TUESDAY, DECEMBER 21ST – DAY ONE:
Flying to Korea today with the Bellamy Brothers to entertain our troops over Christmas and New Year’s. Had to get up at 3:30 am and be at the airport at 6 am. No problems checking in because we were on Northwest where all my friends work. But, when I got to security, the girl checking the passports said that I could only carry on 2 bags. I explained that the “shopping bag” was filled with Christie Cookies that I was going to give to the gate agents, pilots, flight attendants, etc. She wouldn’t budge off her “rules”, so I stuffed everything inside my back pack. Then she said that the fanny pack I was wearing had to go inside a bag, too. I told her I was going to wear it on the plane, not put it in the overhead or under the seat. It would remain on my waist. Didn’t care. So, I stuffed it in my computer case and went through security. Then I took everything back out and carried it all on the plane. Jeez! I don’t mind being searched but she was ridiculous. No one else had that problem. Once we got on the plane, one of my gate agents friends came on the plane and called me aside. Said he needed to upgrade six of my guys from coach to first class with us. That meant everyone but one person got to fly first class from Nashville to Minneapolis. He did this as a special “thank you” to them for giving up the holidays with the friends and family and going over to spend it with our troops. Sure was a good way to start off the trip after the fiasco with security. Landed in Minneapolis and it was freezing. Had a couple of hours layover, so I got to check email and make some phone calls. The Bellamys and I were upstairs and I brought cookies for the flight attendants and pilots on this flight, too. But, even without the cookies, we had the nicest crew I’ve had in months. By the way, I’ll top 2 million miles just on Northwest Airlines with this trip! For someone who is scared to death to fly, I’m doing all right! I heard the news about the attack on the mess hall in Mosul while I was in Minneapolis. So sad. I expect even more horrible attacks like this before the elections. I remember when we were in Baghdad last Christmas, we were told that they had just captured terrorists who had the actual blueprints of the Bob Hope Dining Hall there. They were going to attack on Christmas Day. Thankfully, our troops found out and prevented that one. No one was sitting by me on the long flight to Tokyo which was also nice. Fired up my laptop (there’s a plug in the seat so I don’t use up my battery!) and watched “Terminal”. What a great movie. We landed late in Tokyo and had to go straight to the flight for Seoul. Again, we had really nice flight attendants. Don’t know if it’s because we routed through Minneapolis or it’s the spirit of holiday season. Of course, it could be the fact that I am giving them Christie Cookies as soon as we get on board.:) Got all of our luggage but the airlines had destroyed my semi-hard shell suitcase. Cracked it on two sides. They are going to pay me $150 plus give me $100 in NW “voucher” money for something. Guess I’ll be buying a new one in Itaewon this week. Our MWR rep met us at the airport and had already checked us into the hotel and handed us our room keys. THAT was a nice surprise since we have to check into the hotel tonight, spend about 6 hours in the room and then check out and travel to another Camp tomorrow. Up early to work out, go get ID cards, then take the train to another Camp. Jude
DAY THREE – DECEMBER 23RD:
Got in bed at 1:30 am and up at 4:30 am so I could work out. NOT easy to do but once I finished, felt 100% better. Grabbed a Starbucks Skinny Latte and a Banana Smoothie, showered and then hit the internet for a couple of hours before our departure. We rented cell phones for $30 for 2 weeks! Then had our ID cards made and bussed to the train station. Was delighted to learn that it is a BULLET train. Travels at about 210 miles per hour. Didn’t get to take any photos of scenery out the window at that speed! Barely could tell anyone what we were passing before it was gone. I’ve ridden them many times in Japan but this was a first for Korea. Arrived at Camp Walker and this was also where we had our first show with Darryl in October. Saw my “MWR buddies” from last time and then checked into lodging. We’re in a different building this time and supposed to have dial-up internet connection but I can’t get mine to connect. Probably have to re-wire my room tonight. J Everyone is talking about the terrible loss at the Mosul Mess Hall and everyone wants our troops to go in and level the city. Hard for these guys and girls here to sit back and watch what’s going on over there. They all want to be a part of taking some action against the insurgents who are killing our men and women. Wasn’t a huge crowd tonight. Lots of people have gone back to the U.S. for Christmas plus there were several Christmas parties taking place at the same time. When Darryl performed here in October, there was alcohol served but there wasn’t tonight. It was more of a listening crowd but the ones attending definitely recognized all the songs. Lots of line dancers, too. The Commander presented the guys with a plaque after the show and then they signed autographs for about an hour. There were more “families” at this Camp because they are allowed to bring them to Korea with them. Tomorrow night at Camp Casey, it will be predominantly single guys. Everyone was so appreciative that the Bellamys would give up Christmas with their families to come to Korea and entertain them. Have to take the train back to Seoul tomorrow and then bus to Camp Casey. Was going to get up and work out really early, but tomorrow is Christmas Eve and the gym doesn’t open on holidays until 8 am. Jude
DAY FOUR – DECEMBER 24TH:
Set the alarm for 6 am so I could get up and work out in the room. Woke up at 4:30 am and went back to sleep. Woke up again without the alarm and the clock said 8 am! I KNEW I had not slept that long. Got up and looked at my watch and it said 8:30 am but when I looked outside it was still dark. Had a panic attack because I knew I had to be in the lobby at 8:45 am. Called the front desk and it was only 5 am, thank goodness. I had my watch upside down when I looked at it. Went ahead and got up and worked out. We drove to the train station and the Bellamys and I went upstairs to eat some “Korean” food. Just had noodles but it was really good. I noticed some ROK (Republic of Korea soldiers) eating at a table nearby and went over to ask if I could take their photos with David and Howard. They didn’t speak one word of English. Finally got across what we wanted and took the photo. Then when we started to leave, one came over and gave me his email address so I could send him the photo. The Bellamy’s publicist had told me to try and get some photos with the ROK soldiers and some with “locals”. We have assigned seats on the train and the Bellamys were sitting right in front of a couple of little girls who were running around and very loud. Felt sorry for them until the guy behind us started this “noise”. I can’t even describe how gross it was. It was like he had something stuck in his throat and he was trying to spit it out. He kept this up for about a half hour. We were all absolutely grossed out. Thankfully he didn’t speak or understand English because the comments from our group were pretty offensive. I think the best description from one of our guys was a “snickers hairball”! A camera crew from KBS came on the train and walked through our car. A few minutes later, they came back through and there were several men with them, dressed in nice suits and wearing these sashes with Korean writing on them. They were shaking hands with everyone, so I figured they were politicians. I chased them down because I assumed they must be important and wanted to get a photo op with the Bellamys. Only no one in the group spoke any English. We finally managed to convey what we wanted and took several photos. One man kept pointing at a brochure they were handing out and saying something in Korean that contained the word “Seoul” to Howard. Howard just kept smiling and nodding his head “yes”. I had one of the guys awake up Mr. Hwang (one of our escorts) and ask him to come interpret. Not a good idea. Mr. Hwang had been in a dead sleep and he was totally incoherent. He just kept saying, “It’s very difficult”. Then we figured out that it was a group of people who want the capitol moved from Seoul to the southern part of Korea. Not a good idea for us to have photos taken with them….think I may have caused an “international incident”. When we got of the train, they were standing outside the station and all the men in the suits started waving and smiling at me like I was their friend. Great! *Checked back into the hotel in Seoul and had about 2 hours before we had to leave for Camp Casey and our show there. Love Camp Casey. Have several good friends in that area. I have Christmas gifts for everyone tonight, so we’ll have a little Christmas party. Susan (David’s wife) has lost her voice, so she’s not going with us. I’m going to sell the merchandise for her. Drive over turned out to be a little more than 2 hours. When we arrived at the gate, Howard couldn’t find his ID card. We all laughed because we were teasing him yesterday about always losing everything. He had commented that he had received that reputation but that it was not justified. Said that he really didn’t misplace things! J Show was absolutely wonderful. The troops that attended were real Bellamy Brothers fans. One of the nicest things is seeing how this affects the lives of the musicians and crew. These guys are forever changed by this experience. I know that we brought a lot of Christmas cheer and much needed morale boost to hundreds of men and women tonight who are sacrificing so much for our freedoms. Just can’t help but be a little bit sad about not being in Iraq this year, though. I had a little Christmas party for everyone after the show. Had brought small gift for everyone from the U.S. It was a very nice Christmas Eve for everyone. Back at the hotel now and we stay here for the rest of the tour, except the last night. Hotel was full on the 31st, so we have to move to the Hilton that night. Got a migraine headache as soon as I got back in my room. Hopefully it won’t be too cold to jog outside tomorrow. Merry Christmas! Jude
DAY FIVE – DECEMBER 25TH – MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!
It’s still pretty cold at 6 am and I forgot to bring a lot of my “cold weather running gear”. So, luckily the health club was open and I subjected myself to the ultimate punishment – running on a treadmill. It’s torture. I want to be outside going somewhere…. But, it has helped me get my speed back up after I lost it during the half-marathon. Found a great movie and just tried to lose myself in it. Went to pick up a Starbucks coffee and ran into Shawn – our Protocol Officer from my visit with Darryl Worley in October. His family is here with him at the Dragon Hill Lodge because he is shipping out to Iraq in just a few days. Beautiful wife and adorable little son. I had breakfast with them and his father-in-law. His little boy is 2 ½ years old and just a cutie. Was dressed in little red Santa pjs. We drove up to Camp Stanley for our “Christmas Show”. Drive was supposed to take 2 hours but there was no traffic and we made it in 1 hour. Everything was closed so we had some time to kill. They arranged for the guys to go over and look at the Blackhawk helicopters. I think I had logged more time on those choppers than the people giving us the tour. But it was really interesting for the guys. When we arrived, there was a huge group of guys outside across from the hangar, drinking beer and eating bar-be-que. I walked over to them instead of going into the hangar and started teasing them about not inviting us to their Christmas party. Then I brought David Bellamy over to meet them and we stayed and chatted with them for a few minutes. When we walked into the hangar, I remembered that it was where Charlie Daniels had performed several years ago. Also, when we drove by the BX, I remembered that Chely Wright had run out of hair spray and I had gone there to purchase her some more. The only brand they had was Aqua Net! This was our best show to date. These soldiers REALLY needed the morale boost on Christmas. Had a big crowd and everyone was so appreciative. I think everyone of the helicopter pilots and crew that we had taken the time to visit with earlier in the afternoon came up to us and told us thank you for stopping by their party and for giving up our Christmas to come perform for them. Prior to today’s show, I was feeling pretty depressed about not being in Iraq over the holidays. But, now I know we reached some men and women who really needed to be cheered up on Christmas. Tomorrow is a day off for us and guess what we’re doing? SHOPPING in Itaewon! Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. Jude
DAY SIX – DECEMBER 26TH: Today was one of only 2 days that we will have off on the tour. Went to the Health Club in the hotel and worked out then met everyone to take them shopping in Itaewon. First stop was New York Tailor – but he was closed. So we went to the underground so I could show them some “copy” bag shops. Found that most of the shops were still not open. They were opening late because yesterday was Christmas. Things finally started opening up and everyone was able to purchase copy bags, leather coats, custom-made boots and shoes, etc., etc. My favorite bag shop definitely scored big with this group. Right now it’s located upstairs in a black-curtained room. I knew where it was from my visit here in October, but they keep moving it to different places. There’s also a “trap” door located in the floor where they can stash all the bags if the need arises! I was able to purchase a new hard shell, flexible suitcase for $80 because the airline destroyed mine on the trip over. Northwest gave me $150 to buy a new one, so I did really well! David had a hard time finding someone who could make his shirts. He wanted really soft leather shirts with the pearl cowboy snaps. The leather shirts were no problem but no one had the snaps. We finally found one tailor who said he would go to the large “market” tomorrow morning and see if he could buy them. We have to check back with him tomorrow. Several people also ordered custom-made boots for really great prices. We had lunch at a sushi restaurant that the Protocol Officer had recommended. He said it was “world famous” and now I know why. It was without a doubt the best sushi we’ve ever had. And, they give you a LOT of food. We each ordered 2 rolls and it was more than we could eat. There were 7 of us total and the bill was less than $100 including the drinks! Came back to the hotel to drop our packages and then went over to the base exchange. I had to buy a hair dryer because I blew mine up at Camp Walker J. David and I looked at the new tiny laptop computers by Sony and we may buy one before we leave here. Would definitely change my life to not have to carry around this regular size laptop. The new ones weigh about a pound and have 40G hard drives, built in DVD/CD burner, and are wireless. Cost less than $2,000! Back to the hotel to drop the packages again and then back down to Itaewon to eat Korean bar-be-que. It was awesome. There are tables with grills in the middle. They give you these leaves that look something like lettuce leaves. Then you grill the meat and put it on the leaves and add all kinds of different sauces and condiments. I even tried Kim-chee again for the first time in 10 years. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I remembered. Four of us this time and again the bill was less than $100! I’ve shopped so much – Korea in October and Hong Kong and China a couple of weeks ago – that I really don’t have many things on my “list”. Trying to get a custom-made coat for my son but having a hard time finding someone who can do this. Tomorrow we go to Camp Page. It’s been several years since I visited that Camp. It’s about a 3 hour drive from Seoul. Jude
DAY SEVEN – DECEMBER 27TH: Susan Bellamy was sick before we left and gave it to Howard. He has passed it around to most of the others in the group…including me. Was hoping I would avoid getting sick but my throat started feeling sore yesterday. Been taking everything I can find to try and knock it out quickly but doesn’t seem like anything works except sleep and time. Still got up and ran my 5 miles on the treadmill (my way of trying to sweat it out!) then went over to Itaewon with a couple of others in the group to help them with some tailor-made items. We departed for Camp Page at noon and it was a 3 hour drive….very remote site. But, those are the troops who appreciate our visit the most. They had also arranged a visit with the Apache helicopter pilots and the guys loved this. Howard spent about a half hour in the Apache — in the hangar, of course, not flying it! David feels like he is getting this “crud”, so he didn’t go with us for the tour. Was trying to save his voice for the show. The guys in the band had a blast, too, and the helicopter crew was delighted to answer all their questions. I had already learned all about the Apache many times on previous tours, so I stayed out of the way and just took photos of everyone else. One of the soldiers was the pilot who put the first bombs into Afghanistan. Said they took hostile fire and didn’t even realize it until some rounds came through the windshield and hit the pilot in the front…but he was okay. When they landed, they found lots of holes where gunfire had hit the chopper. Those Apaches are amazing machines…as are the pilots who fly them! Show was in a gym and again it was a small crowd. But, there’s not a lot of troops left at Camp Page. The Camp is being closed down very soon and a lot of the troops will depart to Ft. Campbell. Had lots of “dancers” tonight which always makes for a fun show. Took less than 3 hours to drive back since there was less traffic. Tomorrow they perform here at Yongsan in Seoul. Start the day with AFN interviews, then everyone wants to go back over to the sushi bar for lunch! Jude
DAY 9 – DECEMBER 29TH: Day off for us. Got up and ran my 5 miles on the treadmill. Cut another 1 ½ minutes off my time. Yesterday when I finished working out with weights, I decided to take my blood pressure in this machine by the elevator. Actually, they were vacuuming the elevator and I needed to kill some time, so I played with the machine. My blood pressure was 99 over 61 and my pulse rate was 86. I’ve always had low blood pressure, so didn’t think too much about it. Today, I decided to take it again after I jogged. It was 54 over 22 with a pulse rate of 117. I would have thought I was dead except for the pulse rate! Took the David’s wife and Howard’s girlfriend over to the “Pack and Wrap” and Post Office to ship our purchases home. Then went to Itaewon with David’s wife to pick up a pair of beautiful python boots she had made. After lunch, David and his wife and the sound tech and I went to the “Techno Market” to look at all the electronics. It was overwhelming. Computers, cameras, cell phones – just floors and floors of gadgets. The prices were really much better than the U.S. and the “negative” is the fact that you don’t get a U.S. warranty. David bought some earphones and Susan purchased a couple of knock-off DVDs. They have all the latest movies – that aren’t out on DVD yet J. The quality of some of them isn’t so good. They had these in Afghanistan, too, and the soldiers said that someone takes a video camera into the movie and films it. Sometimes, you can see people’s heads as they walk in front of the camera! Came back and shopped in Itaewon for a little while but it is so cold outside that it’s unbearable. It’s only in the 30’s here but it feels like it is below zero with the wind chill factored in. Had a nice dinner in the hotel restaurant and going to bed early. Tomorrow we get the tour of the DMZ and then play Camp Red Cloud where Darryl also played in October.
DAY 10 – DECEMBER 30TH:
Worked out at the gym then answered emails until time to depart for the DMZ. Besides this “Korea Krud” that we’ve passed around, several of the guys have had stomach viruses. I felt fine all morning but 5 minutes into the bus ride, I began to feel nauseous. All the Korean drivers believe that if you press on the gas pedal, then release it, then press again, release, etc., etc., it is saving gas. Plus the roads are terrible, so it makes for a very bumpy ride. I go so ill that they had to pull the bus over at a gas station. Thankfully the Bellamys had some medicine and I was able to make it to the DMZ but I sat with the garbage can between my legs the entire trip. It’s such a horrible feeling because any time I actually throw up, I also faint – every time! Really didn’t want to be laid out in the bus aisle in Korea in front of my artist. I felt too bad to go on the tour of the DMZ but was glad it was me that was sick instead of one of the group. I’ve done the tour more than a dozen times but none of them have ever experienced it. It definitely lived up to their expectations. They did have one weird thing happen. I think this is the first time I’ve taken an artist up who had on a cowboy hat. They said all the North Korean soldiers came running down to the line and stared at them. Then the North Korean soldiers started taking photos of themselves! Very bizarre. By the time they got back from the tour, my medicine had kicked in and I felt much better. The soldier who had given them the tour was talking to me and said he was embarrassed because they had not been told that we were coming until just a few minutes before we arrived. He also said they would have loved for the Bellamys to sing a few songs. I explained to him that we always ask to do that but this time we were not told we were doing the tour until the day before. I asked him if any of the soldiers had guitars (they ALWAYS do). He found two acoustic and one electric with an amp and brought it down to the dining facility. The Bellamys performed 3 songs for the Korean kitchen staff and several of the soldiers stationed at the DMZ. Then they signed autographs and we were on our way. By the time we finally arrived at Camp Red Cloud, I was hungry but scared to eat anything. I saw a big terrine of soup and knew that was just what I needed. Only thing is, because of this head congestion, I can’t taste anything. I ate a bowl of the soup and felt much better. Then about 10 minutes later, I learned that it wasn’t soup at all…it was gravy! Oh well, guess it coated my stomach. Yuck! I did find out that my friend who was vacationing in Thailand is okay. He and his family were taking a tour on the other side of the island when the Tsunami hit, thank goodness. Colonel Huber brought me on stage and gave me a beautiful plaque. It’s always so embarrassing to be recognized because I don’t feel like I do anything special and certainly don’t do enough for the men and women deployed overseas. I get my “thanks” from seeing how much the soldiers enjoy the performances. It was a small facility but we had a good crowd. The audience sang along with most of their songs which is always cool to see. They signed autographs afterwards and we departed for the Dragon Hill Lodge. We have to check out tomorrow and move to the Hilton for our last night in Seoul. Only one more show. The tour has passed so quickly and it’s almost 2005! Jude
DAY 11 – DECEMBER 31ST: Up early to do my 5 miles of torture on the treadmill. Still feeling okay. Got everyone checked out and turned in the cell phones that we had rented. Took our bus up to the Hilton. It’s a fabulous hotel and of course we have less than 6 hours to spend in it. The manager and half his staff had a greeting line at the front door and when he shook my hand, I thought he had crushed one of the bones. He spoke a little English and he thought that Wally (Bellamy’s road manager/bass player) was one of the Bellamys. He was telling Wally what an honor it was to have such famous Americans staying at their hotel. I was finally able to make him understand that the Bellamys were still outside. Then he turns to Wally and says, “But you look just like one of the Bellamys (which he does NOT) and besides you are the most famous person in the group because you make everything happen!”. Nice recovery. One of our Korean bus drivers is pretty funny guy. He said he has seen the view from the Hyatt but never the Hilton. So, he rode up the elevator with me and the Bellamy’s drummer. We were on the 20th floor and when the elevator doors opened, he rushed to the window to look out. His first remark was “Holy S..t!” . Guess he was pretty impressed with the view. There was fresh fruit and incredible chocolates waiting for us in our rooms plus a cell phone that was available to rent, a fax machine and my salvation – a DSL line! The only thing missing was toilet tissue. I knew that in most of the public restrooms, there wasn’t any toilet tissue provided but I expected the Hilton to have this. I crawled around on the floor trying to see if it was hidden somewhere and finally found it located underneath the sink. We took the bus up to Camp Humphreys, where I’ve been many, many times for performances. I specifically remember that you have to go on stage in order to access the dressing rooms. With all the lights and equipment on the stage, this isn’t a very good setup. There was a decent crowd but not nearly as many people as we expected and not nearly as “rowdy” as you would expect from soldiers on New Year’s Eve. Apparently, someone had told a “local” group of musicians that they could perform before the Bellamys. Since we did not have time for a set change and could not allow them to use our equipment because it rented, we told them they could set up and play after the Bellamy’s performance. This wasn’t acceptable to them for some reason. After the show, the owner of the club told me that the LTC had announced that no alcohol was allowed at the performance! So, soldiers stayed away in droves. I have no idea why he imposed that rule on them on New Year’s Eve. I can understand when the troops are in an area like Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., where there is no liquor allowed at any time but not in Korea! We drove back to the Hilton and had about 4 hours to sleep before going to the airport. My “Korean Krud” had finally kicked in just like everyone else. Had severe congestion and it was a miserable night. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
DAY 12 – JANUARY 1ST, 2005: Hard to believe that it is 2005. Checked out of the hotel and met my friend John Downie for coffee. He has been with the 8th Army MWR office since I first began coming over for the tours. He had been in Nashville for Christmas and just returned to Korea. His wife had the “flu” that we all now have and wasn’t able to join us. Arrived at the airport and didn’t have any problem getting checked in. Flying with the congestion is NOT fun though. It was a quick trip from Seoul to Tokyo. About 45 minutes before landing, the pilot came on and said we had to fasten our seatbelts and he was going to ask the flight attendants to remain seated for the remainder of the flight! He was expecting “Moderate Turbulence”. He wasn’t kidding. I suppose it was the wind because the weather was clear. Had a very short layover in Tokyo and now we’re flying to Minneapolis. I was able to move over to an empty row to sit for the flight. I’m sure the man who had been sitting next to me was delighted that I wouldn’t be sneezing and coughing right next to him for 12 hours! Right after I moved, a lady came and sat in my old seat. Evidently, she had been bumped up from coach to business and didn’t have an assigned seat because she never asked me to move. Half way through the flight the seat that she was sitting in and the man’s seat next to her quit working. The seats were reclined and could not be brought back into an upright position! Sure glad I made that quick decision. We landed in Minneapolis and Howard couldn’t find his wallet. He thought the last place he had it was on the bus to the airport. He called and cancelled all his credit cards, but I couldn’t call about his wallet because it was 2:30 am in Korea. When we boarded the plane for Nashville, he found his wallet in an ‘inside” pocket on his coat! When we landed in Nashville, I had the weirdest pain in my forehead. I’m sure it was from the congestion, but I thought it was an aneurism. One of the musicians who also has this “flu” had the same thing happen to him. It was a very good, inspiring tour for everyone. I can’t think of any other way I would want to spend my holidays than with our U.S. Military. Glad to be back in Nashville and working on the next tour. Jude