Mark Wills is no stranger to performing for the troops stationed in the US or abroad. He jumps at the chance to “give back” every chance he can. Whether it’s Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Japan, Ft. Campbell, Ft. Bliss, Ft. Hood, Bethesda, benefits for the wounded, he is always willing to do his share to show his support for the sacrifices made by the men and women of our US military.
Mark’s 2nd single from his latest CD (LOOKING FOR AMERICA) entitled “Crazy Being Home,” a tribute to our military and the theme song for the USA Cares Warrior Treatment Today program as part of its national awareness campaign surrounding the severity of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Mark has initiated a campaign of his own via CrazyBeingHome.com–a community outreach to encourage and support America’s post-9/11 veterans, assist in raising funds for the PTSD and TBI programs, and to serve as an outlet for those who suffer to share their mutual stories. Reinforcing the evident need for a public discussion outlet, a number of personal accounts appear as postings (both written and recorded video) since the site’s launch in May 2011.
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 10TH – NASHVILLE TO HONOLULU, HAWAII:
Left Nashville EARLY this morning with Mark Wills and his musicians/crew for performances at JB Hickam Pearl Harbor, Barking Sands in Lihue, and Camp Kinser in Okinawa, Japan. Mark flew out of Atlanta and will meet us in Denver for the long flight to Honolulu. Been years since I’ve been to Hawaii and really looking forward to this tour.
No problems with check in at the airport. Had a really nice ticket agent who was very helpful with helping us avoid excess baggage charges. Can you believe it’s one of those tiny jets with one seat on one side and two on the other for a THREE hour flight to Denver. Even though I had Exit Row, it was a miserable flight. I only got one hour of sleep last night and was really looking forward to snoozing all the way. That didn’t happen!
We landed in Denver about 30 minutes before Mark. Everyone had time to grab a late breakfast/early lunch and then we boarded the flight to Honolulu. It’s a 7 hour flight and again the plane is one of the old jets. The seats don’t recline more than about 3 inches and there are no foot rests. I didn’t eat lunch so had the meal on the plane and then slept very uncomfortably for several hours. The plane was packed full, too.
We landed on time in Honolulu and Lara – our fantastic MWR rep met us with vans to take us to lodging. The Air Base is right next to the airport and they share a runway, so the drive was only about 5 minutes. We are in DV Quarters which are really nice and the wireless is slamming….pretty much all I care about in a room. J
We dropped our bags and Lara dropped us off in Waikiki with advice to eat at “Dave’s” on the beach. None of Mark’s guys have ever been to Hawaii so they were looking forward to a little “sightseeing”. They walked out on the beach and stuck their toes in the water. J The food was outstanding…the best fish I may ever have had. There was a fantastic salad bar and everyone was raving about how good it was…really, really fresh veggies. After dinner we walked across the street to the International Market so the guys could see the real touristy part of Waikiki. I bought the twins some t-shirts and beach clothes. We were in a taxi van by 8:30 pm and back at lodging by 9 pm. Keep in mind, that’s 2 am in Nashville.
Tomorrow we have a special VIP Tour in the Admiral’s boat of Pearl Harbor. Then the concert is tomorrow night and they expect 6,000 people to attend. How cool is it to be here in Pearl Harbor on 9/11 honoring some of the finest people in America? I am truly blessed.
It’s been several years since I was in Hawaii. Honolulu is too commercial and touristy for my tastes. I’m definitely a “Maui girl”. J
I’ve been working for 2 hours so trying to get in bed by midnight. Just might make it, too.
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11TH – PERFORMANCE AT JB HICKAM PEARL HARBOR:
What an amazing day. I know I’m going to leave out lots of good parts so I may add info in later reports.
Got about 5 hours sleep which was great. We stopped by a little food court and grabbed coffee and breakfast before heading to the Pearl Harbor Tour. We were invited to participate in the “Admiral’s” Tour which is a private tour for DV’s. It started with a short briefing about the area, then a visit to their museum and a film about the bombing. The movie had me in tears several times, watching those wonderful young men who lost their lives and thinking of all those who lost their lives 11 years ago today. Then we all boarded a boat for the “private VIP tour”. Our young Naval escorts were awesome, very knowledgeable but also very witty. I’ve taken the tourist tour a couple of times but this one included visits and information to places not covered for tourists.
The one “stop” on the tour was at the USS Arizona Memorial. We were delighted to find that U.S. flags were being sold and shipped with a certificate to those wishing to purchase. You could pick the “day” you wanted the flag flown, too. Mark asked the sales clerk if we could buy a flag and take it with us today and just have them mail the certificate. She agreed and then one of our Navy escorts took our flags and ran each one individually up the flagpole over the Memorial and let it fly. The wind was brutal today, so it was an awesome sight. I had the flag flown in memory of John and Jan Vigiano’s two sons who were lost in the Twin Towers on 9/11. The certificate will be made to them.
We made a quick stop for lunch where I had some awesome Mahi Mahi. Then the guys went to the stage and Mark and I went to the radio station. I was surprised to learn that the lady who set up our visit and on-air personality was someone I worked with in Honolulu in the mid-90’s! She remembered me and the artists I had brought over – Ronna Reeves and Rick Orozco. Mark did a great job with the interview at the station and they were going to run it tonight during drive time from 5-7 pm.
Mark and I went to the stage for sound check and everything was going great. They finished a few minutes early and everyone wanted to go to the Exchange and Fleet Market for some shopping. I have been trying to find some military pins and badges for my friend’s father in France. He is 85 years old and has built a museum honoring the World War II vets. He only lets American men come in the museum and if I will visit him, he’ll let me in. I’ve sent him lots of stuff from Iraq and Afghanistan but he had quite a few “Navy” items on his wish list. This is the first chance I’ve had to visit a Navy base in a long time so was delighted to find 5 of the items he wanted.
Had a few minutes to change clothes and then we went to JR Rocker’s for Mongolian Barbeque. I’ve had Mongolian Barbeque at lots of places around the world but this was the BEST ever. Afterwards Mark and I went straight to the stage for a VIP Meet and Greet. Met the Base Commander and he was a great guy! Our show started right on time. There were approximately 4,000 people in attendance which is great for a Tuesday night when people have to work the next day and school is in session. It had been threatening to rain all day and about 30 minutes into the show, it POURED. The cool thing is – no one left! They are all accustomed to it raining at least once a day and know it won’t last long. They were right. It rained about 15 minutes, then cleared up.
Mark and his guys gave a great, very touching performance, ending their set with everyone singing “God Bless the USA”. Mark is an “entertainer”, not just a country music singer. Our hosts were extremely pleased with the show and definitely want him back. The autograph line was very, very long and it started raining very early on. Again, no one left! Rain lasted about 15 minutes again and then it was over.
I have to say, while the tragedy of 9-11 will always make today a very sad day, it is made even more meaningful to me because of my dear friends the Vigianos. I cannot begin to comprehend the magnitude of their loss…both sons on the same day in such a brutal act of terrorism. Before we left for this tour, I was feeling very guilty and disappointed that we would not be going to a combat zone. Those of you who know me well, know that I want to get to our guys and girls on the front lines and thank them. When I was standing there today at the USS Arizona watching the U.S. flag fly in memory of John and Joe Vigiano, I knew that once again, God knows best. He put me in exactly the place I was supposed to be at exactly the right time. I will remember this day every year when we are honoring those who gave their lives on 9/11.
God Bless America.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 12TH – HONOLULU TO LIHUE:
First of all, couple of things I forgot in report last night:
While we were doing sound check, there was quite an air show taking place.
The base now has F-22 Raptors. It was so cool to watch them flying around!
Second thing – I took a photo of the port-a-potty! The one we had backstage was awesome! It was porcelain, flushed, had a light when you closed the door, a mirror, sink, and toilet tissue plus it was spotlessly clean. I am used to the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. I take a deep breath before I enter, unzip before I ever open the door, put the flashlight in my mouth, then prepare to hover and hold my breath. Always take my own tissue and hand sanitizer! The one in Honolulu was a “Cadillac”!
We left for the airport at 8:45 am. The lady at the check-in counter was awesome. She didn’t charge us anything for our excess bags! Flight to Lihue was only 35 Minutes. Our escorts Anne and Paul met us and we drove for about 45 minutes to the base. We stopped at a K-mart to buy some souvenirs and found that they no longer have bags for purchases. I ended up a buying a bag, too! Seems Kauai has banned plastic.
We stopped about 10 miles from the base to eat lunch. I had Cajun grilled mahi-mahi tacos and they were awesome! Arrived on base to learn that we are not in cottages on the beach as we had been told. But it was a nice and Mark and I got a suite. A good thing because I would not have been able to open both my bags at the same time in their regular size rooms! We also got the official notification that our performance in Okinawa is cancelled, so I have to start looking at flight options.
Band went to sound check and Mark and I went to meet the base commander. He was so nice and hospitable. He’s really excited to have entertainment for his guys. There are only 60 active duty “sailors” stationed at this base and 1,500 contractors. If you google the base, you’ll see that it’s a Missile Training Range. Had a very interesting brief from him. Since I know we won’t be flying out of here tomorrow because of the time difference and getting our flights re-booked, the Captain has made arrangements for us to do some fun things that will also boost the morale of his guys. He’ll give us the full brief tomorrow afternoon and then has arranged a helicopter tour of the island for the entire group.
We left his office and Mark went to sound check and I went to the room to try and get our flights re-booked. It’s very frustrating because our cell phones are blocked inside our rooms. They work fine as soon as you step outside and won’t work in our rooms! I spoke with a super nice lady who went through all the options with me and checked to make sure there were enough seats available for everyone in my group. She was ready to re-book my flight but I had to ask her to wait until I spoke with all the others. I called the Global Line back about 30 minutes later to re-book my flight. This time I got a guy and when he tried to book the flight, he said the flight from Denver to Nashville doesn’t exist. I was looking at it on the website and could have booked it online if I didn’t have an existing ticket to change. I hung up and called back 30 minutes later and got another lady on the Global Line. She informed me that NONE of the flights I gave her existed! I told her I was looking at them on the United website at that very minute. She informed me that the flights I can see are different from the flights she can see. I finally asked her to give me the flight options she could see with enough seats to get us all back home. She informed me that there were no flights departing on the 14th and arriving on the 15th that had enough seats. Now, their website shows about 30 flights available via Honolulu, Denver, Los Angeles, Newark, Phoenix, Chicago, San Francisco….just to name a few! Very frustrating. I hung up and will let my travel agent handle when the office opens.
The show took place at Shenanigan’s – a beautiful club overlooking the beach. The stage is built so that the ocean and sunset are right behind it. We had a huge crowd for this base – over 250 people. Mark gave an awesome performance again. When he came off stage, he was concerned that the audience did not have a very enthusiastic response. I told him they were super excited for this island. It’s the most “laid back” place ever. Think “old hippies” when you think of this island. There are tons of environmental restrictions as well. It’s very “remote” and I’d go crazy in about 24 hours. Beautiful but just too isolated for me.
The autograph line was long…over 100 people. We had dinner outside overlooking the ocean after the show. Our PR escort was kind enough to inform us that there were lots of “spirits” living on the island. In fact, we’re staying in what was a WWII morgue. Nice. Now you know why I’m still up at 2:30 am….that and waiting to hear back from the travel agent. Can’t believe my cell phone doesn’t work in my room. I’m scared to go outside in the dark, so I have to wait for emails.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 13TH – DAY “OFF” IN KAUAI:
I never went to bed last night. It was very frustrating trying to re-book flights with travel agents on a different time zone. At midnight, I thought I’d be in bed by 1 am, then 2 am, then 3, am then 4 am. But that time, offices were open and I needed to be available. At midnight, I opened my door to my room and laid my cell phone on the sidewalk outside so I’d have cell service. Had to leave the door open and turn off my air conditioner so I could hear the phone if it rang. I went through 2 pots of coffee before 9 am. I was WIRED on caffeine.
I talked to my Travel Agency at 6 am my time. She immediately called the United Premiere Global line to re-book mine and Mark’s flights. She was on the phone with them until 11 am my time – 5 hours to re-book 2 flights. Does that sound unreasonable? We were under the gun to cancel the existing flights before check-in time this morning. We were supposed to fly to Okinawa at 8:30 am but there is a Category 5 Typhoon headed right for Okinawa.
At one point, one of the United agents informed my travel agent that we had checked in yesterday for our flights today (which was a lie). Then another agent said that there was no typhoon heading to Okinawa and we needed to leave for the airport immediately and get on our fights for Okinawa. I emailed my travel agent the website called the typhoon a “super monster”! After 5 hours, she finally got us re-booked….on different flights from each other and not with the musicians. I don’t know the cost yet but am sure I won’t be happy with it. United has STILL not posted a typhoon warning on their website!
Now, re-booking the musicians was another matter. Those were booked by Carlson Travel SATO on “military fares”. Military fares have to be refundable and the price paid for those fares was about triple what they cost if I booked them myself directly with the airline. The travel agent sent me a flight option with a 25 minute connection time in Los Angeles and a 30 minute connection time in Detroit. HELLO…you’re a travel agent. Does that sound realistic to you???? Then she said the ONLY other option on a government fare was on American, flying all night via LAX and landing at 4:45 am in Nashville. Brutal. We finally agreed on the American flights and she sent us 3 itineraries. But, 5 o’clock rolled around for her and she left without sending us the other 2 bookings and we fly tomorrow. I had no way of knowing if she had changed the flights or not! So I spent the rest of the day trying to get that information. Doesn’t it give you a warm, fuzzy feeling to know your taxpayer dollars are being so wisely utilized? And, keep in mind that we are all donating our time. Mark and his guys give up work and donate their time to come over and thank the troops! And then this is the treatment we have to endure because of the travel agent and airlines.
Anyway, we all left for our “helicopter” tour of the island at 10:45 am. Mark’s guys have never experienced any of the things we did today. I was determined not to miss this opportunity, either and glad I had “sort of” gotten some things settled on the flights! First stop was their Galley for lunch. Typical DFAC food. Then we had a great briefing by the Base Commander that we met yesterday. His wife joined us and they are great people. She even baked delicious cookies for everyone!
Our chopper tour was on a contractor helicopter – built in the 70’s and very similar to Marine One. Our pilots/crew were awesome. So knowledgeable. The base commander gave us a great narrative and the pilots joined is. We went places and saw things that tourists never have an opportunity to experience. The island is breathtakingly beautiful. When I was here more than 10 years ago, I only saw it by ground. Had no idea how spectacular the views are. Even the commander said it was the best tour he’s ever had of the island. Literally hundreds of waterfalls. We flew right into the large crater, too. I told the pilots afterward that it felt very strange not to be constantly looking out the window to see if someone was shooting at us! LOL
After the chopper tour, we went to see the “boats” and hear about their work there. Very interesting, too. Quick stop by the base exchange and then back to the room to rest. Ha! I answered emails. We left for dinner at Shenanigan’s at 6:15 pm. The commander and his wife joined us and we had a really great conversation at dinner. He’s very, very intelligent and informative and she is just a sweetheart.
I asked to be driven back to the room after dinner so I could finish answering emails and go to bed before midnight. Mark and I will go to the airport with the guys and get them checked in. Then we are going back to “Dukes” on the beach for lunch. I think I said “Dave’s” in my first road report but it was “Dukes” where we had the amazing meal.
Very, very sad to be going home tomorrow instead of to Okinawa but I’ll make it up to them with another entertainer in the future.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 14TH AND SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 15TH: — FLYING HOME TO NASHVILLE:
Got up at 5:30 am to go jogging but it was still very, very dark outside. I didn’t think to bring my reflective belt and since the only road to jog on is the main road on the base, wasn’t comfortable running. It was ‘in-room’ workout once again. L
At 9 am my time, United had still not issued mine and Mark’s tickets. Finally about 5 minutes before I had to leave lodging, they re-issued! I went to the office to check out and then back to pick up the boys.
About 10:30 pm last night, someone tapped really lightly on my door. I figured it was Mark since he was right next door. I looked out the peephole and no one was there. The same thing had happened the night prior before I opened my door to put my phone outside. When I asked the guys if one of them did it, 3 of them had experienced the same thing – Mark and two guys on the second floor. I guess it was one of the “ghost warriors” making his rounds doing bed checks! J
We arrived at the airport in plenty of time to get the guys checked in on their American Airlines flights. American honored our military travel orders and didn’t charge us excess. Mark and I went ahead and checked in for our flights, too. Our first flight is on Hawaiian Air and they also honored our travel orders. If we had needed to check in on United, I guarantee they would have charged us excess!
We dropped our bags and headed out to the parking lot to find Anne and the van. But, she was still parked at the curb for drop off. Seems she had locked the keys in the still running van! She had sent Paul to buy something to get the door open. But, a nice security man came by and was able to open it with a clothes hanger. J
We drove to Duke’s to have lunch on the beach and again, the food was excellent. They didn’t have the great salad bar at lunch though. And, here’s where I made a mistake. I never drink and we all 3 decided to have a real frou-frou girly beach drink. I had a Gran Pina (like a jacked up Pina Colada) served in a pineapple. It was delicious. But because I don’t drink, it made me so sleepy I just wanted to put my head down on the table and take a nap.
I’m in the Lounge at the airport and we have about 2 ½ hours before we can board for the 30 minute flight to Honolulu. The Lounge has a pass code that opens the door. Then, it’s a room with 2 sofas and several chairs, a drink dispenser, coffee, and that’s it. No “attendant”. But it has wireless….only the wireless won’t connect. I went to the Hawaiian Air gate agent and told him the internet wasn’t working. He said, yes, it’s probably broken. Duh. Okay, can you send someone to fix it? No. Okay can you tell me where the wireless router is and I can fix it. No. So, no internet!
I fly to Chicago from Honolulu, 2 hour layover and then to Nashville. Will be home by around noon.
There was a postcard on the wall in the office where I paid for lodging that said, “I’m not late…I’m Hawaiian”. Hope I can find one of these to take back to Nashville with me.
Short 30 minute flight to Honolulu left on time. Flight attendants on this airline are so nice! Mark has a Lounge Pass for Delta airlines and he took me to the Lounge. But, my gate is so far away, I didn’t have time to go in and relax. I hiked to the next terminal where my flight also boarded on time. The boarding process was very interesting. The gate attendant announced that he would begin boarding very soon and start with people who needed assistance and families with children. Then he would board the Global, priority and first class passengers. After that he would board by Zones as shown on the boarding pass. He asked that everyone remain seating until he called their group as he would not board anyone before their assigned zone. This is the way it’s done by just about all airlines. What was different is, EVERYONE in the gate are got up immediately and headed to the lanes for boarding. Since I board first, I had to squeeze my way between dozens of people all trying to get on board and being sent back by the gate agent.
The flight was completely full and again it was a terrible aircraft. First class seats were the same size as coach seats on an international flight and only reclined about 2 inches….of course there was no foot rest either. This is an 8 hour flight — longer than some of my flights to Europe. Why can’t they get a larger aircraft? It was such a miserable flight. I didn’t eat in hopes of sleeping but that was impossible. Wasn’t in a great mood by the time we landed Chicago at 8:30 am CST. Had a couple of hours there waiting for my connection to Nashville. And, going from bad to worse, this plane is the little jet with one seat on one side and two on the other. I got the Exit Row because of my Global Status with United. When the flight attendant came back to quiz us about being able to sit in the emergency row, she requires a “verbal” answer to her questions. The lady sitting in the window seat next to me continued to stare out the window and did not respond when the flight attendant asked her 3 times for a verbal response. The flight attendant finally got her attention and asked her if she understood English. The lady shook her head “No”. Then the flight attendant quietly asked for a volunteer to change seats with the lady…so quite only about 2 people heard her. The couple in front of me said they would change and started getting up. The flight attendant asked me if I minded moving as well. Wrong question. It’s extremely hard to get the Exit Row seat because it’s reserved for Elite status passengers (which leads me to the question…how did the lady who doesn’t understand English ever get assigned that seat by a ticket agent?). After already traveling for over 14 hours, I was not about to move to a smaller seat and told her so. Finally a guy in the back of the plane heard what was going on and switched seats with the lady.
We landed in Nashville early and I’m happy to have an extra day at home before going to Europe with the Bellamy’s on Wednesday. But also very sad that we didn’t make it to Okinawa!