Country singer, Aaron Tippin, along with his pal, Bill Cowan, a FOX News correspondent, returned to Iraq for their annual trip to entertain the troops. On Thanksgiving Day, they visited the soldiers at Camp Sharqat, located outside Baghdad. Sharqat is a very remote camp with only 100 soldiers stationed there. This was a very memorable day for everyone.
Aside from being knows for his patriotism, Aaron is also known for his hits “Kiss This”, “You’ve Got to Stand For Something”, “Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly”, and “Working Man’s Ph.D.”
2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division: Country singer brightens Task Force Marine Soldiers’ Holidays
PHOTOS (Courtesy of Bill Cowan)
PHOTOS (Courtesy of Maj. Allen Hahn)
Photos – Mosul (Courtesy of Randy Mendenhall)
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 23RD AND TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 24th: NASHVILLE TO KUWAIT:
Today I left for the Annual Aaron Tippin Thanksgiving Tour to Iraq. Five years ago, Aaron began touring with Stars for Stripes over Thanksgiving – once to Afghanistan and now his 4th trip to Iraq. He is an amazing man who gives so generously of his time and talents to support our military. Fox News analyst Colonel Bill Cowan (retired) has joined us for the past 3 years. 9 guys and me…how lucky can one girl be? J
This past weekend, I was in Las Vegas where Mark Wills performed for the Thunderbirds Reunion. General Bishop – who I met in Kunsan, Korea many years ago and reunited with at Balad Air Base, Iraq several times last year – is a member of the Thunderbirds and I wanted to provide him with the entertainment for this year’s event to thank him for his support of my efforts over the years. It turned out to be a fun, very rewarding visit. And, I never “gamble” but put my bit $10 bill in the slot machine and an hour and a half later, walked away with $144.75! I was falling asleep at the machine but my “mental bargain” was to either lose it all or hit $100.00. I went from $95.00 to the $144.75 and walked away. Also had a great “after hours” tour of Creech which was fascinating. That’s where the fly the remotely piloted vehicles that are in the air over Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. Learned a LOT.
Everyone but Bill Cowan who will meet us in D.C., checked in at the Nashville airport. No incidences like there were a couple of years ago when Aaron and one of his musicians forgot their passports and they live more than an hour from the airport! We all scattered to grab a quick lunch and then boarded the tiny little jet to Dulles. A tall blonde guy was boarding the plane with us and Aaron commented to me that he “loved his pants” and wanted me to ask him where he got them. Hello? Why should I ask a man where he got his pants! I procrastinated until we landed because I told Aaron I didn’t think he was American. Had a very European “look” about him. I finally went up to him and asked him and he sort of stared me up and down and said, “not in the U.S.”. By then, I was committed, so I continued to quiz him and learned that he is from the Netherlands and that’s where he made the purchase. Before I was finished with him, he was searching for tags, unfastening his belt and looking inside the pants for “labels”. LOL
Mike – our secret service agent buddy – met us at the gate and sat with us most of our 5 hour layover. Thanks to Jackie at United, we were able to get everyone in the Red Carpet Lounge for the long layover. I worked non-stop while I was in there except for one short break to go with Mikey and Aaron to the wine bar. Bill Cowan met us when we returned and Mike had to leave to go home. I got a phone call about 10 minutes after Mikey left saying he had left his credit card at the bar. Took some convincing, but I finally convinced them to let me forge his name on the bill and take his credit card. Very impressive for a Secret Service Agent, don’t you think? J
Our flight to Kuwait left on time and Aaron has two pilot friends on board. The pilot and co-pilot are both friends and fans of his. They let me go into the cockpit and look around and I learned that all 4 crew members are former Air Force Pilots. I feel SOOOOO much better. I had upgraded Bill and Aaron to first class and I automatically get upgraded because I belong to that “secret society” known as “Global” on United. I had dinner and then watched the “first draft” of the edited footage for the GAC TV Special to be aired on December 10th. Went through an entire packet of kleenix just watching it. Very, very good stuff. Be sure and watch!
Not much turbulence and landed right on time in Kuwait. All our luggage arrived and escorts were waiting for us. Quick trip to the hotel where our rooms were ready and I’ve been answering emails for 4 hours! It’s Thanksgiving week, shouldn’t things SLOW down? Evidently not. As part of my “secret Global rating”, someone met me but when I told her I had 9 people with me, she quickly “disappeared”. J
Supposedly, we don’t have lobby call until 8:30 am tomorrow and fly out of the airport that is only 30 minutes away. Too easy! We’re accustomed to getting NO sleep and leaving the hotel at 4:30 am. As you know, you won’t hear from me while I’m “in Iraq”, so everyone, please have a wonderful Thanksgiving and thank you so much for your support and friendship.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 25TH – KUWAIT TO FOB SUMMERALL TO COB SPEICHER:
Started off as a great day even though I didn’t get to exercise. Really missing that part of my daily “routine”.
Had my usual egg white omelet and then everyone met in the lobby for an on-time departure to the air strip. We’ve lobbied for years to get our orders changed so that we are listed as “DV’s” on all flights. After years of “no, no, no”, it was finally accomplished. What this means is we are afforded the same privileges as a 4 Star General and we don’t have to show up at the flight line 4 hours prior to departure. Only it was “overlooked” by the folks in Kuwait and they still had us show up 2 hours prior to flight. We should only have to be there 1 hour prior. Working on getting that sorted out for the future.
Our C130 was a little late arriving and leaving which was putting us way behind on our FOB visit to Summerall today. Aaron sat up on the flight deck for the flight over and we had to make one stop in Baghdad to pick up passengers. It was 1 hour and 20 minutes from Kuwait to Baghdad and then another 40 minutes to COB Speicher. When we arrived, all the guys went to the DFAC to eat but Aaron, Bill, Dave, Louie and I got straight on choppers for the 10 minute flight to FOB Summerall. Some of you may remember that is one of my favorite FOB’s. It’s where I met my dearest friend – Colonel Kyle McClelland – and where we lost the young soldier the morning after Chely Wright’s performance there in 2004. I was back there this past April with Charlie Daniels and was amazed to see how very little had changed.
The chopper ride was FREEZING. Aaron and I made the mistake of getting in the front seats where the windows are open for the gunners. Brutally cold. We landed at Summerall and went straight to a “theatre” (not THAT was new to me) for our performance. He had a couple of hundred folks attend which is really good for a FOB that size. Those are the size FOB’s I love to visit. Those guys/gals rarely get entertainment and it means the world to them when we visit. It was a really great afternoon.
We packed into the vehicles and drove back out to the chopper pad. It was dark by the time we landed at Speicher. But, Aaron and I were smart enough to get in the BACK of the chopper and not freeze this time. J When we landed and went to the bus, I realized my blackberry was not on my bag. I had it clipped on the strap with a rubber band around the clip so it wouldn’t come off. Major panic attack. We went back to the helicopter and searched and searched but did not find it. It’s a brand new blackberry that I purchased right before I left Nashville and my “life” is on it. Good news it, I backed up all the data before leaving for this trip AND I have insurance on it. Summerall is looking today to see if it fell off in the vehicle. Only other place I could have lost it was walking from the vehicle to the flight line. I know I had it when we landed at Summerall. L As you can imagine, I was not in a very perky mood all evening.
The decision was made at Speicher to move the performance from the outdoor stadium to the indoor gym. That’s where we usually perform and it’s a great venue. Smart decision considering the “weather” forecast said we might get some rain. Plus believe it or not, it’s COLD here – in the 30’s at night. We had a fantastic crowd. Totally packed the gym and Aaron and his guys gave them an unbelievable performance. Bill Cowan opened the show by telling a couple of jokes, talking to the crowd, and then introducing Aaron. He is so great. I was busy when the show first started and walked past the front of the stage just in time to hear him say “after that joke, this will be my last tour because Judy will fire me”! I thought “uh-oh, now what” because everyone had been teasing him about getting some new material since this was his third year using the same joke.
We met the Commanding General and he is awesome. Aaron signed autographs for hours. Went through about 350 autograph sheets.
We learned when we landed this morning that their headquarters had burned to the ground right before our arrival. They lost EVERYTHING. So, as I was feeling sorry for myself for losing my blackberry, decided I’d better put things in perspective. I’m not nearly as devastated as those men and women are by their loss. They are not sure yet what caused the fire.
We are staying at an area called Freedom Rest where I’ve never been lodged before. It’s a relatively new area (opened in 2008) and it’s where troops can come for a “mini 4 day R&R” to relax. There’s a huge building with pool tables, a 24 hour dining facility with incredible food, lots of free computers and telephones, a gym, televisions…you name it. Then, there are several long wooden buildings outside where there is a “hotel”. A long hallway with rooms on each side. Bunk beds in each room except we gave Aaron and Bill the “single” rooms with king-size beds. I got a room with bunk beds but didn’t have to share with anyone. Only bummer is the fact that you have to go outside to a latrine for showers and toilets.
We had a late dinner since those of us who went to the FOB had only “snacked” that afternoon. I had an omelet which makes the third meal in a row for an omelet – breakfast on the plane right before we landed, breakfast at the Radisson and now midnight chow. J At least it’s “healthy”!
We were told that originally our flight to Mosul tomorrow was not departing until midnight the night of our show! Would have been pointless to even go there. So, they then found one departing at 4:10 pm which meant we would miss our FOB Hop to Shraqat. Not acceptable. Only 100 guys/gals there and they have not had any entertainment. They were expecting us for Thanksgiving dinner. I got on email to my friend General A and he started working it for us. Before midnight, we were rescheduled for choppers straight from Speicher to Shraqat (because of the hard work of Aubrey our escort here) and our band had a 2 pm flight to Mosul. We’ll chopper from Shraqat straight to Mosul and meet up with them for the evening performance. I NEVER do that – separate from my group at the main camp. But, SFC McDougle is with us and he’s the best there is. He’ll escort my band to Mosul and I know nothing will happen to them in his care.
I answered as much email as I could on the MWR computers before going to take a “midnight” shower. Got in bed at 1:30 am and up at 5:30 am. More sleep than I’ve had this entire trip. J
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 26TH – HAPPY THANKSGIVING – COB SPEICHER TO FOB SHARAQAT TO MOSUL AB:
Had breakfast with my boys and it was excellent. Decided NOT to have another omelet and had the best French Toast I have ever had anywhere. Then one of the guys in Aaron’s band told me I could get on the internet by plugging in with an Ethernet cable to the back of any of the phones. So, that’s what I’ve been doing all morning. The guys are gone to the base exchange and I’m here working. As usual. Hopefully I’ll have some good news on my blackberry today. One of our military escorts from Summerall will be at Shraqat today. Hoping he can make some calls for me.
As I was sitting there answering emails, the lady at the front desk of this venue walked up with a huge smile and told me that they found my Blackberry and would bringing it to me. Evidently, Aaron and I didn’t search the chopper well enough in the dark because the pilots found it up in their area. Aaron is a pilot and said that if it had fallen into “something” (can’t remember what), it would have crashed the chopper. Nice. Taken down by my Blackberry. Poetic justice for sure.
Aaron signed autographs for the folks at Freedom Rest and we had to have our bags in the lobby at 8:30 am even though we don’t go to the flight line until noon! Again, something that I am going to work on for sure. I continued to answer emails while the other guys went to the base exchange. We finally departed the “hotel” in separate buses…my guys going to the flight line for the C130 to Mosul and my little group going to chopper pad for the flight to Shraqat for the acoustic performance. Chopper was scheduled to depart at 12:50 pm. When it became 1:30 pm, I started getting REALLY concerned. Aubrey (our escort) went in to check and came back out to say that there was some miscommunication and the choppers were waiting for us at MOSUL to take us to Skraqat! She assumed we would have to cancel the FOB hop but by then, I was determined to not disappoint those guys on Thanksgiving. She advised that the choppers could be there to pick us up by 2:15 pm so I told her to go for it.
Keep in mind that no one has eaten since early breakfast so we were getting pretty hungry. There wasn’t time to leave the area and drive to the DFAC though so we ate granola bars or nuts or whatever we had in our backpacks. The choppers finally arrived at 2:45 pm after refueling at the pad nearby. We took off at 3:00 pm and were at Shraqat by 3:30 pm. As we were talking off, Bill pointed out a metal disk hanging by a wire from the ceiling of the chopper right in front of me. There were actually 4 of those disks and the other 3 were closed. I tried to read the little sign and it said something about locking for main rotor gusts. Scared me, so I unfastened my seat belt to try and close it. Aaron was in the front…too far away for me to get his attention. I got it closed finally and felt a little “safer”.
When we landed at Shraqat, I have NEVER seen so many smiling faces. Those boys were convinced we wouldn’t show up and it was truly a much happier Thanksgiving for them.
Think I mentioned that Shraqat is tiny – only 100 troops there. The CSM who took such great care of us at FOB Summerall was there visiting since those are some of his guys. All of us had to use the toilet as soon as we landed so someone escorted us around the side of the building. It was one of those “co-ed” toilets, so I let all the guys go in first. Then when it was my turn, Aaron told the escort that there were a couple of guys running “communications” in the latrine! The escort went it and sure enough, two guys came out caring some radios and other equipment. Aaron asked them what they did that was so horrible they got that punishment! J The guys warned me that it smelled horrible in there but NOTHING could have prepared me for the stench. I’ve been in places with burn buckets that smelled better than that!
There was a really nice chaplain at the show and I talked to him for quite a while. Told him I had become quite intimate with “God” last night while praying that they would find my Blackberry. Now I have to deliver on all those promises I made “him”. I also told the chaplain that evidently there was a dead body somewhere underneath the latrine and suggested that maybe someone should investigate! J
There were a couple of power issues in the building and I thought was would have to do a truly acoustic show. But Louie, our great tech from Coaxial, got it wired up and ready to go in less than 30 minutes. Aaron had been signing autographs all that time. He gave a terrific performance to one of the most appreciative audiences he’ll ever encounter. We packed up our gear and took the choppers for another 30 minute ride to Mosul.
It was dark by then and we went straight to the stage for sound check. It’s a really big room that is inside the CAC. Guys had everything set up and waiting for them. SFC McDougle had food brought in for us — turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and green beans. It was pretty much inedible except for the turkey which was “processed meat”. But, it’s the thought that counted and that’s what our troops ate, so no complaints.
Aaron did an interview for AFN and then there were 3 radio station winners who came backstage. I gave them a “prize” package with t-shirts, cds, caps, guitar picks and photos. Then a friend of Aaron’s who is a female chopper pilot came backstage with her “family”. They are all deployed to this area from TN National Guard! She had asked to fly us but it couldn’t be worked out.
Several high ranking officials included the General of the base came by to thank Aaron. Show started right on time. The room wasn’t full which was a total shock to me. We’ve performed at Mosul before – several years ago – and drew a huge crowd. Mosul is a huge base and some of the guys told us that there was no advertising other than one flyer on their side of the base. The room did fill up as Aaron started singing and of course, it was a terrific show. He signed about 300 autographs and then we headed to our chus. Aaron, Bill and I have “wet chus” (trailers with a toilet in them). The trailers are like Balad, a bedroom on each end with a toilet between. It was freezing in the trailers and we couldn’t get our heaters to work. I found out I’m sharing a room with Bill. J Bill finally got his heater working but SFC McDougle and the base escort worked on mine for a long time with no luck. The escort finally said he would call KBR while we went to midnight chow.
Midnight chow had more of the same Thanksgiving food that was left over from lunch BUT they also had an omelet bar, so you know what I had. As we were finishing eating, the escort came back to us and said that my heater was broken and I had to switch rooms. That meant rooming with Aaron which was fine but also meant kicking one of his guys out into a chu that didn’t have a bathroom. We finally learned that the escort had not even called KBR and had spent the entire time trying to fix it himself. SFC McDougle galvanized into action and KBR was there and fixed it in no time.
Several of us when to the MWR facility where all the computers are located to use Skype to call home and talk to our families on Thanksgiving. Aaron’s drummer was able to hook my computer up to the terminals there and I called home to talk to everyone. Lindsey even put one of my grandchildren on the phone and she gurgled something into the phone. Can’t believe the twins turned one year old on November 1st!
I also can’t believe how many “business” emails I had on Thanksgiving Day. Of course, the majority of them were from overseas where it wasn’t a holiday weekend. A guy walked into the computer room and yelled “switching over” and about 5 minutes later the entire room went dark. Guess that meant they were switching over to generator. Of course, it locked my computer up and I spent about a half hour trying to get it re-started. Finished up and got back in my room and in bed by 2 am. At least it’s “warm” in here.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 27TH – MOSUL AIR BASE TO FOB COBRA AND Q-WEST:
Was going to sleep until 7 am but the “chanting” outside my chu woke me up at 5 am. I thought it was morning prayers but it lasted for 2 hours! I noticed that there was a long “squeegee” in the bathroom which seemed odd. We have them all the time in Norway because the showers don’t have stalls and the floors are flooded. Couldn’t figure out why we’d need one here but soon learned the answer to that puzzle! The shower is one of those with the shower “wand” mounted to the wall. You turn the water on with two individual handles but there is no faucet. When you turn it on, the water immediately comes out of the wand. I turned it on before I got in the shower because you never know about water temperature over here. I was immediately soaked with scalding hot water that was spraying out down where the handles are located where the pipe connects to the handles and the wand. It was apparent that their attempt to repair it consisted of putting a little Teflon tape around the base. So, when I stepped into the shower, I was sprayed from the top by the wand but also had just as much water spraying me at waist level. The water at waist level fluctuated constantly from freezing cold to scalding hot. Then about 60 seconds into the shower, the whole thing blew off the base and water was shooting straight up to the ceiling!!! I managed to screw it back on long enough to finish the shower but only by barely turning the water on. When I stepped out of the shower, there was about an inch of water covering the entire bathroom floor. Ahhhhhhh….THAT’s what the squeegee is for! I am going to make sure the escort reports this to maintenance so no one else has to deal with it.
I brought cereal back from the DFAC last night and I have instant coffee and one of those heating coils to heat the water. Only thing I forgot this trip was a cup to heat it in. So no coffee for me. Bill went to breakfast and was going to shower when he got back. I warned him about the shower situation!
Our bags have to be out by 10:30 am and then we’ll go sit at the flight line until time to get on our C130 to Q-West – a short 20 minute flight. Bill, Aaron, Dave, Louis and I will immediately get on choppers and fly to Cobra. It’s 1 ½ hours down there and supposedly 2 hours back. Not sure WHY?
We left for the flight line right on time and had a few minutes to get on the computers. I am still unbelievably stressed about editing the GAC TV Special. I really want it to be 100% perfect and just don’t have the time to devote to it while I’m over here. Not good. We talked KBR into letting us plug in our own laptops. Aaron’s logged right on but after trying 3 different computers – plus his once he was finished – mine would not connect. I had answered about 50 emails this morning and they are in my “mail waiting to be sent folder”. Not sure when I’ll get to send them now. L
C130 was on time and it was a very short 20 minute flight. We landed and this immediately began encountering problems. There was no luggage detail and when SFC McDougle tried to bring a little coordination to their efforts, he met resistance. The FOB Hop party finally boarded one bus while the other group boarded another bus. We left for the choppers and they left for lodging and the DFAC. Eating has become something we just “think” about often for those of us FOB hopping each day. I later learned that there was also no luggage detail once the guys arrived at lodging. Everything is color coded so that their bags can be put in their chus. But, there wasn’t anyone to assist with it.
There were already passengers on our chopper, so I got up front with Aaron. It’s so much warmer here today that I figured it wouldn’t be cold. WRONG!! It was FREEZING. It was a miserable one hour flight. I will NOT ride in the front on the return no matter how many people are on the chopper. We traveled to FOB Cobra and this is the FOB of SFC McDougle’s former Unit. I really wanted him to come with us but he wasn’t comfortable leaving the guys to prepare for the big show.
He did arrange for his guys to meet us in a Stryker – since this is the Stryker Brigade. Bill and I got in one and Aaron got in the one behind us. We all rode in the “hatches” and it was an awesome trip. We stopped at one point and they let Aaron drive. You could see his tiny little head sticking up out of that huge tank. He did a great job driving it, too.
Went to their DFAC and Aaron and Dave gave them a memorable show. It is a small FOB and we packed out the DFAC. Really, really a good thing to do for those guys. Choppers waited for us and this time I got in the back but I was facing backwards. Not good. I get sick when I do that. So get sick, or freeze to death….hmmmm. We were only in the air 10 minutes when we landed. Re-fueling! I would love to know why they didn’t come over and refuel while they were waiting on us to finish the show. Anyway, I switched seats with Louie so I could face forward we got back to the main camp at around 6:15 pm. No one was there to meet us and I finally got everyone on a bus just so they could stay warm. The guy on the ground working the choppers landing looked at me and asked if “my guys” could carry all the production off the choppers. You know my response to that. Someone finally showed up and unloaded the equipment and found a truck to load it to take to the stage. We were on the wrong bus, so we had to make a quick transfer.
Sound check was pretty quick tonight and I we were standing around waiting for the show to begin, CSM Wilson walked in. He’s the one that General O assigned to me on the Mark Chesnutt tour to assist with our “flight problems”. Not sure if he was glad to see me or scared to see me. J Regardless, he’s a huge Aaron Tippin fan. He met him last year at our performance in Baghdad.
The room was packed and Aaron and his guys gave another great performance. Bill got up and wowed them with his off color jokes once more. I’m threatening to put him on the Improv Tour next year.
Signed autographs for about 1 ½ hours and signed almost 400 tonight. I walked into the room with all the computers when the line was almost finished and SFC McDougle went in with me. He started grinning from ear to ear and said that he overheard a soldier in the autograph line say, “It’s shows like this that makes all this Army life worthwhile!”.
We are in chus again tonight but they are not wet chus. It’s the same place we stayed when Charlie Daniels was here in April. I asked them to please see if there were any DV rooms available with toilets in them for Aaron and Bill. Supposedly there weren’t any. I should not have had to ask when we arrived. This should already have been handled long before now.
I also met a Colonel with 1st Cav who knows my buddy Kyle McClelland. After we finished autographs, everyone was kicking around the idea of going to midnight chow since we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Turns out everyone was just too tired. I hiked the ¼ mile from my chu to the latrine and took my shower tonight (Bebe and David – I thought of you!). No issue with flying shower wants tonight.
Was in bed really early – 1 am!
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 28TH – Q-WEST TO BAGHDAD T0 CAMP PROSPERITY IN THE IZ:
I cannot sleep for more than 4 hours at a time. As much as I want too, it just doesn’t happen. So, at 5 am, I was awake and ready to roll. Heard guys starting to come out of their chus, too. I thought they had arranged for the band/crew to go to the firing range today but that didn’t happen. We were supposed to go to the DFAC at 8:00 am and then have bags out at 9:30 am. I noticed the truck pulling into the lodging area and knew something was up. The Major asked if I had heard the change in plans and a red flag went up. Evidently nothing had changed on our flights but he was not told that we were ranked the same as 3 and 4 Star Generals with our DV status on the orders. He wanted us to go sit on the flight line for 3 ½ hours. Problem is, he told one of the guys in the band instead of me, Aubrey, and SFC McDougle. Everything got totally “sideways”! Managed to get it somewhat back on track before there was mass confusion.
We went to breakfast and then back to the flight line. After about an hour wait, we boarded the aircraft. It was pretty full with troops who were already on the plane. The KBR guy on the ground said that the flight crew wanted us to board from the back of the plane and Aaron to board from the front so he could sit on the flight deck. I do NOT like to split from the entertainer but agreed to let him take Aaron. We got on and waited for our two pallets to be loaded. That took a while and as they finished, one of the flight crew came up to me and asked if Mr. Tippin had ever gotten on. I told him that I thought he was boarding through the front and was already on. He assured me that he wasn’t. I had to get SFC McDougle to get off the plane and go find him. Like I said, I’m NEVER separating from the artist again. About 20 minutes into the one hour flight, one of the flight crew came down and told me to go up on deck. The guys were from Little Rock and based in Balad. I had met several of them when we were in Balad last month. Really, really nice guys.
So, here’s the best part of the trip so far as far as humor. Our wonderful escort – SARGE – was being the sweetheart tourist guide and offered to take one of Aaron’s newest band members down inside a bunker. He didn’t have his flashlight with him but has a cigarette lighter. They had to walk down a set of steps and it was very dark. A few steps inside, a flock of pigeons flew out right over their hears. Sarge, who was leading the way – and I quote him – screamed like a girl! He would have fallen down the stairs if our musician had not grabbed him around the waist. They did not go inside and when they got outside, Sarge looked at him and said, “Well that was embarrassing”. You have to visualize Sarge – he is GI Joe all the way, huge vest with all the accrutiments, totally, always the ultimate manly soldier! He came inside and admitted his little escape to us and just when we thought it couldn’t get any funnier, another one of Aaron’s musicians walked in and handed Sarge a pigeon feather and said, “Don’t worry little buddy. I took care of him for you”. J
We landed and our escorts and a nice, big bus was waiting for us. I had one of the Coaxial techs carrying my body armor to put it under the bus and I was getting on when someone yelled at me that Aaron, Bill and I were going by helicopter. THAT has never happened before. It’s only about a 3 minute chopper ride, if that far. But, it was General O’s choppers and way cool. We landed and instead of going to lunch with General A as I assumed we were doing, we went directly into General O’s office and sat and talked to him for about a half hour. Again, way too cool. But, here’s the best part…General O gave me this beautiful plaque of appreciation from HIM. I teared up and couldn’t even thank him properly. So unexpected and truly touched by his kindness.
We then went to see General A and had a great lunch and conversation with him. He’s so good to us when we visit Iraq…or anywhere that’s he’s located. Hoping to talk him into going on a FOB hop with us over New Year’s. I’m sure the group I’ll be traveling with can accomplish that.
We left the Palace to take choppers to the IZ for a performance at Prosperity. The Embassy is going to bring over some of the local Iraqis for the performance today. As we were driving to the choppers, I learned that the schedule had been changed without consulting me and it really wasn’t good changes. We spent about two hours longer there than was needed. It was a great visit but lots of “down” time where Aaron could have been resting his voice. The show was outdoor and it was pretty cold here but we had a huge crowd. Much larger than I anticipated. I finally met Henry from the Embassy who I have been working with for months. They brought a group of Iraqi music students to the performance and Aaron met with them backstage after his performance. They were very bright students and asked very intelligent questions. We took photos and he chatted with them for a while. Then he signed autographs and took photos with everyone. It was a really nice evening.
Choppers were late picking us up and we got back to the JVB at around 9 pm. My buddy – Bryan – who handles the booking of the rooms was here waiting for me. Can’t believe he stayed that late! He is so sweet to me. My dear friend – Kyle – and his buddy and my new friend – Kurt – were both waiting for us to take us over to 1st Cav to see the guys on the night shift who never get to come to a show. One young man had a flag flown on September 11th, 2009, and a certificate and a bracelet of a fallen hero for Aaron. Aaron was very touched by his thoughtfulness. He signed autographs there for quite a while.
Came back to the JVB and learned that I am being blamed for sending an email to General A today demanding helicopters to pick us up at BIAP to take us to the Palace today. No one was more surprised than me when choppers showed up today, so I’ll get that straightened out tomorrow. Have been answering emails for quite a while and going to bed after I shower. The Hooter Girls are here for performances and the older one who works in marketing and sets up the Hooters restaurants around the U.S. was on the computer too and we chatted for a while. Very intelligent little lady who sincerely loves and supports the troops. The other girls also came in but they were much younger and seemed very silly. But then, I’m old!
Tomorrow we have one acoustic show and the big evening show.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 29TH – FOB DUBLIN AND VICTORY STAGE:
Only slept 3 ½ hours last night and feeling it already. Had breakfast with Aaron and Bill and then we departed for FOB Dublin – a Special Forces camp. All the boys got to play with the guns and shoot the very newest “toys”. Spent about an hour there and then set up an acoustic performance for them. There were only about 25 guys out there but that was just fine with us.
After the performance, we went to the Stryker DFAC for lunch. Great DFAC with a Stir Fry Bar, Pasta Bar, Salad Bar, Ice Cream Bar, Sandwich Bar in addition to their Snack food bar and main line. We visited the Striker team and signed autographs for them after lunch. Gave Aaron a couple of hours to rest because he if not feeling good. Dave was getting a sore throat yesterday and Aaron has it today. When he didn’t show up in the lobby at 5:30 pm when we were scheduled to depart, I knew something was wrong. I arranged with the CG’s aide to have a doctor come by when we arrived at the venue. She shook his hand and said “You have a fever”. She gave him a Zpack and lots of other medicine. Hopefully this will knock it out quickly for him.
The audience was, of course, HUGE. The air compressor that Aaron is using during his “truck driving” songs did not work tonight and he was pretty disappointed. But it was still a great, high energy show. The audience loved Bill Cowan’s jokes. We had a CSM introduce a 3 Star who introduced Bill. Very nice.
Signed almost 500 autographs after the show. Felt sorry for the troops because it was FREEZING outside. Kyle, Bryan, General A, General H, CSM, Ellen, Steve, Dave, Rick – all my buddies were at this performance. What a fun way to end our last evening in Iraq.
Leaving lodging at 9 am for an 11:50 am departure to Kuwait. Will be a long day as we are performing in Kuwait tomorrow night.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 30TH AND MONDAY, DECEMBER 1ST – IRAQ TO CAMP ARIFJAN, KUWAIT TO NASHVILLE!!!
Aaron is waking up really early. Just never got turned around this time. At least he’s feeling a lot better today. Love those “Z-packs”. J
We walked across the street to the “motor pool” and signed over 100 photos before we left this morning. Arrived at the flight line in plenty of time to sit around for a while, as usual. One of the Protocol guys there remembered me from several years ago when he flew me and Aaron to Afghanistan. Really love it when that happens.
Aaron and I sat up on the flight deck for the 1 hour 20 minute flight to Kuwait. It was a little “boring” for me because once we took off, they forgot to give me a headset. I didn’t want to bother them, but I couldn’t hear any of the chatter or take part in the conversation. Maybe that’s what they wanted…hmmmm….
We landed right on time and our escorts were waiting for us. Got out of there in record time and arrived at Camp Arifjan with a few minutes to spare. We had set it up so that the autograph session was BEFORE the show instead of AFTER the show as we had to leave for our commercial flights immediately after the performance. Worked perfectly. He signed autographs for a little over an hour. Had one little “issue” with the local MWR. There’s usually a cluster of women standing around the area where we take the photos and they all want signatures and photos with Aaron…which is fine. BUT, they have to stay there all evening, so it’s no problem for them to wait until after the signs for all the troops in line. I do not believe in letting the troops wait in line while the celebrity signs for civilians. Many of the troops may have missions and not be able to wait for any length of time. I politely asked them if they would be there for the entire evening and they confirmed that they would. I told them that Aaron would sign their photos/posters and take photos with them AFTER he took care of the troops. Then I asked security to clear everyone out from the backstage area so we could get started. I could tell they were NOT happy about that but really didn’t give it much thought. I saw them sitting outside the door to the gym where the autograph session was being held and I warned them that they needed to come in and get their autographs because the line was almost over. They just sat there. One of our escorts brought in a poster to sign for them and Aaron took care of that. Right before the show started, I learned that they had complained to their “boss” that they were not allowed to get autographs or photos and that we had refused to sign their poster. I took care of that “complaint” pretty quickly.
My friend – Kurt – came by for the show and I made him work for me. Hey, that’s the breaks of being my buddy. The Air Force guys that I had been looking for on every flight – Lewis Clark (yep, that’s his real name) – was at the show so I got to see him, too. As usual, Aaron drew a HUGE crowd, even with the early show time. He finished at around 7:30 pm and we went to the latrines to take a shower….that really worked out well. He forgot his soap and just decided to forget taking a shower. There were 3 stalls in the one I was in and only hot water left in one of them – the one someone was in. So, no go for me either!
Drove to the airport and as usual, it was packed and crazy with people running every which way. We got carts and loaded all the bags and I reminded everyone that they had to take their own bags through customs. We went through the first security checkpoint and walked up to the check-in counter. One of Aaron’s new guys did not have his checked bag and Aaron was missing a duffle bag I had given him to put his gifts in. We KNEW that they had been on the truck and were delivered to the airport with us. Once I got us checked in, I went back outside and there they were, sitting on a cart on the curb. Unbelievable that they were still there. Got the “newby” to take them in and check them.
Had about an hour to sit in the Airport Lounge so I checked email. Boarded the plane and once again, Aaron knew one of the pilots. Flight crew was extremely nice to us. I worked for about the first 3 hours and then slept for several hours. Had quite a bit of turbulence at varying times. We actually landed about 10 minutes early which was great because we had a very short connection in DC. Had to say good-bye to Bill Cowan here since he lives in the DC area. I have the Global Entry pass, so I went through quickly while the guys had to stand in a very long line for Immigration. But luggage didn’t come out until most of the guys were there from Immigration. I re-checked my luggage and went to the gate to meet my friend from United. I was going to throw myself in the doorway of the plane if they wanted to leave without my group. Fortunately everyone arrived with about 10 minutes to spare!
I sat with Aaron on the flight but the lack of sleep and hard work finally caught up with me. I passed out and didn’t say a word to him the entire flight. Am sure I was snoring and drooling, too! J
Landed in Nashville and as we deplaned and walked through the gate area, Darryl Worley came up to me. He looks great. I haven’t seen him in such a long time and just love him. Guess he just had some back surgery but seems to be doing just fine.
All our luggage came in from the flight and I gave hugs all around to a great group of guys who are so wonderful to give of their time and talents for the troops each Thanksgiving. The final edit for the GAC – TV Special is almost in the “can”. Be SURE and watch on Thursday, December 10th at 8:30 pm CST on GAC TV. It’s a tear-jerker but such an awesome story.
Home for a week, then going out to Los Angeles to see my friends. Home for Christmas and leave December 27th for Iraq with my Comedy Tour.