Stars for Stripes joined with the Armed Forces Entertainment in September to take Country singer Chely Wright into remote areas in Iraq to entertain our troops. Chely was the first performer to go into Iraq and travel Camp to Camp performing shows with full production.
ROAD KILL – DAY ONE AND TWO – SEPTEMBER 13 AND 14: Flying to Kuwait for a tour of Iraq and Kuwait with Chely Wright and her band. First time I’ve taken a “full band” into the area. We are renting production from a sound company in Kuwait. That should be interesting! Chely had a last minute cancellation with her lead guitar player and we were able to get Storm to go. He plays for Jolie and was on the tour to Iraq last December, so he is a seasoned “vet” in the area. No problem getting checked in but thought we were going to have one piece of overweight. I had Penny standing by to bring and empty duffle bag. Didn’t need it but did realize I forgot my extra cell phone battery, so she brought that out to me. Right before we boarded the flight in Nashville, we had a call from Storm saying his flight out of Chicago into Dulles was canceled and he would not be able to meet up with us until we got to Frankfurt. This was unacceptable since I had his travel orders and military ID card. Told him to tell the ticket agent to put him on another airline so that he connected with us in Dulles. Surprise, Surprise….they had a flight available! Flew up from Nashville to Dulles on a very small jet and it was incredibly BUMPY. I’ll be glad when we get on the military aircraft! Landed at Dulles with a FIVE hour layover. I tried to get all the guys in the Lounge so they could relax but the lady working the door was not at all friendly or receptive. Said we would have to pay $50 per person for a day pass. So, in my typical “I’m not going to take no for an answer style”, I went to a different agent and asked to speak with the manager. I told her why we were going to Iraq and gave her some Chely swag. Amazingly enough, we were able to get EVERYONE in! (Photo right: Chely, Grinch and Judy). Our friend “Grinch” from Centcom was connecting through Dulles en route to Kuwait, too. Got him in the lounge and was able to spend about an hour with him. Such a sweetheart. He worked with General Franks and that’s how we met him. Then, two F-16 pilots from the Wolf Pack in Korea live in D.C. (they were Viper and Snort in Korea but have real names back here – Rob and Kurt or Nubes as he likes to be called!) and they drove out to the airport to see me. Had to leave the gate area and take a shuttle to the departures area in the main terminal. Was afraid I’d never get back through security. But I stripped down to the bare essentials and didn’t have a problem. They both had big bouquets of beautiful flowers for me. How sweet is that? We were going to eat a late lunch (for me – it was 6 pm) but the Departure area is “under construction” and there was NOTHING in the area. We finally found a pizza hut and a row of seats against a wall. That was our fancy dinner. (Photo left: Rob and Kurt with Judy). Went back through security pretty easily (with my flowers) and back to the lounge to get everyone moving to the gate area. When I looked at the arrival board, I saw that Storm’s flight was going to be late and was afraid he would miss the connection. He landed at 9 pm and the flight departed at 9:35 pm, so it was very close, but he made it. Not sure his bag made it but he was carrying on his guitar – the important thing. We can come up with some clothes for him. Got on the flight and Chely doesn’t like to sit with anyone because she knows she will talk instead of rest. But when she sat down there was a very strange little man sitting by her – maybe suspect is a better word. She asked him to switch seat with me and he did. Jan, her tour manager, was sitting right across the aisle from us. The three of us were in business class and it was the worst service I’ve ever had in that class of service. We were on United and they never once refilled our water glass or gave us a bottle of water. They spent the entire flight in the galley just talking and laughing while we were sitting there getting dehydrated. As you can tell from my previous road kill reports, the airlines have definitely gone downhill in their service to the public. I told Chely I was NOT going to put this in the Road Kill report but she will bust me if I don’t. After dinner, I went to the restroom and noticed something down the front of my shirt. I had on a V-neck shirt and there was a CARROT stuck right between my breasts! Guess I dropped it down there and didn’t realize it. Pretty bizarre. The doctor at Ft. Campbell gave everyone Ambian so they would be able to sleep on the flight. I don’t need anything to make me sleep…I just need the TIME to be able to sleep. Jan took one for the first time. Chely kept asking him if he was feeling it and he kept saying, no, not really. She was watching him and he was working on his computer. All of a sudden, he quit typing and his head fell over to the left and out into the aisle. His left hand was up in the air and his right hand was still on the keyboard. He stayed like that for an HOUR. The passengers sitting behind him had to squeeze past him on the way to the restroom which meant I got their butts in my face every time! He finally woke up, looked at the computer screen, sort of had that “oh yeah” expression on this face and then when face down again. Slept the rest of the flight. (Photo right: Jan after his Ambian kicked in). 🙂 Landed in Frankfurt with only about an hour and a half layover. Now we’re flying from Frankfurt to Kuwait. Again, they will NOT serve us water. I’m getting lots of exercise walking back and forth to the galley. As many glasses as I have had them “refill”, they could easily have given me a bottle of my own! When we landed, I knew that we had to secure “temporary visas”. We went downstairs and this one local guy waved everyone through Passport Control and told them they didn’t need anything. After coming into this airport 2 other times, I KNEW that wasn’t correct. But, trust me, he did not want a FEMALE telling him how business is done. He finally “waved us off” and said go ahead and get it if you feel you must. As always, this took a very long time. They do not get in a hurry. If they would let me back there, I type 140 words a minute and I’d knock it out for them. At least the men behind that desk liked me. Every time the one man handling the processing would complete one, he would hand it to the person waiting but give me this huge smile as if to say, “hey, look what I’ve accomplished”! I sent a couple of the guys downstairs to collect the luggage but we soon realized we were missing ONE piece. That would have been a simple matter except United checked all the bags under my name. That meant we had to match up all 24 tags. When we finished this, we had TWO bag tags left over but only one bag missing. Steve was missing his piece of personal luggage so I sent the group off to load the bus and Steve and I went to file a claim. Another lengthy process and we were told that his bag was in Vienna! Supposedly, it would arrive at the airport by 7 am tomorrow morning (yeah, right). But we were supposed to go up to the Lufthansa Office and talk to them about how we could pick it up. Easy, right? Just go upstairs and look on your left. We circled the upstairs three times, asking everyone where the office was. Each time we were sent in a different direction. Twice we went outside into the car park. One of Chely’s guys was standing below us thinking, “boy that sure looks like Jude and Steve”. J We went back downstairs, got another set of bad directions and headed back upstairs again. We went through an area with security and had to have all our bags scanned and Steve had to take his shoes off….only to find out we were in the wrong area. Finally we went down this little hallway that looked like a backstage area. There were a couple of men standing outside a door smiling so I asked one of them if he knew where the Lufthansa Office was located. He said in perfect English, “right here. I’ve been watching you two walking around for a long time”! No sign on the door. No sign in the hallway. Guess it’s a “secret” office. Anyway he was extremely helpful but got a good laugh out of the fact that we were told the bag would be here by 7 am tomorrow. He called the man who will be on duty tomorrow morning and asked him if he would clear the bag through Customs for us. Otherwise, both Steve and I have to come back to the airport to secure it. He gave me the phone number for this guy and told me to call him at 8:30 am and if he had the bag, we should arrange to meet outside the Starsbucks Coffee Shop. I’m not sure what he promised this guy because he was not speaking in English, but he kept looking me up and down, smiling and laughing. I decided to hand this project over to our Army escorts here in Kuwait. We loaded up the bus, but by then, everyone was hungry. The food at the hotel is very expensive, so everyone got back off the bus and went inside to change money and buy some food for the road. Only took about 30 minutes to drive to the hotel and they had everything ready for us. All the staff now knows me by name…not because I’m “memorable” but because I always tip them and give them gifts. Got checked in and there was a knock on my door. Preston – Chely’s drummer – was standing there in a pair of sandals saying, “I just opened my suitcase and these are the only shoes I have”. First stop tomorrow will be shopping at the exchange. Then Chely called and they had put her in a smoking room. I went down to get it changed, but the hotel is sold out. I went up with the guys to “spray” the room with deodorizer and they are going to move her tomorrow. Our Coordinator in Kuwait for this trip (Clayton Bovey) is wonderful and was very well-prepared for our arrival. Sure makes things a lot smoother. And, Chely is very patient and flexible which helps immensely. Now it’s 1:15 pm and we have a very full day tomorrow. Signing off…for now! Jude
DAY 3 – SEPTEMBER 15TH: In bed by 3 am and up at 6 am to “run”. Already way too hot to run outside, so I had to run on the treadmill…which I hate. An hour on that thing is brutal. Watched every channel I could find. Even turned on CNN for a few minutes but got so mad at the “misrepresentation” of the facts over here that I wanted to turn “Elvis” and shoot the TV. It was the British CNN and to make matters worse, their male news reporter is such a dweeb. If you’re old enough to remember the old Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis movies, Jerry Lewis used to dress up as a character with glasses and he would cross his eyes and had these huge buck teeth. This guy looks like his double! Off for our first show at Arifjan! Back after midnight tonight. Arrive at Arifjan and everything was pretty much together. Had to wait a bit for our equipment that we brought with us to arrive because of a traffic problem. Saw lots of people that I had met on previous tours. (Photo left: Chely w/ ESPN representative Kuwait). While we were waiting for the guys to set up, Chely went over to the set of ESPN. They are here all week filming but film very early in the morning. They are set up in a hanger with a tank and humvee pulled inside. Chely did an interview with the local base newspaper and AFN-TV. We then went over to the hospital to visit the patients. Not very many in the hospital, thankfully. She was invited into the operating room to witness an emergency appendectomy! She had to scrub and suit up and they wouldn’t let her touch anything once she went in. But, she did LOOK. I know because I had to step up to the flap (the hospital is set up in tents) and tell her what time it was. I almost passed out just seeing the drip and instruments. Don’t know how she does it. Of course, all the doctors and nurses wanted an autographed photograph and she even signed one for the patient. Said she wrote, “nice appendix”! Bet he’ll be surprised when he wakes up. Since it’s the first show, getting everything set up took an extremely long time. Were supposed to finish sound check by 6 pm but it’s 5:30 pm now and they haven’t even started. Plus, Chely’s in-ear monitors inadvertently got left behind at the hotel. Her road manager is on his way back to retrieve them but today is like our Friday and this is right in the middle of rush hour traffic. She may have to use a generic pair. (Photo left: Chely prepped for surgery). It had “cooled off” to a pleasant 100 degrees for the high today because there was a ferocious wind blowing. Sand kept blowing in our mouths and eyes. Chely said she blew her nose and a sand castle came out. J Got the in-ears but not in time for sound check. The crowd actually started coming in before she could even finish sound check. We had a VIP Meet and Greet with the Colonel, SMG and one other official. Found out that two of the guys had seen her show at various bases in Korea last year! She took the stage to more than 1,200 people in the audience. The MWR Director said it was a record crowd. The show was fantastic. She involved the soldiers in the audience and definitely won their hearts with her sincere honesty about her love for the troops. Last year, she wrote a poem which was a true story about something that happened to her regarding her brother who is a Marine. I loved it when she wrote it and told her she needed to record it. She put it away and didn’t think about it for almost a year. Then she put it to music and sent it to me a few days before we visited Bethesda and Walter Reed. It is the most moving, “timely” songs I’ve heard in a very long time. I can’t listen to it without crying. She worked it up and sang it with just an acoustic guitar player. The crowd was mesmerized and you could have heard a pin drop. Afterwards, she got two standing ovations. It’s the first time I’ve seen her break down and cry on stage. I don’t mean a couple of tears escaping down her cheeks, I means crying so hard that her makeup was running off. She was on stage motioning for me to bring her kleenix and I was crying so hard, I could tell what she was saying. Fortunately her wonderful sound guy made a mad dash for the backstage area and returned with some napkins. I really hope she’ll sign with a label very soon and release this song. The public needs and deserves to hear the wonderful message she conveys. (Photo left: Chely performing in Kuwait). She signed autographs after the show and we went through 3 pads of autograph sheets. That’s 300 photos! The MWR rep said it was the longest autograph line they had ever seen. She signed for over THREE hours. We tried to limit everyone to one autograph and taking one photo with her so that everyone would get an opportunity to meet her. But, it was pretty much useless to even try. I was worried about her talking too much and losing her voice, not to mention the cramp she must have had in her hand. But, she’s a trooper and stayed until everyone – including the employees at the Camp – got their autographs. Camp Arifjan is basically used for soldiers who are either coming in to the country or on their way out of the country. Tonight’s show was made up mostly of soldiers who have been in Iraq for a year or more and are on their way home. I met so many soldiers that we performed for either last June with Chely, last December/January with Jolie and Craig or this past July with Chalee and Danni. There were also lots of soldiers who I had met in Korea with Chely or Charlie Daniels. It’s always so wonderful to “reconnect” with those guys. And, there were lots of soldiers there who live in Alabama….my home state. Well, it’s almost 3 am again and I have to get up at 6 am AGAIN. Flying on a C-130 into Baghdad tomorrow. No show until the next day though. Probably won’t be able to get road reports out from Iraq. Jude Sorry, have not been able to access email from my computer until tonight. Here’s the story:
DAY 4– SEPTEMBER 16TH: Forgot to mention that the Colonel at Arifjan gave us beautiful framed certificates last night. That’s always a really nice surprise and much appreciated. Don’t even know where to start with the “events” of today because so much has happened. First off, I think I “jinxed” myself. I was so tired last night that I ended the Road Kill Report with the sentence about flying into Baghdad today. We were not flying to Baghdad, we were flying to Balad….big difference. So, got my 3 hours of sleep and hit the gym. We had to be in the lobby at 10:30 for departure to the air terminal in Kuwait. Everyone was ready and our escort for Iraq – Captain Chase Martin – met us for the ride to the airport. Steve’s bag that went to Vienna finally arrived last night but our escort for Kuwait had the same problem we had “finding” the correct office to retrieve it from. He was at the International Airport from about 9:30 until 2 am but he finally got it for him. Only had about a one hour wait in the passenger terminal before our C-130 arrived. SUPER nice flight crew – Americans but stationed in Germany. Also, Chely’s keyboard player has a cousin who is in the Air Force and stationed in Iraq. He found out our schedule and was on the flight to see Lonnie. We had a lot of other soldiers on the plane with us and one was from South America. He VOLUNTEERED to serve in our army because he said it “looked like the kids needed some help over there”! How wonderful is that? Chely signed autographs for everyone on the plane and we sent the boys up two at a time to the flight deck. I wanted to wait until we were landing because I knew it would be a combat landing and it’s much “easier” on the flight deck than in the windowless belly of the plane. (Photo right: The gentleman who “Volunteered” to serve in Iraq). It was only a 1 ½ hour flight from Kuwait to Balad. There are no toilets on the plane – just a “honey bucket” with a little half-door in front of it. Definitely not made for the women to use. I did get a photo of our pilot using it though. J – Oh come on, you couldn’t see anything! (Photo left: Pilot “using it”). Anyway, I pace myself on drinking the water because I know there’s no toilet facilities. Knew exactly how much I could drink in 1 ½ hours and not need to go. About one hour into the flight, I was already sitting up on the flight deck when the crew said that there was a CODE RED at Anaconda (where we were going). I know all about Code Red from my last visit there when the Camp got hit by mortars twice. We were not going to be allowed to land and the plan was to circle for as long as we could on the fuel we had. Our 1 ½ hour flight quickly became 2 ½ hours and then 3 and I really, really needed a toilet. We were finally told that we had to go to Baghdad to land which was fine by me. They have toilets in Baghdad. They definitely had to do a combat landing and it was pretty awesome. Don’t know how many “G’s” we pulled but it was a lot. They were dropping and swerving for about 10 minutes. Glad I was “up top”. When we landed, the flight crew was told that we could not deplane while they were refueling because we had now been cleared to fly into Anaconda. Thankfully, they knew my situation and insisted on letting us get off the plane while it was being fueled. One of the guys told me that he would have to walk me to the port-a-let. I informed him that I had no intention of “walking” and if he could keep up with me, he was welcome to escort me. He did a pretty good job of it but I beat him by several paces. Before we got back on the plane the pilot told me that the jet engine failed when we were landing. He said he had just heard it start back up, which was a good sign. Glad I didn’t know that at the time! He also asked me if I was going to sit up on the flight deck for take-off and I told him that I was going to let someone else have the experience since I’ve done it so many times. His response was, “No, you WANT to sit up there with us”. Don’t have to tell me twice. Every man for himself. After we took off, I knew why. They let me stand beside them and the plane came very close to doing flips. It was almost as bad as the helicopter rides but this was on a much larger scale. I did let someone else sit up there for landing and it was pretty brutal down in the belly. We found out that Anaconda had found several rockets right outside the fence line, set up and ready to launch. That’s why they had shut down the base earlier that day. They were unable to find the insurgents who placed them there. But, you can imagine how cautious they were with out landing. They dodged and weaved for what seemed like an hour but was actually only a few minutes. We landed safely. (Photo right: Chely and her group with the flight crew). When straight to the DFAC for dinner and saw several people that I had met on the tour in July. Chely’s sound guy was needed a chiropractor and I mentioned this to the soldiers I was sitting with. They were telling me that there was only one guy on base who did that and as they were speaking, he walked into the DFAC. So we were able to arrange a visit tonight. Went to the internet café and base exchange after dinner. I have to work on one of the “borrowed” computers since I can’t plug mine in. Pretty frustrating but should only last for a couple of days. As we were walking out of the internet café, our escort informed us that one or more of our bags had fallen OFF the truck that had our luggage on it. No one seemed to know where the bags that had fallen off were taken. Got back to our lodging and guess what? My most important bag with all my clothes in it was missing. I would have been a little more understanding if this same thing had not happened at this base during the last tour.. It took two days for them to retrieve it that time. Jason (one of our escorts) was able to find it for me. He said that it fell off the truck and someone spotted it on the side of the road. They called it in and it had to be taken to the bomb squad. If they thought it was suspicious, then they would not open it but would blow if up. Great. I had all kinds of camera, computer, cell phone chargers and adapters in the bag! The people responsible for delivering it are paid really big money by Haliburton, so I didn’t see any humor in the situation. So far, only found two things broken – a mirror and since they broke it, I assume they will have the 7 years of bad luck and my eye shadow. It was a deep, sparkly purple color and it got on EVERYTHING! Nice. Everyone’s bags were absolutely COVERED with dust…except the one that fell off the truck and it was spotlessly clean. Very strange. At this time, the entire base is going to “Threat Com Delta” at midnight. This is the highest threat level. It also means that the exchange, gym, any buildings where large groups of soldiers congregate — will be closed tomorrow. Since we will then have to wear our helmets and flak vests at ALL times, I won’t be able to jog or work out in the gym. The flak vests they gave us this time are much different. These now have the “bullet proof shield” which adds about 10 pounds to the weight of the thing! We were told that this is not just for Anaconda but for the entire theatre. Our visit to the school where Gary Sinise started Operation Iraqi Children has been canceled. That was going to be one of the highlights of the tour for me. I am so disappointed but certainly understand that our safety comes first. An even bigger concern is the fact that we may not be allowed to perform.,..here or anywhere else. Again, they don’t want large groups of people amassing in any one spot. We won’t know until tomorrow what the decision will be. Chely is determined to give the guys a show if we have to run them in 5 at a time and sing them a song! I don’t know what this new threat level means to our travel for the next few days either. Am wondering if our entire tour is going to be “pulled” and we get sent back to the U.S. I was warned that things were going to heat up over here because of the upcoming Presidential Election. The insurgents do NOT want President Bush to be re-elected. Told you it was an eventful day….can’t send this out until we leave Iraq, I suppose. Jude
DAY FIVE – SEPTEMBER 17TH: Got up at 7 to exercise in my room but someone knocked on my door before I could get started. It was Preston (Chely’s drummer) and he needed to borrow my hair dryer. I asked him if he had a converter and he said the he had loaned his to Chely’s road manager. So, I told him to just come in and dry his hair. I walked into the other room and someone else knocked on the door. Preston thought it was Chely, so he opened it. Instead it was Jason (our escort) with a cup of coffee for me. What a sweetheart! I talked to him for a minute while Preston was drying his hair. Then when I closed the door, it hit me! There’s a man in my room drying his hair at 7 am. We both started dying laughing because I’m sure Jason thought the worst! Oh well, he probably just thinks that’s normal for the entertainers. Actually, I felt compelled to tell him the truth. Not sure he believed me, but at least I tried. (Photo left: Judy and Chely visit with the school kids and hand out “goodie bags”). We found out that we had NOT gone to Threat Com Delta and didn’t need to wear our flak vests and helmets all the time. Also, I could have jogged OR gone to the gym, darn it! Had breakfast and learned that the visit to the school was back on. THAT definitely made my day. They had to find BDU’s for me and Chely to wear and mine were quite a bit too big. Was hoping my pants wouldn’t fall off at the school! We had to go for a “briefing” before our “mission”. Just to take us less than 5 miles outside the Camp, it took, 9 dedicated security, 11 escorts, 3 translators, and 6 additional military personnel (cameras/video, etc.) and a total of 6 armed vehicles. I can now understand why we were not allowed to take the musicians with us. School does not start back here until mid-October. But they took us to the new school that our soldiers had built for the children in this one village (Al Salem school in Albu Hassan N.) It’s a beautiful school and I know the children are going to enjoy it immensely. It is shaped like a square with an open area in the middle. They put Chely on one side to give away stuffed animals and I was on the other side giving out bags of school supplies. The kids were brought in to us 3-4 at a time. And, they were all adorable. We saw all age groups from tiny babies in arms to teenagers. We also met some of the school teachers. Gary Sinise started this project (check it out at www.operationiraqichildren.org) and many of you reading this Road Kill Report have sent over supplies for this effort. I can tell you from first hand experience that it is a huge success and was desperately needed. I also met the interpreter who is Gary’s friend. A few weeks ago, he was kidnapped and tortured because they found out he is helping the Americans. He said that now he must flee Iraq or he feels he will be killed. It’s so sad! He also said that if we pull out of Iraq now, it will be a sign of weakness on the part of America and that we will have another terrorist attack. He talks about the attack in Spain and how this was done to sway the election. He stayed with me while I was handing out the supplies and interpreted what the children said. Some of the children can speak a little English and he said they will all be learning it in school now. Lots of the kids had piercing blue eyes and he explained that the British ruled here in Iraq many years ago and the children are descendants of them. I really wish we could do more for them. I wonder what goes through their minds when these people come over to their homes, speak a strange language that they don’t understand, and give them incredible gifts. I suppose when they grow up and their children are born in a free Iraq, they will be able to tell them about their lives before America liberated them from Saddam! (Photo right: Judy with some of the school kids). The camera crew sent the footage out and made it available worldwide today. Hopefully, someone will show the GOOD NEWS in America. Got back to lodging and went to the gym with Chely. Our escort walked us in and told the lady behind the desk that we wanted to work out. Everything would have been fine except that some guy who said the gym was “his” and he was a personal trainer decided to get involved. He also informed me that there were men in the gym who had not seen women for a very long time and if they started bothering us, he was also a “bouncer” and he would take care of them. Then he proceeded to “bother” Chely while she was trying to work out. Wanted her to autograph photos and started telling other people that she was in the gym. I finally had to explain to him that she had a very small window of opportunity to get in her workout and that she would autograph anything he wanted at the show tonight. Back to the room to take a shower but had to help Chely figure out how to use her converter. I was convinced I was going to blow up her room because I know NOTHING about electricity. But we got my hairdryer working for her (popular piece of equipment, huh?). Got in the shower and when I got out, someone knocked on my door. I yelled out to find out who it was but no one answered. Yelled again and a man asked if Jason was in my room (our escort). Guess news about me and Preston traveled fast! J Met a wrestler and former baseball star today who were here doing “handshake” visits for the troops. Really nice guys. (Photo left: Rob Dibble, Chely, Diamond Dallas Page and Preston). The theatre was absolutely packed with people tonight. It was another fantastic show. She did the “bumper sticker” song and brought the house down again. She got another standing ovation and everyone was asking when it would be on radio. She mentioned 50 Cent who was over here about a week ago. The entire audience BOOED! He definitely didn’t make any friends on that trip. Have no idea why he even came over. We were told that he was supposed to do a 2 hour show but only did 45 minutes. Then he was “scared” and refused to sign any autographs. Supposedly, his private jet didn’t arrive until 5 hours after the show but instead of visiting with the troops, he slept. Since no one gets paid to come on these tours, I wonder WHY he even bothered to show up???? She signed autographs for 3 hours again. Came back to lodging but I HAD to go check email. It was so slow at times I just wanted to cry. But finally, at 2:30 am, I finished up and started walking back – in the dark, by myself – to lodging. Some guy followed me out of the internet cafe and started talking to me. He was asking some pretty strange questions but I was trying to be nice because he was a soldier. Then he asked if I wanted to make a little detour! Good grief. I assured him that I was not the least bit interested and that I would prefer to walk the rest of the way on my own! Back at lodging and going to bed. Have to get up in 3 hours so we can fly to Baghdad. Performing in the International Zone tomorrow for the 57th Anniversary of the Air Force. So excited because I get to see my friend who is the 2 Star and my friend who is the MWR director in Baghdad. Jude
DAY 6 – SEPTEMBER 18TH: Up early to chopper to Baghdad. The maid tried to come into my room to clean before 8 am and I wasn’t dressed. I grabbed the door handle to keep her out and she keep yanking on the door even with me yelling, “not now”! Our choppers were waiting for us at the terminal and we had flight crews from Louisiana. Really nice guys and girls, or course. We had one helicopter just for passengers and two for all the gear. I sat up front, by the door and our door wouldn’t close. So, it was pretty breezy. Our backpacks and helmets almost flew out. The guys loved the ride – especially flying 60 feet off the ground and jumping power lines. Really doesn’t bother me any more, Thank God. (Photo right: Chely pictured with the flight crew). We landed in the International Zone on what seemed like a very small pad. Looked like were going to sit down right on top of the palace. Our escorts met us and took us into a palace to have dinner with the troops. Then Chely went to the radio station and did about a one hour interview with them. From there we went to the hospital to visit the wounded. The first soldier we visited had lost his leg above the knee and had some serious injuries to the other leg. He was so young and such a sweetheart. He has a new daughter that he has never even seen. His face lit up when he talked about getting to go home to see her again. His only concern is whether or not he will get his prosthesis and be able to stay in the Army! He actually teared up when he talked about not being able to serve any more. He is a medic and was injured trying to help his buddies. We went into ICU after visiting with him and the patient in there was the one whose life he saved. Just an amazing visit. (Photo left: Chely visiting with wounded in Iraq hospital). Came back to lodging only to find that Chely and I had been “bumped” out of our quarters by a visiting General. They had put us both in the same room, sharing a bathroom, which does NOT work. She needs her own space in order to get dressed. Evidently, there was not another room available, so I went downstairs with the boys and am sharing their bathroom. Drove over for the show and it is the 57th birthday of the Air Force. We are only getting to perform in the International Zone because my friend, the Major General, make the request. The general consensus has been that the soldiers in that area are “living large” because they have bars and swimming pools. Forget that they are risking their lives every day and taking regular mortar hits! They have not had any entertainment since a 20 minute visit from Jay Leno last Christmas. There were some very, very appreciative guys and gals in the audience. Of course, Chely’s new song was the hit of the show. So many people have emailed my website about how much they are touched by the song. After the show, she signed autographs for 3 hours while I visited with the General. He introduced me to a retired General who told me that he had served for 50 year and NEVER saw any entertainment. He thought Chely’s show was absolutely the best thing that could have happened for the soldiers. Then he told me that he had flown in with us yesterday and I had run over his foot with my rolling bag. When I learned that he was the reason we got “bumped” out of the quarters originally assigned to us, I figured it was poetic justice! (Photo left: Judy with Major General Steve Sargeant). Got to see Jim Percy – the MWR rep in Baghdad – who is my long time, dear friend. Saw lots of other people that I either met on the last tour or have know for quite some time. Sure I’ll think of more things to say tomorrow. Just too tired tonight. May not have email access for a while again. (Photo right: Judy with Jim Pearcy, MWR Manager). Jude
DAY 7 – SEPTEMBER 19TH: Told you I would forget some things! Just too tired to think properly. (Photo left: Judy, Chely and Jan). Okay, we also went to see the famous “crossed sabers” yesterday. Took photos underneath them and then went up into the building where Saddam made all his “speeches”. Went into his private dressing room (I stole some more marble) and stood out where the podium is located. Drove under the 14th of July Bridge en route back to the area where we are staying. A permanent stage was built for our performance right in front of the swimming pool at the Republican Palace. I’ve stayed in so many of his palaces now that I forget how impressed the guys are on the trip who have never been here. We are staying in one called “Freedom Hall” and it has a huge pool out front where the guys were able to swim. I brought my swimsuit and, of course, had NO time to swim! (Photo right: Chely and her group on stage at Camp Summerall). Last night after the concert my friend who is the General showed me around the grounds and told me a little of history. Right out behind the stage was this beautiful old tree and there was a swing hanging from the branches. I got to swing in Saddam’s swing! Somehow I doubt that he ever sat in it…. (Photo left: Judy with the General’s staff). During the show a rocket when right overhead. Most people did not see it and thankfully, it was a dud! Before our performance, there was a ceremony honoring the Air Force for their 57th birthday and they had a huge cake. Also had what looked like a really nice buffet but I never got to eat. About 11 p.m., I had popcorn with the General and I think that was his “dinner” as well. Helicopters were waiting for us this morning and it was a LONG flight from Baghdad to Summerall…about 1 hour and 15 minutes. The seats are so hard and the doors are open, so everyone is just beat to death with the wind. Landed at Summerall. This is the camp where I had Chalee and Danni perform in July. It is the most remote Camp we will visit this tour and I begged to be able to come back and perform for these guys. This is the Camp where the Commander put a teddy bear on our beds last time. So, this time, he has gone ALL out! He turned the room where we were last time into a “suite” for Chely. There is a leather sofa and chair and a dresser with a huge mirror, armoire, little frig, flowers everywhere, big screen tv and DVD player and a real bed. Unbelievable that he could accomplish this in Iraq. And, I have the “Penthouse”..all the way up at the top of the building. Have to take photos of it because they really made it into a pretty room. Have drapes all the way around the walls. But, get this….they put a Port-a-Potty on the roof so we don’t have to walk all the way out in the yard. And, it’s much cleaner than the ones that the guys use! (Photo right: Judy, Commander Kyle McClelland and Chely in their “Penthouse”). We had a great briefing about what the Camp does each day and saw a video. Then Chely, Jan, Eric and I were supposed to go visit the children in a local village and then tour Uday’s bombed out palace. But Chely was worried about her vocals because she hasn’t had much sleep, so she took a nap. The three of us went with about six armored humvees and soldiers. The village is very close to the Camp and it was really sad. They don’t have any running water. The Army just recently gave them some money to build some dumpsters for trash. It was pretty nasty and didn’t smell great! But the kids were adorable. More than 100 came out to get the free soccer balls, footballs, and stuffed animals. I took tons of photos and had an interpreter that helped me talk to them. Must have stayed for an hour with them. (Photo right: Raising the port-a-potty to the roof for Chely and Judy). We drove for quite a while up to Uday’s Palace and it was totally bombed out. We were able to go inside and walk up this staircase that was treacherous. I had to hang on to a soldier to get up and down it. The view from the top was spectacular. I felt like a “homeless” person scavenging for food! Got lots more marble, a smoke detector plate, half of a light switch cover, and a white rag that looked like it had been there when the palace was bombed. (Photo right: Spiral staircase inside Uday’s Palace). The “boys” in the band got to go out and shoot the weapons (live ammunition) and ride on the tanks, so they were happy! We also brought them back a piece of marble from the palace. We had to travel to the palace on Highway One. This is the highway we traveled so many times this past December between Tikrit and Mosul….a very dangerous stretch of road. There have been lots of RPG/IED attacks along this road. As we were leaving the road to the palace and about to turn on the main highway, we noticed a truck overturned. We stopped on the road above it and all our escorts got out of the humvees. They wanted to make sure that it wasn’t an IED and if not, that the people in the truck were okay. They talked to the three men that were standing beside the truck and determined that everything was okay. (Photo left: Judy and Jan). Show was held inside a hangar and there was a great crowd. I got to see my Special Forces buddies that I met here last time. Great guys from Ft. Campbell, KY. Chely got another standing ovation from the “bumper” song. She signed autographs for about 2 hours tonight. (Photo right: Chely performing). We have a very early call tomorrow….bags out at 8 am. Can’t believe our last show is tomorrow night! Jude DAY 8th– SEPTEMBER 20TH Knew I would forget something important. At the show last night at Camp Summerall, several local “dignitaries” were in attendance. One gentleman was a “Sheik” and he was smitten with Chely. Says he has two wives and wanted her to be the third. He took off this huge gold ring and gave it to her. I think they are married…. (Photo left: Chely receiving a ring from a Sheik). Chely also got the original blueprints to Uday’s house from a soldier a couple of nights ago. I think they are for the castle that we visited while we were at Summerall. We had bags out at 8 am and the choppers were on time. Chely bribed them so that they would give the guys a “ride”. It was pretty exciting – at least for them! Camp Cooke was set up and waiting for us. The Colonel on the base gave us a terrific briefing. I think we all learned some things and several things took on a new perspective. Got checked into billeting and then to the dining hall. Chely went to work out at the gym while we were at lunch. Camp Cook is a former military airport under Saddam’s rule (Taji Airbase). I went to the gym to work out and then by the BX to make a few last minute purchases J The show was outside but the stage was covered. It was a great audience. Chely sang her “bumper sticker” song and once again got a standing ovation. The song is a hit! Then she called me up on stage and said the absolutely sweetest things about my dedication to the troops. I hadn’t quit crying from her song, so I barely made it through that intro. We’re getting so many nice emails to my site and her site regarding her performances. (Photo left: Judy and the Fireman from Massachusetts). We met a fireman from Massachusetts who had worked with our dear friend, John Vigiano at Ground Zero where he lost both of his sons – a fireman and a policeman. Then a crew chief on an Apache helicopter gave Chely a flag to give to John in memory of his sons. He said that it has flown over Iraq for 50 hours of flight time. (Photo right: Judy and the “Stryker” crew). There was one of the new Stryker’s parked out front and I went out to talk to the guys. Learned a lot about how it works, etc., but also got to take a tour of it. The gunner had just received a purple heart. He was injured just couple of weeks ago when someone fired on them. He had a big scar under his chin where a bullet caught him and had shrapnel all in his face. I talked to him for a long time about his injuries and when Chely finished at the autograph line, she came over and talked to them as well. He is such a cute, tall and handsome young man, only 21 years old! And, he took a picture of himself right after he got shot. He shared that with us and it was really bad. They let Chely drive the tank for a few feet. I just happened to be up on the gun when she was driving. The tank has air brakes and when pressed down, can stop really quickly. I thought I was going to go right over the top of it. (Photo left: Chely “driving” the tank). Sure I’ll think of lots of things I left out by morning. Flying on choppers tomorrow morning to BIAP and then C-130 into Kuwait. Hopefully everything will run on schedule and we will depart Kuwait at 1 AM on the 22nd Jude
DAY 9 AND 10- SEPTEMBER 21ST-22ND: orgot a very important thing that happened. I had an email from Colonel Kyle at Summerall. He said that one of his soldiers was killed the day we departed. He was 23 years old and one of his best “snipers” from PA. He was killed in an ambush at Sharqat as they were returning from a City Council meeting. He died today in the hospital of multiple gunshot wounds. After having just been there this morning, this takes on a very personal meaning to us. I’m trying to find out if it might have been someone who was at the show last night. (Photo right: Spc. Joshua Henry). The Commander who briefed us yesterday at Camp Cooke was really great at answering our questions. We asked him when people in the U.S. say that this war is really “all about ‘oil’, is that the truth? He explained that he could only give us his personal opinion. He said that if we wanted to continue to live the lifestyle we now enjoy as Americans – driving SUV’s, living in large houses, all the luxuries of our American lifestyle that we simple see as a normal way of life, then, yes, it is about oil. Iraq is central to oil production and should we cease to have access to that commodity, then life in America as we know it today would change drastically! That’s the first time I’ve heard it explained that way. Several of the higher ranking officials that we spoke with throughout the tour also said that they had found huge caches of weapons hidden in walls and all the ingredients in mass quantities to produce weapons of mass destruction. Those are things you never hear about on CNN. Went to work out with Chely before our helicopter ride from Camp Cooke to Baghdad. They loaded all our luggage and gear on two choppers and took off leaving us behind. It was only about a 15 minute flight to Baghdad, so they just unloaded at BIAP and turned around and came back to pick us up. I guess I have gotten accustomed to dropping out of the sky because I rarely even lose my stomach any more. We landed at BIAP and went to the passenger terminal – which has changed a lot since we were there in December. There’s now no where to sit inside and soldiers were lying around outside. There is a small trailer there now which serves as their Exchange. Cpt. Martin was able to get us moved over to the VIP terminal to wait for our C130. They had told us that the aircraft was “dedicated” just for our group and another local band that was flying from Iraq to Kuwait as well. Then Cpt. Martin told us that we would also be transporting “human remains’. I immediately felt sick thinking it was probably the soldier that was killed at Summerall. We hung out in the VIP terminal for about an hour. Met some soldiers from Poland and thanked them for supporting the U.S. efforts in Iraq. Then a female in the USAF who was working in the terminal came to “brief” us on protocol for flying with the human remains. She told us the HR would be transported in a body bag and would be in open view throughout the flight. She said we were not allowed to take photos or try to unzip the bag! We were all pretty shocked that the HR would be transported in this manner and also that she would even have to mention not touching the bag. But, I suppose she felt it necessary since we are civilians. Thankfully when we boarded the plane, the HR was in a nice wooden casket but was definitely visible during the entire 1 ½ flight. It was a very subdued flight. I never left my seat, not even to talk to the flight crew. I had thanked them and given them a coin and bandanna as we boarded but it just felt disrespectful to even ask if I could take some of our group up onto the flight deck. All I could think about the entire flight was the fact that maybe we were flying with the soldier from Summerall. In a way, I was hoping that was who it was because it would have made me feel better to have been able to tell Commander Kyle that we accompanied his body. When we landed, they unloaded the pallets with all the gear out of the back of the plane first. Then they came on board and said that they were going to unload the HR. They also told the military personnel on board that it was not necessary to stand because it was a civilian. However, everyone on board stood, removed their hats and observed the process. I am assuming that it was the body of American Engineer Eugene Armstrong (52) who was beheaded on Monday. We checked into the Radisson Hotel by 6:00 pm – for a few hours and I treated everyone to an incredible buffet dinner in the restaurant. You’ve never seen so much food and such a variety to choose from. Of course, the hotel manager upgraded both me and Chely to suites since we’re only going to be in the rooms for a few hours. Everyone but me went into town to check out the market and local scenery. I had to catch up on email and do some “real” work. We departed for the airport at 11:00 pm and were immediately attacked by the luggage handlers. I had them somewhat under control but more guys kept coming up grabbing bags. I was determined to only tip them per bag, not per handler. By the time we entered the airport, we had 5 guys rolling carts and I had sent 3 others away! They will only carry the bags as far as “security” and want their tip immediately. Once everything goes through security, there are more handlers scurrying to grab the bags. I managed to keep that group to 4 total – I think! No problem checking in and we departed on time for the 6 hour flight to Frankfurt. We flew Lufthansa Airlines again and it’s a really nice airline. But, never in my history of flying international, have we not been offered a beverage after takeoff! The flight attendants did not even come around until one hour prior to landing. They didn’t bring any water or even ask if anyone needed anything! I had to get up and go into the galley to beg for water. I had an email this morning from Commander Kyle and he gave me the name of the soldier who was killed and his last name was “Henry”. Chely remembers him from the autograph line because her Mom’s maiden name is “Henry” and her sister just named her new son Henry. She said she told the soldier this and teased him that they might be related. He asked her if that meant that if he asked her to marry him, she wouldn’t be able to accept. She told him that they should just keep the option open. She remembers taking a photo with him and then he came back because the photo didn’t take. He was using someone else’s camera and his buddies were teasing him about smiling so big. I am going to get his parent’s address and write to them. Chely said he was probably in his early 20’s. Just breaks my heart. I hope that we lifted his spirits that night and brought him a little bit of happiness. I know that the morale boost for his buddies was short lived after our show because they lost him the next day. We have a 5 hour layover in Frankfurt and the lounge wouldn’t let us bring in the guys. There is no where to get a massage during the layover and NO email access, not even through a telephone line! Germany is NOT a “service-oriented” country. Boarded the plane for the 9 hour flight to Dulles. Chely, Jan and I were upstairs near the back of the plane. After the meal, everyone lowered the shades on the window so they could sleep or watch the movies. Everyone except a few people, that is. Chely finally got up and closed the shade on the guy’s window across from her. He was asleep and the guy in front of him thanked her for closing it. She then asked the flight attendant if she would ask the other gentleman across from her and a couple of rows back if he would mind closing his. He refused and the flight attendant explained that this was his “option”. Jan waited a few minutes, then got up to explain how tired we all were and would he mind closing the shade. They guy responded that “it is 10 am in Washington, D.C., and you guys need to get back on schedule”. Would NOT close the shade. So, Chely opened her shade and immediately two flight attendants rushed her and told her she had to close it! I can’t figure out why he had that freedom but she did not. So I went to chat with the flight attendant. I explained where we had been, how little sleep we had, how we did not get paid for our time, and the rough time we had with the death of the soldier and the flight back with the human remains. She never said that’s a wonderful thing you do for the troops or anything else. She suggested that we move “downstairs”. Now there was a total of 28 passengers upstairs. All but ONE person had the shade down. Don’t you think she should have suggested that this man move downstairs? She also said that a passenger had complained of Chely’s “erratic” behavior! Erratic??? All she did was walk across the aisle and close a shade. I got madder by the minute so when he got up to go to the toilet, I waited for him. I introduced myself and asked if I could speak with him for a minute. I explained where we had been, how little sleep we had gotten for 10 days, and the stress we had been through. I told him that we were physically, emotionally, and mentally drained and would really like to sleep for a couple of hours. I also told him that he had every right to keep his shade up because after all, he was an American and fortunate to live in a democracy where he had the right to do as he pleased. I also told him that a fine young soldier had died 2 days ago to insure that he continue to enjoy his rights. All he said was, “Okay” and sat down and kept the shade up! We gave up and tried to go to sleep but about a half hour later, a man across from me started snoring loud enough to be heard downstairs! Just gave up after that. At one point, the jerk across the aisle who had been working on his computer non-stop, quit working and tried to sleep but STILL would not lower his shade. Guess he had a point to prove! We landed and I was going to get all 11 of our group together behind him at the baggage claim belt and talk about his rudeness. However, they sent people staying in DC to a different area from those connecting through L.A. Didn’t see him again. I am definitely writing a letter to United about the rudeness of the flight attendants. Jan tried to talk to one before we deplaned and she got pretty hostile to him. No problem getting our luggage at Custom and having it rechecked. Made it to the gate just in time to board the “small” plane to Nashville. When everyone was on board and they had shut the doors, I asked the flight attendant if I could move back a couple of rows to an open row. She said that he had already given the pilot the “weight distribution” and I would have to wait until after take-off. I’ve NEVER heard of this before. Makes me wonder if I’ve gained a lot of weight. But, just before we took off, someone knocked on the door and when she opened it, there was an off-duty pilot who needed a ride. Of course, he took the empty row! She didn’t say a word to him about “distribution of weight”! I will make sure we never fly United Airlines again and will encourage my friends not t I use them either. I got a migrane on the flight to Nashville and I’m sure it was named “United Airlines”. I will never use that airline again if I can help is. Everyone is home and I’m now falling asleep at the computer! It was a FABULOUS tour! JUDE Ya’ll are my heros! You made so many folks happy in Iraq i can’t begin to count them all – halls in the palace are alive with thank you to you all!!!!