(COURTESY OF CHRIS SEALE)
(COURTESY OF SGT. MAHLET TESFAYE BAGHDAD)
The legendary Marshall Tucker Band traveled to Kuwait and Iraq for the first time to entertain the troops. They are all extremely excited about this tour as the media has announced the death of Usama Bin Laden by US Naval Seals just 48 hours prior to their departing the US.
MTB is a American Southern rock band originally from Spartanburg, SC, and known for their many hits “heard It In a Love Song”, “Fire On the Mountain”, and “Can’t You See”.
TUESDAY, MAY 3RD, 2011 – NASHVILLE TO KUWAIT:
What a wonderful day to be leaving for another tour of Iraq. Osama Bin Laden is dead! How lucky am I to be celebrating with our troops and The Marshall Tucker Band? Doug – the lead singer – is a Vietnam vet and excited beyond belief. It will be another great tour…quite possibly my last to Iraq!
My son, Chris, is with me on this trip…His first ever to help me with my military tours. So glad he’s going to experience this. He and I changed our flight out of Nashville so that instead of having an hour and a half layover, we will have 6 (yes, SIX) hour layover. I had 7 guys coming from Greenville/Spartanburg, one from Albany, two from Atlanta and one from Los Angeles. Everyone except the LAX passenger was getting to DC a lot earlier than us on our original booking. I was concerned that we would depart late and not make our connection. I did not want MTB to have to try and enter Kuwait without me! I’ve spent half my life “hanging out in airports”, so the long layover didn’t concern me. Really glad I took the earlier flight because the weather was bad in Nashville. It was pouring rain at 5 am when I got up and continued until our 9 am departure. We never got above the clouds and had turbulence until about 20 minutes before we landed. Know how much I LOVED that.
We went in the First Class Lounge upon arrival and I worked for a while. Ate “lunch” in there since the snacks are much better than in the business class lounge. I started watching the arrival board and most of the flights I would be meeting were delayed. The one with the 7 passengers from SC did arrive on time. My Atlanta passengers were actually “re-routed” for some strange reason and arrived over an hour late. I had gotten everyone into the Red Carpet Lounge and they were able to relax for about an hour before we had to board. Ryan with management from LAX was the last to arrive….but EVERYONE made it, Thank God.
We boarded on time and my friend who is a pilot for United had emailed me all the names of the flight crew and head purser. He had tried to change his schedule to fly us back from Kuwait, but no luck. I had gifts for them and went up to say hello. One of the flight attendants – Brenda – was on the flight and remembered me from Chris Young’s tour a couple of weeks ago. She’s really sweet and helpful. Lance, the head purser, was great, too. We were supposed to take off on time but there was a “mechanical issue” and we were delayed. Took off about 40 minutes late. I don’t bring my headset because I have too much to carry already. When I opened my headset, it was broken. They switched it out for me immediately. The choice of movies (6 total – it’s one of the OLD planes) were not great. I chose one but it started in the middle of the movie and would stop every few minutes. They restarted it, but I changed to another movie about 5 minutes into it because it was so bad. Finally decided to try and watch the Tim McGraw movie – Country Strong – even though I had heard it wasn’t too good. When I started watching it, it was in Arabic. Called the flight attendant again and they checked and found that it has been mislabeled and nothing they could do about it. So I settled on another “bad” one. Managed to work and watch the movie and “passed out” as soon as it was over. As usual, I sleep more on the airplanes than I ever do in my bedroom or hotel room.
We landed a little bit late but all our luggage and equipment made it which is always a relief. The hotel had our rooms ready for us and check in was quick and painless. Our hosts were taking the equipment with them so no one would have to put it in their rooms tonight. I was busy checking everyone in and didn’t realize they took my “show duffles” as well. Had to call Contee and get them to bring the bags back to me so I could “sort” everything tonight. Poor Contee. He’s such a sweetheart. Never complains or calls me an idiot. At least not to my face. J
Chris was in my room helping me and wanted a coke. I told him to just get one out of the mini-bar but when he opened it, it was empty. Had to hike down to the front desk and ask “why” all the mini-bars had been emptied in all 13 of the rooms we have here. They didn’t have an “answer” but said they would re-stock everything immediately. I had also asked for a cable for the internet connection. When the guy brought my two “missing” bags, he told me to just unplug the phone on my desk and plug it into my laptop since I had two phones in the room! I explained to him that I was not going to walk all the way across the room to answer my phone every time it rang….which was sure to be a lot. They brought me the cable.
Chris and I walked over to Starbucks and he was going to get a White Chocolate Mocha and of course, the ONLY drink they were out of was that one! When we came back, Doug called and said everyone wanted to have dinner together at 7 pm. I told him I needed to make reservations and called the restaurant. The lady who answered never asked what time we wanted to eat or how many people. She just said, “We are full tonight. I can make reservations for you at the Seafood Restaurant”. So, I called Sayed (my contact) and he called me back a few minutes later and said we had the reservations. I asked him if the hotel was full and he said that there were just a lot of people coming in from the city. He said that he moved some of them to another restaurant to make room for us. When we went downstairs to eat, we were the ONLY people in the restaurant. When we finished at 8:30 pm, there were only 3 other people in the huge restaurant. Very strange.
Tonight was “Italian Night” in the restaurant and I have to say, it’s the best food I’ve ever had at this hotel. Glad the guys got to experience it.
Chris had taken 6 autograph pads around to the 6 artists so they could begin signing them. When we met in the lobby, everyone was talking about their “signing parties”. Barry, the drummer, said he had signed all EIGHT pads. Hmmmm…guess they are multiplying. J I’m sure it SEEMED like 8. There are 100 per pad. They had signed 200 in DC and now another 600. That means they only have 1,700 more to sign from the 2,500 I brought with us. LOL.
Hoping to get in bed tonight before 2 am. Want to get in a good workout tomorrow morning. We don’t leave for Camp Arifjan until 1:00 pm. These guys are all GREAT and FUNNY. It’s going to be another wonderful visit with the troops.
THURSDAY, MAY 5TH – CAMP ARIFJAN, KUWAIT PERFORMANCE:
I didn’t close my curtains all the way and at 5 am, the sun was glaring through into my room. That was my wake-up call. I did go back to sleep and got up at 6:30 am. Went to the health club for a workout. Ryan was already in there on the treadmill. Had a quick breakfast after the workout then a shower and prepared for today’s performance.
We had to depart the hotel at 12:45 pm but everyone was early and already sitting on the bus by 12:30 pm. Nice surprise. Might not last when they start getting 3 hours sleep each night in Iraq. Chris had some wild dream last night that someone or something was laying on top of him in the bed. He said he was finally able to get up and was holding it around the neck and trying to turn on the light with his elbow. When he finally hit the light switch, he woke up! Hmmmm……maybe my “ghost” has decided to stay with him instead of me. He had a similar situation when he was in the UK several months ago. Thought there was a little girl standing beside his bed. He “hit” her and woke up to find his fan thrown across the room and demolished. J
Our first stop was the Commander’s office call and we had a great briefing this time. The Colonel who gave the briefing told us that his Unit is with the Guard in New Jersey. They presented everyone with a coin and certificate as well. We took the techs to the stage and the artists went with me to visit the hospital. Again, a great “escort” through the hospital. Fortunately, there are no “combat” injuries coming through there any more. The doctor did tell us that the maximum time they will keep a patient is 30 days. If they can’t “get them well” in 30 days, they are sent back stateside.
When we finished the tour and arrived at the stage, the crew was ready for them to sound check. It went quickly and we finished early. Took the group to the DFAC for dinner and the food was much better than usual. Most of the time, the food is better in Iraq than in Kuwait. The guys had about an hour after dinner before show time. I had them signing some more photos so we could hopefully stay ahead of the game. Got the word that our flight wasn’t going to DEPART until 4:15 pm to Iraq and would not arrive until 5:00 pm. We have a 7:30 pm performance. It’s going to be “tight”. If we DO depart on time, then CAMCO and MTB guys can have us set up and ready to go in 1 ½ hours. I will be stressed tomorrow. I do NOT want to miss our first performance in Iraq.
The show was awesome and the crowd was one of the most enthusiastic I’ve ever seen. They sang along with every song. Doug and the guys are fantastic musicians and after performing together for 40 years, the show is “tight”. We did ask them where they got the name “Marshall Tucker”. Evidently Doug knew an elderly man in his home town who was a blind piano tuner. His wife was blind as well. His name was Marshall Tucker. So, they stole the name. He is still alive and proud of the “legacy”.
The guys took photos with everyone after the performance. Chris did a great job with the autograph line but we will do some “tweaking” with the other “helpers” tomorrow night. It still moved so much faster with the “pre-signed” photos! We were back at the hotel by 11 pm.
Won’t be able to send reports once we get into Iraq until after we have left the Camp. Even then, I probably won’t be able to hook my computer up and email from it so it might be May 10th before you hear from me again!
FRIDAY, MAY 6TH, KUWAIT TO TALLIL AIR BASE – CAMP ADDER, IRAQ — ALMOST!!!!:
I keep forgetting to comment on the “security” situation since we killed Osama. I expected really long lines at the airport and a more thorough search. Not so. We breezed right through. However, my bags did get a more thorough search. Customs always opens all my duffle bags to check the contents but this time, they opened each individual box and then taped it back up.All I have are cds, photos, coins, sharpies, etc…..the “usual” show supplies. But they sure went through everything. And for the FIRST time ever here in Kuwait, they brought the dogs out for a security “sweep” before our concert. Then the barricaded all the entrances and everyone coming to the show had to show photo ID and if they were carrying a bag, those were checked.Keep in mind that the U.S. does expect retaliation “somewhere” and the ideal situation is where there is a large crowd gathered. Have a feeling there will be more of this type of security once we get to Iraq.
Got up at 7 am and went to the health club again. When I went downstairs for breakfast, the room was packed with people. They were sending people into another dining area which was fine with me. But the tables weren’t set up with napkins, coffee cups, salt/pepper, etc. Took twice as long to eat as it should have. At one point, the waitress asked if I minded sharing my table with another couple. I told her it would be fine, but when they sat down, the man had cigarettes and immediately lit up. I decided I had eaten enough at that point and left. When I left, some of my guys were coming down and they were being told they had to wait 20 minutes.
There is a “beach party” of sorts for the hotel guests today and the music outside my balcony is loud! They are offering a special rate of only of only 8.5 KD’s for the lunch buffet….a Kuwaiti bargain of almost $32 U.S. per person!
We got our bags out at 12:15 pm and Chris and I walked over to “Chili’s” next to the hotel for an “appetizer” lunch. Everything is incredibly expensive here. By the time we got back to the hotel, it was time to leave for the flight line. When we arrived at the PAX terminal, we were told our flight had just left Al Udied in Qatar and wouldn’t land for about an hour and forty minutes. So, no way we would be departing at 4:15 pm. When the flight arrived, my buddy who runs the terminal took me out to say hello and give the flight crew gifts. The one guy I met was from Niagara Falls. When we finally got on board and underway, we learned that they are from all over the U.S. — a reserve unit and the plane is out of Niagara Falls. Really nice guys. When it was time for us to land, we didn’t land. I could tell we were circling. The flight crew said it was a dust storm in Tallil and they were circling until we were either able to land or divert somewhere. I begged them to take us “somewhere” in Iraq — just not back to Kuwait or to Qatar (since we don’t have visas, we can’t go into Qatar!). While we were circling for about half an hour, they let the guys take turns going up on the flight deck. Then we got the message that they were sending us back to Kuwait! I couldn’t believe it.
We landed in Kuwait a little before 7 pm and I immediately took the guys to the little DFAC at the flight line so they could have dinner. Contee and Broadie were en route to pick us up but still about 20 minutes away. I called the hotel and was able to book 6 two bedroom suites and my room for tonight. Just glad they had rooms available. Of course, this totally blows my budget and I’ll lose a lot of money on this tour. But the bad thing is, we disappointed those troops in Tallil. I know they were looking forward to seeing us. Hate it when that happens.
We arrived back at the hotel a little after 9 pm. When we landed in Kuwait, one of the Air Force guys told me that we had already been booked on a 5 am flight with a “DV” he had going out. Of course, no one in Baghdad had heard anything about that.
I’ve been sitting in the room waiting for information for a couple of hours now. Just received an email from Baghdad saying she still doesn’t know anything and she’s going to bed. Told me to do the same since AMD won’t move anyone before 4 am. Problem is, whatever time they want us out there, we have to take our bags out 3 hours prior. Nothing I can do about it tonight though. So, I’m going to shower and be totally dressed and ready to go “whenever”! Sure hope we make it into Iraq tomorrow and don’t miss any more shows!!!
SATURDAY, MAY 7TH, 2011 – KUWAIT TO BAGHDAD, WE HOPE!
Not sure everyone received the road report I sent out yesterday because it kept bouncing back to me! Not sure what was going on with AOL.
What a miserable night. I showered and got fully dressed in hopes that we would have an early morning flight out of Kuwait. Didn’t happen. I can’t take the risk of going to the gym to exercise because when the word comes down that we have a flight, we may have to leave immediately. So far, it’s not looking very encouraging. I had asked if they could just get us “anywhere” in Iraq if a flight wasn’t available to where we are scheduled to perform tonight. Supposedly there are so many “DV’s” in country that there are no planes available. Plus two other entertainment groups are stuck in Iraq due to weather.
Had breakfast with a couple of the guys and now back in room glued to my computer screen. That’s my only “source” of information on our flights. And I waited and waited and waited and worried and worried and worried. Finally at 11 am, Contee called and said we have a flight to Baghdad. Rushed everyone to the lobby with their bags and we departed to the flight line. They told us the plane would land at 2 pm and we had to be ready to jump on because they were not going to shut down the engines or refuel. So, we were parked on the tarmac as soon as the plane taxied in. Then they shut down the engines! They loaded both our pallets before they put us on board. We were ready to take off at around 2:35 pm but again, we sat and sat and sat. Seems our flight plan had been lost! We took off at around 3:30 and landed Baghdad at 5 pm. Our escorts were ready for us and had sent the truck to pick up the stage gear. Julie – one of the Camco crew who was coming with us to Iraq – got sick and didn’t make the trip. So, we are really shorthanded. Thankfully all the MTB crew and Chris are willing to assist with the load in.
I took the 6 band members to the JVB and got them checked in. They split them into 2 rooms and then I am in the room where Lindsey and I stayed last time. We barely had time for a really quick dinner and then left for the show.
There was a one-star General waiting for us backstage and he presented certificates to all the guys. By the time that finished, it was show time. Got to see several of my friends here this time. Also, had a good talk with Elissa who handles all the contracting and she said she does want me to submit an entertainer for the 4th of July. Problem is, there are very few still available at this late date. But, I’m sure I’ll come up with SOMEONE! Have too. It’s for the troops and too important a date to not deliver.
Show was awesome. Guys said they were struggling vocally because of the dust. When we landed today, it was really dusty…more than usual. They signed autographs for everyone after the show and then we came back to the JVB. Several of them went to Midnight Chow at 11 pm, but I needed to work. There is a 5K run at 6 am tomorrow. Don’t think I’m going to do that one but am planning to run around the lake. First thing we have tomorrow is a 10 am shopping trip to the exchange and I don’t need to go on that. Our flight tomorrow doesn’t leave until 6:00 pm and we won’t arrive until 7:15 pm…..they moved our show time to 9 pm, but it’s still going to be another challenge to get it up and running on time.
SUNDAY, MAY 8TH, 2011 – BAGHDAD TO TIKRIT – COB SPEICHER:
Who would have ever thought I’d wake up in Baghdad in one of Saddam’s palaces and my son here with me for Mother’s Day? He actually got up at 5 am and went outside to take some photos. The guys at the front desk told him that was the best time to get his photos. I got up at 7:30 and was ready to try and run at 8 am. I should have gotten up and ran the 5 K at 6 am when it was COOLER. Don’t know exactly how hot it was by 8 am but it felt like I had weights on my arms and legs when I jogged. I made it 3 miles and called it quits. It was a good run though. I took a left out of the JVB and went around the lake, past the house where General A lived and we celebrated New Year’s a couple of years ago. Then I went up as close as I could get to the Al Faw Palace and then back around. Only saw a couple of other joggers out that late in the morning. Late? J
Once again, my shower flooded the entire bathroom. Still can’t figure out where the water is coming from, but definitely “somewhere” in the floor, not out of the shower stall. A few of the guys are going to the base exchange to do some shopping. I’m going to stay at the JVB and answer emails. At least those have slowed down over the weekend.
We have an office call with a two star General at 1 pm and then a tour of the Al Faw Palace. Time permitting, we’ll also tour Victory Over America Palace and then head to the flight line. We don’t need to be there until 5 pm for a 6 pm flight. HATE that it is so late…..
It seems like it has been a week since I typed the last few words above. We were notified that the Major General who had asked for the office call had been called away and we would not be meeting with him. We left for the Al Faw Palace at 1:15 pm and had a great “historian” giving us the tour. A one-star General who was a fan of MTB and had never taken the palace tour went around with us. I really enjoyed the tour because I learned things about the history of the country and Saddam that I had never heard before. The tour lasted almost 2 hours. When we got back to the main lobby, the Major General was back from him meeting and came out to say hello. Then, General Austin – the 4 Star who took General Odierno’s place – came out to say hello on his way out of the building. When he said it was “nice to meet me”, I reminded him that I had met him over Thanksgiving with Aaron Tippin and also told him I was sorry to hear about his Mother. He seemed shocked that I would know about her passing away. Probably thinks I’m a stalker!
We were scheduled to do a “drive by” of the “Victory over America” palace but got a call that our flight would be early. We arrived at the airport and as we walked into the Glass House, I knew something was “up” because there were lots of guys running around with ear pieces. I figured it was Nancy Peolosi since she had just taken off yesterday when we arrived. But, NO, it was John McCain and Senator Graham and one other Senator. I swear, at some point once a year McCain shows up and screws up our flights! J
Just as we were about to go to board our flight, our MWR rep pulled me aside and said that the decision had been made to cancel our performance tonight at Speicher. She told me to ask to see the Commander as soon as we arrived and see if I could convince him to let us perform. Since we were arriving so late, we had moved the show time from 8 pm to 9 pm. That was news I did NOT want to hear!
We were told it was an hour and 15 minute flight –departing at 6 pm and arriving at 7:15 pm – which is why we delayed the show time. When I got on the plane, I sat next to an airman who informed me that it was a 30 minute flight max! Of course, my cell phone didn’t work on the plane and I couldn’t call ahead to tell our escorts. We took off at 6 pm and landed at 6:30 pm.
When we landed, our escorts, Brandon and T.J. met us and gave us the bad news. I did as I was told and asked to see the Commander. However, they informed me that even the Commander could not reinstate the performance at that time. KBR was closed and they were the only ones with a flatbed to transport our production equipment and the only ones who could turn the electricity on to the stage! I cannot begin to tell you how disappointed everyone was. It’s one thing for shows to be canceled due to an Act of God, but this was just totally due to mis-information and miscommunication. AMD gave us bad information on the length of the flight. Brandon had tried calling Baghdad all afternoon and couldn’t reach anyone in their office. Had he been allowed to email me directly, we could have worked all this out before the decision was made to cancel the show.
They had arranged for a “Meet and Greet” at 8:30 pm but less than 50 people showed up. We’re staying at Freedom Rest which is sort of a “mini-resort” for the troops who need a 3 day break. This is the one with the private dining room that cooks your food as you order it. But, it is also very “isolated” from the rest of the troops on the base and so not a lot of people would have made the journey over for a meet and greet. MTB was GREAT about everything. They spent a long time with each person in line…signing multiple items and taking lots of photos. One little soldier from Puerto Rico said that she doesn’t listen to country music but had fallen in love with Marshall Tucker band tonight. She said she doesn’t smile a lot but with them, she just couldn’t stop smiling. So, okay, that took SOME of the edge off the show cancellation.
I had an omelet with Brandon and TJ and we went over things to expect from my tours. They were basing a lot of my “needs” on what the Toby Keith USO tour needed last week and I assured them NONE of my tours would ever have requirements similar to that tour.
I had so many sweet Mother’s Day messages from my friends and extended military family around the world today. I am truly, truly blessed and have to remind myself of that when I have challenges like today. I tried to teach Zac and Zoe to say “Happy Mother’s Day” to Lindsey but according to her, they didn’t remember. J
Took my shower tonight because it is always too crowded in the morning. We have individual rooms but the restrooms and showers are outside in buildings. L Bag call is 8:30 am, we leave for the flight line at 10:15 pm and supposed to be wheels up at noon. AMD says it’s a 30 minute flight and the guys on the ground here say it’s 15 minutes. My money is NOT on AMD’s time.
MONDAY, MAY 9TH, 2011 – SPEICHER, TIKRIT TO WARRIOR, KIRKUK – WE HOPE!!!
Up at 7 am and bags in lobby by 8:30 am. Had breakfast with some of the guys and answering emails until we leave at 10:30 am for the terminal. At this point, the flight is still tracking on time! I am cautiously optimistic! J
Nice having wireless internet in our individual bedrooms. This is the place where the drummer from Filter stayed in the room that had the wireless system for the base. There was big sign saying, “Do not unplug”. What can I say….he’s a drummer. I found out who had that room this time and it was Doug, the lead singer. I threatened him bodily harm if he unplugged that wire!
We departed to the flight line on time and our plane landed early. We were the only ones on the flight and it was short – about 20 minutes. As we were getting off the plane, Kristy was getting on – she’s going on leave for 2 weeks! Hate that we will miss her. Bryan was waiting for us and everything was as well-organized as ever. Really glad HE’S not on leave this time. He had a big hug waiting for me from my daughter for Mother’s Day, too. So sweet.
We went to lodging first and got checked in. Then to the DFAC for lunch. There was a small “Meet and Greet” after lunch and afterwards the guys got to look at the MRAP’s. We tried to get the K-9 tour laid on but they were out on a mission. Chris would have LOVED that. L We went by a “Haji Shop” and I bought a couple of t-shirts. (Craig, you’re going to LOVE this one!). After that we came back to lodging where I have been working non-stop.
Got the word that our flight leaves here at 1:15 tomorrow and doesn’t arrive Kuwait until 4:50 pm….NOT GOOD. Means we are making a lot of stops which increases the risk of not getting back. We will get back much too late to go to the Moevenpick and shower and have a nice dinner….darn it! Will have to “re-pack” at the Passenger Terminal and hope for the best. Just hope it’s not delayed past the 1:15 pm departure time!
Skipped dinner tonight. Just not hungry. Will get a coffee at Green Beans. The show was packed and it was our best performance. Doug used “Entertainer’s Secret” and it helped his dry throat. I swear the audience knew every song. It was a LONG autograph line, too. The guys from the K-9 Complex that let us play with the dogs when Craig was here were in line. I talked to them and they said they were available today to give us the tour. They agreed to do it after the autograph session. I knew that would be the highlight of the tour for Chris!
Autographs lasted a little over an hour and we took some guys back to lodging, some to midnight chow and I went with Chris and a couple of the other guys to see the dogs. BB was hungry after the show but wanted to go with us to see the dogs. I grabbed him a plate of chicken wings and gave them to him on the van. When we arrived at lodging, he said, “You gave me those wings so the dogs would bite me, didn’t you?”. LOL. He actually bailed out on going because he ate the wings.
We got the briefing when we arrived and at one point the trainer was saying that his dog would kill if certain things happened. Darryl spoke up and said, “Uh…I ate some chicken wings, too”. I cracked up. The trainers suited up and showed my guys what would happen. Then Chris suited up and was attacked twice. He was amazed at how strong the dog was. Darryl was next and didn’t get “eaten”! Bryan had been tasked to film for Ryan but he said he kept getting a message saying “too dark” on the video camera. When Chris finished “playing” he took the camera and took the lens cover off for Bryan. LOL!!! One of the trainers suited up again and this time the dog took him all the way to the ground, face down. It was awesome.
We all came back to lodging. Everyone is asleep except me. I had to check everyone in online. Takes a LONG time, but I got it done….Going to wash my face and go to bed now. It’s 2 am!!
BUT, first some interesting information we learned from a couple of different Generals and Commanders about Iraq. Iraq will be the richest nation in the world once they get back on track with their oil. They currently have $3 billion dollars in reserve. Kirkut is sort of “not a part of Iraq” because they aren’t really comprised/divided by the religious classes. The oil wells that we see burning in the distance are burning off natural gas and $6 million dollars PER DAY is lost because they don’t have the leadership or technology to “fix it”. Now here’s the good part. They just elected a new Governor. Before he was elected, he lived in DC for 30 years and is a neurosurgeon. Someone said they think he is the one who operated on President Reagan. I’m going to “google” and find out. Kirkuk loves the Americans and will probably ask that we not leave that area when the total pull-out is supposed to occur in December. I am so glad I have those $3 million Iraqi Dinars in my safety deposit box. J
TUESDAY, MAY 10TH – WEDNESDAY, MAY 11TH – KIRKUK TO KUWAIT TO THE USA!
Got up a little early so I could answer emails. Showered and got my bag in the hallway to be picked up for palletizing. Lodging here is an old house where our escorts live. There are two bedrooms for the guys and 1 for the girls. There are wet chus outside and next time, I’m going to have Bryan put me out there. It’s pretty hard sharing the two bathrooms with 12 guys! However, this time since it is a “band”, he put me in what they call “The General’s Room”. Has its own private bathroom. I told him from now on, I’m only going to bring him male bands. LOL.
Internet was down when I tried to sign on but I knew we’d have it in the PAX terminal. We arrived at the PAX terminal 3 hours before our plane was due to depart and I was keeping my fingers crossed that the plane would be early. There is a great DV Lounge there with 3 beds in a back room. Three of the guys immediately went to sleep. I got on the internet and between answering emails and checking the status of our flight, the time passed quickly. The flight was not early. When it landed, there was another band getting off to perform. It was one person from Toto, one from Chicago and one from some other group all using one band. I’m sure the troops will enjoy that one as well.
We had 5 soldiers traveling with us – 4 males and 1 female. Two of them were getting off in Balad. The flight crew was super awesome! They brought me and BB up on the flight deck for the short 30 minute flight to Balad. A couple of the guys remembered me from other tours — one as far back as 2008 with Aaron Tippin. That really makes me feel great when they remember me. The engineer knows my new buddy – Zach – who was the engineer on the Chris Young tour where he “showed them his guns” in Balad. I told them about that and they tried to get me to do it this flight. I don’t think so! J We chatted most of the flight and they did a “combat” landing in Balad. I was standing up looking out the window and they told me to “hold on tight”. I don’t know how many G’s they pulled but my toenails nearly came out my mouth. Isn’t if funny how I love something like that in a military aircraft and nearly pass out from fear when we hit turbulence on a commercial flight? I know it’s because it’s our military and I know they are not going to let anything happen to me if at all possible.
We were allowed to get off the plane while they refueled and they had an air conditioned bus sitting off to the side for us to sit on if we wanted. It had been 101 degrees at 7 am in Kirkuk and that is farther north than Balad. No idea how hot it was but it was HOT! I left a package with autographed cds for my buddy who is the Air Force Commanding General in Balad and Mac and Dede who take such great care of us. Threw one in for Chief at the last minute and then remembered that I had forgotten to leave one for Kevin who took care of flying the flag for Joe Bowser and is a huge MTB fan. I had MTB autograph one for him and will mail to him. Mac was going to try and make it out to the flight line while we were there. Found out that one of the “large” soldiers threw up when we did the combat landing. The crew asked if he threw up on the floor and he assured them that he threw up in his pocket! Poor guy. He was going on to Kuwait with us, too, but I knew that wouldn’t be a combat landing.
We took on 15 pax and I made sure they sat on the other side of the netting because the crew was going to let our guys rotate up on the flight deck during the 1 ½ hour flight to Kuwait and I do not want my guys climbing over soldiers to do so. I went back up for a few minutes before landing and asked if Chris could sit up there for landing. They agreed to let him and he, Danni and Keith all got to see the landing in Kuwait. Evidently, they got a very up close and personal view of the city. Chris has really enjoyed this tour. Glad I was able to pull of some “fun military things” for him and the MTB guys even though we had all the flight delays, etc.
We took photos with the flight crew once we landed. Contee and our security were there to meet us and take all our bags into the PAX terminal. They had picked up the three bags we had left at the Movenpick as well. Chris and I re-packed everything and got it all down to 4 bags total. I changed clothes for the flight, too! We all walked down to the DFAC and I saw the little Airman with Protocol who had helped us the night we got diverted back to Kuwait.
My contact at United (Scott) told me to call him when we were arriving and he would come help us get through the check-in process. I had lectured everyone on what a “cluster” it was going to be and I was right. If the little baggage handlers would just “disappear” and let us take our own bags, it would be so much easier! I tried to upgrade the two artists who were in coach class to business class but was told that business was full and had 15 people on a waiting list! Scott was able to get everyone into the Lounge and we had a couple of hours before boarding. We did “shop” for about 30 minutes and then spent the rest of the time in the lounge with free food and drinks and internet. Chris told me there is a shower in the restroom and I need to remember that in the future for the times we don’t get to go back by the hotel. There was a flight crew sitting in the lounge and since I had gotten the names of our crew from my United pilot friend, I went over to ask them if they were flying us. They were not. They were “deadheading” back to Dulles. NOW, I know why business class is full! J
We boarded and departed on time. I went up and chatted with the pilots for a few minutes and gave them the gifts. I noticed that the entire first part of business class was empty and asked the flight attendant if a lot of people missed their connection. Told her what I had been told about business being full. She said it was one of the older aircraft and those seats had to be reserved for the crew since there were no bunks on board. Makes sense.
I only ate the cheese and grapes and watched a “silly” movie. Then slept off and on for several hours. Absolutely no turbulence the entire flight. That was remarkable! We landed early in DC….so early that Customs was not open and we had to stay on the plane for 15 minutes. At least we were the first ones in line! All our bags arrived and I knew we would be splitting up to go to the various gates for departures. Gave everyone a hug and thanked them for donating their time. Even with all the “hiccups”, it was a life-changing experience. And ALL these guys are so wonderful. They just make everyone they meet feel like “friends”! Hope I can work with them again soon.
Chris and I are the only ones on the flight to Nashville. When I checked in on-line, the seating chart showed me that instead of 1 seat on the right side and 2 on the left, it was flipped. So, I moved my seat so that I would be sitting alone in the single seat. But when we got on the aircraft, it was the same as always. Fortunately, the computer didn’t accept my change and I was in the exit row, 12A as usual.
We landed on time in Nashville and Zac and Zoe were waiting for me. At least they haven’t forgotten who I am! Lindsey and I are planning to take them to DisneyWorld the weekend of the 20th. THAT should be an experience. J