MONDAY, NOVEMBER 21ST AND TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 22ND – NASHVILLE TO KUWAIT:
Ahh….Happy Thanksgiving again. Spending my 7th consecutive with Aaron and the troops in the AOR and 8th consecutive since the conflict in Afghanistan began. Wouldn’t know what to do if I had to stay home and cook turkey. J
It was raining and foggy when we left Nashville. I had the Exit Row seat and managed to get Aaron in the seat next to me….not at his request. His arm still bears the marks of my nails.But, I KNEW it would be turbulent and I hate turbulence. I was right! One of the pilots is my friend who flew us with Lonestar last week. He flew up with us from Nashville to DC. I felt a little “safer” knowing that we had him and Aaron – both capable pilots – on the flight. I only latched on to Aaron a couple of times but once was when he was sound asleep. Think I scared him more than I hurt him.
We land in Kuwait on Tuesday and have one show there on Wednesday. Then on Thanksgiving Day we fly from Kuwait to Afghanistan…no idea what time. We may spend our entire Thanksgiving Day in the air. But, it’s better than being on the ground there on any holiday.That’s when the General Officers and Politicians tend to visit and they get priority when it comes to lodging, flights, troop participation, etc. We’ll let them have their time with the troops on Thanksgiving and we’ll have our time afterwards. Will be visiting at least 2 FOB’s per day if the weather and flights cooperate. I haven’t been there since 2008 so will be interesting to see the changes. Internet access will definitely still be a challenge.
We have a 6 hour layover in DC. Planned it that way. Would rather have a long layover than take the flight that only has a one hour layover. Too risky and we might miss our connection.
Landed early and went straight to the Lounge and answered emails for 4 hours. Took one break to meet with Jackie – the sweet lady who takes such good care of me with United in DC and for a quick salad at Potbelly’s. One thing that hasn’t changed in the Dulles Airport is the lack of good restaurants. L
Our flight to Kuwait departed on time. Jackie came on board and introduced me to the Purser and flight attendants. I have to say this is the best group of flight attendants and pilots/crew we have had in a very long time. I gave them the dates for my big tour in January and told them to all bid it so we could have the same group. Sure hope that works out.
The pilots warned that there would be a lot of turbulence at times and as long as I KNOW it’s coming, I can handle it. There was only once that I threatened to get up and sit in the same seat with Aaron. J I tried to watch a horrible movie with Cameron Diaz called “Bad Teacher”. I actually fell asleep before it was over. I’ve flown so much this month that I’ve already seen the couple of good movies they have on board. MAYBE there will be some new choices when we fly back on December 1st.
There were a lot of empty seats on the flight. Other than me and Aaron, the only ones in First Class were two air marshals and whichever pilot was taking crew rest.
We landed on time and went to collect our Visas. No one was at the Visa Counter. I walked over to another counter to ask where the staff was and there was a lady sitting there putting makeup on under her burka. A guy motioned for her to go to the counter but instead she disappeared for about 10 minutes. Finally came back to the counter and gave us our visas. All our bags arrived and Brian (first time I’ve worked with him) met us with a couple of SUVs for the trip to the hotel.
For the first time, the hotel did not have our reservations as requested. We were missing one room and they had put me about a half mile from the lobby. I always get a room right off the lobby. Their excuse was that there were a lot of meetings taking place in Kuwait and the hotel was sold out. I reminded them that I had booked my rooms more than 3 months ago AND how much money I spend with them. They quickly found the rooms we needed.
I had to “re-pack” everything and worked at that for hours. I now have 4 bags – one for the show tomorrow, one to leave here at the hotel when we go to Afghanistan, one personal bag of clothes to take to Afghanistan, and one “show bag” to take to Afghanistan. I’m SURE I’m going to get something mixed up and be missing things I need in Afghanistan. Answered emails until Aaron and I had dinner at 7 pm in the hotel restaurant. It’s a “decent” buffet but definitely not as good as the one at the Radisson was. Been working on email since dinner and might even get in bed before 3 am this time.
Tomorrow is our first show in Kuwait. Aaron has had his full band with him these past several years so it’s going to be a “challenge” doing it acoustic. Unfortunately, the crowds will probably be bigger than ever. We’ll have the production we need, but not the musicians to make it a real high energy performance – which he is known for. We couldn’t bring the full band because Afghanistan has a 6 person – 600 pound rule for entertainment coming in there. Will be interesting to see if anything has changed since I was there in February 2008 with Bo Bice.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 23RD – CAMP BUEHRING, KUWAIT:
I got 5 hours of sleep. It was awesome. Then I ran 5 miles in absolutely perfect weather. As I mentioned, I am very “aware” and “cautious” when I jog here with the crazy drivers. I stay as far away from the “street” as possible. I was making my way through a private business that had a semi-circular drive way out front. A car came flying off the main street (no blinker, of course!) and zipped through the circular drive and then went right back out onto the same road they had exited.I am sure their purpose was to jockey for a position farther up in the traffic. Instead they ended up 2 cars behind where they originally started! Insane!
Went back and had breakfast with Aaron. Our call time wasn’t until 1:15 pm but I had a text message asking if we could leave earlier. My response was “no, I need more notice than the day of to find my guys”.We did manage to leave at about 1 pm instead of 1:30 pm. I had a meeting with the Hotel Management who explained that they had some changes in personnel and my problems would not occur again.
Colonel Hater made the 1 ½ hour drive with us to Camp Buehring. When we arrived, the base was “locked down”. But they had an Army detail waiting to bring us on. Our briefing was by a great guy Colonel (select) Rogers. He wasn’t there when I came through with Lonestar because he was at Arifjan at that time.
Took the guys to the stage and then Aaron and I went to the Base Exchange to purchase items that he didn’t bring that were on my packing list to them. Then it was time for sound check and dinner at the DFAC.
Show started right on time at 7 pm. It is something like 55 degrees outside but feels much colder. Once again, the crowd was HUGE!!! At least as many as Lonestar had with their performance here a couple of weeks ago. Autograph line was long but moved much faster because it was just one person signing – not a “group”.
Found out our flight is wheels up at 11:20 am tomorrow. Not nearly as bad as I anticipated. Usually we have to be at the flight line at some ungodly hour — like 4 am. Shouldn’t have to leave the hotel until around 9 am tomorrow.
I’ve ordered sandwiches for the flight which will be our “Thanksgiving Meal” tomorrow. J Don’t expect to hear from me again until at LEAST November 30th or December 1st.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 24TH – THANKSGIVING DAY – KUWAIT TO KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN:
Up at 6 am and called Lindsey so I could Skype with Zac and Zoe since I probably won’t get to talk to them on Thanksgiving Day. They were visiting friends in Alabama and going to “Nanny’s” house for Thanksgiving. Also called my son and wished him a Happy Thanksgiving.He has a friend stationed at one of the camps we’ll be visiting in Afghanistan so hopefully we’ll get to see him.
Called Aaron at 7 but he was already up and ready to go to breakfast.Had a pretty quick breakfast and then had to get the hotel bills sorted out and paid, last minute emails answered, two bags stored at the hotel and two bags loaded to go with me. Everyone was on time and we arrived at the PAX terminal at 9:30 am. Our plane was circling waiting for a parking spot. It’s the huge C17 which is awesome because it has a toilet! Found out we are taking two bulldozers and 9 Marines who were home on leave and been trying to get back to their base for several days with us.
I was excited with the guy handling the flights at the Pax Terminal said we had to stop through Qatar to take on Fuel. Called my friend who is now a Brigadier General in the Air Force to let him know we would be stopping through to say Happy Thanksgiving AND Happy Birthday. I had our crew take the guitars off the pallet so we could sing a couple of songs if we had any time there at all.
Then about a half hour later, the same guy came back to tell me that we were NOT going to stop through Qatar. But, he also said that our flight crew was not aware that we they were picking up the bulldozers and extra 9 Marines so they might have to stop to re-fuel. Called the General again to update him.
It took much longer to load the bulldozer than expected so by the time we boarded the plane, we were already an hour later than we anticipated leaving. I had picked up sandwiches from the hotel but most of us ate ours before we ever got on the plane. The C17 was out of Delaware but our flight crew was out of South Carolina where Aaron grew up. They let us sit up on the flight deck with them. Even with the bulldozers and extra passengers, there was still plenty of room downstairs for everyone to spread out and sleep.
I gave all the crew (5 total) a cd, photo and coin and asked the pilot if there was any chance we could stop through Qatar. I thought one of the straps looked a little loose on the first bulldozer. J He was going to call Qatar and ask them but I knew that they are limited on the number of hours they can fly and it would be cutting it too close to add any more time to their flight day. I was right. We didn’t get to stop through there.
So far flight has been really smooth. Heard there might be some weather in Kandahar but hoping it will pass before we get there. Will be interesting to see if the lodging has changed any since I was there in 2008 with Bo Bice. I have to say I don’t recognize the names of ANY of the camps where we are going! But a lot can change in 3 ½ years, even “names” of camps.
We are supposed to have Thanksgiving Dinner waiting for us when we land and then don’t have to do anything else tonight, I hope! I told our escorts not to plan anything since there was no way of knowing what time our flight would arrive. We have a very early call time tomorrow – 6 am again – and a very busy day with a visit to two different FOB’s.
The flight was only 3 hours instead of 5 like we were told! Did I mention there was a toilet on board? J We landed and Heather and our “team” were waiting for us and as usual, Heather had everything organized to the “nth” degree. We immediately checked into lodging. It’s a long building with rooms along a hallway. Aaron has his own room as do I and the guys are two to a room. There is a Male latrine at one end and a female at the other. I definitely didn’t stay here last time because the Latrine was a “hike” from my room. I do remember the “Boardwalk” because that’s where Aaron performed and also where I spent a lot of time when I was here with Bo Bice. It was a shock to see Barry, Aaron’s escort from 2006 here! At least he hasn’t been here this entire time.
We walked over to the DFAC and had Thanksgiving dinner with the troops…a first, I think! But there was NO PUMPKIN PIE. How can you have Thanksgiving Dinner without Pumpkin Pie??? After dinner we walked around to visit different buildings and signed about 200 photos and took photos with the troops. As we were walking around, we ran into a General Sinclair who remembered us from our 2006 visit!
We were back at lodging by 8:30 pm and our hosts arranged for us to have a “temporary” account so that we could use the computers in our rooms. THAT was nice. Was not looking forward to hiking to the MWR tent at midnight but I would have done it.
As Heather and the escorts were getting ready to leave, the Under Secretary for the Army (at least I think that’s his title) came in from his tour. Babs Chase who I worked with years ago on America Supports You and haven’t seen since DC this past Summer was with him. I was so excited to see her when she came to an event for Aaron this Summer, that I forgot to introduce her to him! So, tomorrow morning, I’ll fix that mistake!
Have to get up at 5 am, so going to bed very soon since it is almost midnight. Busy day tomorrow. They are getting us out to some FOBs where there have been a lot of injuries and casualties lately in a part of Afghanistan that has “heated up” since they drove the Taliban out of Kandahar. Getting us to the guys and gals who really need a morale boost!
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 25TH – NATHAN SMITH FOB WARHORSE AND FOB WALTON:
Bed at 1 am and up at 5 am. Really wanted to go work out last night but they wouldn’t let us walk around the compound unaccompanied and there was no one around at midnight when I wanted to go.
Bags are out at 6:30 am, breakfast at 7 and chopper out of here at 8!It’s a pretty aggressive itinerary from here on out. Got an email last night from the Mom of a young Private who is at one of the really remote sites we will be visiting this trip. Evidently a poster went up announcing the appearance of a “country music artist” and someone told them they think it might be Aaron. The little FOB is excited beyond belief. We got his name and Aaron’s going to make sure he talks to him and I’ll give him a big hug from Mom. This Unit has lost 5 and had 34 wounded by IED’s. Can you even imagine a mother’s worry about her son in that situation? I don’t want to think about it.
Probably going to have a lot less time to type road reports from here on out! I just found out that a girl I was talking to in the shower room last night is the actress who was on Reba – the “daughter” who got pregnant on the show. Her hair is red now instead of blonde. She is married to Nick Switzer of the Yankees. They are spending their “honeymoon” in Afghanistan with the Under Secretary of the Army. She was so sweet!
It was a crazy busy, fun, exciting, very fulfilling day. Choppers left at 8:30 am for a 10 minute fight to Nathan Smith Task Force Warhorse.Everyone was so excited to see us. We had a briefing (which was not “brief” J — never is with the military) and then walked around the base and shook hands and took photos for a couple of hours. Then it was a 2 minute chopper ride to FOB Walton where we had another “not so brief” briefing. I found out that this is 4ID from Colorado Springs at both these FOB’s and that’s where my friends General Anderson and Colonel McGregor are located. We took a couple of very special photos to share with them.
Walked around this FOB and met people, plus Aaron rode on a commercial helicopter with the contractors, in an MRAP with a gun that is controlled with a joystick, and got to go to the firing range. It was a busy, very “big boy toys” day for him. He did get to take a very short nap. Then it was time for sound check. Sound check did not go well.Evidently when we left Kuwait, someone with the production company labeled the plugs and packs wrong. It took more than an hour to figure out what was happening. Aaron didn’t have time to eat before the show but he rarely does anyway.
The show was great. Packed house….probably 250 people. At one point, I had to slip him a note to let him know a Medivac Chopper was landing (VERY LOUD) and he might want to stop singing for a few minutes when it did. One of the Afghan Police who are living on base with our troops was injured when someone threw a grenade over the wire. Really hope he will be okay.
There were more people in the autograph line than there were at the show, I swear! We went through over 500 photos at these to FOB’s today. I’m now having to limit each person to 1 photo or we will run out since I only have 1600 left and 7 more stops! Evidently a couple of the last FOB’s are tiny – only 200 people so that will help.
Did I mention that lodging is one tent – front for boys, back for girls.AND I was able to pay for wireless and get on the internet. Surreal to be sitting in a tent working on wireless internet.
Going to go take my shower now and then hit the bed for a 5 am wakeup call!
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 26TH – FOB SHOJA, FOB ZANGABAD AND FOB MASUM GHAR:
I got up at 5 am and by the time I dressed and got back to the tent, the guys were up. I was supposed to wake Aaron up at 6 am, but he was already up and dressed.
We had breakfast and THIS DFAC had grits and omelets! Much better. J Took a flight to FOB Shoja and boy was it remote. The troops there had not had any entertainment. Most of them were from Fairbanks, Alaska. The whole camp was that really fine “talcum powder” (moon dust) dirt. They had to pull a trailer up in the middle of an area for our stage and run power from a generator. While the guys were setting up for the show, Aaron walked around and signed autographs and took photos with everyone. They are just moving into this location and only had about 40 “permanent “ guys and girls there. But for the show, they came in from other locations. We gave out almost 300 autograph sheets.
It started raining during sound check and the stage wasn’t covered. There was a “tent” back behind the stage. They started bringing in this forklift filled with tires for an MRAP which are HUGE and HEAVY. It took half a dozen soldiers to get them off the fork lift and in “place”. They stacked the tires 5 high at the four corners of the stage. Then, they had Afghan workers pick up the tent from the backstage and walk forward with it. Aaron and I KNEW they would never be able to lift it up over the stage to cover it. And, the tires that they were going to place them on had big holes in the middle, so nothing for them to stand on. They also forgot that the tent was so long, it had poles in the middle for support and obviously no plan was in place for that! They finally figured out it wasn’t going to work and just left it sitting on one side of the stage. J
The base Commander was great and couldn’t express his gratitude. He seemed surprised that we would even consider performing in such a remote location that is basically right in the “middle of the fight”. We had great briefings and they told us this is the “home of the Taliban”– this region. We’ve lost a lot of guys and have a lot so amputees because of the iED’s in this region.
The show was great. Exactly the troops we wanted to reach out to and try to boost their morale. Over and over we kept hearing “complacency kills” and our visit certainly gave them something to look forward to and a change from their every day duties.
The show started at 11 am and after the show and autograph session, we had lunch with them at their DFAC. Then it was helicopters to FOB Zangabar. We learned that until a couple of days ago, we still had not been cleared to go there. Our safety was a concern and they never take chances with that. We flew over NOTHING for 15 minutes except for vineyards of grapes! Now that was a surprise. Once we landed, we got another great briefing. Evidently, this area has NO electricity or running water. The locals have started working with the U.S. and Afghan soldiers and things are much better. They showed us where they were winning the fight and how far they had pushed the Taliban back. One of the stories that he told that really stuck with me was about a family living in an area where they are trying to extend the highway. The Taliban came in and planted 4 IED’s in the family’s home. There was the father, mother and two children living there and they had to live in the home knowing that if they stepped on one of the pressure plates, it would explode. When the Afghan soldiers and our troops came in, the man told them where the IED’s were planted so that no one would be injured when they came through. Our troops feel like we are making significant progress in this area and they by the time the troop withdrawal is complete, the Afghans will be ready to take full control.
The show at Zangabad was great. We found the young soldier – PFC William Schwartz – whose Mom had emailed us. I gave him a big hug and kiss and Aaron and I both took a photo with him that I will email to his Mom when I am back in “civilization”! At both shows today, we had Afghan soldiers attend. They all wanted an autographed photo and a photo taken with Aaron.
We had dinner at their DFAC and then went over to the Conference Room where we were each given a nice certificate and a knife. (Yes, I warned everyone to PACK in their checked bags!).Then we got the call that our helicopters were coming in at 7:36 pm instead of 8 pm. So we had to rush to the landing zone. We took Chinooks tonight (the rest of the flights have been on Blackhawks). Packed it full of our gear and luggage and passengers for about a 7 minute flight to Masum Ghar. When the choppers landed, we were warned to face the wall so we would not be hit in the face with flying rocks. Well, the wind blew my purse and show bag off the road case where I had laid it and I had to hunt around in total darkness to find it. It also blew my camera off the purse where I had it strapped! Masum Ghar was ready for us but said we actually took the wrong helicopters! Ours were still picking us up at 8:30 pm!
We met a few people as soon as we came in and then were going to lodging. But they had separated Aaron from me and put me with the rest of the group. Not acceptable. But, he had two sets of bunk beds in his room, so one of the military security personnel we had with us stayed in the room with us.
Our hosts gave Aaron and I a great tour of the base and we visited the TOC. I feel so guilty for accepting their hospitality and not performing for them. But they assured us that the two FOBs we visited today are their guys and girls and they needed the entertainment much more.
Went back to the room and there is a wireless router in the room that uses the same internet that I purchased at the last camp. Of course, when I turned on my computer, it would not pick it up! Alex hooked his up and let me check my email. Fortunately, it’s still the weekend in the States, so only a few to answer.
I worked for a few minutes while Aaron showered and then I went over to shower….only one shower “building” but the door locks. J When I came back both he and Alex were asleep and it was cold in the room. I didn’t want to wake them and couldn’t find the remote to turn on the heater. It was so cold, I couldn’t go to sleep. I got up and put on every piece of clothing I could find….2 pair of socks, fleece jacket, gloves, neck warmer…and I was still freezing. Add to the fact that the springs on the mattress stick through and you can imagine how little sleep I got.Aaron finally woke up at 3:30 and I told him I was freezing. He admitted he was too (guy thing!). We’re so redneck, we couldn’t figure out how to work the remote so we had to wake Alex up to do it. I think it finally warmed up at around 4:15 am but I had to get up at 5 am. I am going to be useless all day!
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 27TH – MASUM GHAR TO SPIN BOLDAK:
Got up at 5 am after NO sleep and got dressed. Our host had a coffee maker in his office, so at least I was able to get caffeine in me quickly. Internet worked for about 2 minutes, too. J
Aaron and Alex kept talking about how cold they were last night but neither one of them was going to say anything. It’s a guy thing…the female has to admit she’s cold first! I don’t think any of us got any sleep because our teeth were chattering. Aaron said he and Alex kept sending Morse Code with their teeth saying “Don’t give in and admit you’re cold. Wait for Jude to say something!”. J
We had breakfast and then it was a Chinook ride to Spin Boldak. Aaron got to sit in the “jump seat” for the half hour flight. With all our equipment in the aisle in front of us, wasn’t a very comfortable flight. And Chinooks are very cold because they also have to fly with the windows open, too. Spin Boldak is much larger than the other camps we’ve visited but still extremely “remote” and the troops here have not had any entertainment. They were very happy to see us.Aaron, Alex and I are in the DV area and the rest of the group is in a tent. I took Aaron’s “single” room and he and Alex are sharing. The nearest latrine is about a quarter of a mile away and the shower is even further than that. Alex is just going to “clear” the male shower for me so I can take a shower there tonight.
We spent the morning and afternoon visiting different TOCs and offices. Then we had a K-9 demonstration that was awesome. They tried to get Aaron to “suit up” but he was not interested. But, he sure enjoyed seeing the demonstration. He had a few minutes of “down time” (translates as short nap) before we had to go to Headquarters for an AFN interview. I got some emails answered because there is wired internet service for a fee in my “chu”. Yippee!
We rode over to do the interviews and during the first one he kept asking me for information because the person doing the interview was asking where we had been, where we were going.Big mistake to ever ask the artist that. That’s why they have “handlers”! J So, when they got to the video portion of the interview, I stepped outside. A door opened behind me and some Afghans stepped out and then a LTC behind them. The Colonel traveling with our group introduced himself and told him we were there with Aaron. Then he introduced me and the LTC said, “Jude? Jude Seale from Nashville?” Turns out he was the second Aide that I met to General Odierno and a sweetheart. I lost touch with him after he left General O. I don’t know who was more surprised and delighted….me or him! He stayed and talked to me and said hello to Aaron. The last time he saw Aaron was when we were at the Palace meeting with General O in Baghdad. He wanted us to come down to his Headquarters to meet the War Lord for the Afghans in this area that he works with. Aaron had to do a sound check but I promised him we would come down if time permitted.
Aaron did a really quick sound check and we rode over to LTC Jones office. The War Lord wasn’t there but we got to talk to the LTC for a few minutes. He walked over to the DFAC with us and had dinner. Then since we had some time left, he asked us to participate in a “Golden Spurs” ceremony. He is the Commander of the 2-38 Cavalry here at Spin Boldak. Their mission is to hunt down the bad guys who are putting out the IEDs and other weapons that are killing and injuring our troops. One of his men has been instrumental in accomplishing that and he wanted to reward him with a presentation of Golden Spur. The poor guy had to put his feet up on the table behind him and do push-ups while they strapped on the spurs! But it was pretty awesome to watch. J
We went into his office and he told us about what they are doing in this area. I also asked him about the attacks on the Pakistan bases this week. Where we are located, the Pakistan border is 8 kilometers from us….you can SEE the lights of Pakistan at night! I know you’re seeing and hearing a lot on the news about this. I would believe and trust our military before I would anything that I hear on the news. According to sources here, our troops and the Afghan soldiers were attacked by the Taliban crossing over the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan then running back across the border to “hide” in the Camps in Pakistan. Our Apache choppers witnessed the attack on our side and followed the bad guys back into Pakistan and killed them even though there were in Pakistan compounds. The border that we can see from here is the second largest supply route for us and now Pakistan has closed all the borders and our supplies can’t get through. Talk about a little “tension” here!
While we were finishing up our briefing, the Afghan War Lord and his entourage came in so we got to meet him after all. He was very gracious – through his interpreter since he doesn’t speak any English. Aaron and I took photos with him and gave him autographed photos and cds. He told the LTC that he wanted to come to the performance. He was very distressed that he did not know we would be here so he could have invited us to his home for a meal and given us gifts. He is the most powerful Afghan in this particular area and he has 3 wives!
The show was awesome. It was inside which was nice because it gets very cold here. LTC Jones and the Afghan War Lord did attend the concert and afterwards, LTC Jones presented me and Aaron with plaques and golden spurs. Aaron – even though he has an injured shoulder and been forbidden to exercise – got down and did push ups while they strapped his on. I just looked at the audience and announced that there was no way I was putting my “butt” up in the air for them! J What a wonderful, special gift for us, especially knowing “how” the other soldiers have earned theirs. We are definitely not worthy of such an honor.
The War Lord also got on stage and spoke to everyone and thanked us for our partnership and gave Aaron a beautiful flag. Aaron signed autographs for about an hour and the guys who handle the remotely piloted vehicles gave him an autographed propeller! Not sure how we’ll get that home…
We were back at lodging at around 10:30 pm. I got Aaron hooked up on the internet and then our security escort blocked the men’s shower so I could use it. The ladies is about a mile away from my chu! Let me tell you, the men’s shower is definitely not as clean as the ladies, but it sure beat walking that far in the cold and dark!
I’ve been working for about an hour now and it’s after midnight, so time to hike to the toilet and then get some sleep!
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 28TH – FOB SPIN BOLDAK TO FOB PASAB:
Almost got 4 hours of sleep but needed to go to the bathroom and didn’t want to “hike” that far to the bathroom so kept waiting for the alarm to go off. Then I heard the pouring rain! No umbrella, of course. Had to bundle up and “run” over the big rocks to the latrine.
Had my heating coil and cup they gave me at the first stop, so I was able to make some coffee. They picked us up at 7:15 am and we had breakfast before departing to the airfield.LTC Jones came by to see us off.
Had an interesting departure from Spin Boldak to Pasab. We took ground fire immediately after launching in our Chinook. I was sitting about in the center of the Chinook. Right after take off,we took small arms fire. Our excellent flight crew saw it immediately and took evasive tactics.Our gunner in the back was thrown backwards and rolled down the ramp which left his gun just “swinging around”. Obviously he wasn’t able to get off any shots at the people on the ground firing at us. Ricky (our sound tech) was sitting across from our gear was almost crushed by one of the heavy road cases that broke the strap and rolled towards him. It did hit him on the knee but a soldier sitting next to him was able to help stop anything else from hitting him. Aaron was sitting in the jump seat with the pilots and actually saw the shots being fired at us. He said the other Chinook was able to pin point the source of the attack and fire on them. They were also able to call in their coordinates so hopefully our ground guys caught them so it won’t happen to someone else. When it first happened, our group didn’t know if it was really an attack or if the crew was just showing Aaron some maneuvers. I could look at faces and know, it was very serious.
But, not the first time this has happened. In Iraq, I’ve taken small arms fire in a black hawk with Aaron, small arms fire that actually hit the Chinook over Baghdad one night with Charlie Daniels, missiles launched at our C130 twice — once with Aaron and once with my NYE Comedy Tour, and an RGP that exploded right outside our Blackhawk when I was with D. B. Sweeney!I’ve also always known that we are in the best possible hands and the military will take care of us.
Landed on time at Pasab and had a nice welcoming committee. We had about one hour to relax (translates as answer emails) before starting our base tour, lunch and round of “meet and greets”. Walked around and met a lot of the troops working on the base, had lunch and then did a short meet and greet by the stage. We then visited the medical facilities and had about an hour for Aaron to rest (nap).
Show time is at 5 pm with autographs afterwards and then dinner before we depart to Kandahar. It was the PERFECT final show in Afghanistan. The boys and girls of the 10thMountain Division from Ft. Drum, New York were our audience. And boy were they ever happy to see us. Very sad that it is the last show but more determined than ever to come back with more entertainment SOON.
We visited the mechanics, welders, carpenters earlier today and they showed us the cool things they are able to make with a plasma cutter. They are making artificial limbs for the Afghan war casualties! One man walked 20 miles carrying his 9 year old son who had stepped on an IED plate and lost both his legs to this Camp to get “legs” for him. Just breaks your heart to hear the stories about the children being injured. And the Taliban is recruiting and training the kids to set the IEDs because they know our troops would not dare harm a child. During our visit to that area, they took Aaron’s “signature” and etched it into a piece of aluminum. Then they turned that into the base for a metal “sculpture” with their emblems. Pretty cool gift!
A soldier came up to the after the show and said he heard Aaron wanted a set of their shirt and pants. Afghanistan has an entirely different “pattern” on theirs – can’t remember what they are calling these. I think the last ones in Iraq were BDU’s. Anyway, he went to his hooch to get a pair and when he came back, he had accidentally brought two shirts. So he went back to get a pair of pants but returned with two pair of pants and gave me one of the sets! I showed Aaron my set when he finished signing autographs and let him think I got a pair and he didn’t for about 30 seconds. Then I caved in and gave him his set. J
We had dinner at their small DFAC and talked with a lot of the troops. They have all been there about 9 months and will get to go home in 3 more. Then it was time to go to our lodging, pack up, and depart for Kandahar Air Field. I was told it would be a freezing cold 30 minute ride so I put on my under armor and my new “uniform” , my fleece jacket, neck warmer, and gloves.Once we got on the chopper and took off, they turned on a heater underneath the seat and I was actually sweating (we haven’t had heat on any of the other Chinooks or even the blackhawks.). AND it was a 15 minute flight.
Went back into the same rooms we had when we came through Kandahar. Everyone here is really disappointed that they won’t be seeing Aaron perform. But the “schedulers” felt it was more important for us to get to the outlying areas where the troops really needed the morale boost and I’m so glad they set our schedule that way. I was standing at the show this evening looking at the ear-to-ear smiles on the faces of our audience and saying a silent prayer to please let them all come home safely. The casualties take on a very personal meaning after you’ve been to the area and shook the hands of the finest men and women America ever brought forth. We learned that Zagabar was “lit up” (as the troops put it) the same night we departed there – meaning they took a rocket attack. Fortunately, there were no casualties there.
I’ve known Heather our MWR escort for more than a decade but never toured with her. She was always in a desk job. She did an excellent job of planning our tour and escorting the group.Really not sure how the tour would have turned out without her involvement. Unfortunately, the area is losing her in January to a position in the states. I’m determined to get more entertainment to the area, so hopefully they will have someone good replace her. That is, if they can “lift” the 6 person 600 pound rule. Colonel Crate who also accompanied us says he will do his best to get that rule revoked. It was great that he came on our tour and saw first hand what our visit meant to the troops. It’s still embarrassing for them to come up to us and thank us. We’re with them for a “day” and not suiting up, going outside the wire, and risking our lives whereas that is a daily occurrence for them.
Aaron was really happy with the sites we visited as well and wants to return, of course! I can always count on him to spend his Thanksgiving with the troops deployed.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 29TH – KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN TO KUWAIT CITY, KUWAIT:
Took my shower last night and got 3 ½ hours sleep – up at 3:30 am. It was FREEZING when we went outside to walk to the DFAC for a very quick breakfast. We got word that our flight crew was not “happy” as they were ready to depart, so we rushed to the flight line. The crew is out of Dyess and I gave them cds, coins, and autographed photos. While they were not overly friendly, they were polite. I asked if Aaron could go up on the flight deck and they said okay. I didn’t go back up. It’s a dedicated flight, so we are the only ones flying but have a lot of cargo strapped in the back that we are transporting. I laid down on one long bench along the center aisle and tried to sleep. But, of course, I had to use the restroom because there’s not one.When I finally realized we still had two more hours to go and my bladder would surely explode, I swallowed my pride and asked for the “honey bucket”. Fortunately, the little airman in the back was super sweet AND it was the “Cadillac” of all honey buckets….actually a “toilet seat” like in a camper and it flushed. I was very impressed. Usually the flight crew decides to hit turbulence as soon as I’m “perched” but this crew was much too polite to try that.
Once we land in Kuwait, we have the rest of the day and evening off which is much needed after our tour. Tomorrow we will go to Camp Arifjan and do some meet and greets, performance, and then off to the airport for the flight back to the states and my beautiful twin grandchildren.
We landed exactly on time and I asked Aaron if they were any “nicer” to him once he sat on the flight deck with them. He said that for 4 hours and 45 minutes, they never once engaged him in the conversation. They did not give him a headset for take off but finally handed him one about 45 minutes into the flight. Then they talked amongst themselves and never once addressed him. When we landed, no one told us we could get off the plane. They opened the back to take off the cargo but did not open the door. I finally had to call our security escort and ask him to tell them to let us off. They opened the door and we went out through the front instead of climbing over all the cargo that was still on the plane! This flight crew was out of Dyess in Texas and I am really disappointed in their attitudes. We have flown with Dyess flight crews before in Iraq and they were super nice. Really embarrassed to have Aaron see them act this way.
We got checked into the Movenpick and Aaron and I went to Chili’s for lunch. Then I repacked all the bags that I had left behind and taken with me for our flight home tomorrow and started answering emails. Got in a great work out at the gym at around 6 pm and had dinner with Aaron at 8 pm. Going to bed very soon now. Lobby call isn’t until noon tomorrow but will be hectic after that trying to perform and get to the airport on time.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 30TH AND WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 1ST– LAST PERFORMANCE IN KUWAIT AND HOME!
Got 6 hours of sleep and hit the gym. Quick breakfast and then we were off to Camp Arifjan. First stop was an autograph session at the TOC.Then an office call with the Command.
We had to do autographs before the show today because we leave for the airport afterwards. I was worried that no one would show up, but I gave out almost 400 autograph cards. It was great.
Met the head of our PSD (personal security detail). I had been told he looked like Sam Elliott and he did! Really nice guy but he’s leaving Kuwait in a few days for home. And “home” is Nashville of all places.Small world. But the guy who is taking his “lead” is awesome, too.
Aaron’s show was nothing short of spectacular. Another HUGE, enthusiastic crowd. Know we’re on a “high” from the Afghanistan shows.He says he thinks this just might be the best tour ever because of the troops we were able to get too. I think he’s right.
We had a quick dinner at the DFAC after the performance and then went to our DV rooms for a shower. For the first time, our security detail walked us through the airport check in. It was awesome. Even United won’t screw with big guys with guns. Wish we had known about them a long time ago.
Sitting in the Lounge waiting for our flight to board. Aaron and I got upgraded to first with my 1K segments. Flight departed on time and only had a few periods of pretty bad turbulence. Looked like it was a pretty full flight. Pilots and flights attendants were very nice, too. I tried to watch two different movies (yes, they had changed the choices because it is December now) but both were so bad, I only got through about 20 minutes of each. Since I didn’t eat on the plane, just curled up and slept for 6 hours straight! Really needed that. After several cups of coffee (which, by the way, United flights have some of the best coffee ever), I was able to do some work.
We landed a little bit late but were the only flight that came in at that time to clear customs. Luggage came through relatively quickly. I was able to find some “toys” for the twins since it is not an option to come home empty-handed.
We boarded on time for departure to Nashville, taxied, and stopped.Evidently Nashville has freezing fog and no visibility. Planes were not being allowed to land so they took us back to the gate and put on more fuel. Sat there about 45 minutes and were given the okay to depart.Landed in Nashville about 1 ½ hours late and really happy to be home – for 10 days before returning to Kuwait with Darryl Worley and Filter.
It was such a GREAT tour. Going to make a concentrated effort to get more entertainment over to the troops who are on the front lines in Afghanistan.