Joe Nichols and his band traveled to Southwest Asia to perform and sign autographs for the troops stationed there. This is Joe’s first Stars for Stripes Tour, as well as his first visit to this area. Joe is known for his hits “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off”, “The Impossible” and “Brokenheartsville”.
PHOTOS (Courtesy of Randy Mendenhall)
PHOTOS (Courtesy of Jason Shelton)
MONDAY AND TUESDAY, JUNE 1ST AND 2ND – NASHVILLE TO KUWAIT:
On the road again Just can’t wait to get on the road again The life I love is makin’ music with my friends And I can’t wait to get on the road again On the road again Goin’ places that I’ve never been Seein’ things that I may never see again, And I can’t wait to get on the road again.
On the road again Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway We’re the best of friends Insisting that the world be turnin’ our way And our way Is on the road again
LOL. Pretty much describes my life these days, huh? Today I left Nashville with the Joe Nichols musicians/crew. Joe departed from DFW, his manager from Austin and his videographer from Atlanta. We all “planned” to meet at Dulles in DC. Met at Nashville Customs and registered all our equipment then went to the airport for check in. Everything ran amazingly smooth and our flight departed on time. I was super nervous because of the Air France AirBus that went down between Brazil and Paris last night. I hate flying under excellent conditions and did not need to hear about that first thing this morning. Fortunately, there were no thunderstorms and it was a relatively smooth flight. Because of my “secret Global status” on United, I had an exit row seat with no one beside me. Still, it was one of those tiny little puddle jumper airplanes. My friend Mike (remember the Secret Service Agent?) met Joe at his gate for me because he landed before us. He had met Joe a week or so ago when Joe was in DC. Everyone met in the Red Carpet Lounge where my friend Jackie (from United) had all the coach passengers cleared for entry. Don’t I have the most wonderful friends? Mike hung out with us for a little while and we got caught up on the “gossip”. Jackie came by to say hello and I introduced her to Joe and the boys. This is such a great group of guys. They are pumped up about the trip to the AOR. This is the first tour for the troops for the majority of them and it’s going to be so awesome. We have our typical 5 hour layover in DC before flying to Kuwait. The Colbert Report is filming in the Al Faw Palace in Baghdad for a week and we are supposed to have several USO staff members and Colbert Report staff on our flight. I heard there are 50 people total traveling with them and this is their “advance” party going over today. We will have one performance in Baghdad but the rest of our shows will be out West with the Marines. (Just for you, Vig!) Flight boarded on time and when they scanned my boarding pass, they pulled me aside. I’m thinking, “Oh No. They better not have moved me to a window or bulkhead seat!’ Of course, they had moved me…to First Class. Never in all the years I’ve been taking this flight has business class been full. In fact, there has always been an empty seat in the middle rows beside me. It was completely full. I felt so bad that I was moved up and Joe wasn’t but there was nothing I could do about it. They wouldn’t let me change seats with him because I am “Global” (that ‘secret’ level that I am on United because of my frequent flyer miles). For once, there were great movies on the flight. I watched, “He’s Just Not That Into You” and loved it. What a great, true movie. The meal was fabulous with basically the same choices I had on Delta back from Europe a few weeks ago and the flight attendants were very nice. Only thing not fun is the turbulence. We checked the weather numerous times in the Red Carpet Lounge and it was completely clear all the way to Kuwait. Well, let me tell you, there is definitely an Upper Level Disturbance for many, many miles. We were all freaked out about the reason the Air France flight went down and turbulence is NOT a good thing ever. Rachel from the USO is on our flight but it’s only her and one other person. The rest of the group for Colbert Report is coming over in a few days. Had a little turbulence throughout the rest of the flight but nothing that made me clench the armrest. First Class was awesome. 🙂 Everyone has to fill out Heath Screening Cards because of the Swine Flu Epidemic that doesn’t exist. We landed and one of our guys left his card on the plane and had to go back. Since we were all waiting to go through as a group, that put us at the back of a long line. Someone “met” me again since I’m Global on United and I told her that I couldn’t do anything without the other 12 people. One of our guys was met by a Visa Service and walked through to get his Visa. He had toured Kuwait back in 2006 with another entertainer and for some reason, Immigration insisted that he was a German Musician. We went to one long line for the health cards and our escort got us bumped up quickly. Then we went to the Visa line and then to the Immigration line. Picked up all our luggage and gear (and yes, everything arrived!) and then had to go through another line for the Health Cards. I had to fill out this long form with everyone’s names and social security numbers. I tried to just give them a copy of our orders and they wouldn’t accept that. Finally made it outside and drove the 30 minutes to the hotel. All our rooms were ready and after throwing the bags in the room and taking care of some emails, I met the group downstairs for dinner. Then I went to the health club for a 45 minute quick workout. Rachel from the USO brought her Sparkling Grape Juice and champagne flutes over and we talked for about an hour. She has a 7:30 am leave time tomorrow and we have a 10:45 am lobby call. We were going to have to leave a lot earlier but the Camp is no longer requiring us to be screened for Swine Flu. We just have to give them a copy of our Health Cards. It took over an hour longer than normal to go through all those lines for that darn thing. Hope to go to bed soon since it’s almost 1 am. Tomorrow is Camp Arifjan. Feels like “home” to me. 🙂 Jude
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 3RD – CAMP ARIFJAN, KUWAIT
Got 4 hours sleep and then up at 6:00 to go to the health club for a quick workout. Quick breakfast, shower, and we’re off to Camp Arifjan. The first thing they had us do when we arrived was have lunch at the DFAC. Only no one was hungry because they had all just eaten breakfast. So, lunch was really quick and then we went to the Exchange to shop. Still had more than an hour to kill before our visit at the Commander’s Office. We could have stayed at the hotel another hour and still had plenty of time. Lesson learned. Colonel Luis Jones gave us another great briefing and the guys asked lots of questions. We took photos and then the musicians went to the stage and Joe, Isaac, Larry and I went to visit the hospital. The staff is beginning to know me by name there. There are rarely any patients with combat injuries but several with work related injuries like breaking an ankle when jumping off a chopper when cleaning it, etc. Finished up that visit and went to the stage. Seems something blew the power and they were just getting it back on which mean sound check ran late. We barely had time to run over to the DFAC for a quick dinner. Tonight was steak and lobster night and it looked great but I wasn’t brave enough to try the lobster. The steak was actually the best I’ve had in Kuwait or Iraq. Back to the stage and I saw several buddies from previous visits. One young man that I had never met but who found me on the internet was there and I made sure he got a photo with Joe. Joe’s show was terrific and the crowd was huge. He sang for 90 minutes and they loved him. He split his jeans right before going on stage so he said he was a little “off balance” during the show but you sure couldn’t tell it. Signed 400 autographs for the crowd and took photos with everyone. We got out of there a little after 10 pm. My email quit coming to my blackberry at 3 pm today and I was running back and forth to Starbucks to log on with my computer every chance I got. Still, I had over 100 emails to answer when I got back to the hotel. Also got on the phone with T-Mobile twice while I was at Camp Arifjan and then once back at the hotel. We finally switched “networks” and it seems to be working. Guess the network I am usually on over here is having “problems”. Our bags have to be out at 6:30 am tomorrow so I’ll only get 3 hours of sleep tonight. Pretty typical. You won’t get road reports from me until we get back to the Radisson on the 8th…..if we get back at a decent hour. If not, it will be when I get back to Nashville on the 9th. Good night all.
THURSDAY, JUNE 4TH – AL ASAD, IRAQ
I forgot to mention that when I walked to the Health Club at 6 am this morning it felt like it was already about 200 degrees. I was met with a “wall of heat” when I went outside. It got hotter throughout the day and finally cooled down to “bearable” when the performance began. They say that August is the worst month ever over here. I was here on July 4th, 2004 and it was 140 degrees in the shade. Can’t wait to come over with Mark Chesnutt this August. J Bed at 2:30 and up at 5 am. Very quick breakfast and then we drove to the flight line. Thought we were leaving at 9 am but it was more like 9:45 am. One of the young contractors working the desk at the terminal “befriended” me and drove me out to the flight line personally. J My friend – Jeffrey — wasn’t flying us but a couple of the guys had flown me before and remembered me – which is always a treat. It was one of the new Marine C130 J’s and awesome. Joe and I sat up on the flight deck and harassed the flight crew the entire trip. I was going down below to get Isaac – his videographer – to come up and film but learned he had gotten sick on take-off. He did make it up for a few minutes but was pretty “white”. It was a great trip and we asked the pilots if they were going to make Isaac sick again on landing. They assured us that they would and they succeeded. I know, we are SO bad. However, I did take sympathy on him and got him to a medic as soon as we landed. Nothing wrong that they could find but they did give him an IV and some drugs. He slept most of the afternoon. Several of the military personnel that I had worked with previously were there to greet us. We went immediately to the DFAC and then to lodging. Lodging is the Lion’s Den which is the “house” we stayed in with Charlie. Only this time my laptop isn’t “blown up” and I have internet in my room. Quite a luxury. We had about 30 minutes downtime and then went to visit a Unit that has the M-RAP’s. The boys got a demonstration and then got to ride in them which was a real treat for them. Joe took photos with everyone and then I got him over to a Physical Therapist for his back. He was only there a few minutes and hopefully whatever they “popped” is helping him. Got Joe back to lodging for a “nap” and the musicians went to sound check. We went to the DFAC for dinner immediately after sound check and then back to lodging for showers. This is the first Camp where Charlie Daniels performed this past April and the one where the horrific dust storm blew in the minute he put his foot on the first step to the stage. Everyone is still talking about that. While it is miserably hot, they aren’t expecting any dust storms, Thank God. Harriet is the MWR rep here and Charlie’s show was her first one. She did a great job last time and is even more proficient this time. Have I mentioned we love working with the Marines? What an organized group they are and certainly know how to make the entertainer and the entire group feel welcome. My friend Jason Lilley was waiting for me backstage. I gave him a great seat right up on stage so he could watch the show. But I kept pulling him off the stage to help me “work” and because I wanted to talk to him. He was a good sport and it was great to chat with him. Joe had a fantastic show and we made a lot of men and women happy and forget that they are away from home. Jason stayed and helped all evening with the autograph line. I tried to get him approved to go with us on the rest of the tour. We finished up at about 10:30 after taking over 400 photos with the audience. It was another awesome evening. I’m in the room now finishing up on email and hoping to get 4 hours sleep tonight. I doubt it, but I can always dream….oh no…guess I can’t…you have to “sleep” to dream. J Jude
FRIDAY, JUNE 5, 2009 – AL ASAD TO BAGHDAD – CAMP STRYKER:
Up at 5:30 am, dressed and bags out at 6:45 am. I went into the “kitchen” of the house and got some coffee. SFC McDougle came in and told me there was very little visibility. So much for “no dust storms”. But, we have two things on our side – we are flying with the Marines and they always accomplish their mission AND the flight we are on is actually with the General from this base. Nice “ride to hitch” for us, huh?
Sure will miss having internet in my room but maybe we’ll have it in Baghdad. I have never stayed where they are lodging us there.
Left for the flight terminal but this is Iraq!!! After sitting on a C130J for 2 1/2 hours, we had to cancel the Baghdad visit. Dust was so thick we couldn’t see 100 feet yet they still insisted on loading us up. The air conditioning didn’t work because the filters were clogged with dust and I think it’s supposed to go to 110 here today. They sat with the engines running all that time. Plus, all communication lines were down because we were “River City” all day. Just got communication back up and running. River City means a service member was killed and they shut down all communication until next of kin back home can be notified. Very sad.
Doing another show here tonight at the White Elephant Theatre and will see what happens tomorrow. Ramadi can only be reached by choppers and we are being told that choppers won’t be able to fly tomorrow because of the dust. We can try to flip the dates and do TQ tomorrow. TQ is accessed via fixed wing. That still leaves us with “somewhere” we need to perform on Sunday. Always fun here. Joe and his guys are taking it all in stride. 🙂
I am so disappointed that we didn’t get to go to Baghdad for many reasons. Joe and his guys have never seen it and it is definitely a “site to see”. We were definitely going to be meeting with General O and I really wanted him to have that experience because not only is he the most powerful man in this region, but he is also the sweetest. But, the biggest disappointment is that I won’t get to see my friends who were coming to the performance. One of them is Colonel Kyle who you have all heard me mention many times. I met him at Camp Summerall in the summer of 2004 and “adopted” him as a family member shortly thereafter. My kids love him and so do I. He deployed in January and I just missed him by a few minutes as I was coming back into Kuwait and he was leaving. Then, the coordinators have not let my tours go back to Baghdad since January and we were finally going to get back there again. I had planned to spend the day with him and he was coming to the performance. He was also bringing the son of one of my other military friends to the concert so I could give him a big hug from his Dad. I have been so depressed all day and just praying that something will happen to take us to Baghdad.
We went to sign autographs and meet a Navy Commander and his staff prior to the show. Then ate at the DFAC and went to the theatre. This is the same theater where Charlie Daniels signed autographs during the horrific dust storm in April. At least this time the smoke alarm wasn’t blaring non-stop! We had about 600 people in attendance which is great for last minute notice. Joe loved performing for the smaller, more intimate crowd and everyone had a great time. He added some songs that really pleased the crowd – Okie from Muskogee and Country Boy Can Survive. It was another great evening. My buddy from last night – Jason Lilley – didn’t make it to tonight’s concert. I had also tried to find the nephew of a friend of mine who missed last night’s concert because he was in Baghdad but couldn’t locate him either. But, Jeff from my flight crew was there with one of the crew who tried to fly us today.
We are going to try and fly out to TQ tomorrow at 2:30 pm. It’s about a 45 minute flight which means we’ll have to really hussle to put on a performance for them that evening. Joe and I are going to the gym at 8 am and then he is going to visit with a Purple Heart recipient at 11 am. Bags have to be out at noon, then lunch and off we go to TQ. TQ was originally scheduled for Sunday but because they are telling us that rotary wing won’t be flying until tomorrow night because the weather won’t clear until then, we switched TQ with Ramadi. IF the weather clears, we’ll try to get to Ramadi on Sunday. Will be a challenge on Monday if that happens because we have to fly helicopters from Ramadi back to either Al Asad or TQ and then unload everything (over 7,000 pounds of equipment) and put it on a C130J to take us into Kuwait. We did that with Chely and it worked out okay. We have to depart to the airport at 9 pm on Monday night, so there’s not a lot of room for error.
Going to bed soon, I hope!
SATURDAY, JUNE 6TH, — AL ASAD TO TQ – WE HOPE!!!
Got up and had some coffee before heading to the gym with Joe. THAT was an experience. Most of the machines are the type where you have to put the weighs on yourself. No one racks their weights and there were 100-300 pounds of weight on just about every machine I wanted to use. I got an arm workout just taking the weights off! But it felt great to get in a really hard, good workout. Have now showered and am packing my bags which is probably a waste of time. The dust is still just as bad today as it was yesterday and they are saying we won’t get out. They also said we may have to move to another location for lodging because they don’t think the rooms are available tonight. Now, you tell me how they could have someone else coming into the rooms when no one is flying in or out of here. Ground movement is also “red” which means no one is traveling by ground either. Doesn’t make much sense to me.
We are going to visit someone who received his Purple Heart yesterday and then visit the MWR office. Lunch after that and we were scheduled to fly at 2:30 pm but don’t think it’s going to happen.
When we arrived at the hospital we were told that the young Purple Heart recipient had been flown out with another patient who was medi-vacced out. Did you hear what I said? “FLOWN”. I latched on to that comment immediately. Maybe we will get out after all.
We went to visit the people in Harriet’s building and then off to the DFAC for lunch. By that time, it had been confirmed that we would be flying. Back to lodging to pick up our bags and then on to the flight line. SFC McDougle collected all our VIP badges and was very complimentary because no one misplaced theirs. We had trouble getting onto the flight line because evidently the bus we were did not have flight line clearance. Now SFC McDougle is awesome and I KNEW he’d fix it. When we were in Balad and our show was quickly going “South” because we couldn’t get a flatbed truck to move the gear from the outdoor venue to the indoor venue, he saved the day. Okay, he stole the flatbed to do it. Some guy drove up in a flatbed, got out and left the keys in it. SFC Mc jumped in and drove away with the guy running as fast as he could behind the truck screaming at him. J So, this time, another bus pulls up and SFC Mc commandeers it. At least this time he let the driver stay with it. LOL
As we were walking out to the flight line, I recognized one of the pilots as one of my “buddies” who had flown me before. The really cool thing is he recognized that my hair is darker and commented on how nice it looked. He had to be talking about the color because it was trashed from the wind and dust. But, it was really nice to know someone paid attention.
I sat up on the flight deck with Joe and we were on headsets. Al Asad is in a “bowl” and is protected from a lot of the dust. As we gained altitude, the flight turned turbulent and it was like flying is really think, brown clouds…only it was DUST. I wasn’t real concerned at that altitude but wasn’t looking forward to the landing. Fortunately, we had terrific pilots. I’ve never seen the pilots so focused during a landing. My hands were sweating profusely and as we started down through the dust, I could not see ANYTHING. The first thing I saw was the ground when we were less than 100 feet from the runway. That was an experience.
The pilots came on the headsets and said that they had seen lots of entertainers but had never seen a welcoming party like the one waiting for us. Not only were there a LOT of people waiting but there was a LOT of brass. Our escort was not on base last time when I was here in March with Chely but was waiting for us this time. Christine immediately took us over to the Commanding General’s office and I was a bit apprehensive. He is a sweetheart and was very much in attendance at Chely’s performance. But he is the one who got up and thanked the USO profusely and I busted him afterwards by calling him “Colonel”. I’m sure he will never forget that. At least, he sure remembered me and I got a big hug so I guess he doesn’t hold a grudge. He took Joe out on the balcony of the building and gave him a flag that had been flown for him over the Camp. It was Joe’s first experience for this type of honor and I wish I could have captured the look of awe and respect on his face. I remember the Navy Commander who was telling us how far the Iraqis have come toward being a prosperous nation and saying that “we” were a part of that because now we’ve been there. I don’t think any of us ever thought of it that way – I certainly never have – because what we do seems so minute compared to the amazing transformation our troops have produced.
We went to lodging and I’m in the same room as I was with Chely. Only this time I share a bathroom with Isaac. The lock on my side of the door is missing and there is a hole that you can see into the bathroom through. Isaac is a little freaked by having to share a bathroom so I think I’m going to draw an eyeball and tape it over the hole so he’ll think I’m peeping through the hole at him. I also have an internet connection this time. It isn’t free and it’s the same one I had at Green Beans last time that I spent a fortune on. It is only $10 for 24 hours BUT that is for a 56kb connection. To get a 256 KB connection, you must pay $180 for a month. The 56kb connection was so slow last time I couldn’t even open AOL. I decided to give it one more try and it is working great!
I walked over to the stage and got my things together for the show tonight. Then went to the BX and purchased some hand soap and the Green Beans for a Frappicino. I was starting to tear the 700 autograph sheets when Christine took them away from me and gave them to her Marines to tear. Bless their hearts, I was tearing 3 pads to their one but it was great to have their assistance.
We went to the DFAC for dinner and then to the stage for the show. The General’s CG called me up on stage and thanked me for my support and he mentioned Stars for Stripes, not the USO. I went out and talked to the General for a few minutes. He stayed for the entire performance and got a photo autographed after the concert. Like I said, a real sweetheart.
While I was standing backstage, someone in a flight suit came up to me and I thought I recognized his face. He reminded me that I met him when I was there with Chely and showed me a sticker that he gave me that I’ve had on my desk since that tour. I definitely remembered Major Reiffer. Just glad he remembered me. He reminded me that he flew the UH-53 Marine chopper and Chely had been so excited about flying on it because that’s what her brother flies. This time he gave me a really cool green Marine t-shirt. He took all the guys to see his choppers after the autograph session (Cobras and Hueys). I did not go since I needed to shower and get ready for our 7:45 am call time tomorrow.
Joe had another awesome show and the place was packed. So many people came up to me and told me it was the best show they had seen and the largest crowd they had there in a while. He signed autographs and took photos afterwards and we went through over 700 photos this afternoon and tonight. Yet, the line moved faster than ever before. The Marines Rock!
Like I said, the boys went to play on the choppers and I came back to work. Can’t believe there is only one more show left on this tour. Joe mentioned from stage tonight that sometimes he thought he had a hard job but that was before he visited with the troops in Iraq. He and his guys said they have a totally new understanding and respect for our troops and our efforts in Iraq. It was very encouraging yesterday to hear the Navy Commander talk about the potential for the Iraqis. Evidently one of their oil pipelines is going to start producing very soon. I told him about my 3 million Iraqi Dinars and he said that was a very smart investment. Sure hope so.
You may have noticed that I’ve been sending Road Reports from Iraq – something I’ve never done before. There’s a reason for that. It’s so much safer that we are not prohibited from announcing that we are in Iraq. We just can’t give specific camps on specific days until AFTER we have left that Camp. And, I rarely had internet connection in my room before…another sign of progress.
Okay, bedtime for me. The rooms have these individual heating and cooling units with remote controls that I, of course, can never figure out how to work. It’s always either freezing or unbearably hot in my room. Last night it was freezing and the blanket on the bed was this scratchy wool thing that kept touching my face and waking me up.
Hope we get out on the choppers tomorrow. Going to Ramadi and will get to see my buddy Mark who handles the entertainment there.
SUNDAY, JUNE 7TH, 2009 – TQ TO RAMADI:
Skipped breakfast in favor of sleeping 5 hours instead of 4. Only I woke up after 3 and had a hard time falling asleep again.
We left lodging at about 9 am and our choppers were already on the ground loading the equipment. When they picked us up, they asked Joe if he wanted to sit in the back or up in the jump seat. He chose the back, so they let me sit up front. I thought it was the first time I had ever gotten to sit there in a Chinook. It was awesome and all the crew were so sweet. It was only a 15 minute hop to Ramadi – much too quick. All Joe’s boys loved the ride although most were a bit apprehensive. They only had to do one maneuver but even that was fun for them. I was talking to the crew as if they were Marines with a UH53. Once we landed and I saw uniforms instead of flight suits, I realized we were flying with the ARMY on a CHINOOK. I felt like such an idiot so I apologized profusely.
Joe took photos with everyone and our great escort, Mark, was there to meet us. He really, really tries to get my entertainers to his base because they get so few big names this far out. I’ve been here with Aaron, Chely, and now Joe. And right before NY’s was here with Karri Turner, Dave Price, Jim McMahon and Kevin Butler. We slept here the night they turned Saddam over and executed him the next morning. Then we flew to Baghdad and slept in his palace that night. This is also the same Camp and year where Colonel McFarland gave us the amazing briefing on how they had cleaned up Ramadi and made it a safe place to live. Some things I will NEVER forget.
Lodging for me and Joe is at the Viper where Chely and I stayed in March. Boys are in the same area where her band stayed before. We had a few minutes at lodging and Colonel Fowler who is the Camp “Mayor” walked by. I remembered him from our last visit and since his room is directly across from Joe’s, I knocked on his door and introduced them. I gave him a cd, photo and picks and Joe hit him up to let the guys go to the shooting range. All the fun stuff that TQ had laid on for them got canceled because we switched days and were very late getting there because of the dust storm. By the way, there is still a LOT of dust in the upper levels. Was a little scary flying choppers in it but we always have such terrific pilots.
Went to the DFAC for a quick lunch and then to the “Hagie” shop to purchase knock-off DVD’s. J I made a quick stop by the internet office and checked email. Things are pretty slow on weekends, so no emergencies. I have a DSL line in my room but it won’t connect to a civilian internet service.
When we were in line at the DFAC, the Ugandan Security Guards would not let us enter. Mark was arguing with them and SFC McFarland was being very persuasive. We were all in line behind them, intent on the exchange going on when someone cleared their weapon directly behind us. I would have given ANYTHING to have had that on video. All the guys jumped and I thought they were going to put their hands in the air. One guy goes, “I’m really not THAT hungry”.
We went to the Commander’s Office for an office call with the Colonel and then the guys went to the firing range and played with the guns. I passed on that little adventure since I’ve fired every type of weapon there is many times in the past. They said they had a blast and stayed for a couple of hours even in the hot sun. Evidently Isaac had never fired a gun before and they gave him the largest one out there. Thankfully, it was mounted on the ground. I asked if the recoil was bad. I could just see him firing and his skinny little body going air borne for several feet. They said he did just fine.
Sound check was next and then dinner at the DFAC. I gave out 300 photos to people eating in the DFAC because we have a lot left over from the canceled show in Baghdad. I still feel just awful about missing that one.
Made a quick trip to the base exchange to purchase some last minute things. Got the “Z’s” stuffed pillows – one Army and one Marine. Then took them to the alteration shop and bribed the guy to sew their names and Iraq patch on for me before they closed at 7 pm. Joe also needed a duffle bag and we got him a cool Marine one. Had his name put on it and SFC McDougle gave him the patch he has been wearing through all 4 of his deployments and had it sewn on for him. THAT was a special moment.
Mark called me up on stage and thanked me and mentioned that this will be his last tour with me. Very sad but so glad he is going home. He gave me a really sweet certificate, too.
The show was amazing. So much emotion from all the guys. At one point two couples – all female – we dancing in front of the stage. Joe stopped the show and asked what was wrong with that picture. The guys in the audience informed him that they were forbidden to dance with females. Mark gave Joe a certificate as well and we ended the night with a very long autograph session. I was giving every man with a wedding ring two photos – one for themselves and one for their wife. Took several “group” photos and grabbed Joe a sandwich from Subway before heading back to lodging. The last show is always so sad. However, Joe wants to go to Afghanistan and perform acoustically for the troops and I’ll bet I can make that happen. J
Breakfast is set for 8 am with bag call at 8:30 am and wheels up at 9 am. We have to fly back to TQ on choppers and then unload all the luggage and equipment and fly on a C130J to Kuwait. In a perfect world, we’ll arrive back in Kuwait by 12:45 am. That would be awesome since that would give us enough time to work out, repack our bags, shower, and have our wrap-up dinner before flying out to the U.S. In a perfect world….. J
MONDAY, JUNE 8TH and TUESDAY, JUNE 9TH — RAMADI TO TQ TO KUWAIT TO USA!
Up at 6 am, showered, packed, and off to breakfast at 8 am. We have two buses and our young soldier drove through a ditch filled with gravel and got stuck! He buried it all the way up to the bumper! We had to get off and leave him to deal with it because we only had 20 minutes to eat and get to the flight line.
When we came back out, he was still stuck. There were a lot more soldiers walking around with boards trying to get him out. We saw the fire department pull up just as we left to go to lodging to get our bags. When we came out with our bags, both buses were there.
Arrived at the flight line about 30 minutes early but the choppers were right on time. And, this time they WERE Marine UH53’s. Army told us that Chinooks were bigger than UH53’s but if that is true, then the Marines know how to “pack” more efficiently. Yesterday, only production fit on one Chinook and all the personal luggage had to go on our chopper. Today, all the personal bags and production went on one chopper and just passengers on the second. The crew chief said we had the only female pilot in their unit flying us and her name was Heather. He wanted Joe to say hello to her by name since she is a huge fan. Joe shouldn’t have any problem remembering her name since his wife has the same name.
We left exactly on time for a smooth, 15 minute fight. I had received an email earlier in the day from my Marine Pilot buddy – Jeff – saying he was flying with us and would see us in a little while. So glad he got to fly us before we left because he should be gone when I come back in August. He is set to leave on August 9th and we arrive Kuwait on August 10th. Might run into him at Kuwait but he won’t be flying us. One of the pilots was also someone who had flown us several times before. BTW, Jeff is the navigator.
I couldn’t believe the C130J was sitting on the tarmac waiting for us when the choppers landed! That rarely happens. We didn’t even go to the terminal, just got on a bus from the choppers straight to the plane. They took all the luggage and equipment from the chopper, put it on the pallet and then onto the plane. We left exactly on time!
Joe and I sat up on the flight deck with them and boy, it is STILL dusty at the higher altitude. Landing wasn’t the hair-raising experience we had at TQ though. The navigator the other day gave us patches for everyone and today, Jeff gave me a flag that they flew for me and a certificate thanking me and giving details of the flag that was flown. It was so incredibly sweet of them! I am really, really going to miss these guys when they go home.
It was a fun flight with no turbulence. Joe and I switched out and let the other guys take turns on the flight deck. Then we went back up for landing. There was a Navy Seal and another passenger on the plane with us and they were going back to another Camp in Iraq. Guess we had “priority” as far as the routing. The pilots and the Seal went to Subway to grab and sandwich and my guys did the same while we were waiting for the equipment and luggage to be downloaded. I paid for lunch for everyone after a brief battle with the flight crew and Seal. How about that? I “won” the argument with a Seal. Of course, I’m a “Seale”, too. J
Our escorts were waiting for us in Kuwait and we arrived at the Radisson by 2 pm…a wonderful thing. Got everyone in their rooms and I unpacked, re-packed and sent bags to storage to keep for me until I return. Then I went to the gym for a heck of a good workout. Sure have missed getting to work out everyday. At least I got in one workout in Iraq! We all met for dinner at 7 pm for our “wrap” dinner. Can’t say enough good things about this group. They were a pleasure to work with and so much fun to hang with. If Baghdad had not canceled, it would have been the perfect tour!
Left for the airport at 9 pm and faced the same hassle as usual with the piranha at the airport. Jason is going to London for a couple of days and is flying on a different airline. No problem at the check-in counter and I upgraded myself and Joe to first class. Stopped and purchased a Kuwait Harley Davidson t-shirt for my buyer in Switzerland and then went to the United Lounge to hang for a few minutes. While we were there, Larry recognized the main actor in the reality tv series Little People, Big World. Had to admit I have never seen the show. The main actor was in front of in line and was also sitting in first class. He had several small people with him. Not sure what they were doing in Kuwait. BUT, Vice-Commander John Dolan was on our flight. He was going home to visit his family and one of his children was graduating.
Flight departed on time and we are going to land almost an hour ahead of time – which is a GOOD thing because we have a “short” connection into Nashville.
I slept and slept and slept on this flight. Didn’t eat anything since we had such a great meal at the Radisson before we left. It was “sushi” night and they had some really good food. Believe it or not, we had NO turbulence. Didn’t even have anyone warn us to put on our seatbelts the entire flight. Or, if we did, I slept through it. Guess I was catching up for seven nights with only a couple of hours sleep per night.
Boy, did I speak too soon. Landing was relatively smooth but we parked a long way from the gate. The pilot came on and said there was a thunderstorm on the ground and we had to sit right where we were until it passed. I was in the first seat in first class and he came out to talk to the flight attendants and of course, I eavesdropped. Said it was really bad and there had been more than 500 lightning hits around the city in the past hour. He thought we’d be there at least an hour and told them if they were flying “RJ’s” next, that they wouldn’t be going anywhere. WE were scheduled to fly an RF (regional jet) to Nashville! We actually only sat for 45 minutes and when we landed, the monitors said that our flight to Nashville was departing on time.
I by-passed the Immigration lines and went to the Global Access Kiosk. One of the kiosks was “out of order” and the one I used “timed out” before it could print my receipt. Trust me, they will be getting a complaint. Ninety percent of the time, the kiosk at Dulles doesn’t work and that’s the airport I use the most.
Even though it took our luggage a long time to come out, we made it to the gate with time to spare. I didn’t really look at my boarding pass because I had reserved the exit row where there is only one seat. They called my name and 2 other people as “Global” passengers and we boarded first. When I got on the plane, I was in the LAST ROW of the tiny puddle jumper. No way I was going to fly back there in thunderstorms. I showed the flight attendant my paper reservation and my seat number – which was the exit row. The exit row was full and evidently all three people were also Global. I couldn’t believe they would move one of their “valuable” customers to the last row of the plane. The flight attendant was able to move me up to Row 8 before we took off and one of the pilots from our Kuwait flight was sitting across from me.
I went to the restroom about halfway through the flight and Joe was sitting in the seat that I had originally been assigned in the last row. I didn’t think much about it but then the flight attendant asked me if was feeling better. Evidently he had gotten nauseous right before we took off. Larry told him it was a good thing Isaac wasn’t there to film him after he made so much fun of him for getting sick on the C130J!
Landed on time in Nashville and again it took forever for the luggage to come out. But, we got everything and that’s what matters.
As I said, this trip would have been absolutely perfect if not for the cancelation of Baghdad. There were no “problem children”, no personality conflicts, no “whiners”, on this trip. We had fun and we know we made a positive impact on so many of the men and women we visited. There’s no way to explain how life-changing these tours are for us and also for the troops. I know that Joe and his guys experienced the trip of a lifetime and will share those memories for many, many years.
So, I am home for 14 days and then off to Europe for the Summer.