Aaron Tippin and his band traveled to Kuwait and Iraq this Thanksgiving to give “THANKS” to the troops in the remote areas. While in country, Aaron will perform for the troops, sign autographs and visit with those serving our country. This is Aaron’s 3rd Thanksgiving participating in a Stars for Stripes tour, in 2005 Aaron visited Iraq and in 2006, he traveled to Afghanistan.
“Every time we go over there they always tell me what a blessing it is for me to come and perform for them,” says Tippin. “It’s more of a blessing for me than they’ll ever know.” — Aaron Tippin, Country Artist
SATURDAY AND SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 17 AND 18:
Today we left for Kuwait. “We” being Aaron Tippin and his musicians/crew – 9 of us from Nashville. In DC we pick up Bill Cowan. Bill is a friend of Aaron’s who is also a Fox News Correspondent. He won’t be “reporting” this trip, just saying thank you to the troops. He is a former Marine. Google him. You’ll be impressed! No problem checking in. Everyone remembered to bring their passport. Unlike last year’s trip. J Check in went smoothly and we had several hours to wait at the gate – just the way Aaron likes it. Flight departed on time. It was a small plane to DC but was only half full and was a smooth flight. Once we landed in DC, we met Mike – a secret service agent who is a new friend of mine and Aaron. Just a great guy. We met him on our last visit to DC in October. We all went into the Red Carpet Lounge and talked for several more hours. We had a 4 hour layover in D.C. Bill showed up about 2 hours into our layover. Wasn’t long before people started recognizing Aaron and Bill and they took a photo with one couple. Boarded the flight to Kuwait right on time. Aaron has donated his time every Thanksgiving for three years now. In 2005 we went to Iraq. In 2006 we went to Afghanistan. Now this year it’s back to Iraq. He will perform 1 show in Kuwait and 5 shows in Iraq. This is the first year he has taken his full band and they are all great guys. We had to recruit a couple of “fill-ins” for his regular musicians. He has an extremely high-energy, rocking show and the troops are going to be very pleased. For those of you reading this Road Report, please know that I’ll be passing out some very special hugs to the troops from you this trip. Bill pretty much passed out as soon as he got to his seat. He even slept through the meal. The guy sitting next to him had been extremely rude when we were boarding so I accused him of sleeping to avoid talking to him. That’s what I would have done. Speaking of meals, the food pretty much sucked. We had ordered Aaron a special meal for a crazy diet he is on. He didn’t like it so I ended up eating his and giving him my pasta. Fortunately, I liked his meal. Everything went pretty smoothly until about 3 hours before landing. We hit unbelievable turbulence. If “Mr. Pilot Aaron Tippin” will admit that it’s bad…trust me, it was BAD. Aaron was especially thankful that he had on long sleeves so that my fingernails didn’t leave holes in his arm. Those of you who have flown with me and been unfortunate enough to sit by me in turbulence can relate. We landed on time and our Visas were waiting for us as I had ordered. Radisson takes care of that for us each year. We waited a long time for our luggage and we were the only people left waiting for items. I was beginning to think NONE of our stuff made it. Then everything came out at once. I had called our escorts from Kuwait to make sure they knew we were on the ground. They had gotten our schedules mixed up and thought we were coming in with the Washington Redskin Cheerleaders at 9 pm when we actually landed at 6 pm. That has never happened before. We had to wait 30 minutes for them to get to the airport but Aaron and his guys are troopers…even after 24 hours of flying…not one complaint. Got checked into the hotel with no problem. The guys went to eat and Aaron and I went to work out. Great gym at this hotel. Nice to have someone on the road who “pushes” me to work out…okay, nice to have someone who is as crazy as I am about exercising. J Stopped in the restaurant for some Pasta and hit our rooms for showers and emails. We don’t have to leave for Camp Arifjan where our first show is until 1 pm tomorrow. So, we will hit the gym again – cardio this time for me. Can’t wait to see our troops again. Jude
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 19TH:
Woke up at 5 am and could NOT go back to sleep. That rarely happens to me. Called Aaron and 8 am and we hit the gym again then had breakfast. Shower and WORK, WORK, WORK for a couple of hours before leaving for Camp Arifjan. We visited the Garrison Commander’s Office and it turned about to be the same person who briefed us last year at Arifjan. Very cool. Aaron signed autographs and then we went to the COIC (like the JOC or TOC in other countries – central “nerve” center). He signed autographs and took photos for over an hour there. Last stop was the Hospital. Several patients with various problems – broken bones, cysts removed, etc., but no “battle” wounds, thank goodness. He signed 250 photos and took pictures with everyone on these 3 stops. Over to the stage to meet up with the guys for a sound check. Aaron asked me this morning if someone took his guitar to his room. I told him I didn’t remember seeing it. We had 22 pieces all checked under Aaron’s name and somehow, no one checked to see if his guitar came in. Our host sent someone over to the airport but the “cargo” area is huge and they couldn’t find it. We can do the shows without it but I’m sure he would like to have his guitar back! Bill Cowen introduced Aaron and Bill got a really great reception. He is humorous and charming – perfect opener for our shows. Aaron absolutely ROCKED. Go glad we brought the full band. I think we set the attendance record last year when he was here and if so, we broke it again this year. There were THOUSANDS in the audience. When he came off stage to sign autographs, I personally handed out photos and hugs to everyone in line. I love doing that because it lets me reach so many people. Several of the troops wanted my autograph and photo which I am sure thrilled Aaron. J To his credit, he signed a total of 699 autograph sheets today PLUS taking a photo with everyone and several group photos plus signing numerous personal items (guitars, t-shirts, etc.) that they had. One girl asked me if he would take off his shirt and I told her to be sure and have someone come and get me if he agreed. He looks great because he works out every day. He and his wife are going to make a workout video when he gets back to Nashville. Oh, by the way, he signed all the autographs and took all the photos after the show (449 of the 699) in less than 2 hours! I have to go to bed so I can get up in 3 hours. We are SUPPOSED to fly to Iraq tomorrow but the air traffic controllers went on strike today. We were told that it would not affect the military and I’m praying they are right. I’ll be trying to commandeer 3 Chinooks to get us to Iraq for Thanksgiving if all else fails. Please remember that while we are in Iraq, I will not be able to send emails from this computer. You will not hear from me again until we depart Iraq. Don’t worry about me. I have hundreds of men and women who are protecting me every minute of every day. Everyone is so excited to be spending Thanksgiving in Iraq. We will have 5 more wonderful shows. Happy Thanksgiving!!! Jude
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 20TH:
Forgot to write about Aaron’s FLIP FLOPS. When we were in DC last month for a performance of AUSA, he was wearing these horrible flip flops. I tried to “kindly” quiz him and learned that he had a chigger bite on his foot so he had purchased the flip flops and fallen in love with him. I kept telling him how “sissy” he looks, but it just doesn’t phase him. When he started out of his room in them today, I told him to change. That went over really well. But, he did it. Then in the meeting at the Commander’s Office, he told them what I made him do. And – get this – one of guys on the Commander’s staff said, “She’s right sir. It’s in our Rules and Regulations”. I made him get the rule book and read it to Aaron. HA! Several people in line wanted to know if I was Thea, Aaron’s wife (they ask me the same thing when I travel with Charlie Daniels!). I told them “No, I just have Aaron and all the guys in the band trained to say ‘Yes Dear’”. J I fought to make our call time later today, to no avail. They insist on making us arrive two hours prior to when the C-130 is “supposed” to be there. It NEVER is. So I got up at 5 am (too bad that wasn’t my call time yesterday!) and gave everyone a wake-up call at 6 am. We arrived at the terminal to learn that our “bird” was, of course, not there. We went over to a hotel on the base to have breakfast and then back to the terminal to wait and wait and wait. In all honesty, they could take our bags and leave us at the hotel to sleep then call us when the bird lands. We could be there in 30 minutes and it takes the flight crew at least an hour to unload their cargo and load our pallets onto the bird. Instead we left the hotel at 6:30 am and our flight didn’t depart until 11:15 am. I met some of the Washington Redskins cheerleaders and some of the comedians while we were waiting. It is all good and these delays are normal and expected. No one whines. We just find a floor to lay on and sleep! Our flight crew was super, as usual. They were from Amarillo, Texas. Aaron and I sat on the flight deck during take-off and he stayed up there the entire flight. I got our guys rotated up there during the flight and then I sat there for landing. ALWAYS want to be on deck for landing because it is a combat landing and makes me nauseous if I am in the “belly” of the plane!! I remembered Q-West from our brief stopover here last year. Although I thought Q-West was where we performed, we actually only stopped long enough to switch to blackhawks and fly to Camp Courage. For once, and I’m sure it won’t happen again, Aaron was right. He did say that he is having the DATE tattooed on his arm so he can look at it and say “This is the first time Judy was wrong”. Very cute. I did meet the lady who makes things happen at Q-West and she is from Montgomery, Alabama – my home town!! She was there when we stopped through in 2005. Everyone is super nice here and very appreciative of our visit. Josh Gracin came here in July for me but I wasn’t with him. We had lunch at a really great DFAC and then the guys went to set up the stage. Aaron, Bill and I got to go “play” in a tank. Aaron was in the turrent and got to fire the 50-Cal. It also has a grenade launcher in it. After he did his “boy thing”, we went up to a remote guard tower to say hello to two soldiers on duty. Then I got to ride in the turrent and play with the gun. My little soldier in the bottom told me to swing it around 360 degrees, so I did. Only he forgot to tell Aaron and the driver that it was coming around. So, I whacked them both in the back of the head with the thing. Thankfully they had on helmets. I can just see the headlines now. Whew. They really shouldn’t let me play with the big guns. Last stop on our tour was to visit the “eye in the sky”. They have a huge blimp that is their surveillance equipment. It was amazing how far they could see and how much detail was available. At one point Aaron asked if he was looking at two rocks. Then a few minutes later, one of the rocks started moving and we realized it was a truck. They had just not zoomed in on it. Sound check was painless except that they took all my “show bags” to lodging. I sent them to pick them up with specific instructions to only bring me the three with BLUE tape on them. When they returned, they only had one bag. So, again, I sent them back with the request to bring the other 2 with BLUE tape. I left to go to lodging before they got back and realized that they had taken everything – my personal bags with RED tape. So, instead of getting to take a one hour nap like Bill and Aaron, I had to go back over to the show site and get my bags. There had better be some coffee backstage tonight!!!! The most special thing that happened to me all day was when a soldier came up to me when Aaron was signing autographs. He asked me how many children I have. When I told him two, he pulled out two green dogtags that say, “With Love From Dad, U.S. Army, Iraq 2007”. I was so touched. As many of you know, I wear numerous dog tags given to me by soldiers, airmen, marines, and sailors from Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. I thanked him for the dog tags for my kids but told him one was going around my neck immediately and would be worn every day. Too cool. Hard to believe so much can happen in so little time. We went over for the show which was outside on a new stage. The great MWR Director that we had met when we briefly stopped through here got a surprise tonight. She is moving up to Balad and they named the new stage at Q-West in her honor. They said this is the biggest crowd they have ever had at a concert here. They don’t get a lot of entertainment up here which makes it even more special. Josh Gracin did come here for me in July and they are still talking about his visit. I got busted yesterday for walking to the latrine alone. It is only a couple of buildings over and I didn’t think anything about it. We are not allowed to go ANYWHERE without an escort. The Security Detail is right outside our trailers and are just standing there waiting for us any time we need them. Oh, we are in individual trailers here with bunks that have nice mattresses and sheets. The latrines and showers are a bit of a walk but not bad at all. There is a severe water shortage at this camp and they are only allowed to take showers every 3 days. Remember that next time you are complaining about electrical outages or water rationing. Aaron’s show was awesome, as usual. He has such a high energy performance and the fans know all the words to his songs. He signed autographs for a very long line and I did my thing – handed each person a photo and gave out hundreds of hugs. That’s the fun part of the evening for me. Getting to talk to everyone, finding out where they are from and teasing them about hugging me. I think Bill Cowan is really enjoying himself, too. It has definitely been a learning experience for him in the “world of entertainment”. We love talking to him and getting him to share his stories with us. One brilliant man! After the autograph session, we went to the Mayor’s Cell and used the computers and telephones. I wasn’t overwhelmed with emails but the computer was so slow I really couldn’t answer many. I did have an email saying Aaron’s guitar is in Kuwait and someone has to go get it released from Customs. It did NOT come in our flight and since we didn’t fill out a claim form, they won’t release it without a lot of paperwork. We all went to midnight chow and I had an omelet. They wouldn’t make an egg white omelet but it was still good. Then, back to the room and they opened the showers for us. Tomorrow morning it will be too hard to get in a shower because everyone will be in line. So I showered at 1 am…with an escort standing outside the door, of course. J When we flew into Kuwait, we met our MRW rep for this Camp – Jeremy. He has been great and has the longest eyelashes I have ever seen on a guy. Got in bed by 2 am and have to get up at 6:00. Not bad! Could sleep longer but Aaron and I are going to the gym. Only problem is, the walls are paper thin and the guy next door to me had his tv turned up LOUD listening to Spanish music or something. I finally banged on the wall and asked him to turn it off. Wonder how many times I’ll have to be escorted to the latrine during the night.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 21ST:
Well, I made it all night without going to the latrine! But, I was up and down several times adjusting the heat. It is either blazing hot or OFF. Again, no complaints. Just describing my night. Aaron and I went to the fabulous gym for a great workout. Met Ronnie, the guy from KBR who is responsible for the gym. He has been there for two years and has done an amazing job. That’s one of the “perks” of doing a military tour – fantastic work out facilities. He even let us borrow his coffee maker to boil water for Aaron’s decaf coffee. Went back to the CHU’s (some military acronym for our trailers!) and got dressed for the flight. We were all ready much too early so we decided to make a stop at the base exchange. Just as we got off the bus to go inside, one of our escorts said, “The plane is inbound. We have to go to the airfield now”. We all just looked at each other and said “Sure it is”. Back on the bus and over to the airstrip. No plane. Half an hour later, no plane. I asked if we could go to the Exchange and just have someone call us when it landed. We did. The plane finally took off at noon. J We had a really nice flight crew again this time with a female co-pilot. Aaron sat up top but it was pretty crowded, so I sat below until time for landing. Then I went up top so I wouldn’t have to be in the belly during combat landing. I guess there was some weather coming in or a mortar hit because they had closed one of the runways. We landed safely at Balad AB in Anaconda — one of my favorite bases in this area. I knew that Donnie – my buddy with KBR – would be there to meet us but was definitely surprised when my friend who is a Brigadier General in the Air Force and his XO showed up, too. I met him when he was in Kunsan, Korea and was the Wolf at the Wolf Pack. I had Chely Wright there performing which would have been about 6 or 7 years ago, I think! I’ve seen him once since then at an autograph signing for her in DC. But, we have stayed in touch – me, more than him since he’s not real big on answering emails. J Met his XO — Willie — who is a sweetheart and I can tell he takes wonderful care of Burt. They took Aaron, Bill and I to lodging to get everyone checked in and then we went to the DFAC for a quick lunch. My other buddy Ryan (that I met at Camp Summerall in 2004 and have stayed in touch with) met us there. Last time I saw him, his foot was in a cast. He looks cute as ever and is happy to be going home at the end of December. After lunch we went to tour the F-16’s and sign some autographs. A young female fighter pilot (26 years old), gave us a briefing and I learned that she was the same one who escorted us when I was in Korea with Diamond Rio! Turns out she is one of the top fighter pilots. The General had to leave for a meeting but promised to come to the performance. We went to the hospital to visit and they told us about a young 10 year old boy who was there. His face was pretty “blown up” – not by the U.S. troops – and one of his eyes was sown shut. His entire family was killed in the blast so he has no one left. How do you explain that to a child? I met his interpreter and asked if I could go talk to him. Aaron was reluctant to disrupt him but once I started talking to him, he came over too. I had the interpreter tell him who Aaron was and that Aaron had two little boys like him. The kid lit up like a Christmas tree. Aaron would talk to him in English and I swear he understood. If Aaron said something funny, he would smile. He was sitting on the floor when we arrived but he got up (shakily) and I helped him walk over to Aaron. He wanted Aaron to bend down and hug him and when Aaron did, the child kissed him. I came apart. Another “special” day for me. Aaron signed a photo to him and I asked his name. His name is SADDAM. I told Aaron I bet he never thought he would be in Iraq signing a photo to an Iraqi named Saddam. I asked what would happen to him when he was released from the hospital and they said he will probably be sent to an orphanage. I wish there was something I could do to help him. After the hospital visit, we were handed off to the Army. Visited the Commander and the JOC’s. Aaron also toured some of the new toys.
He signed a lot of autographs but we ran out of time and had to go to sound check. When the flights are late, it throws everything off. But, it is expected and no one gets stressed out about it. I did my part and handed out lots of hugs and even a few kisses. They all think I smell good. J After sound check, we went to the MWR facilities and tried to hook our laptops up to the internet. It didn’t work. Finally gave up and used the computers to check a few emails before we ran out of time again. Aaron attended a special Thanksgiving service and sang one song acoustically. Then we brought him back to the trailer for an hour’s nap. He was dragging pretty bad by that time. We are in what they call “wet trailers” here…where I always stay. One bedroom on each side of a shared bathroom. But the bathroom is inside and there is a shower, so I’m a happy camper. Now if I just had internet. My General and my friend Ryan are both supposed to be at the show tonight and I’m happy about that. What a lot has happened since I wrote that last sentence. The show was held in a theatre – same one we always use – and it was packed. People started showing up at 6:45 for an 8:30 performance because the fire marshall only allows 750 people to attend. The last outdoor show I was allowed to have here was with Charlie Daniels. It is now considered too risky – you know they nicknamed this base Mortaritaville because they take mortar hits every couple of hours it seems. Fortunately, Al Qaeda is a lousy aim. The took a hit just before we landed today and that is why one of the runways was closed. For the first time, I didn’t go out front for the performance. I sat backstage and chatted with my General for almost the entire show. I felt guilty not letting him sit out front and watch but it was his decision. We had a lot of catching up to do. Ryan showed up just as the show ended and I left his with Bill Cowan and the General to chat while I got the autograph line started. Tonight we had a special pre-Thanksgiving sale on the autograph sheets. Everyone in line had to give me a hug if they wanted one. It was lots of fun and since Aaron signed 699 sheets, I gave out OVER 699 hugs for you folks back home. If the person in line wanted 3 or 4 photos, I made them give me that many hugs. See, I told you I’d give out hugs on your behalf. I told the troops that the hugs were from the people back at home who love and support them but aren’t as lucky as we are to be able to deliver them in person. After the show, we went to midnight chow and Ryan went with us. He is such a sweetheart and I’m delighted that he will be coming home in a few weeks. I’ll get to see a lot more of him in DC. He gave me and Bill Cowan THE most special coin I have ever or will ever receive. I have made the most amazing friends down this crazy path my life has taken me. I wouldn’t trade it with anyone. We got the great news that we had to DEPART our lodging at 5:30 am. That meant I got in bed at 1:30 and got up at 4:30. No gym for us tomorrow morning. I did make a $50 bet with Donnie that the flight would NOT leave on time. If it does, it will be the best $50 I’ve ever spent. Took my shower tonight, sort of. After midnight doesn’t exactly qualify as “tonight” sometimes. Since this is where most of the aircraft in Iraq are based, there are flights taking off and landing all the time. I woke up to the sound of F-16’s taking off at about 2:10 am and thought I had been asleep for hours. Then a few minutes later, I heard a mortar hit. There is no mistaking the sound once you’ve actually heard one up close and personal. Then I heard the jets deploying immediately afterwards. Hope they got the bastard!
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 22ND:
No problem getting everyone up and gave all my boys Happy Thanksgiving Day hugs. We left lodging on time and our flight was waiting for us. I paid Donnie his $50 with a smile on my face. Our flight crew was from Arkansas and was the friendliest one we have had all tour. Love those Southern boys. They told us that the mortar took a chunk out of one of the runways, took our one radar system and blew up a port-a-potty (okay they said “shitter” J ). Fortunately, no one was in it at the time. LOL Landed on time at Speicer and went immediately to breakfast at the DFAC which they were holding open for us. First time we’ve had “breakfast” in the morning in Iraq. We met a few troops and I saw another dear friend of mine from many, many tours ago – Rick. He remembered me and it was wonderful to chat with him. He reminded me of our escort in 2004 – Chase Martin – who I have not heard from in a long time. He was great. I have been to Speicer several times and Aaron and I spent Thanksgiving there in 2005. Our Blackhawks were waiting for us and again, we had a great flight crew. It was about an hour and fifteen minute trip to FOB Warhorse. FYI – FOB means Forward Operating Base – middle of nowhere and very much in need of entertainment. We had a great soldier there escorting us who was a wealth of information. I wish I could remember all the things he told us about the FOB. I do remember that they have lost over 120 men and women in 14 months but like Ramadi last February, they have “cleaned” up the place. The attacks have stopped and the locals have learned to live together. We are making much faster progress than I ever dreamed possible. We hear all this wonderful news and it makes us so angry that NONE of it ever gets on the U.S. News and out to our people. Bill Cowan is going to try and change that. We had Thanksgiving dinner with the folks at Warhorse and it was a very impressive spread. I forced Aaron to go off his diet for Thanksgiving and even talked him into a piece of sweet potato pie (since they didn’t have pumpkin pie – very Un-American to not have that for Thanksgiving, huh? J). We walked through some of the buildings and he signed autographs for a while. Then we went over to an outdoor area and he and Dave performed several songs acoustically. He signed autographs for everyone in line and I again charged one hug per person. There was a Pizza Hut by the area where he sang and I asked some of the guys in line why they were eating pizza instead of the great Thanksgiving Dinner at the DFAC. They said that the line was too long! Right before Aaron performed, there was a fly buzzing around me and it suddenly fell out of the air and landed on it’s back – dead. Cause for concern! Then a fly started buzzing around Aaron’s head during the show. He kept swatting at it and asking why it was buzzing him. I told Bill if Aaron would take a shower, the flies wouldn’t swarm around him. LOL! Our helicopter pilots were waiting for us and it only took 35 minutes to fly back. Aaron knows everything about aviation and he said that the pilot had it “wide open”. There was only one time when they decided to drop us out of the sky and strangely enough, it didn’t bother me. The little female Army escort on my right was another matter altogether. I’m glad they didn’t decide to give us a “real ride”. When we landed, the pilots had agreed to give the band members a fun ride. Some of them had never ridden in choppers and it was a real thrill for them. No one has ever gone out of their way to do this for us before. We had several hours of down time (which is why I’m getting to type this report J) and Aaron was able to take a nap. I can tell from his voice that he is beginning to strain his vocals. They picked us up for the show and the gym was packed. Several people were not allowed to come in because it was so full. Another really great show for some extremely appreciative troops. I was able to find a little female soldier that is the daughter of some friends in Korea. I had promised them a few weeks ago that I would find her, introduce her to Aaron and give her a hug. We also sat her in the front row and took her back to meet him and get a photo and autograph. That was one happy young lady. I again gave everyone in line a Thanksgiving Day hug and told them it was from the folks back home in the U.S. who love and support them. I am sure they think I am one crazy lady!!! Aaron had decided before he went on stage that he was NOT going to eat after the show because he ate so much lunch. We were going to work out at the gym instead. Then after the show, he wanted to go to midnight chow AND work out after that. First we went to use telephones and computers. It was taking forever to get a line out but I finally got to talk to all three of my kids – my two children and John – my baby that I manage. I was looking up phone numbers on my cell phone when I realized that I had cell phone service. It was pretty crappy and expensive, but at least it worked for a few minutes. While I was waiting to use the computer, this guy comes running up to me and asked if I remembered him. I remembered his face and then I looked at his name tape and saw – MayO. No one could forget a name that was written like that – with the big “O” at the end. I met and worked with him when I took Chely to Germany to entertain the troops returning from Ramadi earlier this year. It was so wonderful to see him and catch up on on the news. We finally made it to the gym only to be told it was closed so they could remove the power cord from Aaron’s performance. We were able to sweet talk our way in and worked out for about an hour. It was 1 am by the time we arrived at the gym and almost 2:30 am by the time we got back to lodging. It was a very, very HAPPY THANKSGIVING for all of us. More later. Jude
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2007:
Got in bed at 3 am and got up at 6 am to shower. Of course, Aaron doesn’t have to get up as early since he is not showering. It has become THE topic of conversation with us. We all went over to yet another dining facility (there are 3 on this COB). COB stands for Contingency Operating Base and means that the base is a “permanent” facility. This DFAC had real plates and silverware! And, a great breakfast but I felt like I had just eaten. We forgot to get Aaron in the Apache Simulator yesterday so Jonathan tried to set it up this morning but it was too short of a notice. We came back to lodging and went up on the “roof” of the building for a few minutes. We were standing there talking when this black bug started crawling our way. I asked Aaron what it was and he said it was a “stink bug”. The bug was crawling right towards him and I told Aaron the little fellow was probably saying, “Daddy! Daddy!”. It was totally focused on Aaron. Aaron would move to a different corner of the roof and the little fellow would make a U-turn and follow him no matter where he went. NOW maybe Aaron will agree that he should take a shower. I can’t say enough good things about Jonathan – our MNC-I escort. He is exactly what this area needs and will make a huge difference in boosting the morale of our troops. I was so lucky to meet and work with him in Germany last year. We boarded our flight to the Baghdad area where we will spend the next couple of days visiting remote sites. Our flight crew was from Little Rock and they were awesome. Well, now it is Sunday night. I had internet access but have been busy every single second and didn’t even have time to write a Road Report or answer an email. Only getting about 2 hours of sleep each night. Will try to remember everything that happened. When we got on the flight, Aaron and I sat on deck as usual. Our flight crew advised that we had to make a stop in Kirkut and pick up 6 Senators – including John McCain. I knew this was going to put us even later getting into Baghdad. We were supposed to do one Meet and Greet and one acoustic show at two small Camps. Of course, the Senators were not at the terminal when we landed, so we had to wait for them. Aaron and I didn’t even go down to say hello. Given the choice of talking to our flight crew or talking to the Senators, we opted for the Airmen. Besides, we figured Bill Cowan had things under control. Landed at Baghdad and went to our lodging. We are at the JVB again which used to be one of Saddam’s many palaces. I got my usual room – the Taji Suite. At least I had internet service in my room which was great for handling “emergencies”. We immediately left the JVB and went to the food court for a very late lunch. Choices were Popeye’s, Subway, or Burger King. There was also a Cinnabon that was part of the Coffee Shop. Aaron and Bill waited on our food while I went to the coffee shop. There was a really long line, so I started talking to the guys who were in front of me. I asked them if they were going to the show but they didn’t know about it because they weren’t actually living at that Camp. When I told them it was Aaron Tippin, they said “No Way!” I pointed him out to them but they still didn’t believe me. So, I told them to go over and check it out. They all got out of line and went over to meet him. That means I was then first in line. Worked great! J We went back to the JVB for Aaron to take a very quick nap. Our bags were not there and I was beginning to stress out. They finally arrived just a few minutes before we were supposed to go to the show. I am still depressed that we disappointed troops by not being able to make our meet and greet and acoustic visits because we arrived so late.
Our show tonight is at Camp Striker – a camp in the Baghdad area that rarely gets entertainment. On the drive over, we saw a coyote and Aaron wanted to shoot it. You may remember that this particular area was what Saddam used for his “hunting lodge”. More about that later on. Show is outdoors tonight and the crowd is huge once again. Had one soldier there that is the brother-in-law of a friend of mine. I brought him backstage and had his photo taken with Aaron. Will email it to my friend when I get home. Aaron signed autographs – more than 500 autograph sheets – plus guitars, hats, t-shirts, posters, etc. It was awesome. That also means I hugged more than 500 people for you folks back home tonight. Okay, when they wanted more than one photo, I made them give me more than one hug. This “hugging” thing has been the highlight of the trip for me. I have to joke with them and keep it light because they certainly don’t get a lot of hugs here and it is so important for me to make sure they know that I mean it when I hug them. I met the cutest little guy in a great “fleece” that I’d love to have. I was teasing him and then he lit up a cigarette. When I told him how disappointed I was that he smoked, he immediately put it out. He didn’t give me his fleece but I did score his dog tag. Also got dog tags from a few other guys tonight. It was time for midnight chow by the time we finished, so we went back to the JVB very briefly then headed over to the DFAC. No workout tonight, darn it. We have to leave too early tomorrow to work out, too. Bill Cowan has a meeting with General Petraius and he wants to see me and Aaron after that meeting. I’m excited to get to meet him. Getting in bed by 3 am but have to get up at 7 am.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 24TH:
Up at 7 am for a quick shower. Went down to the breakfast area to get some cereal. I ran into Josh Stiltner at the JVB. We had just been talking about him today. Josh was our escort for several tours including Aaron in 2005 and Charlie Daniels. He is a great kid and we had so much fun catching up with what he is doing now. Love seeing my old buddies. I realized when it was time to leave for the palace that I had forgotten to eat my cereal in the excitement of seeing Josh. We left for Al Faw Palace so the guys could take a tour and Aaron, Jonathan, and I went in to see General Petraius. What an incredibly nice, very, very intelligent man. He gave us coins and certificates and spent quite a while chatting with us even though I know he has an extremely busy schedule. After we left his office, we passed General Odierno on the stairway. He stopped to chat with us and it made me remember how much I like and admire him. He was on his way out and didn’t have a chance to spend any time with us. We did go meet another General who works with General “O”. He was great! We took the musicians in with us and he presented everyone with his coin and a certificate. We visited several more offices and Aaron signed lots of autographs. We finally ended up in the big “throne” chair taking more photos of each other. Next stop was a visit with a group of Marines who are stationed on Victory. They were having a “cook-out” on the roof of their building – burgers and hot dogs. Aaron signed autographs and then we had lunch with them. After lunch, we taped a PSA for “TOYS FOR TOTS” with Aaron. Next stop was a chopper ride to Camp Callahan. I’ve never visited that Camp. When we went to the pad to get on the choppers, I ran into Tracy Thede – my dear friend from the USO. She was there with Don King who was doing a “Live Remote” that same evening. Our helicopters took off and Aaron said it was the closest he has ever seen two choppers fly. They even took off side by side. I was worried that the blades would touch, but everything was fine. It was ONE WILD RIDE. They were flying at full speed – dropping out of the sky and banking sharply because we were flying right over the heart of Baghdad. I saw scenery I’ve never seen in all my trips to this area. We landed at Camp Callahan which turned out to be an old shopping mall that had been bombed. There were troops – men and women- all living together and I’d be lying if I told you it was “nice”. They have definitely made some major renovations to it but it still has a long way to go to have the “comforts of home”. We toured the building. The men and women all sleep in one room and they have to walk up 3 steep flights of stairs to get to their bunks. They only get one “hot” meal a day and do not really have a dining facility. We met the Chaplain and he gave Aaron several “camo” covered bibles. Then Aaron sang 5 songs and signed autographs for everyone. Camp Callahan is EXACTLY the type of Camp we “beg” visit. The guys and girls really have to rough it there. The attacks had stopped for several weeks but they took another one just last week. One of the soldiers said he thought the building was coming down when it hit. Needless to say, they didn’t let us go outside while we were there. They have lost lots of men during this deployment but have slowly “cleaned” up the area. Everywhere we visited this week and everyone we talked to has stories of recent success that we will never hear about on the news. We are going to try our best to get this out to the public and Bill Cowan certainly has that ability. I think this was by far the most “appreciative” audience. These guys and gals really, really needed this visit and I am so thankful to Jonathan for getting us out to them. The chopper ride back was just as wild as the ride over. There was a beautiful full moon over Baghdad on the way back. We landed and went to the stage to check it out and then into the Base Exchange to purchase a few last minute items. The show is at Camp Liberty and the stage is right in front of the Base Exchange. I’ve had artists perform there many times but now they have built a permanent stage that is really nice. On the ride over, our escort pointed out a “man-made” hill. Saddam had it built and he would have one prisoner released from the prison. Then he would go out and “hunt” the guy down and kill him. Sick, sick, sick. I took Aaron into a jewelry store that I have made purchases at before. I purchased a couple of sterling silver chains for $35 each but the shop attendant remembered me and only charged me for one. I told him that Aaron was the guy who was singing that night and that sure turned the tide. They gave Aaron his necklace and cross FREE plus made him and his wife each a Cartuse (not sure how it is spelled. It is a rectangular shaped with his name in English on the front and in Arabic on the back. I got one in Egypt several yeas ago.) They took lots of photos with Aaron and I told them I would come back and pick up the Cartuses while Aaron was performing. He racked up on the free stuff once again. We rushed back to the hotel to change for the show and then went back out to the show site. I was looking for two of my buddies who are deployed there but neither had shown up at show time. I was walking over to pick up the necklaces when the MP’s busted me and said that I would need an escort for the entire evening. I thought it was ridiculous but they gave me a really cute, young soldier so I shut up pretty quick. When I picked up the necklaces, they had made me a cartuse, too. I had Aaron sign photos for everyone after his show and some of the workers even came to get photos and autographs with him. Bill also went over with me and they gave him a free necklace and chain which he immediately gave to me! What a guy. The show was outside and might have been the biggest crowd of the tour. And Aaron was definitely pumped up. He and the band gave the audience a great show and then he signed autographs for two hours. I scored several more dog tags and gave out over 699 HUGS.) I know because that’s how many photos I gave out. Aaron “re-cut” the PSA for Toys for Tots that night because there was a professional video camera there. One of my friends finally showed up and I took care of him by getting him an autograph and photo with Aaron and gave him a hug from his girlfriend in Germany….okay, several hugs and some kisses. We went to midnight chow and then back to the JVB. I had an email from the XO for the General in Balad. He was going to be in Baghdad tomorrow from 5 am until 8 am….perfect timing. Got in bed at 2 am and will get up at 5 am.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 25TH:
Got up to take my shower only to find that there was very little hot water. It finally came on and I showered quickly. Almost as soon as I got dressed, the water went off entirely. Willie called to say he was in Baghdad and came over to meet me for breakfast and we had a great chat. He said that Balad had another attack yesterday right after he had landed from an all-day sortie. Two huge rockets landed right in the middle of the runway but didn’t detonate. Al Qaeda has started making them so that they explode after about a 30 minute delay. These did not explode and they sent in the bomb crew to take them out into the desert and blow them up. He also said that the building that they had turned into a hospital (where Aaron met the little boy) had a torture chamber in the bottom of it when they began the renovation. Now they have found yet another level below ground with even more torture facilities. I am so glad Saddam is no longer alive and can’t inflict any more pain on the people of Iraq. Aaron and I keep talking about the little boy. I know he would adopt him if he could. We also talked about why he was reluctant to go over and speak to him at first. It was just as I thought – reminded him too much of his little boys and he didn’t think he could handle it. He said if I had not gone over, the would not have been able to do it. I told him there was never an option for me to not go talk to him. That child needs so much love and affection right now to help him heal. Jonathan arrived to take us to the airport and told us that someone had taken his fleece jacket while they were at the DFAC at midnight show this morning. His truck keys were in it so he had to borrow a vehicle to transport us. He said it happens a lot because all the military fleece look alike. Hope he gets it back. We left for the flight line at 8:15 as scheduled and our plane was on the ground waiting for us. I’m excited about today’s flight because a young airman that I met on a flight last December and who flew us again in February will be flying us. I’ve stayed in touch with him (he’s stationed in Japan) and he has become a good friend. We were hoping his crew would get to fly us once. Days can be pretty long over here for the men and women and seeing a familiar face and having a celebrity visit them in the cockpit is a real thrill since they rarely get to attend any of the performances. When we arrived at the terminal, we learned it was going to be an Angel Flight. If you will remember, this is where they flight transports one of our fallen heroes. We were given the option of waiting for another flight and we all agreed that it would be an honor to escort the hero. I have done this many times and it is not easy. They allowed us to attend the ceremony they always hold when loading the body. If you could see this, you would be so proud of how our troops handle this procedure. They are so respectful and the only other word I can think of to describe it is “gentle”. It makes for a very solemn flight when there is a flag draped coffin sitting right at your feet. It also gives you time to truly think about the sacrifices of our men and women and the price paid by wars. Aaron and I sat on the flight deck and met all the terrific young men. What a great group of boys. Jeff – the flight engineer – was definitely our “entertainment”. They get to go back to Japan in a few days and then my friend – Jess – will go to Andrews in D.C. later this year. He really wanted that job and was having trouble getting an interview so I made a few calls to some friends at Andrews on his behalf. I certainly didn’t get the job for him because he is capable and will be a fine asset to them. We learned that we would be making a quick stop in Talil to pick up another Fallen Hero. This time it would be British. We again exited the plane and attended the ceremony while loading the body. While the American hero was definitely military, we think the British hero was a contractor. I know that KRB gets a lot of bad press about taking advantage of their contracts in the war zones but I can tell you from years of personal observations what a terrific job they are doing. And, these civilians risk their lives every day by living in these areas. We always make it a point to thank them and sign autographs for them wherever we go. Talil is where Charlie Daniels attended the Easter Sunrise Service in 2006 and is located at the City of Ur – the birthplace of Abraham. We could see the temple from the flight deck but didn’t have time to go out and visit it. That would have been a real treat for everyone in Aaron’s group. The flight was much too short and we arrived back in Kuwait and had to say good-bye to my buddy. Everyone is very sad that the trip is over. Seems like we just started it which is a true compliment to our escort Jonathan — who, by the way, did not tell me good-bye. He was carrying one of my bags and I thought he was coming on the aircraft. Instead he handed it off to one of Aaron’s guys. At least I’ll get to see him again in December. Our Kuwait escort had picked up Aaron’s guitar and had it waiting for us. It took him 4 hours to get it out of Customs!!! While we were waiting for the crew to unload our equipment and luggage, Aaron, Bill and I were talking to some of the guys on the ground. Aaron introduced Bill to the Airman he was talking too only to have him grab Bill and say “Uncle Bill”. Unbelievable what a small, small world this is. We went to the Radisson Hotel for showers and our final “good-bye” dinner. It was a very festive, happy meal with everyone promising they want to return next Thanksgiving. I managed to re-pack lots of things but still had several bags of excess. Checking in is always a nightmare. The little “skycaps” (and there are literally hundreds of them) are like piranha. They grab the bags and run off with them before you can stop them. We managed to keep them away while we loaded everything on to carts on the sidewalk but then they “get” you. You have to put everything through a scanner and then put it back on the cart. Only, you aren’t allowed to take the cart through with you and the piranha are waiting for you on the other side. We have to check our own luggage and these guys were throwing things everywhere. I finally made them put everything back on the floor and we started over. When we got to the counter, I tipped each guy individually. Then the one that was taking care of my luggage said I didn’t tip him and I knew I had given him $10. Another one tried the same thing with one of Aaron’s musicians. Same thing happened when we got to the counter to check in. I was paying for the excess and the guy would not let me make one payment with my credit card. I had to pay for Aaron’s excess and then pay for mine. So strange. Someone had given Aaron a huge knife and we gave it to our Kuwait escort to mail to him. After Aaron’s little “situation” last year where he got busted for trying to take the tank buster our of the country, we were not taking any chances. We had over an hour to kill so Bill, Aaron and I went into the lounge to talk and let me try and write some of my Road Reports. I know I have left out SOOO many things that I wanted to tell you but just didn’t have time to write about at the moment. Guess I’ll have to get one of those little voice recorders for the next trip!Jude
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 26TH:
Flight departed right on time at 12:40 am. I didn’t want to eat – just sleep – but Aaron wanted his wine (that he has not had for 10 days). We had ordered him a special meal but had cancelled it after it was not what he liked on the flight over. The flight attendant who was pretty rude insisted that he had a special meal. So, I again ordered what he wanted and let him eat that instead. Then we all passed out for many hours. It is a 14 hour flight to D.C. and boy do we need the rest. I have so many new dog tags that my necklace is beginning to look like one of those “squash blossom” necklaces. Each and every one of them is special to me. We ran into Colonel Speegle who is Jonathan’s boss at the PAX terminal again. We told him once more what a tremendous asset Jonathan is to MWR in Iraq. Colonel Speegle told us that he has been following our “footprint” on his travels this week and he has never heard so many wonderful comments about any artist who has performed here as what he is hearing about Aaron. He could not thank us enough. When I went through the FINAL security check last night, the guy said, “Where is your husband?”. I told him I don’t have a husband and he said, “Okay, I be your husband”. He was pretty funny. As I walked off, he yelled, “Call Me”. LOL Thankfully Aaron and I got in a workout at the health club at the Radisson before we left for the airport. Haven’t missed too many workouts this trip because Aaron keeps forcing me to go with him. Guess that’s good, but I sure could use some sleep! Aaron wears reading glasses and lost them seven times on this trip, only to have someone find them for him. I think it is a pattern….first the guitar, then the glasses and there was a multitude of other items. I’m “on to him now” and always do a triple check before we leave any area. He lost the reading glasses when we left for the PAX terminal to fly back to Kuwait but Jonathan found them in the bed of the pickup truck with our luggage. J Security made us throw away our bottles of water just prior to boarding and then the flight attendants wouldn’t give us a bottle on the flight. The only good thing about United is the fact that the flight is “direct” from DC to Kuwait and back. We slept a LOT on the flight back and there was no turbulence, thank goodness. Landed a few minutes early in DC and all our luggage arrived with us. We said a very sad good-bye to Bill Cowan. What a wonderful, amazing man he is. He’s going on Fox News this week and talk up Stars for Stripes and Aaron Tippin. Hope to get Aaron on some shows as well. Our flight to Nashville was delayed by almost an hour but we finally departed and landed in Nashville. Aaron’s wife got stuck in traffic and didn’t make it to the airport to pick him up. So I took him and one of his musicians to where she was and handed them off. This tour could not have gone any smoother or better. We reached so many men and women who truly needed a morale boost over the holidays. Like Aaron said, he enjoys performing but he enjoys signing autographs and talking to everyone even more. You won’t see that from all the celebs who go over there. We hear so many stories of celebs who either refuse to sign autographs at all or have pre-signed photos. Never will see that with any celeb touring for me. I HAVE to go to bed and get some sleep. Next Road Report will be right after Christmas when I take a group of Comedians back over to Iraq. Jude