Day 1: 7/20/2017
And we are off and running. Me and Ron Lavella meet up at the Nashville airport to start our first leg of the journey headed to Fort Lauderdale. We will be meeting the rest of the guys, Matt Scannell, Donovan “Dono” White, Mark Pacificar, Gabe Rosales, and Blake Williams, in Fort Lauderdale. We will also be meeting Major Jody Wynans of Armed Forces Entertainment, who will be escorting us on this trip. She meets me and Ron at the airport and we go get checked into our rooms before the others arrive. After checking in me and Major Jody Wynans head back over to the airport to meet the others. Everyone arrives safely and with all their luggage. We get everyone settled into their rooms and later a few of us head out for dinner. We have an early lobby call tomorrow and everyone is super excited to start another great tour.
Day 2: 7/21/2017
Today we are headed to AUTEC Naval Base on Andros island in the Bahamas. I never knew this island even existed, but it is the biggest island in the Bahamas. Everyone makes the 4:45 AM lobby call and our driver from Infinity Transportation is already waiting to take us to Watermakers Air Charter.
When we arrive, we are a bit early and there is nobody at the air charter, so we have a little down time for about 30 minutes. Once they arrive we get our gear and “summer” luggage checked in and weighed for the flight. We store our “winter” luggage for Greenland with Watermakers to save weight. Everyone boards the puddle jumper and we are off to the Bahamas.
Once we arrive on Andros we are met by Kate Laurent, who is our AUTEC coordinator. She gets us checked into base and gives us a quick tour. This is a very small base only one square-mile, so the tour does not take very long. After getting checked in to our rooms we go and meet Senior Malloy and Lieutenant Commander Norris who welcome us to AUTEC.
Kate was nice enough to set us up with a couple of golf carts to get around the base during our stay. This made things a lot easier. Gabe and Blake head over to assess the equipment and venue.
When Gabe and Blake get back, Kate takes us over to meet the helicopter crews. They are the Swamp Foxes based out of Jacksonville and the AUTEC crew. We get to check out their “birds” and they explain their missions there. AUTEC is an underwater testing facility where they test and track torpedoes. They build torpedoes for different functions and the helicopter crews job is to retrieve them from the water using big nets after testing. After meeting the crews and taking a bunch of photos we all head back to the rooms and get the rest of the day off to relax.
Day 3: 7/22/2017
Today will be our first show and Gabe and Blake head over to the venue to set up for an early show. They are met by Kate’s husband Jeremy, their son John, and daughter Emily who help them get things set up. The venue is called The Beach House and the stage is a grass hut gazebo right on the beach, not too shabby. The only downside, if there is any, is that Matt will have a post for the gazebo right in front of him for the show. This is a little odd, but it is a support for the roof, so it is what it is. Senior Malloy joins us to discuss the ceremony details for Chief James Taylor’s retirement surprise that will take place just prior to the show. Once everything is ready the rest of the guys join us to do sound check. Sound check goes smooth as usual and we have a little time for lunch and rest before the show at 4:00.
After a much-needed nap we all load up and head over to the venue early to be there for Chief Taylor’s retirement ceremony prior to the show. The ceremony was extremely cool and very emotional as this is a very tightknit community. I was crying like a baby so the video I was taking is a little bit shaky. We all felt very privileged to be there. Once everyone settled down it was time to kick off the show.
Vertical Horizon puts on a great show as usual. These guys are a class act in every aspect. During the show, they invite Commander Schillinger on stage to play guitar with them on one of the songs. He did a very good job and the guys had a great time with it. Commander Schillinger was wearing one of those hats that look like a visor with fake hair coming out the top, which found its way on top of Matt’s head. Matt Scannell has hair…for one song. Like I said it was a great show and we were ready for the meet and greet afterwards. It was a little unorganized at first, but we got it worked out and things went smoothly after that.
After the show, I was talking with Logan who is the electrician that got power to the stage and also used to be a professional kite surfer and now rides a hydrofoil board. Earlier in the day I asked him what his coolest experience was on the water. He said it was at an inlet in France. Today he told me he was 3/4 of a mile out on the water and once the show started he could hear the music crystal clear and that this was now his favorite experience. Very cool.
After we met with everyone it was time for dinner and free time until our first lobby call tomorrow.
Day 4: 7/23/2017
Our first order of business today is to meet with Commander Schillinger in the officer’s lounge to give us all one of his challenge coins. We all hung out for a while afterwards and got to know one another a little better.
Today we will be doing an acoustic show at the same venue. Since everything is already set up from the night before, they decided they did not need a sound check today. Everyone had a little more time to relax today before the show at 5:00 pm. This is the first time I have ever heard the acoustic version of one of their shows. It sounded really good. A little more intimate and mellow. We had another great meet and greet. Everyone there had nothing but compliments about the band and that this was the best shows they have ever had there. As I said before, total class act.
After we all got cleaned up and had dinner, we got to go to the officer’s lounge and hang out with everyone before we called it a night.
Day 5: 7/24/2017 off day
We have an entire day off and Kate has set us up to leave base and go to the blue hole for some fun. The blue hole is a huge sink hole that everyone goes to swim. It is like 500′ deep with a top layer of fresh water. There is a deck about 15′ above the water that you jump off to get in. We are joined by Kate’s family, a few others and Senior Malloy as well. We have a blast. It’s like we are all kids again. Jeremy was extremely gracious and gave us all necklaces that he had made. This was a very cool thing to do and everyone was very appreciative.
Originally, we were only going to be there a couple of hours and then Senior Malloy had us set up to take a boat ride. We were having so much fun that we didn’t end up leaving until the weather ran us off.
Because of the weather we couldn’t take the boats out. Although it was not raining the water had just gotten too choppy due to the wind. So, a few of us decided to go snorkeling with Senior Malloy, Jeremy, and John. We are told that there are quite a few sharks here. Jeremy equips us with spears and knives and after a quick lesson on how to use the spears we hit the water. We stay inside the wall that forms the bay at the base and the visibility is surprisingly good. Me and Blake decide to head back about a 1/4 mile down the wall, so we climb up on the wall and start to walk back. The wall does not go all the way to the beach, so there is about a 50-yard swim we have to make to actually get back to land. Right before we reach the end of the wall, something big and dark about 5′ long swims out away from the wall. Needless to say, we made that 50-yard swim in record time.
After we all return to the rooms, we get some dinner and rest before our 7:30 am lobby call to leave in the morning. Today was a great day with new friends.
Day 6: 7/25/2017
Not much going on today. We will be leaving AUTEC and heading up to Baltimore. We have a quick breakfast and Kate gets us to the airport. We say our goodbyes and we are headed back to Fort Lauderdale. Once we arrive we pick up our winter bags and then have a long layover before our flight to Baltimore. We store our bags and leave the airport for some lunch before we have to be back for our flights. There are no issues and we get to Baltimore around 8:00 pm. Check in to the hotel, grab some dinner, and get some sleep. Just another long travel day.
Day 7: 7/26/2017
We pretty much have the day off today. We do not have to check in for our military flight to Greenland tonight until 9:30 PM which leaves at 1:50 AM tomorrow morning.
Most of the guys just chilled and me and Gabe went out for a quick round of golf. Major Wynans only lives an hour away so she went home last night and will meet back up us tonight. Everyone has enjoyed their off time today and we make our lobby call at 9:30. We all get checked in with no issues and have a couple of hours to kill before the actual flight.
Day 8: 7/27/2017
We are starting this day off early with a flight at 1:50 AM to Thule AB in Greenland. It’s about a six-hour flight and we arrive around 8 AM in the morning. Flying in and looking out the window of the plane was absolutely beautiful. First time I’ve ever seen real icebergs. We are met by Staff Sergeant Delacruz, Master Sergeant Tompkins and Lieutenant Norden. They inform us that they have a weather system moving in. So instead of an overnight stay in Greenland, we will have to be leaving tonight or be stuck here for a few days till the weather system moves out. Today will be a little bit hectic. Blake and Gabe go straight to the venue at the Top of the World Club and start setting up. After a couple of hours, we get sound check in and then have time for some quick lunch. We have to do the show a little earlier than planned because of the circumstances, but we still have a couple hours to rest before the show.
The guys put on another great show and we have a great crowd. We have a great meet and greet afterwards and the base provided us with dinner to take back to the rooms to eat. We eat really fast and get cleaned up and it’s back to the airport to check in for our flights that will leave at 9:30 pm. A little bit of a bummer. We really had no time to see anything while we were here. So basically it is fly into Greenland, eat, do a show, eat, and bail all within 13 hours. Oh yeah we are Ballers!
Day 9: 7/28/2017
We arrive back in Baltimore around 3:30 am and our rooms are ready for us to check in, thank god. Nobody got any sleep on the flight so we are all exhausted. We will have the rest of the day off, which most us spend sleeping in. We will have an early, early morning lobby call to catch our flights to Honduras. Not much going on today as expected.
Day 10: 7/29/2017
Early 3:30 am lobby call for our flights. This will be another long travel day. There were some concerns about the weather getting out of Baltimore, but everything went OK and we were on our way to Miami. After a short layover in Miami we are off to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. We actually arrived about 45 minutes early, so the bus was late and we had about a 30 minute wait at the airport. This was a hectic scene, but we were eventually met by Steave Barness and one of our escorts Ty. We all loaded up on the bus and started the 1 1/2 hour ride to Soto Cano AB. This was a very picturesque drive and we arrived around 3:00 pm. Once on base we met our other escorts, Aaron, Samika, and Sherri who got us squared away in our rooms. We had a little time to clean up before dinner where we were joined by Colonel Gumpf, Sergeant Major Fuentes, and Army Support Activity DGC Catherine Miller.
After dinner we had the rest of the evening off. Steave mentioned that they would be showing the UFC fight at The Last Resort Club, so most of us went to watch. All in all, it was another long travel day, but getting to relax and take in some fights at the end made for a good day.
Day 11: 7/30/2017
We all got some much-needed sleep and a few of us actually made it to breakfast. Around 10:00 am I got Gabe and Blake over to the stage at The Last Resort Club to get set up for sound check at 1:30pm. We had time for lunch right before sound check which was good. Sound check went smooth and we had time to rest before the show at 6:30 pm. We had a lobby call at 5:45 pm to go and eat some dinner before lunch the show. However, things turned south in a hurry. Right at lobby call the weather turned bad. It was a big thunderstorm with some pretty major lightning. Being a metal stage outdoors it was not looking good, so we decided to push the show back about 45 minutes to let the storm pass by. Luckily everything worked out. The storm passed by and we were able to do the show with just a few light showers. We had a great crowd, Army, Air Force, and Marines. The guys put on another fantastic show and meet and greet. Everyone there had a great time and had nothing but compliments for the band and crew. Yes, I have to say it again, they are a total class act. Every tour I do with the guys from Vertical Horizon leaves everyone in attendance with a smile on their face. That is what it is all about and the guys go above and beyond to make sure that happens.
Finally after all the festivities we got to eat our authentic Honduran dinner, which was delicious. By now it is around 10:00 pm and we are all ready for bed. We have an 8:30 am lobby call in the morning and we will be returning home.
Day 12: 7/31/2017
Some of us make it to breakfast at 7:30 am and we are all ready to leave for the airport at 8:30 am. We take a quick photo op at the Soto Cano AB sign and we head out. We arrive in time to check in and clear customs for the guys on the early flights. Matt, Mark, Gabe, and Blake all have flights that leave at noon. Me, Ron, Dono, and Major Wynans leave at 2:15 pm. In all the craziness at the airport I was unable to say goodbye to the guys on the early flight, but the important thing is that they made their flights with no problems. The rest of us cleared customs and as we made our way to the gate we were informed that our flight would be delayed 45 minutes. That turned into an additional 25-minute delay. Now we will be pushing it to make our connections in Miami. Once we landed in Miami our gate was a long way away from passport control. Then once we did make it through me and Ron were a long way away from our connecting gate. Dono and Major Wynans flights were delayed, so they had time. Me and Ron barely made it to our flight. I still don’t know how we managed that, but we did and they closed the door to the plane behind us.
It was another great tour in the books. I am very privileged to be a part of these tours and it is always a privilege to do them with the guys from Vertical Horizon. I am always a little better of a person afterwards and it’s always good for my soul. – Chris Seale