ROAD KILL – DAY ONE – SEPTMEBER 1ST:
I don’t usually do “Road Kill” reports on my U.S. travels but this one is very special. Tomorrow (Friday) Chely Wright and I will visit the wounded at Walter Reed and Bethesda. I want to document this because it is so important to us. We were able to visit both hospitals last May before our trip to Iraq. We will be departing for Iraq again in less than two weeks.
So, yesterday, we spent all day at Ft. Campbell getting the immunizations and prescriptions filled for our trip to Kuwait and Iraq. Thankfully, I’m up-to-date and didn’t need anything.
Today Chely and I flew up to Baltimore. I arrived at the airport a few minutes before her and got checked in. She checked her bags curbside and we started walking inside. Then I heard the dreaded “Oh No”….just like I had heard so many times from Jolie on the trip to Europe last month. I knew it was bad and one look at her face confirmed it. She had left her make-up bag in her bathroom at home – at least a 3o minute drive one way. She could have purchased more makeup, but all her prescription medicine was also in the bag. It was medicine she has to take every day so having the band bring it up on the bus on Saturday was not an option. I went to the Southwest counter and begged the agent to
please fly just the pills up to Baltimore for us on the next flight. No deal. “Unaccompanied bags” are not allowed on a flight…which makes sense. But, I don’t understand why we couldn’t put a couple of pills in an envelope and have them flown up. Tried to get in touch with our contact at American Airlines because I knew he would take care of it for her. But, American didn’t have any flights to Baltimore that night.
SOOO…..we decided to stay over and take the next flight out…2 ½ hours later. The ticket agent said that we would have to fly stand-by but that the flight was only half full. He also said that our bags would have to go ahead and be flown on the earlier flight but that Southwest would “hold” them for us until we arrived. After he got everything changed, I made him lean across the counter and I whispered, “Why can you fly 3 pieces of checked UNACCOMPANIED luggage on a flight but you can’t fly a couple of pills UNACCOMPANIED?” He turned red with embarrassment and said, “I can’t touch that one”. I decided to keep my mouth shut before I screwed us out of the flight.
We got on the plane and there were plenty of empty seats. Chely likes to sit by herself, so she sat in the middle seat in a row of 3 seats and I sat across from her in an aisle seat. About 30 minutes into the flight, this older man comes barreling down the aisle and sits in the aisle seat right beside Chely. Both of our mouths dropped open at the same time because there were several rows of empty seats. He mumbled something about his seat being “squeaky”. Chely sat there for about 3 seconds then got up and moved to an empty row. It was beyond strange.
Landed and our bags were waiting for us. Grabbed a taxi to the hotel and were hoping we would arrive in time to see President Bush’s speech. The taxi driver was definitely not from America and he didn’t speak really good English. He mumbled something about he HAD to turn up the radio because it was almost time for President Bush to speak. Chely asked him if he was going to vote for Bush and he said, “Of Course”. Then she asked him where he was from and he said Djibouti! What are the chances??? Never in my life did I think I would ever go to Djibouti and I certainly never expected to meet someone in Baltimore that was from there. I got so excited and told him I was just there in July. He said, “So you met my sister”!!! Not sure what that meant but we did chat about Djbouti for a while.
Made it to the hotel in time to see President Bush’s speech. What a wonderful, wonderful President he is. Sure hope he gets re-elected.
Going to bed soon. Have to get myself “mentally” prepared for the visits tomorrow. It’s so hard to see the young men and women missing arms, legs, or with severe wounds. But the really uplifting part of the visit is the fact that none of them we met last time was bitter. They all believed in what they were doing for the Iraqi people, were disappointed that they had “left their buddies there to finish the job” and all of them wanted to go back over there.
ROAD KILL – DAY TWO – SEPTEMBER 3RD:
I started the “Road Kill Reports” for this trip because I felt I needed to share the experiences at Bethesda and Walter Reed with everyone. After spending the day there today, I know that I can’t. It’s simply too personal. I will give you a synopsis but the experiences we shared there today with the finest young men and women in the world are too special to write about in an email.
I got up early and went into a really nice little gym at the hotel to run on the treadmill for an hour. Then we departed the hotel at about 10:30 am for the first stop at Bethesda. Our driver and our escort from USO Metro are long-time friends and wonderful people to work with. My only concern was the fact that we had only allowed one hour for the visit to Bethesda and I knew it would take much longer. We actually spent about 3 hours there! We had a wonderful escort at Bethesda to walk us around also. He gave us a “briefing” on each marine that we met before we went into the rooms. I kept notes on each man and woman that we met because I want to be able to look back and remember their stories.
Again, we did not meet one person who was “bitter” about their fate in life and everyone was worried about their buddies that they had left in Iraq. Without fail, they all stated that they wished their injuries were such that they would heal quickly and they could go back to Iraq. We did meet one young man who was pretty insistent that he was NOT a hero.
After visiting Bethesda, we had a quick lunch where we met a wonderful lady who volunteers to assist the USO in escorting the visitors to the hospitals. We were supposed to go to the Occupational Therapy Ward and spend a couple of hours with the amputees. However, because we were so late in arriving, we had to visit the individual rooms first. Then, we spent so long doing this, we did not get to visit the OT patients at all. This was a real disappointment to me as we had several “names” of soldiers that we wanted to say hello to from various people. We had a wonderful Chaplain who escorted us from room to room, introducing us to the men and women. In each room at both hospitals, we spent anywhere from 10-20 minutes talking with them. Chely autographed photos that we had brought with us and the USO took Polaroid photos that we left with the soldiers and marines. The Chaplain “mentioned” that there were a lot of children and their parents on the pediatric ward that never received any visits from the celebrities. Chely and I are such “softies” that we immediately agreed to go see them. By 8:30 pm we had visited with 22 soldiers and marines ranging in age from 19 to 37 years old and 7 children and their parents. The children ranged in age from 3 months to 22!
The absolute highlight of my day was walking into one of the soldier’s room and introducing myself and his response was, “I remember you”! He was at Camp Anaconda in Balad in July when I was there with Chalee Tennison and Danni Leigh. I was amazed that he remembered me and so sad that he had been injured. I assured him that if Chely got to go back there on her tour, that we would say hello to all his buddies for him. He was hit by shrapnel when an RPG was lobbed over the fence line. This happened SO many times while we were there in July.
We got the names of everyone and where they had served so that when Chely tours there in a few days, we can say hello for them. We asked each person where they were from, how their injury happened and where they were serving when it happened. It made it so much more “real” when talking with them because I have visited almost all of the Camps where they had served. Have I mentioned lately how wonderful Chely is with these fine, young men and women? She is genuinely interested in their injuries and not at all squeamish about touching their wounds. One soldier had eaten a lot of junk food yesterday and Chely held his “pink bucket” for him while he was sick. He was not at all embarrassed by the fact that she saw him like this because she put him totally at ease. When she leaves the room, everyone knows that she was there because she cares about them, wants to know about their injuries and their personal lives, and she will continue going overseas to entertain them and their buddies and visiting the wounded.
The hardest part of the day was visiting with a handsome young man who had lost both of his eyes. It was a very recent injury and he was trying to adjust to not having his sight. He is going to be fitted with “bionic” eyes as soon as feasible.
We met an amazing Two Star General who commanded the 4 ID and remembered my visits there at Christmas and 4th of July. His 26 year old son was in the hospital and had lost his left arm.
The injuries we saw were caused by a variety of things from IED’s, grenades, gunshots, RPGs, mortar attacks, and one from a humvee colliding with a tank.
I know that many of you read this and think that war is a terrible thing and I agree, it is. But if you could see the pride and hear the stories of these men and women who have served on the front lines and risked their lives so that we can continue to live in a “free America”, you would know that it is worth the sacrifice. We left there today feeling emotionally and physically drained but with a renewed enthusiasm to come back and visit again as soon as possible and to take more entertainment to our men and women still serving overseas. It is impossible to convey in writing what we experienced. I will say that this visit was much “easier” than our first visit last May. This time we knew what to expect and I only cried once (privately, of course) the entire day.
ROAD KILL – DAY THREE – SEPTEMBER 4TH
Lots of dreams last night (Chely, too!) about the boys we met yesterday. It definitely leaves a lasting impact.
Up early to work out and then over to the airport to pick up a rental car. Tried to catch up on email until it was time to go over for the show. Chely did an awesome TWO shows at the Ramshead Tavern. Cpt. Josh Anderson from AFE (who has put together our tour to Iraq for us) and Betty Naylor (my dear friend from the USO) both attended the show. There were several Presidential Secret Service agents who were also supposed to attend. Several people walked in a few minutes after the show had started and in “jest”, Chely stopped singing and “busted” them for being late. Of course, it HAD to be my friend in the Secret Service. I told her that only SHE could get by with busting the Secret Service! General Hagee’s daughter (USMC) that we met last year also attended with several of her friends.
She introduced Betty from the USO and dedicated “Single White Female” to Josh. After the show, this lady walked up to Josh and asked him if he was “Josh”. When he responded that he was, she jabbed her finger in his chest and said, “Strike while the iron is hot! She’s single. Go get her!” J
She had a very long “meet and greet” between sets – over 150 people lined up for autographs! A wonderful photographer that we met on our first tour to Iraq attended the show and it was great to see him and talk to him again. A lady who is doing a story on Stars for Stripes for American Forces Press Services also attended. My F-16 pilots from Korea both bailed out on me at the last minute! (Hope you’re reading this!!!)
Got back to the hotel around midnight and she left on the bus at around 1 am. I’m flying back to Nashville tomorrow morning.
ROAD KILL – DAY FOUR – SEPTEMBER 5TH
Up early to fly home but lots of “problems” in emails made me late leaving the hotel. Got stressed and left my cell phone at the front desk, tried to open the trunk of the wrong rental car and forgot to fill the car up with gas!
Picked up a copy of General Franks new book at the airport and it is AWESOME. If you haven’t read it yet, by all means get a copy. Can’t put it down.
Not many people on the flight and no turbulence. Back in Nashville now! So sad about the terrorist attack in Russia that killed all the children. Cannot understand “monsters” like this!