Country singer, Chris Young, is touring Kuwait and Iraq for his second time, but this time will be with his full band. Chris was so “changed” by his experience in Iraq that he became a board member for SFS and vowed to return.
Chris’ first #1 hit was “Gettin’ You Home (The Long Black Dress)” song. He has followed that up 2 more consecutive #1 – “Voices”, “The Man I Want to Be”, and his current single “Tomorrow” is in top 20. Chris was also the winner of “Nashville Star” in 2006 where he landed a record deal with RCA.
(Courtesy of Joseph Masterpool)
PHOTOS – BUEHRING
(Courtesy of Anson F. Dionisio)
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 13TH – THURSDAY, APRIL 14TH: NASHVILLE TO KUWAIT: Today I left Nashville for what I am calling my “Around the World Twice in 3 Weeks Tour”! I am flying first to Kuwait and then into Iraq with country music star Chris Young. Then, from there I will fly to Korea where I meet Darryl Worley for shows for the troops there. Will fly home for a week and then fly back to Iraq with the legendary Marshall Tucker Band. Chris is having enormous success with his career and he is absolutely the most deserving young man I have ever met. His first tour for the troops was with me in 2009 on the “GAC Stars for Stripes: Wounded Warriors Return” tour with Craig Young and two of our wounded heroes – Scott Lilley and Joe Bowser. The trip was life-changing for him. He agreed to serve on my Board of Directors and come back to Iraq with his band to again say thank you to the troops. He had just had his first number one single when he toured Iraq in 2009 and now he has had three consecutive #1’s and his current single is flying up the charts. Everyone was on time for check in at the airport. Lindsey is helping me on this trip and it’s killing me to have to leave her twins without me or her to take care of them. Christy – the lady who babysat them the first year of their lives is taking care of them, so I am positive they are getting the best care. We had time to grab a quick lunch before our flight left on time. It was an easy, smooth flight. One of the guys – Brad – is even more scared to fly than I am. When the group filled out their information, he REQUESTED a middle seat on the long flight. We thought it was a mistake and called him to check. Nope, he feels safer there. LOL. We had a very short layover in DC and I had the Lounge check all our claim checks to make sure the bags made it from Nashville. So far, so good. My friend in Nashville who is a pilot for United and sometimes even gets to fly me, gave me the flight information for all the flight crew and head purser. We have Captain Moses flying us – which is very comforting. I gave everyone “gifts” from Chris and the Captain insisted we sit in his seat and wear his hat and have our photo taken. I’m adding THAT photo to my Facebook page. I went back to show the guys Chris’s photo sitting in the pilot’s seat wearing the hat and told them to “buckle up because it could be a bumpy ride!”. J The photo is on my FACEBOOK page if you want to check it out. Will put it up on the Stars for Stripes Facebook Page when we get back. We departed pretty much on time and so far the flight has been smooth. I’m watching a really lame movie with Reese Witherspoon…. “How Do You Know”. Lindsey watched the same one and agreed with my opinion of it. Worked for a little while and then tried to sleep. I don’t think I slept 3 hours the entire flight. Just one of “those” flights. As the pilot had predicted, we had a little turbulence a couple of times but not bad. I always ask them about that before we take off. J It was easy after we landed. Our Visas were waiting for us compliments of the hotel and all our luggage arrived. I THOUGHT I only had 7 bags – 5 duffels for the show, my personal bag and Lindsey’s personal bag. When we loaded the two carts, it seemed like “more” to me. All our items have either red tape or blue tape on them and that’s all I was pulling off the belt. Brad decided he’s really not THAT scared to fly. We’re hopefully changing his seat for the flight home. Also, one of the guys had a Kosher meal and he wasn’t supposed too. We think a former tour manager put the information in as a joke. Evidently Iraq and Kuwait had a MAJOR dust storm yesterday and nothing was flying. Keeping my fingers crossed that we don’t have a repeat while we are here. It’s “that time of the year” unfortunately. Hotel was ready for us except for one room. We arrived at around 2 pm and they weren’t expecting us until 3 pm. Took them about 45 minutes to get the one room ready because they are sold out tonight. I started “sorting” through the duffels getting them ready for the performances. When I started to unzip one of them, it had a lock on it. I NEVER lock my bags because I know Customs is going to search everyone of them. Freaked me out for a minute and then I realized there was no Blue or Red tape on it. We had “STOLEN” someone’s bag from the airport!!!! I felt so bad. There was a claim check on it for Kerry Osbourne. It was an Army duffle bag just like mine but I don’t think the person who owns it is military. Anyway, Contee had to come back to the hotel and pick it up and take it back out to the airport! Lindsey and I walked over to Starbucks and got a coffee and then continued the process of sorting the show bags. She was able to call and check on the twins and all was great. Christy kept them at my house and said it was MUCH easier. Also said they were sound asleep by 8:30 pm….something they never do when we’re at home. Hmmm…. I answered email until 7 pm and then Lindsey and I had dinner in the hotel restaurant. None of the guys were down there. Really hope they didn’t go to sleep and sleep all afternoon. They will be up all night if they did and feel horrible by tomorrow afternoon. I walked out back on the patio to look at the Gulf and there were people sitting at all the tables on the patio smoking the Hooka Pipes. Have been in my room answering emails the rest of the night. Wanted to go work out but just had too much work to do and the health club closed at 11 pm. Will get up early and get in a good workout. Tomorrow is a show at Camp Buehring. It’s the camp that is about 1 hour and 45 minutes from the hotel. It’s where they used to bring all the troops coming into country and train them before they go into Iraq. Then they would come back through there to “out-process” before going home. There are significantly fewer troops there now because of the draw down. I think they are still bringing some in for Afghanistan deployments. We usually get to go to the video firing range at that Camp, too. Great group of guys and this is going to be a fun tour! Bedtime for me! Jude
FRIDAY, APRIL 15TH – CAMP BUEHRING, KUWAIT: Of course Lindsey would remind me that we landed in Kuwait on “Man Love Thursday”. I was reminding Chris of this and he thought I was kidding. Nope. It’s the “custom” here! J Actually got 6 hours of sleep which won’t happen again this entire tour. Next time I will get that much sleep will be on the flight to Korea. Got up and worked out in their great little health club and then had a very “healthy” breakfast. Felt like I was getting a cold last night and not sure if I am this morning or not. Could just be allergies or the DUST. Didn’t see any of the guys or Lindsey at breakfast. Thanks to a special grant from the Academy of Country Music and Chris Young’s fan club, we were able to bring 1,200 Itunes Cards to distribute to the troops attending the shows. Since there will be a lot more troops than that in the audience, I’m going to start at the back of the autograph line each night and give them out as long as they last. Should break down to 200 per performance plus 100 each for the two FOB’s we’ll visit. Turned out to be a very busy day for us. Everyone was on time and said they got a great night’s sleep – although it was in “shifts”. We had an uneventful 2 hour drive to Camp Buehring – didn’t even see any camels. FYI, if you “hit” a camel on the highway, the fine is $10,000 U.S. and they hold you in prison until you pay it! First stop at Buehring was a Commander’s Office Call. I mentioned that I didn’t know Buehring had that many females because we have never had that many show up for an office visit. Hmmmm….could it be the good-looking, young, single country music star that is drawing them? They gave us a great briefing on what happens at Buehring. And reinforced that gasoline is 83 cents per gallon in Kuwait. If only we could get “that” home! Buehring was named Camp Udari at the beginning of the Iraq invasion. I remember it was the last stop on a 3 week tour over Christmas and New Year’s with Craig Morgan and Jolie Edwards in December, 2003. There was a “fire station” and the guys gave us t-shirts that said “Udari Fire Department”. Brian – Chris’s sound tech – was with us at that time. The Camp was renamed in honor of a fallen soldier whose last name was Buehring. After the briefing, we took the techs to the stage and the musicians and Chris got to go to the “simulator” firing range and play for a few minutes. Have to tell you, they were TERRIBLE shots. There was about 80 misses and 3 kills in the final tally. Troy totally shot up a van that didn’t have any of the “terrorists” in it. The musicians had to go to the stage and we took Chris and Troy to the humvee rollover. They had to suit up in body armour and get in the humvee. The humvee was rolled over a couple of times and then stopped upside down. They had to get out of the vehicle from that position. They both made it out….Chris much quicker than Troy. Went to the stage but they were not ready for Chris so we walked over to the Base Exchange to get a couple of items. By the time we got back, they were ready for him to sound check. We went to the “new” DFAC and have to say, it’s the best food I’ve had in Kuwait in my 36 tours here. Tonight was Mongolian Barbeque night and it was excellent. Very “slow” because there was a long line but worth the wait! Show started right on time and he had a huge crowd. This is the first time I’ve seen him perform a full show with his full band. If you have not seen him and have a chance to see one of his shows, do so. He’s an excellent entertainer. Fantastic voice – which I already know – but funny and entertaining on stage. He does an acoustic set during the show and at one point it’s just him and his guitar. Gives you chill bumps he is so good. Not every singer can do that! The audience definitely knew his music and loved his show. Autograph line was long but Chris had pre-signed. We wanted everyone in line to have “individual attention”, so we brought them up one at a time, took a photo with Chris, and as they were leaving gave them an autographed photo, guitar pick and Itunes card. It was great. They loved the Itunes Cards and I told them they would only work if they downloaded Chris Young songs. LOL. About halfway through the line, a young man came up to me and said, “Hi, I’m James”! Took me a second and then I realized “JAMES”! A couple of months ago, James had emailed Chris’s website and it went to his manager, his manager sent it to me since they did not have the answer to his question. He was deployed to a base in Iraq and had “heard” Chris Young would be touring Iraq. He was hoping we would be stopping at his Camp because he had a very special story about what one of Chris’s songs meant to him and his wife. I forwarded his email to the folks in Iraq scheduling our tour stops and emailed him that I would let him know. Told him to be sure and find me backstage if we came to his Camp. Then a couple of weeks ago, I emailed him to let him know we would be coming to his Camp. He responded that they had transferred him to Ali Al Salem in Kuwait! I knew we would not be performing at Ali but told him to try and get permission to some to the show at Buehring….not too terribly far from Ali. He said he would definitely figure out a way to get there. When he came in tonight, I thought he had been there for the show. Nope. He missed the entire show because he had to pick up a high ranking General and get him to the airport so he could fly home for a family emergency! He was so disappointed. But I introduced him to Chris, took photos with him, gave him a cd, photos, Itunes Cards, guitar picks and Chris signed his guitar that he brought with him. We finished the autograph line very early for us and headed back to the hotel. Half the guys were asleep by the time we went through the gate on base…including Chris and his Dad. I was answering emails on my blackberry and then nodded off. The next thing I heard was Contee calling our security escorts who were following us and saying, “We’ve got a crazy “*#)&^” in front of us! Now, the drivers in Kuwait are absolutely insane and I thought I had seen it all, but I was wrong. Just FYI, the rich Kuwaitis wreck their Mercedes and BMW’s and just leave them on the side of the road for someone else to move and they go buy another one. They don’t worry about getting tickets because most of them are “related” to the Royal Family in some way. When I was here with Bo Bice several years ago, there was a guy on a 4 wheeler doing a wheelie on the inside shoulder of a four lane highway. He dashed into the middle lane and cut a guy off. The guy started blowing the horn at him and chasing him. The guy on the 4 wheeler slowed down, got even with the guy chasing him, and spit on the guy’s window and sped away! Crazy! Anyway, the SUV in front of us was deliberately trying to provoke our bus driver and make us crash into him. He would suddenly slam on his brakes and of course, our driver would have to as well to keep from hitting him. Our security escort was in a huge black SUV and supposedly everyone in Kuwait knows those are “armed security escorts”. When they pulled around us and zoomed in behind the SUV, it took off at about 150 miles an hour. I’m telling you, all I could see were the taillights within about 30 seconds! So, our escort dropped back in behind us and my heart rate started slowing down. But, evidently the crazy guy in the SUV had a “friend” because a few seconds later, a second SUV tried to run us off the road. When he failed, he got in front of us and started the same tricks – stopping quickly – and even put on his emergency flashers. Our security escort saw what was happening before we even had to call them. The SUV had moved over into the lane beside us and when they made their move to try and hit us and run us off the road, our security guys came within a centimeter of their rear bumper. Needless to say, they disappeared pretty quickly, too. Me, Lindsey and the guys were all dumbfounded. Now, our star – Chris – and his Dad – slept through the whole thing! We were probably in more danger on the road tonight that we will be the entire time we are in Iraq….and they slept! LOL. We made it back to the hotel by around 10:30 pm and Lindsey and I went downstairs to get something to eat. Not good to eat that late but we were starving. I’ve been answering emails for the past 2 hours and hope to go to bed soon. Tomorrow is not “pretty”. Usually, we have a really early call time to be at the flight line but there were no flights available to where we are going until afternoon. We will put our bags out at 11:45 am and our escorts will pick them up and take them to the flight terminal to be palletized. Then we depart the hotel at 1:45 pm for a 3:50 pm flight. It’s a 2 hour flight which means we won’t land until 5:50 pm and our show is at 8 pm! We will REALLY have to hustle to get all the equipment off the pallet, on the stage (which is inside in a gym) and start the show on time. Plan B is to have Chris sign autographs and take photos while the stage is being set up instead of after the performance – if it looks like we are going to be late starting. Remember, I can’t send emails saying where we are in Iraq until AFTER we have left the Camp we were staying at. And, if I can’t plug in my own computer, I won’t be able to send road reports until we get back to Kuwait! Everyone have a great weekend….we will! Jude
SATURDAY, APRIL 16TH – KUWAIT TO KIRKUK – FOB WARRIOR: Wonderful to get 5 hours of sleep last night! Lindsey and I went to the health club and worked out and then had breakfast. Showered and packed so that our bags can be picked up and palletized and then we have a couple of hours before we have to depart to the flight line. Unless something changes and it can in a second here. If the plane comes in early, then we have to rush to the Pax terminal so we won’t miss it. I’m always on “stand-by” when flights depart this late in the day. It will be a long flight to Kirkuk I think – probably about an hour and a half or longer. Hope we have a nice flight crew so the guys can take turns going on the flight deck. I noticed that Brian – the guy who usually takes care of me at Warrior – has been on leave and supposed to be back there today, too. Wondering if he will be on our flight! We arrived at the flight line in plenty of time for the guys to eat lunch and catch our flight. The Air Force Commander was there and remembered me from the last visit. I gave him Chris Young cds and he gave me fresh “home-made” banana bread! That was a good swap. Almost as good as the swap I made for the Z-Pack last time. J Our flight crew was out of Dyess and super nice. We were the only passengers for the two hour flight. Everyone got to take turns going up on the flight deck and they brought Brad up for the landing and let him stand behind the pilot and they did a “combat landing”. We pulled a few G’s and Chris’s dad and Brian slept through the whole thing. Christy and DJ met our flight and we have a new Air Force escort (female) and Brandon who will be taking DJ’s place. Darryl Worley was DJ’s first entertainment a year ago when she came to Iraq and we are Brandon’s first “music” group! The SM that I know from several tours is still at this base and introduced Chris on stage tonight. We were told it was an indoor show but it was actually outdoor on the stage where Filter had the “incoming” right in the middle of their autograph session a couple of years ago. I made sure we got the “where to run to the bunker briefing” before the show this time. It was a great crowd and as expected, Chris and the guys gave them a fantastic show. A couple of soldiers were up dancing together in front of the stage because they couldn’t get any females to dance with them. I went over and pointed Lindsey out to them and told them she LOVES to dance. They were too embarrassed to ask her. I told her what I had done and she hid backstage the rest of the concert. My friend Brian Worrell who usually takes care of me did not make it back. He got bumped from the flight. If we had known, he could have flown with us. The autograph line had about 200 people but because Chris “pre-signed”, we went through it very quickly. Good thing because they were telling us our “call time” was 4 am! I was able to get them to negotiate to a 5:15 am departure from lodging which is a little better but not much. Problem is Chris has 2 shows tomorrow and 2 shows Monday. I don’t want him to lose his voice due to lack of sleep! If Brian had been here….he would have worked it for us. We are staying in the “house” called Devil’s Lodge and this is FOB Warrior. It used to be a huge, very populated base but now their entire function here is to train the Iraqi’s. It will be closing down entirely by the end of July. Brian has also promised that he would put us outside in the individual “wet chus” when I came back. Really miss having him here. It’s almost midnight and I need to get up at 4:30 am. Took a shower and put on my makeup and clothes I am wearing tomorrow so all I have to do is brush my teeth and go tomorrow. Same thing I did the entire tour with Aaron! Only difference is, I left a bag in Kuwait that I am taking to Korea. Evidently when I packed for this part of the tour I didn’t plan very well. I planned to wear white pants today and all my underwear were black. So, since I had beige on today, I washed them and dried them with the hair dryer. Necessity breeds invention. LOL Jude
SUNDAY, APRIL 17TH – KIRKUK TO BAGHDAD – CAMP VICTORY: At 2:00 am, Christy came into the room, woke us up and told us we don’t have to leave until 6:05 am. If they had let her go over and negotiate in the first place, then I would have been able to tell everyone before they went to bed. It’s much easier for her and Brian because they LIVE here…they know everyone…this is “their” base. When people from Speicher come in and try to negotiate to change the rules, it’s much harder for them. So, when I heard the guys start getting up at 4:45, I ran out into the hallway to tell the guys they could sleep until 5:45 am. When I got up and went into the hallway a little later, there was Brian! He had gotten a late night flight in so I did get to see him! We arrived at the terminal at 10 minutes after 6 am and our flight is at 7:45 am. There is a really nice lounge with internet access, so we were able to go in there and relax. There is even a room with beds where they could sleep if they wanted. So, of course, we just got word that our flight is delayed until 11:10 am departure from here due to “Ops problems in Kirkuk”. Strange because no one in the terminal at Kirkuk know of any Ops issues! Means we will may miss our FOB hop to Ramadi. It will be very close. IF we land in Baghdad at 12:20 pm, we would have to rush straight to the chopper pad to fly to Ramadi. Keeping our fingers crossed that we make it! Well, the departure time got changed again – to 2:55 pm! And they still could not tell us why except that it was “security” reasons! When the plane finally landed, I asked the flight crew what had happened. They showed me a photo of one of the parts on the plane that had broken. Evidently, the plane broke down and could not be repaired quickly. So, they had to find us another plane – which isn’t easy because we have a lot fewer available now. We were very lucky to make it to Baghdad at all. We landed at around 3:15 pm and went immediately to the JVB. The musicians were going to grab a quick shower and then go to the stage. But when they took them to their room, there was a Colonel still in the room. The guy who takes care of the JVB had to come down and get him out of the room. Not pleasant! I managed to take a quick shower, too, and completely flooded the entire bathroom floor. My friend Terri came over from her office and had a quick dinner with us. I couldn’t believe Chris had fallen asleep again after we arrived. But, it’s really good that he can because if he is sleeping, he’s resting his voice. We got our wheels up time for tomorrow morning and it’s 10 am, landing at the next camp at 10:35 am. That will probably mean bags out at 6:30 am and we depart at 7:30 am – but I’m just guessing! We arranged for the musicians to go to Al Faw Palace while Chris is signing autographs after tonight’s show. Chris went when we were here before. Had a really big crowd for Chris’s show again tonight and it was an awesome show again. Kevin – guitar player – blew up his convertor right before show time and had a hard time tonight. But it was still a great show. My dear friend Matt (Sgt. Nelson) who was my escort in 2008 and his wife Tobey were there. Got to talk to him for a while. Also saw Wayne from contracting and lots of other friends. Chris went through about 300 autograph sheets tonight and I gave out all the Itunes cards we had allocated for this base and even had to use some of the others that I was holding for future shows. One soldier who was in line that I gave the Itunes card to said, “SOB, I get a free concert AND a free Itunes Card? I should have deployed to Iraq sooner”. It was priceless. J I am really disappointed that we missed the FOB hop to Ramadi today. That’s the 3rd show in a row that has canceled on them due to various reasons. I am sending 100 autographed photos and 100 Itunes cards to them since I was holding these for the visit today. Won’t make up for the cancelation but is a small way to let them know how disappointed we are that we did not get to come there and perform for them. Our call time and bags out time is 8 am! So very, very happy about that. Just keeping our fingers crossed that the plane leaves and lands on time and the weather is good enough to take the choppers to the FOB! Hopefully we will have internet connection where I can log on with my computer and send the road reports! Jude
MONDAY, APRIL 18TH – VICTORY BASE COMPLEX, BAGHDAD TO FOB DELTA, AL KUT: Was great to not have to depart until 8:00 am! Showered and went to the breakfast room to meet Terri and Matt. Terri ate with us but Matt STOOD ME UP. He will definitely have to pay for that. J When we arrived at the terminal, our C130 was already on the ground. They still had to load our pallets and re-fuel so we had a little time. Chris met some of the Airmen there and took photos with a few. When we got on the aircraft, I went on the flight deck and gave everyone the “gifts”. Then we went outside and took a photo of Chris with them. They were not going to be able to shut down in Al Kut, so we figured we’d better get the photo before we took off. The crew was out of Qatar but from Alaska and they had a female co-pilot. Chris and I sat on the flight deck and really didn’t get to chat very much with them because it was a 30 minute flight and very BUSY. The female landed the plane and did a great job. Our escorts were ready for us at Delta and lodging is much different from previous visits. We are all staying in a “house” and have 2 people to a bedroom. The toilets and showers are out the back door, but there are no “female” facilities. It’s like when we first started coming to Iraq. The females have to knock on the door and yell inside to see if there are any men inside. Then we flip the sign on the outside of the door from “Male” to “Female”. We got our luggage in our rooms and walked over to the DFAC for a quick lunch. There was a sign in the DFAC that said they had “lost a truck” and there were no eggs, fruit and vegetables, lettuce, tomato…a long list of items. So we had a salad bar with no lettuce or tomatoes! The pasta bar didn’t have any pasta. I was going to eat a taco salad and had gotten all the ingredients before I found out there was no lettuce or tomato. After lunch, Chris, Troy, Kevin, Brian, Mulla Mulla and I took a short 15 minute Blackhawk ride to FOB Shocker. It was the first time in 2 years that we were required to wear long sleeves on the choppers. And, Kevin forgot his helmet and we had to send someone back for it. At one point in the ride, the dust was so thick we couldn’t see the ground. I was worried about being able to get back to FOB Delta but evidently that particular spot is always dusty. I don’t remember ever visiting FOB Shocker but I could have. It is literally in the “middle of nowhere” and there were only about 100 guys deployed there. I told Chris that these visits are what makes me so thankful for our men and women serving our country. I would truly hate to think I had to live there for 12 months of my life! The show was in the DFAC and we had almost 100 people attend. Chris signed and took photos before and after the performance. They said we were the first “non-military” music they had gotten since they arrived at Shocker. We had a little “tour” of the tiny base after his performance and then our choppers arrived to take us back to Delta. Had a few minutes at Delta to answer email. We were able to purchase one day of wireless service for $10 and the internet worked in our rooms…sort of. Very slow and keep getting knocked off! Walked over to the DFAC for dinner and then Chris, Troy and I went to visit the Medivac Crew. They were grilling burgers outside and we sure wished we had waited and eaten with them! They never get to go to any of the shows that do come in because they have to work. Chris took photos and signed autographs and we left them with the Itunes cards and guitar picks. From there we went straight to the show. The Sgt. Major met us backstage and thanked Chris and all his guys for coming. Chris is very humble and makes sure everyone understands why he is there and how thankful he is to be able to tour for them. Had a great crowd attend and Chris gave another great show. I had to repack the duffle bags through the first part of the show but was able to go out and take some photos. They had pulled a huge fire truck up close to the stage and the firemen were watching from the top of it. I gave everyone on the truck photos, picks, and Itunes cards. Chris signed autographs and took photos afterwards and it moved really fast. We were back at lodging by 9:30 pm. Lindsey and I used the “shared showers” first and I’ve been trying to answer emails for the past 2 hours. Our departure time tomorrow is 8:45 am to the pax terminal and a 10:45 wheels up time to Balad AB – my favorite base in Iraq! The Air Force Commander there is always someone I know from either the States or Korea. This year it is “Nubes” and I met him in Korea a long, long time ago. Saw him in February with Craig Morgan. Great guy! Going to bed soon. Jude
TUESDAY, APRIL 19TH – LAST SHOW – FOB DELTA, AL KUT TO BALAD AB: Was not a “great” night to sleep. Had just fallen asleep when Lindsey came in and work me up from her midnight chow run. Then the guys came in and decided to stay up talking until after 3 am. I got up at 2 am to go to the restroom and stood outside almost a half hour waiting for them to all come out of the toilets. Guess they had taken showers and were in there drying their hair, brushing their teeth, etc. Should have told them that those things should have been done in the shower trailer. It’s not real safe to stand outside alone at 2 am on a base where more than half the population is Iraqis. Told our host that he needs to bring over a portapotty or another trailer for the women. Some of us walked over for breakfast at 7:30 am and bags had to be out at 8:45 am. When we arrived at the terminal, we were informed that our flight would depart an hour early and that it was already on the ground. Wrong! We got word at about 9:30 that the plane was broken and had gone back to Ali Al Salem, Kuwait! That’s what happened the other day and I was worried that they wouldn’t be able to repair it. Again, we were assured that it would be a “quick fix” and we would depart at 1 pm. At 11 am, we went to the DFAC for a quick lunch and while we were there, we were informed that our plane was on the ground! We rushed back to the Pax Terminal and didn’t even have time to go to the restrooms before the flight. Our escorts had brought all our bags out to the flight line for us. When we boarded the aircraft, I went up top and talked to the crew. They were from Abilene, Texas and the co-pilot and navigator were females! Loving that. Chris came up and sat on deck too. I got up and stood behind the pilot to look out after we took off and noticed that Chris was falling asleep. I told the engineer to talk to him to wake him up and they did. It was a short flight with a great group of guys/gals. When we landed, Chris got to do something no one else has done. The crew opened a round hatch in the top of the aircraft and he stood on our seats and was sticking out the top of the plane from the waist up. He was told to “flex his muscles” and it’s what is called “showing them your guns”! Hilarious and Chris loved it. We took a quick photo with the crew and then departed the aircraft. My dear friend – General Kurt Nuebauer, the Base Commander – actually met our aircraft when we arrived. As usual, I was very impressed that the General would take time to meet us…and so was our group! We had our safety briefing and then went straight to an F16 tour. The guys loved it because they had never done one. The General met us there and gave Chris one of his HUGE coins….seriously, you could make a belt buckle from it. I received one in 2009 when I was there with Chris from General Franklin. Chris took photos with everyone and then we all went to lodging to get our backs in our rooms. By the way – Craig – the Hanger where we toured the F16s was #13 and my room is the one with the blind half the slat missing from the bottom one. J The techs had to leave for the stage and Chris and I left for a “meet and greet” at the MWR Center (where I am working tonight). He took photos with about 100 people who were all so excited to meet him.. especially the females. While we were there, the Airman who had the flag flown for my buddy Joe Bowser in honor of his Alive Day found me and gave me the flag and a certificate. I told him to find me backstage tonight so I could give him cds and other goodies for the flight crew. Was so sweet of them to do this for Joe. As I may have mentioned, Joe was hit by a mortar and lost his leg in Iraq several years ago on April 12th. We didn’t arrive in time to fly the flag for him, so I asked Balad to take care of it for him. We had a few minutes to spend in lodging before going to the DFAC for dinner. I went to the USO center to try and get on email but even though I could log on, it wouldn’t let me log onto my AOL account. I finally gave up and went to the MWR building. There’s great wireless but no where to plug in your computer. So I can only work for so long! We went to dinner and Chris and Troy decided not to eat. Halfway through the meal, the General and Chief joined us. If Chris had known the General would be there, he would have definitely eaten with us. But, it was great to have him all to myself for a few minutes! J Rushed from dinner to the show. Our host said it’s the largest crowd they have had in the Theatre since he’s been there. Awesome. Everyone is so very nice to us. Good to save this base until last so my group wouldn’t get spoiled. The General came backstage and gave Chris a photo that was taken earlier today of him presenting the coin. It was sad to think this is our last show in Iraq but what a fantastic end to the tour. Chris said the sweetest things about me on stage tonight. I can’t say enough about what a fine young man and amazing talent he is. I gave the General and all our “helpers” cds and Itunes cards as well as autographed photos. Chris put on a fantastic 75 minute show and then signed autographs and took photos for about hour. Pre-signing the autograph sheets makes everything run so much faster plus gives him more “personal” time with them when he takes photos with them. We were back at lodging a little before 10 pm and I’ve been here working ever since. Trying to stay here until 11:40 pm when I can check Chris in for his flight tomorrow evening! BUT, we have an early call—it was 4:30 am departure to the terminal but the General was able to negotiate on our behalf and get it changed to 6:00 departure to the terminal. They were insisting on having us there 3 hours early just in case the plane (which is parked here tonight) left early. We now have their “assurance” that it will not depart early. The good news is, it means we’ll be in Kuwait before 10 am and have plenty of time to check into the hotel, shower and repack for the flights tomorrow night – Chris and the group to Nashville and me to Korea to meet up with Darryl Worley! Jude
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 20TH – FLYING FROM BALD TO KUWAIT AND KUWATI TO KOREA OR USA: What a day! I was up at 4 am after going to bed at 1 am. Packed and ready by 5:30 am and had a 6 am bag call and departure. When we arrived at the terminal, everything was still on track for an 8 am departure. The guys went to the coffee shop next door and I logged on to the wireless internet. It’s Spaware and free but you have to create an account by establishing a login name (your email address) and password. I did all that but Spaware also sends you a confirmation that you have to open and verify within 15 minutes or you get kicked off. I never received the verification and it didn’t go to my SPAM. So 15 minutes later, I was kicked off. I was able to go back to the homepage and have the confirmation emailed again and then use someone else’s computer to go to my account to check it and verify. Again, no email. It was very, very frustrating. Finally one of the Sailors in the main office gave me his account info and let me log in using his credentials! Our early flight changed very quickly. Last night we were told that our plane was in Balad and would not be going anywhere until it took us to Kuwait this morning at 8 am. Now they tell us that it made a trip to Al Asad this morning and was supposed to return to pick us up…only the plane BROKE! That’s the 3rd C130 in 4 days that has broken when we are supposed to fly on it. We were told it would be repaired quickly and our departure time would be at noon. There was a “Grab and Go” next door so we agreed that we would walk over there at 10 am and grab something to eat before the flight. Then our escort came back and said the plane could not be repaired and he was unable to find us another aircraft for a flight today. He had reserved our rooms at lodging for us again tonight. I explained to him that we have non-refundable airfares and really needed to get back to Kuwait for those flights tonight. He talked to the schedulers and finally found one that was departing at noon but would make a stop in Al Asad and one in Ali Al Salem and not arrive Kuwait until 4:20 pm….that’s 4 hours and 20 minutes for what should be a 2 hour flight between Balad and Kuwait. But, we took it. At 10 am we walked over and sat down to have a sandwich. Halfway through, one of the staff came running over to tell us to grab our bags because we had to go to the flight line immediately. I had just sent Camco techs and a couple of Chris’s guys to the pallet yard to reconfigure the pallets. We had been told that if the aircraft had to take on a lot of passengers or more pallets in Al Asad, that one of our pallets might get bumped and delivered later to Kuwait. I wanted to be sure that all our personal bags and personal equipment was on the pallet that arrived with us in Kuwait. We boarded the bus for the flight line and our guys made it back just in time to ride with us. We had a super nice flight crew and this time a female pilot! Chris and I sat up there the entire flight. Normally I would switch out with the others and let them have some time on deck. But I was too stressed about getting back to Kuwait and wanted to know what was happening every minute of the trip. We taxied to the runway only to be told we were returning to the ramp because our radar wasn’t working. It was supposedly a “quick fix”. Yeah, right! For once, I was wrong. They had it fixed very quickly and we were on our way. It was about a 45 minute flight to Al Asad and we were only on the ground for 20 minutes. I asked the flight crew if there was any way to change our flight plan and go to Apod first and then go to Ali instead of the other way around as it was now planned. Unfortunately, they were told “no” when they made the request. So, we made the 1 hour and 45 minute flight to Ali and then were supposed to sit on the ground for 1 hour and 20 minutes before going on to Apod. I knew we wouldn’t arrive at the hotel until around 6 pm and that would not give me time to shower, have a farewell dinner with the guys and repack all the bags for Korea. Now, I needed to go to the restroom when we first got on the plane several hours ago and really, really needed to go by the time we landed Ali. They arranged for a bus to take us to another “grab and go” and toilets. The pilot said she didn’t need 1 hour and 20 minutes on the ground in Ali because they didn’t need to re-fuel. But the load master said he had to add seats for 27 passengers and that took some time. If we had been able to stop in APOD first, then go to Ali, those passengers could have taken our seats. When we landed at Ali, the weather was bad – black clouds and turbulent up high and lots of dust near the ground. I was afraid the way my luck was running, we would not be allowed to fly from Ali on to APOD because of low visibility. But, we took off for the short 15 minute flight. When we land, the airplane “counts” down the feet to the ground. It was at 100, then 50, 40, 30, 10 and we STILL could not see the ground because of the dust. We actually never saw the ground until the wheels hit. Pilot said she couldn’t either but she sure did a great job of landing the aircraft. Since all our personal bags were already separated on the flight, we were able to load the truck and get away quickly. I called the hotel and told them to have my bags that I left in storage delivered to my room so they would be waiting for me when I arrived. Then I had to tell the guys that they would have to eat dinner without me…something I was really looking forward too. I showered and managed to repack everything for Korea but am sure I forgot half of what I’ll need. I left all the show bags with Lindsey. I have a big black suitcase and know that I’m allowed to check 3 bags weighing 70 pounds but I managed to put everything in one bag. It was HEAVY though. I ran down to the dinner to thank the guys one last time. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed touring with this group. Not only is Chris “the real deal” but everyone in his band and crew could not be nicer or more professional. I got to spend some time chatting with his Dad when we had the quick sandwich today and he’s such a sweetheart, too. I am so blessed to have met Chris and have him on my Board of Directors. Left for the airport at 8 pm for the 30 minute drive and a 10:30 pm flight. The line just to get through the first security checkpoint took me about 20 minutes. Then the line for check in at the counter was short but not moving at all in the business class line. They worked the entire coach class line while waiting on one person in the business class line. Finally got up to the counter to be told my one bag weighs 76 pounds and I am only allowed 2 bags at 70. I was going to take some things out and put in a smaller bag that was packed inside that bag, but the agent agreed to let me check it “just this once”! From there, I went through another passport check, then another security check and finally immigration. My plane flies to Doha, Qatar first and then on to Seoul. Had about 10 minutes to go in the lounge and eat a bowl of soup and download my emails. I walked down to the gate and was standing in line waiting to go through the final security scan when some guy came up and started talking to me. Seems every where I went tonight, someone made the comment that I didn’t look like I should be traveling to Korea! He was in the military but dressed in civilian clothes going home on emergency leave. He must have quizzed me for a good 15 minutes and I finally asked him why he was connecting through Doha out of Kuwait to go to the US. He said he wasn’t on my flight to Doha but was on the direct flight to DC (the one my group is taking). For whatever reason, he had seen me in line and left his gate to come over and talk to me. The local Kuwaitis do not accept the concept of “lining up” and feel a strong sense of entitlement that they can go around anyone in line to the front of the line. That’s one reason it takes me so long to get checked in. I’ve threatened to buy one of the burkas and wear it just so I can immediately step to the front of the line. I have flown Qatar airlines a couple of times and loved it. First time was out of Qatar to a connection in Europe for the flight back to Nashville. It is a beautiful aircraft and the flight attendants are super nice. Then a couple of years ago, flew it out of Stockholm to Kuwait with Mark Chesnutt. It was an older plane but still nice. Mark told our flight attendants that he wished the flight attendants on the U.S. airlines would be as nice as them! This was a really nice plane and I thought business class would be empty. I was the ONLY American on the entire flight. A little disconcerting. At the last minute a “family” of evidently “high rank” came on the plane and they gave them all business class seats. Even though they were very “loud”, I did not eat but slept the entire 1 hour flight. When we landed, everyone literally LEAPT from their seats and grabbed their bags out of the overhead. I don’t know what the rush was since we are all going to the same bus to the terminal at the same time. They have two separate buses – one for economy class passengers and all those passengers disembark from the rear of the plane. First Class or Business Class disembark from the front of the aircraft. Our bus is like a mini-lounge with plush, padded seats and configured like a lounge. First/Business class have their own lounge and it is amazing. Right outside the door of the lounge on the “private” floor, there is a Game Room, Business Center, Cloak Check, Nursery and a couple of other facilities. The Lounge itself is huge with 4 restaurants (all free food). I had another cappuccino and then headed downstairs for my flight. We boarded another bus and I swear we must have driven about 10 miles around and around the airport to get to our plane. Plane was really nice and new with great flight attendants. I ate one small “mini-wrap” and knew I’d sleep the entire flight. They brought us our “amenity kits” but also brought us a bag with PAJAMAS in it…really nice lounging pajamas. I passed out immediately but was woken several times by severe turbulence, so much so that I was really, really frightened. I probably slept 5 hours and then woke up for an excellent breakfast. Hoping we land on time and Darryl’s group lands on time, too. Landed late and I don’t know why but since I was the first one off the plane, figured I would move pretty quickly. When I started through to Immigration, I was stopped and asked to fill out a “quarantine card”. They asked me something about Beijing and I showed them my paperwork and told them I was not coming from Beijing. Guess they didn’t understand because I had to go fill out the form. Then they looked at it and threw it away! But, that put me behind hundreds of people in line. Finally made it through and picked up my bag. Darryl and his group, and Dave and Tim our escorts were there waiting for me. Mr. Tae – our driver – got us through the Korea traffic in record time. We got checked into the hotel and I bought dinner for everyone. Dave and I ate at a restaurant upstairs that had a really great seafood buffet with lots of sushi. They are worried about weather this week. We are supposed to take Blackhawks to all our shows but if the weather doesn’t cooperate, we have to drive. That adds anywhere from 1 to 3 hours one way to our travel time. If we have to drive to Kunsan, we will have to stay overnight! Anyway, we will “deal” with it when the time comes. Been answering emails and going to bed soon. Have to get up at 6 am and it is already 1 am. Jude