Country singer Mark Chesnutt is yet once again heading overseas to entertain the men and women who fight for our freedom. Mark expressed interest in performing for our troops a few years back and has since traveled to Kuwait and Iraq. Entertaining our troops is now in his blood and has become a new passion of his.
While in Korea, Mark will perform at different Air Force bases as well as visit the DMZ, Demilitarized Zone. The DMZ is the area where our troops are stationed at the border between North and South Korea.
“It was the time of my life; an experience I’ll never forget. We flew in Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters and even rode in a tank. Although I can say we all had fun and our time there was surreal, the visit really brought a sense of clarity to the reality of the life that these men and women are living. They spend their lives away from family, protecting our country to enable us to spend time with ours. What an unselfish act of sacrifice.” – Mark Chesnutt, Country Artist
TUESDAY AND WEDNESDAY, APRIL 6-7, 2010 – NASHVILLE, TN TO KUNSAN, KOREA VIA ANCHORAGE ALASKA:
On the road again….this time with Mark Chesnutt and his guys. Up at 3:30 am to shower and dress for the KC-135 flight (compliments of MacDill Air National Guard) to Korea. Had my taxi driver pick me up at 5:50 am and then went to the Radisson Hotel near the airport to pick up Mark and his pedal steel player “Slim”. Those two, along with Mark’s manager, flew in from Texas yesterday. Everyone was ready on time and we were all to meet that Tennessee Air National Guard terminal to be escorted to the aircraft. While I was in the hotel lobby settling the bill, I got a call from one of Mark’s entourage (who shall remain nameless) saying he was halfway to the Guard Terminal and realized he had left his passport at home. He was going back to get it but would be about 15 minutes late arriving. Happens every trip. 🙂
Everyone with the exception of the one with the missing passport and one other guy arrived on time. We tagged our bags and gave to the guys loading the aircraft. Then I got a call from the two missing guys with the message that the other person (who was already late) had forgotten his passport. Fortunately, he only lived about 20 minutes from the terminal. I had them bring his luggage in for him and sent him back home to retrieve his passport. Off to a very typical beginning for one of my trips.
The KC135 aircraft and flight crew arrived Nashville yesterday. The pilots who are flying us to Alaska (about a 7 hour flight) will stay in Anchorage and there are more pilots from MacDill “staged” in Alaska and they will fly us from Alaska to Korea. There are two females in the flight crew so I’m not the only female on the plane, which is comforting somehow.
We had a quick briefing (minus the one traveling back with his passport) and then it was off to the plane. They were able to secure the two comfort pallets (airplane seats) as I requested so that everyone had 2 seats to themselves. Really important for flights that are this long in duration. We’ve catered the aircraft and for the first time, we have electrical outlets on board. That’s a “first”. I’ve taken this same aircraft to Kosovo in 2008 with a flight crew from MacDill and to Kuwait last October with a flight crew from Grissom AFB. No power on those long flights.
We’ll be landing at Kunsan Air Base in Korea and immediately taking a Chinook helicopter to Camp Humphreys. We’ll stay at Camp Humphreys Lodge for two nights and then take choppers back to Kunsan for one night. Our first day in Korea, we’ll take choppers from Camp Humphreys up to Camp Casey for our first performance. Then return after the show to Humphreys to remain overnight. The second day on the ground, we’ll go to the DMZ for a tour and then perform at Camp Humphreys that evening. Third and last day in Korea, will be our performance at Kunsan Air Base. Our aircraft and flight crew will be at Kunsan the entire time and will do lots of re-fueling training missions with the flight crews at Kunsan. This will be the first time I’ve ever been to Korea and not stayed in Seoul or performed at Yongsan Garrison. As background, a part of our agreement with South Korea is that we would begin moving our U.S. troops farther away from Seoul. Camp Humphreys will become the new “Yongsan/Seoul” staging area. Our visit was timed to perform as part of the Korea American Friendship week. However, the ship that sank off the coast of Korea a couple of weeks ago has changed our itinerary a bit. Since 42 lives of South Korean Navy were lost in that incident, we are arriving during a week of mourning. I thought there was a chance our tour would be canceled but instead it will just be very low key. May have to move some of the concerts indoors as a show of respect. Seems things like this always happens with my tours. Last year when I took Charlie Daniels over, North Korea had just flexed their muscle by trying to lob a missile at the U.S. Fortunately their technology is so poor, the missile didn’t go very far.
All this talk of helicopter rides is very optimistic thinking. Weather in Korea is always a factor and choppers don’t fly in anything less than ideal situations. Plan “B” is to go by bus and the travel time is always long even for short distances because the traffic is bumper to bumper 24 hours a day!
Kunsan AB has always been one of my favorite bases in the entire world. They have the “Wolf Pack” there and every “Wolf” that I have met has gone on to be a one or two star General. I still stay in touch with them – 4 total since 1999 and all of them have been in Command in Iraq since the conflict began in 2003. I’ve taken performances to them many times in Iraq. One of my dearest friends – who I met at Kunsan many years ago – is now back in Korea as “The Wolf”. I have no doubt he will pin on his star as a General in the next couple of years as well.
We took off a little bit late from Nashville (because of the missing passport J). Flight so far has been smooth. They are expecting a little turbulence over Minnesota, so I’m prepared.
It was a 7 ½ hour flight from Nashville to Anchorage. About halfway there, the flight crew set up lunch of deli sandwiches, fruit, veggies, chips, all sort of goodies. I worked for a while, read, and then slept for almost 2 hours. Going to bed late last night and getting up so early finally cured my recent week of insomnia! We landed pretty much on time and a bus delivered us to a grill on base. I thought we were doing a little Meet and Greet with Mark but no one seemed to be aware of it. The bar wasn’t open which was a disappointment since the guys can’t have alcohol on the plane. But one of the pilots arranged to have the bar opened and they drank several pitchers of beer. Everyone ordered food so I got a Caesar salad with smoked salmon. The salmon was incredible but I only ate a couple of bites because the internet wouldn’t work in the grill. I had to go upstairs to download the 100+ emails that I had received since departing Nashville. Internet was incredibly slow but I managed to at least open and download all the attachments. We rode the bus back to the aircraft about 5 minutes after I shut down my computer.
We picked up our new flight crew and Max (from my Kosovo trip) is one of our pilots again. Also Shin (Korean) who was with me in Kosovo is on the entire trip. Everyone on the trip “volunteered” which really makes it special. Shin’s birthday is tomorrow and his Mom who still lives in Seoul is also celebrating her birthday. So we got to bring him to Korea to celebrate. Very cool.
I answered all my emails off-line and will send them when we land. The plane is much colder on this leg of the trip. It’s a 9 ½ hour flight to Kunsan from Anchorage. The flight crew purchased a re-heating oven and brought Bar-be-que from “Jack’s” (one of the best bar-be-que places in Nashville). It took about an hour to heat it up and it was excellent. We have about 5 more hours of flying time, so I’m going to try and sleep for a while now…if I can just get my feet warm. J
I did sleep – again. Maybe I’m just so accustomed to sleeping on planes that it’s easier for me than in my own bed. The fact that there was NO turbulence also helped. The only drawback is the fact that the floor is freezing and up around the head gets really hot.
We landed in Kunsan a little bit late and as I was helping pass out the Immigration Forms – my buddy “The Wolf” came on board to welcome us. Life in Korea is agreeing with him. He looks fantastic. He will be moving up to Seoul in May and staying another two years in Korea. I’m SURE he will be promoted to General during that time. So happy for him.
Mark and I drove over to the PAX terminal with him and finalized some paperwork. We’ll be back at Kunsan on Saturday for a performance and then fly home on Sunday. I didn’t know until we landed that the “gauge” for the refueling tanks on the KC135 is broken. Kunsan has 2 full days of refueling exercises scheduled and now that might not happen! They are working on getting a part delivered from Kadena and I really hope that happens.
We loaded the Chinooks for the 30 minute (which turned out to be more like an hour) flight to Humphreys. Mark and I rode with the luggage/equipment and everyone else rode in the 2nd Chinook. It was FREEZING on board because the wind was blowing really hard and of course the rotors were turning. Took forever to load our few pieces of luggage/gear. We were all on headsets and I didn’t want to interrupt their “official” chatter but wanted to ask if they could turn on the heat. Finally one of the crew asked if we were cold and I replied “frozen”! He said they had forgotten to turn on the heat. Once they got it on, things were much nicer but it was almost time to land at that point.
We got checked into lodging at Humphreys and everyone was dead tired. They had sub sandwiches waiting for everyone which was a very good thing because everything on base closes at 9 pm. I didn’t want anyone going off base tonight because we don’t get our ID cards until tomorrow.
So, it’s almost midnight and I have to get off email and get some sleep. Big day tomorrow. Fortunately only one day is declared as a day of mourning rather than the entire week. Friday will be the official day of mourning.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 8TH – PERFORMANCE AT CAMP CASEY:
Did I mention that there was snow everywhere when we refueled in Anchorage? They had just gotten 2 additional inches when we landed. J
I got in bed by 2 am and at 4:15 am, the bright light in the ceiling came on all by itself. I got up and turned it off figuring it was on some kind of timer and then at 5 am, it came on again! When I met the group in the lobby at 8 am, they were all complaining about the same thing. Every light came on at varying times last night.
The weather was clear although still very cool for this time of the year in Korea. We all had to go secure our photo IDs and I ran Mark over to the BX to see if we could find a warmer jacket. They really didn’t have anything so he just borrowed Tim’s leather bomber jacket for the tour.
We boarded a Chinook and flew for about an hour from Camp Humphreys to Camp Casey for our first show. The crew lowered the back of the Chinook and while the view was beautiful, it was freezing! I had them pull it back up because Mark was sitting right in the blowing wind and I didn’t want him to get sick. We landed but were almost an hour late arriving. Dropped the guys off at the stage and I could tell that the production company did not have the stage set up and ready for them. I had to go to AFN with Mark for interviews so I left Tim in charge of getting the stage up and running. After the interview, we took Mark, Joe and Tim to see the Abrams Tanks and they all got to take rides in them. Mark said he was definitely getting “old” because he had so much trouble climbing in and out of the tank. As he was trying to step in, noticed a little door that was latched. He flipped the latch up and was going to step on the door only it turned out to be the ammunition door. He quickly closed it back up. J
We went to the golf course for lunch and honestly, it’s the best food I’ve ever had on a base over here. By the time we finished lunch, it was time to go dress for the show, do another interview, and a quick Meet and Greet with the Base VIPS. Major General Tucker and his wife Teresa were there. They are dear friends of General B.B. and Katie Bell and huge country music fans. They were the ones who were instrumental in bringing Mark to Korea to entertain the troops. Really nice people!
The show started on time and the crowd estimate was at about 2,000 people which was great for 3 pm in the afternoon. Had some sound problems in the first couple of songs but it got better. Evidently the big problem with the Sound Company was the fact that no one spoke English. We are getting that problem fixed tomorrow.
Mark signed autographs and took photos with everyone for about an hour and a half after the show. Then we went back to the golf course for dinner. Again, we were running about an hour later than anticipated. The Aviation Brigade (the only one in all of Asia) had planned a little “party” for everyone at their Mess. All afternoon Mark and the guys were talking about how they were looking forward to drinking some beers with our pilots. Then on the hour flight back to Camp Humphreys, everyone fell asleep. Everyone, including Mark who was also having problems with his contact lens, had to bail on the party – with the exception of Jimmy, the “rookie” and youngest one in the group. I went over and apologized to the Commander and gave him cds and a coin. He gave me a “gold” coin and this really cool “shot glass”. The Apaches fire 30 cals and they take the empty casing and polish it up, put their emblem on it and use it for a shot glass. I invited him to bring his guys/girls backstage before the show tomorrow so Mark can meet them, sign autographs and take photos with them. Felt so bad that we all bailed but he said he understood.
So, back in my room answering email and hoping not to stay up until 2 am tonight! J
FRIDAY, APRIL 9TH – PERFORMANCE AT CAMP HUMPHREYS: Got up early so that I could answer emails and deal with questions before my office closed. Thought I would go to the gym and work out but there isn’t one in the Lodge. This place is nice but certainly doesn’t have the “amenities” of the Dragon Hill Lodge in Seoul – no fitness club, no restaurants, no food court or coffee shop – basically just nice rooms. There is a little “breakfast room” with cereal, coffee, etc. from 6:30-9:30 am.
Showered and met the guys downstairs for an “on-time” departure to the DMZ. We took blackhawks and it was about a 45 minute ride. The guys had some great views of Seoul at that early morning hour. We have really been blessed with great weather, too. We landed and had our “brief” (which I could probably give after having heard it so many times. We had 3 great guys assigned to escort our tour and the guys really enjoyed this part of the trip. The only disappointment was the fact that we did not get to go into the Conference Room and cross over into North Korea to have a photo made with one of our ROK soldiers. There was a group of people from the Soviet Union already in there from the North Korean side. They lock the doors on our side and we aren’t allowed to go inside until they leave. Obviously no one “coordinates” the times of these tours since we aren’t exactly on a friendly basis with our North Korean neighbors!
They did get to see the “Bridge of No Return” and “Propaganda” and “Freedom” villages and some other sites. Then they had a few minutes to buy some souvenirs at the DMZ Gift Shop. We had lunch at Camp Bonifas DFAC and our flight crew was in there as well. Made it back to Lodging just in time for the guys to change and go to sound check. I took Mark, Joe, and Kelly to Osan to shop. Found Mark’s wife a really beautiful jade and gold pendant and I purchased an empty duffle bag to put all his gifts in. Then the guys ate all with disgusting food from the little street stalls. Dried squid…YUCK! I stopped in to see Mr. O – the best tailor in Osan and told him I am friends with one of his customers – Major General Steve Sargeant. His face lit up and he insisted on taking a photo with me. I’ve been wearing my Army Fleece with the “One Star General” ranking on it and been getting saluted a lot. Pretty funny. I haven’t made anyone do push ups…yet! J When we were at Kunsan, I wore my Air Force Jacket that the guys in Balad gave me. Got to be politically correct.
Drove back to lodging and no one wanted to eat dinner with the band because they ate so much in Osan. We had about an hour before leaving for the show and I answered emails, of course. This is the first time I’ve performed at Camp Humphreys indoors. They have a beautiful gym and were worried about weather, so we performed there. The sound was awesome. Mark did an interview with PAO and then a little “Meet and Greet” with the Aviation Brigade that he “stood up” at the bar last night. They were asking him to come by tonight but he told them he wasn’t sure he would feel like it after the show. The Colonel that I delivered the apology to who gave me the really cool gifts last night made me promise I’d stop by for at least one drink.
The show was amazing and we had over a thousand people there. Would have been more but the Camp gave the troops today off so everyone had a 3 day weekend. There’s no “women” on base for the young soldiers, so they definitely went off base. The autograph line was very long and lasted almost 2 hours. I didn’t think Mark would go by and have a drink with the pilots which gave me an excuse not to go, too. But, he surprised me and said he was going to go have just ONE drink. There were two women in the autograph line who are always at the country music shows at Humphreys. Actually, they were men previously and went to Thailand for sex changes. They have known me since 1998 when I came over with Chely Wright. Really sweet “shims” but kind of freaked my redneck entourage out. 🙂
We went back to Lodging to drop our bags and that’s when I learned that the internet is down. One of our tech guys went into the server room and “reset” it but it didn’t work. Now I am very, very stressed.
I rode over to the bar with Mark and some of his guys to make good on our promise to have one drink with the pilots. Believe it or not, that’s all we did – have one drink and return to Lodging. All really great guys and I would have stayed longer if I were not so stressed about the internet. Lodging says they can’t work on it until tomorrow!
So, I am packing and going to bed soon. Been answering email on my Blackberry. Really glad I have the 3G T-Mobile phone so all my email comes in.
SATURDAY, APRIL 10TH – KUNSAN AB, KOREA
Because the internet is down, I actually had time to go for a short run (only 3 miles L) this morning. I feel SOOOOOO much better. Ready to take on the Wolf Pack festivities now.
Only one person was late this morning but I was met with the news that a couple of my guys went into town without our escort. I have preached to them all week long that it’s fine to go into town as long as they are accompanied by our escort. They evidently buddied up with some of the aviators and left without the escort. I’m truly glad they didn’t get into any trouble but very unhappy with those two.
We departed to the flight line pretty much on time but then we were very late taking off. The flight took 1 ½ hours instead of the 45 minutes it took coming over. Not sure why. We landed and the Wolf and his staff met us. Got all the guys and myself checked into Lodging and Mark into the Wolf’s Den. We all went to lunch and then to a “simulator firing range”. I’ve played on one of these many times in Kuwait and the guys loved it. They shot everything from bad guys to turkeys on the video screens. Really a treat for all of them.
Afterwards, the guys had to do sound check and Mark was going to rest. I took that time to catch up with The Wolf. Haven’t seen him in over a year so we had lots to talk about.
Everyone had an amazing dinner at the Loring Club compliments of the Wolf Pack. It was an Asian Buffet with all this great Korean food. When we finished eating, The Wolf gave all the guys one of his coins and a special “Wolf Cranium” to Mark and me. His little speech had me all ready to cry when he said something funny and took the pressure off. My plaque says: Jude Seale – Great American. Now, how cool is that?
Mark had to do an interview and the show was scheduled to begin at 7 pm. Somehow when the base printed the flyers, they scheduled the show for 8 pm. So, Mark and the guys went into the bar and hung out for about an hour. I had gotten word that the pilots were looking for me so I went to lodging to find them. Turns out, they had been unable to get anyone to pump out the toilet on the aircraft and it was 80% full. The last time it was emptied was in Anchorage and then we had the 9 ½ hour flight to Kunsan after the guys had drunk beers for 3 hours. Not good. Seems the only way to pump it out was with a piece of equipment from Osan. My suggestion was that we stop through Osan when we departed tomorrow. However, they were able to make a call and find that Osan was driving the equipment up to pump out the toilet. That would have been a miserable flight otherwise.
Show started right on time and Mark and the guys had a blast. It was in a fairly small club and it was packed with partying Airmen. Mark loved the audience and had a blast performing the show. Near the end of the show, a young man asked me to dance and Wolf wouldn’t let me refuse. When we finished dancing, he told me he liked my tattoo! Now how in the world he saw that, I’ll never know…or maybe I don’t want to know.
Autograph line was very short and Mark finished up in about an hour. The band had already gone back to lodging but we stood around and listened to Mark tell hilarious stories for a while. Wolf dropped him off that the Wolf’s Den and me off at lodging. Mark and the band kept saying, “This was the highlight of the tour. The best audience and the best base we worked with.
Now they know why it’s one of my favorite bases to visit.
I MIGHT get in bed by 1 am for a 4 am wakeup call. J
SUNDAY, APRIL 11TH – KOREA TO ALASKA TO NASHVILLE:
Actually got almost 3 hours sleep. No problem. I can sleep on the flight. Wish we had planned to take a day off here.
There was a guy at the concert last night with the greatest t-shirt. It said, “Check Out My Incentive Package”. I took a photo of him. I wanted to ask him how it was working out for him. J
Everyone was downstairs and ready to depart at 6 am except for one casualty. I left Tim behind to drive him over to the terminal, put everyone else on the bus, and I rode with Wolf to pick up Mark. There was a big problem trying to get wake-up calls. The Lodge has only been open for 1 month. My alarm clock worked but you couldn’t set the alarm on it. I called the front desk and they said they weren’t capable of giving wakeup calls yet but I could set one on my phone. Told me to press the “messages” button and dial 4. That didn’t work! I called them back several times and finally figured it out for myself by pressing “Services” instead of “messages”.
We were supposed to clear Customs which is why we arrived at the terminal so early. Wolf was able to get that “waived” for us so we sat and waited for them to load the plane and thought we’d be able to depart. Not so. Evidently Korean Immigration was not going to even show up at the terminal until 8 am. I had Wolf’s guys bring all the stuff off the aircraft that we had purchased for breakfast so they could at least eat something. We finally departed about an hour late. The guys were still talking about Kunsan being the absolute “highlight” of the tour for them and I have to agree.
Very little turbulence on the flight to Alaska and most of the people slept all the way there. We had catered some sandwiches for the meal but very few people woke up to eat. Landed about an hour late in Alaska and it was almost midnight there – the night before. We had two “Saturday nights”. J The grill was closed but the bar was open although very, very loud with karoke singers – ouch! I went upstairs and did a quick interview with the PA who was with us on the trip. Then answered emails until it was time to board the aircraft again. We had pizzas and sub sandwiches for this part of the flight and will have some breakfast food before we land.
Flight was smooth and again, almost everyone slept the entire way. We landed in Nashville on time and TN ANG had their PR folks out there taking photos of Mark as we came in. Lots of hugs and thank you’s all around. We got Slim, Mark and Joe to the airport so they could fly standby on an earlier flight. Since I didn’t hear from them again, I feel sure they got out early.
Just a footnote about performances in Korea as opposed to performances in Iraq. Biggest differences are – there are families with children present and there is alcohol. Just a very different audience. But I have to say that the level of appreciation is the same. So many of the troops in Korea feel like they have been forgotten since the conflicts began in Afghanistan and Iraq and to some extent that is true. We tend to try and take care of the troops who are in harm’s way first. But, trust me, the situation with North Korea is very volatile and our military is doing a fantastic job. Hopefully I’ll be able to take more entertainers over throughout the year to thank them properly.
Honestly, I would have stayed another week in Kunsan just to share in that camaraderie. The Wolf Pack always has been one of my favorite places to visit on these tours. That hasn’t changed. Just did not have enough time with them but made some wonderful new, lifelong friends while I was there.
Good to be home for a couple of weeks before I head to Iraq with Darryl Worley!!!