Charlie Daniels and the CDB along with CBS The Early Show’s, Dave Price, traveled to Iraq to entertain our troops and while in country, they attend Easter Sunrise Service with the military.
“Our trips to Iraq have been some of the most rewarding and gratifying experiences I’ve ever had. The courage and commitment of these young men and women will live in my heart for the rest of my life.” – God Bless them everyone, – Charlie Daniels
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 12TH AND THURSDAY, APRIL 13TH:
Today I leave for Iraq with Charlie Daniels and Dave Price from CBS’s The Early Show. We are going through Frankfurt and Dave and his producer – John – departed yesterday. Dave wanted to arrive in time to attend the Jewish Passover services at the Chapel in Landstuhl. Landstuhl is the well-known military hospital where the wounded are brought from Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, etc. Dave will visit the wounded at the Hospital and the Fisher Houses tomorrow while he waits for us to arrive. I made him “work” while he’s there, of course. Actually, he is awesome….loves the troops and going on these tours.
Dave missed his fight out of NYC and ended up taking the same flight as John. Then they both missed their connections in London but Dave made it to Landstuhl with 30 minutes to spare before the services began.
Scott – my production guru – is flying out of Minneapolis into Frankfurt. All his flights seem to be on time. We all meet in Frankfurt on the morning of the 13th and immediately go to Ramstein AB to take a C-17 to Kuwait…a 5 ½ hour flight. We are transporting hundreds of guitars, dvds, musical and entertainment equipment which was donated to Charlie’s project “Operation Heartstrings”. The musical equipment will not be given to individuals but will be donated to the most remote camps in Afghanistan and Iraq and kept there for the troops.
I had to arrive at the airport an hour early to get everything “set up”. Forgot the rolls and red and blue tape to “identify” our luggage and gear and had to go back home for that. Northwest Airlines was GREAT. We had provided them with copies of everyone’s passports a couple of days ago and all our flight information. No one even had to “check in”. But we had 39 pieces of luggage/gear that had to be taped and tagged. Everything went incredibly smooth. Charlie was upstairs somewhere in the airport filming something while we handled all the check in. We had almost finished checking in when I heard an announcement for “James Franco Bartholomew to return to the Security Area”. Well THAT got my attention. That’s the name of an “Indian National” who works for the production company that we are using based in Kuwait. I KNEW he wasn’t at the Nashville airport. The lady with security at the NW counter went to find out what was going on. Evidently, the man at security said someone left some things when they went through. He knew that the person was a member of the Charlie Daniels Band and one of the items he left was a copy of his orders with everyone’s name on it. He decided that the person leaving the items was “James”! Anyway, he gave everything to one of Charlie’s other crew members and hopefully it found its way back to the owner!
NW allowed all of our group to board 5 minutes before anyone else. We all got settled and the doors closed only to be opened again. There were about a dozen more people who came on board. Doors closed again and we sat and sat. Pilot finally told us that Detroit was “shut down” due to a line of thunderstorms (just what I wanted to hear!) and we couldn’t take off on time. We were given clearance to take off about 15 minutes later and started taxiing….only to stop again. This time the pilot came on and said that because we took on the extra passengers and had so much luggage (ours, I’m sure!) we were overweight. We sat for about another 20 minutes and I’m not sure what they did, but we took off. I was worried that we were going to drop like a rock from the sky, but everything was fine. No one got off and they didn’t take any luggage off, so I’m not sure how they solved the “weight” problem.
Flight to Detroit was fine but when we tried to land, the wind was incredibly strong. We were all over the sky trying to touch down. Once we landed, we had to go straight to the gate and board the flight to Frankfurt. It’s one of the really nice planes with the seats that lay flat. I had to give “seat reclining 101” instructions to my group in Business Class.
I brought little chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs for the flight crews on both flights…like I did with Diamond Rio and the Valentine’s Day chocolates.
The take off from Detroit was really rough because of the wind. The plane was thrown from side to side until we finally got high enough to get out of the wind. If a huge plane that this one can be thrown around like that, I’m wondering what is happening in the small jets.
We will be performing one show in Kuwait and will then go into Iraq for 4 big shows and 3 “handshake” visits. We are not going to the “typical” Camps usually visited because I always have a “wish list” of camps I want to visit that never get any entertainment. The military has been so good about letting me go to the remote sites. This time it is really impressive. Can’t mention names for security purposes but at one Camp, civilians aren’t even ALLOWED there. We got special permission because one the top guys found my website and started emailing me about the guitars and Operation Heartstrings. Told him I’d try to do better than that and bring him Charlie and Dave in person. Then there is a camp that my partner – SemperComm – has adopted. SemperComm provides communication systems to small, remote bases who otherwise would never have these facilities/capabilities. They take in satellites and set up computer systems with video-conferencing capabilities, dvds, etc., etc., so that the men and women stationed at the camp can communicate with loved ones back home. My “partnership” with them is to try and get “live” entertainment to those Camps. SemperComm didn’t think we would be allowed to visit this one camp, but they don’t know how good I am at “nagging” yet. J Check out their website at:
I have a list of about 10 people that we have to see at the various camps…some whose family members found mine or Charlie’s websites and emailed us. They had no idea where we would be going but oddly enough, several of their loved ones at deployed to areas we will be visiting….surprising because we are going to such remote sites.
It’s going to be a great tour!!!
We landed in Frankfurt and two reps from USAREUR were there to meet us. Took FOREVER for porter that I had HIRED THREE WEEKS AGO to get the luggage carts unlocked and help with our gear/luggage. All our luggage and equipment arrived with us, thank goodness. We had 4 huge luggage carts and I was leading the way out of Customs. The Customs Inspector called me into his office and I explained that I was taking Charlie Daniels – a famous country music singer from America to Iraq to entertain the troops (he was German and probably didn’t know who Charlie is). He said, “Okay, but there will be a test”. My response, “Uh, what kind of test?”. He responded, “You say you are country music. Prove it. Sing “Country Roads”. My response, “Uhhhhh….if I sing country roads we’re never going to be allowed to leave this country. Let me get Charlie”. So Charlie comes in, sings a line of Country Roads and the guys starts harmonizing! They waved us through!
Ann Bergstrom from USAREUR and will be on the trip with us and Heather from USAREUR who will NOT be on the trip with us and Michael Tietze – our bus driver and long time, dear friend of mine met us outside of Customs. We all drove almost to Ramstein and then stopped for a fabulous lunch at a German restaurant. We stayed there for quite a while wasting time because our departure on the C-17 was bumped from 3 pm to 4 pm. Brigadier General Frutiger and his wife Jan met us for lunch. BG Frutiger will be accompanying us on the tour. We sent someone over to pick up Dave Price from Landstuhl. When he arrived, I took one look at him and KNEW. The visit with the wounded patients changed his life. He could not get over the fact that “to the man”, they all said they want to get “fixed” so they can go back over as soon as possible and finish their job. We see the same thing at Walter Reed and Bethesda every time we visit. The difference at Landstuhl is that the men and women there were only injured a couple of days ago!
We drove another 30 minutes to Ramstein and boarded our C-17. Fight crew is out of South Carolina and very nice. Two females – one co-pilot and one either engineer or navigator. Can never keep them straight. We had box lunches for the airplane and everyone was passed out almost before we took off. Dave called in an interview with a NYC radio station before we left. He and John are like 2 little boys at Christmas they are so excited to be going to Iraq. John is a former Marine and was embedded with the 101st when the war first started in Iraq but this is Dave’s first trip to Iraq. He went to Afghanistan with me last year and was fantastic on stage and with the troops. He went back to CBS and they aired 1 show nationally and 3 shows locally on the GOOD things we are doing in Afghanistan….yes, I said CBS! He said that they are so excited about him coming over this year because they WANT to air THREE shows on the good things happening in Iraq. CBS said everyone is only showing bad things and they want to show the other side of the story. Thank you, God. We are also going to do a live remote (barring any technical difficulties) from Iraq on April 18th on the CBS Early Show so MARK YOUR CALENDARS NOW.
I’m going to end this Road Report because by the time we land, it will be after midnight in Kuwait and April 14th….show day! J
FRIDAY, APRIL 14TH:
What an amazing day! Have you noticed I say that every time I’m out on a tour for the troops? J
Landed in Kuwait at 11 pm which was much earlier than we anticipated. We didn’t now that Kuwait didn’t switch to Daylight Savings time, so we “gained” an hour from our error. Our escorts were waiting for us and whisked us off to the beautiful Radisson Hotel. This is the hotel that is right on the beach. I had all the paperwork ready for check-in and so did the Radisson. I had Charlie in his room in less than 5 minutes time. They gave him the Presidential Suite – which is awesome. And, they gave me some big suite, too. All I really need is an internet connection, but it is sweet of them to treat me so well. Got on the internet and answered about 100 emails once I got settled. There was a huge bowl of fruit and this TOWER with nuts, chocolates, cookies, figs, you name it….and a chilled bottle of sparkling grape juice! No alcohol allowed I Kuwait.
Chris – our escort from Iraq – was already at the hotel and we stayed up and talked for a while. He’s going to be great because he is an “ex” black hawk pilot and he gets it. He’s the reason I got my wish to go into so many remote sites this trip. Had a panic call from Bebe saying Charlie had “jammed” his picking finger and needed someone to put on a fake nail or he wouldn’t be able to pick. Figured the hotel would have a manicure salon and we would deal with that later in the day.
Got about 4 hours sleep and then went to the fabulous gym in the hotel to work out. Ate breakfast with some of the others in the great restaurant. We are spoiling ourselves in Kuwait because once we leave here, the lodging gets pretty primitive. The hotel doesn’t have a manicure salon but the hotel next door has one. The decision was made to wait until we got on base…one that I thought was a real risk because I know how the services are on base.
We drove to Camp Arifjan and our first stop was at my buddy Colonel Brick Miller’s office. He “fits” his name….MAN is that guy BUILT. And he’s smart, too. He married a “Judy”. J He talked to us for a while and was fascinating. Also gave EVERYONE in the group a certificate.
We left there and went to the Manicure Salon. Yep, they have a manicure salon but guess what…no fake nails! So we had to go to the PX and I was astonished that they had fake nails there. Female soldiers are usually NOT worried about their fingernails. Anyway, we got one put on his finger so he’s ready for the show tonight.
Next stop was the hospital and they only had 6 patients which is great. And, those sick were not from injuries.
Left there and went to the Operations Center. Charlie and Dave signed autographs for well over an hour. I was thrilled that a soldier came up to me and asked if I had been there with Aaron Tippin last November. It’s always so nice to know that I made an impact on someone and that they remember me and the entertainers. After the autograph session, Charlie and Dave did an interview for the local press and Dave got in a quick sound check.
Charlie had a couple of hours to “rest” but, of course, he didn’t. There was a steady stream of guests coming in for autographs, which was fine with him. His heart is really in the right place. He never refuses an autograph to anyone and would rather spend time with the “boys and girls” (as he calls them) than do anything else. He talked to me about what great boys and girls we had flying us in on the C-17 last night. He stayed up in the cockpit with them the ENTIRE 6 hour flight. Don’t you know that was a thrill for them?
I had to go through duffle bags and pull t-shirts and get autograph sheets ready to go. This morning when I took my shower, the bath mat slide as I was getting in and I have a huge bruise right below my knee that has hurt all day. Then when I was opening the boxes of “goodies”, I sliced my thumb open and got blood all over my pants. Typical military tour for me already.
We set the record for attendance at this camp – 7,800 people. They have a clicker that counts the people as they enter. Largest crowd until now was 3,500. How about that?
Dave did 30 minutes of standup comedy with heavy audience involvement. He bashed Brick Miller (you can imagine that) and got a guy up to sing “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places”. He was terrific.
Then, of course, Charlie took the stage and the magic really took off. He shreds several bows each show and this time, he turned around and yelled for me to take one of them. I was thrilled. I mean, how many people get one of CHARLIE DANIELS’ bows??? I took it backstage to stash it and about 5 minutes later, my friend Brick asked if he could have it for the wall in his office. Man, I hated to give it up but I did the right thing. Charlie told me afterwards that he would give me another one. J
The autograph line went on for days and days. I gave everyone in the line one of the EZ Scores calling cards. EZ Scores says they can always tell where I am on tour because they monitor the calls and there is always a HUGE blip from the area where I am.
The men and women at this Camp were so appreciative not only of Charlie and Dave’s performances but the fact that they stayed to sign autographs. Not all artists will sign autographs for the troops after their performances. But all artists that I bring over here know that it is part of the tour – a very important part – and if they want to tour for me, then they will be signing autographs after each show.
We got back to the hotel after midnight and it’s almost 2 am now. I have to be dressed and in the lobby at 7:30 am…so no exercise for me tomorrow. Maybe in the afternoon.
We are going to Tallil to Camp Adder tomorrow (near Nasariyah). Tallil is the first camp I ever visited in Iraq and that was in June, 2003 with Chely Wright and lots of other entertainers. I probably won’t be able to send emails out again until we get to Baghdad. I KNOW I have a DSL line in my bedroom in Saddam’s palace there. Really looking forward to going back into Iraq and getting to the remote camps where the guys and girls need us the most.
DAY FOUR, SATURDAY, APRIL 15TH
We got up EARLY for our flight to Iraq. Only got 3 hours of sleep.
I forgot to mention that Charlie stuck his hand in his pocket right before the show last night and ripped the fake nail off. He had to play without it and we had to start the process with the fake nail over again after the show. Hopefully this one will last a few days.
Charlie and Dave signed some autographs for the Air Force guys and girls while we were waiting for our C130. We were the only ones on the aircraft which was a good thing because we had 3 pallets of gear and luggage! It was about a 40 minute flight and they did a combat landing. I was in the belly of the plane instead of on the flight deck where I would prefer to be. It was pretty rough. Supposedly we pulled 3 G’s. Not bad for a C130.
Landed at Tallil for our show a Camp Adder. I haven’t been to Tallil since June of 2003 and this was the first place I ever visited in Iraq. Our escorts met us and there was a LOT of confusion trying to get us to lodging. This camp hosted the Iraq Boston Marathon today and had over 400 soldiers participate from other camps. So, it is a bit crowded here. Lots of KBR employees and that is actually who is handling our visit as far as working with the soldiers on logistics.
We have individual trailers at this camp. Once I got settled in mine I realized my water didn’t work. Supposedly they will have it fixed when we get back from lunch. But, there is a nasty little “pond” right in front of our door, so we got the “lakeside” view. Ate lunch in the DFAC and there are a lot of new soldiers who have just come in and most of them are from Minnesota. Lots of Georgia folks here, too. Met several people who had run the Marathon today. It was 108 degrees when we landed. I have run a half-marathon but NEVER a full marathon and I cannot imagine running in this heat. There were some guys who finished with really good times, too!
After lunch we all went out to tour the biblical city of Ur – supposedly the birthplace of Abraham. It was fascinating but it was also ‘VERY’ Hot. A lot of the bricks have crumbled over the years but it is still a really interesting place to visit. Took lots of photos there especially of the tombs and etchings on the bricks.
Came back to the Camp and checked on the guys at the stage. Everything is set up and running smoothly. I had 45 minutes to “rest” and I basically passed out for that long. Then I got up and tested my hairdryer to make sure it would work tomorrow. It worked but set off my smoke detector. No one came to bust me and it finally turned off by itself. Oh, my water was fixed by the time I got back, too.
We went outside to meet our ride to the DFAC for dinner, but no one showed up. I walked back down to the show site and found someone to take us over. Not only would it have been about a 30 minute walk for us, it is still about 110 degrees and we would have gotten lost trying to find it. Again, sat with guys from Minnesota. We figure that State is half-empty now!
Show started on time and Dave had a much better audience tonight because we are in such a remote location and they don’t get a lot of entertainment here. He was great. He got a little guy up to sing who was really pretty good, but the soldier’s hand was shaking so hard he couldn’t read the lyrics. Dave had to hold the paper with the lyrics printed on it for him.
Charlie came on and it was magic again. There is another HUGE crowd. I walked around taking some photos and when I walked past the portajohns, I almost passed out the smell was so bad. And, there were people STANDING in front of them watching the show!!!! Now, that is loyal fans.
The autograph session started and I worked the line handing out the EZ Score cards. I like to do that because it means I get to say thank you to everyone in line. The line started single-file and then it SPLIT 5 times and wrapped back around the buildings. I knew it would be a LONG night. We used almost 1,600 autograph sheets and didn’t finish until midnight.
A lot of our group is going to get up and go to Easter Sunrise Service tomorrow morning. Not me. I had to fill these cute little Easter bunnies with candy that I brought from the States so everyone would have a “happy Easter” while we are over here. Then I’m going to get 6 hours of sleep IF everything works out as it should!
Something very interesting I’ve noticed over these last two visits to the area…the NAVY has taken over the hospitals and medical facilities. This is their way of participating and I think it’s great. Dave mentioned that when he visited Landstuhl, he met several physicians who are experts in their fields and who gave up very high-paid jobs in their home towns to “do their part” in this war. Pretty awesome.
Can’t get this road report out until we leave here.
EASTER SUNDAY, APRIL 16TH, DAY FIVE
My plans for 6 hours of sleep didn’t exactly work out. A migraine woke me up at 5:45 am. Hasn’t even been a week since I’ve had the last one. Have to get this “fixed” when I get back to Nashville. Tired of dealing with the inconvenience.
Went ahead and got up and showered. My shower door is broken and kept falling off during the shower. But, I am SURE not complaining…beats having to hike a mile to share a shower with 40 other people and using cold water!
Today we fly to Al Taqqadum and then Charlie and Dave go do a little remote visit at Habbinayah… my “SemperComm” partner camp. Can’t wait to see those facilities.
The ones who got up at 6 am and went to the Easter sunrise service said it was awesome. Sorry I missed it. I got all my little Easter bunnies stuffed with M&M’s and gave all my guys and girls one as a “Hoppy Easter”. I wanted to just leave them outside everyone’s door but I never got a rooming list from our escort.
It was another 45 minute C130 ride and this time the landing wasn’t quite as “brutal”…or perhaps I’ve just gotten accustomed to it. After landing we went to our quarters and the ladies are in the VIP section with Charlie, Dave and the General. The guys are in long wooden buildings with cots. None of us have toilet facilities in our buildings. It’s quite a HIKE for the ladies to the shower and the latrine. But, it’s fine. We’re her for one night and these guys and girls spend a year in much less luxurious accommodations than what we have. We have a cot and a chair and individual rooms…period.
We literally RAN to the DFAC for a quick lunch. I had already forgotten that it is Easter Sunday until we walked in and the DFAC was decorated for
Easter. I took a photo of a giant Easter Bunny cake but the replica of the Eiffel Tower made out of pop tarts threw me. Then there were two carved ham shaped like hog’s heads with butter patties in them. J
I sat with the nicest guys again. Most of the people here are Marines. After lunch we left immediately for Habbinayah. We flew on Marine Choppers that looked like a smaller version of a Chinook. Only took us about 10 minutes to get there. It was just too dangerous to “drive”. Boy, was that Camp happy to see us. They have not had ANY entertainment in 10 months. We noticed that the flags were flying at half-mast and they said they lost a man the day before. He was in a tank and took fire. So sad.
There were about 500 marines and a few Army, Air Force and Navy all sitting in bleachers waiting for us. They said a lot of people had to leave because they were expecting us at 1:30 (not sure WHY since that was never on the itinerary). Charlie and Dave signed autographs for everyone and then Charlie sang a few songs on a “borrowed” guitar. A lady had written a letter to Charlie Daniels office saying she heard Charlie was going to Iraq and would he please say hello to her husband and one of her songs from stage. She said that her husband and both sons were deployed here but one of her sons had been injured and was at home now. She had NO idea where in Iraq we were going and obviously didn’t know how many Camps there are over here. At the time we received the letter, we didn’t know where we were going either. It was just an absolute FLUKE that we actually visited the Camp where her husband and son are. We gave them each a big hug from their wife and mother and it was the best Easter ever for us.
I kept asking for the SemperComm representatives and FINALLY had to go to their offices to drag them over to the venue. The two guys that I met are winners of this year’s SemperComm Award. This is awarded to an individual or individuals who are deployed and have made a difference in the quality of life and done something to boost morale for their unit/company/battalion/etc. These two guys built a Bocciball court! We took photos with them and then Charlie and Dave went over and threw a couple of balls. Charlie said he had hit a golf ball off the world’s most dangerous golf course in Korea and now he has played Bocciball on the world’s most dangerous bocciball court.
The two guys said that they would not be able to come to DC next month to receive their awards since they are deployed over here. But, General Frutiger heard this conversation and asked for their names. He said if we could pay their expenses, he thinks he can get permission for them to come to DC and receive their award. Lara – get your checkbook ready! J How cool is that???
We flew back to TQ and it only took 5 minutes. They change the route for safety’s sake each time. When we got off the chopper, I took my helmet and flak vest off and our escort immediately made me put it back on. He said that they had just taken a mortar attack and one guy was injured by shrapnel. Think he’s going to be okay and Charlie is going by the hospital tomorrow morning to see him. We had to go to a safe building for about an hour and wait for the all clear. I was worried about my guys but was assured that they were fine. In fact, two of them SLEPT through the whole thing. They were warned that there was going to be a “drill” today and when the actual hit happened, many of them just thought it was the drill. Sounds like someone had some “inside” information to me!
No time to rest today. Went straight to the DFAC for dinner and sat with some more great guys. Everyone I talked to said they are coming to the show and my dinner partners are going to look for me.
The show was moved inside because they were afraid we were going to have thunderstorms. We packed about 500 people into a 200 capacity building. It was one of the best crowds we’ve EVER had. Dave really had them going tonight. And, the guy he brought up to sing could sing really well. But he was shaking, too. Funny, these big tough military guys turn into a quivering mass when they have to get up on stage and sing. This was actually one of our best crowds ever. Charlie played several extra songs he was so pumped up. I have a feeling we will have a long autograph line tonight, too!
Tomorrow we fly to Tal Afar and perform our big show. We also do a remote handshake at Sinjar Mountain where not even our escorts have been. I love it. These places are up near Mosul. So, we started in Kuwait, then South Iraq, then the middle of Iraq, Northern Iraq and end up at BIAP (Baghdad). Covered the country this trip.
I found two internet cafes but both of them were so slow, I couldn’t get my email opened before I had to go back to the show. It was another long line for autographs and my little “dinner partners” were in line. They asked me to sign their hats (covers, I think they called them!) and we took some photos. I gave them all coins and t-shirts and told them to check out my website. I conned one of them into giving me his dog tag to replace the one that I lost in Amsterdam. So, now I’m back to two – one from a female in Kuwait and one from a Marine in Iraq. Will wear them everyday to remind me of all our men and women serving our country.
Got in bed by 12:30 am and plan to get up and run at around 7:30 am.
MONDAY (I THINK), APRIL 17TH, DAY SIX
The tour seems to be FLYING by. I had to get up twice and hike to the bathroom. It is DARK here at night. Woke up at 5:45 again and decided to go ahead and jog. Only it was still dark outside and I knew I would get lost. So, I waited until 6:30 and it was fine. Ran the road right beside the flight line and didn’t have any problems. They told me to run there because most of the mortar attacks come from the opposite side of the camp. That’s a comforting thought when you’re running along in the wide open spaces with a lime green shirt on.
We all went to breakfast at the DFAC and I came back and showered. Showers aren’t too bad….at least they are clean and there is water pressure. No one was in there when I showered. In fact, I’ve only seen a female in the latrine where we are once since we’ve been here. There were quite a few females at the show, though. The others went to see the EOD (explosives). I’ve seen that many times and passed on the trip.
Flying to Tal Afar at noon today. No time to eat lunch when we arrive because we are leaving here later than planned.
Well, we just got word that our aircraft had mechanical problems and they were “trying” to locate another one for us. I felt so bad because that means we won’t arrive in time to go to Sinjar Mountain and visit the troops there. It is a really remote FOB and they never get any entertainment. Several of the guys went over to see the EOD (explosives). The Colonel on the base asked us to go over and visit the other side of the base. On the way, we stopped and saw the “drones” – little unmanned planes – and visited with the guys operating them. I’ve seen the “predators” before but this was pretty awesome, too. Amazing how they can control them remotely and what they can see with them. Pretty scary, too. We stopped at Lake Habbinayah and took a photo of the only palm tree in that area. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a lake in Iraq before – plenty of rivers but not lakes.
So much has happened since I’ve had time to type on this computer! Several days have now gone by and I know I’m going to forget to write a lot of things. They found another plane for us, but that one “broke” as well!
We finally learned that we were getting a plane out of TQ at midnight and would be flying to Baghdad that same night. So, we set up an “acoustic” show on the other side of the camp. There were terrible thunderstorms all afternoon and evening and of course Iraq has not “drainage” system so there was MUD everywhere. Our shoes and pants were coated with mud. I was worried that all our band gear and luggage had not been covered but we found out that the base covered it when they heard there would be thunderstorms. Since all the production equipment and musical instruments were palletized, we didn’t have any guitars for Charlie to play. He borrowed a couple from the troops and his drummer played on a trash can. It all “worked” and he performed for a few hundred folks. Signed autographs for a couple of hours and then we went back to our lodging to wait for our aircraft. Another thunderstorm came through and I figured our plane wouldn’t be able to land. But, it finally landed and we departed at about 1:30 am with an estimated arrival in Baghdad at 3:30 am.
TUESDAY, APRIL 18TH – DAY 7:
We landed at BIAP and everyone was so tired by the time we got off the plane. There was a big bus and a small bus sitting there and one of the musicians got on the big bus. I told them I didn’t think it was ours and sure enough, they told us to get off and get o the small bus. There wasn’t enough room for us and all our “gear” so several of us threw our things into the back of a truck and rode in. When we arrived at our quarters, I realized my computer bag (with the my life I it’!) was missing. Our escort placed a few calls and found that I had left it on the first bus we got one. He had to go all the way back over to the airport to pick it up for me but I would not have been able to sleep otherwise.
Because we arrived early, they didn’t have the rooms for us in the palace that they had promised. Charlie, Dave and the General all had to sleep in one room! Bebe, Ann and I are in a trailer outside the JVB. It was quite a hike around the lake to the latrine from our trailer.
We all took showers that night (actually morning!) and got in bed at around 4:30 am. I have to “hike” around the lake in the mud to get from our trailer to the latrine and showers. I couldn’t find the latrines and was using these nasty portalets for the first few hours we were there. I started thinking about a story General Frutiger told us about this huge “trout” in one of the lakes and how it eats all the other fish. All I could think about was slipping in the mud and falling into the lake and the fish getting me!
Slept until 9:30 am and then the day began. We all went over to the DFAC to eat lunch. I’ve sat with the Italians and the Australians, KBR, chaplains, and our troops this trip. These “meal” visits are always great. Our escorts who were to take us to the little remote camp (I can’t even tell you the name of it for security reasons) met us at the DFAC. One of them is the guy who found my website on the internet and he’s the reason I requested a visit to their site. No civilians are ever allowed on their Camp! They picked us up in this huge black “rhino” wagon. It’s like an armored van with windows that have been blacked out. We were not allowed to see where we were going and they also didn’t want anyone to see inside the vehicle. We drove for about 25 minutes and finally arrived at their camp. Boy, were there some happy, smiling faces waiting for us there. Obviously they NEVER get any entertainment at their facility. Charlie and Dave signed autographs and then Dave did a few minutes of comedy and Charlie borrowed a guitar and sang a couple of songs. I talked to my new friend and found out why everything is so secretive there…but I still can’t write about it! Dave had to leave early to go back to Camp Liberty because he is doing a live remote back to the CBS Early Show today.
I think I mentioned that I made this trip with stitches in my head. The doctor gave me a suture removal kit and told me to have someone take them out on the 18th. They had begun to itch and I was really looking forward to getting them out. I found a medic at this “secret camp” we visited and we videoed the entire process. He didn’t hurt me at all and one of these days I’ll be able to talk about how unique it was to have this process take place at this particular Camp!
We were driven back to camp in the same blacked out vehicle and arrived just in time for the live remote to begin. Charlie went into the PX to shop but was stopped by so many people that we finally had to set up an autograph table for him. Dave did great on the live remote. He managed to get the “good news” out about what is happening here. Charlie was on the show during the second half of the feed. I’ve already been getting emails from people about the footage!
I haven’t been able to check email on my computer since we left Kuwait and that seems like a month ago. We are working so hard with NO free time that I don’t even have time to answer email when I can get on a base computer. I never go this long without answering email but I don’t have a choice. My office staff is thankfully taking care of things for me.
I think we found out why we didn’t make it to Tal Afar yesterday and it had nothing to do with “broken” aircraft. We picked up the “Stars and Stripes” (military newspaper) and the headlines were about a “roundup” in Tal Afar. Evidently the U.S. troops stationed there and the local Iraqi forces gathered up EVERY male that was of military age. They then paraded them in front of an insurgent that they had captured and who had agreed to work with them. There were approximately 1500 males who were brought in and out of those about 100 were identified as men who had been helping the insurgents. It is an awesome way for the local Iraqi government/army to take control of the problem of insurgents killing people with roadside bombs, IED’s, mortars, etc. But, I think that all our forces were probably busy and there could have also been some concern for our safety during this process. Sure hate we didn’t get to go there though. We were going to be transported to the Sinjar Mountain in the Band of Brothers Helicopters and everyone was looking forward to that, too.
After the live remote, we all went over to the Al Faw Palace. This is one of many beautiful palaces on the lake where our military now has their offices. The JOC is located there and another one of my email buddies got permission for us to visit them. Charlie went because he wanted to see the 2nd floor of the building since he saw the first floor last April. But, once he walked in, he was again surrounded by men and women asking for autographs and photographs. His “RULE” is, “I’m here to see the men and women in our military and to say thank you to them”. He never refuses to sign an autograph or take a photo with someone.
We went to dinner immediately after the Palace tour and then straight to the show site. Charlie had to do some interviews with AAFES and the PAO for the Camp and then a General came in and made a presentation to everyone. A little band named “Stony Creek” got up and played country music for a half hour before Dave went on. I had my buddy from the JOC there and my other buddy from the Camp that I can’t talk about there. I spent almost the entire show sorting through my duffle bags getting them ready to fly home so I didn’t get to spend any time with my new friends. But at least they got to enjoy the show. Charlie invited a “classical” violinist on stage to play one song with him and she was pretty good. He always ends his show with “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and I was a long way from the stage getting the autograph table set up when he started singing. Only a couple of words into it, he forgot the words. I freaked out thinking something had happened to him and started running for the stage. But, it was only Dave Price out on the stage with a fiddle pretending to join in. Charlie was laughing so hard, he couldn’t sing and play. It was the perfect ending to our shows and made me feel a little better about missing the shows the day before. I’ve NEVER missed a show before and it’s hard to take.
I did get to talk to my two buddies while Charlie and Dave signed autographs for a couple of hours. Then we went back to our lodging and to drop our bags before some of us went to midnight chow. Ann and I walked into our trailer and flipped on the light. She was saying something about “what is all this stuff” when a head popped up on the top bunk bed. I can’t tell you how badly that scared me! Seems they had to put a female soldier from Australia in to bunk with us because the place is so full. There are lots of Generals in Baghdad for meetings and they take priority over everyone else for lodging.
Ann and I decided to have a little fun and NOT tell Bebe about our surprise guest. We went to the DFAC and came back about an hour later. I walked in the room and Bebe was sitting up in bed with a flashlight waiting for us but her eyes were much brighter than the light coming from her flashlight. She started to tell me about our “guest” (who was TRYING to sleep!) and I started laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe and so did she. I’m sure we caused an international incident with Australia. Bebe told me she got lost when she went to take a shower and stepped off into the mud. Her shower shoes were covered with mud. I went to the latrine and did the very same thing only I took my shows off and washed them in the sink immediately. I slid so far, I was sure I was going to go down. Since that was the only clothes I had to sleep in, I did quite a dance to stay upright.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 19TH – DAY 8:
Got about 4 hours sleep again and then got up to go jogging. Our C-17 isn’t supposed to pick us up until around 4:30 pm. Much later than we wanted but not much we can do about it. I just knew I would get lost but it was actually a very easy, very beautiful run…especially if you can forget that a mortar can come flying in at any time. I ran around the lake to the Al Faw Palace, then doubled back and ran the canal and the small lake. Ran a little over 5 miles. Went back to shower and just HAD to take a photo of mine and Bebe’s “skid” marks in the mud outside the shower. As soon as I got into the shower the smoke alarm – which was mounted right above the shower stall I picked to shower in – went off. I couldn’t get it to stop and finally some local man banged on the door and stuck his head in. I told him to go away because I was in the shower. Once I finished, I dragged a bench over and stood on it to take the battery out of the smoke alarm. Never mind that I am now DEAF from listening to that darn thing for 20 minutes.
We went to the DFAC for one final lunch with our troops. I actually sat with some KBR employees and one Intelligence guy. Interesting to talk to them, too. We had time for a brief stop at the “Bazaar” for them to make some last minute purchases. General Frutiger had taken Charlie and Dave out at 9:30 am this morning to visit troops and they met us at the terminal for our flight. After making a last minute “run” to the local PX to purchase snacks for the airplane, we boarded the C-17 for the flight home. Really nice flight crew this time, too, from Fort McCord out of Washington State. We have the entire plane to ourselves except for one additional flight crew and a couple of soldiers. They forgot to put the pallet of seats in this plane but there are sleeping bags and plenty of room to lay on the floor. We should land at Ramstein at around 7:30 pm and then have a 2 hour drive to Frankfurt. I was able to hook up my computer this morning and thought I downloaded all my email to my filing cabinet so I could read and answer it off-line on the flight today. But, for some reason, it signed me on as a “guest” and I can’t get any of my email, darn it! So, now I have to go back to my “old” mail and start over when we arrive in Frankfurt. Don’t think we will have the nice “farewell” dinner that Charlie had planned for us at the Sheraton! L
We arrived at Ramstein right on time. Our flight crew was so nice. I usually spend most of my time up on the flight deck with them. But Charlie sits up there the entire flight, so it would be too crowded and I’m sure they would much rather have him up there with them. The crew was from Arkansas and one of them gave me his patch.
Michael picked us up in his bus and we breezed through Customs. General Frutiger presented everyone with these great bags, coins, caps, etc., etc. He also called his wife and had her make dinner reservations. All but one of the restaurants in the hotel were closed due to Easter and it was only open until 11 pm. They wanted us there by 10 pm and we made it by 10:15 pm. The Sheraton had all our keys and a rooming list waiting for us, which was great. Dinner was nice but everyone was so tired, we all went straight to our rooms as soon as we ate. The hotel is nice but nothing spectacular. I needed rooms there in June when I go through there with Lee Ann Womack but the World Soccer Cup is there at that time. The same room we paid less than $200 for tonight is $600 per night during that time periodl Talk about price gouging. We’re staying about 5 minutes from the airport in June. The Sheraton is connected to the airport BUT it’s only convenient if you are flying out of Terminal 1 and we were out of Terminal 2.
I stayed up downloading email until around 2:30 am and then got back up at 5:30 am. No time to exercise today!!! Everyone was on time and I took the skytram over to Terminal 2 while they were loading the bus. I found a Northwest rep and got them briefed on how much luggage and equipment we had. They insisted on having each person check in individually. At first they were going to charge me over $600 for each piece of overweigh. But, they went upstairs and talked to a supervisor and said they would “work with us”. I still had to pay a lot of money but it wasn’t nearly as much as it could have been. Once everything was checked in, I had 10 pieces that had to be checked under my name. Everyone had gone to the gate except for a couple of us. We went through immigration and the first security check point. I got “hauled into” a separate room because I had a printer in my bag. I had told them that I had a printer but they said I didn’t need to take it out. Then they busted me for it. They scanned it and let me go. Then we walked about 200 feet and had to go through security AGAIN. This time they had to take my computer in and scan it. Finally made it to the gate and they were already boarding….It took 2 ½ hours to check in. When I handed them my passport and boarding pass, I got hauled in AGAIN. This time they said that I had an illegal knife in my luggage. I knew I didn’t have it but I didn’t know which bag it was in. They said it was a blue bag and one of Charlie’s musicians who was still with me said that he had a big knife in his bag. Then they said it had an American flag on the bag and he said it wasn’t his. I told them that all the bags had names on them, so why couldn’t they just tell me the name of the person! FINALLY, they figured out it was David – Charlie’s manager. He was already on the plane and they started talking about “Police” and asked him to get off the plane. I KNEW Charlie wasn’t going anywhere without him. I had given the pilots and flight attendants cds, and they assured me that we would not leave without him. He got on just as they were closing the doors but said that he knew they were taking his bag. Someone had told him to stay where he was and not get on the plane. But, the plane was leaving and the gate agent told him to go ahead and get on. So, he doesn’t know if they will just take the knives (two big Iraqi knives!) or confiscate his entire bag. Guess we’ll know when we get to Detroit!
About an hour after we took off, the pilot announced that the water was not working and that they were trying to fix it “in the air”. There was no water in the galley or the lavatories for the entire flight! The toilet flushed but otherwise, there was no water.
I planned to answer my emails and then sleep. But, I started watching “Memoirs of a Geisha” and then worked on email. I had over 200 to answer! Halfway through, my computer battery said it was very low. I was plugged into the outlet, but no power was coming out. Evidently, it had something to do with the water as well according to the pilot. I took my battery out and put in a new one but when I did, my entire screen rotated 90 degrees to the right! I had to turn my head sideways to see the desktop and I could not get it to rotate back. One of the pilots came back and tried to fix it and he didn’t get anywhere either. After trying everything I could think of, I finally hit contol/alt/and one of the arrow keys and it went back to the normal view. By the time I got the emails answered, there was no time to sleep. I am going to be “dead tired” when we land in Detroit. We do have a very short layover and I’ve asked that the skycaps be waiting for us with BIG carts. We shall see….
VIP services met us and the skycaps were there…only with small carts. Got that fixed pretty quickly. All the bags came in even David’s, but they hauled him in again. We finally made our way out of customs and into the gate area. Flight was on time and we got all our luggage/gear in Nashville.
It was another wonderful, heart-warming, life-changing trip. I know that everyone on the tour was so proud that we could go over and say “thank you” in person and from the emails that are pouring in from some of the troops we visited, we definitely managed to bring a little bit of home to them. Am so glad that we got to some of the areas that don’t normally receive entertainment. Some of the larger bases seem to get all the celebrity shows that go through the area and we definitely hit some different camps. Will try again next trip. Charlie and his group, Dave, John and Scott were wonderful — as usual — to travel with!