THURSDAY, APRIL 14TH AND FRIDAY, APRIL 15TH – NASHVILLE TO TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS:
Traveling to Honduras today with Darryl Worley to entertain the troops. We all had 2 am “wake up” calls to arrive at the airport at 4 am. Brutal! I did manage to grab about 3 hours of sleep though.
Stan – my favorite Skycap – was there to get us checked in and we only had to wait about 15 minutes for the Delta Lounge to open. It has been completely remodeled since I was there last and looks beautiful. Had time for coffee and fruit and then we boarded the plane for the short trip to Atlanta. I think we all slept most of the way. We had about an hour in the Delta Lounge in Atlanta before boarding the flight for the quick trip to Honduras….quick because it is 3 hours and 42 minutes and we are accustomed to 12-14 hour trips for the troops. Bad news is, it’s just a regular aircraft – no “lay flat” seats which we all could have used at that point.
Lunch was served as soon as we took off and then I think we all tried to sleep a little before landing. We actually landed a little bit early. Clearing Immigration was easy except the lady who was checking me in had a “slow” computer and it took forever. Heather and her staff were waiting for us and we collected our luggage and took it to the bus. I’ve known and worked with Heather for decades in Europe and Afghanistan. She’s the best! No one cares more about the troops than she does and it shows in the fact that she is getting entertainment back down this way for them.
We were supposed to have lunch at the airport and then go to the Embassy but no one was hungry after eating on the airplane. We sat in a restaurant at the airport to “kill time” because it was too early for us to go to the Embassy. My phone has cell service but can’t send or receive data. Right before we departed Atlanta to Honduras, I heard the news about a 6.5 magnitude earthquake in Kumamoto, Japan – my second home. Was so worried about Charlie and his family and all my friends in that area. We had WiFi in the restaurant so I was able to find out that everyone was okay but that there was a lot of damage – even to Charlie’s nightclub. My friend and promoter from Switzerland – Iris – was supposed to go to Kumamoto in a couple of days. She is already in the area with her Dad but now they have to change their plans because of the damage from the earthquake.
Getting into the Embassy was a “process” because of the tight security. They took our cell phones and all electronic devices away from us. But we definitely felt “safe” once we got inside. Julie and the other staff at the Embassy were ready for us and great to work with. We had a nice meeting with Ambassador Nealon and then went outside to a “courtyard” for the performance. The people working at the Embassy were so appreciative that we came by and performed for them.
We left the Embassy at 4:30 pm and hoped to be on base by 5:30 pm. It turned out to be around 6:40 pm before we arrived. We went up a huge mountain and down the other side right before arriving at the base. The Base Commander – Colonel Barzyk – was waiting for us when we arrived which was a nice surprise. He has been so supportive of our visit. Honduras hasn’t had a celebrity “musical” entertainer in decades. I was here on a USO Tour in 1994 with The Forester Sisters and Rick Orozco and that may have been the last visit they had by a celebrity musical group. They get more comedians and sports handshake tours than anything in this area.
We dropped our bags and immediately went to the DFAC for dinner. By that time, we were all starving! Went back to the room after dinner to see if my Xcom Global device that I rented was going to work. Was delighted to see it connect immediately. I had not been able to check email since we departed Atlanta and knew I would have hundreds! I moved the desk out from the wall to plug in my computer and the entire desk fell apart and dumped my computer and the Xcom Wifi on the floor! Then I was unable to connect to the internet! I had to call Heather to come back and get me and take me to her room so I could use her internet. It wasn’t as bad as I anticipated and I was finished in less than 2 hours. She offered to take me back to lodging but I told her I would walk.
They had warned us that there are poisonous snakes and skunks everywhere so I had my flashlight and was very cautious. We had seen a skunk on the way back from the DFAC tonight already. I didn’t see anything but I did get lost. I have no sense of direction and I should have known that I would. I stopped and asked a nice “Airman” (actually a lady) in a “Gator” if I was walking the right way. She offered to drive me to my lodging and I accepted quickly! Tomorrow I am going to get an internet “stick” from one of the ladies who works with Heather so I can get onine. It’s so frustrating not to be able to get my work done!!!
The lodging is so much better than we anticipated. All but 2 guys have their own rooms and those 2 have to share with each other. There’s a living area with a full kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom IN THE ROOM. That’s the best part – not having to hike to a latrine! Nothing in the way of amenities like we have in Asia lodging – no soap, shampoo, glasses, dishes, etc.
Going to bed now as it has been a long day. Not sure when I’ll be able to post this…..
FRIDAY, APRIL 15TH – FIRST SHOW AT SOTO CANO AIR BASE, HONDURAS:
I set the alarm for 5 am so I could shower and run over to the MWR facility and check emails before meeting everyone at 8:30 am for breakfast. I turned on the shower and – nothing! Well, almost nothing. There was a slight “trickle” of water coming out of the shower head and none of it was “warm” water. I waited and waited, but no luck. I finally tried the water in the kitchen sink and same thing happened…except the “sprayer” in the sink had a little pressure and a little warm water. It took me about 45 minutes to wash my hair! I rushed through dressing and started walking to the MWR facility. Got lost AGAIN and some nice folks picked me up in a Gator and dropped me off. Only the MWR facility doesn’t open until 9 am. Heather said that usually someone is there but because there was a “fun run” this morning, everyone was out working that.
Met the guys for breakfast at 8:30 and then the day “started”. We had a few minutes to run by MWR and let me check emails on my phone. That’s when I started seeing messages about how bad the earthquake was in Kumamoto. So worried that this isn’t the end of it because of all the aftershocks.
First on the agenda was an interview with AFN Radio. The DJ interviewing Darryl did a fantastic job, too! We met up with all the guys and went to say hello to Colonel Barzyk who was kind enough to meet us when we arrived yesterday. The really “cool” thing is, we ran into a guy who was our escort on Darryl’s very first tour to Kuwait and Afghanistan in 2002. He was our escort on the Kuwait portion and remembered us well. He isn’t even deployed here…just happened to be here briefly on business!
Next stop was the flight line to meet with 1-228th AVN. They have the “air power” in Honduras and showed us their helicopters and let everyone get on them if they wanted. Darryl, Soir, Joe and I have flown about everything there is but this is all new and very exciting for Roddy – who also happens to come from a military family. We also saw these tiny little bright yellow “prop” planes that were landing and learned that these are the planes the U.S. is using to train the Hondurans. Those same planes – although not bright yellow – were used for training in Iraq years ago.
Next stop was the DFAC again for lunch. I was able to go to the “short order” line and get a grilled chicken breast and then a salad from the salad bar and stick to my diet! The food at the DFAC is surprisingly good.
We had about 30 minutes to go to the MWR Center and check email. I saw where Kumamoto was having another 7.2 earthquake. I panicked and called Seiya and it was probably around 4 am in the morning there. He answered and said that he, Charlie and Toshiko were all in his car and parked in a “safe place”. I pray that is true. Now I’m worried about a Tsunami!
Roddy, Soir, and Joe all went to the venue to set up for the show. Darryl, Heather, our great photographer and I went to MEDEL to visit that group. They are the “medics” here on base. As we were visiting with them, a female asked me my name and said she had met me. Turns out she is the ex-wife of Storm Rhode who played guitar for Jolie Edwards when I managed her! We also met another guy who we had met in SWA on one of our tours. When we meet these people a second time and they remember our visits, it reinforces what a tremendous impact our tours have on those serving.
Next stop was ARFOR – the Air Force. While we were there, a young man who is a huge fan came in to have a photo taken. He also plays guitar and I think Darryl is going to bring him on stage tonight. Our visit ended early because there are fires in Panama and most of the base personnel are working on getting help down that way tomorrow. The guys were ready for Darryl to do a sound check, so we ran by there and knocked that out. It will be outdoor in front of a “club” called “The Last Resort”.
Last stop of the day was the 612 – again Air Force and this visit took place at their “bar” (The Oasis). Air Force usually has a hooch at every base dedicated as a “bar”. LOL.
We had about an hour before dinner so Ophelia came to my room to help me set up the USB Wireless stick she had filled for me. However, it wouldn’t connect without a password. She was about to take me with her to the shop where she purchased it when someone knocked on my door. It was the contractor who was going to fix my shower. Only he did not speak or understand one word of English. Opehlia speaks a little and was able to make him understand the problem. She had already taken the old shower head off and the minute she did, I had hot water and pressure! The water is just so bad here that calcium builds up in the shower head and clogs it. After a lot of “sign language”, he understood and said he had to go to his “shop” and get a new shower head. While he did that, Ophelia and I went to the shop and had them set up my wireless. It works! Now I have WiFi in my room!
The workman returned and brought the new shower head. He installed it and it works great now. Bad news is, he only had one shower head so he couldn’t fix Darryl’s.
We went to dinner and I had chicken frijitas without the tortilla. Again, it was really good food. We had another hour and a half before having to leave for the show so I got a lot of emails answered. I also called T-Mobile and told them the problem with my “data”. They sent me a new signal and guess what….my data comes through now.
Wifi fixed – check
Shower fixed – check
Cell Service fixed – check
We left for the show and it is much hotter because of the humidity and lack of a breeze at night. As we were leaving, Heather had the Gator in reverse and backed into the guy who was helping us. It’s supposed to “beep” when it’s in reverse, but it didn’t warn her or him. Fortunately, he’s okay!
We had a good crowd at the concert and Darryl performed for almost 90 minutes and then signed autographs for over an hour. He did bring the young man up on stage that we had met earlier today which was a highlight for everyone.
I left the boys to have “beverages” with the troops and have been getting caught up on my emails. Breakfast call is 7 am tomorrow and we leave for Lepaterique at 8 am tomorrow. It’s a 3 hour drive into the “jungle” and there are only 11 SF guys up there – who NEVER get a visit from anyone. Should be another great day!
SATURDAY, APRIL 16, 2016 – SOTO CANO TO LEPATERIQUE:
Met everyone at 7 am for breakfast and then was supposed to leave for Lepaterique at 8 am. The “truck” that was escorting our van was late arriving so we left a little bit later than we wanted. It was a LONG drive in a van, especially for our guys who are big boys. We did get Darryl in the front seat so he could stretch out his legs. It was back over the mountain which took about 1 ½ hours and then the roads turned to dirt for 1 ½ hours. Saw some interesting things on the flight up from what seemed to be horrible poverty to rows and rows of “houses” that the government had built for the citizens. Only, they forgot to provide the basic amenities for the homes – no roads, electricity, water, etc. etc. So they were being occupied by squatters. Then on a hillside, they were these really nice homes but they had all slide down the hill! Our escorts told us that the developer was “shot” because of what happened. Many people lost their life savings. The most heartbreaking part is seeing the really young kids – all who are beautiful – and looking at the houses they live in. They may never know a “better life” than this. Once we got on the dirt road, it was incredibly bumpy. I knew better than to sit in the back because I would have been so sick. I noticed that there were clothes lines full of clothing hanging out to dry and all the dust from the passing cars and trucks was blowing right on the clothes.
We finally arrived at our destination and met the guys – only 10 of them as one was away. They had arranged chairs in a circle outside and Darryl sang songs and talked to them and then we had them tell us about themselves. We gave everyone a coin, cd, and autographed photos and then had lunch with them. Lunch was chicken frijitas, rice and beans and it was excellent. We were short a few chairs to have everyone sit at one table, so I got up and went over and sat with the 3 guys who were sitting by themselves. And then I didn’t eat another bite. I talked and talked and talked with those amazing young men. There were some “camp dogs” there and one had puppies. I got to go see them, woke them up and petted them. Good thing we couldn’t take one back with us because Zac and Zoe would have had their dog!
Ride back seemed even longer but everyone was in such a great move because of our amazing visit today. We had tried really hard to get a chopper ride down to Guatemala to visit the Florida National Guard but it just didn’t work out. Now we know why…..we were supposed to go see these 10 guys. I know our visit made a tremendous impact on them and showed them how much we – and other Americans – care about them and the sacrifices they are making to keep our nation safe and free. Our escorts who rode up with us were awesome, too, and entertained us with some great stories.
We arrived back with just enough time to change clothes and go to dinner with Colonel Barzyk and lots of the other staff here at the base. I did take time to have Darryl cut a short PSA for AFE for his upcoming 4th of July tour to Korea before we left. Dinner was at a local restaurant and the food was terrific. It was great to get to relax and spend some time with the Commander – and start plotting how we can get him some more entertainment down this way! We were back at lodging by around 9:30 pm and most of the guys were headed over to MWR to use the WiFi. Soooo happy mine is still working in my room.
This has been the “perfect” tour – thanks to all the hard work Heather did to make it happen and the support Colonel Barzyk gave her. Darryl and his guys are the ultimate “Ambassadors” for country music and America and I’m so blessed to be able to work with everyone and to meet and shake the hands of the finest men and women in the world – our U.S. Military! Posting some great photos on Facebook but the they were taken through dirty windows in the van so not sure how “clear” they will be. We weren’t allowed to take photos of our visit today for security reasons but I will never forget their faces and the stories we shared with them.
Please continue your prayers for Kumamoto. The photos and videos of the destruction and devastation are heart-breaking.
SUNDAY, APRIL 17TH – HONDURAS TO NASHVILLE:
We met for breakfast at 8 am and were loaded onto the bus and driving to the airport at 9 am. Check in was relatively easy except for one “argument” about charging Darryl for his guitar as an “oversize” piece. I won the battle and the ticket agent was extremely apologetic for the mistake. We had some time after check in before going to the gate, so I shopped for the Z’s….but not a lot of choices!
We boarded later than anticipated but took off on time. I can’t believe I forgot to mention our “landing” at this airport in my report the first day. It was an incredibly frightening landing! We were cruising along and all of a sudden, the plane “nose-dived” and hit the ground. I’ve never had an approach that short! We learned that this is supposedly one of the most dangerous airports in the world for landings and take-offs! The pilot came out of the cockpit before we took off and he was a dead ringer for Leslie Neilson from the movie “Airplane” which certainly did not help with my anxiety about the take off. Once we taxied to the runway, the pilot gunned the engines like we were in a NASCAR race. And then we were off…and up in the air…and banking and clearing the mountain. We were told pilots are sent to this airport for “training”.
While we were waiting in line, we met Colonel Stanley who is the Senior Defense Official at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa. We had met his wife at the performance there on the 14th but he was away on business. He’s a big country music fan and was sorry to have missed the show. He was on our flight and we got to talk with him quite a while. Really super nice guy!
It was only a 3 hour flight to Atlanta and the meal was the same choices as when we flew down. I read most of the flight since WiFi only works in U.S. airspace and not worth paying for that short a time.
We landed Atlanta early, quickly cleared Immigration, picked up and rechecked all our luggage, cleared security and went to the Lounge for about an hour. The flight from Atlanta to Nashville was only 35 minutes. We landed early again and all our luggage and equipment made it.
Again, just a SUPER tour for our troops in Honduras. Sincere thanks to Heather and her staff, Colonel Barzyk, Jerome – our photographer, Darryl, Soir, Joe and Roddy, and all the amazing men and women serving in our U.S. Military in Honduras.