featuring Karri Turner, Dave Price, Jordan Black, Michael Hitchcock, Tim Bagley, Wendi McLendon and Michaela Watkins
The Improv in Iraq Tour returned to Iraq to ring in the New Year for the 3rd time. Those returning were actress Karri Turner, comedians Jordan Black, Wendi McLedondon and Michael Hitchcock as well as CBS The Early Show’s Dave Price. New comers to the tour were comedians Tim Bagley and Michaela Watkins.
SUNDAY AND MONDAY, DECEMBER 27-28:
Leaving today for Iraq again with my annual Improv Comedy Tour. Dave Price from CBS The Early Show does about 20 minutes of “stand up” then this year we have 6 Improv comedians….4 from last year and 2 new ones. This is Dave’s 6th tour with me. Karri Turner from the TV show J.A.G. is making her 13th tour overseas for the troops. Wendi McClendon from Reno 911 and Jordan Black from lots of TV and movies are both returning for their 2nd tour. New members are Michaela Watkins from SNL and Tim Bagley – again from numerous television shows and movies. If you google the names, you’re recognize them. Paige – Dave’s producer—will be with us. I’ve got JAM and Shawn helping me with production and general grunt work. We will pick up Donald in Kuwait and all our rental gear.
Was up past midnight last night because Shawn was booked on the wrong flight from Nashville to Dulles. JAM and I were leaving at 1:20 pm and Shawn got put on a flight departing after 6:00 pm. He wouldn’t arrive Dulles until 9:15 and our flight to Kuwait departs at 10:15 pm. From past experience, I KNEW there would delays. Our travel agent pulled a lot of strings and finally early this morning he got him confirmed on our flight.
We were expecting lots of extra security measures and long lines so I had everyone arrive at their airports hours ahead of time to check in. If anything, there was even less security than in the past. Not very “comforting” either! We arrived at the airport at 11:30 am and got checked in only to learn that our aircraft was coming in from Chicago and was delayed due to mechanical problems. It’s now after 2:30 pm and still no aircraft. Really hope it comes in soon because I’ve got 5 people arriving from LAX at 4:30 pm; 2 people from NYC at 6 pm and 1 person from Chicago at 7:30 pm! I need to be there to “babysit”. Have asked Mike (my friend in the Secret Service) to please meet them and get them into the Red Carpet Lounge for me.
The plane finally arrived from Chicago and just as we were about to board, they announced that the “retractable stairs” (it’s one of those tiny jets) would not retract all the way. They were calling mechanics to see if this was a safety issue or if we could fly with them that way. Even as scared as I am to fly, at that point I was ready to pull the red and blue tape out of my duffle bag, tape the stairs up and tell them to get the show on the road!
We finally departed Nashville around 4:30 pm and arrived DC at around 6:30 pm. Everyone except Tim Bagley who was arriving from Chicago was there. They had all walked down to this really horrible restaurant where Aaron Tippin, Bill Cowan and I ate a year ago. The food was so bad, we weren’t able to eat it. I warned them and since they had not ordered anything but drinks, they paid and left. Everyone except me went over to Terminal B where the good restaurants are located to eat. I stayed and met Tim’s flight and then walked him over.
I was standing in line waiting order sushi when a man walked up to me and said, “Is your name Jude”. He looked really familiar and I confirmed that it was me. It was Bill Brown – a Command Sgt. Mjr. That I met in Afghanistan in February 2008 with Bo Bice! I’ve stayed in touch with him via email but lost contact when he left Afghanistan. He’s now at Wright Pat in Ohio where we produce the talent for the Tattoos event every June! We got to talk for a while and he gave me a coin. He said he remembered that I told him I am a “coin whore” and has used my line several times but always gives me credit.
I went back to the Red Carpet Lounge to meet Jackie – the United Rep who takes such good care of us. I was trying to purchase some upgrades from business to first class for my celebrities. The lady at the desk in the Red Carpet Lounge was telling me first was sold out. I knew it was showing empty when we left Nashville and couldn’t understand why it would fill so quickly. Jackie went to the gate agent to find out and learned that they had filled first class with people who were Silver, Gold, Platinum mileage levels. So, United missed all the “revenue” from me by giving away the free upgrades!
At 9:30 pm, we went to the gate to board only to be told it was delayed. The agent started calling names and John was one that was called. They had given him a free upgrade from business to first. Really didn’t look good since he’s a “volunteer worker” and I had celebrities in business class but there was nothing I could do about it. Plus, he has a horrible cold and feels so bad. At least he got a lot of sleep.
Before we boarded, Karri met the College Coaches who are going over for the Tostados Bowl in Baghdad. Brian Bosworth and Barry Switzer are two of the better known participants. They are all on our flight as well as the USO staff accompanying them – 36 people total!!! I know Rachel from the USO but the real sweet surprise is the fact that David Beecham – who has been my friend since 1989 – is also on the tour. He and I have gone through some wild times together around the world. They are all staying at the same place we are staying in Iraq. Maybe we’ll even have time to chat a little!
Flight was easy – food was HORRIBLE! Couldn’t even eat it. My video was broken, so I slept. All the “maps” on the video have been disabled due to the recent attempted terrorist attack. Lots of new rules going to be put in place, none of which make much sense or make me feel any “safer”!
We landed late and it took forever for the bags for the Nashville passengers to come out. Clayton and his “team” were there waiting for us and got us to the Radisson Hotel where check in was smooth and easy as usual. We all gathered for a nice dinner and to go over the show schedule. Everyone except me has probably been asleep for hours now. I think I might get 2 hours sleep if I go to bed soon. We have a 6:30 am lobby call which means I have to get up at 4 am. It’s almost 2 am now…
Won’t be able to send emails until we leave Iraq for security reasons. Happy New Year to everyone!
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 29TH – BAGHDAD, IRAQ:
So we had to be at the flight line 3 hours prior to departure again today. I’m hoping when the new administration comes on board January 1st, THAT will change. We had to depart the hotel at 6:30 am so everyone grabbed a quick breakfast before we left. Then we sat and sat and sat. The advance team for the Tostitos Bowl are also on the same plane – 14 people.
The plane arrived a few minutes early and we were able to board quickly. Three of my people sat up on the flight deck – the two “newbies” and Karri Turner. It was a great experience for them.
We landed and I saw lots of my friends from previous tours. Buses were waiting for us and took us straight to the JVB. My buddy Brian had our rooms ready and waiting. The four girls are in one room next to mine where I have my own room (because I never sleep) and the guys are outside in trailers. Brian was very proud of himself for putting pink sheets on my bed…so thoughtful and sweet! We had a few minutes to “sort” things and I delivered about half the Christie Cookies that I brought with me. Had a really quick lunch in the JVB and headed over to the Al Faw Palace for the live remote.
While we were letting Dave and Paige get set up for the remote, the rest of the group went inside to tour the palace. I was dropping off my goodie bags when I heard a familiar voice and General Anderson popped his head around the corner. Always so wonderful to see him and I knew we’d be meeting with him a little later.
The live remote went great although we didn’t have as many troops participate as we would have liked. It was the middle of their work day and also lots of people are home on leave for Christmas. But one of my wonderful Board Members sent me the link and it was awesome.
After the Live Remote back to CBS The Early Show, we went inside for the meeting with General Anderson. Karri, Dave, and Michael already knew him and the others fell in love with him immediately. General Anderson gave Karri a flag and certificate that he had flown over Al Faw Palace for her. We spent almost an hour with him waiting for General Odierno to return so we could meet with him. Was afraid we were going to run out of time but he came back about 15 minutes before we had to leave. Both of these men are my heroes in more ways than one. Amazing leaders for our country and I’m so proud to call them my friends as well. General O gave everyone his special coin and really touched my group’s hearts with that presentation. Tim and D.J. – Aides to both Generals are just too sweet for words as well. Just an amazing visit.
As we were leaving, General O pulled me aside and asked why we were driving to the camps the next day instead of going by helicopter. I explained that the weather could be an issue and we didn’t want to risk not being able to get there. He turned to his Aide and told him he wasn’t using his choppers tomorrow and to set it up for us to use them. I KNEW I’d get my hand slapped and blamed for that but really was not my idea!
Our choppers were on time and flew us to JSS Carver – a tiny little FOB about a 10 minute flight from BIAP. I was on the headset on the way over and got to chat with the pilots. Really nice folks! Landed and realized it is really a tiny little place. We went through their Command Center and then on to the DFAC where food is brought in 3 times a day. Sat with some of the troops and I began quizzing them. One of them said he saw two female country music singers on his first deployment but couldn’t remember their names. Said he had his photo taken with them but his wife tore it up when he took it home. I had a feeling it was Danni Leigh and Chalee Tennison from my 2004 tour and after quizzing him, learned that it was and he was at Camp Summerall where my buddy Colonel Kyle was the Commander. Again – small world!
I knew our show needed to start on time because the choppers were coming back to pick us up. When I went out front, I learned that NOTHING was working. The console was distorting everything so we called back to Kuwait to see if they had any solution on getting it up and running. The only thing they could do was fly us another one tomorrow. Shawn kept fiddling with various things and finally determined that it was a power overload making it distort. After running extension cords all over the place, we were finally able to start the show. The wind was blowing so hard that the video projection was “off center” and cut off most of the comedians heads on screen. BUT, the show went on and the troops laughed a lot which was the purpose of our visit. They’ve only had one other celebrity visit and that was from the Pro Golfers whose plane we stole for Aaron Tippin over Thanksgiving.
After the group had only been on stage for a few minutes, it started sprinkling rain. Now, I KNOW that choppers can’t fly in the rain and I KNOW that this base had nowhere for us to sleep. Was really worried that we would get stuck there. Fortunately the rain stopped before the autograph session began. It was a long line but we used photos that they had signed before the show and then they took a photo with each person. Ran very smoothly and quickly. We were able to delay our chopper pick up by 30 minutes so we didn’t have to leave before everyone received an autograph and photo.
Got word in the middle of the performance that we are definitely flying on General O’s birds tomorrow. That gives us one extra hour to sleep in and we get back one hour earlier. Did I mention that I love that man????
Chopper ride back was uneventful and when we landed, Stan from AFN was at the chopper pad. He was supposed to go out with us today but missed us by about an hour. Will try to make it tomorrow or the next day but not sure he can make it happen.
We are back at the JVB now and three of the four wounded heroes are in the lobby. I sat and talked with them for almost an hour. Amazing stories and a miracle that one of the severely burned soldiers is alive. Didn’t meant the other burn victim as his wife is deployed to Spicher and they flew her down to go on the tour with him. He was a tall, good looking young man when he was injured. He met his wife while he was in the hospital. She was his nutritionist. He thought that no beautiful girl would ever be interested in him again because of his disfigurement and she fell in love with him. Story makes everyone cry when we hear it. Hope to meet them tomorrow. It’s after 1 am and I am “toast”. Going to bed after I shower!
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 30th – JSS AQUR QUF AND NASIR WA SALAM:
Already have no idea what day or date it is. Have to keep checking the itinerary. I went to bed at 2:30 am but kept getting up to read text messages. Woke up at 6:30 am and decided to go ahead and get up although I could have slept for another hour. Went into the lobby and harassed Brian and David Beecham for a while. The other burn victim that I mentioned who is married was in the dining room so I got to say hello to them. Also wild and crazy CSM Wilson was there as he is escorting the tour. I love that this program exists for them.
Had breakfast with some of the boys and getting ready for our chopper flights. Should be back at the JVB at a decent hour — maybe by 9 pm tonight!
It was a very short chopper ride but the CG’s choppers are configured a bit different than regular choppers. We could only get 10 people in one bird and 3 in the other. Since we had 16 people total, they choppers had to make 2 trips each time. Thankfully, the rides were only about 8-10 minutes each time.
These two little JSS sites are really hard core. The first base — JSS AQUR QUF – had not had running water for TWO weeks. Talk about some nasty port-a-potties! The shows were held in their dining facilities. These little sites were not receiving entertainment on a regular basis either. The first site had three dogs that they had adopted and they were beautiful. My group performed for about an hour and a half and then signed autographs for everyone. We had “brunch” with them and it was food that they had brought in. Tim Bagley – who is here for his first tour – said he will never ever complain about petty things again! We walked up on top of their Command Center and I was sure I had been there before. Turns out this base was originally named Camp Courage and I have visited here.
Took choppers to the second base – Naser Wa Salam – and it was also very tiny. Both bases had really great, appreciative audiences. It started raining during our show set up and I was very worried that the helicopters would not be able to fly. However, it stopped raining during the performance.
After signing autographs for everyone, we had a quick dinner with them and then choppered back to BIAP. Upon landing, we went to 1st Cav to the Operations Room to see my buddy Kyle and to sign autographs/take photos. One of Kyle’s friends that I met last trip with Aaron Tippin had given Aaron a flag that they flew. This time he gave ME a flag that was flown on September 11. I don’t know if these guys have any idea how much something like that means to me. I got so choked up, I couldn’t speak for a few minutes.
1st Cav is packing up to come home and Kyle just found out that he will be in Washington, DC working with Congress. I swear I’ve seen him over here more than I ever did in the U.S.! I had an email saying General Odierno has reserved seats for us at the ceremony for USF(I) on January 1st. We are thrilled that we will be here to be a part of history but it also means changing our flight time from Baghdad back to Kuwait. We will still be able to arrive in plenty of time to perform there that evening.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 31ST – HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM JSS FOUR CORNERS AND JSS 799:
Got FIVE hours of sleep this time. Yippee!!! Had a quick breakfast and our escorts arrived. They told us that 6 of us could fly with General Anderson to the JSS so I pulled the six girls to fly with him. First we made a stop at the shopping area here on base. I didn’t buy anything at all. Really couldn’t think of anything I need.
We arrived at General A’s chopper pad and the guys went to General O’s. They split the girls up and only Karri and I rode with him. It was a very short flight to Four Corners. First on the agenda was lunch and it was definitely a challenge for me….lots of fried food and pizza. No salad bar because the food is brought in or cooked in one of those “cantina” type tent things. General A only got to watch a few minutes of the show before he had to fly to another appointment. Wish he could have seen the entire show. It was a tiny little base with only 50 U.S. soldiers there and the rest were Iraqis.
After that show, we took our first MRAP ride. It was a lot “harder” than the others I’ve taken. I think our escorts thought the comedians would be laughing and telling jokes but they were too scared to even speak. I was never concerned except when the lead driver made a wrong turn and we were going the wrong way in a strange neighborhood. There was nowhere to turn around so they had to block traffic and turn the entire convoy around. We had 6 vehicles with 5 escorts in each. It was supposed to be a 45 minute drive but turned into more like an hour. When we finally arrived and were getting ready to disembark, the soldier sitting next to me dropped his gun on my knee. It hurt so bad, I thought I was going to throw up. It’s swollen and turning black now. Still hurts like crazy.
All the folks from LA were totally freaked out by the MRAP ride. I was never scared and neither were Dave or Paige. Good thing we didn’t hold to the original plan to MRAP everywhere though. This tour would have been a disaster.
The show there was for another small base and was a great show. After signing autographs and taking photos with everyone, they treated us to a steak dinner. If nothing else, our visits mean the troops get better food than normal. J
We had to MRAP back and it was a very quiet ride. My knee was throbbing and the comedians were still very frightened. Made it back just fine and took our choppers to the JVB. When we walked in, the lobby was full of people and they said that they had taken 9 mortar hits today. No one was hurt. It’s a full moon and New Year’s Eve so Al Qaeda is just flexing their muscle. The little 18 year old cheerleaders were in tears.
We left to walk over to General A’s house for our New Year’s Eve party at 10 pm. He had food and cider and cigars. I figured out that it is the same house where Aaron Tippin, Bill Cowan and I went to a “bar-be-que” with the Marines a couple of years ago! We all walked up on the roof, which is where we had the party the other time. It was freezing cold, so we didn’t stay up there very long. We went into his main room (where he has a full gym set up!) and toasted at the stroke of midnight. I have to admit, that’s the first New Year’s Eve that I have ever kissed a two Star General! Definitely a New Year’s that I will remember. Guess if I can’t kiss the boyfriend, a 2 Star isn’t too shabby. J
I gathered everyone together and got them out of there shortly thereafter so he could get some sleep. He has an early morning tomorrow and a big day. We are definitely confirmed to go to the changeover ceremony at 10 am. It is so exciting to be a part of that “historic event”!
I called home to say Happy New Year to my kids and learned that my son is very ill with food poisoning. My buddy Kyle who I was supposed to share New Year’s Eve with called me on video Skype so we could at least chat. Hope to see him tomorrow before we depart. If not, he’s getting sent to DC and I’ll see him up there. Still a LONG time before it’s the New Year where you are, but I’m going to shower and go to bed, so HAPPY NEW YEAR.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 1ST, 2010 – WOW!
When I got back to the room, Karri was waiting for me because she needed a converter for her curling iron. She had asked the front desk but had not succeeded in securing one. There is a female on duty at night and I knew she would be more understanding. We had her one in about 5 minutes. When she lifted up a chair to unplug the converter in the lobby, I noticed a “flag box” under the chair. It was one that had been presented to Brian Bosworth and had slid up under the chair. Glad we saw it.
We were all worried about being able to get into the restroom to dress for the big ceremony the next morning. The college players who are staying outside in the trailers keep using the bathroom by our rooms as their own. They go in there several times a day and “homestead”. Then it smells so bad when they do finally come out, you don’t want to go in there after them. Karri had this brilliant idea to lock the door to the bathroom and put the key up above the door frame so we would all still have access to it. So, I took my shower and then locked the door. I hadn’t been in my room 5 minutes when I heard one of the football players walking to the bathroom. He turned the doorknob and “MOST” people would realize if the door is locked, it means someone is in there. Sincere there are several more “community bathrooms” down the hall, we just always go there if ours is not available. Not Mr. Intelligent! He starts banging on the door and yelling “Hello”. I was going to get in the corner of my room and answer him as though I was in the bathroom, but my room is ROUND and there is no corner! So I just kept really quiet. He went to the front desk and I heard them trying several different keys but I didn’t come out of the room. How RUDE to do this at 3 am in the morning and wake everyone up! When I got up the next morning, I warned Karri that we might be in trouble. She said the girl from the front desk walked into their room this morning and told them they had to unlock the bathroom door!
I had breakfast with some of the group and met General Petraeus’s Aide and chatted with him for a while. He wants me to find a couple of people to travel with General P next Thanksgiving on his visit to the troops – first class accommodate on his JET! I think I can do that. J
We all walked over to the Al Faw Palace for the ceremony because it was much easier than trying to drive with the crowd expected. We had great seats in the 6th row and everyone was so excited. We are a part of history today and this switch from Multi-National Force to United States Forces (Iraq) is a monumental achievement for our troops. I am so lucky to have been coming here on a regular basis and being able to see our progress each visit. This was my 28th tour to Iraq since June 2003!!!
General Anderson, General Hunzeker and General Odierno all came by where we were sitting to say hello! I also ran into LTC Burt who escorted my Charlie Daniels Tour last April. She is now working with the Iraqis.
The ceremony was awesome. During the prayer, I heard this really strange noise like someone had just laughed out loud. Found out later than Karri had to sneeze and held it as long as she could. When she finally released it, it sounded like a laugh! She was horrified.
General Petraeus and General Odierno both spoke. I was sitting next to Mike and at the end of the ceremony, we all stood. There was a soldier sitting right in front of us and when he stood up, the chair stuck to his butt! At first he didn’t realize what happened and then he couldn’t seem to get the chair off. Mike actually had to reach out and help him pull the chair off. I got so tickled, I was shaking trying to keep from laughing out loud. If I had just looked at Mike, it would have been all over. John and Michaela were sitting behind us and could see us shaking with laughter, which got them tickled even though they didn’t know what we were laughing at. Thankfully, the ceremony was over and we didn’t get thrown out! J
I got Dave Price an interview with General Odierno immediately after the ceremony. Quite an accomplishment – the first person to interview him after he became the Commanding General of USF(I)! I went to meet with General Anderson about the 2010 tour schedule. Have I mentioned that I love both of those men? I know people back in the U.S. don’t have a grasp of how fortunate we are to have the two of them leading our forces in Iraq. The respect level among their fellow troops and the civilians is proof of their leadership ability and the fact that they are both such good men.
While I was waiting for Dave to finish the interview, I stood behind the podium where the ceremony took place and pretended to make a speech. Really cool photo. Since everyone else had already left for the JVB, I showed them the photo and told them I was asked to speak after they left. I promise you, everyone but Karri believed me!
We had a quick lunch and lots of hugs and kisses to the folks at the JVB. Then we were off to the air terminal. Our flight was already waiting for us when we arrived. There were only 3 other people flying with us which was SWEET. We boarded and I got permission for our people to go up on the flight deck for take off and during the flight. It was an easy flight until Dave Price went up for landing. He convinced the flight crew to try to pull some “g’s” and they did a hell of a job of trying. Scared half my people to death as well as the three other passengers with us!
When we landed at Kuwait, we were taken to a little “rec room” called the Flex on Ali Al Salem. This is the Air Force Base where we perform occasionally. They have a beautiful small theater that we love to perform in. We had some time to kill so we did some shopping and then walked to the DFAC for an early dinner. Michael Peterson is here and just finished a tour in Iraq. The last time I saw Michael we were both in Afghanistan on tours!
The last show of the tour was awesome! Really great audience and all the comedians and Dave were really “on”. Could not have ended the tour in a better way. They signed autographs and took photos with everyone afterwards. We were back at the hotel by 10:30 pm and I’ve been working since then.
I love all my tours and celebs that come over here and they are all “fun”. But I look forward to this tour every year because not only is it fun, it is FUNNY! I never laugh as much as I do with one. And the troops need to laugh and we make sure they do. I’m so happy that we got to the little FOB’s. The guy from MNC-I was asking “how many” troops we saw and he just doesn’t get it. It’s not about the “multitudes”…it ‘s about getting out to the little camps that only have 50 troops there and they have never had a celebrity visit. That’s what we did this time and I could not be more pleased with the final result.
Going to bed soon since it is almost 1:30 am. Can’t wait to get up and work out tomorrow. Having breakfast with the United Airlines Pilot who will be flying us home tomorrow night. Then we are going with my friend Kurt to have a late lunch, early dinner with some local Kuwaiti VIPs. That should be fun!
Happy New Year – Jude
SATURDAY, JANUARY 2nd and SUNDAY, JANUARY 3RD– KUWAIT TO USA: Actually slept from 2 am until 6 am then woke up but was able to go back to sleep until 8 am. Went to the gym and got in a great workout – FINALLY. When I first started coming over here, I’d sleep a couple of hours and get up and go running. Now I sleep a couple of hours, get up and WORK! My, how times have changed. Had breakfast with John and the group. Radisson has a fabulous breakfast buffet that everyone loves. Took a shower and sent out thank you notes to half the people I needed to thank on the tour. Kurt and his friends picked us up at around 3 pm and we went to one of the wealthy Kuwaiti gentleman’s “farm”. They had prepared a delicious meal catered by The Palms restaurant. Food was unbelievable. We stayed and talked with them until around 6:30 and then had to go back to the hotel to pack our luggage. Had everyone in the lobby by 9:00 pm and at the airport by 9:30 pm. Check in was quick and easy and now we’re in the lounge waiting for them to call our flight. Kurt is flying back to Los Angeles tonight and is on a flight that goes through Frankfurt. He is trying to switch to our flight and hopefully, he’ll be able to do that. He’s a real sweetheart and didn’t get to go back to the states for the holidays. Well, he didn’t make it on our flight. When we checked in the “walk up fare” for an upgrade was available and I tried to get Karri to let me buy it for her. She refused and we both thought that my pilot friend would be able to upgrade her. But, United did exactly what they did on the flight over – they upgraded people with mileage plus status from coach to business and filled up the first class section. I really hated that she didn’t let me go ahead and pay for the upgrade. Next year! I went up to the cockpit and said hello to Kevin (my friend) and took all the flight crew cookies and gifts. Also gave gifts to all the flight attendants. I took Kevin back to meet all the celebrities and Michaela – who just might be more nervous about flying than I am – asked dozens of questions, even asked who made the plane, where was it made and what year! He answered all her questions and then told me as we were walking back to the cockpit that the landing was going to be very turbulent. There were 35 mph crosswinds gusting to 50 mph. Not something I was looking forward too! No good movies on the flight, so I slept most of the way. My watch battery was dying when we left and I couldn’t tell what time it was. I woke up and thought it was almost time to land and started getting my things together. The purser came by and talked to me and asked if I would be able to go back to sleep. Turns out we still had 6 ½ hours to go! Right before landing, I went back to see Michaela again to warn her about the turbulent landing. Turns out she had taken the first ambian she’s ever had right before she boarded the flight. She didn’t even remember meeting the pilot, much less asking him the questions. She was pretty embarrassed by some of the things she asked him. Landing was bad but I was prepared for it and we arrived at the gate early. Dulles will not open Customs until 6 am no matter what time flights arrive – crazy!!! We sat on the plane for about 15 minutes and then everyone (except me) had to stand in line with the plane of people arriving from Dubai and only ONE customs agent working. Ridiculous. I have that Global Entry pass, so I breezed right through. But I still had to wait over 30 minutes for my bags with everyone else. We were so early we had time to go to the Red Carpet Lounge for almost an hour and I got to talk to my friend David Beecham again. Went to the gate and I started looking for Kevin. He was trying to get on our flight to Nashville but was told it was sold out. Since he’s a pilot, he can ride in the jump seat if nothing else is available. We boarded the flight and since I didn’t see him, I called his cell phone. I was in the Exit Row 12 and he was in front of me in Row 6. I didn’t recognize him because he had taken off his uniform and was wearing my SFS cap. Shawn switched places with Kevin and John moved into Shawn’s seat which allowed Kevin to sit with me….something I’m sure he wished he hadn’t done. Take off was horrible – so turbulent. The winds were still bad and being in that tiny little jet – it was NOT fun. I feel sure the claw marks will heal and the feeling will return to Kevin’s hand some time tonight. J We actually got to have a really nice conversation during the flight home after that. Landing was easy and Lindsey and the babies were waiting for me. Definitely a nice “homecoming”! I look forward to this comedy tour every year and this year did not disappoint – me or the troops. We got to the tiny little JSS sites that don’t receive entertainment on a regular basis and made those men and women smile and forget that they are away for their loved ones for a few minutes. My group of comedians were really awesome both on and off stage. They were hilarious in their performances and kind and compassionate offstage to everyone they met. A great way to end 2009 and being 2010! Jude