Monday, October 20 and Tuesday, October 21
Today I leave for Italy for 10 days with Mark Wills as part of a Stars for Stripes /AFE tour. I have worked with Mark before and he is a huge supporter of our troops, which I love. This should be a great trip.
I know most everyone we work with knows what has happened to me and my family earlier this month. I have been devastated to say the least. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think something so tragic could affect my family. This has been a reminder for me that we are never promised tomorrow. We often take every day for granted, assuming there will always be a tomorrow for us and those we love. Well, unfortunately that is not always true. Let this be a reminder to you, to let those who you love, know how you feel – friend or family, and live each day the best you can. After this tragedy, Judy told me I did not have to go on this trip, but I felt I needed to. I felt I needed a few days away from all of the chaos I was having to deal with handling my dad’s estate, and it would allow me to think of something else, even if briefly; and some much needed alone time to think and to mourn.
To start the day off, I went to the doctor. I’ve had a sever sore throat for 3 days and don’t want to be overseas sick, or make any of the guys sick. Got some meds so hopefully all will be well soon. I met the band at Customs to register their gear and the off to the airport to check in. Check-In was easy, didn’t even charge me for any excess since we are traveling on military orders. We all grabbed some lunch and then went to the gate. Short flight up to JFK. We We’re supposed to arrive about an hour before Mark. But when his plane landed, they had to sit on the tarmac for almost an hour. I had text him saying we were going to eat something before we boarded, so we ordered for Mark and he met us at Buffalo Wild Wings to eat just before boarding.
Had a very nice flight to Venice, even arrived a little early. We gathered our bags and headed out to see Mike Tietze, our bus driver for the week. I have worked with him before, and he is a real sweetheart. Mike took us to the base in Vicenza, an Army base, where we met with Hanoria with MWR. Got everyone checked in the hotel, the Mark and I went over to the AFN for a live radio interview and a couple of liners. After the liners, Mark and guys took the train into Venice, I took meds and napped. Got up a little later, had dinner, worked a little and back to bed.
Wednesday, October 22
Up for breakfast, check emails, etc. and then the day begins. I go over to sound check with Barry, and everything is ready. Waited for Mark and the band to come over for sound check. They finished setting up their gear and sound check went pretty smoothly. We left, stopped grabbed some lunch and then back to the room to freshen up and get ready for the show.
Showtime was 6pm, early as to catch everyone as soon as they got off work. Show was inside the gym, and considering it was a week, we had a decent crowd of about 200. We did get to meet with Colonel Menist before the show. He intruded Mark and stayed for the whole show. Mark signed autographs for about an hour, then we went next door and had dinner. Back in our room about 10:30pm, check emails, Skype back home, and off to bed.
Thursday, October 23
Up and headed out by 9am, had a 3 1/2 hour drive to Camp Darby, just about 15 minutes outside of Pisa. When we arrived, the place looked deserted, did not seen anyone. Ernest and Steve met us at the gate and took us for lunch at the cafeteria. Had a quick bite to eat, then sound check. Sound check was brief. Then we all went into Pisa, walked around, bought some souvenirs and back to the base. We are staying at the Sea Pines Lodge. Their website didn’t sound very promising, but was actually much better than I expected. They had recently added wifi, however cell phone service was spotty. We all freshened up and headed over to the show. Show started at 6pm, but we held off a few minutes waiting on the crowd to trickle in. We had an attendance of about 130. That may not sound like much, but when you think there are only 200 people stationed here, that’s not too bad. Mark signed autographs for about 45 minutes after the show. Then Steve and Ernest took us to a local Italian restaurant for dinner. Back to the room to shower, change and load up the bus for our bus ride to Rome.
Friday, October 24
Left Camp Darby at midnight, and arrived Rome about 6am. We all got up, changed and headed into Rome by 6:30am. Arrived the Vatican, took a guided tour of the museum, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, shopped and finished by noon. Grabbed a taxi to the Colessum, walked around, shopped, grabbed lunch and grabbed a taxi back to the airport. Mike was there waiting for us, and we finished our journey on to Sigonella with a few pit stops along the way and a ferry ride.
Saturday, October 25
We arrived Sigonella about 5:30am. Bob was there with room keys waiting for us. Everyone went to their room, rested, shower, had breakfast and departed for the flight line by 9:30am. Casey, a friend of George Degrellas, was our guide for the flight line, and what a great guy. We toured the predators, similar to the drones. We were supposed to visit the Global Hawks, but there was some mix up and we were told we did not have permission. After that, we visited some mechanics working on the F-15s, drive around the flight line, took more pictures, and then went inside a C-17 that was actually Reservists who were hauling supplies to various places, Rota, Va. Beach, Djibouti, Bahrain, Sigonella and back. They allowed us to take a full tour and were extremely polite and friendly.
Back to the base for lunch, shopping at the Exchange, sound check and the time for a nap. All of this broken sleep for the last 2 days has caught up with us. Mark said he laid down about 4pm, and didn’t wake up until we knocked on his door at 9:10pm, when it was time to leave for the show. Luckily the stage is only a 3 minute ride. We had a great show outside, great crowd as part of a 3 day event. Attendance was about 1500. Mark signed autographs and took photos after the show, then it was dinner time at a local restaurant just outside the base. Casey, and his wife, Julie, joined us and she brought us lemoncello and chocolatecello that she had made. We all had a toast, had dinner and back to our rooms. Time changes here tonight so we gain an extra hour.
Sunday, October 26
The next morning, we went over to the K-9 unit training site. At the show, two guys came up to me and visited Mark to come over and check it out. We went over and let Mark and Barry do a test run with one of the German Shepard’s. The guys had fun, and the trainers were great!
Back to the hotel, everyone is ready to depart at 10:15am, except one. I went to knock on Will’s door and he was just waking up. I told him it was 10:15 and we were all on the bus, he said ‘no, it’s 9:15′, and I said ‘no, it’s 10:15′. Will said ‘but we moved our clocks back an hour’, and I said ‘Yes, but if you changed your phone and then it automatically changed, too’. He was on the bus and we were headed to Naples by 10:30am.
Another long drive to Naples via a ferry ride and a couple of pit stops along the way. Arrived at Naples by 9pm, and was met by Staci, checked in our rooms, worked, skyped home and in bed about 1:30am.
Monday, October 27
Up at 7:30am, checked emails, and ready to go by 10:30am. We are sightseeing in Pompeii today. The production crew and the drivers are all going with us. Was about a 45 minute drive, took a self guided tour until about 3:30pm, shopped, and headed back to base. Staci made reservations for us all to so to dinner off base and was to leave at 6pm. Well this was not thought I put thoroughly since we were taking the buses, not vans. The area where we were to go was not in a very good area, or though it didn’t appear to be. We are driving 2 big tour buses down this little narrow crowded street. All of a sudden this car zips through the parking lot beside us, we all thought he was trying to pass us because we were blocking traffic. NO! It was the “street police” or something like it, telling us the road continued to narrow and we would get stuck. Fortunately, we were able to turn in the parking lot and we headed back to base. What a cluster that was! Poor Staci felt so bad. By the time we got back to base it was about 8pm, and we all grabbed some dinner at the food court, then headed to our rooms. Checked emails, skyped home and in bed about 12:30am.
Tuesday, October 28
Slept in this morning, bus call not until 2pm. Then Staci called saying the Captain wanted to meet us all at 1pm since he was not going to be able to make it out to the show tonight. We met with the bases XO, Captain Carpenter and a few other gentlemen. Was a nice short visit.
Back to our rooms to grab our bags and show clothes. Was a 30 minute drive to the other base where the venue was. Sound check was easy and short. However it was very cold and windy with some cloud coverage. Went to the green room, then to the exchange, had a bite to eat, Mark did an interview and it was show time. The weather for the show was actually warmer than sound check since it wasn’t so windy, but got cool quickly. We had a really good crowd, was outside with about 350. Mark signed autographs and took pictures after the show, the we headed over to a little Italian restaurant just off base for our last real Italian meal. Back to the room, checked emails, skyped and in bed by 12:30am. Just after midnight, I heard all of this really loud noise, bang, bang, bang, bang, boom! Come to find out it was some kind of fireworks out on the flight line at the airport.
Wednesday, October 29
Woke up at 2:36am, got up showered, finished packing, walked down to the front desk to check everyone out and everyone was on the bus by 5am headed to the airport. Luckily the airport was literally outside out hotel rooms. We had to depart the base, make a right turn and there was the airport. Got everyone checked in, was able to get the excess fees waived again with the military orders. Thought we were going to have to leave Johnny in Italy. As we were checking him in, the airline agent told Johnny did not have a reservation. I told him that was not correct. I pulled out our itinerary where it shows we paid for the flight, and how much. He quickly found his reservation. Had a short flight to Rome, with just enough time to go straight to our gate and get on our next flight. Worked a little on the flight to JFK, watched a movie and slept about 4 hours. I am ready to go home, excited to see my family, but I also dread going home and having to deal with the loss of my dad and my brother, and start working / learning about my dad’s estate and everything involved. Will be a learning process.
Took a taxi home since Tim and Jacob are at my dad’s, and I will go pick up Andrew from a friend’s house, only for us to go to dad’s tomorrow. Going to be an exhausting week.
Thanks to Mark and the guys (Brice, Alex, Johnny, Will and Barry) for a great trip. Really appreciate the laughs.