothing”. We were supposed to split our group into two parties — one group going to the acoustic show and one group going to the stage for the main show. I was getting pretty frustrated with having Charlie “sit” and finally got off the bus, went over to where the pallets were being unloaded and told the troops working the detail exactly where everything should go. I explained that all our PERSONAL bags have red tape and red tags on them and those are the only items that go to lodging. They assured me that was “too easy”. I finally departed with Charlie for a drive to the Special Ops Camp to perform for them in their DFAC — we thought. When we arrived, we were not cleared to come in! I couldn’t believe it since this was scheduled over a month ago. Again it took 30 minutes with Charlie sitting on the bus. I finally got off the bus and gave them 2 minutes to get us in the compound or turn the bus around and forget the acoustic show. Amazingly, the bus rolled through. Only to be told that we were performing in a “chapel” next to the DFAC. We went into the DFAC to eat while tour techs set up the show. Had not been inside 2 minutes when the techs came in and said we had to perform in the DFAC because there was no power in the Chapel. Again, all of these problems could have been avoided before our arrival. We ate lunch while our techs set up the PA and then Charlie sang for about 30 minutes and signed autographs and took photos with everyone. When we finished at about 3:45 pm, it was raining and Charlie said to move the show out of the stadium and into the theatre immediately. I made sure our escort called and took care of that. We tried to talk to our escorts and find out what happened and why the ball was repeatedly being dropped. All we got were excuses and that’s not what I wanted to hear. I later learned that the reason we could not enter the compound was because our escort had taken us to the wrong gate. Someone should have done a site visit to determine exactly where they were taking Charlie and the group BEFORE our visit. We left the Special Forces Compound and went to tour the F-16’s. It stopped raining long enough for us to get the tour and Charlie and our group really enjoyed it. Rain started up again just as we were leaving and I was really glad we have moved the show indoors. The venue can only hold about 900 people as opposed to thousands in the stadium, but it was the right call. Went to lodging and got everyone settled only to find out that the show had not been moved indoors! It was already after 5 pm and I was afraid we wouldn’t have time to get it moved and set up. I finally had to call for help from General Bishop’s office — which I HATE to do. His staff engaged immediately. We needed a flatbed truck to move the equipment and a crane to move the generators. There was a movie showing in the theatre and the manager would not let us interrupt it. We also had a problem locating an electrician to assist with our power requirements. One of the female airmen from the hospital who was assisting us was wonderful in helping me call the General’s office and then she called a friend who is the Chief Trauma Surgeon and he volunteered to assist. He was fantastic — drove me to the venue and helped with anything I needed. Stayed with us the entire evening — until all the autographs were signed and then drove to the DFAC and got Charlie something to eat and took it to his trailer. So many people jumped in to assist today to make the show come off — electricians, troops, Charlie’s guys! Charlie had an interview just prior to the show and General Bishop and his staff came by to meet everyone. They are all such awesome people that I hated having to tell them that the entire day had been a huge embarrassment to me. For me — Charlie is my “4 Star General”. He’s one of the biggest artists I’ll ever bring on tour and while he never complains or asks for anything, I like to make things easy for him. Bryan had someone on his staff intro Charlie but before he did, he asked me to come on stage and everyone in the audience said “Thank You, Jude” While it was a beautiful, touching moment, I was embarrassed to death! The theatre was packed and the show was totally awesome. Charlie dedicated it to Jose Pequeno because the dust blew us off the stage last night before he could make the dedication at Al Asad. It was a very touching moment and we captured it on film so I can send a copy to Jose and his family. Charlie and the band signed autographs and took photos with over 700 people (we’re averaging between 700-800 each night). Again, none of the people we were supposed to be working with gave me any information on flights, etc., for tomorrow. Someone else had to step in and do their job for them. I just don’t understand what happened. The bottom line is, Colonel Burt is the person who decides what entertainers come to Balad and they won’t get any more celebrity entertainment until this problem is rectified. That’s very unfair to the troops deployed here, so we need to get it fixed quickly. I also learned that our luggage took 4 hours to be delivered to our lodging. So, it sat out in the rain that entire time. Everyone had wet clothes and if for the first time I had not put the autograph sheets in plastic bags, we would not have had any photos to autograph for the concert. Going to bed before I pass out. Cannot believe my laptop is DEAD again….. Jude
SATURDAY, APRIL 18th — Q-WEST AND MAYBE BERNSTEIN: Had my usual wake-up call from the ten or so F-16’s taking off at 5:30 am. 🙂 We departed to the airfield and our C-130 arrived only a few minutes later. Made sure Charlie got up on the flight deck and then I sat down below with everyone else. It was a short 40 minute flight from Balad to Q-West. And wonder of wonder, third time was the charm. We couldn’t get here with Filter or Chely but finally made it in with Charlie. Arrived early only to learn that our FOB hop to Bernstein had been cancelled due to pending inclement weather that afternoon. Everyone was really disappointed since this is the 2nd FOB hop we have missed. Maybe three will be the lucky number tomorrow, too, and we’ll make it to Summerall….my favorite small FOB because that’s where I met Colonel Kyle McClelland who is my dearest friend and where we “shared” the loss of his young soldier. It will be very special for me to be able to visit there again for the first time since that event, especially since Kyle has redeployed for the first time also, and is in Baghdad now. Wish he could meet us there but he can’t make that happen. Our escorts met us at the terminal and took us to lodging. They did not put Charlie in a room that has a bathroom in it like I specified. I told them that lodging was fine for everyone else but that they would have to change Charlie. They explained that in order to get him a room with a bathroom, they would have to ask the Commander. My question was, “And your point is?”???? Jeez! We don’t ask for a lot, but I can’t take the risk of Charlie stumbling around on the big rocks in the middle of the night and injuring himself while trying to get to the restroom!!! We also made the decision to move the show inside to the theatre — although it is small, about 450 seats — instead of risking putting it outside in the stadium. A storm is predicted for later this evening and we do NOT want to have to cancel the show. We all went to the DFAC where I was thrilled to find a stir fry bar. Then made a quick stop by the venue to make sure it would work. There was a briefing taking place on “Sexual Harassment”. They took a break and let us check things out and then started back up. James our tech from Coaxial said he wanted to stay because he needed to learn how to sexually harass someone! He’s so cute. We went to the base exchange and I purchased a new camera to the tune of $400. If there had been a Panasonic laptop for sale, I would have purchased it, too!!! When we left the exchange, we looked out and a huge wall of dust was approaching and the sky was completely red. We tried to “outrun” it but had to stop at lodging and then go to the theatre. I got covered with dust once again but this time we didn’t have the extremely high winds. I think it only lasted about an hour. Got my “show bags” sorted and was able to get on the internet for a few minutes. Finally, a connection that is sort of “fast” ! After sound check, we went to the DFAC for dinner and then back for the show. Charlie has these really cool camo microphones that he brought to donate to the various bases. I had our escort find the Chaplain and we gave him two. He was thrilled. Things are going more smoothly here than at Balad, thank God. Still some issues that occurred that shouldn’t have but our new people Colonel Burt and Sergeant McDougle are AWESOME. I’m going to enjoy the next year working with them. Colonel is a female and Sergeant is a male. Charlie had another awesome show. He and his music are timeless. He acts like he’s 18 years old on stage. And all the young “kids” know his music even though he is old enough to be their grandfather. Tonight’s show was dedicated to Katie Bell, wife of General B. B. Bell and a dear, dear friend of the U.S. Military. She recently had a lung transplant and Charlie asked everyone to keep her in their prayers. Please do so. Another long autograph session and this time we had lines coming from BOTH directions. I just walked up and said, “If you want an autographed photo, then ABOUT FACE”. They did it. 🙂 There was a guy there from MWR taking small “Polaroid” photos and giving them to the troops to have autographed immediately. It was great and he wasn’t charging them anything. After the show, we went back to lodging and “hiked” to the latrine in the dark across those big rocks that I sprained my ankle on last time. Showers were clean and water was hot. While we were showering, something shook the trailer and I thought we had taken a “hit”. We later found out David had thrown a rock and hit our trailer to scare us. He succeeded. 🙂 Hiked back to our “chus” and I had to rearrange some furniture because they had an 8 ft storage cabinet by the bed and the nightstand on the other side of it. Guess the locals decorate the chus. We had moved Charlie to a private room earlier and I got his old room. One of the windows had blinds but the other one didn’t. The window looked tinted so I assumed I could see out and no one could see in. Walked around in various states of undress before going to bed at midnight.
SUNDAY, APRIL 19TH – COB SPEICHER: Woke up at 4 am and could not go back to sleep. Got up and dressed and then hiked back down to the latrines. When I came back, I realized I could see straight in the window of my chu! After I got inside, I found that there really were blinds on the window but evidently Charlie had rolled them all the way to the top while he was there. Great! We left for the airfield and after we had been there about a hour, we were told that our flight wasn’t leaving at 7:45 am. It was leaving at 8:45 am. Sound familiar? I asked if we could take everyone to the DFAC for breakfast. After just barely sitting down, we were told we immediately had to return to the terminal. Now I KNEW that even if the plane was on the ground, it had to unload PAX and load all 3 of our pallets before they would need us. But they rushed, rushed, rushed to get us there to stand around on the tarmac. We finally boarded and met the flight crew. Several of the guys had flown me with Lonestar in January. They were from Arkansas. Landed at Speicher and started working the lodging issue. We checked out the building where they wanted Charlie, Dean, Bebe, Colonel Burt and I to stay. Since it had 2 bathrooms — not ONE like we were told — it was fine. Colonel Burt and I had a nice talk while Bebe slept. Then we all went to the DFAC for lunch. I had just decided to “cheat” and eat a piece of delicious cheesecake when we were once again rushed out of the DFAC to the fight line so I didn’t have those “calories”. Again, we arrived too early. Definitely a pattern here. We had a very short 15 minute flight to Camp Summerall for an acoustic performance. Chopper ride was smooth — no dropping out of the sky or map of the earth. Charlie signed some autographs while our tech crew was setting up. Then he performed an awesome show for some troops who REALLY, REALLY needed the morale boost. The DFAC was packed with smiling faces. Charlie performed in this little wooden gazebo that was decorated with life-size carved wooden figures. We learned that one of the locals working in the DFAC had made them. Charlie took photos with them and I met the guy who made them. After he had his photo made with Charlie, he asked me if he could talk to me. He said that he wants to join the American Army. I told him that was really great and thanked him. Then he said he needed my help with “immigration” since he is from Sri Lanka. Talk about panic attack — this guy wanted to MARRY ME so he could get a green card. I told him I couldn’t help him and quickly called Colonel Burt over to tell him the process — without an American bride!!! 🙂 We got to go to the TOC which is the building where Colonel Kyle McClelland turned the top floor into a Penthouse Suite for me in 2004. I tried to talk the guys into letting me go back up there and check out the room but they said it is now someone’s room. I finally got to the right guy “Gonzales” who approved me going up. I took lots of photos but didn’t get to go into the room because the door was locked. This place brings back so many wonderful memories, some happy, some sad. They now have several “walls” in front of the TOC that are dedicated to their fallen heroes. Josh Henry’s name wasn’t on there because he was killed in 2004 and the “walls” begin in 2005. Our choppers picked us up around 5 pm and we went back to lodging. I went to the MWR tent to check email and then to the DFAC. Tonight was steak and crab plus they had a salad bar where they could toss a salad for you. Speicher definitely had the best DFAC of all. Show time was 8 pm and we started right on time. Charlie rocked the house for 90 minutes. Then signed autographs for over 2 hours. I am down to the very bottom of the pile for 3,000 photos and 1,000 guitar picks. Learned that our flight back to Kuwait tomorrow is much later than we need. We all stored things the Radisson and have to go back there to retrieve them. It is going to be cutting it VERY close. Then as an added bonus, we were told they need our bags at 9:30 am for a 2:00 pm flight. I told Colonel Burt, from now on we should only take my tours to the Marine bases where they can be treated like VIPs. Unfortunately, I am very serious about that comment. Sitting here at the MWR building trying not to fall asleep on the keyboard. I was going to skip breakfast and sleep in but our escorts need to meet with me at 8 am to work the late flight issue. I had to walk back to lodging in the dark by myself and heard something in the trees beside the road. It was hundreds of BATS. I think I did a 3 minute mile! I had moved all my luggage out of the bedroom and into the dining room in the house so I wouldn’t wake up Bebe and Colonel Burt with my late nights/early mornings. Charlie kept walking by looking at me and finally came into the dining room and asked if I was going to sleep on the table. He was so cute and really worried about me. J Jude
MONDAY, APRIL 20TH – BACK TO KUWAIT: Got up at 6 am and was ready for breakfast at 8 am. I gave my laptop to John and told him to find a “Tobyhanna” computer repair shop on the base. Panasonic had told me that they have the government contract and could help me out if there was an emergency. This was an emergency! I went with SFC McDougle to Kenne’s office and we began making phone calls and sending emails. We needed a “Plan B” in case our flight didn’t get back to Kuwait in time for us to go to the Radisson. We figured out several options, one being getting DV quarters on Ali Al Salem and showering there and just stopping by and grabbing the bags we had left. Not a good option but could be used in an emergency. John was able to get my computer repaired “temporarily” and I’ll have to send it back to Panasonic again when I get home. We went to the DFAC for a quick lunch and then to the flight line for the long flight back to Kuwait. We had to make one stop in Tallil to let passengers off and take on more. We landed in Tallil at around 4 pm and while Broadie and John were waiting for the pallets to be off-loaded, Charlie went to the Flex and signed autographs. The boys and girls just could not stop smiling. It was like Christmas in April for him to make a surprise visit and this was one of the highlights of the tour for me. I am so glad it worked out that we could stop by there. We were told that the pallets would take another hour and I finally agreed to take everyone to the Radisson. We arrived at 6:30 pm and our bags arrived by 7:00 pm. We had a very quick, nice dinner then I repacked my bags and off we went to the Airport. The airport was the same challenge as always but our flight did leave on time. No major turbulence and nothing really to report about the flight. Flight attendants were not very friendly but we all slept the entire way, so it didn’t matter.
MONDAY, APRIL 21ST: Arrive on time at Dulles and rushed through to pick up luggage, clear customs and immigration and re-check our bags then go through a final security scan. My friend tried to get the gate moved from the “A” gates to the “C” gates but did not succeed. The weather at Dulles was rainy with very little visibility. I was worried but once we took off, there would be lots of turbulence. But it turned out to be an easy flight and we landed in Nashville on time and all our bags made it, too. It was such a wonderful trip. Check out my website next week to see photos and news articles from our visit. My daughter and her twins are all 3 since with colds. I won’t get much done tonight since I need to help with the twins. Home for a week, then going to Europe with the Bellamys for 2 ½ weeks. Jude