The rock band, Vertical Horizon, is no stranger to supporting the troops. They recently returned from Kuwait and Afghanistan in July, and are returning again from entertaining the troops Diego Garcia and Guam.
VERTICAL HORIZON – DIEGO GARCIA / GUAM
Early, early start having to be at the airport at 4:00am the day after Christmas where I met up with Ron Lavella to start our journey from Nashville. The other guys are leaving from their respective locations and we are all to meet up in Tokyo. Jeff Jarvis had a slight issue with his flight being delayed the night before, which my mom handled extremely efficiently, almost like she has done this before. There were no other issues and every one (Matt Scannell, Gabe Rosales, Blake Williams, Donovan White, Derrick Gallegos, Jeff, Ron, and myself) made it to Tokyo with time to catch our flight to Singapore.
We arrived in Singapore, so did all of our baggage and equipment, and we cleared customs without incident. Things couldn’t have gone more smoothly. We were picked up and taken to our hotel the Park Royal. After 32 hours of travel and gaining 14 hours in time change this was a very welcoming sight. By now it is about 2:30am on the 28th, needless to say we are all very tired and I believe we have all had enough for one day.
We have a free day in Singapore today, which is great because no one has adjusted to the time change yet. We all slept a little bit here and there and managed to squeeze in some sightseeing between naps. All in all, its a pretty eventless day just trying to get adjusted. We have a 1:00pm lobby call tomorrow to catch the flight to Diego Garcia. Hopefully everyone will be a little more acclimated by then.
Flying to Diego Garcia today. Everyone is really excited about going and can’t wait to get there. Our driver picks us up at 1:00 and we head over to Paya Lebar AB to catch our flight. When we arrived at the AB we were met by Helen Lee and were rushed into the base “because of the rain”. Once inside we had to go through the most unorganized customs screen I have ever been through. We were about half way through when I noticed the boarding time is in 10 minutes. I freak out and they inform me that the plane is delayed an hour. That is a good thing, but I think that is why Helen was rushing us so much. We should have been picked up at the originally scheduled time of 12:00pm, which I questioned her in an email but never got a response back. Needless to say I was not happy, but it worked out and we were on our way.
We arrived at Diego Garcia and were met by our MWR rep Jen Vess. Diego Garcia is absolutely beautiful. Jen got us to our lodging and she was super excited that we are here. Our lodging is GREAT. I have never been in a DVQ like this. We have tv, fridge, microwave, it’s basically a hotel room. We’ve got it really good here. We all had dinner and just got to relax for the rest of the evening. We have an early start to the day tomorrow.
We were picked up by Jen at 7:00am and headed over to catch a boat to the USNS Lopez which is anchored out in the bay. The Lopez is a Navy cargo ship that is stationed here that holds everything needed to support a Marine deployment for 31 days. We are talking everything from food, ammo, vehicles, tanks and everything in between. There are 600 vehicles staged on the ship…amazing! Our escorts give us a great tour and after a short boat ride back we are on to our next destination.
Our next stop is a tour with the military working dogs. Every one of us are dog lovers so this is really cool. The guys and the dogs here are great and give us a demo of their skills. We don’t get to put anyone in the “suite”, which is kinda a bummer as we have some rookies in the group, but regardless everyone loved the dogs. I wish my dog was this well trained.
We get to grab some some lunch and then head to do a meet and greet with the CO and XO who explain the operations of the base. This is a quick meeting and the band is off to a radio interview with AFN.
Today is our first show and it is supposed to be an outside venue, but the rain moves in and we have to transfer everything to the indoor venue where we will be playing tomorrow as well. Gabe and Blake eventually get everything ready for the band’s sound check. We are running a little behind because of the weather and have to start the show about an hour later than scheduled, but this is not a problem. We have a great turnout of about 320 people which is a touch over capacity of 300 for the venue. It’s a great show and meet and greet afterwards. It was a very long day.
We got to sleep in a little bit today and Jen picks us up at 9:40 to tour the space ops facilities. This is really cool. This is where they have satellite and GPS communications. Basically this is the only place in the Southern Hemisphere where we can communicate with the satellites and relay communications to other parts of the world. Very interesting and informative tour. Next we are off to check out the ROPO (British Royal Police) facility. Because Diego is British soil these guys are the law here. This is also a cool tour and we get to see their dogs in action as well. After the tour we get an hour break for lunch and then it’s off to meet the ammo guys. These guys are really cool. They build all the bombs and ammo when called upon. Unfortunately because of the weather we don’t actually get to see any of their cool toys — lightning and munitions don’t really go together. Still we ask a lot of questions and learn quite a bit.
Tonight is the big show where we will ring in the New Year. It’s a late show starting at 11:00pm and there is a local band called Symphonia that gets the crowd going before we hit the stage. By the time we arrive the crowd is already pumped up and quite drunk and ready to party. Again we exceed capacity with about 350 people and the show is terrific. With a break in the action the band counts down the final seconds of 2014 and kick off the start of 2015. Having a free schedule on the 1st allows everyone to have fun and enjoy hanging out with our new friends. What a great way and location to start a new year!!
We have today off and everyone recuperates from the night before. We had a fishing trip planned for some of the guys, but again due to the weather it’s a bust. Everyone just kind of does their own thing and enjoys the day. Me, Gabe, Blake, and Derrick end up playing golf at their 9 hole course, which isn’t much to talk about comparatively, but hey we’re on a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. We have an absolute blast!! Some of the other guys went to the beach, some just relaxed. It was a very peaceful, stress free day.
Today will be our last day on DG and Jen has us set up to go and see the remnants of an old coconut plantation and to check out turtle cove. Our first stop is turtle cove. This is a protected area where sea turtles come to breed and lay eggs. We are not allowed in the water here and typically you can see the turtles from observation platforms. Again due to the weather we have had the water was quite cloudy, but we still managed to see some turtles, rays, and even a couple of sharks.
Next was the old coconut plantation. This was a really cool place, if you like old ruins and such. There was an old plane wreckage, beautiful beaches, and even an area that the people on the island were allowed to camp at right on the beach.
We also had a tour of the port operations facility after lunch and then had some time to rest before we had to take our bags to customs for the flight that evening. Our flight leaves at 1:00am so we all have time to get dinner and relax before the flight. I must say I have mixed emotions about leaving. I hate to leave such a beautiful place, but yet I’m ready to get back to civilization and technology.
We arrive back in Singapore bright and early in the morning around 7:30 where we are informed that we have no rooms available yet. This really bites as we are all very, very tired and want to get into a bed. The hotel does their best and puts us as priority and one by one we get rooms. I get everyone else into their room first and I eventually get my room around noon. I could not sleep on the plane ride over so I am exhausted and sleep until 6:30 that evening. Everyone else kind of do their own things, and basically relax and get ready to travel to Guam the next day. It will be a long travel day tomorrow as well. Ahhh the life of rock stars.
We have a 7:30 lobby call for the airport today for our flight to Guam. I’m excited to be going to Guam because most of the other guys have been and tell me it’s beautiful there. It’s going to be another long travel day again today going through Seoul and then on to Guam arriving at 2:00 am. Most of us are able to sleep on the flights and are met by our POC’s Jorge Hernandez and Nick Paulino, who have our rooms ready for us. We all get some sleep and have the day off to get acclimated again to our new time zone. Everyone hangs around the hotel which sits right on Tumon Bay. They were right — it is beautiful and has some great snorkeling. I choose to go hit up a golf course and meet back up with the guys later on for dinner. After dinner we go to the Tower of London English Pub for some drinks, pool, darts, and shuffleboard. We don’t have to leave until 1:00pm tomorrow so we have a really great time at the pub, I don’t think I drank that much all of last year….feeling good! After a short walk back to the hotel it’s definitely time for bed.
We all get a good night’s sleep and have time in the morning to hit the beach again, before we go over to Andersen AB. We are picked up at 1:00 by Jorge and Nick and get the tour of the base. Our first stop is a quick meet and greet with the General who is really excited for us to be there and looking forward to the show. Next we have a tour of the B52 bombers. These planes are awesome!! They have nuclear capability and when fully loaded they become the 5th most powerful country in the world. Everyone is very impressed and the flight crew were all super guys.
Next stop is the fire hall where we get to check out the trucks and get a little ride to shoot the water cannons. These trucks are pretty cool, and Matt really enjoys this visit as his uncle was a fireman. After a short visit we go to the dog kennels to get a demonstration with their dogs. Again we are all dog lovers so we have a blast. They have some pretty awesome dogs here and put on a great show.
Once we’re done with the pooches we head over to the stage where they’re running a little behind and we have to start the show about an hour late. This is when it starts raining and the show is an outside venue. In Guam it usually rains for about 5-10 minutes and then clears up. This is not the case tonight, it rains consistently with periods of heavy rain. The crowd, the band, the crew, the volunteers, and everyone involved are completely soaked by the end of the night. The crowd started out at about 150 people, which I thought was good considering the nasty weather. By the end of the show the crowd size had dropped by about half, which in my mind was amazing as it was just miserable conditions. I was very, very impressed with everyone that night. You would not believe all the drenched smiling faces during the meet and greet after the show. Again I cannot express how very impressed I was with everyone involved and just how crappy the weather was. What could have been a disaster turned out to be something truly wonderful for all involved. My respect for the band is 10 fold.
Today will be our last show and last full day of the tour before we head home. We have some time in the morning before our noon lobby call to do some more snorkeling and enjoy the beach one last time. We are picked up today by James Duff and taken to the Naval Base for our last show. We don’t have any tours set up for today so we get to just hang out and eat before sound check. Some of us go over to the NEX and do some shopping, but mostly we just relax. Sound check goes smooth and we are all set for one last hoorah.
We have a great turnout of about 600 people for the show tonight and the guys put on a great show for them. The meet and greet afterwards has a good turnout as well and it’s a great way to end the tour. James has food for everyone afterwards which the guys tear into before we leave to go back to the hotel. It’s going to be an early lobby call in the morning for a long day of travel home.
We are met by James at 4:45am and head to the airport to start our long journey home. Today we get to be time travelers! We catch our flight from Guam on the 8th (Happy Birthday Mom) and arrive in Honolulu on the 7th. We all make it with all our bags and clear customs. This is where we all go our separate ways. Everyone says their goodbyes and I thank them all for a great tour. All the guys involved did a great job and are really great people. Me, Ron, and Dono catch our flight to Houston where we arrive on the 8th (Happy Birthday Mom…again). Me and Ron catch our final flight back home to Nashville where we arrive to 10 degree temperatures. No more tropical 80 degree weather for us, but it’s great to be home!!