In 2003, Gary Sinise was one of the first celebrities to go in to Iraq after the start of the war. Now, some 9 years later, Gary is one of the last celebrities to go into Kuwait to entertain the troops as they do their final out-processing before coming home, thus coming full circle. Gary is known for many acting roles particularly ‘Lt. Dan’ in “Forrest Gump”, “Ransom”, “The Green Mile”, “Apollo 13” and his most current being ‘Mac’ on “CSI: NY”. Above all, Gary is genuine person and one of the greatest patriots of mankind.
PHOTOS (Courtesy of Anson Dionisio)
PHOTOS (Courtesy of James Bemus)
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 25TH – NASHVILLE TO CHICAGO: Leaving for Chicago today to meet up with the Lt. Dan Band and escort them to Kuwait (via DC) tomorrow. This is one of the largest tours I’ve ever taken over and it’s only for one concert. But, oh what a fantastic concert. If you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing Gary Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band perform, you’ve missed the greatest concert ever. Their show is a mix of Country, Rock, Pop, Blues – you name it – cover songs so you recognize every tune. Have really been looking forward to this visit with the troops. Day started out with problems, as usual. United Airlines has gone out of their way to make sure we are “accommodated” on our flights. This morning United changed the aircraft for our return flight which means all the seat assignments were arbitrarily changed on everyone. I anticipated this because they ALWAYS change the aircraft – usually 2 or 3 times before departure. I had emailed United’s Global Services Rep all the seating requirements and confirmation numbers. They immediately jumped to action and got the seating adjusted as originally requested. It has rained all day and Chris (my son) and I were on a small plane on American Airlines from Nashville to Chicago. Wasn’t too turbulent and I slept most of the 1 hour 20 minute flight. Departed and landed on time and walked across the street to the Hilton Hotel where we are spending the night. There are a total of 22 people traveling and 15 of those are flying roundtrip Chicago. I was worried about the weather, here, in Nashville and in DC, so decided to fly up to Chicago so I could fly with most of the group. It is 1 am and I have to get up at 4 am to be back at the airport at 6 am tomorrow morning, so going to bed very soon! Jude
THURSDAY, JANUARY 26 – CHICAGO TO KUWAIT: Got up at 4 am and showered and dressed. Usually I will turn my blackberry and computer on first thing but guess my 3 hours of sleep had me a little disoriented. I also didn’t notice the coffee maker in my room until about an hour after I got up. Boy, was I happy to see that! Started checking my email at 5 am and there was one from United for one of the musicians on the trip saying his flight had been canceled! Nothing to me. Then I noticed I had voice mails on my Blackberry from the tour manager. The flight from Chicago to Dulles had been canceled and were all rebooked on later flights and not the same flight. I immediately called Jon and Jackie – the wonderful people with United in Dulles who have been helping us. Jon was already up and working on it and trying to get us all on the same flight. We had scheduled to take the earliest flight up with a long layover because of my fear of weather issues in January in Chicago and DC. I was wondering if the flight canceled because of fog but since I could see the runways from my hotel window and there were planes taking off and landing, knew that wasn’t the case. United said it was “mechanical”. I would have thought that knowing that early, they could have just found another plane. Jon was able to get us all booked on the flight departing at 11:30 and arriving around 2:00 pm so we had several hours before needing to go to the airport. I was able to answer emails and order an egg white omelet for breakfast before heading over to the airport. Once at the airport, we found a special room where Global Service passengers are allowed to check in. There were 2 agents working it and I told them what had happened and asked if they could handle the additional 13 passengers. They were very nice but said they couldn’t tie up the Global Service area because they had someone from the Mayor’s Office and Governor’s Office checking in. They were nice enough to set up a special check in counter at the end of the United counters and allow everyone to check in there. The musicians started arriving and I couldn’t get the agent who was supposed to be checking us in to come to the counter. I knew how long it had taken me and Chris to check in and figured it would take about 10 minutes minimum to get each passenger checked in. I was right. He finally got everyone checked in and we headed to the Lounge. Gary had sent me a text saying he had heard what happened and that I must be “psychic” since I knew to fly to Chicago last night to fly with the group. Not really. As you know, it just happens with all my trips. J Everything was fine with him even though his alarm didn’t go off and he was headed for the airport for his flight that was on time. He had 2 people flying with him. One person arrived DC this morning on the red eye from San Francisco, two people were flying in from Birmingham, David (my production manager/savior) was flying in from Savannah and one passenger had flown from Kentucky to Chicago very early that morning. The only “flaw” in changing aircraft was that first class was sold out and since we were all re-booked, we were pretty much crammed into whatever seats were available. Jon at United sent everyone an email and gave them a nice perk where they could choose between miles, a ticket at a certain value or a discount on another flight. Have to say, I’ve never had such great customer service from United or any other airline. We landed on time in DC and Mike (my Secret Service Agent/friend) was also at the gate to meet us. The plane landed at the gate right in front of the Lounge and Jon and Jackie had arranged for a special VIP room upstairs to be private just for our group and they even catered it. We only had a couple of hours before Gary would be landing because his flight was coming in early. I got a few emails answered but not many and then it was time to go to the gate to meet him. He has Jake (a filmmaker) with him to document his tour. Also learned that the ticket agent in Chicago had checked two of our passengers bags to DC…not Kuwait. Strange since every few minutes he would yell, “Anyone else for Kuwait?”. Again, Jon came to the rescue, got them picked up, and re-checked for them. Gary, Jake and one of the band members all arrived early and we walked them down to the Lounge. Dulles is the only airport I’ve ever been in that doesn’t have the people mover carts! But, the walk wasn’t too far and the gate we were to depart from was close to the Lounge as well. Gary was his usual absolutely wonderful, gracious self. There’s no way I can ever say enough good things about him. Before we left the lounge area, he talked to the entire band and thanked me over and over again. Me – who can never, ever come close to doing as much as he does for the troops. We boarded and I gave autographed photos to the flight attendants and coins and photos to the flight crew. It’s the “newly configured” aircraft for the flight over but the old one for the flight back. I was able to us my 1K segments to upgrade Kimo (the band leader), Chris and David to First Class with me and Gary. So, first class was full as was business class with most of our 22 people. I tried watching 4 movies and stopped after less than 10 minutes on each. Finally watched “A Dolphin Tale” and it was really good. Tried to sleep but the flight attendants were talking loudly and I could shut them out. Finally fell asleep for about 2 hours only to be awaken again by their conversation. But, a little sleep is better than nothing. Not sure what happened, but the flight attendants didn’t start serving the pre-landing meal 35 minutes before landing. By that time, we were being told to store all our bags and buckle up. One of the flight attendants was rude to David because he hadn’t finished his coffee. Was pretty strange for her to do that since her “boss” was sitting in the seat across and behind David and saw the entire scenario. We landed early and Hala Services whisked our guys through Mea from the Embassy took Gary, Jake and me straight to the hotel. She already had our Visas stamped and we just walked right out…into the “arms” of our security escort. So good to see all my friends here even though it’s only been a couple of weeks since I left.
We arrived at the hotel and sent Gary straight to his room. I collected all the keys and paid the bill. By the time I had finished, the musicians/crew had arrived. Got everyone settled and then I met with Security and MWR about the itinerary. Barely had time for a quick shower before leaving for Camp Buehring. Which will explain why I forgot to take my camera with me. L Fortunately, the staff photographer is a buddy and will send me copies of the photos. We drove to APOD and hopped on the blackhawks for a 30 minute flight up to Buehring. Rain is predicted but so far we’ve been lucky. The visit to Buehring was almost flawless. We took a photo with the Commander and then headed to the Oasis for a very long autograph line. But, Gary was a CHAMP! He took an individual photo with everyone and signed an autograph for everyone in line. We were supposed to finish by 9:00 but ran a little late…not much. The “flaw” was my silver sharpies. The photos are dark, so we brought silver to sign with. But the points were too “fine” and the ink barely showed up. I finally scammed another type of Sharpie from a friend and we made it through. Found a couple of more of that type in my bag at the hotel. When we arrived back at the hotel, Tammy was able to get Gary’s internet connected for him on is Ipod. Know he is glad to have that up and running. Gary, Jake, PSD and I had a quick dinner at 11:30 pm in the hotel restaurant and then headed to our rooms. It’s almost 3 am and I’m going to bed for a couple of hours! J Busy day tomorrow and then we fly home after the concert. Gary has been absolutely wonderful and you can tell how much the troops love and respect him. Jude
SATURDAY, JANUARY 28TH – GARY SINISE AND THE LT. DAN BAND “TAKE” CAMP ARIFJAN. J AND SUNDAY, JANUARY 29TH – HOME! Got my normal 3 hours of sleep then went for a great jog along the beach. Weather is perfect today. Was a little worried last night because we were under a “lightning strike” watch and rain was forecast up until noon today. But it was an absolutely beautiful clear sky and a temperature around 50 degrees with a forecast of going up to around 70. Came back and showered and then called Gary to wake him up. Met him, Chris and Jake downstairs for a quick breakfast before heading out for the day. We are leaving in “groups” with David and the tech crew going at 10 am, Gary, Jake and I at 11 am and Chris and the band at noon. Camp Arifjan is providing clean up rooms for everyone so we can shower after the show (if there is time) and go straight to the airport. First stop for Gary was a visit with the Commanding General for 3rd Army in Kuwait – General Brooks. They have known each other for many years from Iraq and Ft. Riley , Kansas. He and Gary spent about 20 minutes catching up and then we went to our first autograph session. When we started, there were about 250 people in line but they kept trickling in and soon there were close to 400. We only had a certain amount of time that we could stay there and the last 30 minutes, we had to go to photos with groups of 5 and photos that Gary had autographed earlier. I couldn’t understand why the line was moving so slowly and then we figured out that there were 2 people taking photos (we had instructed ONE only because it takes twice as long) and one of the photographers had a flash on a stand that had to cool down between shots! Got that corrected and things moved quicker, but not as fast as last night at Buehring. We also had to “shut the door” but hopefully no one else was trying to get in line. We left that area and went immediately to a different Zone on Camp Arifjan to sign more autographs. (Camp Arifjan is HUGE!). Again, long line but this time I made sure only one photographer and not the one with the slow flash. This line moved so much faster and we didn’t have to go to group photos. We did close the door again to keep the line manageable but were able to take individual shots of everyone and only had to go to pre-signed autographs at the very end of the session. After the two autograph sessions, it was a quick dash to the stage for sound check. While Gary was on stage, I checked out the banners that were the backdrop – my SFS banner and a huge Gary Sinise Foundation banner for his organization. Suleiman had contributed the banners and did a great job as usual. Also checked out the Green Room were dinner was to be catered and all was in order. We finished sound check exactly on time. Gary was set to do 2 very quick PSA’s – one sentence each. Then I agreed to add one more. As usual, when PAO arrived, they had a much different version of a PSA which was about 3 times as long and would have required a teleprompter or Gary rehearsing several times. I told them they would have the two we agreed to or nothing, their choice so obviously they agreed to the original plan. I tried to explain to everyone before our visit that Gary was not there to do interviews of PSA’s. He was there to entertain the troops and every minute spent doing something else took him away from them. He knocked the PSA’s out in the 5 minutes I had allotted him and went to the front of the stage to take photos with all the volunteer groups. Again, we finished right on time and were driving to his lodging at 4:30 pm. That would give him 1 ½ hours to eat a dinner we had catered for everyone and hopefully catch a 20 minute nap before the show. I went back to the stage to eat dinner with the band, but they had already finished. But I was able to sit down and eat with some of the people helping me. The food (what was left of it) was unbelievably good! I commented that I had never had food that good from the DFAC and was told it was definitely not DFAC food but had been catered in. As I was eating, I asked Chris to go check the flight home to see if the aircraft had changed again. It had, of course. So I started emailing Jon to get everyone back in their original seats…not easy with 22 people to “re-seat”! When we got to the airport, Kimo had lost his upgrade so Chris was going to change seats with him. But when we started through to the gate, he was upgraded at the last minute. Rushed back to Gary’s lodging to get him to the stage for show time at 6:00 pm. But, we were a little late due to a last minute wardrobe change. Looked like there were about 3,000 people when we arrived but I knew it would be more when the music started. Colonel Caya made the announcements and also presented me with a beautiful certificate as appreciation for bringing Gary and the band over. Then the show started with video from “Forrest Gump”. I had forgotten how much I love that movie and obviously the audience does too. By the time Gary took the stage, there were more than 5,000 people there. Might be the biggest crowd ever at Arifjan. Buehring brought 600 troops on 17 buses – can you imagine that “convoy” driving the roads in Kuwait? Wish I had that on video! Ali brought about 100 people and Camp Patriot brought around 80. Plus there were troops from the other bases as well. My friend from Protocol at Ali Al Salem was able to find me as well as two of my friends from Camp Patriot and Camp Buehring. Last night (was it really only last night?) at Buehring I got to see Miles and Scott from First Cav. They even brought me a Latte to help me through the long day and boy was it appreciated!!! I did forget to take my camera with me last night which totally bummed me out. But will be getting photos from the staff photographers. I tell everyone that Gary and the Lt. Dan Band show is one of the best they will ever see. But, until you SEE it, you aren’t a believer. And, then, that’s the comment….best show ever. It’s high energy, amazingly talented musicians and vocalists, and just the right amount of audience participation. The songs Gary chooses are a variety of genres and recognizable because they are hit cover songs. The 2 hours and 15 minutes sped by feeling more like a 30 minute concert! Hardly anyone “sat” on the bleachers in the back because they all wanted to be as close to the stage as possible. I went out front and stood with FOH so I had the best view in the audience. Loved watching the artwork pop up between songs on the two big screens. It was just a first class production – start to finish! Absolutely nothing I would have changed about anything because everything was perfect…..Thank you, God. I’ve been so stressed about this tour – wanting to make sure it was perfect for Gary, his band, and our troops – that I’m sure I’ll just collapse and sleep the entire trip home….in a few hours! When the band left the stage, the audience started screaming for “one more song” and James and I were laughing and chanting “Six more songs, six more songs” because they do several more songs as the “encore”. That, of course, made the audience VERY happy! When the last note was played, General Brooks came back on stage and gave Gary a presentation. Then he gave everyone in the group a certificate and a coin and the evening was finished. We literally had to “bolt” to lodging to shower and eat a subway sandwich before going to the airport. Chris and David were in charge of getting the musicians/crew there and I had Gary and Jake being escorted by the Embassy. Got to harass my PSD boys a few more times before leaving. Will miss them because I won’t be back until the end of April. L It took us longer to drive to the airport than anticipated but we still had plenty of time. Got checked in but then there was a problem with our departure because our passport didn’t get stamped when we arrived. Mea from the Embassy took care of that quickly and we went to the Lounge in the Airport. General Brooks is on the flight home with us. He’s a big man but elects to sit in coach so as not to give the wrong perception to his soldiers. My opinion is any General should at least fly business class so they will be well rested upon landing and ready to work. We had some of the same flight attendants as we had on the flight over. I ate the salad and soup and finished off my book before passing out. I slept – off and on – for almost 8 hours! International flights still don’t offer internet so there was no “guilt” that I wasn’t working non-stop. J Nothing “dramatic” happened on the flight back and we landed early thankfully. I had a message from United Airlines when we landed saying Jeff’s flight to LAX had been canceled and he was rebooked at 3 pm on the 30th – Monday! Freaked me out because that’s Gary’s and Jake’s flight as well! Jackie and a Global Service rep met us at the gate and had no idea why I had received that message because the LAX flight was scheduled to depart on time! I breezed through Global Access and had to wait at baggage claim for Gary and Jake to come through. Chris and David had already left with our bags to put on the re-check belt so all we had to do was clear security. Did that quickly and I left Gary and Jake in the lounge and rushed to the gate with Chris – in time to buy “toys” for Zac and Zoe. Supposed to land “on time” in Nashville! As I mentioned, Gary and I met on the very first entertainment tour going into Iraq for the troops in June, 2003 and now we have come full circle to perform for the last of the troops who served in Iraq. Have to say a special thanks to David and Chris for helping me with this tour; Tammy and Tina with MWR who made it possible and worked tirelessly to make sure every tiny detail was advanced; Broadie, Contee and Brian who escorted and trouble shot with the band and crew; Suleiman, James, Donald, Louie, Khader and all the sound techs at Camco; Joe, Brad, Matt, Ben, Jennifer and ALL our PSD guys and girls; Hani and the Movenpick staff; Jackie, Jon and all the United Airlines staff and crew; Mike our “security” escort in DC; Lindsey and Penny in my office for their “patience”; all the wonderful men and women in our military in Kuwait and around the world plus the civilians and contractors who helped make this concert a success; the incredible Lt. Dan Band for being SO easy to work with; and Gary Sinise – a man with a heart bigger than the Universe when it comes to making sure our men and women in uniform receive the thanks and recognition they deserve for defending our freedom and their families for the sacrifices they make in support of their loved one. I’m sure I left someone out but wanted to show what a “team effort” it was to produce this one concert in Kuwait. Pretty sure Gary and the LAX passengers were in the air longer than they were on the ground in Kuwait. But, they all said it was worth it and are ready to tour again! Jude