The Honky Tonk Tailgate Party featuring Mark Wills, Ray Scottand Trent Willmon, along with Gladiator Valerie “Siren” Waugaman traveled to Kuwait and Iraq to entertain the troops. Mark has traveled to the area many times over the last few years, but this was the first trip for Ray, Trent and Valerie.
SFS PHOTOS (Courtesy of Judy Seale, SFS)
PHOTOS – SEPT. 18 – IRAQ (Courtesy of LTC Joseph Vitale)
PHOTOS – SEPT. 21 – BALAD (Courtesy of LTC Joseph Vitale)
PHOTOS – SEPT. 21 – BALAD (Courtesy of SPC Martinez)
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 15TH:
Today we leave for Kuwait. “We” — out of Nashville — is The Honky Tonk Tailgate party with Mark Wills, Trent Willmon, and Ray Scott. An American Gladiator “Siren” (Valerie Waugaman) meets us in DC where we have a 6 hour layover.
Everyone was on time to check in at the airport and it went smoothly. We stopped at Noshville Deli and had a quick lunch then boarded the plane for DC. It’s one of my favorite planes — the tiny jet — NOT!!! And they always make us “circle” for 20 minutes or so. Not because there is too much traffic but because there isn’t an empty gate.
Mike — a Secret Service Agent who is a friend of mine and .Mark — is meeting us at the airport. Easy for him to cruise through security. I had a text message from Valerie saying she had landed and would meet us at the lounge. We took the shuttle between the terminals and as we made the turn to walk into the Lounge, I noticed a girl working out in the gate area. Knew it had to be her and I was right. She is lovely and just as sweet as can be. It’s going to be a terrific tour, just as I anticipated.
Mike and a friend of his had met us at the gate. We got settled in the Lounge and then went to yet another terminal to eat sushi. The airport is under a lot of construction but it means that they are building some decent restaurants. The sushi was unbelievably fresh. After I ordered, I hiked down the terminal looking for a “bag” shop. I had purchased this bag that I saw on television – the one that says you can stuff more into it than any other bag. Well, I did and the strap broke on the flight to DC. First time I have ever used it. Don’t ever fall for those TV “info-mercials”! As huge as the airport is, there wasn’t one bag shop to be found. I finally found a green messenger bag that I could use until I find something better. Inside the bag is a quilted orange carry bag that I will never use and plan to leave in the lounge.
We all went back to the Lounge and I started answering my hundreds of emails. The nice lady who works for United Airlines that I met on the Bo Bice tour to Afghanistan in February met us for a little while. She has been so great to help me with all the flights I take on United – which are obviously a LOT since I just made “1K”.
When we started to sit down in the lounge, Mark noticed that there was a mouse trap by the wall. Guess all the construction has caused a rodent problem. When Valerie got on the plane, I noticed that she was carrying the orange bag that I had intentionally left behind. Glad she can use it.
Our flight left on time and I have an empty seat beside me which is very, very nice. I watched one very bad movie (Should have watched “Sex and the City Again, which was an option!) and then slept. I had warned everyone that right before we departed Nashville, I had gotten word that we would all be sleeping in one tent together at one of the really remote locations we visited. Everyone, including me, started worrying about snoring. We were all sitting close together on this flight and I didn’t hear any snoring but everyone was definitely sleeping. I hope the same was true for me. J
When I woke up, I walked up to the restroom and waited for someone to come out. Trent got up and stood with me in line and we waited and waited and waited and waited. He finally gave up and went across the aisle to wait on another one. I told him that either a man with a magazine or a lady with a cosmetic bag would come out. Sure enough, one of the flight attendants came out with a huge carry on bag. How rude is that to tie up the one restroom for that length of time when she could sit in her little cubby hole and put on makeup? I am always so conscious of not occupying it for too long.
We are landing on time. Have I mentioned how much I love doing these tours? It’s going to be so great.
Breezed through Customs and ALL our luggage and gear made it. Life is really good. Our escorts were there to meet us and we were at the hotel in less than 30 minutes. The staff at the hotel know me well and one little girl came over to me and said that she didn’t recognize me because I was so skinny! I gave her a big hug and all the gifts in my “Swag Bag”. J
I went door-to-door with the Bellman delivering the luggage to each room. The Radisson Staff put me in a beautiful suite again. They also gave me a bottle of chilled grape juice (Alcohol is illegal in Kuwait!), two crystal champagne flutes and this huge “tower” of good with nuts, dates, chocolates, cookies, and lots of other goodies on it as well as a tray of fruit! So that I would NOT eat it, I gathered everything up and took it down to Mark’s room. As I was trying to sneak down the hall with it, several men passed me and offered their assistance. I guess they thought I was going to have a big “party” somewhere!!!
Got back to my room and the front desk called to say that someone left an Orange Bag in the Lobby. It was the one Valerie had taken that I had left previously. That bag just doesn’t want to be “loved”.
I had just finished answering emails and was putting on my clothes to go work out when the phone rang. It was Clayton (our escort) saying he was in the lobby and did I want to meet the Band of Brothers! I mean “THE” Band of Brothers. They were in DC a few days ago and Karri Turner and Mike (my Secret Service friend) were partying with them at the Ritz Carlton. I knew that we might have one day to meet them in Iraq but wasn’t counting on having that much good luck. They were supposed to attend the ceremony for General Petreaus handing off to General Odierno but have been stuck in Kuwait for two days. I know how disappointed both General P and General O were that they couldn’t make it and they were certainly disappointed. I could not believe my good luck. When I ran to the lobby, all my group was gathered around them like little children at Christmas – listening to their stories. Bill, Don, and Babe were the three in the lobby and three had already gone to bed. We took hundreds of photos, got their autographs, and listened to “stories” until 10 pm. It could not have been a better beginning to the tour for me and for all the members of the group, especially the ones who have never done this before. Quite a humbling and educational experience for them!
Valerie and I wanted to work out and the guys wanted to go to the pool. There are two huge pools here – indoor and outdoor.
I also got to meet Dana from the USO who I had heard great things about and Scott from MNC-I who was SUPPOSED to be escorting MY tour but dumped me for the Band of Brothers Tour. I don’t blame him. I would have done the same thing. He’s a great guy and has been one of the best ever to work with on these tours.
Valerie and I worked out for an hour and then stopped by the pool to harass the guys. Mark kept insisting that he was going to throw me in but I managed to dodge him – mainly because I had on my running shoes and he didn’t want to ruin those. They had their guitars with them and were going to have a little Jam Session but the pool closed at 11 pm, too.
So….since I have the nice suite…I invited everyone to my room. Ray had bailed much earlier because he was so tired. He slept the entire flight over (at least 10 hours) and STILL went to bed before 9 pm. He is going to be wide awake about 1 am! J Mark, Trent, Kevin, Tom and Scott all came to my room to jam. Scott and I had a little time to talk about upcoming tours. I have a long list of questions to ask him once we have time for a real meeting in Baghdad.
It was such a great evening and I am SOOO tired. It is 2 am and I have to get up at 6 am. Long day tomorrow. Performance in Kuwait. Check my Stars for Stripes website when I get back for fantastic photos with the Band of Brothers!
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18TH:
All the troops refer to their time over here as Ground Hog Day. I can understand why. I have NO idea what date or day it is.
What a crazy night. Left the hotel at 2 am with NO sleep and arrived at the PAX terminal. As I tried to convince everyone, we all did not need to be there. All they needed to manifest us was a copy of our passports and our luggage to palletize. We could have slept for another two hours. This is a part of the base I have NEVER seen in all my trips to Kuwait. We have never had to fly out of the main terminal and have always been treated as DV’s. They loaded us on a bus at 4 am and took us to the aircraft. One of the flight crew got on to brief us and afterwards said we could get off to go to the restroom or smoke while we were waiting. I got off and “followed” him and gave him bandanas, coins and caps for everyone. They were out of Dyess in the U.S. They had no idea that there were celebrities going to be flying with them. They took all our guys and put them in great seats in the front of the plane and then asked me and Siren to sit up on deck with them. One of the other flight crew members asked Mark to sit up there and rather than any of us give up our seat, we just all squeezed in together.
The flight from Kuwait to Iraq was about 1 hr and 15 minutes and the sand was so thick, you couldn’t see the ground. I asked them to put Siren on the headset and she had a blast talking to them. They did have to do a combat landing and pulled a lot of G’s. Our poor guys in the belly of the plane had quite the ride.
As I expected, our escorts in Baghdad were ready for us. They met us at the terminal and Marlene – who I worked with in Kuwait in 2003 made sure everything went smoothly. We had a quick breakfast at a DFAC and then went straight to lodging. They had Siren and I sharing my usual “Taji Suite” inside the place but the guys were outside in a trailer. I tried to get them moved inside, but no rooms were available. I took a shower and then CRASHED for 3 hours. We had to cancel our visit to Al Faw Palace and the office call with General Allyn because we HAD to get some sleep.
When I got up, I saw one of the guys at the front desk from my previous tour and he was able to move the guys into the palace. We went to Liberty Stage for sound check and then went shopping. I took them to my favorite jewelry shop and showed them the necklaces. There was one that they had made that said “I love you Judy”. How cool is that? They gave everyone in my group great prices on everything.
MWR had brought in a lot of food backstage but it wasn’t anything that Siren or I could eat. So Joe – my replacement escort for the replacement escort! — went with us to the DFAC. He’s wonderful and he’s Air Force. J Also a great photographer which helps since I am NOT. Going to be lots of fun having him on the tour. Scott – the first escort who dumped us and Paul – the second escort who dumped us – were both at the show and I gave them hell pretty much all evening. LOL
We had a great dinner because they had stir fry and let us pick the ingredients. I have to say I have been able to eat so healthy over here. I gained 5 pounds in Greece this summer but joined Weight Watchers and lost it when I got home. Decided to try to lose 5 more and I do NOT want to gain anything while over here.
I had been emailing the niece of a friend of mine in Nashville and had told her to come backstage and meet me. She is in the Air Force and will be going home soon. She’s just as cute as she can be.
Our show was FANTASTIC. Mark said it was the best show he has ever had on any of his trips. Before the show, this young soldier who looked very familiar came up to me. He said we met in Korea when Chely Wright was there. That was YEARS ago and he still remembers me. I was thrilled. Also the niece of a friend of mine from Nashville is at this camp and I had emailed her that I wanted to meet her. She’s a sweetheart and I introduced her to everyone and gave her “goodies”. She’s going home very soon.
Everyone signed autographs and took photos for a long time – couple of hours at least. The way we have been working this line to keep it moving is I will hand out one photo to each person and then 5 at a time they step up and give individual autographs and photos. There were about 30 people in the backstage area last night and as I was handing out the autograph sheets, this young man in line who looked to be about 12 years old was wearing his PT shorts and top. I noticed that he had a can of Skoal and a pack of cigarettes in his waistband. I blurted out, “What do you have in your pants” like any “mother” would do. The entire room went deathly quiet and I heard Mark say from behind me, “What are you doing to that young man?”. I don’t know who turned redder – me or the young soldier!
When we finished, some of the guys went to midnight chow and I was able to get on the internet. It’s almost1:30 am, so I’m going to take a shower and try to get more than 3 hours sleep tonight. Wanted to get up and jog but it’s not going to happen. We depart at 8:45 am to Al Faw Palace to do the tour we had to cancel today, then lunch, chopper to Liberty for a show, chopper to JSS-ADL for a show, Chinooks to Delta to spend the night. We have to pack an “overnight bag” and leave all our luggage behind.
I can’t get email on my blackberry and didn’t realize my family was worried sick about me. A Chinook went down this morning en route from Kuwait to Baghdad at exactly the time we were flying that route. Seven of our troops were killed. I had no idea this had happened and am just sick about it. Also feel badly that my family and friends were worried.
I can’t send this email until after we have left Iraq for Security reasons. Good night, all!
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 19TH:
Got Up at 6 am after 4 hours sleep. Quick breakfast, rally my “troops” and off to the Al Faw Palace for a tour. It was still the same thrill for everyone to sit in Saddam’s “throne” and see all the gawdy decorations. I went by General Odierno’s office, met his new aide and gave him some goodies. General O was at the IZ that day so didn’t get to visit with him. We got to go out on the balcony of the palace and hit golf balls out into the lake which was a first for me, too.
Scott gave everyone fabulous coins and certificates and then we headed back down to the first floor to catch our flight to FOB Loyalty. As I was walking toward the door, we passed a group of soldiers and a young man timidly came up to me and said he thought he knew me. I told him I thought I knew him too. Then he said he was Aaron Tippin’s son-in-law and flew me in a black hawk with Aaron a couple of years ago. I grabbed him and started hugging and kissing him and it embarrassed him profusely since all his buddies were giving him a hard time in the background. Gave him some goodies and had our group sign autographs for everyone. THAT was the highlight of my day. I knew he had just arrived in Iraq a few weeks prior but I thought he was going to be at Balad. He’s actually flying General O around out of Baghdad. I sent Aaron several text messages to tell him.
It is unbearably hot today and we have to wear long sleeves on the choppers. We took blackhawks to FOB Loyalty only we made one stop on the way. I thought we were there and took off my shoulder harness only to have to put it right back on because I didn’t know we were making a stop. FOB Loyalty hasn’t been able to “support” entertainment for quite a while. And a bomb landed on the Aerobics Center last night which was where we were supposed to perform. So we performed in the DFAC with no stage and only 2 mics with no mic stands. But, we had a great crowd and it was wonderful. Signed autographs for over an hour and then I let everyone “rest” for an hour before the helicopter came to take us to JSS-ADL.
Ray had to go to the medic while we were at the palace and they told him it is just his sinuses stopped up. Gave him some Allegra. I’m sure more of the tour group will get sick before it’s over because of the dust and lack of sleep.
It was a short ride to JSS-ADL. I was in the lead helicopter and when we tried to land, we blew up so dust that it completed enveloped the chopper and he had to pull back up at the last minute. For the first time in all my tours over here, I was very, very concerned. I could see power lines as we were pulling up from the landing. But, everything was fine and we had to “circle” until the dust cleared and we attempted another landing. My heart was actually racing but this time there wasn’t quite as much dust. But the pilot could not see how close we were to the landing pad and we actually SLAMMED down. Then we sat there for a few minutes and I started having a panic attack that our other chopper was going to try and land and hit us because they couldn’t see us for the dust. But we unloaded and went inside and the other chopper came in safely.
JSS-ADL is a shopping center that has been converted into the living/working quarters for our troops. It’s only been here about 4 months. It reminds me so much of Camp Calloway where I went with Aaron last year. Everyone is so nice and appreciative!!! We had dinner with the troops and then got ready for the performance. Another great show and autograph session. Had to cut the autograph show short because our Blackhawks were coming to pick us up. We were able to give everyone in line an autographed photo and take a group photo with them though. It was really great to be able to take a show out to that location and I hope they get lots more because they need it. Mark came off stage and said he wasn’t feeling well. He had quit sweating mid-way through the show. We got a medic to give him an IV but after several failed attempts to find a vein, he had to give up. He told Mark that he would just have to hydrate orally. THAT really concerned me!!!!
Our blackhawks showed up and we took about a 10 minute flight back to BIAP. It feels like it has been a week instead of only this morning that we flew out of here. We landed about 10:30 pm and we have to depart in blackhawks to FOB Delta in a very short time.
Yeah, right. We walked out to the flight line at about 11:30 pm to get on our choppers. Which turned out NOT to be our choppers. They had us all lined up against a concrete barrier facing the airstrip. There were numerous helicopters and small aircraft in front of us with the rotors turning and blowing dust right at us. They kept us there for almost an hour waiting for our choppers. I knew this was going to be hell on the throats of everyone, especially the two who were already sick. Also, the Chinook that was supposed to be taking our equipment to Delta for us was canceled and Melanie, our escort, had to find another flight. They put her on a Serpha and she was supposed to arrive at about the same time we did.
We were crammed into the helicopters with lots of other troops for a miserable one hour flight. Joe and I were talking about the chopper crews this tour. Usually they are thrilled to have an entertainer – especially a sexy young lady like Siren – on their aircraft. Not so. They barely spoke to us and didn’t offer to put her or anyone on headsets. We taxied down the runway and then flew about 10 feet off the ground for several minutes. I knew what that meant – stopping to fill up with fuel. Yep. About 3 minutes later, we stopped and they opened the doors but didn’t say anything to anyone, as though we all knew what to do. Everyone started getting off the chopper with their bags but I assumed we could leave them on. I was finally able to get their attention and confirm that bags could stay one. Choppers always travel in pairs and the passengers on the other chopper were not asked to get off while the fueling took place.
We arrived at FOB Delta at around 2 am. We were greeted with the good news that our plane with our equipment had mechanical problems and they were looking for another way to get it here tomorrow (or later that day actually). Since all the autograph sheets were also with the equipment, I knew that was pointless to try and go to COP Shocker that morning. They wanted us to depart at 10 am and my feeling was that if these guys and girl didn’t get some sleep, we were going to be in serious trouble. Already had two down and Valerie not feeling well at all.
This is the Camp where we are all staying in one tent. They have “portioned” off the far end for the girls. At least everyone is too tired to play practical jokes! Valerie and I hiked about a quarter of a mile to the showers and toilets. I’m sure I will need to go 10 times during the night since it’s so far away. When I stepped out of the shower, there was Melanie! I asked her what she was doing there and she answered that she told me she was coming over with the equipment. I explained that we had been told that her flight had mechanical problems and she was not here. Very strange. So, now we are being told that we have to depart at 9:30 am. That means everyone will get 4 hours or less sleep tonight. When the entertainers don’t rest their vocals for at least 8 hours per night, they are going to get sick. That first night of never getting to go to bed is what killed us all and now we haven’t had a chance to recover. It’s hard enough to convince them to come here and any negative feedback from anyone who has been on one of the tours definitely hurts my chances. Something to discuss before departing.
I could tell I was really sleep deprived when I put the key in my pants pocket and then couldn’t find it. I searched every pocket and it was nowhere to be found. Got to the shower and pulled them off and it fell out. Also had a great surprise of chocolate being all over part of my clothes and clock. I had put a chocolate calcium “chew” in the outside zipper and they left our bags out in the sun all day yesterday. It melted all over everything.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 20TH – I THINK!
So, I got my 3 hours of sleep because they changed our departure time to 9 am instead of 9:30 am. It was a short 20 minute flight from Delta to Shocker. COP Shocker is really tiny and definitely in the middle of nowhere. It is only a few minutes from the Iranian border. We were actually able to walk up a little hill, look over the fence, and see Iran. Again, the chopper crew did not speak to us and would not let us sit in the front seats. I was on the end and there were no windows in the chopper. The wind beat so hard against my face that one of my earrings and my ear plug blew out.
Another sign I am sleep deprived – I broke my expensive sunglasses (again, broke them the first time in Afghanistan). And, I had put all my jewelry on the empty top bunk and my watch was gone. I searched everywhere for it and could not find it. I knew no one had stolen it because it was lying right beside my rings and they were still there. I just gave up and decided to look for it later.
Shocker did not have a PA system so the show was very short. They held it in the dining facility again and with all the “machines” and eating in the background, it was impossible to hear them sing. They only sang two songs each and then signed autographs. After the performance, we walked next door to an MWR tent with computers. It would have been the perfect place to hold the show! Not sure why that was not an option.
Our choppers were on time and this time I got to meet a couple of the crew before we got on. I gave them autographed bandanas, photos and my coin and asked if Valerie and I could sit up front in one of the choppers. They were happy to oblige. I noticed headsets available for both of us and asked if we could get on them. Again, no problem. They were a great crew and we took photos with them afterwards.
Back at Delta where we slept in the tent and left all our bags this morning. Went to the base exchange which was very small and didn’t purchase anything. Everyone else went to sleep. I went through ALL my bags and finally found my watch in the last place I looked – inside my backpack. Slept for one hour and then got everyone up for dinner. The DFAC had a great selection – better than most of the large camps. They had stir fry again so I was able to eat healthy. Our show is outside tonight and we have to be at the flight line at 10:30 pm for an 11:30 pm flight to Baghdad. Will keep the show at 1 hour and then see what we want to do about pre-signing autographs.
I was only able to check a few emails today when we were at Shocker, so not being able to do that is stressing me out as well. Hopefully we won’t depart too early tomorrow to Balad and I can get on line at JVB and get caught back up.
There was a really large crowd at the show. As I said, it was outside and the temperature had cooled off. Everyone in Iraq was talking about how nice it is during the day now because it’s only up to around 105-115 degrees. I suppose compared to 140, it is definitely cooler but when you’re not accustomed to that kind of heat (like us!), it sure feels HOT!! The show site had bleachers set up and they were full plus people were standing between them. Ray had to get an IV from a medic as soon as the show was over. Mark felt much better yesterday and the medic at Shocker gave me a bag of oral hydration salts for everyone.
The line was really long after the show, so we had to give out pre-signed photos and then have them come in 5 at a time to take a photo with the artists. I HATE doing that. But, when we are told that we have to be on the flight line no later than 10:30 pm for our choppers back to BIAP, there is no other solution. We didn’t begin the autograph session until almost 9:30pm which meant we would not have gotten to everyone in an hour. Next tours – NO night flights!!!
We got to the flight line on time only to be told our choppers had not even left BIAP to come pick us up and that’s an hour flight. Some of the guys went to eat midnight chow and Valerie, Kevin and I went to the gym. Got in a little bit of a workout (as much as I could do without workout clothes) but got a call that we had to get back to the flight line about 15 minutes after we got to the gym!
The long chopper rides are so brutal because we have to wear our flak vest and helmets which are HEAVY. We are packed into sling seats and our bags are under our feet so there is no way to stretch out our legs. The short flights are okay but when it’s an hour, everyone starts hurting with back pain, headaches, leg pain, etc. I don’t know how our troops do it day after day. Gives us a new respect for their service for sure!
We landed at BIAP and went to lodging but got the great news that our flight to Balad was leaving early and we had to leave for the terminal at 6:30 am! It was already 2 am when we got to BIAP, so that meant no sleep again for everyone and with two already sick, I was really worried. Our wonderful guys at MNC-I immediately started working on finding a later flight for us. At around 2:30 am they gave us the good news that our equipment would go on the plane at 7 am but we would take blackhawks and not have to depart until noon! Everyone was so happy that they could get more than 3 hours sleep. Not looking forward to another LONG chopper ride but at least everyone will feel more rested before we begin.
I stayed up and worked and finally got in bed at 4:30 am.
COULD BE SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 21ST?
We had another female in our room with us last night and I felt really bad for her. Like I said, we didn’t get in until 2 am and then I was in and out of the room until 4:30 am. I heard her get up at 6:00 am and leave. Then at 7 am some guy decided to walk up and down the hallway SINGING (and he was NOT a good singer). Since the whole place is marble, it sounded like he was standing right over our beds singing at the top of his lungs. If I had been “dressed”, I would have gone into the hallway and blasted him. I did get to stay in bed (notice I did not say SLEEP) until 9 am. Got up and took a shower and have been working on email and this road report since that time. Really looking forward to seeing my friend the General Bishop at Balad and helping the Air Force celebrate their 61st birthday party. Thanks to Major General Steve Sargeant, I was able to provide Chely Wright as the entertainment for the Air Force Birthday Celebration in Baghdad in September 2004. It was so awesome. I met General Sargeant when he was “The Wolf” in Kunsan, Korea. The last 3 Generals serving at Balad (including this one) have all been “the Wolf” and I met them all at Kunsan, Korea throughout the years. General Rand was here first, then General Field just left a few months ago and General Bishop took command. Kunsan is my favorite base to visit in Korea and Balad is my favorite base to visit in Iraq.
We departed pretty much on time but once we arrived at the air strip, we were told that our choppers were going to be almost an hour late. Of course, we weren’t allowed to leave the area though. Arriving late meant we would have to bump the performance time by a little bit. But, the plane with our two techs and all the equipment had already arrived at Balad so I sent a message to them to go ahead and set up for the show.
We landed and were met by our escorts. The General wasn’t there to meet us because no one told him we were delayed and had been out there earlier. We took all our personal bags and dropped them at lodging and then went over to the first show site – outdoor celebration for the 61st Birthday of the Air Force. I have the same room I had last New Year’s Eve when I was here with the comedy tour. I remember it well because the sheets were too small for the bed. We spent two nights there last year and every morning I would wake up and be sleeping on the mattress. They have put a new set of sheets on the beds and these actually fit. There was also several pieces of mini-blind missing last time and the blinds have been replaced with new ones.
I learned that our Kuwait techs were not given the message to set up for the show. Also learned that the Air Force Band was performing as well. When our production manager arrived at the show site, he was informed that all the power was 110, not 220 like we needed for the Kuwait rental gear. Of course, he made it work using some of the Air Force Band production and we started less than an hour late.
General Bishop came to say hello. He looks great and very happy to be serving here. I know he gets to fly on a regular basis and that’s what F-16 pilots live for! The group performed for about an hour and then signed autographs and took photos. We left there to grab a quick dinner at the DFAC. Evidently, we had a mortar attack during that time but we didn’t even hear the siren. It hit outside the wire and no one was injured.
Second performance of the day was in the Sustainer Theatre where we usually perform and began at 8 pm. The General and his staff attended the concert and he actually introduced Siren. It was probably our most enthusiastic crowd which made it our best show ever. It was also very sad to know that it was the last performance in Iraq, but I think this group came away with the same knowledge and understanding that all the other groups do when they actually experience this first-hand.
After signing autographs for everyone in line, we went over to the offices for the Air Force and up on their roof. They had built a “deck” with a big screen tv and chairs to watch it. General Bishop had invited us to come up there and smoke cigars and drink near beer! It was the perfect ending to a really terrific tour of Iraq. We left there about 1 am and I got in bed by 2 am. But, I had really, really strange dreams all night and woke up feeling like I had not slept at all.
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 22ND:
Got up after a very restless night and ran 5 miles. It was like running at high altitude because it was already so hot and very dusty. My shoes had to go into plastic bags for the trip home because they were covered with that fine “moon dust”! The Air Force arranged for Siren to go work out with some of them and the guys went to “blow up things”. Ray and I went to the Base Exchange but it really didn’t have anything we were looking for.
We were supposed to depart at 11:30 am to go to the DFAC, pick up “to go” meals, and head to the C-130. But just as we were about to leave lodging, we were told that our bird was on the ground and we had to go straight to the air field. There was supposed to be a General and 13 of his staff flying with us.
It was so sad to say good-bye to Joe Vitale, our MNC-I escort. He has just been THE BEST. He gets to go home in November, so I’m not sure I’ll see him again. I’ll be back in the area at the end of October with Bo Bice and Jackie Martling, so maybe one of our shows will be in Baghdad so I can see him one more time before he heads home to his family in St. Louis.
We boarded the plane and there were 36 of our troops already on board. We gave them all bandanas and autographed photos. Then when we thought we were leaving, the air crew started loading huge duffle bags crammed full of gear. The air crew said they had no idea a General and his staff were going to be on board. Turned out to be a 4 Star – General Ham.
The flight from Balad to Kuwait is 1 ½ hours. We landed and our escorts had not arrived because we were early. Once they arrived, we went to Subway for salads and sandwiches since it is still Ramadan and we hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast.
Got checked into the hotel for a few hours and everyone met in the restaurant for our farewell dinner and “recap” of the tour. We discussed things that could have been better and things that really worked great. The best compliment they can give me is to say they want to do another tour and everyone signed up again. Siren would like to come back over and do fitness clinics for everyone which is a great idea.
We departed for the airport at 9:00 pm and got checked in. I was trying to get the 3 guys who are in coach into the Lounge and having problems. Then I mentioned “Siren” and the receptionist is a huge fan. Gave her an autographed photo and bandana and everyone was cleared. 🙂 We met some really nice security guys that had seen us at JVB in Iraq. Gave them gifts as well and one of them is good friends with a mutual friend of mine in DC.
When we got on board, I gave all the flight attendants and pilots bandanas, coins, and photos. Service SURE is better this trip. Tried to get our 3 boys bumped up to business class with us, but no go. 🙁 I honestly never ask because if there are troops sitting in coach, I feel bad about asking for our musicians to be moved up.
Flight is supposed to land 45 minutes early which is a good thing since we have a very short connection!
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23RD:
The flight attendants said that they would give our guys free drinks since they couldn’t upgrade. I told them they really don’t “drink”. Oh well.
This is the MOST uninterrupted sleep any of us have had in 9 days. Mark was out before we ever took off from Kuwait. I woke up and went into the lavatory to try and make myself look somewhat normal again. Had my little travel kit and put lotion on my face. Nope. It was toothpaste! All in my eyelashes, too. But, girls, if you ever want an instant face lift, that’s the way to go. J
We landed early and all our bags came in. Valerie went to the restroom and was so tired, she went into the men’s room. She didn’t even realize it until a guy walked in, apologized, then came back in. That’s when she figured out her mistake.
We said our goodbyes since Mark is going to Atlanta, Valerie is going to Cincinnati and me and my boys are going to Nashville. We all talked about how it felt like that it had been a month since we sat in the lobby of the Radisson and talked to the Band of Brothers. But, our time in Iraq seemed so short. I had asked them if at any time did they feel like they were not safe while we were in Iraq. The response was a resounding “No. Never!”. That’s one of the first things I am always asked when soliciting celebrities to go into War Zones. Good feedback to have.
An announcement was made that there was a mechanical problem with our flight and it was delayed but they had no idea for how long. Great! The next flight to Nashville isn’t until after 4 pm. Then, they came back on and said the plane was ready for us to board! I was in 4A which was a window seat and the plane is so small, there is only that one row of seats on the right hand side. When I got on, a man was already sitting in 4A. I asked him if that was his seat number and he said he thought so. I told him he needed to check his board pass because it was definitely my seat number and it was going to be a tight fit for both of us to sit there! I caught a glimpse of his board pass as he checked it and he was in 6 C! Nice try.
I was home by 9:30 am and working away. Went to weight watchers to night and I lost 6.2 pounds the week I was in Iraq! How cool is that? Of course, anyone could do the same without counting the “weight watchers points”. All you have to do is spend everyday in 115 degree heat, sleep a maximum of 4 hours per night, eat a few bites of food whenever there is time for a meal and drink eight 64 ounce bottles of water each day. Easy!
Glad to be home for a few days before heading to Switzerland!
I can’t say enough good things about the people working with MNC-I Baghdad. Scott, Joe, Sale, Michael, Paul, Marlene – YOU ALL ROCK!!! See you in one month. J