Photos from the Tour

During wartime people forget that American soldiers serve in thousands of other places around the world other than in combat zones. And catching a little taste of home from a celebrity visit means a lot to them too. Like the visits Lee Ann Womack is currently making to bases in Italy and Germany on a Stars for Stripes tour. Nonetheless Lee Ann was able to meet some combat soldiers when she visited Landstuhl Medical center where many combat wounded soldiers are sent for treatment.

It’s not every day you wake up knowing ahead of time it’s gonna be one of the greatest days of your life.  It was my honor at Landstuhl this morning to shake the hands of American soldiers and Marines, look them in the eye and personally thank them for what they’ve done for my family.” – Lee Ann Womack

SATURDAY, JUNE 10, 2006:
Today I depart for Germany and Italy with Lee Ann Womack and her assistant – Courtney.  We will be visiting the wounded at Landstuhl Medical Center and the Fisher House in Germany on Monday then flying to Venice on Tuesday where we meet Lee Ann’s musicians and crew.  On Wednesday, she will perform at a “Welcome Home Celebration” for the troops in Vicenza at Caserma Ederle (Camp Ederle) who have spent the past year deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.  This visit holds a special meaning for me.   I had Chely Wright, Dave Price, and Joey Gilbert on tour in Afghanistan in September, 2005 and they performed for many of the troops who are now in Vicenza.  The former Deputy Chief of Staff in Bagram – LTC Tim Sughrue – is now at Camp Ederle with his family.
A little history – when we toured Afghanistan in September, 2005, the “military escort” assigned to coordinate the entertainment tours was very “new” to the job.  Another dear friend of mine – Marc (I met him in Korea on tour with Chely Wright in 2002 and we have stayed in touch;  have seen each other AROUND THE WORLD – Switzerland a couple of times, Kuwait, Iraq, etc.   Marc will be mentioned again in this email because he is stationed in Italy and will be attending our concert, too.) emailed me before I went to Afghanistan and told me to look up a good buddy of his while we were there.   I emailed his “buddy” and we became instant email pals.  He was also very helpful in getting information to me that I needed to make the tour successful.  When we arrived in Afghanistan I kept telling our escorts that I needed to see Tim.   Everyone always responded, “Oh, he’s too busy”.  So, we were staying in these great rooms with internet access and I went inside and emailed him.   He came over to meet me a few minutes later with big hugs all around.   What I did not know at the time was that he was the Deputy Chief of Staff and a VERY IMPORTANT PERSON on the base.  My “standing” with the group was immediately elevated.   We did a remote visit the day after our arrival and had a lot of problems….so many that Tim cleared his schedule and escorted us for the remainder of the tour.   He basically “saved my reputation” with the entertainers and the troops because otherwise it would not have been a very enjoyable tour.   So, that’s the “history” lesson of a couple of my  military “boys” that you will be hearing a lot more about in the reports that I send out this time.
The “situations” started last night….got a call from Lee Ann’s road manager saying the Bass player couldn’t find his passport!   Since the musicians fly on Monday, the only option I could think of was for him to fly to New Orleans on Monday and try to get a passport in one day.  It would mean changing his flight and arriving on the day of the show into Italy, but could be accomplished by pulling a few strings.  The musician called me a few minutes later and was really depressed.  He was hoping he could use his birth certificate instead of a passport – which, of course would not have worked.  There was nothing I could do about it until Monday, so I advised my staff what was going on and left it with them.  When I woke up Saturday morning and checked my email before departing to the airport, I had an email saying he had found the passport.  Whew!
Had a taxi pick me up for the drive to the airport, got halfway there and realized I had left my wireless earpiece to my blackberry at home.  Turned around and went back home to pick it up.   Isn’t there an “old saying” about it being bad luck to double back after you have left for a trip?  Hope it’s not true.
Lee Ann and Courtney met me at the Delta counter and check in was extremely smooth.  The skycaps know me by name now and fall all over themselves to handle my luggage – probably because it’s always a large group with lots of big, heavy bags and big tips!  We went into the Crown Room to wait for our boarding time and a great friend of mine was working the desk in there.  Had a short flight to Atlanta and a couple of hour’s layover there.  Again went into the Crown Room and it was very disappointing.  It was packed full of people.  The line just to be a drink was way too long, so I opted for coffee that I could serve myself.  Only, all the coffee was COLD.  We went into little cubicles to get our laptops set up on the internet.  All three of us were online and working away when this extremely loud, obnoxious voice starts yelling in Spanish.  It was some lady talking on the phone in a booth near us.   She kept this up for so long and it was so disturbing that Courtney finally found her and told her to quiet down!
The flight over was easy.   No turbulence and the man sitting with me slept the entire trip.  Had a brief problem with the video monitor but they were able to reset it pretty quickly.  The speaker system was another matter.  It was so loud that every time the flight attendant came on to make an announcement, everyone jumped!  The plane was completely full and there were two business class cabins.  We were in the second business class cabin and the only toilets were all the way in the front by the cockpit.  Quite a little hike!  Food service was unbelievable slow but, hey, at least there was food served.
Our escorts that USAREUR provides met us and whisked us through immigration, collected our bags and our van driver met us right outside customs.  Too easy!  Hotel was only 5 minutes away and they had our rooms ready for us – even though it was only 10 am.  The van driver didn’t have a hotel room but I told him I would pay for one if he would stay with us.   Very expensive in Germany right now because the World Cup Soccer tournament is taking place.   I wanted to stay at the Sheraton because it is connected to the airport.  But the same room I paid $200 per night for in April is now $600 per night.  Unbelievable.   But this is a nice hotel – as nice as the Sheraton and only 5 minutes from the airport.   No porters or bellman though.   Courtney loaded all the luggage on one cart while I was dealing with check in and got in the elevator.   A man in the lobby had started talking to me and turns out he is a soldier on TDY from Camp Victory in Iraq.  He saw Charlie perform at Camp Liberty when we were there in April!  The elevator doors closed on Courtney and instead of going up to our floor, the elevator took her into the basement and then the doors wouldn’t open.  She finally got the elevator moving again and made it to our floor. We came back downstairs to eat breakfast and the restaurant had just taken away all the breakfast food.  So, we decided to shower and then meet in the lobby at 1 pm to go into the city.  It’s supposed to be “wild” downtown today because of the World Cup.  Courtney called my room right after I got out of the shower and said that there was a “lock” on her suitcase.  Evidently the airport put a lock on it and it should have beeped when we went through customs.  So, we have to go back out to the airport to have the lock removed so she can get to her clothes.  So much for things going smoothly.  J
The soap in most European hotels is in a squeeze dispenser mounted to the wall in the bathtub.  I hate these.  It’s almost impossible to get the soap out of them.   In my bathroom, it was mounted much lower than I’ve ever seen before.  I managed to break the dispenser off the wall just trying to get the soap to come out.   I have warned Lee Ann and Courtney about the “shower wands”.   The water pressure here is great, but if you don’t have the wand secured tightly to the holder, it will fly off the wall, smack you in the head and chase you around the tub/shower!  I speak from lots of previous experience as do many of the people who have toured Europe for me.
Europe frowns on air conditioning in the rooms and wash cloths are forbidden.   So, shopping today for a wash cloth.  Don’t think we’ll buy fans as it should cool off tonight.
When I met the girls downstairs, I realized that the “lock” that was on Courtney’s bag was not one from the airlines.   When they inspected her luggage, they put someone else’s suitcase lock on her bag!  So, we did go back to the airport to meet our escort but he was able to get the lock off with his leatherman.  First time I’ve had that happen with one of my tours.  The lock was a little gold suitcase lock and her duffle bag had silver and black zippers.  Not sure WHY they decided to put that on her bag!
Our driver – Silvio – is great.  He works for my friend Michael Tietze (who I have known and worked with since the early 90s).  He was kind enough to drive us into downtown Frankfurt and wait for us while we walked around shopping and sightseeing for a couple of hours.
I expected crowds downtown because of the World Soccer Cup but nothing prepared me for what we saw.  The streets were packed – and since tonight’s game is with Iran, there were hundreds of Iranians walking around playing musical instruments and yelling.  We decided to get off the streets and out of the crowds by taking a boat cruise down the Rhein.  It was a 50 minute ride and really peaceful and pretty.  EXCEPT…the loud speaker gave the “tourist” sites – first in German and then in English.  The English version “skipped” every other word so we have no idea what was being said.
We shopped for a while and Courtney and Lee Ann purchased Coo-coo clocks and local souvenirs.  I got several magnets with the World Soccer Cup logo.  Courtney and I also found some clothes for ourselves and Lee Ann found clothes for her girls.  The hotel had given us the name of what they said was a good restaurant that served traditional German meals.  We called our driver and invited him to join us for dinner.  It was definitely “traditional” German – no beer or coffee served.  The local “apple wine” – which is horrible was served of you could get water or colas.  I ordered one glass of the wine so they could taste it.  Courtney actually managed to drink about half of it.
We all decided to have the Sunday special – only to be told they were out of it.  They also didn’t have “pomme frites” (French fries) – only boiled potatoes (yuck) or potatoes fried with onions.  Guess you know which one we had.  It is spargel season – spargel is the white asparagus and they make everything out of it – spargel soup, spargel salad, spargel ravioli – you name it.  We ordered the weiner schnitzel and spargel with the fried potatoes…very healthy.  It takes so long to be served a meal in Europe (they like for you to spend a couple of hours dining…definitely NOT like America!) that I decided to walk a couple of blocks to the Woolworth store and buy Lee Ann a wash cloth and all of us some bottled water.  I was only gone about 15 minutes and when I came back the waiter walked up to me, shook his finger in my face and said, “next time do not order your food and go shopping”.  Want to know how much I left him for a tip???
We got back to the hotel before 8 pm.  Tomorrow we go to visit the wounded at Landstuhl.  Should be a wonderful day for all of us.  Lee Ann has asked a lot of questions about my tours to Iraq and has decided she wants to go back over to Iraq and take some other Texas performers with her to do a little “Texas Salute” type of tour.  More history for you….Lee Ann and I were both on the first entertainment tour that was allowed to come into Iraq in June, 2003.   I was with Chely Wright who had been invited to participate on the tour by General Tommy Franks.  I have been back into Iraq – from corner to corner – seven times since that first tour.   We met so many wonderful people on that first tour who have become lifelong friends to us.
Lee Ann’s synopsis of her first visit to Germany is:
“The only place where there is more fried food than Texas – is Germany!”
Signing off for tonight.

MONDAY, JUNE 12TH, 2006:
What a miserable night!   This hotel – like 90% of the hotels throughout Europe – does not have air conditioning.  It must have been about 95 degrees in my room.   Opened both of the windows, but then you get all the traffic noise.  Plus it is “bright” outside because of all the street lights.  Add the fact that we are located 5 minutes for the airport and all the noise of planes taking off and landing all night long.   The beds don’t have sheets, just a really thick down comforter which is wonderful – in the winter!  I finally fell asleep at about 3 am only to wake up with sneezing and my throat itching….allergies kicking in from the open window.  Then two birds decided to screech at each other right outside my window.  By 5:30 am, the sun was up and I decided to just get up and go jogging.  Not any great places to jog here, but I managed to circle around and get in 5 miles.  There is a forest across the street from the hotel where everyone runs.  But, since I have to run in a straight line because of my “no sense of direction” problem, that wasn’t an option for me.
We departed the hotel for Landstuhl a bit later than scheduled due to some “hair dryer” issues.    Electrical appliances are always a challenge overseas.  I’ve blown all the power in many, many hotels around the world!
Brigadier General Frutiger’s wife – Jan – who is an amazing woman – met us at Landstuhl Medical Center along with several other men and women who were assigned as our escorts.  Our first stop was the dining room where we had lunch with the men and women working at the facility.  Since this was mine, Lee Ann’s and Courtney’s first visit to the facility, we had lots of questions.  Courtney’s brother was in the Marines and was injured in Iraq.  He was taken to Landstuhl where he remained in intensive care for quite some time.  This was a special treat for her to be able to see where her brother stayed and meet some of the wonderful doctors and nurses who took such good care of him.  Her brother is now out of the marines with a medical discharge and doing great.
After lunch, we began visiting the various wards.   I’ve been to Walter Reed and Bethesda many times and Lee Ann and Courtney have visited there before as well.  But, it’s much different at Landstuhl.  The injuries are “fresh” as these men and women are flown in directly from Iraq and Afghanistan as quickly as possible after the incident occurs.  But, I have to say, the morale, the focus, the dedication to “duty” and the overwhelming desire to return to their Company, Unit Battalion, whatever – is the same.  No matter what the injury, the one thing they all worry about is that they have left their fellow “soldiers, marines, sailors, airmen/women” behind and they want to go back over and finish the job.  They all believe very strongly that they have made tremendous progress in bringing Iraq and Afghanistan forward to being free and democratic societies and they intend to finish the mission.
I met three Marines today who were deployed to Camp Habbinayah, Iraq.  That is the remote camp where Charlie Daniels visited in April – very near Fallujah.  It is also the Camp where my partner – SemperComm – set up the communications system and we met the SemperComm Award Winners who designed the Bocce Ball court.  All 3 were injured after our visit and one of them even got to see Charlie’s little acoustic performance at their Camp in April!  We visited with approximately 20 men and women but not all of them had “war” injuries.   There was a beautiful young lady who had a kidney stone removed and some other men who had various injuries that did not occur in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Lee Ann was so warm and gracious to everyone she met.  She signed a photograph, took a photo with them, autographed a cd and also gave them one of her coins.   I gave them my SFS calendar and coin plus an EZScores calling card.  Lee Ann also stopped and visited with the nurses and doctors who were caring for the patients on each floor.
We were allowed to go into ICU and visit with the patients there as well.  That one is much tougher, but again, no matter how severe their injuries, they still talk about going back to Iraq or Afghanistan.  We were supposed to spend one hour visiting the patients but actually stayed much longer.
After visiting the medical center, we visited the Fisher House and met a lot of the families who are staying in that facility while visiting their loved ones at the medical center.  There are actually two Fisher Houses on the property and we got to take the tour of the facilities.  The accommodations are wonderful and the staff that we met were all so nice.   Fisher House provides a MUCH-NEEDED service to our U.S. Military.   The relatives are able to stay at the Fisher House for as little as $10 per night instead of having to stay at a local hotel.
It’s hard to put into words the emotions that we run through during the course of these visits.  We always leave there feeling so “uplifted” rather than depressed.  But, it is so emotionally draining, too.  Lee Ann certainly gave her “all” to everyone she met.  Then she curled up in the van and slept the entire trip back to Frankfurt! J
Lee Ann put into words what we all felt today:

“It’s not every day you wake up knowing ahead of time it’s gonna be one of the greatest days of your life.  It was my honor at Landstuhl this morning to shake the hands of American soldiers and marines, look them in the eye and personally thank them for what they’ve done for my family.”

I send out trip reports to so many of you and one of my buddies – a marine that I met at TQ in Iraq this past April with Charlie Daniels – is on my email journal list.   I won’t embarrass him and identify him by name but I want to share a portion of his email with you as well:

I know I have told you this but you are doing a great deal for all of us who serve. I thank you again.  I hope that one day that I can do as much for my fellow men as you have. And please tell Lee Ann Womack and her assistant thank you for all that they do. People that love the freedoms they enjoy, and remember where it has all come from, and what is holding it all together today. Those are the ones that inspire me and especially people like Lee Ann and Courtney that dedicate their time to thank those that are serving. I wish that I could do more. Tell them all that some Cpl in Iraq that they will never meet says thank you for everything. Thanks again for all that you do.

Since it is now after 1 am, we will be departing to Italy in just a few hours.  Lee Ann’s band departed Nashville early Monday morning and we will be meeting them at the airport on Tuesday morning.   On Wednesday evening, they will perform at the Welcome Home Celebration for the troops who were deployed to Afghanistan for the past year.  Won’t have time to get up and jog or exercise this time!  Maybe after we arrive Vicenza.
Had a “crisis” tonight when the bus driver who will be picking us up in Venice called to say that his bus could not drive up the road to the hotel where we are staying.  Since I have already paid for the hotel and cannot cancel the rooms, this was a serious concern for me.   He called back a few minutes later and told me that the hotel had given him another route to reach them and that he would be able to drive us there.  Should be an interesting day tomorrow.
Night all!

Woo-Hoo, an entire 2 hours of sleep.    I’m going to be a real “ball of fire” today, I’m sure.  No time to exercise either.
Departed the hotel – relatively on time since I bumped up the departure time.  Manuel — our UVCC Angel was waiting for us at the airport and whisked us through check-in, security and right to the gate.  We said goodbye to our great driver – Silvio (who I still call Sergio because I know a Sergio and got that name stuck in my head!).  He goes on the list of “acceptable” drivers to take us around when Michael Tietze himself is not available.   Short flight to Venice on one of the “strange” Lufthansa airplanes.   It is a huge plane but in business class, there are 3 coach seats and the middle seat is “blocked” with a tray that holds drinks.  Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
We were met by Michael Tietze and my dear friend from Afghanistan – Lt. Col. Tim Sughrue.  I met his wife and daughter for the first time and they are just as nice as Tim.  The musicians/crew had arrived about 30 minutes before us and had just gotten all the luggage and gear loaded onto the bus.  Michael advised that there was still a serious problem getting the bus up to the hotel and once up there, he had no where to turn around! After many “false” turns, I got out of the bus and rode with Veronica (Tim’s wife) and Lee Ann’s family so that I could get to the hotel and have the keys waiting for everyone.
The hotel is located up in the hills and has a fantastic view.  It is a very old hotel – built in the 1700’s but we had checked it out very carefully to make sure it had all the amenities that we needed.  They were able to provide a room for Lee Ann that had two beds in a loft area for her girls to sleep.  Then, the problems began.   The main thing that I require in any hotel is either wireless internet connection OR high speed connection.   We are not on “vacation” on these trips and everyone MUST work.  Our travel agent assured us that the hotel had wireless and my staff even called and spoke directly with the hotel who reconfirmed this.  However, when I checked with the desk when we arrived, they very nonchalantly notified me that they “tried it for a month and it didn’t work” so they didn’t have ANY internet service.  Since our bus can’t park at the hotel and it is located in an area where there is NOTHING within walking distance, I wanted to make sure that the hotel had a shuttle service available.  Nope.  Basically, we were going to be stranded.   The hotel restaurant was extremely expensive with mediocre food and very limited opening hours.  To say that I was unhappy with our selection of the hotels was an understatement.   I tried to find rooms down near the base but, of course, everything was sold out.   I did speak with the manager of the hotel and expressed my disappointment in all the misleading information they had provided and the fact that they should not be considered a 5 Star Hotel.  He said that they had dial-up internet and I asked if they charged per minute for the connection.  “But of course!”  So, we negotiated that we would only pay the amount that we would have been charged to use wireless connection rather than a per minute charge.
Band and crew were tired so they went to take a nap.  Lee Ann and her family went into Venice with Veronica.  Tim stayed behind to help me re-wire my room so I could get on the internet! I was able to get on but it is incredibly slow and very unreliable.  I had about 2 hours that I could work before going over to the base for sound check.  I had lunch with Michael and got ANOTHER migraine right in the middle of lunch.  I can’t remember ever having a migraine two days in a row.   My MRI came back fine, so maybe it’s just STRESS.  Do you think???
Things definitely started looking up once we arrived on the base.   My Production Company buddies were there – John and Uwe  — and the base personnel were terrific.   Jim – who is going to take my tour to Iraq for me in July – was there as well.  The backstage area that they had set up was perfect.   The stage was set and ready for my guys to sound check.  In fact, everything ran so smoothly, that we finished an hour and a half early.   Tim escorted us to a restaurant where I could treat the guys to some “authentic Italian food”.  Only, it was closed for some sort of holiday!  But, we found another great restaurant and everyone had a fantastic meal.  The portions were huge.  My only disappointment was in the Caprice salad.  It was all I had thought about for weeks.   Caprice salad is mozzarella cheese with tomatoes and olive oil and it is the BEST food in Italy in my opinion.  But instead of the beautiful red tomatoes, these were a pale shade and had the same flavor as the ones you purchase in the grocery store in America.  Very disappointing.  But the guys loved the meal and that was my goal.
Came back to the hotel and worked for until 2 am.  Have to meet the guys downstairs at 8:45 am to get them off to the train station and a tour of Venice.  Unfortunately, I won’t be able to go with them as I have to work.

Up to meet my guys and get them “scheduled” for the day.  They left for Venice and I had two cups of cappuccino and started my “work day”.  Really looking forward to the concert today.  Just wish more of the friends that I had made in Afghanistan were still here.   Many of them have already left for their new assignments.  But Marc – my longtime buddy from Korea – will be coming over for the concert today.  I have about 4 hours that I can work before Lee Ann has to be at the base for interviews, autograph sessions and the concert.  There is no gym or exercise room and I checked out the jogging situation on my way back to the hotel last night.  No sidewalks and very narrow roads with fast-moving vehicles.   Guess I’ll be doing sit-ups and push-ups in the room today!
I got the boys off for sightseeing in Venice and started working.  My idea of working and getting caught up on some business didn’t quite work out due to the usual things that happen on show days…..Courtney’s computer crashed and I volunteered to re-type all the lyrics that she needed for the show, Lee Ann blew up another hair dryer, etc., etc.   This time we were an hour late leaving the hotel and I was a little bit stressed.  We missed the live interview with AFN and went straight to the autograph session at the BX.  Tim and his wife and girls had volunteered to assist with keeping the line moving and they were great.  We were able to get AFN to call Lee Ann and let her go live on the air before their broadcast ended.   There was a very long line for autographs so she wasn’t able to spend the time chatting with each person that she would normally have done.
We left the autograph session and went to the show site.   A huge crowd had already gathered.   Lee Ann met with the General and his wife for a while and learned a little more history about the men and women stationed in Vicenza.   She then did interviews with Stars and Stripes, AFN and the local base newspaper.  The winners of the Stars and Stripes contest were brought backstage to meet her and receive their “prize package”.   My friend that I met in Korea – Captain Mark Krauss (who I inadvertently promoted to MAJOR) met up with us at the BX and helped me out the rest of the evening.  I always feel so bad when he makes the effort to come see me and then I have no time at all to spend with him.
We all watched a “Spirit Video” which showed scenes from the troops one year deployment to Afghanistan.  It was so awesome to recognize the different locations and even some of the soldiers and local Afghans in the video.  Lee Ann took the stage right on time.  She performed on a covered stage but the audience was outside.  The weather was perfect and the crowd was huge.  I have no idea how many thousands of people attended.   They crowded as close to the stage as possible and Lee Ann gave them an awesome performance, interspersed with thanking them for their service.  The General gave her a beautiful silver plaque afterwards and LTC. Sughrue gave her and the musicians and crew one of his coins.  The Denver Bronco cheerleaders performed next and I’ve never seen so many costume changes.  The band and crew were in heaven watching from the backstage area.  Master P and Lil’ Romeo closed the show.  Definitely not my kind of music but the crowd must have loved them because no one left.   It was a great night with a variety of entertainment that was sure to please everyone.  The staff that helped us plan this – all the people at Camp Ederle, MWR/USAREUR, the production company and tour bus company from Germany worked so hard on this event and it was definitely a tremendous success.
Being able to provide entertainment to this group of people was so special to me because of the time I was able to spend with them in Afghanistan.  I had a few minutes to walk around and chat with some of the soldiers and there were several that remembered me and thanked me for bringing them entertainment during their deployment in support of OEF.  THAT is what makes all the long hours spent putting these events together worthwhile.  We sometimes forget how badly the troops deployed to the bases throughout Germany and parts of the world other than Iraq and Afghanistan NEED entertainment to boost their morale and show them that we appreciate their sacrifices.  I was fortunate to be able to spend a little time at dinner last night talking to LTC Sughrue about this.   I would like to close today’s report with a little message from him:

Entertainment/Entertainers to the front … why it is so important.

Soldiers are prepared to give their lives for our freedom – I am and fortunately my family truly understands it as they too value it in its purest form.
Each one of us grows up in America knowing and understanding freedom in our own unique way; and during our impressionable years of growing up we also tend to emulate mentors and idolize a song, a singer, and/or an entertainer(s).
When an entertainer visits our Soldiers on the front, the dynamic is the most unique expression of mutual appreciation I have ever seen in my life.
Entertainers that make the journey, giving of themselves to visit our Soldiers overseas,  have a much better appreciation of our freedom and send that message to the heart and soul of the military community inclusive of the Soldiers, civilian work force, and family members.  The visit equates to their personal expression of selflessness – a value internalized by our Soldiers and families in respect of freedom.  We are not only honored, but the visit inspires us to want to do even more.  It tends to be one of the most significant highlights of our lives.
Thank you is simply not enough.

A line that stands out for me in his message is “the visit inspires us to want to do even more.  It tends to be one of the most significant highlights of our lives”.   One email from a soldier, marine, airman, or sailor is all it takes to inspire me to do even more and EVER tour becomes the highlight of my life.   It’s impossible to explain to a celebrity how a tour will forever change their live…they have to experience it to understand.

THURSDAY, JUNE 15, 2006:
We were able to depart the hotel on time because I told everyone we were leaving at 7:30 am knowing that we needed to leave by 8:000 am.  There were several members of the group who never went to bed and were hoping they could sleep on the flight home.
Check in was relative easy at the airport but the flight was full.  Lee Ann switched seats with one of her daughters and sat in coach with her husband and other daughter.   Her little girl who sat in business class slept for 7 hours of the 9 hour flight!    I don’t think the ones who came over just for the Italy shows ever got turned around on the time.
The aircraft was another “old” Delta jet and not in very good shape.  I sat with the nicest lady from New York City.  She and her husband had been in Italy attending a bridge tournament.   Her husband was still there competing and she said he is one of the top players.  She was enthralled with what I am doing for our troops and very supportive of our efforts in Iraq.  She had lots of questions and it was great to be able to give her “first-hand knowledge” of our progress.   She says they do fundraising events all the time and took my business card to stay in touch with me.  Another “link” that was definitely brought my way for a purpose.  So many of the special people in my life were brought to me because of my involvement with our military.  It’s nice when you’re able to touch even one person, whether it is to reassure them that we are doing the right thing and that our troops still believe we are, too, or sometimes it’s totally change their opinion of our involvement overseas.
We landed at JFK – one of my least favorite connections.  Lee Ann and her musicians were going on to perform at Staten Island tomorrow night and then a couple of more shows in the Northeast.  Her husband and I were flying on to Nashville.  We all met at luggage claim and I secured a skycap to help with the equipment and luggage.  He must have been about 70 years old and was not interested in picking up any of the equipment or luggage and putting it on the cart.   We ended up loading most of it ourselves.  Lee Ann still had not shown up and her husband finally walked up with her other daughter and said that Lee Ann had left her passport on the airplane.  She had to go back down to try and retrieve it.  They wouldn’t allow her to go back on the plane and sent someone to search it for her.   Then they told her that it wasn’t on the plane.   I had a copy of it but they wouldn’t let her use that.  Finally, someone came off the plane holding her passport.
We split up and sent Lee Ann, the musicians, and her daughters off to the exit and her husband and I went to the gate area.  We had a very long layover – 3 hours – to wait for our flight to Nashville.  The lounge area was extremely crowded as all the little Delta ComAir flights went out of that “hub” area.  They making the announcements was extremely “brash” and LOUD.  She would tap on the microphone 2 or 3 times, then blow into it and then make her announcement.  It was humorous because she was so loud yet she thought no one was hearing her.  The little jet to Nashville was packed as well.  Still can’t figure out how the airlines are losing money when every flight seems to be oversold.
We boarded and expected to take off on time.  Only, the flight crew had neglected to have the lavatory pumped out while they were sitting on the ground all that time.  Instead, the flight attendant elected to “spray” it several times.  It didn’t work and the people sitting in the back were complaining about the smell – as they should.  So, we had to wait about 45 minutes for them to call someone to take care of the problem.  Then we lost our spot in line to take off and were delayed about another 30 minutes.  We’ll probably be over an hour late getting into Nashville.  The service on Delta has certainly gotten worse over the years.  It used to be one of my favorite airlines to fly!
Landed in Nashville about one hour late.  Good to be home for 5 whole days!!!