Craig Morgan returns to Iraq for his 9th trip overseas to entertain and boost morale, but this is the first trip with his full band and 3rd tour for SFS.
PHOTOS (Courtesy of TSgt Michael Forte)
THURSDAY, JANUARY 27TH AND FRIDAY, JANUARY 28th – NASHVILLE TO KUWAIT:
Left Nashville today with Craig Morgan and his group to fly to Kuwait and ultimately into Iraq to entertain the troops. After the nightmare flight schedule in December with the Comedy Tour, I was braced for problems with our flights over. The weather did not disappoint me. We’ve had snow in Nashville every other day all winter it seems. But, Nashville wasn’t the problem. The only direct flight into Kuwait routes through Dulles (Washington, DC) and it was hit with a blinding snowstorm yesterday. I awoke to the news that the earlier morning flight from Nashville to there had been cancelled. My wonderful travel agent immediately began booking backup flights for us on other airlines. At least this time, everyone except Mike Hammond (radio personality) was flying with me from Nashville. Mike was in Knoxville but we were able to route him so that we connected in Paris. Paris – the other problem – one of the cities on high alert for terrorist activity!
We all arrived at the airport for check-in on our original flight with fingers and toes crossed. This is Craig’s third tour for Stars for Stripes and I think something like his 9th tour for the troops overall. He participated in the very first Stars for Stripes tour I coordinated. He and Jolie Edwards went to Iraq and Kuwait for 2 ½ weeks over Christmas and New Years. Amazing how much things have changed there since that first visit! He is also a part of my GAC TV Special, “Stars for Stripes: Wounded Warriors Return”….which by the way is up for a Regional Emmy Award this Saturday. If you get a chance, go to:
and you can watch the Awards Show via a live stream. Scott Lilley, one of my little wounded heroes, flew in for the event and Lindsey and David and Carolyn Corlew are attending as well. Ironic that I will be in Iraq with Craig at the time of the telecast.
Craig served 11 years as active duty and another 6 in the reserves and the troops love him not only because he relates to them so well but because he is one of them who has been tremendously successful in the entertainment world. It will be a good trip. 🙂
Luck was on our side…our flight to DC departed almost on time and landed almost on time. And, it was beautiful flying weather…no turbulence! We landed and met up with Mike who landed at almost the same time. I went into the Lounge and downloaded all my email so that I could answer it offline on the flight. Then it was time to board. I knew several of the flight attendants from previous trips over and went up to say hello to the pilots. Have to negotiate “turbulence” with them as well. J They warned me that we would have turbulence between 2 and 4 hours into the flight. If I know it’s coming, I’m much better with it. They were correct and it hit just as I was finishing a movie and answering email. But, it really wasn’t too bad this time. All the movie choices were horrible and the guide in the seat pocket was for February airings. These are still the “old” planes where you can’t pick a movie and start it at any time. You’re stuck with watching it from beginning to end when they say “go”.
We are back at the Moevenpick again this time and I think it will be more “comfortable” this time. Last time everything was “new” and we were just learning the ropes there. Will always miss the Radisson and their staff though.
Meal was horrible as usual. I usually get the pasta because it’s “safe” but this time the pasta listed on the menu was not what they were serving. The Purser was kind enough to warn me, so I had the fish which was not edible. The salad and soup was good, though.
We landed late because we left DC late. One of the toilets in First Class didn’t work and they couldn’t fix it. The other toilet had a defective door. The light would not turn on until you actually LOCKED the door. Then, they had to take our bags off the aircraft to look for some bags that were not supposed to have been loaded on other passengers. Once we landed, it took forever for our bags to come out. When they finally arrived, they were soaking wet. I think when they took bags off the plane in DC to look for the other bags, they just threw them on the wet ramp because it certainly wasn’t raining anywhere we were today. Craig had put a couple of cameras and some little knives in his luggage and they were all missing when he got his bag. Truly SUCKS as they were gifts for the troops.
Our escorts were waiting for us and check in at the hotel was painless. They had upgraded a lot of the guys to a 2 bedroom suite so that they could keep everyone near each other. They had 2 bedrooms, a kitchen and a washer and dryer. LOL!
I worked until we met for dinner at 7 pm and then I had a meeting in the lobby at 8:30 pm with our production company. While we were meeting, a saxophone started playing really loudly nearby. Turned around and it was in the lobby along with an entire rhythm and percussion section. There are curved stairways leading into the lobby and at the top of the stairs was a bride in her gown on the arm of her dad. On the other set, was the groom. The musicians were playing this LOUD, LOUD music that sounded exactly like music I’ve heard Belly Dancers perform too. I expected the bride to rip off her gown and start belly dancing at any moment! J This went on for more than 20 minutes as they took one step down the stairs and then stood. The music was accompanied by very loud “wailing”. They finally exited the hotel and went to a ball room across from the lobby to get married. I’ve been to Kuwait 35 times and never in my life have I seen anything like that. I wanted to take photos and video it but of course I didn’t have my cameras with me and I was “trapped” in the lobby and couldn’t get to my room.
Dinner was nice and food was excellent. I’ve been in my room answering emails now for 5 hours and it’s 2 am. Time to get a little bit of sleep, I think.
Tomorrow is our performance at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. Haven’t been there since May and looking forward to it. Going to get in a good workout tomorrow morning, too. J
SATURDAY, JANUARY 29TH – CAMP ARIFJAN, KUWAIT:
Got 4 ½ hours sleep which was great. Hit the gym for a good “arms” workout and an egg white omelet for breakfast. Weather is pretty here today but supposed to rain tonight and tomorrow. Also checked and there is rain in Iraq, which is never good.
Our show today is at Camp Arifjan. Been there many times and it’s a great venue. We left the hotel at 1 pm and dropped the techs at the stage. I went with Craig and the musicians to the Commander’s Office Call. They had requested 2 hours and we had to tell them it wasn’t possible IF they wanted a performance that evening. We could have arrived earlier, but the staff was not available earlier. We finally agreed on one hour. When we arrived, we sat and sat and sat waiting for the person giving the brief to arrive. He was 15 minutes late. He was a great guy from Alabama and spent about an hour telling jokes about Auburn/Alabama and other things. I was pretty disappointed because I wanted the guys to hear the history of Kuwait. He did spend about 5 minutes at the end and gave a very brief, concise history of Kuwait. Then they had coins to present, photos to take, autographs to sign….we were very late for our visit to the Hospital and I was VERY STRESSED. We got the musicians to the stage and Craig, Mike and I went to the hospital. There were several patients but fortunately none of them were combat related.
Got Craig over to the stage for his sound check and I went to get some “name tapes” made for my new duffle bags. They finished sound check on time and we walked to the DFAC for dinner. When we got back to the stage, Wally and his wife Ro (my friends) were there and we got to talk for a few minutes. Then a couple of the new CID guys arrived that I had not met but had emailed. They all stayed for the show.
Mike did a great job introducing Craig to a HUGE audience. When Craig has performed in Kuwait in the past, it has been with the Sgt. Major of the Army’s tour. This is his first time to perform for 90 minutes and with his band. The show was absolutely awesome. I’d say almost everyone in the audience was singing along with his songs. Even Ro, who is not a country music fan, loved the show.
The autograph line after the show was very, very long. I passed out all the photos I had for the Kuwait show – about 400 and was scrambling to locate a few more before the bags were palletized for Iraq. Craig finished up at around 10:45 pm and we headed back to the hotel. We have a 6:45 am bag call which is wonderful compared to the 4 am bag call we usually have! I’m trying to finish this road report and get in bed but had to call the front desk because someone is playing loud, loud music either next door or below me!
Probably won’t be able to send road reports from Iraq unless a miracle happens and we have internet in our rooms one night! J Tonight is the night of the Regional Emmy Awards so hopefully Lindsey will let me know if we win!
SUNDAY, JANUARY 30TH – KUWAIT TO COS WARRIOR, KIRKUT, IRAQ:
We did NOT win the Regional Emmy. 🙁 Some Production Company out of North Carolina won it. Will have to look up their film when I get home and see what our competition was!
Got less than 3 hours sleep and figured I could sleep on the 1 hr. 45 minute flight to Kirkut if we were the only ones on the plane. Showered, dressed and went down for some yogurt before leaving for the airfield. Everyone was on time but something was wrong with the credit card machine and it wouldn’t take anyone’s credit card. They wanted me to pay in cash (as IF I carry that kind of cash). I got so frustrated; I told them I’d just pay when I returned. Of course, they got it fixed real quickly then! J
When we arrived at the terminal, one of the staff was telling Broadie that our plane wasn’t coming because it was fogged in at Ali. Now Ali is a 5 minute flight to where we were, so it really didn’t make sense. Turns out our flight landed right on time. I knew most of the flight crew out of Dyess from our previous flights with the comedy tour in December. The guys took turns going up on the flight deck and I lay down for what I hoped would be at least an hour of sleep. No such luck. It was freezing even with my coat on and even though I went to the bathroom twice just before leaving, I really, really needed to go again! Was not going to use the “honey bucket” in the back because I don’t trust Craig Morgan and his guys for a second. J So, it was pretty miserable. I knew Craig was going to tell the flight crew to try and make poor Travis throw up and of course, he did. They dropped the plane straight to the desert floor and pulled I don’t know how many “G’s”. Travis threw up and they filmed him and laughed like crazy. I told Travis to remember “Pay Backs Are Hell” and I would help him pay back. Poor guy.
We have great escorts at Warrior – Bryan and Christy – who took care of us with Aaron Tippin over Thanksgiving. D. J. was supposed to be there as well from Spiecher but her flights were all canceled. We stayed in the same “house” where we stayed with Aaron and I have wired internet service. No roommate this time either but do have to share the bathroom with all the guys. L
First stop was lunch and since it was Sunday, they still had brunch so it was another omelet for me. Then some of the guys wanted to rest and others went with Craig and me to EOD and then K-9. EOD is the crew that does the controlled detonations. They set up a couple of these for the guys and the first one was a “dud”. There was just a tiny “pop” and then nothing. The funniest part was trying to figure out who was going to go see when it had not exploded. They had the “suit” and the “robots” but didn’t use them. When we tried again, they used more explosives and it worked – better than fine, too loud!
From there we went to K9 to play with the dogs….beautiful dogs but very well trained. A couple of our guys suited up and let the dogs chase them and grab their arms.
From there, Craig went to rest and I went to sound check with the boys. Also ordered some of the “name tapes” for my new duffle bags. We decided to move the show into the gym (even though the gym does not have a stage) because it was raining off and on and supposed to continue all week. Turned out to be the right decision. I got a latte from Starbucks and got everything ready for the show. We stopped by the air terminal to check on our flight time for tomorrow but they had not received the information. Ran by the DFAC for a quick dinner of stir fry and then to lodging to quickly get ready for the show. The gym seats were packed and people were standing all along the sides and back. Craig did a couple of interviews prior to the performance. Craig and the guys did another fantastic performance and even had “audience participation” which the troops loved I met the Sgt. Major at dinner tonight and turns out he was the one we met at Ramadi when Craig and I were there in 2003! Small world!!!! Sgt. Major gave all of us a coin after the performance.
Craig signed over 300 photos tonight and we were back at lodging a little after 11 pm. We have to be ready by 6 am tomorrow. L
MONDAY, JANUARY 31ST – WARRIOR (KIRKUT) TO VICTORY (BAGHDAD):
Thought I felt bad yesterday but today was even worse! I have to get a Z-pack somewhere today. We left lodging at 6 am and our flight was scheduled to be on time. We didn’t have time to go to the DFAC and get a to go plate for breakfast but there was cereal, yogurt, etc. at the terminal and I made coffee. There were only a couple of other folks on the flight and the crew invited me to sit on the deck. That was truly a blessing because of my cold. Craig was up there and was on the headset and he said the pilots said Baghdad was closed. It had rained all night and was still pretty low visibility when we took off from Kirkut. But the pilots talked the control tower into letting us land, Thank Goodness. I left the flight deck and sat downstairs for a few minutes but it was miserable with my head cold. Had one of Craig’s guys switch out with me so I could sit up there for landing which was much easier on my head. The pilots had to make 3 approaches before they were able to land. But, once we were on the ground, the weather was beautiful.
Our escorts were waiting for us and took us to the JVB (Joint Visitor’s Burea) to check in. All the guys are in one room and I’m back in “my” room – the Taji Suite. J We had a little time before lunch so the guys walked over to Green Beans and I tried to sleep. Had taken too much “non-drowsy” cold medicine so couldn’t fall asleep. But felt so miserable, I stayed in bed. Got up and ate some spaghetti for lunch. When we were here in December, the food at the JVB was horrible. But it was great today. Of course, with this cold, I can’t taste a thing!
Sent the guys on a tour to Victory Over America Palace and the Al Faw Palace and Craig and I had “office calls” with Colonels and Generals. Those were really fun because two of the Colonels had been deployed to the same countries at the same time he was there. The 2 Star General we met with was very enlightening about our withdrawal from Iraq. As an aside, had some truly great news yesterday about Afghanistan. One of my dear friends and someone I love working with is taking over the entertainment in Afghanistan. Maybe we’ll be able to get in there with celebrity tours now! The biggest roadblock is their rule of 6 people 600 pounds. Impossible to do when was have to take in our own production. But, I’m sure changes will eventually be forthcoming.
Best part of the visit with the Colonel was seeing my buddy who escorted us on several tours in 2009 – Sgt. Matt Nelson. He and I have stayed in touch since he left Iraq and now he’s back until the withdrawal. He’s a great guy and enjoyed catching up with him. He has his wife here with him this time and I got to meet her.
At Al Faw Palace, I was able to swap a Craig Morgan CD for a Z-Pack and immediately started on the antibiotics. Hopefully they will help ‘cause I am so miserable.
We went by the stage for a few minutes and they had changed our backstage area. Usually it’s two tents out behind the stage but today they moved it across the street to the MWR building. Definitely NOT convenient. Our escort explained that she was having a wet chu moved behind the stage to use as a permanent dressing facility. The contractors hauling it to the area hit a tree and damaged it. There was no power in the tents, so she had to move it to the MWR building. There was a “lake” of water all the way around the building and a muddy road to walk down just to access it.
Went back to the JVB to eat dinner and dress for the show. I had to lie down for a few minutes again. It was cold and windy at the show – which was on an outdoor stage, so that really helped my cold a lot. But the show was awesome. Craig’s other two shows were awesome but he was really “on” tonight. There were over 500 people attending and that’s good for Victory Stage. If we had performed about 15 minutes away, there would have been thousands. Just the “area” where we held it that makes a huge difference.
Craig signed about 300 autographs and took photos with everyone. We were able to get the line inside the building so they didn’t have to stand outside any longer in the cold. They had already been standing outside for the show for 90 minutes.
We got back to the JVB by 11 pm and I answered just the critical emails, took a shower, lots of drugs and fell into bed. Woke up at 3:30 am with fever, nausea and chills, took more drugs and slept fitfully until 6:30 am.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 1ST – CAMP VICTORY BAGHDAD TO BALAD AIR BASE:
Was able to eat a little bit of breakfast but appetite is just not there. Was taking by vitamins and the next pill in my zpack when I dropped the antibiotic. Could not find it on the marble floor and finally located it halfway under the huge kingsize bed. Had to try and pull the bed away from the wall to get it out from under the bed! We left the JVB at 8:45 am. They guys think they got to “sleep in” today after all the 5 and 6 am lobby calls. J
We have a 30 minute flight to Balad Air Base – my favorite base in Iraq. One of my buddies from the Wolf Pack in Korea is the Base Commander now and is a General. Really looking forward to seeing him.
So much has happened since I typed that sentence above. I am now at home in Nashville and wondering if I can remember ANYTHING that happened the last few days in Iraq.
We arrived Balad pretty much on time and our escorts were waiting for us. We have a “new” group and they are excellent. We had a “security brief” which definitely got everyone’s attention. Balad was known as “mortaritaville” in year’s past, so they take security and safety very seriously. From there we went to check in at lodging and I learned that they had placed me in a chu that was a long way from the guys which doesn’t work for me. They were going to try and find one to move me into while we went to lunch.
When we walked into the DFAC, my friend General Neubauer met me at the door. He still looks exactly the same and it was wonderful so see him. He was so sweet and gracious to Craig and all our group. It was fun catching up with him during lunch and talking about all our mutual F-16 pilot buddies – Snort, Robin, Burt, Willie, Bongoo, Burner, and others! Fun times.
We went to see the F-16’s immediately after lunch. The guys really enjoyed that! Craig had seen them many times before but we got some great photos of him with the aircraft and the mechanics. He also enjoyed seeing his guy’s reaction to the tour. General Neubauer (hard for me not to refer to him as NUBES!) gave Craig the largest coin he has ever received. It’s more like a belt buckle. General Franklin gave me one last year or I would have been very jealous!
After the tour, the guys went shopping and Craig and I did a little “Meet and Greet” . Means there should be less photos to sign tonight after the show. J We had a little time after that to shop and I found a great t-shirt for Bill Cowan. Craig went back to lodging to rest and I got moved into a room near the guys. Went over for sound check and then to the DFAC for a quick dinner. I was still feeling pretty bad, so food wasn’t on my list of priorities.
Show started on time and the theatre was PACKED. Several people came in after the show started and were turned away because of the number allowed in at one concert. Hated to see that! Craig had a truly great performance, too. Lots of audience participation. The line for autographs was really long, too. While Craig signed, one of the Airmen took the musicians over to the Armory to see their “guns”. They didn’t get to shoot anything but heard they took some great photos.
We were able to go to the MWR facility after the show and I got some emails answered. The others in the group who went with me left hours before I finished and I kept my poor escort there past midnight!
Got in bed by 2 am and will get up at 6 am.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 2ND – BALAD TO FOB DELTA – AL KUT, IRAQ AND ULTIMATELY BAGHDAD TO KUWAIT AND THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 3RD – KUWAIT TO NASHVILLE! :
Had my usual wake up call when the F-16’s deployed in pairs this morning. They have changed their take-off time from 5 am to 4 am! Got up and showered and realized it was POURING rain outside. Fortunately I had brought a disposable poncho with me and it really came in handy. Got to pick up some more of those.
Everyone was ready and our flight seemed to be tracking on time. One of my other friends – DeDe – had not made it out to the concert last night because of “meetings”. Was so delighted to see her at the PAX terminal before we left. Like I said, this has been a really terrific group of escorts to work with this visit.
Our main escort did drop one little “bomb” on me. Our equipment was palletized last night after the show and was supposed to be taken to a secure building. Instead, it was left outside – uncovered – in the rain. It had been raining heavily for 4 hours by the time they found it and covered it. Of course, my show bags were on the very top which means that probably all the autograph sheets we have for the performance tonight are ruined. L Just hope the guitars, speakers, amps, etc. will dry out in time for our performance. We boarded the flight on time and the crew was Marines but the flight was under the control of the Army. Pretty unusual. When they brought the pallets on board, I noticed that they had put our personal bags on top of the equipment and strapped them down as we always do. HOWEVER, they didn’t cover the personal bags with plastic. So now I’m sure all our clothes are soaked as well. L
We sat on the runway for a very long time and finally one of the Marines said that it might not be possible to land in Al Kut. They were going to fly that direction and try but no guarantee they could get us down. When they did try to land, they still couldn’t see the runway at 1,000 feet so they had to abort landing. And I thought the Marines could take off, land, and fly in ANYTHING! They diverted us to Baghdad and our escorts there immediately began trying to find us another flight into Al Kut. We went to lunch and then came back to check the status of flying. When they were sure we would not be able to get us in there for our show tonight, I told them our second choice would be to go back to Kuwait today. We couldn’t perform in Baghdad for several reasons – we had just performed there, there is no indoor venue and it was still pouring rain, and time was too short to announce a performance and get people to attend. They found us a flight to Kuwait departing at 7 pm and arriving at 8:30 pm.
We still had several hours to “kill” so we went shopping. Not much else to do in the rain. Some of the guys bought some really good knock-off watches but paid $200-$300 for them. I’d never pay that much for a knock-off! I had my travel agent checking on the possibility of getting us changed to a flight back home tonight instead of waiting until tomorrow night. He said he could change us all with no problem and the cost would be less than what I would be paying for an extra night of hotel accommodations. I told him to book the space but not to cancel our other flights until I called him and told him we had landed in Kuwait. Our escorts in Kuwait agreed to go by the hotel and pick up the bags we left there so we could “re-pack” them before flying home.
We boarded the flight and it looked like we were going to depart on time. Then we were told that we were on the “back-up” plane for a General. The plane next to us was waiting for him to get out of a meeting. We couldn’t leave until he arrived and the other plane took off. I figured we might be sitting there for an hour but thankfully, he was there a few minutes at 7 pm. We departed and landed Kuwait at 8 pm. Our escorts had all our bags waiting for us and we quickly “re-packed” everything. Even though I had put the autograph sheets in plastic bags, I still lost several hundred. Everything else in my bags were soaked through. L I had Craig sign several hundred and left those and a box of cds to be delivered to FOB Delta. Know it doesn’t make up for the fact that we weren’t able to perform there, but at least they know we were thinking of them! We rushed over to the commercial terminal to check in. My travel agent had assured me that my first class upgrade had transferred over and I would get upgraded. However, the ticket agent said 1st class was sold out. I had also paid for Economy Plus for the guys and we were told that Class was sold out as well. Going to be a miserable trip home….
We had a few minutes to go into the lounge and grab a snack. Then we boarded the flight a little after midnight. Once on board, I heard the flight attendant announce that they had seats in Economy Plus if anyone wanted to upgrade. I was furious. I asked the flight attendant if there were seats available and she checked and said there were only 2 and those had just been purchased. Unbelievable!
Had a really bad meal and then snuggled down for the most sleep I’ve had the entire tour. Had a guy who had just served 5 months in the military in Kuwait sitting beside me. I’m sure he has never seen anyone sleep that hard or long on a plane! Was hoping Kevin (“my” pilot) would be flying it but one of our pilots knew him and said he flew yesterday. Just my luck!
We landed on time and so did three other international flights. Took the guys almost an hour to clear immigration. Since I have the Global Entry Pass, I zipped through and was able to pick up everyone’s luggage and have it waiting for them. Line through security was long, too, and when we finally “escaped” and checked our gate, I saw that Mike’s flight to Knoxville had been cancelled. I knew there was bad weather all around us and was delighted that it missed DC and Nashville. He was unable to get on another flight until 5 pm that evening so I called my friend Jackie who was able to get him cleared to go into the Red Carpet Lounge for the day.
Flight to Nashville was uneventful and I was happy to be home – a day early and no one knew I was back! J Stayed up until 3 am this morning dealing with over 600 emails that had accumulated over the past couple of days!
The only “downer” for the entire tour (other than being sick as a dog!) was the fact that once again we missed a performance and disappointed the troops. Nothing could have been done about it, but still makes me feel bad. I also hate that we didn’t have our “wrap up” dinner at the hotel before flying home. Always nice to be able to thank the guys as a group. This was a great group of guys and the troops really enjoyed the performances. But, even more than that, they enjoyed meeting and chatting with everyone. It was really special to see the reaction of Craig’s guys who have never toured Iraq before. As always, another “life-changing” experience!