CRAIG MORGAN RETURNS TO AFGHANISTAN AND KUWAIT TO ENTERTAIN TROOPS

CRAIG MORGAN – MAY 2-11, 2014

SFS PHOTOS

ROLLING STONE

FRIDAY AND SATURDAY, MAY 2-3, 2014:
Departed Nashville airport today to DC and on to Kuwait with Craig Morgan and his guys.     There are 7 including me and two of the members are “newbies”.     The fiddle player has never been out of the country except to Canada and a cruise and the second “newbie” is Craig’s 22 year old son! All of the guys are so great and so excited to be going over to entertain the troops.
Check in at the Nashville airport was a breeze and the short flight to DC was easy until we tried to land.     Dulles has the longest approach of any airport I’ve flown into. Top that with high winds and landing definitely made me white-knuckled.
Our United Airlines reps met us at the gate and escorted us to the First Class Lounge where we had a 5 hour layover.     LTC Ponton the Director of Armed Forces Entertainment is accompanying this tour as well.     We met him in the Lounge about 2 hours prior to our departure.
We boarded on time but the flight was delayed slightly for some reason. The flight attendants were actually nice but no more “attentive” than ever before. When asked if I wanted something to drink before takeoff, I asked for my normal glass of water. It never came. When I questioned the flight attendant, she said she saw my bottle of water so didn’t leave me any! I assured her that was my emergency ration for DURING the flight and got her to bring me a glass.     Also, the latch on the storage bin beside my seat was broken. It’s the only place to “store” items and impossible to open after closing it.     I left it open about a quarter of an inch so I could get to my things during the flight.     One of the flight attendants came by and slammed it shut!     I told her “why” I had left it open and she said it was against regulations to leave it open during the flight.     What? Is my purse going to come alive and crawl out?     Trust me, it is so deep, there’s no way anything could fly out. If we hit turbulence bad enough for that to happen, I will have fainted anyway! The flight attendant had to get a knife from the galley to open it.     I made her leave me the knife!
They have changed the menu and it’s a “little” better than before. Still not as good as Delta Airlines. I tried 3 different movies and never found one worth watching.     Finally decided to sleep.     For the entire 12 ½ hour flight, not ONCE did anyone refill my empty glass with water.     When dinner is over, the flight attendants disappear to the galley and aren’t seen again until they serve breakfast.
There was turbulence a couple of times but nothing major.     When we landed, our visas were ready for us thanks to the Radisson Hotel. But the line for Passport Control was longer than I’ve ever seen.     All our luggage was there and our guys were there to meet us – Travis with AFE, Knight with PSA and Dan Cook with AFE had flown in from Qatar to escort our tour as well.     Dan is the Regional Coordinator for SWA and has been for years but I’ve never met him, even when we were in Qatar.
The Radisson had our rooms ready for us and the guys are very impressed with the “newly renovated” hotel.     I treated everyone to the huge buffet dinner in the hotel at 8 pm and my dear friends – Wally and Row Nasr – joined us.     They were in Kuwait several years ago and just moved back 3 weeks ago. I met Wally when he escorted a Chely Wright tour for me in Korea more than a decade ago! It was a great dinner and a wonderful “kick off” for our trip.     We depart Sunday morning for Ali Al Salem to board a C17 to Afghanistan. Will have 4 days of shows there – at least two a day – and will visit some small FOB’s that rarely receive entertainment!     Won’t be able to give my location until after we depart the Camps.
Internet will be a huge challenge from Afghanistan, so Road Reports will be sporadic!
Have a great weekend.
Jude

SUNDAY, MAY 4TH – LEAVING KUWAIT:
Woke up to a beautiful, HOT morning in Kuwait…going to be in the low 100’s.   Last night as we finished our dinner, a dust storm was blowing in. I was stuck in the Radisson Hotel several years ago for 3 days waiting for one to blow over. So glad we don’t have that problem this time.
I was in DC at the beginning of April.   Walked around the Pentagon all day in heels and then the next day walked around all day in flat shoes.   The bottom of my foot started hurting when I got back to Nashville and for a month, I’ve tried to “self-heal”.   Used Sports cream and wrapped it.   Then on the cruise and at Disney World a week ago, it got much worse. I went to a specialist in Nashville who informed me that I have a classic case of “Planter Faciitis”. His recommendation was to put me on anti-inflammatory drugs and a “walking boot”. Obviously, I can’t jump on and off helicopters in a walking boot.   And, it’s hard enough to navigate the rough terrain in Afghanistan in hiking boots! So, our compromise was a “splint” that I wear at night. It is terribly uncomfortable but my foot is about 95% better!
So excited to be going into Afghanistan with such a great group of guys. This is Craig’s 11th trip into Afghanistan and/or Iraq since 2002. Since 2003, I have escorted 37 tours into Iraq and this is my 9th visit to Afghanistan. Every trip is life changing. My very first official “Stars for Stripes” tour was almost 3 weeks throughout Kuwait and Iraq over Christmas and New Year’s with Craig and Jolie Edwards in December, 2003. Still one of the most memorable trips ever.   We were so “green”, we had no idea how dangerous it was to be driving all over the country of Iraq in soft vehicles.   Wasn’t but a few months later that all “ground movement” was banned for us and everything had to be by air.
Did I mention that the dinner buffet at the Radisson is spectacular and the only thing better is the breakfast buffet.   I always feel guilty because I can’t really eat enough to “justify” having the buffet.
Had a nice breakfast with a couple of the Radisson “brass” and talked about our trip into India and Sri Lanka with the Bellamys and the upcoming trip to Qatar this Fall.   One of the men is from India and said he LOVES the Bellamy Brothers. J
My boys came in a little later.   They had been out walking.   The fiddle player who is on his first overseas trip, had an expresso from the machine in his room last night and then topped it off with Turkish Coffee at dinner.   My friend Wally messed with him and told him to keep “stirring” the coffee before he drank.   Of course, it is filled with “grounds” and definitely NOT what you want to do. A man at the table next to us came over and said, “I’m actually from Turkey and that is not how you drink Turkish Coffee”.   We had to explain that we were just messing with Jim Ed.   My fear was he would be so jacked up on caffeine, he wouldn’t sleep again for two days. He said he actually fell asleep right away.
We departed the hotel on time and arrived at the Rock early for our flight. One of the Protocol Officers was the same one we had in November with Darryl Worley and she also said the Base Commander is still there from our November visit! Wish I had known……. L
Check in was a “breeze” and absolutely NO issues with our Visas.   Two years of fighting this and now when we’re pulling out of Afghanistan, I finally win. Figures. The flight crew even let us palletize our body armor.   Our flight crew was out of Dyess, Texas and super nice guys.   They let us take turns sitting on the flight deck which was a real treat for the boys. The “shock” was, we are flying on a C130, not a C17.   Big difference since a C130 is a Prop Plane and a C17 is a jet. Instead of 3 ½ to 4 hours, the flight will be 5 ½ to 6 hours.   Another huge difference is the C17 has airline seats and a toilet. The C130 has “sling seats” along the sides and a “honey bucket”.   I did not drink one drop of water the entire flight and still had to run as fast as possible to the toilet when we landed.   It took us about 5 ½ hours to get to Afghanistan.   Of course, I can’t say “where” we are but wanted everyone to know we are safe and ready to rock!
We immediately went to the DFAC for a quick dinner after we landed.   I had taken sandwiches on the plane for everyone but we were all still very hungry. A General who has known Craig for years and years met our flight and had dinner with us. Lodging is the same as when we were here before.   Bathrooms are “down the hall” but at least in the same building. I had rented a wireless device from XCom Global again.   It connects to the internet, has 5 bars but won’t let me on.   Have emailed them for “help” and in the meantime, I purchased internet from Sniper Hill!
Had a quick shower and answered the few emails I received on a Sunday. Trying to finish up this Road Report and get some sleep.   We start out early tomorrow – breakfast at 6 am, then chopped to two small FOB’s for performances and then back “here” to spend the night tomorrow night.
Will give details after we have “left the area”.   J
Jude

MONDAY, MAY 5, 2014 – I THINK?
Hard to remember what day it is already! And WHERE has this year gone? Time is passing too quickly.
Pretty short night as far as sleep.     Should have gotten 4 hours but first it was hot, then it was cold and I kept waking up every half hour.     Finally got up at 4:30 am instead of 5 am.     Glad I took my shower last night though!     Meeting some of the group at 6 am for breakfast at the DFAC.
Most of the group was at breakfast and I walked back with some of the guys. I have NO sense of direction and since you come out a different door than you go in, knew I would get lost.     Well, the guys took the wrong turn!     We eventually made our way back but it was the “scenic route”. Because it has rained here, the mud is terrible.     Got a call from Elissa telling us that we need to throw a clean pair of underwear and a toothbrush in our backpacks “just in case” we get stuck at the last FOB tonight.     We will have to come back through here tomorrow regardless because we are leaving half of our equipment here.     Really hoping we don’t get stuck.     Looks like the rain has ended for a while at least and hope that holds.
So, by the time I can send this out, we will have left Bagram Air Base where we landed last night and are spending the night again tonight. Today we went to FOB Shank in Jalalabad and FOB Fenty. Both are in pretty remote areas and have a population of around 1,500.     Both FOB’s were really excited to have Craig visit as they have not been receiving celebrity entertainment.     At Shank, I was talking to the CSM and he said that it had been “raining” a lot. We were already concerned that we might get stuck there overnight (we were warned to take a change of underwear and a toothbrush with us when we departed Bagram this morning).     I made the comment that I really hoped the weather would hold. He said, “No.     I don’t mean that kind of rain.     We’ve been taking a lot of attacks lately and we laid on extra bunkers for your visit!”.     Found out a little later that they lost two of their soldiers last week.
The chopper ride to Shank was about an hour on a Chinook.     They were waiting for us and we did some “troop visits” while the guys set up the stage for the show.     It was just a flatbed truck pulled into a hangar but all we needed for a performance.     We had a lot more people than anticipated, too.     Right before Craig performed, we got the word that we would need to depart at 12 noon instead of 1 pm because weather was moving in. Craig had to limit his show to 30 minutes and then we had to limit the almost 300 people in the autograph line to one autograph per person. The staff photographer took all the photos which also helped move the line along and everyone in line was taken care of.
We took the same Chinooks to FOB Fenty and first thing on the agenda was lunch. Then we had a few minutes before Craig needed to sound check.     The base had selected several soldiers to come into a private room and sit and talk with Craig.     They asked him questions and Craig loved it.     One of the soldiers in the “chat” session is a songwriter. Craig to with him before the show and they “wrote” a song that Craig performed on stage. He brought the soldier on stage during the performance and I think the guy stated “red” the entire time he was up there.     It was great and the crowd loved the interaction.     Although the shows were short compared to what we normally perform in country, they were awesome because Craig is such a powerful vocalist and songwriter and his musicians/crew are the best.
Again, we were advised that we had to limit the show to 30 minutes because we were going to be flying on a small prop plane that they used back in the Vietnam War and it could only seat 9 people. The plane was going to have to make the trip back to Bagram twice. The musicians and sound crew packed up quickly after the show while Craig signed autographs and took photos with everyone.     They were supposed to fly out at 4 pm and then the plane would immediately come back for us.     When Craig finished signing autographs, we went back over to the USO Tent where we had left our body armor and bags.     We noticed that the plane was still sitting on the runway. Not a good sign because it gets dark at around 6 pm and we “heard” that aircraft is not supposed to fly after dark.     It finally left and we waited and waited and waited.     When it arrived, it was already getting dark.     We boarded an about 10 minutes into the 30 minute flight, I noticed the sky lighting up to my left with flashes of lightning. So, I’m thinking, we are flying into a storm in a twin engine prop plane that maybe isn’t supposed to be flying after dark….not good!     Of course, we hit turbulence the closer we got to the storm. I kept telling myself that they can land a little prop like we were in just about anywhere…..except of course on top of a mountain which is what we were flying over. Then I reminded myself that we have the General on board and there is no way his “guys” would have let him (or us for that matter) get on that plane if they felt we were in danger.     The military NEVER takes any chances with our safety.     But, I still had several little “chats” with God before we landed and as usual, He kept us safe. God and the U.S. Military are a powerful combination!
Obviously, we landed safely since I’m writing this.     Our musicians were waiting for us and we went to the DFAC to have dinner with the CG.     After dinner, Craig signed autographs for a group of people that we missed due to our late arrival last night.     Got back to lodging at around 10 pm and I tried to catch up on email. It’s not coming through on my iPhone except in “select” areas which is very frustrating!
Like I said, we leave Bagram tomorrow and I’ll send out this Road Report then. It was such a great day with two fantastic shows but even more important – interaction with troops who really needed the morale boost! We are looking for to these next few days in country.
Jude

TUESDAY, MAY 6TH – LEAVING BAGRAM:
Got up at 4:30 am and had again showered last night.   Dressed and walked over to the DFAC to get an omelet “to go” and spent an hour answering emails from the night before.   Where we are going today didn’t have good internet connection the last time we were there! Hoping that has changed.
I walked out the door to the building a guy was sitting here using his iPhone. I thought it was Kyle (Craig’s son) and I slapped him on the back and said “What are you doing?”. Not Kyle. I’m sure the guy thought I was some crazy person.
We will see the General in Kabul today who made this tour possible. General A is an amazing leader who wants the best for his men and women.   Very happy he is here leading them as he did in Iraq several times during that conflict – which is how we met in the early 2000’s.
We departed on time and it was another short flight to Camp Phoenix. They were waiting for us and got us checked into lodging very quickly.   Then we got on choppers and flew to NKC – a small base in Kabul where Darryl and I had an amazing visit over Thanksgiving.   We were also at Phoenix over Thanksgiving.   All the guys and girls that we met at both of those camps have already gone home thankfully.
While we were waiting for our Office Call with MG Colt, we were given a tour of the JOC. Very interesting and informative especially for the guys who have never been in a JOC. We had a great visit with MG Colt and he “mentioned” that he sure wished we could perform. Craig said if someone had a guitar we could borrow, he would sing a few songs.   Guitars started appearing from every side!   J   His drummer played the “table” and his fiddle player had his fiddle with him. One of the soldiers had a tiny little instrument with 2 strings and he joined in. I left the room to make a phone call to my dear friend Will to find out if he would be at the performance tonight at KAIA. As I was hanging up, I heard an announcement being made that Craig would be performing in the courtyard in a few minutes.   The guys played a couple of songs for the troops there and it was awesome. We had lunch at NKC and then took the guys up on the tower so they could look at the famous “Kabul roundabout”. It was a great visit for us and big morale boost for the folks at NKC.
Then it was back on the choppers and over to KAIA for the evening performance. Our first stop was a meeting with CSM Vimoto.   He gave one of the best “briefings” we’ve had in Afghanistan.   We pounded him with questions for over an hour.   We went to the venue for sound check and it was a very long sound check because we have our “full production” package here.   Craig also tried out some of his old songs which sounded great.
Then it was time for one of my favorite parts of the trip….meeting with LTG Anderson.   He looks fantastic as always.   Craig and I had warned the guys that he is very “intense” and just naturally intimidating. He went around the room and spoke with each person individually.   After nailing Craig and his son, he got to the fiddle player and was quizzing him – in a good way – but because he is such a powerful leader, he had everyone sitting at attention.   J   The fiddle player blurted out, “I feel like we are about to arm wrestle”. That cracked up the General and he loved it. I didn’t realize it until we left the meeting that Craig’s drummer had gone to the base exchange and missed the entire meeting.
Our “hosts” had provided box lunches for us at the venue but since I’m still on Atkins, I opted to walk to the DFAC with Elissa and our escort. I gave one of the escorts my bags since we aren’t allowed to take bags into the DFAC. We stopped at the toilets and I had put my iphone into my back pocket of my jeans.   You guessed it….it fell right into the toilet.   I was devastated! I got it out and dried it off as quickly as possible but it still fried it. LTC Ponton said he heard if you soak it for 24 hours in rice, it will work again.   We got rice from the DFAC and I’m been praying for more than 12 hours now. We’ll see what happens. My TYPO keyboard was also attached and because TYPO is being sued by Blackberry, they have ceased sales until the lawsuit can be resolved.   They do have a one year warranty plan so “maybe” it can be replaced for me. Just have to deal with it.
As you may know, KAIA is a “NATO” base.   There are currently about 46 other countries with a military present. We are performing in a Turkish hanger. We were told that their Commander “googled” Craig and watched his videos and said he “like” Craig. He also wanted to bring his guitar to the show and maybe play with Craig.   I looked for him prior to the show but never found him.
General A introduced Craig and then stood out front with me for part of the concert. All the seats were filled and we had dozens of people standing.   Craig put on a great show for well over an hour.   The General presented Craig with a beautiful plaque thanking him for supporting the troops.   He also gave me his very large coin.   Nothing he could have given me that could have made me any happier. He had the photos taken in his office printed out and personally signed one for each of the guys. He is such an amazing leader.
The autograph line was LONG which was great.   I talked to a lot of people and they all said the same thing – Craig’s visit was a tremendous morale boost for them at a time when they really needed it. I did meet the Turkish Commander and made sure he got his photo taken with Craig.
We had a few minutes before the choppers arrived and Craig went over and sat with the Turkish troops and drank Turkish coffee with them.   The choppers arrived right on time and took us back to our lodging for the evening. It was another great show and great visit. I’m sure I’ve left out some of the best parts, but I didn’t get in bed until 1:30 am because I had to answer email and shower and I was too tired to type this up last night. I woke up at 4:30 am instead of 5:30 am as planned, so tried to type up the report this morning before I have more life-changing memories added to the trip today. J
Jude

WEDNESDAY, MAY 7TH – MOOREHEAD AND PHOENIX PERFORMANCES:
Three hours sleep and up early again. Had a quick breakfast and we left for Camp Morehead.   This is the Special Ops camp that we visited in March, 2013, when Craig almost killed himself on the dirt bike!   We were scheduled to go up there last November with Darryl but our choppers were grounded.   One of the Special Ops team leaders that we met last year is back up there and took such good care of us again on our visit this year. The guys up there are in charge of training the Afghan Police so have a very dangerous job every day.
Craig and the guys have been waiting all week for this visit.   They got to go to the firing range and shoot all the “toys” these guys have…and trust me, they have a LOT that you will never see in the U.S. I didn’t shoot this time but they sure encouraged me too.   Jim Ed had never shot before and Craig and the others pounded him unmercifully…but with “love”.   He would fire off several rounds at the target and say, “This is so cool. Did I hit anything?” And he was totally missing the target and just hitting gravel. But they all had a blast.
Our departure time back to Camp Phoenix got moved back an hour because they are expecting weather to move in.   We set up quickly at the “fire pit” and Craig sang several songs for them and then signed autographs and took photos.   People just kept coming up to me thanking me for bringing entertainers to their little camp because they never get any entertainment. Then, they took us to the “flagpole” and presented me and Craig with flags that they had flown and certificates.   Elissa and Dan were presented with special posters as well.   It was such a GREAT visit.
We landed back and Phoenix and had lunch.   Then we had a few minutes for the guys to shop.   These are the “Shoppingest” guys I’ve ever seen.   I love it! J   We had a meeting with a Colonel and right after that, made the decision to move the show indoors.   Good decision because it poured rain several times the rest of the afternoon and evening.
We were told General A was on his way to Phoenix so I decided to wait for him. When he pulled up, I met him and said “Welcome to Camp Phoenix”.   LOL. He said he couldn’t stay for the show tonight but might be at tomorrow night’s performance because his schedule has changed.   That would be so awesome!!!
The show was standing room only and such a great performance.   Craig brought 3 female soldiers on stage and sang his new song, “Party Girl” to them. He also brought a young soldier who is a songwriter up on stage and they “wrote” a verse to a song.   Such wonderful memories for the ones he recognized and for the troops in the audience. He signed autographs and took photos with over 200 people.
I went to the DFAC for dinner since I didn’t eat before the show.   They only have sandwiches after 8 pm, so I had the sliced meat and cheese without the bread.
Donald turned my phone on and the rice didn’t help but he said there is still water in it.   He took it to his room tonight along with my hair dryer because he said there is still water in it.   He’s convinced that he can salvage it but I’ve already had Lindsey call the insurance company and they are sending a new one.
We leave Phoenix tomorrow and have one more performance in Afghanistan before flying back to Kuwait.   Such a fantastic tour – for us and the troops.   But honestly, everyone is pretty exhausted, too.   I think we are running on adrenaline most of the time.   J
Jude

THURSDAY, MAY 8TH – LAST SHOW IN AFGHANISTAN:
The three hours of sleep each night are catching up with me.   Every day I think I’ll have time for a little nap and every day I am wrong.
We departed Camp Phoenix early morning (Military likes to get us moving really early!) to go to our last location in Afghanistan.   That’s our last Chinook ride for this tour.   I’m a little disappointed that the “new” guys didn’t get to ride on a Blackhawk. But with all the equipment we have, the Chinooks are the way to go.
Craig’s schedule for today was a little too aggressive as he is concerned about losing his voice before tonight’s performance.   With the lack of sleep, dust, heat, and talking and singing non-stop every day, it takes a toll on everyone I bring over here.   Craig would never, ever cancel anything with the troops if he weren’t genuinely concerned about his vocals.
We “adjusted” and some of the musicians filled in for Craig on a couple of “meet and greets” with aviation units.   I took signed photos and told them to come to the show tonight and Craig would take a photo with each of them.   We visited the Blackhawks and almost got to sit in an Apache when we ran out of time. Kyle is severely sunburned on the back of his neck, so we were able to stop at the Medic tent and get him some cream.   I had dashed into the Base Exchange to try and get him Aloe Vera or Solarcain but none was available.   The Base Exchange is just a “shadow” of what it was in November. Lots of the little Afghan shops are closing down already in anticipation of our departure from this area.
We went back to lodging and picked Craig up for a couple of short “Meet and Greets” with a Unit that he served with when he was in the military. It turned out to be a much larger crowd than anticipated and ran a lot longer than expected. Afterwards, we went to the DFAC for lunch.
After lunch, Elissa took me to the Phone shop here and I asked them to see if they could “revive” my iPhone.   He opened it and it was still filled with water.   Guess the rice trick didn’t work so well. L   He said he needed 24 hours to “sanitize” it but since we don’t know what time we are departing tomorrow, I could only leave it with him until 8 pm closing time tonight.
Another General here had asked Craig to make a special stop by Special Ops to say hello to some guys there.   At least that was what we were told.   When the bus stopped, we were at the little local shopping area! Evidently, Craig and the guys had mentioned when we had dinner with the General that they wanted to go to those shops. Someone the communication got mixed up and we were actually going shopping – something Craig and his boys enjoy tremendously as I mentioned. A couple of the guys had gone on to the venue to start setting up, so they missed this last minute bargain shopping spree.   I even got caught up in the moment and purchased a couple of wireless headsets for Zac and Zoe.
We got the rest of the guys over to sound check and it was just beginning to start raining.   Elissa and I had a great meeting with LTC Ponton about future entertainment in this area. Afghanistan has been “ignored” for all these years and we at least need to support our men and women serving here until we can get everyone home.
When we went by the venue one hour prior to show time, it was already more than half full. And the rain was really pouring down.   Very happy the show is in the Clam Shell and not outside on the airfield. Looks like General A won’t be able to come down because of the bad weather.   Nothing flies in this!!
When we arrived for the show, the place was packed!   And it was raining even harder.   Craig and the boys gave another fantastic show and the audience was unbelievably responsive!   I think they knew the words to every song – even his newest one on radio now. What a fantastic way to end our last concert in Afghanistan.   We were told that it is the largest crowd they have had there. As I said, morale is really low and I’ve never seen so many smiles on faces in one audience!
The autograph line had about 300 people in it.   I left the photos with Elissa and walked back over to the phone shop – praying I would have a working iPhone.   She wanted me to drive her truck but I wasn’t comfortable doing that. I thought my windbreaker was water proof – NOT.   I was drenched by the time I walked over and back – about 10 minutes each way! And, the bad news is – my iPhone is dead and gone forever.   The good news is, my new replacement has already been delivered and Lindsey is getting it activated for me today.   I’m sure I’ll survive these next couple of days without it somehow. J
Got back to the venue and there were still about 100 people in line.   But, it moved quickly and Craig was able to do a short interview with AFN afterwards.   We got the bad news that our flight out of Afghanistan tomorrow is scheduled for 10:30 PM.   Not good because that means we won’t arrive back at the Radisson until around 2 or 3 am.   We have a performance that same day and leave immediately after the performance for the airport to fly home.   BRUTAL. Elissa is working with the flight coordinators to try and get us an earlier departure but as of 10 pm last night – no luck!
I was sitting on my bunk trying to answer some emails and apparently just fell over with the laptop on my legs and slept for about an hour! I knew I was tired but didn’t realize just how tired.   At least I don’t have to get up at 5 am tomorrow like I have these past 4 days. Guess my next “report” will be from Kuwait.
Jude

FRIDAY, MAY 9TH – LEAVING AFGHANISTAN:
I had planned to sleep until around 9 am today. But woke up at 5 and “laid there” until 6.     Showered and walked over to DFAC for breakfast.     Ran into one of the flight crew from our flight up here.     Told him we are “stuck” here until 10:30 pm tonight and asked him if he is flying today.     He “thought” they might be flying us back to Ali Al Salem but said they actually flew yesterday instead – and missed our show last night.
Our show last night was at Bagram Air Base – where we have been lodged. I can say that now that we have left Bagram.     J     During the show last night, I was walking from the backstage trailer to backstage when an announcement came on the speaker system. I stopped to listen and it said there was going to be a controlled detonation at a certain time.     I knew if Craig and the guys heard it, they would be okay but Jim Ed would probably go face down on the stage.
I got a LOT Of work done this morning.     Met Elissa at lunch and she told us that we are still tracking for a 10:30 pm departure.     L     Bags out at 6 pm. Walked over to the DFAC and had lunch with Elissa and discussed some issues about future tours.     She is scheduled to have to leave here in August and I’m hoping they will let her extend until October.     She does such a great job coordinating and hosting these tours and it would be a shame to lose her before we pull out of here. I worked with her in Iraq and remembered how great she was from those days.
Bags had to be out at 6 pm to go through a Customs check.     We all walked over to the DFAC for our final meal in Afghanistan. I was able to answer a few more emails and stress about the fact that I won’t have any way to communicate until we reach the Radisson Hotel early tomorrow morning.
We departed lodging at 8:15 pm and went to Customs to have our carry on bags cleared.     Craig signed autographs and took photos with everyone.     When we were almost finished, a young soldier came rushing up and yelled, “It’s true. It is you. I didn’t believe it”. J     Our bus was able to drive up to the aircraft and the flight was departing at 9:30 instead of 10:30 pm.     We were able to walk right on.     Our flight was the 3rd stop on a 3 leg flight.     There were several military personnel already on the plane but we boarded before all the other passengers.     We were able to get the “sling seats” along the sides where you have more leg room.     The airplane seats that they put in the plane are like the smallest coach seats on a commercial airline and they are in rows with about 8 seats across.     The plane was FULL except for 3 seats.     Right before we took off, Dan got a text message saying our escorts couldn’t meet us on the flight line because AF Protocol wouldn’t be out there that late.     It meant taking a bus to the terminal with all the other passengers. I called Knight (our PSD) and told him to call Wally and get clearance to drive onto the flight line.     I knew I could count on him!
Flight was smooth and I slept on and off the entire flight.     It was about a 4 hour flight.     Landing was really turbulent and we knew why once we landed….dust storm. I’m surprised we were able to land at all.     Right after we landed, Knight came walking on the plane looking for us. Knew he wouldn’t fail me.
We went to the DFAC and had coffee while we waited for our pallet to be downloaded. It was 1:30 am by the time we started the drive to the hotel and almost 3 am by the time we arrived.     Rooms were ready and I changed our departure time to 3:00 pm tomorrow and got a “late checkout”.     It’s now 5:30 am and I’m going to sleep for a few hours.     Busy day – Performance at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait tonight and then straight to the airport for the midnight flight home.     Be in Nashville by 9 am Sunday morning!
Jude

SATURDAY, MAY 10TH   AND SUNDAY, MAY 11TH – PERFORMANCE IN KUWAIT AND FLIGHT HOME:
Got in bed at 5:30 am and was up at 9:30 am. Planned to have breakfast, work out in the gym, shower, pack and take a nap before going to Camp Arifjan for the final performance.   All worked well except for the “nap” part.   Somehow that didn’t work out for me this entire tour!
Last show is at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait.   That’s always a big crowd.   We depart immediately after the autograph session for our flight back to Nashville. So strange not to have a cell phone and any “link” with home once I get away from my laptop and internet service.   L
We left the hotel at 3 pm and arrived at Camp Arifjan at 4 pm for a quick sound check.   There were already people in line and had been since 1 pm!   It’s a small theatre, so I’m sure it will be packed.   We met the person who is taking Tina’s position at MWR and also got to say hello to Tina.   Really like the new lady!   We opted to walk over to Chili’s for dinner instead of the DFAC. It’s a new restaurant right across from the venue. Food was good and comparable to a Chili’s in the U.S.   Still had a few minutes to spare, so walked over to the Base Exchange. But I didn’t buy anything except a “Shock”. It’s a coffee drink that works better on me than Ripit or Red Bull.
The base leadership came by backstage and presented everyone with certificates and coins. That’s the office call we missed because we got in from Afghanistan so late today! Really nice people that I have met several times and hated to disappoint.   But the guys needed the rest so they could perform a great show. And they did!   It was a rocking last performance for the tour.   There were even line dancers up front.   My friend Wally and his wife were there and Joe Bowser’s niece Taylor came to the show as well.   The autograph line was long but Craig worked through it in about 1 ½ hours. We had a few minutes to “cool down” and “clean up” before heading to the airport for the long flight home.
I don’t think I have ever seen Craig this tired before after one of our tours. He fell asleep on the bus ride to the airport and slept nearly the entire flight back home. I decided not give the pilots and flight attendants the “goodies” when we got on the plane but wanted to wait and see if they were “deserving”.   Actually, they were nice and way more attentive than any I’ve had on United in years. So, about 3 hours prior to landing, I took care of everyone.   They commented about how nice and pilot Craig was and were really surprised to learn who he is.
We landed early but of course it took forever for the luggage to come out. We went through Customs and I was in front of the guys.   I put my bags on the belt to be re-checked and noticed that they were no longer behind me.   I could see several of them standing just outside Customs but didn’t see Jim Ed anywhere. One of the guys came through to tell us that Jim Ed had been taken in to be “checked”. He came back out pretty quickly. Instead of marking “business” on his form as his reason for his visit, he had checked “pleasure”.   Once he explained why he was over there, they let him go immediately.
Flight to Nashville on the tiny plane was on time.   I had the entire Exit Row to myself.   I wanted to sleep some more but the plane was just too small.   Landed Nashville early and all our luggage and equipment arrived.
All the guys says this was the “best tour” ever.   I agree but then I say that about every tour for the troops when we return. But, Craig and his guys are very special young men and it’s a pleasure and honor to be able to work with them to show our love and support of the U.S. Military. I was especially thrilled to have Craig’s 22 year old son with us.   I told Craig that is his greatest accomplishment.   He is an amazingly polite, very intelligent, extremely hard working “Craig Morgan lookalike”!
Will have a few days at home before Charlie Nagatani and the Japanese fans arrive. Then it’s off to Qatar for Memorial Day Weekend with Darryl Worley and then a week in Germany with the Bellamy Brothers. Not nearly enough time with my “Z’s”!
Jude