Longtime patriot, Chely Wright, travels to Kuwait, Iraq and Germany to entertain our US Military and show her support. Chely will make a stopover in Friedberg, Germany to do a special performance for the troops from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division who have recently returned from spending the last year of their deployment stationed in Ramadai.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2007 Today I leave for Kuwait, Iraq and Germany with Chely Wright and her “boys” – Clay, Shawn, Jeff and Chris. This will be Jeff’s and Chris’s first visit to the areas and I am excited because I know how their lives will be changed by this trip. We have a late departure from Nashville to Memphis, then a long layover in Amsterdam and a late Sunday night arrival in Kuwait. I got up early so I could get in a long jog before showering and finishing my packing. As usual, I turned on the weather channel to see how I would need to dress for my run and was surprised to find that there was a line of severe weather headed our way via Memphis. Instead of a long jog, I made it a fast jog with lots of sprints so I could get back home and troubleshoot. We were flying on NWA and that was my first call. I was assured that everything was fine and the flights would be on time. The whole time I was on the phone with NW, the weather channel was announcing that there was a tornado warning (not a watch) in effect in Little Rock and Memphis and everyone should take cover immediately. I called everyone on the trip to see if they could arrive at the airport earlier so that we could get on an earlier flight via Detroit. But, one person couldn’t make it, so we had to stay with the original plan. Once at the airport, check in was extremely easy via the computerized kiosks. Our flight was still showing on time, but the sky outside looked threatening. The plane from Memphis that we were supposed to take back to Memphis arrived and the gate agent said that we would be departing soon. I had my daughter checking the weather channel from her home and she said there was a line of heavy thunderstorms in that area. I asked the gate agent if we were going to be able to LAND in Memphis and she said, “Now I didn’t say that”. Not very encouraging, huh? Now my friends KNOW how much I hate to fly in good weather. Since I had 5 people depending on me, I knew I had to get on that plane. But I sure didn’t have to like it. To make matters even more stressful, it was one of the small planes – 50 passenger jet. We boarded and I was sitting by a nice young man who turned out to be as apprehensive as me. There were plenty of empty seats and normally I would have moved over into an empty row and given us both some space. But I warned him that I was not moving and that he better not even think about it either. J The flight to Memphis was 45 minutes and I was definitely timing it. It was the most turbulent flight I’ve been on in years. I know we didn’t have more than 2 minutes at a time when it smoothed out. I was hanging on to the armrests and the guy beside me the entire flight. I kept checking my watch and when we didn’t start descending after 45 minutes, I knew what was coming. The Memphis Airport was closed. We were supposed to circle for an hour and then we would divert to Little Rock to re-fuel. Most of the passengers were already feeling queasy from the bumpy ride and I dreaded the thought of another hour of it. After about 20 minutes, the pilot come on and said, “We are going to Little Rock NOW and landing”. And we did. The weather had cleared in Little Rock and landing was easy. We were not allowed to get off the plane and I started thinking about the Jet Blue fiasco last week. I used the time to call my daughter for a weather update. I was surprised that the aircraft was refueled so quickly and we had only been on the ground about 30 minutes when the pilot announced that we were flying to Memphis. Again, it was an extremely turbulent flight….wish we had rented a van and driven from Nashville to Memphis! I called my daughter as soon as we landed at 7:30 pm. Our flight to Amsterdam was supposed to depart at 7:15 pm but I was hoping it had been delayed, too. She pulled it up on the computer and it said that it took off at 7:20 pm. When we ran off the plane, I asked the gate attendant if it had already taken off and she said, “I have no idea. Run for it”! So, we did – all the way from the end of Terminal C to the end of Terminal B. When we got there, the plane had already boarded but was still at the gate. We rushed on board and one of the attendants said “Welcome”. I said, “Could you please welcome our luggage on board, too, ‘cause we really need those guitars in Iraq”. We got on and quickly got settled in our seats. Then the pilot come on the speaker and said that we had a “small mechanical problem”. They were working on it and since there were a lot of passengers with delayed flights, we would be taking on additional passengers as they came in. The plane quickly filled up and the pilot announced that the mechanical problem had been fixed. Then we waited and waited and waited. He came back on and said that “Now we have a medical emergency and there were paramedics on board”. So, we had been through every delay possible – weather, a diversion, mechanical problems, and a medical emergency. Evidently a passenger had fallen in their rush to get on the aircraft and NW was filling out all the necessary paperwork. The good news is, they had plenty of time to put our guitars and luggage on the aircraft. We finally took off at 9:15 pm – two hours late. My dear friend Denny at NWA was kind enough to arrange for lounge passes for everyone in my group for our 4 ½ our layover. Unless there are delays out of Amsterdam, we will have a very short visit to the lounge. The flight attendants are incredibly nice. We had several periods of severe turbulence and I was thankful that we were in the BIG aircraft instead of the little 50 passenger jet. I did manage to sleep about 3 hours, except when we hit the turbulence. Weather was rainy when we landed but the NWA rep came ON the plane and gave us our guest passes. Denny – I owe you one! We will have a couple of hours in the Lounge and then a quick 5 ½ hour flight to Kuwait. I read half of the book “The Secret” on the way over and now I know that the reason we encountered so many problems with our flights is my fault. I got up, immediately saw the weather problems and then attracted all the negative energy to me to make it happen. So, from now on, only positive thoughts and we will have a great tour. It is my Sunday afternoon now, so I am sending this report for yesterday.
Sunday, February 25, 2007 We had a nice, new KLM airplane and again incredibly sweet flight attendants. One lady saw the book I was reading and she just watched the DVD and said it changed her life. I guess KLM flight attendants get to choose their routes because she said she requested this flight and it was her first visit to Kuwait. She had lots of questions about the country. I have had the best seatmates this trip. The man who sat by me on the flight from Memphis to Amsterdam was French. He and I struck up a conversation which eventually turned to the military in Iraq (imagine that…from me!). Anyway I told him about my experiences and the good things that he never sees in the news. He really, really listened and when we got off, he thanked me for telling him these things and said that now he sees things differently. Hey, one at a time! J Anyway, I digress. The plane was great and my seat mate had on a USMC cap. Hmmm…..had to chat with him. He was actually a former Marine and was headed back to Iraq where he is a contractor. He is at the last base we perform for on our Iraq tour, so he’s going to get to see our show. We talked almost the entire flight and I actually knew a lot more about things in Iraq than he did. He is a helicopter mechanic and so hasn’t seen a lot of the country. But he loves what he is doing and loves being in Iraq. He has been there for 2 years. I also had an email from a contractor that Chely and I met in Afghanistan in 2004. He is now at Camp Victory and saw the posters for Chely’s performance. He had my email from 2005 (!) and emailed me to say he will be coming to the show. This is going to be such a great trip. Two of my buddies are Marines in Baghdad and I’ll get to see both of them. One of them used to be with Armed Forces Entertainment and the other was the one I talked about in my December Road Reports – the one who worked as General Franks’ personal assistant during the initial invasion of Iraq until he retired. Both great guys. I am disappointed that we won’t be going to Balad this trip. General Rand is there and the last time Chely saw him was when she performed for the Wolf Pack in Kunsan, Korea. I think that was 2002. He is the one I saw in December as well. When we landed, our visas are always ready for us so that we don’t have to stand in line. I always fax a copy of our passports to the Radisson and they take care of everything. But, this time, I decided to try the Hilton because the rooms are a lot better. First time our visas were not there. Another man staying at the Hilton said his wasn’t there either. I started calling them and they said that they turned them in early this afternoon. I think it was because this is a 4 day holiday for the Kuwaitis and they are “short staffed”. They finally showed up about 30 minutes later. All of our luggage and gear made it (yea!) and Broadie and our security detail were waiting for us at the entrance. It was about a 30 minute drive to the hotel. Our rooms were ready and we checked in with no problems. Guys are really happy with their accommodations. We all feel guilty staying in such a nice hotel but we will “pay our dues” once we go into Iraq and start camping. I know that all the travel “challenges” sound bad but really it’s pretty normal any time you travel internationally. You just deal with it and are extremely thankful to arrive safely with all your “stuff”. It also helps that I am traveling with a wonderful group who are very flexible. No one gets upset or angry. They just roll with it which certainly makes it nice for me. I like for everything to be perfect but that rarely happens. It’s after 2 am, so I am going to send this and get some sleep. Will either go to the gym in the hotel or go running tomorrow. Weather is beautiful here – highs in the 70’s and lows in the 50’s. Our first show will be at Camp Buehring where I was with Aaron Tippin over Thanksgiving. It’s about a 2 hour drive from the hotel. Then back here tomorrow night and off to Iraq on Tuesday. At least I think it will be Tuesday. Already lost track of time! Ground Hog Day every day. Jude
Monday, February 26th: I was just too excited to sleep. Finally fell asleep at about 4 am. I had left a wake-up call for 7:30 and then set my little travel alarm for the same time. The travel alarm went off and then I never got my wake-up call. I finally figured out that my travel clock was an HOUR ahead of the local time. Too late. Couldn’t go back to sleep so I hit the gym. It’s a nice one. Has a weight room and a separate cardio and nautilus room. Got in a great workout, then breakfast and a shower. We depart for Camp Buehring at noon and it will be a 2 hour drive. Will be very late when we get back here tonight. Our first stop at Buerhring will be the Commander’s office. Strange thing happened last night as we were delivering all the luggage to the rooms. Shawn was walking down the hall and said that he must have the wrong room. He saw two kids with a key go into the room I had assigned him. The bellman went to the door and opened it and the two kids ran out. They said that they left their DVD in the DVD player and were retrieving it. One of them had a package with the hotel house slippers in it. Shawn asked them why they were taking it and they said, “Oh just ask the bellman and he will give you another pair”! Then they ran off. Pretty strange. Everybody was ready and in the lobby early this morning. There is a dust storm coming in so it is very hazy here today. Hopefully it will be gone before we have to fly to Iraq tomorrow or we will be grounded. What a wonderful day we had today! We arrived at Camp Buehring and I immediately remembered all my “buddies” that I met when I was here with Aaron Tippin over Thanksgiving. Lt. Col. Baldy gave us another awesome briefing on what happens at their camp. You can look at my road report from Aaron’s visit on my website if you want more info. After his briefing, everyone (including Chely’s guys –which is very important) was presented with plaques of appreciation. As though they are supposed to be thanking us! Chely signed autographs and then we went over to the stage for sound check. Miss “V” (who actually runs this Camp!) was there and had a great dressing room set up. It is a permanent stage so it was the same one Aaron played on.. I got to talk to so many of my friends from the last visit while she was sound checking. We had a great crowd especially since this is a “transit” stop. This is the last base where the troops stop in Kuwait before hearing North into Iraq. The Iraq border is only 15 miles away. The population can surge to over 30,000 to down below 5,000. They were below 5,000 today because a lot of troops just rotated out and they are preparing for another large group to arrive. Chely once again did an amazing show. Not only is she beautiful and a fabulous singer but she gets on that stage and speaks to them from her heart. She sets up every song before she sings it. And when she sings, “Bumper of my SUV”, most of the audience is in tears. She also has FUN with the guys in the audience. She got one guy up and had him get his wife on the cell phone so she could talk to her. In the words of a famous country music song, “She had them from ‘HELLO’”. I can’t tell you how many people came up to me afterwards and said it was the best entertainment they have had since they were deployed. That is quite a compliment. She signed autographs for almost 3 hours and then did an interview for the PAO who is a friend of mine. He has done articles for me on Aaron Tippin and the Jim McMahon/Karri Turner/Kevin Butler/Dave Price tour and he’s really good. His wife had their first baby 2 months ago and he gets to go home very soon. Just an absolute sweetheart. I’ve had emails all day today from a C-130 pilot who flew us in December when I was here with the NFL players. We have stayed in touch via email (can you believe it. Ha!) and he and his crew are going to get to fly us into Iraq tomorrow. They get to go home in about a week and he said this will be the highlight of his deployment. Unless you are in the military or have been to one of the shows, you won’t really comprehend how much the visits and shows mean to the troops. It is a tremendous morale boost for them (and for us!). It takes them away from their daily situations, the stress of the war and the separation from the families and brings them a couple of hours of fun. But, signing the autographs is just as important. Chely takes time (a lot of time, it’s almost 3 am now) to talk to every single person in line that she is signing a photo for and having a photo taken with. While Chely was signing, the Blackhawk pilots took the boys over to their hangar to let them “play”. It was an especially awesome treat for the two “rookies” we have with us. One of the “rookies” has almost lost his voice already from the dust and we had to send him to the medic. Nothing in his chest – except DUST!!! J Our first show and first visit with the base could not have been any better. There a lot of troops and civilian workers going to bed with smiles on their faces tonight, but I’ll bet the smiles on our 6 faces are much bigger! Off to Iraq tomorrow, so don’t be surprised if I can’t email again until March 4th! We will be fine. Don’t worry about us. We are being protected 24 hours a day by the finest men and women in the world. But, say a special little prayer of thanks for all of them tonight. Oh, and my daughter said to tell you to go to my new “MY SPACE” account for Stars for Stripes. (I didn’t even know I had one!). You are supposed to add me as your “friend” on MySpace! www.myspace.com/starsforstripes Jude
Tuesday, February 27, 2007 Bed at 4 am and up at 7:30 for a GREAT run around the hotel property and at times, near the beach. Weather is beautiful! Shower and breakfast and we are off to Iraq. Had a very short wait at the VIP Lounge at APOD in Kuwait and then we boarded our C-130. It WAS my flight crew from December and they were all lined up waiting for me. Big hugs all around. It was awesome. The little pilot is in love with Chely, so this was the highlight of his time over here. Evidently the other guys in the flight crew really messed with my buddy. They told him that my name was not on the manifest for the flight. Then they told him that their flight plan had been changed and they wouldn’t be flying us. I stayed up on the flight deck the entire time and got to talk to all the guys for almost 2 hours. We also brought our two “rookies” up there and let them experience the take off and landing. “Tugger” (the nickname of my little friend and I am NOT going to say why!) had prepared goody boxes for me and Chely. We landed and got checked into the Palace. Last time I slept here was the night they executed Saddam. Chely and I have to share a bedroom which is not good. She needs her rest and we are definitely NOT on the same sleep schedule. I tried to get another room but there are some DV’s in who “out rank” us. L Chely and I had to immediately go to an autograph session at Camp Slayer. Camp Victory, Camp Liberty, Camp Slayer and several other camps are all within one compound so we can drive rather than take helicopters. Not a good time to be flying in choppers right now. It was about a 15 minute drive. She signed autographs and chatted with everyone in line for about 1 ½ hours. I met several guys from Kentucky and North Carolina who “talk like I do”! J Then, we drove over to the DFAC at Camp Liberty. Signed autographs there for another 1 ½ hours. If you notice that “eating” – other than breakfast –hasn’t been included in these daily reports, you’re right. There has been no time to eat. I’ve made sure that Chely had food delivered to her but I just have not had time. I wanted to lose some weight anyway. We got back to the Palace and Chely wanted to go to sleep. There is a DSL line in our bedroom but I didn’t want to keep her awake, so I went into the lobby to work. Email is SLOWER than on a phone line in the lobby. But, it was a great move on my part. I met all these men who are here with the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Business Transformation and most of his staff. Also met the Deputy Sec and got his coin! There is a big conference here with some very powerful corporations – corporations that could make huge donations to Stars for Stripes! Believe me, I worked very hard last night. And, get this! There is a guy here who used to be the President of Polydor Records when Chely was on the label. Talk about a small, small world. I finally got in bed at 12:30 am – early for me. Then at 12:45, some lady was laughing at the top of her lungs outside my door and a group of men were talking very loudly to her. I was praying it wouldn’t wake Chely up but it did. J
Wednesday, February 28, 2007 Chely woke up at 4:30 am and couldn’t go back to sleep which means I couldn’t go back to sleep. So we both got up and got dressed. I am going to be “dead” by midnight tonight. We went to breakfast and I saw all my new friends that I met last night. They think I never sleep. They are pretty close to being right. But I think about sleeping A LOT. Today we chopper over to the IZ (International Zone, formerly the Green Zone) and do an autograph session. Then back to Victory for a tour of the Al Faw Palace and a meeting with General Odienro. I mentioned him when we met with him in December. I met him and his wife when Chely was visiting Walter Reed. His son is in the military and lost his arm in an attack in Iraq. He is an amazing man and a great leader. You have seen him a lot on the news recently. America should pay attention to what he is saying about the situation in Iraq. I am glad he is there and trust him to make vast improvements during his stay there. Our choppers were on time but Chely didn’t realize that we would be flying over some parts of the city of Baghdad. She thought we would be flying only over military installations. It was only a 10 minute flight but she was concerned because of the recent chopper crashes. This is not the Zone where any choppers have gone down and I felt safe the entire time. I had done my homework before we left home. Camp Prosperity was very happy to see her. We signed autographs and took photos in several different locations throughout the base. They told us that they are going to be leaving that Camp and going out to live in Baghdad with the local population. This was the “pattern” for success in Anbar Provence and I hope it works in this area of Baghdad. We had a quick salad at the DFAC and then flew back to BIAP. We met up with the boys in the band for the tour of the Al Faw Palace. It is very impressive for someone who has never been here. I could GIVE the tours of the palace. This palace was built for Saddam’s hunting parties. I think they said that one palace is 45,000 square feet – just for him. Then he had all these many, many other “guest house” palaces (one we are staying in) where he put his guests (and concubines!). We met with General Odierno and I was awesome. He told Chely that she is his favorite person in the world because of what happened when his son was at Walter Reed. Chely was the first person her son talked to – other than family members – after he was injured. She spent about 30 minutes with him and he has never forgotten it. Amazing how little things like that can impact someone’s life. My buddies – Grinch and Dave – showed up just as we were leaving. L Grinch will get to come to the show tonight but Dave will have to work. Got back to the “palace” for Chely to begin dressing and me to answer emails. Show is at 7 pm and it is outside. Going to be a “cold” one! We left for the show but there was some confusion. We were supposed to have a “VIP Meet and Greet” backstage 15 minutes prior to showtime. But our drivers took us to the Mayor’s cell and there were about 50 people waiting for her. She couldn’t NOT get out of the vehicle but it made the show start late. Hated to do that, but just couldn’t disappoint the folks at the Mayor’s Cell. There was a huge crowd for the show – as big as Charlie Daniels and Aaron Tippin had for theirs. She did another wonderful show that touched so many hearts. It was a very emotional performance. Then, she signed every autograph – 3 hours worth!!! People kept coming up to me and thanking me for bringing entertainment to them. It makes me realize again why I started doing this and how important it is to the morale of our troops. She pulled one guy up on stage to sing with her and he was awesome. Usually, the “victims” are really bad singers who are just good sports. This guy was amazing. I met the boyfriend of a dear friend of mine from Germany. We tried to hook up when I was here in December but failed. So glad I got to give him that kiss from her this time. Came back to the JVB and a soldier who sings was waiting with her guitar to play for her. As tired as we were, we sat and listened through 4 songs. He was really good, too. Lots of talent over here. So tired. Have to get up in 5 hours. Going to bed. We fly to Tallil on a C-130 tomorrow. Jude
Thursday, March 1, 2007 Seems like a week ago that we left Baghdad for Tallil! I will remember this March 1st for a long time. I was letting Chely sleep until 7:30 am and then she was going to wait until we reached Tallil to shower and dress for the show that evening. We were all advised to be in the lobby ready to leave by 8:15 am. I was up and being as quiet as possible in the bathroom so I wouldn’t wake her when someone started pounding on the door at 6:45 am. When I ran to stop them, a man said, “Your plane is leaving early. You have to be ready to go at 8:15 am”. I explained to him that we all already knew that and did not need a “wake up call” but it was too late. Chely was awake and of course, she couldn’t go back to sleep for just 45 minutes more. When we got to the lobby, we were told that it was the cheerleaders (Buffalo Jills) who were supposed to be getting the earlier wakeup call. We were advised that our C-130 was going to take them to TQ and drop them off first which meant we would be flying for about 2 hours instead of 45 minutes. But, that’s the way things go on these tours and everyone understood. Plus, we felt badly for the cheerleaders because their show last night was scheduled at a camp adjacent to where Chely performed. Chely had 2,200 (estimated) attend hers and less than 100 people showed up for the cheerleaders. Usually it’s the other way around since the guys love seeing the cheerleaders. I had asked several times if we could wait to depart to the flight line until closer to time for the flight to depart. But, as always, we were told that we had to be there an hour prior to departure. The people taking care of us at the JVB (Joint Visitor’s Bureau) told us that they handle the transportation for all the visiting VIP’s. Said they stay in constant communication with the air field and when the plane is on the ground, they then drive the VIP’s over and they are usually able to walk straight on the plane. I always give our escorts all the information they need to manifest us, so we should be able to do this as well. We know that once the plane is on the ground, we still have about 30 minutes before it will be wheels up because we have two full pallets of band equipment to be loaded and most of the time the plane also has to be re-fueled. Since Chely had not showered or put on make-up, she wasn’t expecting to be doing an autograph session or take photos. But, since we arrived more than an hour before the flight departure, that’s exactly what happened. Don’t get me wrong. Chely always wants to see as many of the troops as possible but I don’t know any female who wants photos taken without makeup. We were escorted into a conference room where a meeting with approximately 50 people was taking place and she signed autographs and took photos with them. Then, the fire department and some other troops from areas nearby came over and she visited with them as well. She handled it like a champ! Okay, I don’t think anything on the trip will top this funny story. It is by no means meant to make fun of the soldier. A lot of our escorts were from Kentucky and Chely pokes good-natured fun at them during her show and they love it. Their accents are even heavier than mine, if you can believe that. But, they all make fun of themselves and that’s what makes them so endearing. Our driver wanted his photo taken with me, so I asked one of the little escorts to take it. I showed him my camera and said, “Push the button half way down to focus and then all the way down to take the photo”. Got it! So he stands right in our faces and starts to take the photo. I said, “no, no. backup. Too many wrinkles when you stand that close!” So he backs up but only about one step. Then he says, “Okay. Half way down.” And pushed the button all the way down taking the photo. Then he takes about 6 steps back and says, “Okay. All the way down” and takes the photo. It took me several seconds to figure out his reasoning and then the driver and I looked at each other with our mouths hanging open. Neither one of us said anything and definitely did not laugh in front of him but it was so cute! The plane finally landed and we were escorted out to board through the back of the plane. Our pallets were sitting on the ground ready to be loaded which was encouraging. We got on the aircraft and waited and waited. I knew that I had not seen the cheerleaders since they left lodging that morning at the same time we departed. I assumed that they would be going to the VIP lounge at the airfield as well, but they never showed up. The pilots couldn’t load the pallets until they arrived. When they finally came on board, we learned that they had been at the base exchange shopping. We got the pallets loaded and took off for Tallil much later than anticipated. I knew that we were going to have to cancel the meet and greet at the two little camps near the main camp where the show was to be held tonight. I really, really hate doing that because Chely’s appearance has been very well advertised and I do not like to disappoint the troops. Every base we go to, I speak with men and women who say, “Oh, we were supposed to have ‘so and so’ but they didn’t make it”. They are always so disappointed. It makes me sad to know that we have disappointed them but encouraged to know that our visits do make a difference and gives them something to look forward too. Landed in TQ and dropped off the cheerleaders. The flight crew came down and invited me and Chely to come up on deck. Chely was trying to sleep, so I went up top. I really don’t need an invitation as I would have conned my way up there eventually. Had already given the boys t-shirts and coins to thank them for the ride. J Our flight crew was out of Little Rock and I told them about our recent “visit” when we were diverted due to the weather in Memphis. As always, they were a really great group of young men and the time passed so quickly. I was on a headset and started hearing the chatter about weather in the area. It didn’t look like we would be able to land as the visibility was less than 2,000 feet which is what the C-130 needed. The pilot told me that it didn’t look good and wanted to know what I’d like to do. NEVER give ME that option! LOL. He said that they were supposed to drop us off in Tallil and then go to Kuwait to drop off the cargo that they were picking up in Tallil. I did NOT want to go back to Kuwait and he said they didn’t have to go to Kuwait since they were unable to make their pick-up in Tallil. I asked them where their home base was and he told me it was Balad. Perfect! That’s the base where I have so many friends – General Robin Rand (who Chely and I met when he was the Wolf in Kunsan, Korea, and we were disappointed that we would not get to see on this trip since Balad was not on our tour schedule), Jason Meadows (who saved my bag from being blown up when it fell off the truck delivering it to lodging on Chely’s last tour to Iraq), and Donny Brookman (who is an awesome KRB employee that takes great care of us). I just happened to have phone numbers on all of these with me. I told the flight crew that we would give them a show in Balad tonight if they would take us there. They got permission to return to home base and notified the ground control that they should call my contacts to see if we could secure lodging. I told them to start with General Rand because I KNEW he would make sure everything fell into place after that. Told them to be sure and mention Chely Wright and Judy Seale. It was another 45 minutes back to Balad and about half way there, I realized that we had a “stranger” on board with our group. I sent someone down to tell him that we could not land in Tallil and were headed to Balad. He was a linguist and I suppose they will find another flight for him when the weather clears. Poor man! Because the flight turned into a 3 hour ordeal instead of 45 minutes, Chely and I both had to use the “honey bucket”. At least this one was a real port-a-potty concealed by a shower curtain in the back of the plane. I always tease the flight crew about making sure no one takes any photos because on some of the previous tours when we had our own flight crew for a couple of weeks, there were a lot of practical jokes played. When I got back on the headset after my visit to the back, I said, “if anyone mentions a tatoo, I’ll KNOW someone peaked”. One of the guys said, “What kind of flower is that”? Fortunately, it was just a lucky guess…I think…. We landed in Tallil and Jason was waiting for us, along with all the U.S. Air Force protocol (okay, it helps to “name” drop). He said the call came in and went straight to the Air Force once General Rand’s name was mentioned. General Rand had left the day before for R&R (DARN IT!) but AF Protocol started contacting all the other names on the list. They called Jason and told him that two singers were coming in – Chely Wright and Judy Seale! Jason said he started laughing and told them he had it covered. We stopped off at the theatre and Donny met us to discuss the show. I bought everyone lunch at Subway (inside the theater) while we figured out what to do. There was a movie scheduled to be shown in the theatre that night which was easy to cancel. But they didn’t think they could get Force Protection in place that quickly. The Air Force stepped up to the plate and said “we’ll take the show and put it in our 600 seat theatre and we’ll pack it for you”. I loved that plan. We went to lodging and Jason worked his miracles and gave Chely her own room. Katrina (our escort for the tour since Rich could not accompany us) and I shared a wet trailer – one bedroom on each side with a shared bathroom between us. Chely was really going to be rushed to get dressed by 7 pm and the guys were going to have to scramble to get the equipment loaded in and the sound up and running by 7 pm. But, I knew we would all pull through. Then, I got the message that the show had been moved from the Air Force theatre back to the theatre where we were this afternoon. I wasn’t really happy with that decision since I knew we would have had a packed house at the Air Force facility. I ran over to use Jason’s computer to check email but it was so slow that I could never get AOL open. There is usually a great computer right in our lodging but someone has decided it is a “security” risk and we can’t use it without a special code. The escorts aren’t allowed to let us use their code. Not very practical when only VIP’s stay in that lodging and always need access to the internet. I gave up and went back to lodging to dress for the show. Chely was ready right on time and we drove over to the theatre. I was immediately worried because there were only people in the 2 first rows. Started checking around to make sure the “email blast” went out to everyone. That’s when we learned that “whoever” was in charge decided it would be better if the show started at 8 pm instead of 7 pm so that Force Protection would have plenty of time to get in place and since that was the original start time for the movie, they felt we would have more people attend. Only problem is, no one told us. I started looking for our pilots from today’s flight as I told them I’d take them backstage to meet Chely and take photos with her. But they didn’t arrive until about 2 minutes before show time. Just as it was time to start the show, we lost the power to all our equipment. This happens frequently in that theatre and we always refer to it as the “ghost” because we can never explain why it happens. Finally got the show up and running and the theatre had filled except for a couple of rows in the back. I went out and sat with the pilots and watched Chely work her magic. Everyone in the audience leaves there feeling that they know her on a personal level. She is witty and charming and her love for the military is evident in every word she speaks. Her “Bumper of my SUV” always gets a standing ovation and I was not disappointed this time either. I still can’t get through the song without crying, so I have my tissues ready when she starts telling the story of how she came to write it. She signed autographs and I swear I think everyone in that theatre got in line for one. It took about 3 hours again but we got everyone taken care of. The flight crew got to meet her and took photos with her. I had given her their information on her “thank you” list and they were thrilled when she recognized them during her show. (Robin, she thanked you, too, even though you weren’t here!). I still feel badly that the troops in Tallil were disappointed but the folks in Balad were sure happy to see Chely. Finally got back to lodging at almost midnight. Chely immediately went to bed and Jason took me to the MWR tent to use the internet. But, it was again so slow that I couldn’t get on. Just had to forget about using it and hope that my office takes care of things. Donny came through for us and secured a propeller plane that looks like a box and the name of it starts with an “S”. I can’t remember the name of the plane but know that I have never flown in one before. It’s a smaller plane and he said it will have to make two trips. He wanted us to fly out at 8:15 am and then the plane would return to pick up our equipment and fly it over. I convinced him that it would be great if the equipment could be flown over first and let us fly over at 11 am so that everyone could get some sleep. Also not much reason for us to be there if we don’t have our equipment since we can’t set up for the show. Donny was great and let us make the switch. Got in bed at around 2 am. Sure hope the weather clears so we can fly to our next camp tomorrow. I guess to those of you reading this who do not travel internationally very often, this sounds like a really “bad” day. It wasn’t. It is typical of what happens on not only these tours, but tours that I do for the festivals I produce. That’s why I prefer to work with wonderful, understanding folks like Chely, Charlie Daniels, Aaron Tippin, Bellamys, etc. Everyone pulls together to make it work. There may be some times when patience gets tried (especially mine) but ultimately we all do whatever is necessary to get the show up and running. I have made a real effort not to live up to my call sign of Dragon Lady this trip and so far, so good. I think…. 🙂 Jude
Friday, March 2, 2007: Up at 7 am to try and write my road report from the 48 hour day we had yesterday before we depart. Weather looks good. Hopefully we won’t disappoint any other Camps by not being there for the scheduled performances. Chely’s appearances have been very well advertised this trip. We drove out to the flight line and I learned that the name of the “box plane” is a Serpha (I think that is how it is spelled). We had to be WEIGHED before we could get on board and weighed with everything on – our flak vest and helmet and all our carry on items. Well, you know me! I had a huge duffle bag full of t-shirts, coins, cds, and autograph sheets PLUS my backpack filled with my laptop, all my plugs, office supplies, medicine, you name it AND my huge fanny pack with my blackberry, camera, etc. etc. I KNEW I was going to weigh more than anyone else in line. Chely was the first one to step on the scales and I was delighted to see that the scale was outside the door and the “meter” showing the weight was inside the door. I assumed that no one but the person weighing us would see how much we weighed. So, Chely weighed and the guy YELLS out her weight to someone sitting across the room at a desk. Great!! I won’t tell you how much I weighed in all that garb. We took lots of photos with the men and women there and thanked them for making it possible for us to get to our next concert on time. They offered Chely a seat up front with headsets but since she needed to rest her voice and not talk, she told them she needed to sit in the back with the boys. So, I (of course) graciously accepted their offer to take her place. We had been told that we would only be flying 200 feet off the ground which would have been a very bumpy ride. But they climbed to 7,000 feet and leveled off. It was only a 30 minute flight and it was great…at least from where I was sitting. They warned me that they had to shoot off flares but didn’t tell the rest of the group. I made sure someone told Chely so she wouldn’t be frightened. Good thing I did because it sounded just like gunfire. We did have to drop to 200 feet for about the last 10 minutes of the flight. The group sitting in the back got pretty shaken up but I had a pretty fun flight. I definitely like this plane. We landed safely at Camp Speicher. I was here in December of 2003 for New Year’s Eve with Craig Morgan and Jolie Edwards. My, how this place has changed! We performed in an old blown up gym and slept in a bombed out dormitory on cots with sleeping bags. It was filthy, freezing, and muddy. I remember this particular camp because before we came the first time, a wife of a soldier found my website and emailed me. She told me her husband was in Iraq and no one ever came to entertain them because they were in a very remote, dangerous area. She asked if I could please just send him and his soldiers some cd’s for Christmas. I emailed her and told her to get me the name of his camp and I would request that we be allowed to visit him. I didn’t know if we would be able to do this or not because there might be safety concerns and the military never takes chances with our safety. But, we were allowed to visit. At that time, the camp did not have a DFAC. They had cereal for breakfast and MRE’s or because we were visiting, there was food brought in from a nearby camp. Chris – the soldier whose wife contacted me – was off the Camp working but some soldiers went to find him to make sure he attended the concert. Jolie called him down to the floor of the gym (we didn’t have a stage!) and told him that the only reason we were allowed to come there and perform for them was because of his wife. Now, this “kid” looked like he was about 12 years old…even had a full set of braces! He turned so red and almost started to cry. It was a moment I will never forget. Our lodging this time is beautiful “wet trailers” and Chely got her own room again. Definitely a plus for her. Since we arrived later than anticipated, we decided not to do a meet and greet that afternoon. The same people that could attend will be at the show tonight and she will take care of them at that time. Our escorts had food waiting for us and Chely and I were able to go to the gym and work out for about an hour. The thing I miss the most about never having time to eat in the DFAC is not the “food” but the fact that I don’t get to sit down “one-on-one” and talk to the troops uninterrupted. That was always such an important part of these tours for me. The gym where we will be performing is located right in front of the soccer stadium where Saddam killed all his soccer players. Nice guy, huh? People find that hard to believe but it is very true. Another story from my previous visit in 2003….we wanted to take a shower but the women were only allowed to shower on the “even” hours and the men on the “odd” hours. It was already 15 minutes into our “shower time”. Then, they told us that there was no hot water. Okay, it was only about 20 degrees outside and a cold shower was better than nothing. But, then they told us the power had just gone out in the shower house! We were convincing ourselves that we really didn’t smell THAT bad when one little soldier who was driving for a General invited us to come to his “house” and shower. He lived with the firemen on the base and boy was it a “dirty” house. But they had a bathtub with a shower in it – NO shower curtain – and only scalding hot water, no cold water. We flooded the floor but were able to take our showers. Our escorts today say that they refer to those houses as the “Crack Houses”. This is also the camp where I met a local Iraqi man who is an attorney. He was working construction on this base. Years ago he was representing a client and someone told him that “Uday was coming to talk to him” which meant Uday was coming to kill him. He didn’t realize the client he was representing was filing suit against someone in Saddam’s “entourage”. He had to flee Iraq on foot, hiding out along the way and finally made it into Syria. He had been living in Jordon until Saddam was captured and then returned to Iraq. I stay in constant contact with him and he is now living in Cairo, Egypt. Every holiday – and I mean EVERY holiday (secretary’s day, St. Patrick’s Day, President’s Day…you name it), he sends me an “E” card over the internet. Okay, back to today. We worked out and then I had all this time to catch up on my “journals” because I still can’t check my emails. I’m sure my inbox will self destruct if I don’t clean it out very soon. Our production company reps from Kuwait – Suleiman who is my dear friend — and his young “tech” – Akbar (who we call A.K) — are doing a great job for us. A.K. is so sweet, smiling all the time and trying to help me carry my things. I don’t think he speaks one word of English. Today when we were on the little “box” plane, A.K. was wearing his helmet backwards. We got lots of photos but no one said anything. Our cute little driver – “Chief” – is on his FOURTH deployment to Iraq – HIS CHOICE! He has two children – a girl who is 10 and a son who is 3 years old. He said he has only seen his son for a total of about 2 weeks and that his wife sends him videos. He did say that he is not going to re-enlist when this tour is up but not because he doesn’t believe in the mission. He is worried about his daughter because she is getting “old enough to have boyfriends!”. He told us some of the funniest stories and really kept us entertained. He said that in the summer there are COBRAS out here. They hide under the portapotties during the day and crawl out at night. Good information to have. He told us about putting a rat and a camel spider in a bucket together (see why they need entertainment over here?) and the camel spider killed the rat. Said you could hear the rat’s bones crunching when the camel spider bit into it. He said if you put a stick down in the bucket the spider would bite it in half. Okay, a not so happy “Chief” story. He said that the cooks in the DFAC are not allowed to use any type of seasoning – no salt, pepper, not any kind of spice or sauce. Evidently if the troops can get their hands on a bottle of hot sauce, it is a prized possession. You can imagine how bland the food is here. But, there is a reason for this. There was a cook (not military or Iraqi but a foreigner) who got fired. On his last day, he poisoned the food. I think he said something like 80 military personnel had to be hospitalized. But, the sad thing is, there were 3 local Iraqis eating there that day. Because they rarely get American food, they eat much more than our men and women. Those three died from the poisoning. Now, an uplifting story from him. He was deployed to Afghanistan and had to go out on patrol each day. He said right outside the gate, you made a right turn and then there was a little creek that ran along side the road. A large group of Afghan children would meet them at the gate each day and beg for water. They would always throw them bottles of water. He said that they had one soldier who was a bit of a smarty pants. One day, this soldier opened the bottle of water and threw water on one of the children and then threw the bottle out. The next day when their convoy left the base, there were no children by the front gate. Chief said everyone just got incredibly quiet and was thinking, “Oh no. What has happened to the children in the village”. They were also “on alert” in case they should come under attack. He said they made the turn and suddenly kids came from everywhere with buckets of water. They threw the water inside the humvees and all over them. He said they pulled over and started chasing them and they all wound up in the creek splashing each other with water. Hey, I’d rather hear a story like THAT on the news than what they are showing. J I love Chief. I wish we could take him with us. The gym was packed with about 1100 enthusiastic fans tonight. I had to go on stage and put Chely’s thank-you list on her table before the show started. No one even knew who I was and they clapped and stood for me. Told Chely she was going to have a great show even if she didn’t sing one song. And, she did. Clay’s stool collapsed halfway through the show and she had to stop for him to fix it. Akbar was running to the rescue but stopped short of going on stage because Clay got it fixed. But, Chely called him onto the stage anyway. He was standing on the side of the stage and she kept motioning for him to come to her. He finally walked over and she said all these nice things to him. He kept nodding his head “yes, yes” and smiling. When he walked off, she said, “He didn’t understand one word I said”. And she was right. I had talked to him for 10 minutes when we first met and he did the same thing to me. He is so cute. This crowd was definitely into having fun and Chely gave it to them. She called several people on stage throughout the show and everyone really had a good time. Of course the autograph line was massive. We met a female soldier that a friend of Chely’s had told to look up. And an agent at William Morris gave me the information on her nephew. I met him and had someone take a photo of us with me giving him a big hug from his Aunt Gloria. Hooked him up with a t-shirt, coin, and cd. He was a little sweetie, too. We have had the hardest time finding someone to take photos for us during the autograph session. We always ask for one person to take the camera and snap the photos so that the line will move faster. I am a terrible photographer (as most of you have witnessed) but I tried to help out tonight. I’m not the best person to do it because I’ll get caught up in conversation with one of them and Chely will be sitting there waiting for someone to step up for her autograph. Happened more than once tonight. She finished the line in about 2 ½ hours tonight….early for us. I had not eaten anything and was told that there was food in the “green room”. There was but it was deli trays and they had been sitting there all night. I made a sandwich with cheese and mustard and that was dinner. Then we took Chely back to lodging and Katrina and I had “Chief” drive us to the MWR center to use the computers. More déjà vu….the MWR center is the bombed out dormitory that we slept in when we were here in 2003 ! They have certainly cleaned it up now. Internet was SLOW again tonight but I managed to answer a lot of emails. Then “Chief” drove me by the crack houses and let me look for the one we showered in last visit. We found it with no problem and it still looks just as bad as ever. Back to the room to grab a little sleep. We don’t depart until 10:45 am tomorrow for our LAST show in Iraq. So sad to be over and the time just flew by! Jude
Saturday, March 3, 2007: Our last show is tonight. It is so sad to be leaving. I really hate that we couldn’t visit the small remote camps this trip but can’t be too sad because the troops we did visit were so appreciative. We said goodbye to Frances who handled our billeting and made our way to the flight line. We were standing outside waiting for our aircraft when our escort said, “That’s our plane flying over us. It’s going to Mosul and will come back and pick us up in about an hour!”. So we went into a little bazaar (Steve, they had GREAT rugs. If I had more time, I would have purchased several!). Then we went over to the MWR building and checked email. Our C-130 landed and we thought it was the same crew from Little Rock. But it was a different crew so I gave them all coins and t-shirts. Clay and I sat on the flight deck but it was only a 30 minute flight. Not long enough for me to get a really good family history on everyone. But I found out where they were from, if they were married or single, how many kids they have, when they got to Iraq and when they were leaving. Hey, I talk fast! I also asked them if they flew over us, went to Mosul and came back. The answer was “NO”. They said that they were always scheduled to pick us up at this time. Somehow, someway, there has got to be better communication between the Army and the Air Force. Our lodging is great. Chely and I have our own rooms and there are bathrooms inside the rooms. Amazing how wonderful small luxuries like this have become. Chely had to start getting ready for the show since we arrived so late. It was hot, but not unbearable, so I decided to jog outside. I asked one of our escorts where I should go and he told me about a road where everyone jogs. I was about to get changed when someone else stopped by….I thought he was a Marine but turns out he trained with the Marines and he is a Navy Medic. I told him I was going jogging and he suggested I not go without a “buddy”. Katrina (our escort) was going to run on the treadmill, so I didn’t have a “buddy” and decided I would have to run inside too. But, the cute, young “Doc” offered to run with me. I told him I wanted to run 5 miles and that I run “slow”. We had a great run but it was definitely more than 5 miles. We passed one place that was rows and rows of palm trees and grass – an unusual site in the desert. He said that is where the locals live and is off limits to the military. Most of the Iraqis living there work on the base. They call the area “The Oasis”. It is rumored that Abraham washed his feet there. Got back to lodging and started to take a shower. No water. None. Katrina had just finished working out and she and I both panicked because we definitely needed a shower. We went to the Chaplain’s office across the street from us and were just going to call for help when one of the Marines that met us at the aircraft when we landed walked in. He took us over to the pump and showed us how to push the reset button so that we would have water. We went by the Brigadier General’s office (Marine) so that he could give Chely a plaque and she met everyone in the Operations Center. She asked the General if her boys could come over after the show and see this as well and he was delighted to accommodate. He was such an incredibly nice man. The courtesy that has been extended to us this entire tour is overwhelming. But, I have to tell you, the Marines go above and beyond anything you can imagine. There are always 5-10 of them surrounding us. I couldn’t even knock on a door….they did it for me! John V. – YOU KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT! It was a fabulous last show. The perfect ending to a perfect tour of Iraq. My little Marine provided personal security for me all evening and boy did I feel special. He is also an aide to the General so he certainly knows how to take care of people. We performed in a theatre and it was packed. She got a couple of standing ovations. I went ahead and pulled out the kleenix for me and Katrina when she started singing “Bumper”. I told her that if she wouldn’t introduce me from stage, I wouldn’t have to talk so much to the autograph line because everyone in line wants to thank me. So, I talk…and talk…and talk…And Chely is sitting and waiting for the person to step up for the autograph. I am sure if we could have found someone else to do it, I would have been fired the first few minutes last night. I told her if she didn’t want me to talk to people, then she should not introduce me from stage. Okay, that wouldn’t have stopped me from talking. J I saw a group of men from the Navy that I had met when I was here in December with Karri Turner, NFL players and Dave Price. They work for the Navy Doctor and that same doctor is Karri’s physician in LA. The doctor didn’t get to come to the show, so I sent him a t-shirt and cd. For the first time, I ran out of autograph sheets. We had some Xeroxed copies from Kuwait, so the last 30 or so people in line had to take those. They didn’t mind at all. While she was finishing up the long, long line (about 3 hours tonight), one of the soldiers invited us to go see the Iraqi Army being trained tomorrow. I was trying to find out what time our C-130 would be picking us up. We were originally told 11:00 am and then they came back and said 2:25 pm. The 2:25 pm flight time was unacceptable since we have to fly out of Kuwait commercially tomorrow night. We rarely schedule a show on the last day in country when we have a flight back home that evening. But, we wanted to get in as many shows as possible this tour. One of our escorts said he was going to ask the General if the Marines had a C-130 that we could hitch a ride on. He came back a few minutes later and said that there was one departing at noon but that it was an “Angel flight”. For those of you who don’t know what this is, it means that we would be escorting a body from Iraq to Kuwait. We did this the last time I left Iraq with Chely and it is a very somber occasion. Last time it was the body of the contractor who was beheaded in 2004. I told him that we had done this before and that I was sure it would not be a problem. Chely’s two new guys and our two Indians from Kuwait have not experienced this but I prepped them on the proper protocol. Chely questioned why this seemed to happen to us and I told her the answer is simple. For those of you who know her well, you already know the answer. She is the perfect person because she is an ANGEL. The guys and I are going to get up early and go over to see the Iraqi Army. I wish I had enough “things” left to give them each something but since it is the end of the tour, I only have a few items left. But, this should be FUN. “Doc” is going to escort me again. Now for those of you with your mind in the gutter, “Doc” is only 23 years old! I’ve gotten countless coins and patches this trip but I have also added 3 dogtags to my collection that I wear around my neck – total of 6 now. All branches of the military except the Navy. But, I think I can score that one tomorrow before we leave J Going to bed now and will get these reports out tomorrow when I get back to Kuwait. We will check into the Hilton for a few hours before our flight to Germany. I can’t tell if I have been fighting a cold for the past 4 days or if it is just the dust! Either way, it has not been fun. Lots of our group has the same “thing”. Jude
Sunday, March 4, 2007: Oops. Just realized that I said Saddam murdered the soccer team in a previous report. It was actually Uday! I could not sleep at all last night. My brain just would not shut down. The harder I tried, the more things kept racing around in my head. I counted down every hour until about one hour before I was supposed to get up. THEN, I fell asleep. Got dressed and had a bowl of Special K since our rooms were stocked with cereal and milk. I guess I have been on the Special K diet this week – had it for breakfast and dinner almost every day. I walked over to see if the Chaplain’s office was open but it wasn’t. I am sure there are church services all day today. So I walked over to the CG’s headquarters to ask the guard where the coffee shop was located. It was about 8 blocks away and I didn’t have time to walk it and get back in time for my pickup. On the way back to lodging, I met my sweet “security” guy and he said the he would make me coffee but it would be really bad. Told him I didn’t care. Just needed the caffeine. Sat in my room and chatted while we were waiting for our ride and while we were talking the power went out. He said it was controlled outages and would probably only be out about 1 hour. Of course this was exactly the time that Katrina and Chely were going to be getting up to shower and dress. No electricity also means no water because the pump is electric! Katrina came out first and we explained it to her. Then Chely got up. I had Cory go get her a cup of coffee and since Katrina said that the flight was been delayed by one hour, I’m sure they will both still have time to shower before we depart. The guys and I went over to meet the Iraqi Army. We passed what appeared to be a “junk yard”. I forgot the acronym that they use for it. But, it is like a huge “Wal-Mart” salvage center. Rows of tires, then washers/dryers, you name it. There are also Iraqi planes scattered throughout the desert. Saddam had them taken out of their hangers and buried them in the desert when he knew we were going to attack. We arrived at the “training camp” and they had all the Iraqi Army Officers lined up to meet us. They were wearing our old uniforms from Desert Storm (the chocolate chip uniforms). They took us around with an interpreter and we shook the hand of everyone there and thanked them. They all said “hello” and “thank you” in perfect English. Then I gave all of them one of the tour shirts and we lined up for photos. I stood between a couple of them and they kept teasing the man on my right. He said something and everyone laughed. They said the interpreter said, “Do you want me to send this photo to your wife” and the Iraqi Officer said, “No. No!” Ha. We walked over to where the troops were training and they were lined up in formation. They were going to do a few maneuvers for us but first I wanted to thank them. They were three deep and the Officer in charge gave the order for them to separate the lines so that we could walk between them. But first, I asked if their weapons were loaded. I didn’t want anyone to accidentally get shot in the foot or worse! I was about halfway through when I noticed that one of the young men had the longest, most beautiful eyelashes. Now, women always notice things like that because the men always get them and we have to “paint” ours on. I had the interpreter tell him what I said and he actually blushed. That is hard to do with skin as dark as theirs. We took photos with them and then they did their maneuvers. The American officer in charge pretended to throw a hand grenade into the middle of them. The majority of them knew to get down immediately but this was only their 4th day of 10 days of training. A couple of the guys reminded us of Bill Murray in Stripes. One guy got was trying to take his rifle off his soldier and got tangled in the strap and almost took out the guys on either side of him. LOL Next they had a line of them “secure” the area. They came in with their guns pointed, looking from side to side then dropped to the ground in a circle to secure the area 360 degrees. It was pretty darn impressive, Remember, the more Army we train and the quicker they learn to defend the Iraqis, the faster our men and women get to come home. Next stop was to have some of the local “bread”. It is called Hubbus, I think. They mix the dough and then roll it into a ball. Then they flatten it over something that looks like a large rock and THROW it onto the wall of this hole with fire in it (their oven). The bread sticks to the side while it cooks. It was delicious. A lot like Indian nan bread, which I love. Be sure and check out my website after the 11th of March and there will be photos of all of this on there. You have to see the Iraqis holding up t-shirts with “Chely Wright” and “Stars for Stripes” on them. Our escorts thanked us for coming by to see the Iraqis and I told them that this was the absolute highlight of the trip for us. I wish we could schedule all our tours so that there would be time to interact with the locals. It is important to both sides, in my opinion. I’d love to be able to come out there and give them a little “mini-concert”. I have a friend at the Camp we went to with Karri, Jim, Kevin, and Dave over New Year’s. He said he was walking “outside the wire” a couple of weeks ago and he heard someone singing “Devil Went Down to Georgia”. He followed the sound and it was a local Iraqi singing in mixed English and Arabic! I am having Charlie autograph a photo and send to him. How cool is that??? We went straight to the flight line as our plane was on the ground and waiting for us. They asked if we would like to participate in the ceremony for the fallen hero and of course, we said yes. We lined up in two lines facing each other at the back of the airplane. The casket was draped in a flag and carried past us onto the plane. I could not stop crying. It is such an emotional moment to stand there and think that whoever that person is, man or woman, they gave their life for US, for our freedom. They don’t even know “us” and they willingly laid down their life. Somewhere in America there is a family experiencing incredible grief that they have lost their loved one. We don’t know anything about the person whose body we have the honor of escorting but it doesn’t matter. This will forever impact our lives. I will never again hear the sound of boots marching in cadence without thinking of this moment. I wish we could find out who it is so that after a few months, I could contact the family and tell them what a beautiful ceremony it was and how honored we were to travel part of the final journey with the fallen hero. For everyone in the military, this loss is personal and the same as losing a member of their family. The ceremony was lovingly conducted with dignity and respect for their comrade. Like I said, EVERYONE at Al Asad spoiled us. Yesterday while I was out jogging, one of the Marines when into my room and hooked a military laptop up to the DSL line so I could check my internet. I got on line quickly but the connection was too slow to download my email. Probably because I have HUNDREDS of them. Will be able to check them tonight at the Hilton before we depart. Then, last night while I was outside discussing today’s transportation, Cory went into my room and turned off the air conditioner that I had left on full blast before departing for the show, moved my “show bags” around, and hooked up my heater and turned it on for me. The thoughtfulness of these guys was truly amazing, especially since our goal was to come over here and “take care” of them. The flight from Al Asad to Kuwait was only 1 ½ hours long. It was a very quiet flight with everyone writing in their journals or laptops. I am sure they all want to put down their feelings now while it is fresh in their minds. Chely’s guitar player who is here for the first time was especially emotional and I know that this trip has changed his life forever, just as I predicted. We all took turns going up on the flight deck to thank our crew and I gave them t-shirts and coins. When we landed we were again honored to participate in the ceremony as they removed the fallen hero. This was such an incredible honor for us to be allowed to be a part of the ceremony. We checked into the Hilton for a few hours and I took everyone to the “Blue Elephant” Thai restaurant for dinner. It was good to have a dinner together to go back over our experiences. I am glad that I didn’t schedule anything for tomorrow in Germany. We all need time to “process” our wonderful experiences. Off to the airport to fly to Germany. Should have internet the rest of the trip. Jude
Monday, March 5, 2007: We departed for the airport with plenty of time to spare. Of course, that changed the minute we got there. I had to negotiate our luggage allowance. Because of the side trip to Germany, our e-tickets did not reflect the fact that we were going back to the U.S. They were trying to only allow us 30 kg total per person. My backpack weighs that much! J I have learned that it is best to simply request a supervisor at the very beginning. I have also learned to print out the baggage allowances from the internet before I leave. By the time we got checked, the plane was ready to board. I took a Tylenol Cold Nighttime and was asleep as soon as we took off. I think it was more the emotional drain than the medication. I am always very depressed when I have to leave Iraq but at least knowing that we will have a fantastic concert in Germany made it easier this time. It is interesting to watch Chely’s musicians write in their journals. It’s as if they keep remembering special moments and don’t want to forget anything. Guess that is what I try to do in these reports. I wish there was some way I could bring a celebrity entertainer over here with just a couple of guitars and go to 3 or 4 camps a day for little mini-sessions. The big problem is the production. Even the mini-camps have hundreds, sometimes thousands of troops and I have to bring enough PA to cover the crowd. That is what takes up so much room and requires a C-130 or a couple of Chinooks to transport them. Going to think about this and try to figure something out. I have dozens of emails from people who saw Chely’s performance and will post those on the website along with the photos this weekend. Chely’s website is also receiving lots of emails from the troops. You should go on there and read them. It certainly verifies without a doubt how important it is to not just bring celebrity entertainers to the troops but to bring celebrities who can openly show their love and support and are willing to spend as much time as possible thanking them. I don’t think I’ll be able to bring over as many tours this year – basically because of funding – so I am going to focus on bringing the BEST! I think I want to start lobbying to have the term “HR” changed to “FH”. I just don’t think “HR” shows enough respect to someone who has paid the ultimate price to defend our freedom. “Fallen Hero” sounds better to me! The Angel Flight is going to be “with me” for a very long time. No problem with our flights but Amsterdam has very strict security procedures. It took us a long time to get through passport control and go to our gate. Michael Tietze was waiting for us with a nice bus. I have worked with Michael since the early 90’s. We also learned that it is only a 30 minute drive to Friedberg instead of 2 hours. That part was nice. Our escort met us at the back gate and escorted us in. Only thing I didn’t like was leaving our passports with the guards. They gave us a little “pass” and said they had to keep the passports. Lodging is fine. Chely has a nice room and best of all, we have internet connection! Patrick – one of the soldiers that I met in Ramadi – is here to help us with anything we need. I took all the boys, Michael and Patrick to lunch at the Italian restaurant next door to lodging. Then Patrick drove me and Shawn around to see the base, go to the exchange and pick up some things for Chely and to check out the tent. I also saw Colonel MacFarland walking around and was able to stop and say hello to him. The tent is huge. It is actually 3 tents put together so I guess we will have a BIG crowd! There will be lots of families in the audience today. I am so happy we could stop by here and have Chely perform for them. We drove back up to lodging and I got to meet Colonel MacFarland’s wife – Lynda – who has been so helpful in putting this event together. She gave me a beautiful framed poem that she had written and a glass “angel” to watch over me. (Katie, you are right. “She” is the angel!). Was going to order something from the Italian restaurant and eat in my room. But their telephone went straight to voice mail. So, I walked over to order. There was one table with about 5 people sitting at it eating and Michael was in there. I asked the hostess why their phone wasn’t working and she said that “It’s just too busy. We can’t handle all the people in here and take delivery orders”. Hmmmmm….six people is overwhelming?? Anyway, I sat down and ate with Michael and it was great to catch up with him again. He has watched and read “The Secret” too and we were talking about how both of us had bee applying that principle to our lives for years! Came back to the room and answered emails until very, very late. After only sleeping for 3 hours on the flight, I was “toast”. Knew I was losing my voice, too. L Jude
Tuesday, March 6, 2007: Got up to find that I have absolutely NO voice this morning. I either have this very sexy, raspy whisper (which causes everyone to whisper back to me!) or I can lower my voice by about 6 octaves and sound exactly like a man. Nice! Walked down to the tent to check on my Production Company. Of course, I took the “scenic route” because I got lost. I tried several times to stop and ask directions but it’s hard when you have no voice. Finally found it and was not happy to hear that the military forgot to provide the detail of soldiers to help the production company load in all the equipment. They had to do it all themselves. Ball got dropped somewhere. Walked back up to the gym and worked out which made me feel better. Then went to shower and WORK. Had to coordinate rides back and forth for band and Chely and get details for Chely on this event. Worked right up until show time trying to pull it all together. Show began at 12:30 pm which was really EARLY for us. I would guess that there were at least 2,000 people in the tent. It is a much different audience from what we played in Iraq because there are families with small children in the audience. Chely did her usual terrific job of entertaining them and making sure she knows about the sacrifices of the families. Colonel MacFarland presented us with beautiful plaques and gifts after the concert. It was really cool because not only did he include the musicians but also my two production guys from Germany! Chely signed autographs for 2 ½ hours and she was great with the wives and kids as well as the soldiers. We learned that 8o men and 1 woman were killed during this 13 month deployment. That’s like losing 81 family members in one year! But, everyone we met said the price they paid was worth it. I talked with as many people as possible. It’s just such a struggle to get any sound to come out and the harder I try, the more frustrated I get! So many people thanked us over and over for making this event possible. They said that they would not have had anything for their returning heroes if we had not come there. I am so glad we were able to do this. After the autograph session, we went to the CG’s office and I saw three of the guys that I had met in Ramadi in December. They gave our group the same wonderful briefing that I had heard. Chely had so many great questions for them, so I learned even more about what they had done to stabilize the Anbar Provence. I wish the media would report this amazing accomplishment. Stars and Stripes has covered it but I don’t think the mainstream media will want to tell the good news. I wish I could remember all the good things they told us. Our escort (or my new personal security guard as he likes to refer to himself) was sweet enough to take the musicians into the town for some German food and beer. Chely and I bowed out. I had dinner at the horrible Italian restaurant with Michael. Still some really weird people working there. Yesterday, we had tried to order “fish” and were told that there is no fish on MONDAY. So, today – Tuesday – we tried again and were told there is no fish. Michael said, “But you told us there was only no fish on Monday. This is Tuesday.” And the waitress responded — are you ready for this? — “I got up at 3 am today.” Hmmm…must be a communication problem. Back in my room now…answering hundreds of emails. Flying back to Nashville tomorrow. In some ways, it seems like we have been gone for a month but then again, it seems like we just left Nashville. Wonderful tour with a fabulous lady who loves our troops as much as I do and has no problem showing them how she feels. Jude
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7TH: So, I was FREEZING in my room. I had the two space heaters in the bedroom and the one space heater in the bathroom turned all the way up and it was still cold. I realized this morning that all 3 windows were open! The maid evidently open the windows when they clean and leave them open even though it is 30 degrees outside. I have no idea why! Good for my laryngitis though. This is another one of those “special moments” on the tour that I have to sleep on and process before putting in writing. Ray Barracks had a “Memorial Wall” yesterday at their ceremonies. Colonel MacFarland took us over before the briefing and told us about the men and one woman who lost their lives in Iraq. To look at their photos – handsome men, mostly very young – and a beautiful young woman – made it seem so “real”. To see their smiling faces and know that their families will never see them again was really hard. I guess putting a “face” to a “name” really makes a difference in how you look at these tragic losses. Colonel MacFarland could tell us everything about the person as though they were his family. There were so many of them that lost there lives only days before they were due to come home. Our soldier who gave us the briefing also talked about these individuals and helped us understand that they were proud to give their lives for a cause that they believe in. It was raining when we got up to depart this morning and we were arrived the airport a little later than I had anticipated. But, there were no lines and we had an easy flight to Amsterdam. Not much of a layover in Amsterdam and right onto the flight to Memphis. The gentleman who took such good care of us from Northwest Airlines when we came through Amsterdam made it a point to come on the plane and check on us. (Donnie, I was VERY impressed!) And, the flight attendants are really nice again. I don’t know what NWA has done, but having flight attendants who are friendly and pleasant certainly makes flying the airline more attractive. Flight from Amsterdam to Memphis was probably the smoothest one we have had the entire trip. And, we landed an hour early. But, there wasn’t an earlier flight from Memphis to Nashville. Love connecting in Memphis because Immigration and Customs is so easy to clear. I went in the World Club and answered emails while the boys had Memphis Bar-be-que. Flight to Nashville was on time and we arrived at around 8:30 pm with all our luggage and equipment. It was a fabulous trip – not only for the troops – but for us. Ready for the next one! But first I have to get my voice back. Jude