Mark Chesnutt has finished a tour in Scandinavia and then headed to Kuwait and Iraq to perform for the troops.  This is Mark’s first trip to this area and he has been looking forward to this opportunity for some time.
Mark has been entertaining fans in the country market for more than 20 years.  He is known for his hits “Going Through the Big D”, “Too Cold at Home”, “A Little Too Late” and “Bubba Shot the Jukebox”.

“The trip was a thrilling and memorable experience for me.  Being able to interact with and perform for the service men and women who defend our freedom everyday was an opportunity of a lifetime.  To meet the folks, whom I don’t even know by name, that protect me and my family, without question, each and every day was truly a blessing.” – Mark Chesnutt – Country Singer


Troops Go Honky-Tonkin’ – Package

PHOTOS SATHER AB, IRAQ – 8/11/09  (Courtesy of Staff Sgt. Misty Slater, USAF)

CAMP VICTORY, IRAQ – 8/13/09   (Courtesy of Sgt. Wriston, PAO)

CAMP STRYKER – 8/14/09    (Courtesy of Sgt. Wriston)

SUNDAY, AUGUST 9TH – KUWAIT CITY, KUWAIT: I looked at the itinerary wrong and told everyone we were departing the hotel at 7 am. We were really supposed to leave at 7:30 am. Worked out well because Mark didn’t make it down until 7:30 anyway. Last night as he was signing autographs, a really drunk guy came up. Security immediately tried to move him along but Mark told them to let him stay because he was trying to ask Mark a question.  The drunk managed to slur “You sing such great songs. Why do all your albums sound like crap?”. At which point he was quickly removed. No good deed… We went through a real hassle with Qatar airlines about excess. They were trying to enforce the one bag at 20 kilos rule. Took a lot of negotiation but they finally agreed to let us go without paying a fortune. Went down to the gate and John was there waiting for us. Flight left on time. I had been raving about how wonderful Qatar Airlines is but when we boarded, it was one of their smaller aircraft.  It was still nice, just not plush. First comment from Mark was “Why can’t the flight attendants in America be this nice?”. The guys in coach actually said it was great. Flight wasn’t full and they had entire rows where they could spread out. I slept about 3 hours on the 6 hour flight. We didn’t have individual video monitors and there was a Star Wars type movie playing. Not my thing. When we landed we had to take a bus to the terminal. When we boarded, only first class was on the bus. They announced that coach passengers were going to an entirely different terminal. Not good. Told us I wouldn’t see my boys until we boarded the flight to Kuwait. So once we got into the terminal, I left John with Mark and Kelly and I took a bus with Joe to the other terminal. All the first/business class passengers were waited listed for first on the flight to Kuwait because it was full. We all cleared except for Joe — Mark’s manager. I kept checking but he never cleared. I found all the boys and they were fine. Went into the lounge to answer emails and there was a fantastic spread of food available. I wasn’t hungry but the coffee was awesome. Stayed in there until they called our flight and we departed about a half hour late. Much bigger and nicer airplane. Food was awesome. Short 1 hour flight. And surprise, surprise all our bags made it. John had checked 2 show bags for me and they had put two different bag tags on all his bags. Said it was because he had so many flights. We tried to check in Stockholm to find out if the bags made it there but the Qatar airlines reps freaked out and said he couldn’t check 3 bags. I swear I thought they were going to get his bags off the plane and charge him. Our escorts were waiting for us and we had a short trip to the hotel. Got everyone checked in and have been “resorting” all the stuff in my 3 shows bag for the rest of the trip.  The airlines really threw things around.  All the boxes inside the bags were trashed.  I spent an hour taping cardboard back together! It’s 2 am and I’m going to bed soon, I hope.  J Jude

MONDAY, AUGUST 10TH – CAMP ARIFJAN, KUWAIT: Actually slept for 5 hours!  I did get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I had left the bathroom door open but guess it had shut during the night. I didn’t turn on the light and walked right into it. Nearly knocked myself out plus feeling like a complete idiot. Went to their great gym and worked out. Then I call JAM and he met me for the buffet breakfast in the hotel. Took a quick shower and got all the show bags downstairs. Everyone was ready on time and we departed to Camp Arifjan. First stop was the commanding General’s office. I was disappointed to learn that our regular host — Lewis Jones — had already departed. The MWR Director hosted the meeting and told everyone about Kuwait and our presence here.   Everyone got a certificate and coin which was a special treat for them. Mark’s back was really hurting him this morning and since we already had a hospital tour scheduled, we got Mark in to see the doctor. He gave him some Motrin and a muscle relaxer and told him to see the physical therapist which is where we were going after the hospital. Mark signed autographs and took photos with everyone. The hospital basically sees people with illnesses and non-combat injuries since there aren’t a lot of war injuries any more, thank goodness.  A lot of my friends have already rotated out. After the hospital, we visited the Warrior Return Unit — again non-combat injuries.  Mark went over to physical therapy and they massaged his back and put some electrodes on him with a heating pad.  It felt better for a few minutes but not for very long.  L Got a phone call from a contractor – Kurt — that I “picked up” on a flight home from Kuwait over a year ago.  We’ve stayed in touch via email because he travels all the time, too.  Lots of times he would just be leaving a country and I’d be coming in.  Finally, he is in Kuwait for several more months.  He works security and gets to live at the Villas at the Hilton Hotel right on the beach. I’ve stayed there and it’s SWEET!  He invited us over for a traditional meal and was even going to have some of the locals there.  Would have been awesome but we don’t have any time at all here.  L  When I come back in October with the GAC TV tour, we’re going to do that and make it part of the special.  Good TV, for sure.  Anyway, I digress.  He was at the stage waiting for me and hung out with us the rest of the evening.  So, of course, I put him to work.  He may withdraw that offer for October.  LOL.  Actually, he’s been a big help in trying to get our flights changed so that we don’t have to leave here tonight, go to the hotel, pack up and go to the airfield.  As it stands right now, we have to depart the hotel at 6 am….hard, but a little more doable.  Mark had a great show at Camp Arifjan with a huge crowd. But, we had major problems with the monitor desk.  The show started a half hour late.  He performed for 90 minutes and then signed autographs for 2 hours.  Another great night for our troops.  I had Kurt working the autograph line with JAM and things ran very smooth.   When you look out at the faces during the concert – and they are “babies” to me! – and see the smiles, you know that they aren’t in the middle of the desert.  They are at a country music concert and they are having FUN.  Some of these kids had never been out of the U.S. before they come here.  And then they stand out in the heat for 2 or 3 hours just to get an autograph, have their photo taken with Mark and say “thank you” to him!  That’s when I know that entertainment is an important part of taking care of our troops. The band and crew went back to the hotel right after the show and JAM and I stayed with Mark so he could finish signing the autographs.  Kurt provided our transportation back to the hotel and we got back around midnight.  It is almost 1 am and I have to get up at 4 am.  Another short night.  We fly from KCIA to Iraq tomorrow.  Next report will be after we leave Iraq!  Jude

TUESDAY, AUGUST  11TH – BAGHDAD, IRAQ Wow.  Only slept one hour.  Heard something “buzzing” after I had only been asleep for one hour.  It was my computer.  I had somehow shut off the power strip and the battery was dying.  Got up to fix that and never went back to sleep.  Took my shower, talked to my guy, grabbed my bags and headed for the lobby.  All the guys were there except one and I threatened to leave him which sent him running downstairs.  J    Flight was on time and we were the only ones on the plane.  Mark sat up on the flight deck and the crew was from Texas – female co-pilot and female load master.  Sweet!  We landed in Baghdad and met our new “group of escorts”.  Really nice folks.  Had a few issues checking into lodging at the palace only because it’s a new group of folks and we have to learn to work together.  But, they are awesome and after a one hour meeting, everything is cool.  Got the itinerary tweaked and then while we were eating lunch.  Then, we went to the “Juicer” palace and I got to see SFC McDougle how has escorted so many of our tours.  Really love that guy.  He is just the BEST.  Also met two members of the MNC-I staff that I have only emailed with before, so that was really good. All the guys who were in the room with “snoring Bob” were outside.  Said they couldn’t sleep he’s so loud.  Even with ear plugs in, he is like a sub-woofer and shakes their bunk beds.  Lodging folks finally agreed to put him outside in a trailer by himself!!! Everyone but me is asleep now.  I have to work.  Going to meet General Odierno at 6 pm in nothing changes.  Really looking forward to seeing him. We left a few minutes early for our meeting with General O and I saw some folks in the palace that I had met on previous visits.  We had a FANTASTIC meeting with him.  That man is amazing and there is no one else I would want taking care of business over here.  I’ve been on a “high” ever since seeing him again. We left for the show which is at Camp Sather – the Air Force side of BIAP (Baghdad International Airport).  Show was in a building and it was packed.  The Air Force loved Mark and the folks were up dancing for half the show.  It made for a much livelier performance because the band fed off their enthusiasm.  The band went back to the Palace after the show and Mark signed autographs.  A special forces guy begged me to bring Mark by their Camp when he finished.  I really didn’t think it was a good idea because it was so late, but Mark agreed.  We only spent about 30 minutes there but when we started to drive home, we got stuck in the convoy of all the huge trucks leaving the base.  It took us 1 ½ hours longer to get back.  It’s almost 2 am and I have to shower before going to bed.  We leave for a meeting with a BG at 8:30 amd which means I have to get up at 6:30 am.  Ouch.  Mark is beginning to feel the lack of sleep, so we need to adjust accordingly. Jude

TUESDAY, AUGUST 12TH – BAGHDAD, IRAQ: Hard, hard, hard to get up today. Lack of sleep is catching up with everyone. Took my shower at 2 am and had a quick breakfast. First stop was Al Faw palace for an office visit with BG Bayer. He wanted to see everyone not just Mark. The guys loved hearing his briefing and I thanked him for including them.  Mark’s back had quit hurting him last night because his feet were hurting so bad from walking on the rocks in his cowboy boots. We are going to try and get him a pair of the Converse boots today. When he got up, his stomach was hurting so bad that nothing else hurt.   I met two 3-Star Army Generals in the JVB today – Lt. General Thurman (who I met with Charlie Daniels in 2006) who is over ALL Army operations and Lt. General Speakes who controls all the money for the Army.  J  They were supposed to fly to Taji today and General Speakes son is there.  But the dust was too bad this morning and their choppers couldn’t fly.  I am really worried about getting back to Kuwait on Saturday because they are predicting Code Red for Friday and Saturday which means we won’t be able to fly.  General Speakes has twin boys, both in the Army.  We just realized I met one of his sons at Camp Hunter in January with Lonestar!   He also knows my buddy Joe Bowser who works for the Secretary of the Army. Left the palace and went to Camp Slayer. Mark was feeling much better and decided to do the tour of the Camp after he signed autographs. There is a lot of history here. This is the camp that was originally Abu Ghurayb Presidential Grounds. It is also Ba’ath Party Convention Center. It was one of about 80 palaces Saddam had throughout Iraq. We put a couple of J-Dams through it. The Perfume palace was where the concubines were housed and the men would pick one and take her out to one of the little buildings in the middle of the water. Their belief is that whatever happened on water was a-okay. The greeting in the Western world is a kiss on the cheek. Saddam was a germophobic and made everyone greet him with a kiss on the armpit!  There are 2 large cranes (one that has fallen over) that the French left here. They got the hell out of dodge when the war started. Now they want hundreds of thousands of dollars to remove them. Not!  Our soldiers will eventually dismantle them. The palace is called “Victory over America”. Every time he went to war, he considered it to be a victory if he wasn’t killed. He had built one for the Iraq/Iran war.  Obviously he intended to destroy America today.  Ooops. 🙂 There were some little buildings that resembled caves off to the side. Supposedly he built this for his grandchildren. Two of his son-in-laws had moved away and taken his daughters and were telling his secrets to the CIA. Saddam convinced them that he missed his daughters and grandchildren. Told them he would protect them from the Ba’ath Party. After they returned, Uday and Kusay killed both the son-in-laws. Saddam built the Flintstone Village to make it up to the grandchildren for killing their fathers. We stopped by one of the many photo memorials he had throughout Iraq.  Some with him with a child on his lap, some with him with a child and a gun in his hand. This one has him with full military dress with lots of medals.  The person giving the tour said he was never in the military but JAM says otherwise.  Says Saddam went to War college in Montgomery, Alabama! We ate at the Camp Slayer DFAC and it was really great food.  Then we went by the Base Exchange so Mark could purchase a pair of the boots I described.  He also found his Levi Garrett chewing tobacco that he has been begging for.  He bought an entire case! Mark signed autographs at 225 EN Headquarters for an hour and then went back to the JVB to rest for a few minutes.  I worked on emails and we went over to the venue at 5:45 pm so Mark could do some shopping.  I took them to the Jewelry Store that gives me the great deal.  They gave Mark one free item and gave the others great prices.  The show  at Camp Liberty was HUGE.  People all the way past the mixing console and bleachers.  Lots of Texas folks there which made for a rowdy crowd.  Mark brought a guy up on stage to sing a line in “French” that is in one of his Cajun songs.  Troops loved that.  CSM Mitch Prater and several of his friends were there and came backstage to see me.  I met him on an airplane last year with Aaron Tippin and we have stayed in touch.  He’s with the Army Corps of Engineers and is going home soon.  Then, came the highlight of my trip to Iraq – Colonel Kyle McClelland got back from R&R today and came to the show.  He is my dearest friend – since July of 2004.  He’s all tanned from his time in Hawaii and Reno and looked “rested”.  Got to talk to him for quite a while and will see him again tomorrow when we go to his headquarters for a “meet and greet” session. We only had about 250 people in the autograph line tonight.  Either they didn’t want to stand in line that long or there were a lot of people that we saw at “meet and greets” today or at the show last night at Sather.  I love seeing people who have met me on one of my previous tours and getting to talk to them again. We got out of there relatively early and I’ve changed the itinerary to a later departure time tomorrow so Mark can rest.  Mark and I both got to move into our own “suites” at the Palace for the rest of our visit…something that NEVER happens with me.  So, it is after midnight and I am now going to bed!  Jude

THURSDAY, AUGUST 13TH – BAGHDAD, IRAQ: Got in bed by 2 am, up at 5 am to take a phone call, and then slept 2 more hours until someone from the front desk knocked on the door to collect the trash!  I asked them to PLEASE not knock on the boy’s doors and wake them up. Got up, showered, and had a bowl of cereal before leaving for the Al Faw Palace tour with everyone.  I’ve been there so many times, I could GIVE the tours.  Afterwards, Mark went to the 1st Cav to sign autographs.  That’s where my friend Kyle is headquartered.  He signed autographs for about an hour and a half.  I got to see Kyle’s office and it’s sure a lot nicer than when I met him at Camp Summerall in 2004.  Met a lot of his buddies too.   Came back to the JVB and walked back down to MNC-I to say hello to a couple of staff members that I missed on Tuesday.  Took them some goodies.  One of the guys is great friends with Robert Rosenthal who handles the Spirit of America Tours in the U.S.  Really nice guy but he is leaving in less than a month.  Left for the performance at Camp Victory tonight.  Again, another outdoor stage and it was packed.  Mark performed a terrific show and signed autographs for a couple of hours.  I got to talk to several people in line tonight that I had met over Thanksgiving several years ago with Aaron Tippin.  Always nice when they remember me, too. Tomorrow Mark and I are taking blackhawks to FOB Istacam and FOB War Eagle.  Guess that War Eagle one is for me since I’m an Auburn University fan.  Really excited that he gets to visit with the troops at those little remote bases. Going to bed very soon so I can get another 4 hours of sleep.  Keeping my fingers crossed that the dust storms stay away from here until after we get back to Kuwait on Saturday. Jude

FRIDAY, AUGUST 15TH – SEVERAL CAMPS IN IRAQ: Can’t believe we fly home tomorrow.  The time has just flown by and as usual, it’s sad to be leaving here.  Don’t think I mentioned how “freaky” it is to sleep in the Palace Bedroom alone.  Usually I have lots of my “people” in the room with me.   The first night, I had a hard time going to sleep.  Could be because I slept with the lights on, too.  LOL.  AND it is freezing in there.  The air conditioning is controlled by the front desk and even though I’ve begged them to turn it down, it’s still like a refrigerator in my room.  There is a row of vents all along the top of the ceiling that blast cold air 24 hours a day.   If the ceilings weren’t at least 20 feet high, I’d climb up and duct tape those things!   Every night I’ve slept in 2 shirts, a jacket and long pants with socks.  If my face accidently comes out from under the THREE mink blankets that I am sleeping under, it flash freezes immediately.  Surprised we’re not all sick since it’s about 120 degrees outside every day. Last night at the show, the boys in the band decided to play a practical joke on Joe – Mark’s manager.  Joe is older than anyone else on the tour (wow, even me!).  They “planted” a firearm in his duffle bag backstage at the show.  To make it even more attractive, they put a sandwich in the bag as well.  The security came in with the dog to do the sweep and the dog went crazy for the bag.  Security made everyone step to the back of the tent and they brought Joe up by the bag because his name was on the tag.  They asked him if that was his bag and he denied it.  They asked several times and each time he said no.  Actually it was a bag that Kelly had just purchased for Joe at the Exchange, so technically, it was Joe’s bag.  They told him that the dog had found something suspicious in the bag and his name was on it.  Then they reached in and pulled out the gun.  Joe kept denying it was his but security made him turn around, frisked him, removed his cap and handcuffed him.  The guys were dying laughing but I felt really sorry for him.  When they turned him back around to face us, they stuck the gun in the waistband of his pants.  His eyes got so wide and he look at them and said, “You guys are f…ing with me, aren’t you?”  I assured him that I was not a part of the set up and would gladly help him pay the guys back for their mischief! There are fishing poles out back on the patio of the palace and the palace is right on one of many “lakes” that Saddam had built.  Lots of huge Carp in the lake.  John caught one yesterday that is bigger than he is.  Alabama Boy….you can take the boy out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the boy.  Someone asked if the fish were edible and we were told that you’d likely recover in 2-3 months if you tried.  J Mark, Joe, Kelly and I left the hotel at 9 am with our escorts – JJ and Donna.  General O also sent CSM Wilson with us which was awesome.  That guy is a hoot but he kicks butt, too.  Our two blackhawks were waiting for us and when I climbed in, they told me that I was sitting in General Jacobi’s seat.  Sweet!  It was a short 10 minute flight to FOB War Eagle (No, it’s not named for Auburn University!).  The guys were waiting on us.   It’s a tiny little remote camp and very primitive living conditions for the guys and girls there.  Mark signed autographs for a long time and then we had dinner with them in their DFAC.  We learned that the DFAC where we had lunch yesterday at Slayer burned to the ground last night supposedly because of a grease fire.   The troops at War Eagle told us that they arrived there in January and we were the first entertainment they had received.  Supposedly some cheerleaders were scheduled to perform there but they flew in, opened the doors to the chopper, waved and then took back off.  Everything was set up for them to perform and no “reason” was given for them flying off!  That’s just not right to do that to our troops.  While I’m sure there is a good explanation, someone should have told the base what that might be.  We sat with the troops in the DFAC and inevitably, I either sit with Special Forces or a Chaplain.  Have to watch my mouth until I know which one it is.  J  This time I got the Chaplain.  He told me how he didn’t like country music today because he like the “old stuff”.  Said he had no idea what Mark sings.  I told him Mark is a very traditional country singer and he would probably like his stuff.  We talked some more about various artists and then he said, “There’s one country song that I just hate.  I don’t know who sings it but it’s horrible.  “Bubba Shot the Juke Box” !!!”   I told him not to mention that to Mark since he made lots of money off it.  Next we flew about 5 minutes to FOB Istiqlaal (thanks for the correct spelling Kyle!) .  Mark signed autographs and took photos with everyone and someone set up a guitar for him to play a couple of songs.  There was a beautiful dog – Tomy at this one.  There were two local Iraqis at this meet and greet and I gave them coins and guitar picks.  I passed them again on my way to the toilet and when I came back, I got a couple of cds for them.  I walked up to them and very slowly and precisely, I asked if they spoke English.  They looked at me and said in perfect English, “Of course, we are the interpreters”   Boy did I feel stupid! The flight back was less that 15 minutes and we had a couple of hours to shower and rest.  I used mine for the shower and to answer emails.  We arrived at Camp Stryker for the show at around 6:30 pm and Mark did a quick interview with AFN.  I had CSM Wilson gather the group around and tell them the story of how he and his unit captured Saddam.  Several of us videotaped it because it was fascinating.  CSM is quite the story teller and very colorful character.  He kept us laughing the entire night.  Kyle and his friend Curt came back to the show and we hung out backstage all evening.  So glad I got to see him and will see him again in October.  When Mark started signing, there were only about 50 people in the audience and I was thinking “oh no”.  But it completely filled up with thousands of troops about the 3rd song into the set.  Another awesome show and he signed autographs for about 2 hours again.  Had to say good-bye to some of our escorts and it was sad because they are going home soon – which is a good thing—but I won’t see them again.  L The ride back to the JVB was loud and boisterous.  Everyone was really tired and “punch drunk”. It was such a great, great, life-changing tour for all of us.  We depart the hotel at 7 am tomorrow morning to fly to Kuwait. Jude

SATURDAY, AUGUST 15, 2009 – IRAQ TO KUWAIT TO USA: Got up at 5 am and finished packing.  Another one of those quick breakfasts which is fine because I don’t eat breakfast anyway.  Over here, you never know when you’ll eat again, so it’s best to eat a little something when there is food available.  Everyone was ready on time.  Said goodbye to my new friends who are handling the JVB.  Bryan and his guys are from Oregon and they are a great group of people.  Will be working with them on lodging for the next year in Baghdad area.  CSM Wilson met us and gave everyone coins except me.  Think he was just yanking my chain because he gave me one before we left.  J  As we were leaving, Colonel Rice came up and thanked Mark for coming over and told him how successful his visit was for the troops.  Colonel Rice’s staff is responsible for all the entertainment that comes into Iraq for 12 months.  They took command of this area in April.  There were a lot of changes that took place when they took command that were not conducive to bringing celebrity entertainment to Iraq.  I’ve been trying to negotiate the issues for months with no success.   CSM Wilson “mentioned” these issues to Colonel Rice and he promised to take care of the situation.  We arrived at the air field to find several “suits” sitting in the waiting area.  Found out they were State Department and John McCain and several other Senators were with him including Lindsey Graham.  Knew that would “impact” our flight out of there and it did.  The Senators had to fly all the way up to Erbil which is in Northernmost Iraq – an area I’ve never heard of.  Evidently there is just an Embassy there.  But, it meant we had to fly a little over an hour North, let them off and then fly 2 ½ hours back South to Kuwait.  Not what we were expecting but still meant we’d be back in Kuwait by around 2 pm.  Our group was on one side of the plane with 5 soldiers and all of McCain’s group was on the other side.  When we landed and they got up to deplane, several of the soldiers and some people in my group stood up to stretch their legs.  When McCain deplaned, he didn’t even look over and acknowledge anyone.  We know that they HAVE to be briefed on everyone who is on the plane with them.  Lindsey Graham and everyone else looked over and he even thanked us for coming over to support the troops.  Several of the others made the same comment and several wished us a safe flight home.  Honestly, I don’t care that anyone thanked or acknowledged our presence, but I would have thought that McCain would have spoken to the soldiers on board.  Being a former Navy pilot, he knows how much that would have meant to them.  I wasn’t a huge McCain supporter when he was campaigning but he certainly lost my respect with that one little faux paus. On a C-130, there is no air conditioning when it is on the ground.  You only have cold air when you reach altitude.  So, it was around 114 degrees outside and about 150 degrees inside.  We had to sit there while they loaded our pallets on the plane and someone had forgotten to manifest our group which took even longer.  We sat for almost 45 minutes in that heat.  One of the soldiers was a really large African American man and he was sweating profusely and eating pop tarts. He smiled and looked at us and said, “Sweating out these pop tarts”.   Then he slept the rest of the trip sitting straight up with a pillow under his chin.  I got a great photo of him.  All 5 were going with us to KCIA in Kuwait and then they had to fly BACK  into Iraq to let 3 of them off in Basra.  Then the last two had to fly BACK to Kuwait to Ali Al Salem to their destination.  Those 2 could have gotten off with us at KCIA and been only a 30 minute drive from their destination at Arifjan.  But, the way the military bureaucracy works, they didn’t have transportation from KCIA to Arifjan so they had to fly to Basra and then to Ali where they would be picked up and driven for 1 ½ hours back to Arifjan!  After the Senator’s group got off, we had lots of room to spread out since we didn’t take on any more passengers up at Erbil.  Most of my group immediately laid down on the netting and went to sleep.  I was surprised that the flight crew didn’t invite Mark or any of them to come upstairs.  I was tired, so I slept for about 30 minutes and then asked if I could go up and say hello and give them gifts.  The guy I asked disappeared upstairs and didn’t come back for about a half hour.  He motioned for me to come up and handed me a headset.  I told him I wasn’t going to stay, just say hello.  I slipped on the headset so I could thank everyone but there was constant chatter.  None of the flight crew even turned around to acknowledge my presence which was strange.   I left the gifts with one of them and went back to my seat.  Knew “something” was going on and my guess was “weather”.  About 5 minutes after I sat down, we started hitting turbulence.  This went on for the rest of the flight and when we landed, you couldn’t even see any buildings because of the dust.  I was surprised that they let us land because the dust was so thick. I was also concerned about being able to fly out commercially at midnight. Our escorts were waiting for us and unloaded the pallets in record time.  We didn’t even have time to grab a sandwich before we were on our way to the Radisson.  Got everyone checked in and several of us went over to the pool area to have a salad or sandwich.  Then I spent the rest of the afternoon “repacking” all my duffle bags.  I always leave one with extras supplies in it at the hotel.  We all met for dinner at 7 pm at the terrific restaurant in the hotel.  I had 3 of my security buddies come over and meet us, so there were 17 of us total.  The hotel had to put us at separate tables, which I didn’t like but it couldn’t be helped.  The security guys had a blast.  A couple of them are leaving in a few days or weeks and said it was the highlight of their visit to the area.  Kurt who is my friend will be there for a year which is good news for me because he works with the Embassy and can definitely help with my visit in late October with GAC TV. We left for the airport at 9 m and had everyone checked in by 10 pm.  Flight left on time and was really smooth.   I was so sleep deprived by that time that all I wanted to do was sleep.  Since we had already eaten dinner at the hotel and because the food on United is always inedible anyway, I skipped the meal and passed out.  Slept more on the plane than I did the entire time we were in Iraq.  Just need to say once again how great Mark and his guys were with the troops.  The fact that the musicians decided to stay after the shows while Mark signed autographs instead of going back to lodging and getting some much needed sleep shows how much they care about our troops.  At the last show, we actually set up a table in the back and they sat down and signed autographs and took photos with everyone after Mark was finished with that person.  It was so awesome. Flight landed early in DC and we had about an hour before we boarded our flight to Nashville.  Said goodbye to Mark, Joe and Slim as they were flying back to Texas.  Flight to Nashville was on time and we again landed early.  I was “home” by 9 am!!!  My “babies” were waiting for me at the airport.  I’m SURE they missed me.  J Jude