Actors, Comedians and TV Personalities traveled to Iraq and Kuwait for a “Laughin’ In the New Year – Improv Tour”. Karri Turner from CBS’ J.A.G. and Dave Price from CBS’ The Early Show, along with Alex K. Horner (The New Adventures of Old Christine), Michael McDonald and Michael Hitchcock both of MAD TV; performed 2 shows each day, visited remote camps and signed autographs for several thousand troops during the 4 days on the ground in Iraq. This was the first tour for Alex K. Horner and Michael Hitchcock.
“The Stars and Stripes tour was easily one of the best experiences of my life, and completely life-changing. Meeting our soldiers face-to-face in the very areas where they put their lives on the line every day proved to me over and over how much they are sacrificing for all of us here at home. What an honor it was meet them, and to see what true courage really is.” – Michael Hitchcock, Mad TV
“I always leave these tours wondering who feels better in the end – the troops who’ve gotten to forget about the war for a few hours — or those of us who were lucky enough to help them do that.” – Dave Price, CBS’ The Early Show
“I can’t think of a better way to ring in the New Year than with people who fight everyday for our freedom. If we can bring a little bit of laughter to people who face danger everyday on our behalf, then we should. Our military continues to impress and amaze me with their courage and dedication. It is a privilege to entertain them, especially during the holidays.” – Karri Turner, Actress; CBS’ J.A.G
“I knew going to Iraq and Kuwait would be an incredible experience, but it went way beyond my expectations. Everyone we met told us how grateful they were that we were there, but the gratitude I feel for their service will stay with me for the rest of my life.” – Alex K. Horner, The New Adventures of Old Christine
“What an adventure. Thank you, Stars For Stripes, for the privilege of meeting the most courageous group of men and women I have ever met – the American Soldiers serving in Iraq.” – Michael McDonald, Mad TV
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 27, AND FRIDAY, DECEMBER 28TH 2007:
Today we leave for Iraq for a New Year’s Eve Comedy Tour. We are calling the tour, “Laugh In The New Year – Improv in Iraq”. The celebrities who are on tour include my dear friend Karri Turner (from J.A.G. TV), Dave Price from CBS The Early Show, Michael MacDonald (Stuart Little and MAD TV), Mike Hitchcock (MAD TV), and Alex Kapp-Horner (The New Adventures of Old Christina). Karri has done numerous tours for the troops and is a wonderful supporter. This is Dave’s 4th tour with me and Karri and Dave’s second New Year’s Tour with me. Michael has been to Iraq with Kathy Griffin and this will be the first tour of Iraq for Mike and Alex. Everyone is super excited to be going over. I also have a sound tech – Gus (who works for Aaron Tippin) and one sound tech from Kuwait who will travel with us. My morning began with an email from Dave Price telling me breaking news from AP that former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated in Pakistan. So sad and security will be heightened now during our tour. The LAX passengers departed early and Gus and I arrived at the Nashville airport with time to spare. However, when we arrived at the ticket counter, we were told that Gus’s upgrade had not been approved and that it was booked in the wrong class. Our travel agent had assured me that this was taken care of on December 10th. Gus and I had both checked the website and he had seats assigned in Business Class. The lady at the counter was very nice but said she couldn’t do anything since it was the wrong class. I called my travel agent to see what the problem was, but of course his United Rep is off until January 2nd. I finally ended up paying $650.00 to get him booked in the right class of service, plus using thousands of miles – all for just a one-way upgrade. Hopefully the travel agent will get this sorted out before we fly back to Nashville. I was afraid none of my bags were going to make it on the airplane because we were so late getting to the gate. Keeping my fingers crossed! We fly from Nashville to DC and connect with all the Comedians who are flying in from LAX. Dave Price flies in from NYC and meets us in DC so that we can all fly from DC to Kuwait together. Karri has had a horrible cold for the past 3 days and I was worried about her being able to make the trip. Now I’m just worried that she will give all of us her cold. I have a huge bag of Zicam swabs and a lot of those little paper masks that surgeons wear – just in case! This will be an easy trip since it’s not “musical”. We will land in Kuwait then depart to Iraq the next day. We will be able to perform two shows a day on the 29th, 30th, and 31st. Then back to Kuwait for one show on the 1st and fly home that night, arriving back in DC early morning on the 2nd. We’re going to be able to chopper to some really cool remote sites where the troops need the morale boost the most. That is assuming our MilAir flights cooperate – which is pretty rare. Everyone knows we must be flexible because there are numerous things which take priority over transporting the celebrities – as they should. I’m really looking forward to visiting some of the same bases where I was with Aaron only a few weeks ago. Have some wonderful friends – old and new ones — that I will get to see again. Some whose dog tag I have been wearing for the past month. We have a very long layover in DC. I’ve warned the people who have never been before that there is NO alcohol in Kuwait or Iraq – Muslin Country. I’m sure they will have quite a bar bill in the Red Carpet Lounge. Mine and Karri’s friend who is a Secret Service Agent is again meeting us during our layover. Thankfully it was a short flight to DC because the kid behind me kicked my seat the entire trip. He was about 8 months old and sitting in one of the child car seat carrier things with his Mom sitting next to him. I suppose she thought it was cute because she never once tried to make him stop. We landed in DC on time and the LAX passengers were on time as well. Our SSA met us at the gate and we all went to the United Lounge for a 4 hour layover. We were having a great time laughing and telling stories when Dave Price finally showed up from NYC. Dave is by far one of the funniest men I have ever met. He had us laughing so hard I was afraid we were going to get thrown out of the lounge. Flight departed on time and as usual, the flight attendants were not overly “friendly” but at least this time they weren’t rude. Movies on board were horrible. Nothing I had even heard of except for “Hair Spray”! Sad that I love movies so much and never take time to go to one. The only movies I see are on airplanes and as much as I fly, I’d see a lot of them except for the fact that there are never any good ones shown any more. They brought dinner around and that’s when everything went downhill. The flight attendant did not bring Karri’s meal when everyone else was served. She kept telling her that it would be out in a few minutes. Everyone ate and they started bringing around dessert. That’s when I got involved. The “excuse” was the meal that Karri ordered was given to someone else and there were no more meals. Period. Then they decided that they would give her a steak from First Class. Only the steak already had blue cheese cooked in it and Karri can’t eat Blue Cheese. They offered her curry chicken then came back and said, no. sorry, that is the PILOT’s” meal. The only thing they had left was an “express meal” which was a salad — which she had already eaten. I told the flight attendant how many airfares I had purchased and how much money I spend with United on a regular basis and how many trips I have coming up in the next few months on United. I asked her how this could happen to a business class passenger. Her explanation was it was unfortunate but it was just a mistake. I reminded her that this was a 14 hour flight and that all the celebrities with me had donated their time to go over and entertain the troops. I am definitely going to contact our United rep about this. But, of course, nothing will be done. They might offer her a couple of thousand miles that she won’t be able to use because there are no seats available for “upgrade” although the plane is half empty! The cost of a business class fare is astronomical and the passenger should be able to expect better service than this. Okay. Through venting. Plus now all the flight attendants HATE me because I had to be the bad guy. They finally brought Karri a vegetarian meal that was so bad she couldn’t eat it. If I had known she hadn’t been served when everyone else was, I would have given her my meal. I had already complained to our travel agent that the flight attendants won’t give us a bottle of water. They promise that they will keep refilling our water glass, but then the lights go off and they sit in the galley and chat. When I flew over with Aaron Tippin last month, I can’t remember how many times I had to go in the Galley and “beg” for water. I tried to bring my own bottle on when we left Kuwait but their security scanner is right at the gate area and they took it away from me. I will be writing a letter to United myself complaining about their “lack of service”. Okay. Maybe I wasn’t through venting!!! We all slept a LOT on the flight….nothing else to do! I had my one glass of water sitting beside me and it was about half full. When I woke up to look at the time and reached for it, not only had they not refilled it, but they had taken the entire glass. Can you tell how much I LOVE United Airlines? It’s sad when you have to start booking foreign airlines because the service is so much better. We should be landing on time in Kuwait in just a few minutes. Landed and our Visas were waiting for us. Thank you, Radisson Hotel! It took forever for our luggage to come out. We were the only ones still waiting and I was afraid NONE of our things made it. Then, it all came out at once. Our escorts were on time and waiting for us this time. Got checked into the Radisson quickly as they had everything ready for us too. A REALLY cool thing happened to me as we were waiting for our luggage. A soldier came up to me and asked if I remembered him. He even called me “Jude”! And, I DID remember him. He is the one who gave me two green dog tags at Q West a few weeks ago with Aaron Tippin. The tags said “With Love From Dad U.S. Army Iraq 2007”. He had asked me how many kids I had and gave me one for each. I told him no way I was giving both of them away and that I would wear one myself. Of course, I had it on along with all my other dog tags and was able to show him that I was wearing it. He had been back to the states because his father just passed away. I even remembered his name — Cpt. Charles Funk! How about that? 🙂 We had a quick dinner and a “production” meeting. Everyone was tired. Except me, I guess. It’s almost 2 am and I’m still working. I answered emails then ran down to the health club for a quick workout before they closed. I think 11 PM must be when the “entertainment” starts in the lobby of the Radisson. Two young men dressed in civilian clothes were in the lobby and started kissing on the mouth. Then one of them walked over in front of the Gift Shop and unzipped his pants and put his hand inside. I moved along pretty quickly. Then there was a lady dressed in a black burka sitting on one of the sofas. The burka covered her totally — complete with a “hood” over her head. She was leaning over and the hood was draped over a table in front of her. She was doing “something” to whatever was under the hood. I am telling myself she had a baby under there and was changing a diaper. This is a fabulous hotel, but we ARE in a foreign country. Different customs/life-style! Who has more fun??? Have a 7:15 am lobby call which means I have to get up at 5 am. I will not be able to send email again until we leave Iraq, so do NOT worry about me. It is going to be a fabulous tour. Love to everyone,
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 29TH, 2007: What a morning. Got my 3 hours sleep and everything was running smoothly with the shower, etc. Then I plugged in my NEW dual voltage hot brush that Santa brought me. Flames actually shot across the room from the outlet. Of course, it knocked all the power off in my room. The hotel was nice enough to send someone up right away. Only problem was, he didn’t speak or understand much English. You should have seen the pantomime I was doing to explain that one. He kept trying to fix the wrong room (I had a suite! J) and seemed scared to follow me into the bedroom where the problem was. We finally came to an understanding and he got everything up and running so I could finish dressing. Quick egg white omelet with the group and then word came that our flight was departing EARLY….which never happens. We scrambled to get checked out and roared off to the flight line. We met our escort – Belinda (Air Force) – for our time in Iraq and she is lovely. It is going to be a great tour. James – our production tech from Kuwait – did not get the message that the flight was departing early. We had to wait a few minutes on him, but the aircraft did not leave us – as sometimes happen. We have another great flight crew. They are letting the celebs take turns sitting up on the flight deck during our 1 ½ hour flight into Balad. Dave Price and I are SMART…we asked to sit up there during the landing. 🙂 The plan is to drop our personal bags at Balad, then take choppers to Camp Normandy, a remote FOB. I have never visited there and am excited to see another Camp. This FOB is only 18 miles from the Iran border. We do a show and meet and greet at Normandy, then take choppers to another FOB – Camp Warhorse. Warhorse is where I had Thanksgiving lunch with Aaron Tippin. Then late tonight, we will chopper back to Balad and spend the night. Tomorrow morning we will chopper to Camp Scania – another FOB which I have never visited. Show and autograph session there then chopper back to Balad for a show. On New Year’s Eve, we will take a C-130 to Baghdad. Overnight at Camp Victory (in one of Saddam’s palaces) do a show at Camp Cropper (where I was with Charlie Daniels in April 2006 and Saddam was being held there when we visited. More on that later.), then our final New Year’s Show at Liberty West. Short tour for me. So Dave Price and I KNOW that we want to be sitting on the flight deck during LANDING, because it gets pretty interesting in the belly of the plane when they do the combat landings. I had Mike and Alex go up for take off, then Michael and Karri went up half-way through. Dave and I went up the last 20 minutes. Dave was standing up filming and I had sat down for a minute when the alarm went off in the cockpit. This same thing happened with one of my flights with Aaron, so I knew immediately what it was. It means that “something” was supposedly fired at our aircraft. At that point, the aircraft takes control. It shoots off flares, almost flips to one side and begins a serious of dives and divertive tactics. Only this time it was much worse. Dave literally jumped into my lap, although he swears the steep dive “threw” him there. Sure! And the aircraft headed nose down for the ground. Dave and I looked at each other like it was the last time we would see each other. For the first time, the thought went through my head that this is what it feels like to crash. If I had been on a commercial jetliner, I would have died of a heart attack at that very moment. But for some reason, I never feel “not safe” when our military is involved. Within a matter of seconds the aircraft righted itself and we were back on course. The flight crew had been standing throughout the process trying to see what, if anything, was fired at us. I managed to “peel” Dave off of me and he resumed filming. Karri said she just thought it was Dave asking the flight crew to play with them a little bit. Quite a little adventure for our first stop in Iraq. We landed at Balad and were met by a lot of the same folks that met our flight with Aaron. This wonderful MWR rep (Renee) from Q-West is now in charge in Balad and my buddy – Donnie – has left. The Air Force General that is my buddy could not meet us as he is flying this afternoon and tonight but his XO was there and he is an absolute sweetheart. Great group of people. They had all our rooms ready – except for Dave, who I had to move to another room. We dropped our bags and were told that there was no time to eat as our choppers were ready to go. It was a very short flight up to the tiny remote camp of Normandy. Very smooth flight, too. We landed and were met with another great group of people who took us immediately to the DFAC for lunch. After lunch, they asked us to go ahead and sign autographs for everyone in the DFAC since we had arrived early and would depart early. The group signed for over an hour and then we went over to perform an outdoor show. There was a nice stage set up and it was about 60 degrees but they had built two huge bonfires to the front and sides of the stage. Dave was hilarious and picked on the highest ranking official in the audience to the delight of everyone. The Improv Show was fantastic. These guys and girls so badly need something in their lives to laugh about. I am so glad that I brought this tour over. And, of course, I had something REALLY cool happen again today. A young man came up and said “Hi, Judy. I didn’t know we were flying you today until you got off the aircraft”. It was one of my helicopter pilots from Aaron’s tour who also got to attend his show, so I had gotten to know him a little. Such a sweetheart, as they all are. They were also flying us from Normandy to Warhorse but he was going to be flying the “crew” helicopter that trip. I asked him if there was an empty seat on his bird so I could fly with him and there was. Right before we left for the landing strip, a soldier came up to me and said, “Mam, I just want you to know that YOU were the highlight of this tour for me”. Absolutely made my day. They signed some more autographs and took photos with everyone before we departed. Michael flew with me and my pilot buddy because the other helicopter was going to have a little “fun” and he wasn’t sure he was up to it. We had a great, smooth flight and landed early at Warhorse. However, the pilot said that he would not be flying us back to Balad and when he contacted the tower, they did not show another aircraft coming to pick us up. Michael and I sat on the chopper until he could confirm that we would be picked up at 11 pm and returned to Balad. Again, another great group of folks and we performed inside in a pretty cool little “theatre”. We first went to the DFAC for dinner and this was the same DFAC where I had Thanksgiving Lunch with Aaron Tippin a few weeks ago. I went over to a table filled with soldiers to say hello and ask them if they were coming to the show. They informed me that one young man was 21 years old today. We all sang Happy Birthday to him. Another absolutely outstanding show. Could not have asked for a better crowd. And the group picked on the little birthday boy, who we had sitting on the side of the stage to watch the performance. At each Camp we were given some fabulous coins and also a certificate of appreciation at this Camp. It got pretty cold the later it got at night. One thing different this year is the fact that there is no mud. Hasn’t rained. Plenty of “moondust” to make up for it though. Only little situation was the fact that Karri and I left had to visit the latrine. One of the van drivers took us back because it was located quite a ways from where the choppers would land. We were probably gone about 20 minutes and when we came back, our entire group was standing outside in the pitch dark night and it was extremely cold. I asked the escort from that camp why they had not been taken into the PAX terminal. Her response was, they can just get back in the vans. That was unacceptable and I walked everyone into the PAX terminal so that they could sit down and get warm. Choppers arrived and were loaded and ready to go about 15 minutes later. Then we were told that there were 4 people already on board and they would not be able to take all of our passengers. Not sure what was done, but we all got on at the last minute. Flight back to Balad was very short and smooth and beautiful at night. Everyone went straight to bed. Long, very tiring, very emotionally fulfilling day for us all. But, one of my best days and nights ever. Call time is 8:45 am tomorrow and we will fly to Scania – another FOB. One show there then come back to Balad for an evening show in their theatre. Jude
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 30TH Only slept for 1 ½ hours. Just couldn’t shut down my “mind”. But I feel fine. I’m sure I won’t be around showtime tonight though. 🙂 Left lodging at 9:00 am. Karri did not hear the change in departure time and had slept through her alarm. The cold that she had when she left the U.S. has not gotten much better so she has been taking a lot of medicine. But all was good. We flew in Blackhawks from Balad to Scania – a very remote FOB that definitely needed the entertainment. It was an extremely long flight because we had to stop and re-fuel in Baghdad. The flights are also very, very cold because the gunners sit in the “windows” with their guns trained on the ground. We landed about 1 ½ hours later and had lunch with the troops and our performance area was set up right outside the DFAC. It was an outdoor venue and they had placed all the bleachers a long way from the stage. It was too late to move them, so made for a difficult show for the entertainers since they need indoor, intimate seating for the Improv. But, they did a great job and the audience loved the show. Signed autographs afterwards and then I went to with Karri to see the Medics. They checked her out to make sure she didn’t have strep or something worse and determined that it was only a cold. Gave her a lot of antibiotics. We flew back an the flight was shorter because we didn’t have to stop and re-fuel but it was still a long flight. About 30 minutes before we arrived at Balad, someone in a white car on the ground fired up at our helicopter. They gunner did not shoot back because there were civilians on the ground and he didn’t want to risk hitting one of them. We had time to go to dinner at the nice DFAC and the AF General who is my friend and some of his staff joined us. He took us into a different part of the DFAC so that we could have a nice visit with everyone while we ate. I had ridden to the DFAC with him and rode to the Theatre with him after we ate. When we arrived at the Theatre, we were told that the show time had been advertised as 8:30 pm instead of 8:00 pm. I was waiting for the entertainers to arrive and when they didn’t show up after more than a half hour, I began to get concerned. Evidently they were told that they had time to go back to lodging and didn’t show up until five minutes before show time. They did another great show and it was a really good crowd. Had a few glitches with a couple of the headset mics but nothing Gus and James (our sound techs) couldn’t handle. Afterwards they signed autographs for approximately an hour. I was handing out the photos when a man walked up to me and had this horrified look on his face. He said, “So, you are NOT Aaron Tippin’s wife, are you?” I told him that I definitely was not and he goes, “On No. I had my photo taken with you when you were here with him. I sent it out as my Christmas card to my entire email list saying ‘here is a photo of me and Aaron Tippin’s wife. I’m going to have to email everyone and tell them it wasn’t true’. I assured him that I could understand why he might think so. Aaron talks about his wife a lot during his show and everyone in the group says “Yes, Dear” to me constantly. I also told him to make the correction because Aaron’s wife is Greek and I didn’t want her mad at me. 🙂 We got back to lodging at a decent time and I got a little more than 2 hours sleep but again had many other wonderful things on my mind other than sleep. The trailers have 2 bedrooms with a shared bathroom and this was truly a luxury to have the entire place to myself. Great way to spend our first two nights in Iraq. Karri and I laughed about how different accommodations and dining facilities are now than when we first started coming over. MONDAY, DECEMBER 31ST – HAPPY NEW YEAR AND HAPPY BIRTHDAY MICHAEL MCDONALD!! Our flight was REALLY early – we had to depart lodging at 6:15 am. I grabbed a quick shower and everyone was ready on time. I have not had time to write my road reports, so I’m leaving out a lot of good stuff, I’m sure. First time we have taken choppers from Balad to Baghdad instead of a C-130. I was worried about out equipment fitting, but everything was fine. It was a short flight compared to yesterday’s and no “excitement” this time. Balad is easily my favorite base to visit – partly because I usually know the AF General there. His replacement is going to be another “Wolf” from Kunsan, Korea. That makes 3 in a row that I knew. Kunsan was and still is my favorite base to visit in Korea. We landed and got checked into the JVB. This is one of Saddam’s former palaces on the lake where we always stay. All the girls are in one room and all the guys are in another room. We had a little over an hour before we had to leave to tour Al Faw palace – the one where we usually take all the entertainers. General Odierno’s and Petreaus’ offices are in there. I usually get caught up on my email when we arrive here but as luck would have it, their email and telephone system was down! They were hoping to get it back up soon but I doubt it will be while we are here. We left for the Palace visit and General O was out but we met with General Anderson—his one star General. I had met him with Aaron Tippin and absolutely loved him. I think he may have been a little overwhelmed with our group because they are pretty vocal. With Aaron, he did most of the talking, but this group didn’t give him much of a chance. He was charming and witty and everyone really enjoyed visiting with him. They all received certificates and coins which is a really nice “perk” for them. He gave me and Alex a cigar and said he would come to the JVB and smoke them with us at midnight. We toured the palace and even though Karri and I had been there many times, we saw a “bloody” elevator that we knew nothing about. Evidently after the “prisoners” were tortured, they were taken to an elevator where they had to place their bloody hands on the elevator doors. Then when the doors opened, they were pushed into the elevator shaft to their death. The doors looked like they were made of brass and there were literally hundreds of bloody handprints all over it. I don’t know why they haven’t replaced the doors or tried to clean the prints off – maybe keeping it as a reminder of the horrors the people faced under Saddam’s rule. There is a photo of this on my website. Karri and I went down to General Petreaus’s office to see if there was a chance to say hello. He was out but his scheduler asked us to leave him a note and told us to come back at 8:45 am the next morning so we could see him. However, we don’t know what time our flight will depart and it is doubtful that we will be able to do this. I really wanted Karri to be able to meet him since I had met him a few weeks ago with Aaron and Bill Cowan. We went by the PX and shopping area and I hooked everyone up with my “jewelry” shop that I met with Aaron. After my visit with Aaron, I emailed them photos that he had taken with them. They emailed me back and told me to bring all my friends and they would “HOCK” me up. I wasn’t really sure what that meant but was hoping if was misspelled and meant “HOOK” me up. J They basically “gave” everyone something free – necklaces, charms, the “katushes” (that I can’t spell!). We got a dog tag for Michael for his birthday with his name in English on one side and Arabic on the other. Yes, he still reminds us and everyone he meets that today is his birthday. J The jewelry shop owner had to get it and several other items engraved for us and he said he would bring these to the show for us. I had a note waiting for me from another General (Army this time), that I met in Korea at Camp Walker (Daegu Area) many years ago and saw him and his wife and two sons there several times. He is now a 2 Star and came over to meet all my group. Dave Price had a nice chat with him about the progress we are making in Iraq and then he invited me to walk a very short distance down the street to see his office – in another one of Saddam’s many palace buildings. I had a really informative conversation with him about the current situation and how we have accomplished the recent success. I wish everyone in America could get the information that I do on these tours. One thing that I find is true of everyone is that they know they are doing a good job and can succeed. Of course, they want to go home, but not yet…not until the mission is complete. They believe if we were not keeping Al Qaeda so busy here in this area, then we would have already been attacked again in America. I have now had three Generals tell me that they are “living the dream” by being deployed to this AOR. We left for our first performance of the day at Camp Cropper. This is the Camp I visited with Charlie Daniels and Dave Price in April, 2006. A soldier had found my website and asked me to send his men some cds because they never got any entertainment. We pulled some strings and were able to take Charlie over for a quick visit. They drove us over in a blacked out Rhino and there were snipers on all the roofs when we arrived. Later found out that was where Saddam was being held for his trial. The Camp has been built up a lot since we were there. They still don’t have a DFAC though. They had built a big metal building and it was filled with troops, all wearing New Year’s party hats and having a great time. It was probably our best show ever because of the enthusiasm of the audience. Signed autographs for everyone and then went to the Camp Striker DFAC for dinner. Before we left, I decided that the soldier who had greeted us and who was responsible for many of the improvements at Cropper and the high morale of his troops deserved to receive the special flag we had brought with us. A secret service agent friend of mine and Karri’s and Mark Wills had visited the Tomb of the Unknown just prior to our departure. The Marines there gave them the flag that they had flown there for us to give to someone special in Iraq. I knew that when I met that person, I would know immediately. I did. At the DFAC, one of the little soldiers that I met with Aaron Tippin was there. He had given me his dog tag, so of course I had stayed in touch with him. He knew where our show was to be held that evening and I was expecting to see him there. I had another solider give me a dog tag at Camp Cropper. The chain is getting so heavy, I’m thinking of having a belt made out of the tags. I got to talk to one of the soldiers during the autograph session and learned a lot more about Camp Cropper. They have 4,000 detainees there now. We went back to lodging for a few minutes and then drove to Scorpion West Liberty LSA for the final performance in Iraq. Everyone is definitely tired but adrenaline keeps the shows upbeat and hilarious. Another great group and this show was held inside the MWR facility. For the first time ever, the internet was down at the JVB and I have not been able to check my emails. Driving me crazy. I jumped on the computer for a few minutes while the show was taking place. Wasn’t TOO bad, only 75 new emails since this morning. At least the important one that I was hoping would be there came in and I had time to respond. The little soldier who gave me the dog tag came to the show and brought his friends – one a paralegal and one who had just been promoted. I made sure everyone got to meet the celebs and have their photos with them. My friend had on his great green army issue fleece pullover again that I had been harassing to get one for me. He said he was giving me his but I wouldn’t let him. Can’t have him freezing in Iraq just to get me to quit whining. Kim Bain was also there. He is the identical twin brother of Chris Bain. Chris was injured severely in April 2003 at the beginning of the war. He’s doing fine now and I have been friends with him for many years. I had hoped to see Kim when we were here with Aaron Tippin but he had gone home on leave at that time. It was great to get to see him for a few minutes and have him meet all the celebs. It is amazing that I would not be able to tell them apart if they were both in the same room together. Kim is a little bit quieter than Chris, though. Chris is now running for public office in his hometown in Pennsylvania. He wants to try and “make a difference” and will be great if he is elected. There were way too many special moments in the shows to even begin listing anything. This is such a wonderful group of guys and girls and I hope they will agree to come back again. We finished the autograph session at around 12:30 am and went back to the JVB. The dining facility at the JVB had made a cake for Michael and we gave him his gift. General Anderson didn’t show up to smoke cigars with us. 🙁
Grabbed a quick shower and jumped in bed by 2:30 am. Have to get up at 7 am but that is more sleep than I have had these past two nights.
TUESDAY, JANUARY 1, 2008! We were all up and ready on time and hoping that our flight would be delayed so that we could go see General Petreaus. Of course, our escort came in and said it was departing EARLY and we didn’t even get to eat breakfast. I knew that when we got to the DV Lounge, it would be delayed. Usually, our escort goes out and manifests us and lets us arrive about 30 minutes prior to departure. Not this time, not only did they take us to another area but we sat there for much longer than normal waiting for the C-130 to arrive. If I had been handling this situation, I would have known how important it was for the celebrities to be able to meet General Petreaus. I would have sent someone else out to pre-manifest the group and palletize the luggage. Then I would have taken the celebs for a quick visit with the General and made sure I got them to the flight line before the plane departed. There would have been plenty of time to do this. But, I don’t get to make the “calls” when I am in the AOR. The flight from Baghdad to Kuwait was pretty full of troops and our group. I gave all the flight crew gifts and they invited the celebs to visit them on the flight deck. Dave actually talked with one of the flight crew and learned that they gone to college together. There was some confusion as to where we were to land. Normally, we land at KWI (Kuwait City on the military side). But this time since we were performing a show that afternoon, we landed at Ali Al Salem. Our Kuwait escorts were not there to pick us up and when I called them, they said they went to Ali Al Salem. Air Force Protocol immediately stepped in and they were wonderful. Got us off the airstrip and into the DFAC for lunch. Then they told me that they had these wonderful DV suites where we could “rest”. That was exactly what I had been asking about for the past several weeks. The Radisson is a beautiful hotel but it is very expensive. I called and canceled our rooms at the Radisson so we could stay on base and not have to drive so much after the show. The show was terrific. It was in a great little theatre and all the attendees were Air Force except for a couple of Army guys. The group signed autographs and took photos of everyone and it was a great way to end our tour. Everyone went to their lodging and Karri and Alex passed out for several hours. The guys had dinner at the DFAC but I decided to work on email and call a friend in Iraq on the DSN line in my room. Answering the email didn’t really work out as I kept getting knocked off line. Plus I need to use my laptop to have access to my files but the IP tech was unable to set mine up because of their security codes. So, because I had a DSN line, I was able to have a wonderful conversation with my friend in Iraq which kept me busy right up to time to depart for the airport. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time to get checked in for the flight. Since we were all in business class, I assumed things would move quickly. Not so much. The “pre-screener” in front of the ticket counter kept us in line for almost an hour. We were on e-tickets yet he kept insisting that we needed our confirmation number. I had a copy of everyone’s itinerary in my backpack and that seemed to pacify him. The line for coach was about 3 times as long as business class, but we were still standing in line trying to get checked in when everyone in coach had finished. I think we were just “marked””! When Karri put her bag up to check in, the officer made her take it off and let someone in line behind her (a local) check in first. Then when it was her time to check in, he told her that the counter was closed. We were finally able to get checked in and went up to the Lounge to have a snack and wait for the flight to be called. Only Karri and I got mildly harassed at Customs. The agent took my passport and while he was looking at it, asked my name. I told him “Judy Seale” and then he said but what is your “family” name. I replied “Seale” and he let me pass through. Mike went to the lounge restroom and just as he was coming back to join us, there was a loud announcement on the speaker system saying, “Michael Hitchcock please report to the gate immediately” and then there was a string if Arabic afterwards. Mike’s face was priceless. He looked panicked and said, “do I really have to go”? It was Dave Price on the speaker system. 🙂 We boarded the flight and prayed that we would have better flight attendants than what we had coming over. They were. Service was great and flight was relatively turbulent free. I slept more than I have in five years. Guess I needed that! We landed in DC and everyone got their luggage. However, Michael, Mike and Alex got separated after clearing Customs and we didn’t have time to say goodbye to them. Karri was on standby to depart on an earlier flight and she called to say that there was one seat available and she was taking it. I still feel like I should have stayed until everyone else departed but it would have meant spending all day in the DC Airport. The flight to Nashville was on time and I met a young soldier heading to Ft. Campbell for “training”. We talked for a long time because he wanted to know the “real” situation in Iraq. It was easy to give him an accurate report because of my conversations with the troops this past week. I gave him a business card and he promised to stay in touch. This was such a fantastic tour. It made all of us realize how important “comedy” is to the troops deployed to those areas. They so badly need some laughter in their lives. This group of incredible individuals who gave so generously of their time and talents made a difference in thousands of lives this past week. I am hoping they will all want to make a repeat visit later in the year. Happy New Year to everyone. I’ll be heading back to Afghanistan in February. Jude