Once again the comedy group comprised of Karri Turner, Dave Price, Jordan Black, Michael Hitchcock, Cedric Yarbrough and Karen Maruyama traveled overseas to entertain the troops and “Ring in the New Year”.
PHOTOS (COURTESY OF SANDY BONDOROWSKY)
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 27TH AND SUNDAY, DECEMBER 28TH – NASHVILLE TO KUWAIT: Taking the Annual New Year’s Eve Comedy Tour to Kuwait and Djibouti to entertain the troops. This year we have Karri Turner, Dave Price, Michael Hitchcock, Jordan Black, Karen Maruyama and Cedric Yarbrough plus our sound tech Sandy Bondorowsky. Google the actors at “imdb.com” to see their credits if you aren’t familiar with their names. We have two shows in Kuwait and two shows in Djibouti and LOTS of “air” time. My flight departed and landed on time – except a young boy decided to go to the toilet as we were taxing to the gate and his parents let him. Pilot had to stop the plane until he was back in his seat. I knew when I took off that my four LAX passengers were delayed by about 30 minutes and my one Chicago passenger was delayed “indefinitely” supposedly awaiting arrival of a late aircraft. When I landed, I learned that my two NYC pax were also delayed but they took off shortly thereafter. The LAX passengers were supposedly taking off soon but Chicago was still screwed. He was being told that they were trying to repair a leaking window seal. Four hours later, they were still trying! He changed to the next flight he could get but would make his connection in DC very tight. Our wonderful United Customer Rep met everyone at their gates and escorted them into the Lounge. LAX landed about 30 minutes late and Michael (Chicago) didn’t land until 8:30 pm. We were escorted to the plane and pre-boarded by our Lounge staff which was really nice. Seemed to be a pretty full flight. One of our flight attendants was terrific – Fabienne Zwerling. They have a long layover in Kuwait and really want to attend the performance. However, my friend at the Embassy is out of the country and I’m not sure I can figure out a way to get them on the base. I ate a salad and some chicken on the flight, watched a movie (not a great one) and then slept for about 3-4 hours. We had a little turbulence but nothing that caused me to scream. J We landed on time in Kuwait, picked up our Visas, and gathered all our luggage and equipment – everything arrived even with the short connections in DC. Our PSD and MWR reps were waiting for us and we were at the hotel by 7:15 pm local time. Radisson had our room keys ready for us so we dropped our bags and had dinner at the hotel restaurant – which is always excellent. I’m still trying to lose 3 more pounds, so a “buffet” is wasted on me. I’m not even going to go to the huge breakfast buffet tomorrow. All I can have is one piece of fruit and a piece of Melba toast. I brought the toast with me and the hotel left a tray of fruit in my room, so I’m good. Hope to be in bed before 2 am so I can work out tomorrow morning. We depart at 12:30 pm to Camp Buehring for our first show. Jude
MONDAY, DECEMBER 29TH, 2014 – FIRST PERFORMANCE AT CAMP BUEHRING, KUWAIT: Forgot to mention a couple of things….just as we were departing DC, I heard about the “missing” flight that was bound for Singapore — where my son landed with Vertical Horizon yesterday. So sad. Prayers for the passengers and their families and hope this one hasn’t just “disappeared” off the face of the earth with no trace! Also, I paid $18 for wireless internet “in-flight”. Logged right on – although it was SLOW. But, could not connect to my AOL account via my desktop icon. I got someone from AOL on a “live chat” and knew right away they couldn’t help me. “Kim” told me that AOL does not work overseas with ANY browsers. DUH! I asked to be transferred to her/his supervisor but of course that was out of the question. One hour later, “Kim” asked where ‘he/she” could call me! Love the competence of the AOL tech department. I slept for 1 hour, woke up. Slept for another hour, woke up. Slept for 3 hours and was up to stay. Typical night after an international flight. Kuwait, especially the strip where our hotel is located, is under “high alert” due to a “terrorist warning” that is really only in effect from December 31-January 2. We leave on the night of the 30th but our PSD escorts advised that we should not leave the hotel “alone”. So that killed my plan to walk outside for my exercise this morning. Fortunately there is a great gym and I got in 30 minutes on the elliptical. On this diet, I’m not allowed to run or work out with weights – only walk and “stretching” exercises. Since I’m only eating 500 calories per day, it’s not good to burn a lot of calories exercising. Only 3 more pounds to go and then I to on a sort of Adkins diet for 3 weeks. After that, I can eat anything I want in “moderation” similar to weight watchers. Wish me luck. I “reversed” my breakfast and lunch menu today since we won’t be eating lunch. Had an egg white omelet with a grilled tomato and a salad for breakfast. Will have a piece of fruit and a piece of Melba toast for lunch. Several of the guys were down for breakfast and everyone seemed to sleep in about the same “pattern” I did. I was up way too early, so had lots of time to “pack” my supplies for today, shower, and work on emails. Should be a great day at Buehring today. Lots more troops here – and growing – because of the ISIS threat in Iraq. Today was a WONDERFUL day. We all met in the lobby for a 12:30 pm “on time” departure to Camp Buehring. It should have taken 1 ½ hours. Only there was a wreck on the OTHER SIDE OF THE interstate and traffic was backed up for miles on our side with people “rubber necking”. Nice to know that they have redneck drivers in Kuwait, too. J We arrived about 15 minutes late for our office call with the Base Commander. It was a female and she was really great. She had brought in her staff but also a group of soldiers and let them ask questions. My group was “on” from the minute we walked in because all the soldiers were lined up against the wall clapping and cheering for them. The troops are from all over America – New Jersey, Minnesota, Kentucky, Texas – and some are active duty and some are Guard. They are on a 9 month rotation. Many of the thousands of troops at Buehring are only there for a couple of week. They train on the Udari firing range and then head into Iraq for several months. Hard to believe we may be taking entertainment into Iraq AGAIN! After the Command visit, we visited the CASH – medical facility. We had a great tour and “witnessed” a soldier who had to be air lifted to Camp Arifjan for surgery. The hospital at Buehring is more like a Walk In Clinic in the States. The “surgeons” are located down at Buehring – about a 23 minute chopper ride away. The patient had crushed his hand and refused any pain meds because he was a chopper pilot and wouldn’t be able to fly for weeks if there were drugs in his system. He was in severe pain. I have a feeling he isn’t going to be flying for weeks anyway and should have opted for the drugs! Next stop was CAB where we had a tour of the blackhawks and Apaches. Everyone except Karen and Cedric have logged lots of hours on blackhawks in Iraq. They all had to sit in the helicopters and ask questions and have photos taken. We went by the venue which is a small theatre for a quick sound check. This is Sandy’s first year with us and his equipment is amazing. The group was really happy with the wireless headsets and sound check only took about 5 minutes. Dinner at the DFAC at 5 pm was next. That sounds early but since we had a late breakfast and no lunch, everyone was HUNGRY. Besides the regular Main Line, Salad Bar, Short Order Line, and Sandwich Bar, tonight was “Indian” night. Sure wish I could have eaten some Indian food. Instead I had a plain grilled chicken breast that had been severely over-cooked, some zucchini and turnip greens and a salad. Zucchini and turnip greens are not veggies that are allowed on my diet but since there were no other options, I had no choice. We had about 30 minutes to run by the base exchange for some power shopping. Then it was almost “show time”. The theatre was “standing room only” by the time we arrived. We have about an 8 minute DVD that we air to “introduce” the participants and I knew we were going to have a great audience from their reaction just to the video. I was right. Dave did about 20 minutes of stand-up with lots of audience participation. Then the Improv group took the stage and performed for over an hour – also with LOTS of audience participation. Now all our audiences on the next 3 shows are going to have to be as good as this one! The group had pre-signed the photos but took a picture with everyone in line. We finished that in less than an hour and headed back to the Radisson. It only took about 1 hour to get back tonight because there was no traffic. We check out tomorrow and depart for our show at Camp Arifjan then an “overnight” flight with a connection to Djibouti….brutal travel schedule. Jude
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 30TH AND WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 31ST – CAMP ARIFJAN AND FLIGHT FROM KUWAIT TO DJIBOUTI: Forgot one of the funniest parts of the day yesterday. When we went into the Command Call, they had a “surprise” for us. One of the soldiers had dressed up in a “cop” uniform (shorts and all) and came into the room. Cedric is known for a “Good Cop / Black Cop” in a “Reno 911” episode and this guy truly looked the part of the other actor. It was hilarious! Also forgot to mention we are giving the audience participants LOTS of gifts this year. Besides “swag” from Armed Forces Entertainment, Michael brought gift cards and Dave brought Oakley sunglasses. Dave’s brother is President of “Edible Arrangements” and we are having the participants fill out a form to have an arrangement delivered to a loved one back in the States. Really “cool” gifts for all. And the final (maybe) thing I forgot is that there was a female soldier at the show who went to High School with Jordan! That was quite a reunion. Someone asked on Facebook about the temperature here. It was supposed to be in the high 80’s during the day yesterday but felt more like the 70’s. Actually was perfect weather. The low was supposed to be in the 60’s but pretty sure it dropped to the 50’s. By around 5 pm when we walked to the DFAC for dinner, everyone was pulling out their light jackets. The first night I was here, I was really tired when I put the chain on the door. I somehow put it in the wrong “slot” and it got stuck there….which meant I was trapped in my room. I had to “dismantle” the chain to get the door open. Thank God I never travel without my Swiss Army Knife. L Went to the gym for my “stretching exercises” and Karen was already there. She had made a cup of Expresso when she got back from the show last night and was awake all night. Going to be a long day for all of us but especially for her. After the show, we depart to Djibouti on Ethiopian Airlines. Four hour flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2 hour layover there, and 1 hour flight to Djibouti with a performance that night. No idea “when” I will be able to send email again as we were told there is not much “access” on the base in Djibouti. So…got in a great workout and a nice breakfast with most of the gang. This is such a great group to work with. No complaining, just thrilled to be here and be able to say “thank you” to everyone. Plus they are as funny — or more so– off stage as ‘on’. I look forward to this trip every year. Sandy – our new addition – fits right in and everyone loves that he is so experienced in making the sound terrific. Not even sure where to start since it is now 8:30 pm on New Year’s Eve in Djibouti. Let’s see what I can remember. So, we checked out of the Radisson and headed to Camp Arifjan for our final performance in Kuwait. Our first stop was QRF – Quick Reaction Force. We sat around a table in the conference room and they brought in around 30 or so soldiers who sat behind us. We went around the room and told who we are and then each soldier did the same. There were several guys there from Alabama who are active duty but they yelled “Roll Tide” and I had to tell them it is “War Eagle” where I come from. J We then went outside where they had the humvees set up for “rides” for everyone. We could only go 3 at a time and since Sandy was at the venue and I’ve been in more humvees than I can count, it worked out perfectly to send them in 2 groups. Me and the ones left behind got to chat with all the soldiers while they were gone. When we finished the rides and chatting, the entire group sang their “song” for us. They are the Big Red One from Kansas City and have a song that they sing each morning before PT. It was awesome to have them sing to us. We went to the venue and I remember the theatre from previous visits but it has been completely renovated it. Much nicer than the last time I was here. Sound check took about 2 seconds and then we walked next door to the really nice base exchange. I have bought all the “souvenir” type items here throughout the years so my only purchase were two “neck” pillows for the flights and some bug spray with DEET. I didn’t realize that the 4 hour flight to Ethiopia is one a Boeing 777-800 and the seats don’t recline. Then there is a two hour layover at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and an hour flight to Djibouti. Definitely going to need that neck pillow and got one for Karri, too. They are really cool pillows—memory foam with a “heating pack”. Of course I have the best neck pillow ever – at home. When we got back from the BX, our friend Rich Rivera was there. He escorted my tour over New Year’s in 2006 in Kuwait and Iraq with Karri, Dave, Jim McMahon and Kevin Butler. Then I saw him a couple of times after that and ran into him at the airport this past May when I landed with Craig Morgan. A great guy all around. He went to dinner with us and we got to catch up on “things”. He was able to come to the end of the show and see us for a little while during the autograph session. He’s here a few more months and then he is retiring to Arkansas where his 8 year old daughter lives. It’s amazing how close we can become with the men and women we meet on these tours and some become lifelong friends. The theatre was full and it was another great show. I think we brought lots of laughs and smiles to some men and women who really, really needed a morale boost over the holidays. We finished up the show and autograph session at around 9:30 pm and headed to “lodging” to change clothes for the flights. Dave wanted to go to Chili’s and wait until it was time to go to the airport. But, Chili’s closed at 10 pm and we had to get special permission for them to stay open for us. Some of the group had appetizers and then we departed for the airport at 10:45 pm. There was a little “confusion” because MWR took the bus away from us and all our luggage had to be moved into SUV’s. Usually it takes about 40 minutes to get to the airport but it took a hour tonight even though there was no traffic. The airport was the usual NIGHTMARE, especially since we were flying on Ethiopia Airlines. Thank God for our PSD! They took us around the line of people waiting to have bags scanned and moved us to the very first in line. There were only two check in counters for Ethiopia – one for coach and one for first class. AND, the counters didn’t open until midnight. So we “waited” for 15 minutes. I was checking in on one side and one of the other guys was checking in at the other counter. Of course, my “counter” broke – computer went down and the belt to send the luggage back broke as well. The agent printed my boarding passes on the other terminal but would not let us move the luggage to the other belt. I was NOT going to leave without seeing my bags go through. PSD tried to get him to let the bags move them but he said “No. I am leaving them there so no one else will put their bags there”! WHAT? All he had to do was close the “gate” to the belt and no one could put any bags on the belt. But that would have been way too easy. Finally, by the time everyone got checked in, the counter and belt were fixed and I watched my luggage depart. PSD and our great MWR reps were able to walk us as far as the next security point – which was ALSO broken and we had to go to another one. We went through Immigration with no issues and then up to the Pearl Lounge. Was able to answer a few emails before it was time to board. Boarding was a nightmare. Karri, Dave, Michael and I were the only “white” people in the entire gate area. Jordan and Cedric blended right in and Karen didn’t stand out because she has some Asian blood. The guy behind me in line for the 3rd and final security scan kept putting his bags on top of my things on the belt. I finally stopped, turned around and looked at him and said, “Back Off! We are all going at the same time on the same plane so let me get my things on before you put yours on”. Think I scared him into submission. J When they announced that the flight was ready to board, it was a “riot”. People were pushing and shoving and trying to be the first ones to board. There was an agent at the door to the aircraft who was insisting that everyone check their carry on bags. Everyone! I just said, “No. I am in first class and I am NOT checking my bag” and walked onto the plane. There was PLENTY of overhead space. Michael and I were originally sitting together but a row opened up and he moved. We both thought the plane was old and dirty. The flight attendants were super though. Cedric and Dave were sitting behind me and Karri and Karen behind them. Jordan and Sandy were a row behind and across the aisle. Karri and Karen thought Ethiopia had beautiful planes and loved the flight. The rest of us assumed they either found alcohol or drugs somewhere and were delusional – or maybe the lack of sleep made everything seem nice and comfortable. We were all dead tired but I had a hard time falling asleep. Cedric – right behind me – was snoring so loud the window shades were rolling up and down. J Actually, since I am now an expert on “sleep apnea”, I was more worried about him than upset that he was keeping me awake. He would snore and then stop breathing and I’d wait until I heard him snore again to make sure he was okay. Of course, I packed my little “kit” that United gave us on the International flight and didn’t have my sleep mask or ear plugs. They brought “breakfast” around and after Michael took his and tasted it, I decided to give it a try. There was fruit that looked very “suspect” so I didn’t eat that. Then there was lots of bread which I also didn’t have. Yogurt and potatoes which I also couldn’t eat. I tried the “eggs” but wish I hadn’t. And the coffee was unlike anything I have ever experienced. Just the few bites and sips I took made me worried that I was going to get sick. At the very end of the flight, the flight attendants came around and gave everyone a complimentary amenity kit. DUH! Don’t they know you need those items while “in flight” not after you get off the plane? The view while landing was all “brown” land. As we got closer there were lots of “ramshackle” houses and, of course, a beautiful Mosque. The airline terminal was “interesting”. We took a bus from the plane to the terminal where you had a choice of picking up your luggage or connecting to another flight. Only the flight to Djibouti doesn’t go out of that terminal. Someone finally told us that we had to go back downstairs and take a bus to Terminal 1 for the Djibouti flight. We did that and Dave actually found the “Cloud 9” Lounge where we were able to wait until boarding time. Their internet never connected for us though. We had to go through another security scan and take a bus to the plane again. Same “mad scramble” jockeying for position to get on the plane. This is a “shorter” plane than the one we had coming over. Again, it seemed very old and dirty to me. Flight attendants were nice though. They served a cold deli plate and there were several items that were “edible”. We were amazed that they actually served a meal on a one hour flight – and did a great job of getting everyone fed. We landed on time and I remembered WELL why I wasn’t thrilled about returning to Djibouti. Con men are everywhere. We were in line for the “non-residents” to apply for our visas when a staff member tried to split us up and send us into the “resident” line. I insisted that we all stay together so we all moved to the “resident” line – which took us twice as long to process than if we had stayed where we were! Filling out the visa forms took a while and then standing in line took a really long time. When it was finally my turn, I gave the agent a copy of the orders and explained that we would be on the military base and that I would be the person paying for all the visas. He seemed to understand, took my passport, orders, boarding pass and shot record and began stamping away. We had to stand against the wall while we waiting for that agent to stamp everything and send it to another agent to affix the Visa and take payment. That’s when the fun REALLY began. There is a sign that says if you are in country 3 days or less, the fee is $60 per person. But if you are there more than 3 days, the fee is $90 per person. We landed on the 31st and depart the afternoon of the 2nd – not quite 3 days! I had to show our flight reservations to the agent and he still argued with me that I owed $90 per person. He finally pulled out a pen and paper and wrote: 31, 01, 02 and COUNTED. Then he said $90. I went ballistic and told him that’s 3 days and I’m only paying $60 per person. He backed off but wasn’t happy. He had this box of “cash” sitting on his desk where he put all the money. We all decided the guys working there must split it up at the end of the day. They just try every way they can to scam you. Then we waited in line again for him to print and affix all the visas to our passports. They were not giving our orders back to us so I had to cause another scene just to get those returned. The agent actually told me to just make copies. I told him I didn’t have a copy machine so he needed to make the copies. Then he miraculously delivered the orders we had given him. Jordan was in line after me, but the agent affixing the Visas kept showing him passports that belonged to Ethiopians and asking if it was him! They thought he was a local. He didn’t get “serviced” until the very end of our group. While they were working on Karri’s, one of the other staff members came in and threw a passport with a “wad of cash” inside on the desk. The agent quit working on all ours and took care of that guy next. Guess that’s how you get “expedited”…maybe I should have paid the $90 each. LOL. Dave left for baggage claim while we were all still waiting for Visa processing. All our bags and luggage made it. There were “carts” available but the sky caps want to take everything and charge you a minimum of $20. We had been warned NOT to use them, so we didn’t. Dave said there were carts available but once he said no to the Sky Cap, the guy took all the carts and hid them! But I had my personal bag, my rolling carryon and a roller bag with all the show supplies in it. Once we went through ANOTHER security scanner, there were carts outside baggage claim. I took one and was in the process of loading my bags on it when a sky cap came up and tried the take the cart away from me. He said it was “his” cart and he had to take my luggage for me. I took my bags off the cart and said, “Fine. I’ll carry it myself”. Sandy got “stuck” because the guy who was running the security scanner told him he had to pay $50 for bringing the equipment into the country! The guy wasn’t even an airport official! Sandy told him if he could produce some paperwork showing the fees, he’d be happy to comply. The guy just waved him on through at that point. FINALLY we met up with our KBR reps – Mia and Lee and made it – with their help – to the bus. I specifically sent out instructions to all the bases to bring a passenger bus for the participants and either a truck or a cargo van for all the luggage and equipment. They only brought the bus. By that time, I was dead tired and short tempered. I said “Fine. Each bag weighs at least 50-60 pounds. There are 8 of those and then there are 3 equipment cases weighing around 70 pounds each. Have fun lifting all those into seats in the bus” and I walked away and left them to it. They got everything loaded but we discussed the wisdom of having a cargo van or truck to take everything BACK to the airport for us. Afterwards, of course I felt horrible about being so rude because they are so sweet to us. The military base is “connected” to the commercial airfield so it was about a 15 minute drive – should have been 5 minutes but the roads are so horrible, it takes much longer. I had asked that the “Meet and Greet” with the Base Commander be postponed until right before the show because I knew everyone was going to be dead tired and not looking so great after that trip. I was right. I think we would have scared the Commander and his staff so much, he would not have attended the show. Lodging was typical “military” but definitely not as nice as what Chris has in Diego Garcia with Vertical Horizon. He sent me photos of the view from his room of palm trees and a beach and said they have a full golf course. Plus his “DV Suite” looks like the Ritz Carlton. When I was here in 2004, we were in nasty tents. This time we are in “chu’s” with a bedroom on each end and a shared bath. Since I’m the “odd female out”, I am not sharing with anyone as of yet. There is a tiny single bed with a mattress that is about ½ inch thick, a sink, a desk, a phone for DSN access, and a cabinet and shelves for clothing etc. There is also a great air conditioner and humidifier. The “shared” bathroom has a clean shower and toilet and ironing board. Everything we need for a couple of nights stay. Some of the guys went to lunch, the girls went to bed, and I walked over to Green Beans to try and get on line. No luck! Bought some “tuna” at the BX and came back and slept for 3 hours, showered and was ready to go to dinner at 7 pm. Karen actually saw a medic because she has had a painful muscle spasm in her thigh for 2 days. They gave her a shot that knocked her out for 2 hours and she says she is feeling better. Karri and Dave slept through dinner – uh, not “together” though. J It was again, typical DFAC food. I had veggies, chicken and salad. We walked over to look at the venue after dinner and it’s really nice. There are a lot of things going on tonight so we’re not too sure how big a crowd we will have. There is every branch of the military represented here even though it is a Naval Base – Camp Lemonnier. We have Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard and from several different countries. There are well over 5,000 here and there is another camp about 8 miles way — which takes an hour to access because of the horrendous roads. Tonight’s show is supposed to be more “enlisted” and tomorrow night will be more officers. Also, everyone is allowed “2 drinks” per person but I doubt anyone will be monitoring on New Year’s Eve! I came back to lodging and had time write most of this Road Report and then it was “show time”. We all walked over to the venue and it was PACKED. The inside was decorated with balloons and aluminum foil and there was a DJ outside spinning discs. They stopped the Improv skits at 11:59 pm and counted in the New Year for them. The group gave another excellent performance and stayed around afterwards to take photos and chat with people. It was truly a great NYE spent with America’s finest!!! We all sat around backstage chatting and TRYING to get on internet. I actually got a couple of messages to go out FINALLY. It’s 3 am and I am going to bed. Will hopefully be able to send this report out tomorrow! HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!! Jude
THURSDAY, JANUARY 1, 2015 – CAMP LEMONNIER, DJIBOUTI – WOW! Was able to get in 4 ½ hours sleep before getting up and going for my “walk”. Hot, hot, hot at 8 am already and lots of insects out. I was able to walk around and see a lot of the base on a 45 minute walk. Also stopped outside MWR and downloaded my emails and text messages to my phone because there is great internet in that area. I went to the DFAC on the way back and grabbed a HUGE cup of coffee. Showered and was able to “work” for about an hour before meeting the group for lunch, an afternoon of “Meet and Greets” and then our final show. So hard to believe the tour will be over tomorrow. Of course, it will take us two days to fly home…. For our “visit” to Djibouti, we all had to get our vaccines updated (tetanus, Hep A and B, etc.) as well as get a typhoid shot and take Malaria pills! Met everyone at noon and had lunch at the DFAC. Lunch was actually a lot better than dinner last night – more choices for my diet! We had some time to kill after lunch and before we went to visit the 303 – Air Rescue choppers. The Unit was out of Tuscon and were reservists. Back home, a lot of them are first responders as well. They are on a 4 month deployment here. Had very interesting chats with all of them. Next stop was the EOD. Theirs is more of a “training mission” in this area but they have some cool new toys that I haven’t seen before…especially the remote device that they can use underwater. Michael suited up in the 90 pound suit and we got some great photos of him. These guys are out of Rota, Spain and have been here about 8 months. We had a few minutes to walk to the BX and shop. Not much different from other base exchanges except the teddy bears, shirts, and caps say “Djibouti”. Dinner was at 5 pm and show time at 7 pm. We all had dinner at 5 pm and then got ready for our final show. Hard to believe the tour is over…well except for the 40 hour flight/layovers to get home tomorrow and Saturday! Several of the base commanders were at the show tonight. Sometimes, that makes the audience a little more reserved than normal but not so tonight. It was a FANTASTIC show. Dave is supposed to do 30 minutes and he did 50 minutes. I think he would have stayed on longer if I hadn’t signaled him. LOL. The Improv Group was really “on”. Michael, Cedric and Jordan even DANCED….something I have never witnessed before. Everyone took photos for about an hour after the show and then stayed around to chat with people. The guys from 303rd and EOD were at the show, too. I worked on emails and attempted to check everyone in online. Not going to happen because the first two flights are on my favorite (NOT) Ethiopian Airlines and the last 3 flights are on United. As usual, it has been a wonderful, life-changing tour for everyone. Very glad we were able to reach men and women serving our country who really appreciated our visits over the holidays. Probably can’t get email out on the United flights tomorrow, so you won’t hear from me until I return home on the 3rd! Jude
FRIDAY, JANUARY 2ND – LAST DAYIN DJIBOUTI AND HOME ON SATURDAY, JANUARY 3RD! Got 6 hours of sleep. Life changing! Got in a work out at the gym but it is set up more power lifters so I had to get “creative”. J Walked down to the Galley (in the Navy, it is a Galley – not a DFAC) and got a huge cup of coffee. Showered, dressed, packed most of my things and had time to go over to Starbucks and check my email. Meeting everyone for lunch at noon and then we do a couple of Unit visits before we depart to the airport for the MONSTER flights home. Here’s our schedule: 1 hour and 30 minute flight on Ethiopia Airlines from Djibouti to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 3 hour and 10 minute layover 2 hour and 45 minute flight from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia 1 hour and 15 minute layover 6 hour and 5 minute flight from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to Frankfurt, Germany 3 hour and 40 minute layover 9 hour and 10 minute flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Washington, DC 2 hour and 21 minute layover 1 hour and 55 minute flight from Washington, DC to Nashville and 5 hour and 45 minute flight from Washington, DC to Los Angeles, CA for the rest of the group! Had lunch and then went to visit a couple of different Units. One was the Patrol Boats. Didn’t get to go out on a boat, but got to get “on” the boat! Very interesting presentation, too. We visited the Army including office staff, Medics, Quick Response Team and several others. By that time it was almost 3:30 pm and time to pack and leave. Another shower, change of clothes and over to Green Beans to try and check everyone in again. Again, it wouldn’t let me. It did let me check in but only for the first flight and it moved me out of First Class to Row 11???? We departed lodging at 4:45 pm and this time they brought a TRUCK for the luggage. J Arrived at the airport at 5 pm and it was a little easier than we expected. They did want to see our “tickets” to let us go inside but of course, everything is E-Ticket. I showed them one copy of a reservation and they told us we could go. Had to scan our bags and go to the check in counter. The agent told us that First Class was oversold and they were “re-assigning” our seats! I was not happy but nothing I could do about it really. They then told us that there had been an “aircraft” change and it was a much smaller flight. We went to the Cloud 9 Lounge….loosely said when I call it a Lounge and boarded on time via a bus. I was in 11A and when I got on board, 11A was the FIRST ROW on the plane – bulkhead and window – the two things I hate the most. But, no one was sitting beside me so it was bearable. The plane was horrendous. Old and small and falling apart. The toilet was frightening. And they forgot to mention that it was a PROP plane! They gave us a sandwich and I took the tiny piece of Brie off it and ate it. The meat looked like bologna but didn’t smell like bologna. The dessert looked edible but I couldn’t have that either! Thankfully the flight was short – 1 hour 30 minutes. We landed Ethiopia and went to the Cloud Nine Lounge which was a little better than the lounge in Djibouti. We were not able to get our boarding passes except for the flight from Djibouti to Ethiopia so we went to the Lufthansa counter where the nice lady printed passes ALL the way home for us. We had almost a 4 hour layover there so I got some work done. They also had a huge buffet….again nothing I could eat. I did take a sandwich apart again and eat the inside. J We were at a “bus” gate again but the flight from Ethiopia to Saudi and then on to Frankfurt is on Lufthansa….much better. It was a nice plane and Jordan, Dave, Michael, Cedric and I were all in a small section of business class. Karri and Karen were farther back but still business class. It was a 2 hour 45 minute flight and the only food I could eat was a piece of chicken. I slept for about an hour. When we landed, we didn’t have to get off the plane in Saudi. We were on the ground refueling and taking on passengers for about 1 hour 15 minutes. The flight from Ethiopia to Saudi was relative empty but was full for the flight to Frankfurt. Lots of “families” with young children. There was a snack that I could eat and then I tried to watch “The Drop” but fell asleep before it was halfway over. They woke us up for breakfast and FINALLY there was lots of food that is on my diet – grapefruit, oranges, asparagus and an omelet. J We landed on time and had 3 hours in the Lufthansa Lounge. Our flight from Frankfurt to DC is on United Airlines. When I got on the plane, I was in the first row and the flight attendant said my seat was broken! No way I’m going to pay that much for 1st Class and sit in a broken seat. She said she had called for maintenance. I asked her if 1st was sold out and she said it is. Another flight attendant came by and said if maintenance couldn’t fix it, they would move me to another seat. I told him I thought first was sold out. He confirmed that it was but said there was one person that they had given a free upgrade from business to first and they would just move him back to business. I looked around and it was Michael who had been upgraded. I did not want to take his “perk” away from him! Fortunately maintenance fixed it quickly and I made him show the flight attendant how he did it just in case it broke mid-air. I watched a movie with Susan Sarandon that was interesting and then slept for about 4 hours. There was a little turbulence but nothing “major”. Just as I was putting my seat back up for landing, it broke again. At that point, we just decided to leave it alone! We landed 30 minutes late into DC and there was someone there from Global Services to meet the plane. He had an ipad with my name on it and I never even saw him. The others told me he was there after we were walking to Immigration. Luckily, he met us at baggage claim. He “expressed” the LA pax through security and their gate was just right upstairs for the fight to LAX. Then he drove me in an SUV to my gate! Such wonderful service from United! My flight to Nashville left on time and about mid-way through the flight, I realized I didn’t feel good at all. We landed on time and I was praying I’d make it home before getting really sick. I did, but spent from 7 pm until midnight “hugging porcelain” – throwing up and fainting. For me, there is never one without the other. My sweet ex-husband stayed with me. I think he just enjoys slapping me when I faint to wake me up. J It was such a wonderful trip. We were exactly where we needed to be for New Years – with the troops in Kuwait and Djibuoti. They were all so appreciative and his group gave them great shows – on and off stage – to boost their morale. As much as I was dreading going back to Djibouti, I’d do it again. The only “negative” to the visit is the Djibouti airport and that will NEVER change! Happy New Year to all, Jude