Rock band FILTER traveled to Kuwait and Iraq in February 2009 as part of a Stars for Stripes tour to entertain the troops. This was their 2nd trip to Kuwait where they performed a MYSPACE show in 2008, but this was their first time going into Iraq entertain the troops. FILTER is best known for the major hit “Take a Picture”, which topped the charts in 2000.
“It was an honor and a privilege for us to go to Kuwait and Iraq to perform for our men and women in the armed service, Our trip was life changing and simply incredible. I hope we were able to provide a little respite to our troops, who are doing an amazing job in a very difficult time. We are blown away by their dedication, and our journey there was the least we could do for them. We are also extremely grateful to Judy Seale and her Stars for Stripes organization for everything they do, and helping us achieve our dream of touring Iraq.” – Richard Patrick, lead singer, FILTER
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 8TH AND MONDAY, FEBRUARY 9TH:
Today I leave for Iraq again via Kuwait. John Adam Murph and I depart Nashville and meet the rock group “Filter” at Dulles in DC. This is my first tour with a rock band. Should be interesting. Should I survive the Mosh Pit, you can look forward to seeing me with lots of new tattoos and body piercings. J JAM and I arrived at the airport at about the same time and all the agents at the check-in counter know us by name now. Check in was painless as was clearing security. My son was flying to Florida today to work there next week and we met him at security and had a quick lunch with him at Noshville Deli. At least we thought it was quick. When JAM and I arrived at our departure gate, everyone was already on board the aircraft. JAM had an empty seat next to him but I was in the Exit Row and had a “seatmate”. Weather is beautiful, so flight was uneventful. Just the way I like it. We landed on time at Dulles and my friend Mike – the Secret Service Agent – met us at the gate. It is so sweet of him to meet me on my layovers. He’s a great guy. We landed at 4:30 pm and don’t board the Kuwait flight until 9 pm. We have the guitar player – Mitchell – coming in from Raleigh at around 5:30 pm and the rest of the group arrives from LA at around 6:30 pm. I had called all the LAX pax this morning to make sure everything was going smoothly and it was. The Red Carpet Lounge by our gate was completely full, so we went down the corridor to another lounge that is actually much nicer. It was pretty full, too. My friend, Jackie, from United was sweet enough to meet us at the lounge again. United has changed the departure time of our flight from Dulles back to Nashville and we only have 1 hour 11 minutes to clear immigration, pick up luggage, clear customs, re-check luggage, clear security and take a tram to the next terminal to catch the flight. I have that new “Global Entry” service, so I think I could make it because the most time is spent in line for Immigration. With Global Entry, I don’t stand in line….just go up to a computer kiosk and scan my passport and I’m through. Sure hope it works when we come back through. It will be my “first attempt” to use it. Mitchell arrived early and I had sent Mike to meet him since his flight was in another terminal and I was trying to get some emails answered. After traveling via tram to the other terminal, he learned that the gate had been changed to the terminal where we were. We moved to the first lounge since it was right beside our departure gate and most of the people had left for their flights. Mitchell is a sweetheart. If the other guys are as nice as him, it’s going to be a great trip. While in the lounge, we met a man who is retired military and now working Special Ops for Customs and Border Patrol and flying aircraft in Iraq. He’s going to be at Balad when we’re there and can hopefully attend our show on Valentine’s Day. My friend who is the General at Balad won’t be there for our visit. He’s home on “leave” and skiing in Colorado. Hate to miss him but really glad he’s home for a few days. Maybe I’ll see him when I come back next month with Chely or in April with Charlie Daniels. Have I mentioned that Balad is my favorite base in Iraq? Only about a hundred times, huh? J By the way, this is my 75th tour for the troops and 20th visit to Iraq. The other guys arrived early and I missed meeting them at the gate. Then they went to the other Lounge but called Mitchell and he directed them to us. Really, really nice guys – all of them – who are going to be fun to tour with. They are so gung ho to be going to Iraq, too, which is exactly what I want from them. They sat and autographed 1,000 photos while we were waiting. They have to do 1,000 more when we arrive Kuwait. We boarded a few minutes after 9 and Jackie obviously had a “chat” with the entire crew. They were SUPER nice and immediately asked if I was “Judy” and what could they do for me. A large bottle of water was delivered to me as soon as I boarded. LOL. I have these “segments” –not miles – that I can use to upgrade and I have enough to upgrade every time I fly. I never do because I’m not going to put the artists in business class while I fly in first class. But, this time, Richard – the lead singer – had back surgery a few weeks ago and was worried about the flight. I was able to upgrade myself and bring him up as my “traveling companion”. So, I’m getting the “royal” treatment in first class. Actually, they are so nice, it’s embarrassing. I don’t require a lot…just water. J A truly nice man named Chris even came on board and chatted with me. He’s in charge of all the ground crew. Gave me his business card and is going to mail me a travel book that he loves. Got off one last important email on my blackberry and then we departed. Not only do we have the regular video channel, but a selection of tapes to pick from. I chose Mama Mia since I’ve been wanting to see it. I drank the entire big bottle of water before I fell asleep because I felt so “guilty”. Then I had to get up and go to the bathroom every 30 minutes, so not much sleep! Other than quite frequent bouts of severe turbulence, the flight was uneventful. I was in one of those little cubicle type things next to the window and there’s no one sitting beside you so I couldn’t claw anyone’s arm when the turbulence hit. Sure missed that. Landed and our visas were waiting for us. Richard said he did okay with his back which is a good start. Got everyone checked into the hotel and they all went to dinner. I started answering hundreds of emails that arrived while I was flying. Went to the gym and worked out and then had a very late “light” dinner of sushi and soup with JAM. The restaurant was closing so JAM left his soup on the table and went up to get some more food before they closed down the buffet. When he got back, his soup was gone. He asked the waiter why he took his soup and the waiter was, of course, horrified that he had made a mistake. He brought him some more soup and then just as we were ready to leave, he brought this huge platter with skewers of grilled shrimp, chicken and beef. There was no way we could eat it and felt bad that they had gone to the trouble to prepare for us. Back in the room answering hundreds of more emails. Won’t have access to email after tomorrow, so need to stay on top of things now. Will get up and work out again tomorrow and then we go to Camp Buehring for tomorrow night’s performance. Buehring is where all the troops go when they first arrive from the U.S. and are waiting to go into Iraq for 12 months or so. Ft. Hood just sent a huge contingency that arrived a few days ago, so we should have a big crowd at our performance. My best friend has a son that is there and I’m going to try and find him and take some photos with him to send back to “Dad”. He looks exactly like his Dad in all the photos I’ve seen of him, so I shouldn’t have a big problem recognizing him. Going to bed in about an hour which means around 2 am. Jude
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 10TH: Bed at 2:15 am and was going to sleep until 7:00 am only I woke up at 5:30 am. Could not go back to sleep. JAM called at about 7:30 am in a panic. He was looking at Nashville time and thought he had missed the big breakfast buffet. J I worked out and then met him for breakfast. Shower and then answered tons of emails received overnight. We departed the hotel at 12:45 pm to Camp Buehring. First stop was the Commander’s Office Call. He showed the great video that they have prepared which tells all about Camp Buehring. There are about 8,000 troops here right now and I know that a large contingency of those are from Ft. Hood… including the young man I AM going to find today. After the office call, we went to the stage and our escort Sergeant Scott (great guy, by the way) was going to try and set up a Bradley tank ride for my guys. For some reason, there weren’t any “fun activities” planned for the guys today – no shooting range, tanks, etc. I think Kuwait is trying to make the day easier because everyone is just “toast” when they arrive Iraq. But the reason they are toast is because we have to arrive at the flight line 4 hours prior to flight time and DO NOTHING. Add the 1 ½ hour drive from the hotel to the flight line. Really ridiculous and we’re working on ways to change that. We all went to grab either food from the food court or like me, coffee. Then Sarge came back and said the tank ride was set up and we left for that area. The dust is 100 times worse out in that area. So think you have to wear sunglasses when outside or you will be blinded. I had taken the Bradley ride before so I opted out. The guys loved it because they got a little “wild” with the ride. Good fun for them. Went back to the stage and while the guys were doing sound check Sarge took Jam and I in search of Chris, my friend’s son. We found his tent but he was “out and about” so we left messages for him. Went back to the stage and took the band to the DFAC for dinner. I was watching every person who came in, trying to read the name tapes to see if I could locate Chris. We did find his superior officer and left strict instructions with him that Chris was to come to the show site, tell security his name and come backstage. Right before the show started, security came in and told me my “friend” was there. Oh My God! This kid looks exactly like his dad. (Okay, he’s not a kid. Married with a newborn beautiful little daughter!) Even smiles and talks like him. I am sure I embarrassed him to death. Took him backstage with his friend – Kyle – to meet the band and Filter was so nice to chat with them for a while. Then I took photos of me hugging him so I could prove to his dad that I gave him a hug for him. We even called his Dad in Nevada and talked to him. I think Dad “warned” his son about me but by that time, it was much too late. J Spent the entire show chatting with Chris instead of watching the band but I have 4 more opportunities in Iraq to do that and this was my only time with Chris. Such a wonderfully, polite young man. He goes into Iraq in a couple of weeks and I’m sure I’ll see him on one of my future tours. This was the highlight of the tour for me…be very hard to top this on our tour this time. The show was AWESOME. Filter totally rocks. And Coaxial, our production company, pulled out all the stops and had the “disco lights and smoke machine” at full blast. Told the guys not to get attached to those special effects because we won’t have them in Iraq. LOL. Autograph line was long but moved quickly because we had pre-autographed the photos and had Filter take a personal photo with each person. Took about an hour and a half to run through about 300 people. We were told that we have to leave the hotel at 4:30 am tomorrow to go to the flight line. However, I had emails saying flights are not flying. I have a friend who has access to weather info in Iraq and when I called him, he said that flights were grounded as well. I just can’t convince our Kuwait reps that this is true, so I guess we’ll get up and go to the flight line at 4:30 am. Want to put money on the fact that we don’t fly anywhere at 9 am tomorrow as scheduled? I’m thinking tomorrow afternoon will be the earliest flights will be back in operation. So, don’t get to go to bed again tonight and everyone will arrive smoked into Iraq. Got to get this changed SOMEHOW! Can’t email from Iraq so the rest of my road reports will come in when I get back to Kuwait. Jude
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 11TH, 2009: So, I forgot to mention that the dust was so bad yesterday that it was hard to breathe. When we went out to the tank range, my camera quick working just in the 5 minutes I was taking photos. We had to buy alcohol wipes and compressed air and JAM fixed it for me. I woke everyone up at 3:45 am and we all met in the lobby at 4:15 am. JAM had to go knock on Richard’s door because his phone was off the hook. When he opened his door, he said “Dude, I can smell dirt in my room”! You would not believe the dust. The hallways were filled and it was seeping into the rooms. When we got to the lobby, the smoke detector kept going off and the staff had to stand in front of it constantly to turn it off. This is my 21st tour to Kuwait and I have been in lots of dust storms but never one this bad. The hotel staff said the same thing. KBR was still saying they were manifesting people. We were very concerned about driving for two hours under the current weather conditions. We discussed this with our Kuwait escort and our security escorts. They could not make the decision for us not to go to the air field since KBR was saying our flight was going to take off. Since I was not comfortable making the decision, I left it up to the band. My main concern was safety. At 4:45 am, the band decided it was too dangerous to even try and drive the 2 hours to the air field. I sent everyone back to their rooms and waited for further instructions. If the weather lifts, we’ll get a later flight. If not, we’ll perform another show in Kuwait. One thing that weighed in on the safety issue is the way the people in Kuwait drive. Yesterday en route to Camp Buehring, we met two cars head on driving on the wrong side of the interstate. Thankfully there was a car in front of us who saw them and we were able to divert a head on collision. Then driving back last night, the wind was blowing so hard that the bus was being blown around on the highway. The wind is blowing much harder today and the dust is 10 times as thick. Well, we waited all day and weren’t able to do anything. We were told that our flight did take off from Kuwait and landed in Iraq. So, we missed our first show in Iraq which just makes all of us sick. Richard needed to go to a pharmacy today and I sent John with him. It was supposed to be across the street from the hotel but too far to walk. The hotel drove them and they said visibility was non-existent and cars were flying past them at 80+ miles per hour. They both said there is no way we should have tried driving for 2 hours under those conditions. I’m sure we made the right decision but it doesn’t make it any easier to disappoint the troops. I slept for about 2 hours since I never went to bed last night then worked all afternoon on emails and business back home. Got even more distressing news late tonight that there are no flights that will get us to Iraq tomorrow. Hopefully Kuwait can come up with a performance for us here again tomorrow and we’ll fly to Iraq on Friday and perform a show that same day. Then we have a performance on Saturday and fly back to Iraq and home Sunday night. I am SOOO bummed by this situation. It’s 2:45 am already, so I’m going to bed and hope for the best tomorrow. Sure wish a miracle would happen and we’d get out of here to Iraq. Jude
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 12TH: Got up early and worked out again. Never have I had this much time to exercise while on one of these tours. Still can’t get a flight to Iraq today. Nothing to do with weather – just availability. The dust is still lingering but I can at least see “shapes” outside my window now. Breathing is getting much easier, too. Called our Kuwait contacts first thing to see if we could perform here in Kuwait and they advised it was not possible. Still too much dust to set up equipment outside and the only indoor venue only holds a little over 200 people….much too small for our “sound”. So, another BORING day at the Radisson. I’m sure getting a lot of emails answered! Met John for breakfast and he mentioned that Richard had asked about extending the tour to make up the shows that we missed. I made some calls and figured out that we could do so at relatively small expense. But, we had to wait for Filter’s business manager in LA to open up so we could determine their availability. Didn’t find out until late tonight that a couple of the guys have commitments in the U.S. that won’t allow them to stay an extra couple of days. Was really hoping this would work out. The restaurant and hotel staff are still falling all over themselves to “please” me. John insists that when they have their morning meetings, there is a power point presentation and my photo flashes up with the words, “Do You Know This Woman”. I told him if that’s true, the next slide is one of him with the caption, “Sometimes accompanied by a small red-neck with long hair”. The restaurant staff absolutely “hovers” and makes me uncomfortable. If I get up, my chair is pulled back before I can move. They put my napkin in my lap, refill my coffee cup if I take a sip, etc., etc. Housekeeping forgot to leave packets of coffee, creamer and Sweet and Low today. I called down to the front desk and asked if I could come down and pick up some. Absolutely NOT. Someone would bring it up. It took a while and I forgot that I had called, when someone knocked on the door. Thinking it was probably John, I had a $5 bill in my hand when I opened the door and started to say, “So are you here for your tip” when I realized it was housekeeping. The guy had his hands overflowing with multiple packets of coffee, sugar, sweetner, creamer, and tea of all flavors! This is the first time we’ve been at the Radisson on a Thursday and there is a standing (but very true) joke about “man love Thursday”. John and I have had a lot of fun with that all day with the guys. I think they are a little nervous. There are two rooms of guys who checked in wearing the long white robes and they are staying next to my room – 6 to a room! Hmmmm….Dave Price, eat your heart out. He is the master of jokes about Man Love Thursday. LOL! We DO have a flight out tomorrow and will pick up where we are supposed to perform on the original itinerary. Means we won’t be performing at Mosul or Q-West because those shows were supposed to happen yesterday and today. I hate it because they are way up North where it had previously been the most dangerous area and they really need the entertainment. Maybe something will happen once we get to Iraq and the band will figure out a way to stay over. Going to bed soon. We have a 9:30 am lobby call with wheels up at 2:30 pm. Yep…several hours wait at the flight line, as usual. Going to bed very soon so I can get up and answer emails and work out before departing. I found huge articles in all the newspapers today about the dust storm. All the papers stated it is the “worst dust storm in the history of Kuwait”. Also told that there were 48 accidents – also a record – and 13 very serious injuries. Wind speeds were blowing up to 85 kph and visibility was less than 100 meters. I am convinced we made the right decision by not agreeing to travel in those conditions! Off to Iraq! Jude
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 13TH: The boys were so excited to finally be leaving Kuwait and “doing” something that they were up much earlier than they had to be. Everyone had breakfast and gathered in the lobby. Escorts were on time and we departed the hotel at 10 am. Arrived at Ali Al Salem at 11:15 am and got everything palletized and manifested. Took the guys to the DFAC for a quick lunch, then back to the PAX terminal for roll call. We took the bus to the flight line and had the same nice lady that we had last time driving us. She’s from Texas and proud of it. She immediately remembered me and JAM and kept complimenting me on how pretty my hair was. LOL. Wait until I have to put that helmet on! The guys got all their “battle rattle” issued them and kept it on long enough for some fun photos. Then realized how heavy it is and took it off. We arrived at the plane by 1:30 pm and they were ready for us. Flight crew was out of Texas and very nice. I gave them all the usual gifts and since we had several troops on one side of the plane flying with us to Kirkuk, I gave all of them photos and guitar picks and told them to come to the show tonight. One of the soldiers told me that they had been trying to get to Mosul for 3 days. I told him we had, too. Then he told me that they got on a flight on Wednesday morning in the dust storm and flew all the way to Mosul, couldn’t land, and had to turn around and come all the way back to Kuwait. That was our flight! So, if I had taken the risk, forced the guys to drive to the airfield that morning, we still would not have gotten into Mosul for the performance. Right before we departed, one of the guys in the flight crew came down and asked me if I wanted to go up on the flight deck. Of course, I did, but instead I thanked him and asked if my guys could take turns going up since they had never done it. He agreed and Richard and Mika when up for take-off. Throughout the flight, I rotated everyone up in 20 minute shifts and it was quite the treat for them. Richard and Mika went back up for landing – where I would like to have been. They talked the pilots into a very serious combat landing, pulling about 4 G’s a couple of times. One poor little Asian female contractor was sitting in the middle of our group and I thought she was going to pass out. Several of my guys looked a bit green, too! Landed early and our escorts were there to meet us. I ran into the ladies room as soon as we landed and when I came out of the stall, the little Asian lady came out of another one and said, “I hated that flight!”. J We went to lodging which is a long building for the guys with separate “rooms” where they share 5-6 to a room. Good news is toilets are inside the building so they don’t have far to walk. I’m in a separate unit that is a bit of a walk from them but have my own “room” with a bathroom….quite the luxury. There is a tv, phone and internet cable that is restricted to military use only (of course I HAD to try it out. Didn’t work.) My phone was a DSN line and I tried several times to call and say “Happy Valentine’s Day” but couldn’t figure out how to get through to a U.S. DSN number. Should have gotten instructions. We got our luggage and then went to the DFAC for a quick dinner. After dinner, the guys went to the stage for sound check. John told me that the only bathrooms there were incredibly nasty. Now, I’ve had burn buckets in Afghanistan, so I didn’t think I would be too shocked. Wrong. Those were the nastiest portapotties I’ve seen since the beginning of the war in Iraq! YUCK. Show started on time and it was LOUD and WILD. Huge crowd attended and they loved the show. We were told that there are about 900 Air Force personnel here and 4,000 Army personnel. The Air Force handles all the entertains that come through. Our escorts were very “new” on the job…only been here a few days and this is their first show. They did a SUPER job. We also learned that this is a joint base with Iraqis living here as well. By the way, we are at FOB Warrior in Kirkuk. I’ve been here once but a very long time ago and it looks nothing like it did then. The Iraqis on base are Air Force and our Air Force is training their pilots to fly the little Cessnas. Richard forgot the name of the base where we are and made reference in his show to “So how do you guys like being in Kabul” (that’s Afghanistan!!!). He got this weird look on his face like he’d give anything to pull those words back into his mouth. The audience just sort of looked at him with questioning eyes. JAM swears that two guys in the front row took out their orders and checked them. LOL. Guys were asked back for an encore and then we did the autograph session. The show was outside and it had gotten very cold. We had to do the autographs outside as well. The stage is located in the middle of a bunch of trailers that sell things…jewelry shop, photo shop, Green Beans Coffee, etc. We stood in front of the Photo Shop and took pictures with everyone and gave them an autographed photo. About 30 minutes into the session, a mortar hit and all the troops yelled for us to GET DOWN. My guys were face down before I could blink. I’ve been through so many of these, it no longer scares me. But I remember my first one and how it felt. JAM was face down next to me and I saw him slowly raise his head to look for all the Filter guys. One of the guys – John the Filter bass player – had actually crawled up under the trailer! He said he was lying there thinking, yeah, I can fit and I won’t be pushing anyone out of the way since no one else is under there. His eyes were as big as saucers when we looked at him. I saw Richard “eyeing” him and knew what he was thinking. He was thinking, yeah, there’s room for both of us. But before he could act on his thought, the siren sounded and we had to run for the nearest bunker. Everyone started spreading out and I was yelling “Filter. Over this way”. JAM ran faster than I’ve ever seen him move. He kept trying to take my arm but I wasn’t running and he finally just gave up and took off without me. We actually didn’t go into a bunker but just sat inside some concrete walls. Because you have to sit there for a long time, it turned into a mini-photo/autograph session. Red Alarm means incoming – get down. Then they sound the Black Alarm which means they are out looking for the IED’s or mortars. Then finally they sound the Green Alarm which means it is “All Clear”. We also realized that the area where we were sitting housed a 10,000 gallon fuel tank filled with gasoline. Real safe choice, huh? When they sounded the green alarm, we went back to the photo shop area and about 100 people had already lined up again. It was great! We finished up autographs at around midnight. The guys kept saying how lucky they were that the mortar didn’t go off during the show. JAM told them it probably did but they were so loud that we never hear it. LOL
I went and checked email very quickly and then went back to my room to shower. Some of the guys went to midnight chow. I was much too tired! We have to be ready to go at 8 am tomorrow unless we want to eat breakfast. In that case, it’s 7 am. I won’t be having breakfast. J SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 14TH – HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY: Got up at 6:30 am and dressed for the day. Left lodging at 8:00 am and gave everyone boxes of Valentine’s candy. We drove over to the PAX terminal where we had to wait for 3 hours for our 11:30 am wheels up to Balad. One of the Colonels on the base came by and coined the guys. He said it was a 30 mm round that hit last night but it didn’t detonate. They are still looking for it but haven’t found it yet. He said the rounds usually hit very close to where he is. I asked him why we were even standing in the same room with him. So, today is Balad – my favorite base in Iraq. My friend, General Bishop, is on R&R leave with his family so we won’t see him this visit. Maybe we’ll get to go back through with Chely or Charlie Daniels. I’ve been going to that base since 2004 and have so many wonderful memories of those visits. We landed and they won’t let our escorts drive out to the plane to meet us any more. We boarded a bus and I hoped for the best on getting them to the right place. Turns out there’s only one place the buses go…to the PAX terminal. Jeremy is a terrific escort and met us there. We drove straight to the DFAC so the guys could have lunch. Then we dropped the techs off at the stage and took the artists to the Hospital. Really enjoyed touring it but always remember the special visit with the little burned boy – Saddam – that Willie introduced Aaron Tippin and I too. Didn’t see any children this time. Met one guy who had his tonsils taken out yesterday. Then we met this guy who remembered me. He says I met him over Thanksgiving with Aaron Tippin at WarHorse. He definitely looked familiar. Said I asked him where the portapotty was and when he told me they were really nasty, I pooh-poohed him. Must have had to go really bad, huh? I asked him what happened to him and the threw back the sheet and right in my face was this huge, bloody, gaping HOLE with bone showing through in his leg. I thought I was going to pass out and ran as fast as I could. The bass player almost threw up. JAM caught me and said, “You asked him what was wrong with him!” Gee, thanks. Bet I’ll be more careful next time how I phrase my question. After the hospital visit, we went to see the F16s…my favorite thing to do and something that I specifically requested for my boys’ visit. They LOVED it because they are SUCH airplane freaks. “Buck” gave us the tour and I tried to shame him into giving me a coin. He said he didn’t have any on him. I asked him if he was coming to the show tonight and when he confirmed he would be there, promised him an “incentive package” if he brought me one. After the tour, we went to lodging to shower for the show. I ran up to the main office to check my email hoping I’d have a “valentine” card and I did…even though I got one before I left, too. While I was in there, a soldier with “rank” came in and demanded a room for the night. He was not very nice and the lady working the desk politely told him she did not have any vacancies. He was rude and belligerent but she stood her ground. When he finally left in a “huff”, the little guy who had let me use his computer goes, “Wow. I would have caved in for sure and found him SOMEWHERE to sleep. I just can’t do that. I’m too intimidated”. I turned around, looked him in the eye, pointed my finger at him and said, “I want a million dollars and I want it now”! You should have seen the look on the kid’s face. Went back to my room to dress for the show. Richard’s room is right across from me and I heard his door open and figured he was going to the bus. Then I heard him walking around yelling “Marc”, “Marc”. He didn’t know which trailer Marc was in so I guess he was just taking a chanced he would hear him. I went out and tried to find him but instead found Marc in the gazebo smoking. Marc said, “I thought I heard someone calling my name” so I had to tell him what was going on. I finally found Richard with the other guys and asked him if he had been calling Marc. He said, “yeah but these two big dudes came out and weren’t happy with me”. LOL We went to sound check and they catered dinner into the backstage so we didn’t have to go to the DFAC. The theatre was filling up an hour before show time which was great. Sal and John and lots of my “buddies” from previous visits here came backstage to say hello. I had brought everyone Valentine’s Candy and a Filter cd. John introduced the band and then they hit the stage full blast. We had 12 wounded heroes in the front row and Filter immediately recognized them and thanked them. Marc had to write down “Balad” and spell it phonetically for Richard so he wouldn’t screw up the name of the base tonight. I tried to get him to write “Baghram” but he wouldn’t do it. Everyone was sitting down at first but Richard had some choice words for them and soon everyone was packed a close as they could get to the stage. I looked into the audience and there was Jeremy and another girl who was escorting us right in front, head bobbing and jumping up and down! I was shocked. J This was the perfect ending to the tour. Show could not have been any better. I went backstage to thank the guys and the Colonels also came back to thank them. I told them that I had good news and bad news and which did they want first. They asked for the bad first. They had been asking me all day what time we’re flying out tomorrow, even though they know we won’t know until around 10 pm tonight. I told them that there are absolutely NO flights to Kuwait tomorrow because of another dust storm and that’s the bad news. The good news is…we’ll get to make up one of the shows we missed. You should have seen their faces. They all started asking questions and I had Jeremy jump in and confirm what I’d told them. Then things got hectic with saying good-byes to the Colonels. When everyone had left, I started to walk out of the room but they stopped me and wanted to know more about what I had told them. I didn’t miss a step, just looked over my shoulder and said, “Oh that! I was lying” and kept going. First there was dead silence and then they cracked up. See, I can be a “rock star” groupie, too. J The autograph line as long but because we had pre-signed, it moved quickly. We finished in about an hour and a half. It was only 10:10 pm and we all came back to lodging to try and make an early night of it. I had to go check my email and now here I am at the computer working away. When the artist is posing for photos, I’m waiting for the person to hand them an autographed photo when they finish. I always have people who want to “help” and hand out the photos for me but I refuse. That’s my chance to get to speak to everyone in line and say “thank you”. Every show, someone will come up to me and say they met me at “so and so”. One guy even remembered me from the Craig Morgan/Jolie Edwards tour in 2003! That is so awesome to me. Lots of times, I’ll remember their face but if not, I always remember when they start telling me where we met. Jude
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 15TH:
They had breakfast set up for us in the DVQ this morning. Just cereal, bagels, fruit, and COFFEE! J Perfect. Everyone was ready on time. Richard and Marc were all excited because they had seen a UMV flying low over them this morning. Told them it was just my friend in Nevada spying on us. They found it fascinating that the UMV’s are controlled by someone in the U.S. I actually had no idea either until it was all explained to me last year. I guess the launch and landing is handled at the “local” base, but the base in Nevada controls them in the air. Pretty incredible. We met a lot of soldiers who were heading home on R&R and they were on our flight. Most of them did not get to attend the show last night, so we gave them photos. Our flight – a C130 – was on time and I asked if we could board first so I could give the flight crew the goodies I had for them. We had 39 people total and only 42 seats plus our two huge pallets. The flight crew was great and they were returning to their home base of Ramstein, Germany in 3 days. I gave them my card and told them I would be there at the end of March with the Bellamy Brothers and if they came to the show, I’d buy them a drink. I sent one of the Filter guys and JAM up for take off and then I took Mika up with me for the landing. We had to make one stop in Baghdad to let 3 of the passengers get off. It was only a 30 minute flight from Balad to Baghdad. They did a combat landing but it wasn’t too bad. Mika and I were both on headsets and we sat and talked while they were letting the 3 Baghdad passengers off. Mika said that he couldn’t hear in his head set. He had the volume turned all the way up and the pilot turned it up from his side as well. He still couldn’t hear. So, I told him to swap with me because mine was working fine. When I put his on, it almost blew out my eardrums. I told the pilots he must have blown his eardrums out from all the loud rock music!!! Then, Mika leans over and says, “Oh. I know what’s wrong. I have my ear plugs in”! Pretty cute. Mika and I went down and let Richard and John go up for take off. Then John came down and let John the soundman go up for landing in Kuwait. That was about a 45 minute flight. Found out there was a dust storm in Kuwait when we landed but it had cleared up a lot throughout the day. We took a bus to Tent 3 where our MWR escorts were waiting for us to arrive. While we were waiting for the pallet with our luggage/gear, we all went to the food court to grab a quick, not-very-healthy lunch. Okay, mine was healthy because I had tuna on wheat from Subway! J When we left Kuwait a couple of days ago (and it seems like a month ago!), the guy who gave us the briefing used the word “PALLATIZE” about 30 times in 3 sentences. So, for this entire trip, Richard has been yelling “Palletize” in this amazing redneck accent and cracking everyone up. I’ve ask him to MP3 it to me so I can make it my “sign on” message on AOL when I’m online. The lobby of the Radisson has this huge marble ball in a fountain and it is suspended in the water. It is constantly spinning. Guys admitted that Marc had leaned over and pushed on the ball and fallen into the fountain up to his shoulders when we were here before. Not only was he soaked from the waist up, but the front desk staff and the entire band saw what happened. The USO has a group of actors here heading into Afghanistan and it is being escorted by one of the guys that I know. Ran into him in the hallway and he said the dust storm delayed their flight and they were heading to the PAX Terminal to try and get out tonight. Sure hope they make it. Troops in Afghanistan really need the morale boost, too. I repacked my bags, went to the gym and worked out, showered, answered some email and then met the guys downstairs for our “wrap up dinner”. Everyone is in a great mood and as is the case with every tour, it was life-changing for everyone. They all have some very special memories to take home with them and “digest”. I think that probably the mortar attack was at the top of their list. However, they all agreed that they never felt like they were not safe at any time. They know the troops are going to take excellent care of them, no matter what the situation. John filmed a short statement by each person as I’ve been asked to bring back footage for Great American Heroes to use on their site. Dinner was a fun, reflective time and I have to say that I have loved working with this group. They definitely want to come back and I definitely want to bring them back! Leaving for the airport at 10:00 and for the first time, MWR is not taking us. The hotel is driving us there. MWR has a lot of groups in at this time and don’t have enough staff or vehicles to handle everything. I’ll write more on the airplane and “reflect” on our visit. J Jude
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 16TH:
Left for the airport on time and as I said, this was the first time the Radisson has taken us. It worked perfectly. No problems at all getting there. Then we had to go through our first security check and fight off the “piranhas”, aka skycaps as the luggage came off the belt. They will grab one piece of luggage or gear, put it on a cart and then another one will come up and grab another piece. You can end up with 25 skycaps, each with one piece, all waiting for a tip. Or you end up with a 70 lb anvil case on top of your personal luggage. Took a little negotiating but we finally got things sorted and loaded. Got to the check-in counter and I took the business class passengers through their line. John with Filter came up to me and said they were questioning the 4 pieces of excess for the coach passengers. I went to the counter to talk to the agent and noticed immediately that it is a guy who has always been a real jerk to all my groups. He didn’t fail me this time. I had already talked to Scott with United who had approved the excess. I mentioned Scott’s name and the jerk informed me that he had only approved 2 pieces. Evidently Scott misread my email to him because I gave him the total number of pieces and the destination for each person. Since I am “Global” on United, I’m allowed to check 3 pieces. Only I didn’t have 3 pieces. That’s where the confusion started. The jerk kept jerking us around and I finally told him I wanted to pay for the excess immediately so we could get to the gate. I also reminded him that Delta now has a new nonstop service to Kuwait and we’d be trying that airline for our next visit. Since I spend in excess of $50,000 per month with United, you’d think he could be a little “nicer” to the passengers. He changed his opinion and called Scott. I talked to Scott, apologized for the confusion and he agreed that we could check the excess. I don’t mind paying but when the entertainers and their groups donate their time to go over and perform for our troops, you’d think the airline could do something as simple as waive 4 pieces of excess considering that we pay full fare prices for the seats. From there we had to go through Immigration and the “Business Class” counter was closed because the guy was talking on the phone! Love the service in Kuwait. Then we had to go through our second security scan. I took the guys to the Lounge and we sat for about 30 minutes where JAM managed to break a plate that sounded like the lounge was under attack when it hit the floor. Hey, I had warned all the guys not to sit near him if he was eating for drinking anything. J We left the lounge for the departure gate and all the business class passengers had Yellow cards that allowed us to go through out 3rd security scan first. Only, it didn’t work that way. They would take one of us and then one person from the regular line. Took forever to get through. They also confiscated Scott’s roll of gaff tape. I’ve never heard of that before. Maybe they thought he was going to use it to tie up someone? Met the nice flight attendant that Jackie had emailed me about and he had my bottle of water waiting for me. J I didn’t eat because it’s the same selection every flight and it’s horrible food. I worked for about 2 hours and then tried to sleep. It was not a “peaceful” sleep but one of those where you know everything that is going on around you and wake up tired. We landed an hour early which was a true blessing because United changed the flight schedules to Nashville. JAM and I have 1 hour and 11 minutes to go through Immigration, pick up bags, clear Customs, re-check luggage, go through security and take the shuttle to our gate. The extra hour is much appreciated. ONLY…..Immigration doesn’t open until 6 am and they had the doorway closed. Everyone on the flight came down the escalator and were trying to pack into the tiny room waiting for the doors to open. We were finally allowed to go through and I tried my new “Global Access”. It worked like a charm. Took about 2 minutes to use the computer kiosk, printed out my Customs form and I was out the door to the luggage area. I recommend this for anyone who travels frequently. JAM and the others all came through Immigration complaining about their agent. Evidently one agent told JAM he had sing “Take a Picture” – one of Filter’s top hits. He thought the agent said, “I’m going to take your picture” but the agent said, “No, I said SING”. JAM didn’t know the song, so he was so intimidated that he hummed a few lines! Then he tried the same thing on 5 of the other guys. The manager told him to forget it because he was late for a flight and he walked off. The others all refused to sing, too! Good thing I didn’t have to go through that line. Now, if one of us as passengers had pulled something like that, we would have been taken into custody! All the luggage came in and there were big hugs all around before we went our separate ways. Went through Customs, re-checked the bags, went through Security Scan (have never figured that one out. You get off an international flight where you have been through 3 security scans, yet you have to go through another security scan when you land. Not sure where you would have been able to pick up anything between boarding the flight and deplaning.). As I was sitting just outside the security scan, a guy came up to me and told me he knew me. Said he escorted one of my tours in Iraq. He couldn’t remember the name of the celebrities but said it was the tour that the “2 Star General” was with us! I knew which one it had to be and then I recognized him. Pretty cool that he remembers me from that long ago. Okay, so he remembered the 2 Star General, not me or the celebs! J JAM and I went to the Lounge closest to the gate area. Has almost an hour to kill before our flight. Jackie (friend at United) had been able to get the gate changed for the flight departure so we didn’t have to take the tram to another terminal. JAM was walking around talking on his phone and I was answering email. Got up to get some coffee and a man that was also sitting in the lounge walked up to me and said, “That outfit looks really good on you”! I was speechless for a minute and then I thanked him and told him that was nice to hear since I’d been wearing it for so long. Actually, I’d had it on almost 24 hours, slept in it, had “bus” hair and most of my makeup was gone. I’m sure I looked especially “fetching”! Flight left on time and landed early. Nice to be home for a couple of weeks before going back to Iraq with Chely Wright. Of course, I probably have to go to DC before I go back to Iraq. Ah well….guess I’ll never get bored with my life. I always have such a hard time explaining why these tours are so uplifting and inspiring. I’m going to let one of the guys who saw Filter’s performance tell you his version:
Last night you preformed for us here at JBB, Iraq. I wanted to let you know how grateful we are for everything you did for us. The band gave us an opportunity if even for a brief moment to forget where we are and show us how much we’re appreciated. After the concert was over and the band came running back on stage to give us that one last song, they stood in the lobby to greet all who wished to meet them. I approached the band and was astonished for such a big band to shake my hand, tell me thank you and look at me as a hero. It seemed as if they were standing in line anxious and humbled to meet everyone of us. There is a great deal one can tell of someone by their eyes and to see an honest, humble, and sincere look is very rare. I experienced this from each member as they shook my hand and thanked me. I remember one member specifically looking dead into my eyes when I thanked him and could tell he in a way saw the exhaustion and pain in all of us. I thank you for myself and everyone else that you gave that one precious moment to, to forget where we all are. With all sincerity Thank you.
V/R Derrick M. Lynn Joint Base Balad “Heart of the Dragon!”