Traveling to Afghanistan was one of the highlights of our career. We went over there to encourage them and in return we were the ones who were blessed. We have been fortunate to do a lot of really cool things over the last 7 years as a band, but the thing I am most proud of is having the chance to entertain the men and women who protect us everyday….it was truly life changing. They are very special people.” – Karen Fairchild; Little Big Town
November 20, 21 and 22: Yep, flying for THREE days. Taking “Little Big Town” to Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and Qatar to entertain the troops over Thanksgiving. Arrived at the Nashville airport 2 hours prior to departure. BUT, we had 33 bags to check for 9 people…lots of excess charges. We had to fly our own sound system since the countries we will be visiting do not have anything available. No problem getting everything checked in but we were on Delta and don’t usually use them as our carrier overseas. Wish we could use them more because they are really great….all about “service”. They had never heard of Kyrgyzstan, so that took a little while to get our luggage checked through. Then we found out that the airlines had cancelled two of our passenger’s flights entirely and had re-routed two other passengers through Paris instead of Frankfurt with the group. Delta was able to fix everything, thank goodness. Heidi from AFE flew in from D.C. that morning and met us at the gate to travel with us. Easy, short flight to Atlanta and a very short layover. The flight attendants in Delta were absolutely SUPERB. Such a refreshing change. It’s not that we demand anything…just nice to have people who enjoy their jobs working with you. Had a great meal for an airline and then slept for about 3 hours. I thought I was dreaming for a while because I kept hearing someone snoring REALLY loudly and then everyone laughing. But I wasn’t dreaming. We had one passenger that could peel the wallpaper off the wall with his snores. I also had my “recurring” dream that the plane is crashing and we have to land on an interstate, crashing into trees and other cars and power lines. I have this dream all the time, but we always land safely. Strange! Landed in Frankfurt with a 3 hour layover. Got passes to the “lounge” and it was one tiny little room and all the seats were taken. I was able to get online and answer 69 emails that I had received since I had departed the U.S….and on a Saturday no less! When we got to the gate to board, one of the gate agents tried to tell us we couldn’t take our computer cases and guitars on board. I assured her that I had a letter that allowed us to carry everything on board. Turned into quite a “stand-off”. I knew we were on a big airbus but I also knew we were on Aeroflot – Russian Airlines. Tried every way possible NOT to fly Aeroflot and there was just no other way to get there. I told her everything would fit in the overhead and she said we couldn’t put anything in the overhead because it could shift and come out and hit someone during the flight! Hello……haven’t you seen people stuff huge duffels that they can barely lift in the overhead on every flight? Anyway, I won and we got on the plane with all our carry on luggage. Everyone was in business class because the travel agency let the flights expire before ticketing and had to pay for business class…your U.S. tax dollars at work! The plane was huge and we had no problem fitting anything in the overhead. We did have a problem understanding the pilot and flight attendants. They served a meal and the lady said, “We only have sneck meat and fish”. I asked her twice and I thought she was saying “snake meat” and “fish”….obviously I opted for the fish as did everyone else. But it was very raw salmon and a couple of shrimp both of which tasted horribly fishy. Fortunately there was also cheese and bread. Then they came out and asked if we wanted fish, chicken, pork or beef for the main meal. I finally figured out that she was saying, “We only have a ‘snack’ (not snake) and the choices are meat or fish”! We landed in Moscow, which is my first visit to the Soviet Union. There was about 4 inches of snow on the ground and it was freezing cold. We had to take a bus from the plane to the terminal and it took forever for the buses to arrive. The pilot came on apologized because he said that “Americans are taking a vacation and it take a long time for the buses to come”….which translated as something about being sorry to the Americans because it was taking so long to “evacuate” because the buses were busy! We were expecting to spend hours trying to get boarding passes and transported to the other terminal. But it was painless and I got everyone in the lounge. The next flight is from Moscow to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and it’s on a small plane…not sure how small. I can’t wait to fly on a small plane, that has probably iced over, at night, over Soviet territory. What was I thinking? So, add this up. We arrived at the airport at 1:30 pm on Saturday, November 20th. 1 hour flight to Atlanta; 2 hour layover in Atlanta; 9 hour flight to Frankfurt; 4 hour layover; 3 ½ hour flight to Moscow; 3 ½ hour layover; 4 hour flight to Bishkek….when we arrive, it will be 5 am on Monday, November 22nd which is 4 pm Sunday afternoon in Nashville…24 hours of travel. Hopefully I will have internet access in Kyrgyzstan…. I had packed all my coats so I wouldn’t have to carry them around. But, we had “bus gates” in Moscow so I had to buy something. There were no sweat shirts for sale there, only t-shirts, so I found this “plastic” jacket and bought it. One of the artists also packed all his coats so he bought one, too. We’ve decided this will be the “official tour” jacket and we can write the name of the tour on it with a Sharpie! UMMMM….scratch that 24 hours of travel. The flight from Moscow to Bishkek was “delayed”! Instead of departing at 11:30 pm, we didn’t depart until 2:30 am. So make that a 6 ½ hour layover in Moscow. Then we took the 4 hour flight to Bishkek….only Bishkek was fogged in….so we circled for one hour and then they diverted us to Uzbekistan….another hour flight. We sat on the ground in Uzbekistan for THREE hours IN THE PLANE. Wouldn’t let us get off. Met a really nice man who works with all the World Banks and lives in this area. He was very helpful. He assisted in translating with the flight attendants and got our 4 people in coach moved up to business class. We then had to fly from Uzbekistan to Bishkek. So, we had been traveling for more than 36 hours and we were absolutely Zombies. ALL our luggage and equipment made it (unbelievable) and thankfully our escort met us at the airport. It is freezing cold here. The guys are in one tent and the girls are in a “DV” (distinguished visitor) tent. The latrine (toilets and showers are about a half mile from where we sleep. It’s a small base. We grabbed a snack after we got “checked in to our tents’ and then several of us went to the gym to work out. Great gym, of course. Then most of us got massages. It costs $15 for a 50 minute full body massage! And it was better than anything I’ve ever had in the U.S. Then I came over to the little Coffee Shop which is the only place on this base that we have internet access for AOL! It’s open 24 hours BUT they were having a party for the Coffee Shop. So, I’m sitting her at a little table that they rigged up for me, answering email, while people are dancing to really loud rock music! And I am SOOO tired and I haven’t had a shower since Saturday morning….it’s Monday night here. So, I’m hitting the shower now. It’s 10:30 pm here now and we have to start early tomorrow. We do not get one break all day long…meeting the troops, VIP’s, sound check, show and I’m sure a very long autograph session. Fly to Afghanistan the next day. Jude
DAY FOUR – NOVEMBER 23:
Thought I was timing the shower just right when it would not be busy at midnight last night. Well it wasn’t busy but guess a lot of people had just used it. There was NO hot water. And it’s freezing here. We visited with a lot of the troops today who would not get to attend the show – Fire Department, Services Division, Chaplain, all the “outposts”. Signed autographs and they sang a couple of songs at one of the stops. All the equipment arrived without any damage but since it was the first “show day”, took a long time to get everything set up. I wasn’t really expecting a huge crowd because Little Big Town is not very well-known yet. But, the place was PACKED. Could not have gotten anyone else in there. Today was also “beer” day. They are not allowed to drink except on certain days/special events. And, then there is a two beer limit. There were not only American troops there, but troops from the Netherlands and Spain. They ALL loved the show. Group signed autographs after the show for a long time. Tomorrow we fly to Afghanistan on a C-130. The plane doesn’t depart until 9 am (supposedly) but we must have our bags outside the tent at 4:30 am…and be at the PAX terminal at 5 am. Then we can “go back to bed”, right…..but have to be at the flight line at 7 am. Never had to be there 4 hours prior before. The flight to Afghanistan is 2 ½ hours and we have a show tomorrow night. Going to be some tired people tomorrow night! Took my shower before the show tonight – again thinking I’m miss the rush. Guess I picked the wrong time again. Still no hot water. Everyone else in our group is not having this problem. I’m jinxed! Jude
Sorry this is so LONG. I have not been able to access my email from Afghanistan. Back in Nashville for a few days now.
DAY FIVE – NOVEMBER 24TH: We all got 2-3 hours sleep and it was a pretty sad looking group. Of course, we did NOT need to be at the passenger terminal at 5 am! All they needed was for someone to take our orders and ID cards and they never even asked to see each of us. I could have handled it for the group and let them sleep. But, when I asked about this last night, I was told that we all absolutely HAD to be there. We all went over to eat breakfast and wait for our ride to the flight line. While we were eating the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (who was visiting the base; we shared a tent with some of his flight crew and met several others at dinner and the show the other night) came in. Only one of the artists met him and she couldn’t find the rest of us. We had already gone back over to the PAX terminal lounge. She came over to tell us and we were told that we did not have time to go back and meet him because the bus was ready to take us to the flight line. BUT, we insisted that we absolutely had to go to the toilet first because all the C-130 has is a “honey bucket” and it’s not designed for women. Plus it was a 2 ½ hour flight. We left for the toilet but made a quick stop in the dining facility to meet the Vice Chairman and have our photos taken with him. I “coined” him and he pulled out one of his coins and presented one to each of us. How cool is that? We gotten some great coins on the trip and this one is really awesome. Of course when we arrived at the flight line, they were not ready for us to board. We sat for about 45 minutes and were finally allowed on board. There were several other really nice soldiers – most of them from Colorado – flying with us. The flight crew was so sweet and let all of us take turns sitting on the flight deck. The pilot – Tim and co-pilot—Kevin and Navigator – Doe treated us all like visiting royalty. There was some beautiful scenery on the way – over the Himalayas! We had to do a combat landing and it was quite treat for the band. None of them have ever flown on a C-130 and it was a real roller coaster ride for them Arrived at Bagram, Afghanistan and learned that they are on ZULU time which totally confuses me. Plus Afghanistan is 10 ½ hours ahead of the U.S. The half hour is always confusing. We’re trying to learn Zulu time but it’s now easy. Ate some lunch and then I suggested that we all try to sleep for a couple of hours before sound check. The dust is really working on everyone’s throats and I’m worried about their being able to sing. All the girls are in one “houch” and all the boys are next door. It’s one big, long room with cots in it and it is heated and cooled. About 10 minutes after we laid down, one of the reps came in to bring us sheets, pillow cases, etc. Tried to go back to sleep only to have another rep come in with a combination lock for us and instructions on where the bunkers are located and when we need to run. Again, back to sleep only to have another rep walk in looking for the previous rep. Then all three stood right outside our door and laughed and talked for about a half hour! We couldn’t get in to do a sound check because a military band was in the venue rehearsing. Then they had a Thanksgiving service right after rehearsal. Show started late but it was another awesome performance. There was about 600 people packed into the building and lots of NATO forces. We saw people from Norway, U.K., Germany and Egypt. Lots of Marines. This base has not had any celebrity entertainment in well over a year. Only had a couple of military bands come perform for them. To say that they were all appreciative is quite an understatement. Not only did I collect 4 more coins but I got one of the new “digitized” desert camo shirts that the Marines are wearing, one of the Marine caps, AND a Marine’s dogtag! Told the girls my secret to securing the clothing. Just walk up to a guy, introduce yourself and ask his name. And THEN, turn around and press your back against his back and say, “I think we’re the same size and I just love your pants”. (doesn’t hurt to sort of wiggle around a little to make sure you’re getting the right fit.) Works every time. I have two sets of desert BDU’s, one desert flight suit, 2 green flight suits, and one set of green camos. The jackets all have the guys names on them so when I wear them, I get to “promote” the soldier who gave me the article of clothing. The dog tag is more special to me than any of my coins and I’ll wear it every day. By the way, Chely, I got you a date with a REALLY cute Marine who will be back in the States in 3 days. J The band signed autographs for a couple of hours and it was such a blessing. Everyone who attended had big smiles on their faces and just couldn’t thank us enough for coming to entertain them. THIS is what makes it all worthwhile. There’s never any way we will ever be able to repay them for their services but for just a little while, it makes us feel like we’re doing a little to show them how much we appreciate their sacrifices. They got 3 guys and 1 girl up on stage to sing “Sweet Home Alabama” and this was again the highlight of the show for those attending. The showers here are a challenge but guess what? I broke my cold water jinx. Had steaming hot water and it was wonderful. Only the shower is so small and the shower head doesn’t move. So when you try to shampoo your hair, it washes out before you can rub it in. But, hey, no complaints. We’re here for one night and these guys and girls are here for as long as a year at time. I will say that this was the first dining facility we’ve been in where the food was actually ‘seasoned’ and tasted good! I was hiking back from the toilets in my “shoe heels” and these Afghani’s stopped and asked me what time it was. I said, “boy did you ask the wrong person. I don’t have a clue”. Then they said, “you walk like you are in Hollywood”. What??? I walked like I’m wearing heels that are way too high and trying not to break my neck on the big rocks that cover the dust! Tomorrow we don’t have to put bags out until 0700 Zulu which someone tells me is the same as 11:30 am. Wow, we get to sleep in. I’m going to get in as workout at their gym before we take another C-130 into Kandahar where we’ll have Thanksgiving Dinner with the troops stationed there. No show tomorrow night and it’s a good thing! One of the artists has completely lost his voice and another is headed that way. Just can’t travel like they have had us going and not let them get any rest and expect them to stay healthy. Glad that tomorrow will be an easy day….Famous last words. Jude
DAY SIX, NOVEMBER 25TH – HAPPY THANKSGIVING Couldn’t check or send email last night because AOL was blocked at the cyber café. Making me crazy. I think the girls and I got up every hour last night to go to the bathroom. And, or course, it was a hike to reach it over really large rocks and dust. Did get up and get in a great workout even though I was the only female in the gym! Then we headed over to the PAX terminal to check in for our flight. I was NOT happy about traveling on Thanksgiving Day instead of performing but I don’t get to call the shots. When we arrived at the terminal, they told us that the dining facility wouldn’t be open until after we had left. So, for lunch, we had food from Burger King! When we finished eating, we were then told that our plane had mechanical problems and we would not be leaving until much later that day. This base has been really lax on taking care of us – no information, no transportation – just basically picked us up and “dumped” us off to fend for ourselves. One of the guys met a soldier who said he would be happy to take us on a tour of the perimeter. We drove around for a couple of hours and saw lots of land mine fields, some bombed out tanks and an old Russian plane that is supposedly one of Osama’s. Also saw a hanger that is “haunted”. The Afghans came in and butchered the Russian soldiers and our guys have some barracks in there. They sleep with the lights on because the noise get too loud if they turn the lights off! Also saw lots of little local kids who would beg for water. We’re not allowed to give them anything and it just breaks your heart. But our soldiers are taking good care of them and give them food, water, toys, supplies regularly. We got stopped by an MP and he took the keys away from the driver and said we had to stay where we were until more MP’s arrived. Evidently, we were not supposed to be taking photos or video taping the perimeter. For a few minutes it looked like they were going to confiscate our cameras. But once they found out who we were and why we’re here, they said they “didn’t see any cameras” and asked for autographs. Got back to the main base and was able to log onto AOL but it took 20 minutes to open one message and my response never went out. Just gave up. Had 84 waiting for me and sure hope none of them are urgent! Instead of departing as scheduled, we were told that we had to grab something to eat and then go to the Pax Terminal. I absolutely was not going to agree to that. We had already been robbed of performing on Thanksgiving, then we missed lunch with the troops and now they wanted us to miss dinner with\ them. We went to the dining hall and ate dinner with them but it was rushed. I also went from table to table and wished them all “Happy Thanksgiving” and thanked them for their service. I feel so “cheated” that the artists gave up their Thanksgiving to spend it cheering up our troops and then we were denied that privilege. Letters will be written when I get back home! We took a C-17 instead of a C-130 – much larger and has jet engines instead of props. But, they did a combat takeoff and it was pretty intense. Flight crew was out of Charleston and just great guys. Let us go up on the flight deck and they are going to ask if they can come pick us up for the long flight from Kandahar to Qatar – 4 hours. The C-17 has a TOILET and the C-130 doesn’t – would make a huge difference. Arrived at Kandahar and I met a soldier who was there to lead a memorial service and escort the bodies of two young marines back home. They were killed a couple of days ago by an IED. So sad! The whole base was talking about what great guys they were. Got in our lodging (conex) and the toilet is right outside the door for once. Of course, the shower is almost a mile away….We were hiking back from using the telephones when a couple of really sweet guys in Special Forces picked us up and gave us a ride. We fly to T.K. tomorrow – a very remote site – for a show and then come back to Kandahar the following day.
DAY 7 – NOVEMBER 26TH: Went down to take my shower last night because I thought it wouldn’t be crowded and MAYBE there would be some hot water. Hiked about ¾ of a mile over the big rocks and walked into the Ladies’ Shower Tent. Only there were 2 men laying on the benches instead of women showering. They jumped up and said that the showers were broken and wouldn’t be repaired for several hours! Up early to shower and this time it was repaired. Only I forgot my towels! So, hiked BACK down again…. Put my clothes right outside the shower and when I finished, realized that the water had leaked out and the clothes that I was going to wear were soaked! We flew a Chinook from Kandahar to K.T. – Tarrin Kowt – a VERY remote site – exactly where we like to go. Chinook ride was a blast for the artists who have never flown one. One of the flight crew called me up to the window so I could take photos. Only, he decided it was time to do the friendly fire just as I leaned out of the window. The blasts were deafening, even with my ear plugs in. The scenery was pretty spectacular….all brown and lots of mountains. I can definitely see how the Taliban can hide out forever in those mountains. Everything is “primitive” at this camp. It is the most remote one we will visit. The girls were in one tent and the boys were in another and they were not near each other. The only toilets are portapotties that are about a half mile away, EXCEPT for these outhouses that are really nasty. The boys have, excuse my language, “piss” tubes. It’s just these tubes going into the ground and there is a half-wall of plywood around the front of them. Of course, I’m always approaching from the rear, so that’s interesting. The tent at least has a floor in it and is supposedly heated and cooled. This is also the tent where the two young soldiers that were killed were from. The guys are pretty subdued. I took the two girls out to visit the outposts because those guys were not going to get to come to the show. They actually “LIVE” in these little towers for a week at a time, guarding the perimeter. Those soldiers were so happy to see us and so impressed that we would take the time to come out and sign an autograph for them! Very heart-warming for us. The soldiers stationed at this camp were so excited to see us. They never get celebrity entertainment at this Camp. We probably had 350 attend the show which was great considering the other soldiers were on duty. We started the show early while the sun was still up. It was really HOT here today, probably in the high 90’s. Then the sun went down and the temperature dropped immediately. It was freezing by the time they finished the autographs. There were lots of local Afgan National Police at the show and they all wanted an autograph and to have their photos taken with the artists. The U.S. soldiers had given them all nicknames and brought them up one by one and had them say their “American names” for our video camera. There was “Earl”, “Jeff Gordon”, “Sweet Ricky”, “Homey Boy”, “Charlie Manson” and several others that I can’t remember. It was hilarious but the Afghans are really proud of their U.S. nicknames! And, they have such a wonderful friendship with our soldiers. I think this will be our best show just because these soldiers needed it so much and because we really, really boosted their morale. The internet works better here than anywhere else we have been in Iraq which is a total surprise. Of course, I still can’t use my laptop so don’t know when I’ll be able to send this road report out.
DAY 8, NOVEMBER 27TH: Soooo, last night the girls went to bed early and I walked over to use the internet. Then I decided to hike up to the port-a-potty. As I walking in the pitch dark, a mortar landed somewhere to my right. It wasn’t too horribly loud and I didn’t see any fire or smoke after it hit, I figured it was pretty far away but I make the stop at the port-a-potty pretty quick. Went back to the tent to get some sleep. We had brought duffels full of blankets for the girls and guys. We slept on cots with the blankets and no pillows. We were supposed to bring our own pillow but I didn’t want to carry one around for just one camp. So, I folded my coat up and make it into a pillow… not a very good one and certainly not comfortable! I probably hadn’t been in bed for an hour when a mortar or RPG hit and it sounded like it was right next to our tent. We all sat up in bed and had no idea what to do because we had not been given a briefing. Our MWR rep went outside to check things out while we sat shaking on our cots. She came back in and said that it was just our guys doing some test firing and everything was fine. Sure wish they had told us they were going to do the tests. About 20 minutes later, another one went off then all was quite. It got so cold in the tent and the blanket did absolutely no good. We had left all our clothes in Kandahar and just brought over enough clothes for the show and for the trip back. But, we put on everything we had brought with us. If I hadn’t been using my coat as a pillow, I would have slept in that, too. It was a very long, cold, miserable night. Then we found out the next morning that the duffle full of blankets for the boys had not been in their tent! I felt so sorry for them. We flew back to Kandahar on Chinooks again but had to make several stops on the way to pick up and drop off soldiers and packages. At the last stop, they loaded a couple of large packs and one was placed right in front of me. I noticed a white sticker on it that had the soldier’s name, his social security number and then it said: “KIA-24 Nov 04” and a note that said an inventory was located inside the pack. It was one of the soldier’s packs who had been killed a couple of days ago. I can’t tell you what that does to your heart to sit there and stare at that label and his personal pack for a half hour. Even though we didn’t know them, it still makes you feel a personal attachment. Landed in Kandahar with several hours “off”. We went down to the Subway sandwich shop and then to the Exchange to do some shopping. Girls got a massage while I went to the gym to work out. Missing my early morning runs and workouts tremendously. Our show tonight is in the new MWR building and it’s a pretty small room but I’m sure we will pack it out. Show was fantastic. The room was packed and I met so many wonderful men and women who attended the show. A couple of guys offered to let us use their office for phone calls and internet service after the show and we took them up on their offer. We have pretty much just been “dumped” at every site in Afghanistan and left to “fend” for ourselves. No one to drive us to the dining hall, sound check or shows and it’s a long walk to those places. So, it was nice too hook up with two guys who had “wheels”. I managed to go in the men’s latrine after the show. Was busy talking to our escort and he didn’t stop me from walking right in. I saw some really big feet in one of the stalls as I went into the door and it made me realize I was in the wrong place.
DAY NINE, NOVEMBER 28TH: Got to work out AGAIN today. I’m a new woman. Showers are closer to the gym than to our lodging, so I stopped on the way back from my workout to shower. Then I somehow went into the wrong building when I was going back to lodging. Thank goodness I couldn’t find a door with the number “6” on it or I would have waltzed into someone else’s room! I ordered 20 Subway sandwiches for our 4 hour flight and we took a quick tour of the Old Taliban headquarters before our flight. The U.S. Air Force dropped a J-Dam right in the center of the building and killed everyone in it. It was amazing. Our troops just say the hole is a “skylight” in the room. Saw the old airplane hanger where we had our show when I was here in December 2002 with SGM Tilley and Darryl Worley. Our flight crew was out of Texas and were so sweet to us. I stayed up on the flight deck for most of the 4 hour flight getting to know them. It’s refreshing to talk to people who are so knowledgeable about what is really going on in this area. The girls were praying that we wouldn’t have to use the “honey bucket” but 4 hours was just too long for us to not use the toilet. It was QUITE an experience. We landed right on time in Qatar. I remember the lodging and venue (and shopping) from this past July. But none of the same staff is here. Today is Gordon’s birthday (guitar) and I’m sure it is one he will remember for the rest of his life! We went to dinner and hooked up with our flight crew again. Karen was putting salt on her salad and the entire top fell off….compliments of one of the flight crew. I feel sorry for him tomorrow night when she gets that microphone in her hand. It’s sad that tomorrow night will be our last show. I don’t think anyone is ready for the tour to end.
DAYS 10 AND 11, NOVEMBER 29-30TH So, Qatar is like “paradise” for the troops. Lots of the men and women are sent here for R&R. There’s a huge swimming pool, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Subway Sandwich Shop, Coffee Beanery, Baskin Robbins, Dunkin’ Donuts, etc., etc.! It’s not supposed to get cold here and we were really looking forward to some 90 degree weather. But, of course, the day before we arrived, the wind kicked in and it turned cold. I was going to run outside this morning but the wind was blowing too hard. But there is a great gym here and I got in 30 minutes on the treadmill and 30 minutes of weights. I am definitely feeling “normal” again after getting to work out 3 days in a row. Although we try not to complain, it’s going to be nice NOT to have to get up, put on clothes and shoes, and walk a half a mile to a bathroom several times in the middle of the night. But, at least here, it’s REAL toilets and not portapotties and the showers are awesome. There is a curtained off area where you can undress before stepping into the shower. All the other showers had no “privacy”. You just undressed in the middle of the room and stepped into a tiny shower. In these showers, there’s actually room to step to the side and not be standing directly under the water all the time. Which means, we could all shave our legs! What luxury. Makes me appreciate the women who are deployed even more. And, the dining hall is the bomb! They were making omelets this morning and I think everyone in our group had one. I had another massage which is really nice right before flying for 24 hours. Only cost $34 here for one hour. She was great but right in the middle of the massage, she stopped and said, “Excuse me mam, where you buy you pants?” J She had this really old American music playing very loud and she sang along with is. Trust me, she was definitely “off-key” the entire time. At one point, she added some toe-tapping and this clicking sound with her mouth. Quite the entertaining massage. Our show is at 4 pm today because we have to fly home at 1:50 am tonight. All the flights out of here depart at around midnight in order to make connections in Europe. We’ve now had 4 people who have had to visit the medic. Jimi (artist) had to go after only a couple of days in country because he was losing his voice. Phillip lost his the next day and couldn’t even sing for 2 of the shows. It’s nothing more than the 36 hours of non-stop travel and breathing that airplane air and then not getting by 3 hours of sleep after the first night because of our travel schedule. Andy (drummer) is congested today and Karen (artist) is feeling queasy so both of them are at the medic now. A lot of the show posters were advertising the show for 8 pm instead of 4 pm. We told as many people as possible, but the audience was very light at the beginning of the show. But as people began to hear the music, they started wandering up. The group called a couple of our pilots up on stage for the audience participation part of the show. Andy – our pilot – thought everyone was going to sing together and was horrified to learn that he was supposed to sing “solo”. He talked Jimi into getting behind him and singing his part until the girls figured out what he was doing. Then they made him sing and let’s just say that he should stick with what he does best – flying a plane. Tried to get Luke up on stage because he’s the one who pulled the salt-shaker trick on Karen last night. But he hid out and wouldn’t come up. Had lots of compliments from everyone saying how good the group was and thanking us for taking the time to come over and entertain them. If only I could explain to them what a blessing we get out of these trips! Lots of people wanting to buy cds, too. Sure wish AFE would allow the artists to sell to them. We went to dinner after the show and sat with some troops from Australia. They were so nice and it was fascinating listening to them give their take on the efforts in Iraq. They were stationed north of Mosul and were only in Qatar for a few days of R&R. The group that we met is training the local Iraqi’s to be policemen. They told us all about their efforts and how the Iraqi men are so scared that something is going to happen to them or their families because they have agreed to serve. Had to shower and pack up so we can depart the base at 9:30 pm. Have to clear “customs” on the base and then go to the airport. Our flight doesn’t depart until 1:50 am! Check in was the usual nightmare – only we didn’t get “attacked” by the luggage handlers this time. We did have to take all the gear from the check-in counter to the “oversize” belt ourselves. Then, the little door on the ramp wouldn’t open and they couldn’t send the equipment to the plane. They finally ended up calling someone to open it from the outside. I spent a couple of hours just getting the excess charges taken care of. Then we started through security and got stopped for carrying on the guitars. They wouldn’t give us the “main cabin baggage” tags so we had to go back and talk to a supervisor. While we were waiting for her, I sort of stole some of the tags and managed to put them on all but one of the guitars before the Supervisor arrived. Good thing because she also refused to let us carry them on. I had sent everyone else through and only kept the one guy without the tag with me. She asked how many guitars we had and I told her “four”. Then she wanted to know where everyone else was and I told her that they were allowed to carry theirs on. Then she said, “Well, just go ahead then”. It was only a little lie and there were lots of passengers with bigger, heavier carry-on bags than our guitars. And, once we got on the plane, there was plenty of space in the overhead for the instruments. Qatar Airlines is not an airline I look forward to flying. The seats are very uncomfortable and the flight attendants are not very “attentive”. It was almost an 8 hour flight and was pretty miserable. At least the guys in coach had plenty of empty seats so they could lie down. Landed in London with a 3 hour layover and it took all that time to get our boarding passes. The girl working the counter told our Kansas City passenger that he was booked to Nashville and that the ticket he had for Kansas City was on a flight that didn’t exist. I knew that wasn’t correct because Qatar Airlines would not have been able to issue him claim checks for his luggage if that had been true. The agent finally blamed the mistake on the computer and got everything straightened out. Then, we started through security and one of the business class passengers had been issued a coach boarding pass. Took another 30 minutes to get that cleared up with the same inept ticket agent. Got to the gate and went through the same scenario with the guitars. We were finally allowed to carry them on and they fit just fine in the overhead! This was a 9 hour flight to Atlanta from London. Landed in Atlanta with a 4 hour layover but it took us that long to collect all our gear and go through customs. One of the artists got detained because he filled out his customs form incorrectly! Flight to Nashville was less than an hour and uneventful except for the 300+ pound man sitting next to me using the seat belt extension and the 300+ pound man sitting in front of me who was so heavy that his seat pressed back against my knees the entire flight. At least I was “well-cushioned” if we had gone down. J The artist’s manager did hear that a plane had crashed in Afghanistan and had a panic attack that it was ours. It was a wonderful tour and again, life-changing for the artists. I know first-hand why the soldiers in Afghanistan are saying they are the “forgotten war”. These men and women still have a very important mission in Afghanistan and their efforts are definitely beginning to show. I hope we can continue to take entertainment into that area as well as into Iraq. The remote sites are the ones that need the morale boost and that’s the places we need and want to visit. Jude