PHOTOS (Courtesy of Jenn Vess)
MONDAY, JUNE 30TH – INTERLAKEN TO KUWAIT:
Was up at 4:30 am and downstairs at 6:20 am. It is still raining! Iris was right on time and it only took about 15 minutes to drive me to the train station in Spiez. We had time for a cappuccino – which I desperately needed. She helped me get on the train but this time, all the luggage bins were upstairs. I had to lug that 53 pound suitcase up a flight of stairs. I had an assigned seat — #151 – but there was someone sitting in it. I asked her if it was her seat and she said, “No” and moved.
It was a really full train, filled I’m sure with people commuting to work in Zurich. But, it was less than a 2 hour trip and I arrived exactly on time to check in for my flight on Lufthansa to Frankfurt and then on to Kuwait. Went through Passport Control and Security and then bought some Sprungli chocolates for friends in Kuwait and Afghanistan. Hope it doesn’t melt on the trip over.
I went to the Business Class Lounge and got some work done. I knew my flight was at 11:25 am but totally spaced that they would board an hour before flight time. Ended up running for the gate. Flight left on time and was one of the smaller jets.
We landed in the “A” gates at Frankfurt and I had almost 2 hours to make my connection. Glad I decided to go straight to the gate because it was in another terminal, which meant a tram ride. Then we had to go through Passport control and Security again! Crazy. I walked up after they had started boarding. I scanned my boarding pass and started walking towards the plane. The female gate agent stopped me and said I would have to “gate check” my rolling bag. I told her I’d just take it apart and make 2 bags if it didn’t fit and kept walking. She yelled at me and told me to come back and gate check it. Then she asked to see my boarding pass. Her comment was “Oh, you’re in Business Class. You can take it on”. DUH! And, she was “rude” about it. When I got on the plane, I showed my boarding pass and the flight attendant told me to go to the right. I was in seat 4C and the seats began at 10A! Had to back track through everyone and go to the left.
The business class section was pretty empty and the flight attendants gave us the option of moving to another seat. I did that immediately and didn’t have anyone beside me. I had planned to sleep the entire flight but noticed that they had wireless on the flight. I ate lunch/dinner – whatever it was and watched a great movie with Kevin Costner. Then I tried to buy a couple of hours of internet. I got to the log in page and put in all my information but then there was no button to click to make the purchase. I had all the flight attendants trying to help me figure it out and no one knew what to do. I switched from Internet Explorer to Google was able to log on that way. Then I tried to log into my AOL and it was blocked!!! This happened last time too. I was able to log on through the AOL website which takes me twice as much time through there. But, I got some emails answered.
We landed on time and just as I stepped off the flight, I realized I had left the bag of candy that I purchased under the empty seat beside me. The flight attendant wouldn’t let me go back on the plane but she went on and got it for me.
My bag arrived and Wally was there to meet me. Walking out into the heat reminded me of Qatar and holding a hair dryer on high speed right in front of my face. Brutally hot here.
Wally drove me to the hotel and we got stuck in some traffic but it wasn’t too bad. Got checked in then he and I went to Chili’s for something light to eat. The restaurant in the hotel only has the buffet and I definitely didn’t need that much. Wally’s wife is flying home from Orlando and is on the same flight with Vertical Horizon from DC to Kuwait.
Have been staying n touch with David and Lindsey and so far everything is going well with Vertical Horizon. Fingers crossed they don’t have any problems.
I have a massage booked for 12:30 pm tomorrow and hoping that helps with the knots in my neck and shoulders! Then I have to leave for the airport at 4 pm to meet Vertical Horizon.
DAY “OFF” IN KUWAIT – JULY 1ST:
Nothing exciting today. Slept 6 hours which was heavenly. Had breakfast in the Sky Lounge because the restaurant is closed for Ramadan….no eating, drinking, smoking or chewing gum in public. That is from about 3:30 am until around 6:30 pm. Every day it moves forward a minute. Exemptions are children and women who are pregnant or it’s their time of the month. Now tell me, who is going to check EITHER of those conditions on a woman? Evidently everyone stuffs themselves at around 3 am and then there is a feast that lasts for hours at 6:30 pm. And, most people plan their vacations so that they leave Kuwait during Ramada and go somewhere that it is not observed. Not very “devout” Muslims, huh? And THAT’s why my flight was so empty. No one wants to come here during this period. J
Went to the health club and worked out for over an hour – worked all muscle groups since I’m not sure when I’ll have time to work out again other than with bands in my room. Then I had an awesome massage. They lady was from Croatia and she worked hard to get my knots out of my neck and shoulders. I gave her a tip that was more than what the massage cost I think.
By the time the massage was over, I had time to work for an hour, shower and get ready to go to the airport to meet the group. Travis picked me up at 4:30 and the flight landed a few minutes late at 5:39 pm. Wally was there to meet his wife but also a special treat – Mea from the Embassy and the new Air Force General at the Embassy – Scott Williams (call sign “Spade” for all my Air Force Buddies. He was meeting his son who was coming in for a visit. Really a nice guy.
David was calling me and sending me text messages from baggage claim. Evidently all the baggage arrived with the exception of one bag that had to be gate checked in DC. He was told to pick up the gate checked bag at baggage claim instead of on the jetway. It was the LAST bag to come off on the belt.
As we were waiting, I noticed a yogurt shop and really wanted to buy some. I figured I had three options – borrow a child, pretend I was pregnant or pretend it was the wrong time of the month for me. None seemed very believable. At about 6:15 pm, a huge crowd gathered in front of the KFC restaurant. Everyone pre-ordered their meals so that they would have them as soon as Ramadan was over.
All really super nice guys in Vertical Horizon and Christine is drop dead gorgeous. Going to be some really HAPPY troops in Afghanistan over the 4th of July holidays.
I gave the group the bad news…..bags have to be out at 3 am and we depart at 5 am for the airport. Could have been worse if Protocol wasn’t working with us. We would have had to depart when the bags left. So it will be a short night. And once I give up my bag, it’s over. I can’t keep makeup and hair stuff out to put in my carry on bag!
We had a nice “group” dinner in the hotel restaurant. They were grilling steak, lamb, beef and chicken outside and it was wonderful. (An Adkins Dieter’s dream). Still had their huge buffet inside. Everyone went to their rooms pretty early – around 10:30 pm. I’ve been sorting through all my clothes and figuring out what is in the one I took to Switzerland that needs to also go into my Afghanistan bag. I’m sure it’s going to be a disaster and I’ll be looking for a “Wal-Mart” when we land. LOL.
Won’t be able to send Road Reports probably until we get back to Kuwait. Security reasons and lack of bandwidth are the reasons for that.
Everyone have a wonderful 4th of July and say a special prayer for our military at home and around the world who allow us to have an “Independence Day”.
KUWAIT TO KANDAHAR AB, AFGHANISTAN – WEDNESDAY, JULY 2ND:
Got in bed at 1:00 am and was up at 3:00 am. Short night. Showered and answered some emails that came in during that short 2 hours. David was already downstairs by the time I went down.
We left on time and had to wait a few minutes for our CAMCO guys to finish palletizing our equipment and luggage. Evidently the PSD rep who went with them was not cleared for Ali Al Salem and couldn’t get them on base. Our AF Protocol Rep – Sarah – had to get up and bring them on at 4 am!
Our usual PSD guy left for a visit back home last night and we were assigned an older guy in the Unit. When we got on the bus, he made this speech to everyone about how they were going to get sick. Went into detail about his own experience and even went so far as to say the reason everyone gets sick is because there is “s..t” in the air in Afghanistan. And that, friends, is a load of BS! He totally bummed everyone out with his negative and frightening comments. I waited until he got off the bus and told everyone he was full of it. I took 37 tours in to Iraq and this is my 10th into Afghanistan. Knock on wood, I haven’t gotten sick on any of them!
We still had time to go to the DFAC on the flight line and have a quick breakfast. We are on a C130 and the flight crew said it would take about 5 hours. Plane is very full – 28 people including our 12 plus 3 pallets of gear and the other passengers personal bags. I’m not sure where the flight crew was from because I gave them the cds and photos and no one talked to me. I slept miserably most of the flight. It’s just the web sling seats hanging from the side of the aircraft. I brought one of those airplane pillows but ended up putting it behind my back to keep a metal pole from cutting my spine in two.
We actually landed a few minutes early. First stop – toilet – since I refuse to use the honey bucket on the plane. When we arrived, I learned that Elissa – our MWR rep was not going to be meeting us here. She has some issues to deal with on her base so will meet up with us when we go there.
Matt told me he lost an implant and needed to see a doctor when we landed. I had emailed Elissa and our wonderful hosts had him all lined up. He said the dentist did a great job, too. The rest of the group went to the DFAC for a very late lunch while Matt and David were at the dentist. I sent David with him in case there were any problems.
Everyone went shopping at the little bazaar that is still here. One of the food courts has already closed down though. I went to the USO Center to discuss tomorrow’s “Meet and Greet”. Honestly, those things never work. It’s in the middle of the day, so everyone is either at work or sleeping from having worked all night. We’ll see how it goes.
I met up with the group who were still shopping. David’s nephew is a contractor down at Leatherneck and he was able to fly up and meet him. So wonderful that David gets to spend some time with him. His nephew got pretty choked up when David hugged him and so did I! A really, nice, intelligent young man.
After shopping, we all went to see the Taliban’s Last Stand. I’ve been there many times but like watching the others when they tour it. It’s where the Taliban were meeting and we dropped a J-Dam through the roof. Thus the name….”Taliban’s Last Stand”. Not sure what will happen to that piece of history when we leave here. We’re already tearing down a lot of buildings in preparation.
One of my dearest friends – Colonel Michael McGregor – was here in Kandahar for a year. I tried so hard to bring entertainment to him but our tours were just never routed here. Of course, he left here about a week ago and now we are here. L
We had about an hour in our rooms and then went to the DFAC for dinner. Afterwards, most everyone just went to bed. The manager was brave enough to go jogging in this heat. Me – I’m working and answering emails all night long, as usual.
We have a show here tomorrow and it’s going to be great. Lots of excitement from the troops and of course, from Vertical Horizon. It’s 1 am and I need to be up at 6 am, so calling it a night….I hope.
THURSDAY, JULY 3RD – PERFORMANCE AT KANDAHAR AIR BASE:
Got 4 hours of sleep which was great for me. Dressed and went to breakfast with the group. We had a few minutes after breakfast before going to a “meet and greet” at the USO Center. A lot more people showed up than I expected. We stayed there until noon and then went to lunch.
After lunch, our escorts arranged a tour of the Apache helicopters. The guys LOVED it. All they ever want to do is blow something up, shoot something, or see something that flies. One down, two to go! Spent quite a lot of time letting them climb around on the choppers and ask question. They also got to see a “hell fire” which they think is awesome.
David called me to say there was a problem with the electricity because they provided a 20 Amp generator and we needed a 60 Amp. He got it all worked out and they were ready for us to sound check at 3 pm as scheduled. Because it’s the first day, it took 2 hours for the guys to sound check. We went to dinner right after sound check and then had about a hour to rest before show time. Everyone except me. I had work to do.
The show started right on time and we had a really big crowd. I’m guess around 2,000. I met the nicest Air Force General (1 Star), too. I think the audience loved the performance and it was a truly great show. They signed autographs for over an hour – at least 200 people in line. Then we had to collect our passports and body armor and give to our escorts. We have fought all day NOT to have to go to the flight line at 5 am. Finally won that battle and we don’t have to be there until 6:45 pm. UNLESS the flight lands early. Then they will knock on our doors and we have to depart immediately. It’s a 3 hour flight because we make a stop in Shindand and it’s a C130.
Our building is a LONG row of rooms with the Men’s Latrine on one end and the Women’s on the other. Along the way, there are doors that lead outside. With my “lack of a sense of direction”, I headed down the hallway and instead of opening the door to the outside, I walked right into the Men’s Latrine. Fortunately no one was in there!
And everything has a code lock – the front gate, the building, the room and the latrines (fortunately the latrines are never locked!). It’s fun coming back with my arms full of photos, cds, water, my purse, etc., and trying to push 2 buttons at once and then 1 button – all a different code – while juggling everything and holding a flashlight in my mouth and the card with the codes on it in the other. Not once have I been able to open anything on the first try! It’s a “real” secure place.
I waited until 1 am and then went down to take a shower. I guess everyone else in my group took a shower earlier because there was NO hot water. Good news is, even on the coldest setting, the water is about room temperature!
Tomorrow will be a great 4th of July with our troops!
FRIDAY, 4TH OF JULY IN BAGRAM, AFGHANITAN:
Well, 2 hours of sleep really sucks. So those of you who want to travel with me…are you SURE? J
Everyone was ready to roll at 6 am. Short stop at the DFAC for “to go” boxes for breakfast then on to the flight line. They were ready for us to board when we arrived. I gave the flight crew photos and cds and we settled in with about 12 other passengers and 4 pallets. The flight crew came by to talk to me and thought we were going to Shindand, not Bagram. They were not happy to know that they had loaded all the pallets on the plane assuming everything was coming off in Shindand. They had to “re-manifest” our group. Couple of the guys were friendly, but really didn’t talk to any of the others. I know it screwed up their day and hate that this mistake was made by someone on the ground in Kandahar.
It was about a one hour flight to Shindad and they took off all the pallets. Then they had to take our bags off one of them and re-load them on the plane, plus put back on our two pallets of gear. Not a quick process and not easily done.
The flight on to Bagram was about another 1 ½ hours. We landed and SGT Goins who we had worked with during Craig Morgan’s tour met us. He and Linda took really good care of us. Elissa is still out on a USO Tour with Cole Hauser but is supposed to see us later today.
We went to lodging and I have the same room I had when I was here with Darryl Worley at Thankgiving. Only, the air conditioner control doesn’t work and it’s 52 degrees in the room. It was blowing full blast and no way to turn it down. They are going to see if it can be fixed or get me another room.
We left and went to the DFAC for lunch and then to the flight line for a tour of the A10’s and the F16s. It was AWESOME. Flight crew and personnel were super nice and the F16 guys/girls are from ALABAMA! I noticed that the planes all had “Alabama” printed across the tails. Then, when we arrived at #400 – the plane they were going to let us take photos of – it had “City of Prattville” written on the tail. Just too, too bizarre! Prattville is the city where I grew up! Loved talking to the guys about my “hometown”!
We dropped the guys at lodging and I went over to the venue. There was a maintenance man in my room when I dropped off my bag and he said he couldn’t fix the air conditioning. Apparently this whole side of the building is controlled by one “switch” which can’t be changed. And the bad news is, there are no more rooms available. So, I decided I could “fix” the problem with duct tape. I taped over the vent openings and stopped the air flow, Thank God!
There was no power to the stage again when we arrived. This happens at every show. The guys loaded in at noon and didn’t get power until 4 pm when the band came over for sound check. David tried all day to get it. When he arrived, the stage was sent up for the re-enlistment ceremony and the officer in charge was telling him that NOTHING on the stage could be moved and we couldn’t set up our instruments or equipment because this event belonged to a 3 Star General. David informed him that our concert belonged to that same 3 Star General and he quickly changed his mind bout letting us load in. J
General Anderson was scheduled to arrive at 4:45 pm and meet with us until 5:15 pm. He actually arrived early, which worked out good for us. He met all the guys and then I had a chance to chat with him for a while. I brought him and his staff chocolates from Switzerland. Been carrying them around since Monday in my carryon bag and boy was it heavy. Had to keep them with me or they would have melted. He has the most wonderful guys EVER working for him. General O’Neal who I met with Craig Morgan a few weeks ago and Command Sargent Major Vimoto who I also met with Craig were with him as well as a General from Germany. I was able to get Vince Gill to do a video message for CSM Vimoto’s wife and their anniversary and he said she loved it.
They guys finished sound check and General A and his people ate dinner with us backstage at the venue. I sat with the General from Germany and had a fascinating conversation. This was his last day in country as he flies home tomorrow. I gave him my card and invited him to come see one of our shows in Germany when we’re there. He said the first date he had with his wife was in the U.S. and he took her to see a Craig Morgan concert! J
We left after dinner to go back to the rooms for the guys to change for the show. General A had to host a re-enlistment ceremony for 100 people!
We arrived back over at the hanger and was disappointed to see a much smaller crowd than we anticipated. I figured there would be thousands there on the 4th of July but there was actually only hundreds. But, it was a great show for the ones who did attend. There’s much fewer people left here now because of the drawdown. Cole Hauser and his manager rode over with us to see the performance, too.
We were about 45 minutes into the 60 minute set when I heard a “boom”. I sort of looked around and no one seemed concerned. Then there were 2 more blasts and the sirens went off. Someone yelled, “everybody down” and everyone went face down. We stayed that way until the second siren sounded and then ran for the nearest bunker – which was full. So, we just came back inside. General A was standing inside so I went to talk to him until we heard the “all clear”. I’m not sure some of our group who have never been here before didn’t need to go change their pants once they were cleared to come back inside and finish the show! LOL. And wouldn’t you now it, I had on white pants and got dirt all over the knees. And they told us there wouldn’t be any “fireworks” celebration there on the 4th of July! J
Seriously, never once felt threatened. I went through hundreds of these attacks in Iraq and also before in Afghanistan. The one place I always feel safe is with our men and women in uniform.
Guys finished the show and were presented plaques by CSM Vimoto and CSM Lewis and then by General Anderson and General O’Neal. They signed autographs for about an hour and we headed back to lodging. When I walked in, the duct tape seemed to be coming lose on the vent so I reach up to push it tighter and when I did, the entire vent fell off. I knew I could tape cardboard over it but when I climbed up on the chair to look at it, I noticed that there was a large “pipe” inside with a flap. I just closed the flap and shut off the flow of air. It’s loud, but not 52 degrees in here any more. All the way up to 68 right now. L
Went to the bathroom and as I was washing my hands, Christine asked if it was me in there. She was getting ready to take a shower. She called me into the back and said that she had a “situation”. Evidently, she had turned on the water and put all her stuff in the shower then walked out to undress. When she did, the shower door closed and the handle dropped down and locked the door from the inside. The took a shampoo rack holder from the other shower stall and tried to reach over and unlock it but she wasn’t tall enough. I went to my room and got my chair and stood on it in the shower stall next to hers and tried to reach the handle with the rack. It was about an inch short of reaching. I was able to turn off the water at least. We started looking for something to put on top of the chair to stand on. Christine found a cleaning bucket just as I was about to carry a microwave in there! She stood on top of it on the chair and was able to reach the handle and open the door. Just another day in the life of two females in Afghanistan. J
I’ve been working much too long again. It’s almost midnight and we have a 6 am bag call. So, I will go shower and maybe get 4 hours sleep tonight. I tried to sleep on the C130 today but there was a metal rod that ran right down my spine on the web seating which made for a miserable flight!
Off to Shindand tomorrow – which is where we made the stop today. Elissa is going to stay with the USO Tour and they are on our flight tomorrow morning as well but we make a stop to let them off.
Senator McCain and Graham are also in country. They always seem to be here when I’m here!
SATURDAY, JULY 5TH – BAGRAM TO SHINDAND AIR BASE:
Up early again to grab a quick breakfast and depart to the flight line….only to learn that our flight was delayed an hour! We boarded and met the air crew from Dyess, Texas. Much nicer than the other crews we have had. We are dropping Elissa and her group off at Bastion and then we will continue on to Shindand.
It was about an hour flight to Bastion but then we sat on the ground for an hour. We didn’t take on passengers or cargo, so I’m not sure why we were “grounded” for so long. The flight crew let everyone take turns coming into the cockpit on that flight. David went up there for landing and I wish I had. We hit turbulence and cross winds and it got pretty interesting down where we were.
Landed and met our escort – Captain Shushunov – I called him Alex! J I had told Matt not to tell the others but this base had set up a visit to the firing range and a chance to “blow some things up”….you know…”boy stuff”…if we arrived in time.
We were told that the generator was ready and we wouldn’t have a power issue. But, we also learned the show had been moved from 7 pm to 6:30 pm. The WONDERFUL thing about this base – which by the way is in the middle of “nowhere” is we all get our own rooms and mine and Christine’s have bathrooms in the rooms. Unbelievable luxury!
We had a quick lunch and headed for the firing range. We had to put on helmets and flak vests because I was told we were going outside the wire. Later learned that wasn’t true. The guys “played” for about 2 hours shooting lots of different weapons and blowing up stuff. They had such a good time. I, on the other hand, spent all my time walking around trying to get a cell phone signal. David had called and I knew he wouldn’t call unless there was something wrong at the stage that he needed help with. I never reached him but once we got back to the stage, we learned that they still didn’t have “power”! The guys didn’t sound check until 4:30 pm. We grabbed a quick dinner at 5:30 pm and then the show started at 6:30 pm right on time. We had a call from Elissa when we landed today saying Brian’s bag had gotten left with ours. I checked and it wasn’t there. Then when we talked to Elissa tonight, she said the fight terminal here had called her and told her we had the bag. We don’t! Poor Brian!!!
Wasn’t many people there to watch the performance at first but then it filled up nicely. Guys put on another awesome show and the base presented them with a beautiful plaque of appreciation.
Autograph line wasn’t tremendously long and they knocked it out in a little over an hour. I realized that I needed to go “manifest” everyone for the flight since Elissa isn’t here and Alex has never done it. We got our flight time for tomorrow and for once, it’s not at the crack of dawn! We have breakfast at 8 am, bags out at 9:30 am and we depart to the flight line at 10:00 am and wheels up at 11 am. Should land at around 12 noon at our next and final camp.
I had to wait with Alex for a truck to come pick up our pallets and then we headed to the flight terminal. Manifesting went surprising smooth. Of course, on this the one night that I could have gotten to bed early, I was at the PAX terminal and now it’s midnight.
Sad that tomorrow is our last show in Afghanistan. But, it’s been a wonderful, unforgettable visit with our military deployed here!
SUNDAY, JULY 6TH – SHINDAND AIR BASE, AFGHANISTAN TO MAZAR E SHARIF – CAMP MARMAL:
Wow! 5 hours of sleep. That’s a game changer.
First on agenda was breakfast. Then we learned our flight was landing an hour early, so there was a last minute “scramble” to get packed and out to the flight line. We made it in plenty of time and even had to wait about an hour. Even though it is a “dedicated” flight, trust me, the reality is that they will leave us in a heartbeat. These guys have much more important things to do than fly us around.
We had the same flight crew that we had a couple of days ago and one of the guys is an Auburn fan. Jay is an Alabama fan and wears their shirts proudly only to get busted by me and other War Eagle fans. J
We thought the flight was an hour but turned out to be more like 1 ½ hours. At least the landing today was smoother. Yesterday there was a huge crosswind which made it very turbulent.
Our escort Sgt. Anazo was waiting for us and got us to lodging. The first thing I was asked is if I have Brian’s bag! Lodging is tents – male and female – but have “wooden walls” between the “rooms”. Been a LONG time since I’ve stayed in a tent. J
We only had a few minutes in the tents before going to lunch. These doors have codes again and even a code for the female toilets and latrines (separate structures and a “HIKE” from lodging!). But last night was a “keyed” lock and mine stuck constantly so I’m not going to complain tonight.
Christine got as far away from my room as possible so she can get some sleep and not listen to me typing until 3 am.
The food in the DFAC was actually the best lunch we’ve had the entire trip. We all picked up packets of peanut butter for the 7 hour flight back to Kuwait tomorrow. After lunch, we went to see the “Engineers”. Everyone was thinking it would just be photos and a handshake but they are actually the ones who go outside the wire and look for IED’s every day. Very dangerous job but not so bad here in this area. They haven’t had an “incident” at this base since 2009! Said it is probably the safest area in Afghanistan.
The engineers gave us a tour of their facility and then had some MWRAPs set up for everyone to “play” on. They even got inside one of the larger ones.
By this time, it was 3 pm and we headed to sound check. The base arranged a 6 pm “meet and greet” before the show without our knowledge. Those things never work. Our show time is at 8 pm, so they did a sound check and finished at 5 pm. Some of us grabbed a quick dinner at the DFAC and then it was time for the Meet and Greet. As anticipated, only a handful of people showed up and we cut it short and told everyone we would sign autographs and take photos after the show. While this was taking place, I went with Sgt. Anazo to the PAX terminal to double check our flight times, etc. First thing I was asked is “Do you have Brian’s bag!”. We are scheduled for an 8:30 am local departure and because it’s a C130, it will take us 7 hours. OUCH! No way Christine and I will be able to avoid using that honey bucket for 7 hours. L
The show tonight was amazing. Crowd was small and intimate and Matt was superb at entertaining them. He thanked Stars for Stripes and told everyone to give me a hug after the show….Yea, that’s what I’m talking about! Actually, everyone did, too. I was handing out the autograph sheets and wouldn’t give them one without a hug first. I thanked Matt afterwards because it brought back memories of my early tours to Iraq. I used to walk the autograph line (which always had 300-400 people in it) and personally hand everyone a photo and give them a hug whether they wanted it or not. I loved doing that but over the years as sexual harassment and “rules” not to touch came into play, I quit. The thing is, in a combat zone, it could be the last hug someone receives (Chely Wright can attest to that!). They aren’t allowed “physical contact” while over here and I hope that hug made them feel like “home” for a few minutes. Think I’m going to say “screw the rules” and go back to hugging again.
We have a 6:30 am “lobby” (or should I say “tent”) call, so going to TRY and finish up early and get a little sleep. Have to hike about a ¼ of a mile to the showers in the dark!
It’s sad that our shows in Afghanistan are over but this could not have been a better trip.
MONDAY, JULY 7TH – MAZAR E SHARIF, AFGHANISTAN TO KUWAIT:
Is it really Monday? Hard to believe the time flew by so quickly. Got up at 4:30 am, dressed, packed up, and met everyone at 6:30 am. Our flight was tracking on time so we went to the DFAC for a quick breakfast. Not long after we sat down, we were told that the flight was already on the ground and waiting for us. We finished up quickly and headed for the airfield.
They walked us out to the C130 but the plane was being fueled and loaded, so we had to stand outside for a while. Talked to the flight crew and they are probably the nicest we’ve had the entire time. They are out of Cheyenne, Wyoming. I’ve never had a crew from there since I’ve been coming over here this past decade.
We are the only ones on the plane and everyone had lots of space to spread out. But, this is a 12 person crew instead of 5, so there were five big guys on the other side of the netting.
The 7 hour flight seemed more like 12. It’s web seating that hangs from the ceiling and much more uncomfortable than any airplane seat. At least we could stand up but not much room to walk around with all our pallets filling the back half of the aircraft. We had all brought fruit and granola bars (Atkins bar for me) on the flight but by the end of the trip, we were pretty hungry. I did have to be brave and go use the honey bucket once. There was a guy asleep (presumably) on a hammock on one side of it and another guy sitting next to it. It’s just a toilet like you see on a tour bus only it’s up on a pedestal and only has a shower curtain around it – somewhat. Christine went after I did and everything was fine. No unexpected “turbulence” like we had years ago during the fun days of our tours overseas for the troops. J
I read, slept, walked around – and then did that all again. We did land 1 hour early, so it was only a 6 hour flight. When we got off the plane, it was so hot it felt like you could “hold” the air in your hands. It was 115 degrees.
Our escorts and bus were waiting for us. We went to the DFAC to grab some lunch because since it’s Ramadan, we won’t be able to eat after we leave the base until things open back up at around 7 pm. I was able to book another massage for 5-6 pm. Yea!!! Sure need it.
Got everyone checked in and reserved a table at the restaurant for dinner at 7:30 pm. I got “some” of my luggage sorted out. I’m sure I’ll send half of what I need back home with David and keep things that I don’t need! Took a shower after the massage and that was great, too. Had to take a combat shower last night because Camp Marmal had limited hot water. Haven’t had to do that since early days in Iraq.
Dinner was terrific. We told tales about our overseas tours for the troops. Really like working with these guys/girl and hope we can do more in the future. There’s certainly a “need” for them.
Last show in Kuwait tomorrow and they fly back to the US and I fly to Norway to work with some of my best friends — Mark Chesnutt, Desert Rose Band, and John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band. What a lineup!!!
TUESDAY, JULY 8TH – PERFORMANCE AT CAMP ARIFJAN, KUWAIT and FLIGHTS FROM KUWAIT TO BERGEN, NORWAY:
Was able to get in a great workout at the gym this morning. Dereck said he went out to run (in about 100 degree temperatures) then remembered he couldn’t drink water outside and came back to the gym. Hard to remember all the “rules” of Ramadan! Had breakfast with some of the guys, showered, and checked out of hotel.
First thing on the agenda after arriving Camp Arifjan was a Commander’s Office Call with Colonel Eubank. I’ve seen a lot of him this past year but it’s almost time for him to leave Kuwait. He gave a great briefing and everyone had lots of questions for him. Took photos in front of their “A” and he presented everyone with a certificate of appreciation and a coin.
We went by the stage to see how they were doing and everything was ready except for the power being turned on. We left and went to the shopping area for last minute purchases. I didn’t need ANYTHING! Went back to the stage for a sound check and then to lodging so everyone could rest for a few minutes and check emails before dinner. We ate at the DFAC, went back to lodging to change clothes and then it was show time. The concert was held in their new “Events Tent” in Zone One. The tent is awesome (especially because it is air conditioned!) but it was the first event there and I’m not sure everyone on base was familiar with where it is located. But, we had a great crowd and the guys gave them a great “last” show.
My friend Wally and his wife Row came in late and brought 3 interns from the Embassy. Wally also brought coins for everyone from General Williams. There were lots of die-hard Filter fans in the audience which made for a really lively performance. The guys managed to take photos and sign autographs for everyone before we went back to lodging to change clothes and depart for the airport. It is usually about an hour drive but we hit some traffic and it took a little longer. We were worried about how long it would take going through security with all the new rules!
I went through with everyone to the United Counter even though I am flying on Lufthansa. Made sure they all got checked in with no problems. Then I went to the Lufthansa counter to check in. That’s when my problems began. The ticket agent said there was a “system error” in my ticket and she couldn’t check me in. I told her I had already checked in the day before on line. I stood there for 40 minutes before she could give me 2 of my 3 boarding passes! Then she sent me to a Lounge that was closed for renovation. The “new” Lounge was really just a cubicle and there was a “smoking” room inside it but no “top” on the room so smoke was everywhere. I couldn’t stay long because of that. There were no toilets and I had tried to go into the Ladies room earlier but it was closed for cleaning. I tried it again before going to the gate. At first I thought it only had the toilet in the floor t but found one stall with an “American style” toilet. A man was cleaning the floor outside the toilets with one of those machines you ride on. He made a quick U-turn and “cleaned” my foot in the process.
I arrived at the gate to find some elderly lady dressed in high high stiletto heels with sequins on them and this huge white bell shaped white lacy skirt and a green jacket that is impossible to describe. It had round swirls that stuck out all around her. She had dark red hair and a hat on. Everyone was staring at her. She was very friendly especially to the kids and they were taking photos with her. I asked the gate agent who she was and she said she had no idea but that she shows up dressed like that all the time to fly “somewhere”. The crazy lady came over and started talking to me and asked me what hotel I am staying at in Frankfurt. I assured her I wasn’t staying in Frankfurt. She kept trying to board the plane before everyone else and they kept bumping her back outside. Thankfully, she was in coach class and I didn’t see her again after we departed. I did sneak a photo and it will be on Facebook and JSI and SFS websites.
The flight attendant offered us a “small snack” once we took off. Mine was smaller than most since it was toast points with different things on top and I couldn’t have the toast. I slept for 5 of the 6 hour fight and think I could have slept 12 more.
Connected in Frankfurt and it was a nightmare. We had a “bus” gate and everyone got soaked with rain walking from the plane to the bus. We arrived in the A gates and had to go through Passport Control and security to get to the B gates where my plane to Copenhagen would depart. Of course, there was no lounge anywhere close to my gate and I thought I would have to go back through security to access. Finally found one back in the A gates where I had landed and a 20 minute walk from my departure gate.
We departed on time and it was an hour and a half flight to Copenhagen. Had the same situation in Copenhagen with the Lounge. Nothing anywhere close to where I was departing. It was another hour and a half flight to Bergen but everything was on time. By the time I landed in Bergen, the U.S. passengers had landed in DC! Long travel day for me.
I’m staying at the Clarion Hotel connected to the Bergen airport. I’ve stayed here before and it’s an “okay” place to stay. Biggest appeal is the fact that it is connected to the airport and I can just walk over. But, I prefer staying down town Bergen when I’m not so “rushed”.
Got checked in and internet is free so I worked all afternoon. Ordered room service from their very limited menu (I got a hamburger and threw away the bun!). It’s almost 3 am now and I need to get some sleep. Have to start meeting the various artists at 1:20 pm tomorrow and then it is a 5 hour bus ride from Bergen to Breim!
Vertical Horizon was AWESOME both on and off stage. Hope I can work with them again. And the shows for the troops over the 4th of July were amazing. Made lots of new friends and got lots and lots of hugs from those guys and girls….America’s finest!