MONDAY AND TUESDAY, APRIL 23 AND 24, 2012:
Today I left for Kuwait with Darryl Worley and “Soir” (his guitar player). They surprised me by arriving at Customs to register the guitars 30 minutes early. Of course, I wasn’t there! L Check in was painless and Stan my skycap was there to assist. The ladies at United Airlines wanted to know where I’ve been for so long. LOL. It’s a small plane from Nashville to DC and I was able to get me and Darryl in the Exit Row. I was on the seat by myself and Darryl didn’t have anyone sitting beside him. It was windy and it was SO TURBULENT on take off. Then about halfway through the flight, it hit again. I looked over at Darryl in anticipation of moving over to sit by him and mutilate his arm but he was sound asleep! Some comfort he was. J Landing was miserable as well. As we were taxiing down the field, I noticed a plane with another aircraft of top of it. I was so speechless; all I could do was yell at Darryl “Look”! It took me a minute to realize it was the space shuttle. They had just brought it up from Cape Canaveral this week. We landed on time at around 4:15 pm and don’t depart to Kuwait until almost 10 pm. But the other option was to have less than an hour connection time which isn’t good at all. We all had access to the First Class Lounge and were able to relax. Jackie, my dear friend from United, came by and helped us with some frequent flyer number issues. Lynne and a couple of other Global Service Team members also came by and Jon is going to come on board to see us off. Can’t tell you how wonderful the DC United group is to me. Makes up for most of the horrible stuff United does to us. Have to remember that they have to deal with it on a daily basis, not just once a month on trips like I do. Jackie and the Global team were instrumental in getting our departure gate located next to the Lounge, too. They are working on or return now. When United and Continental merged, everything changed. Our flight connections no longer work well at all. Usually, we depart DC to Kuwait at around 6 pm and land at 3:30 pm. Now we depart at 10 pm and land at 5:30 pm. When we return, we only have ONE HOUR to go through Immigration, pick up luggage, clear customs, re-check bags, go through security and board. Won’t happen unless we land early which is what I’m praying for. We have in the past. Otherwise, we are stuck in DC until 5 pm. (Yes, Craig, that would be on Tuesday, May 1st. J). I watched a really “cute” movie (because there was nothing else available that I haven’t already seen!). I think the title was “We bought a Zoo” and Matt Damon was the star. It was based on a true story and really interesting. Slept for a few hours but there was a lot of turbulence. Of course, when we landed, the pilots were very proud of the fact we didn’t have any turbulence. Matter of opinion. J No problem getting our luggage and visas and exiting the airport. Ed and the Air Force Security Detail met us and whisked us away to the hotel. Then the problems began. I haven’t been here since January so I guess the hotel decided to “change” the terms of our agreement that we have worked under for the past 2 years. The rooms were not as I requested and I let them know that we won’t be staying with them again if they can’t honor our original agreement. I did tell them that I realize we are not coming to Kuwait as often as we did in the past, but I paid them a significant amount of money these last couple of years. They should have told me when I booked the rooms for this visit that they were changing our arrangement. There are LOTS of hotels in Kuwait to pick from, so think it’s time for a change. Wish the Radisson would open back up but after driving by it today, looks like it’s still many months from re-opening. Tonight was Italian night at the restaurant in the hotel. I really didn’t want to eat there because I didn’t want to give them any more money. But, it’s convenient and good, so we went there. Have been in my room answering emails now for hours and hours. Tomorrow we leave to visit troops in areas that really need it. Won’t be able to send out road reports for security reasons and also because I probably won’t have internet service on my computer. Will be back in the U.S. on May 1st. Jude
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 25TH – LEAVING KUWAIT:
I went to bed at 2:00 am and at 2:30 am, my phone rang. It was our escort asking what I was doing. Since I had been asleep all of 15 minutes AND had gone to bed with a migraine headache, I was totally disoriented. My response was “Uh….sleeping?”. He said they were waiting for us in the lobby and we needed to leave….2:15 am instead of 2:15 pm! I called the guys and we rushed as fast as possible to get ready. I had to take a shower and wash my hair plus all my “stuff” was spread around the room because I thought we’d have plenty of time before we left this afternoon. We arrived at the flight line by 4 am and the C-130 landed shortly thereafter. Then we got more good news….we had to fly to Qatar and our flight from there didn’t leave until 12 hours later…6 pm that night! Let’s just say I am very unhappy about this. Plus we don’t have Visas for Qatar and it is very strict there. I made sure the people in the Kuwait flight terminal called ahead and told them we were coming and didn’t have the proper paperwork. It was a short 1 ½ hour flight and the flight crew did not talk to us. One female gave us our briefing, told us where to sit and that was it. I gave them coins, cds, photos and wrist bands and got a polite thank you out of them. No idea where they were from in the States. When we landed, we were met by a really sweet lady – Pauline. She took us to a building where she had snacks for us and there were two beds and two sofas. Someone came by and brought linens for the beds and Pauline got us hot breakfast sandwiches. The toilets were next door and after a quick visit to those and a breakfast sandwich, all crashed – me on the sofa and the boys in the beds. Pauline and some of her co-workers came in and out several times and it woke me up but I went right back to sleep. I slept for 6 hours and when I got up, Pauline was working in the next room. She said that because we didn’t have our paperwork, we weren’t supposed to be there and needed to be “invisible”. She even had to walk us back and forth to the toilet. She had brought us sandwiches for lunch and the guys got up shortly after I did. Several Air Force personnel came by and had photos taken with Darryl but basically, they were trying to keep our presence very low key. We boarded the flight at 5:30 pm and as we were leaving, the Airman on the flight line informed me that under no circumstances were we to fly back through Qatar. He was nice, but firm. We took off at 6 pm and the plane was packed full and it was going to be a miserable 5 hours. About an hour into the flight, someone from the flight deck came down and invited me and Darryl up on deck. It was a little crowded because they also had a SF Brigadier General up there. They were the sweetest guys ever! From Minneapolis in the States and only a few more days left on this 4 month deployment. The BG was great, too. We stayed up and talked to them until about 1 hour prior to landing which really helped with the long flight. Took photos and exchanged emails as we left. We were met at the Bagram PAX terminal by Marc – our escort for Afghanistan. He took us to get sandwiches – at 1:00 am! Then to our lodging. I’m using the room of the female MWR person who is out on tour with Toby Keith this week. It’s really nice compared to where I would have been staying had she not made this very generous offer. Darryl and Soir are a couple of doors down from me. We all showered last night and then since I had internet in my room, I stayed up until 4 am working.
THURSDAY, APRIL 26TH – BAGRAM TO MARINE SPECIAL FORCES:
Got a little less than 1 hour sleep and had to get up. Had slept in my clothes, so not much to do to be ready. We are leaving lodging at 6:10 a.m. As you may have guessed by now, this isn’t one of my “normal” tours to Afghanistan. Darryl had requested that he be allowed to visit the Special Forces where there are only 10-15 guys in remote locations and they never get any entertainment. Colonel Crate who toured with us in November with Aaron Tippin was able to facilitate this. The only bummer is, he got pulled off the trip at the last minute due to other matters. I won’t even be able to list the names of the sites we are visiting or show very many photos from the tour because it could endanger the mission as well as their lives. I re-packed everything last night because we will only be away from Bagram for one night, then back here to sleep for two nights. We were supposed to go to Herat last night, but we arrived too late to take helicopters over. I am positive I’ve left some really important items behind, too! Now I have a bag in Kuwait and one in Bagram. Weather was questionable yesterday but looks good today. If it rains, choppers don’t fly and we have no other mode of transportation. However our transportation issues continued. Special Forces (which I will refer to as “SF” from here on out) lost one of their men last night. The dedicated aircraft that we had was pulled to work that very sad incident – as it should be. We thought we were going to get to go back to bed, but no such luck. My room had a lock with a key and I went back to go inside only to find that the door knob was locked. They had to take the door off the hinges because the sweet lady who let me use her room had the key with her. Then we didn’t have time to go in there. They found another aircraft and we left for the flight line. It was a contractor airplane – twin engine prop and 1 seat on each side with about 12 seats total….exactly the plane I flew with Bo Bice in 2008 and SWORE I would never fly on again. Not much of an option today. We weighed in but as we were about to board, we were told we had lost that aircraft, too. As you can see, there is a LOT of sitting around at air terminals this visit. They found us another contractor plane that was going into an area where we could meet our original helicopters and fly to the SF Camp. But weather was bad at the SF camps we were originally scheduled to visit so we had to change the plans again. We finally boarded the plane and it was over an hour flight to the first stop and then we continued on to the next stop. The pilots were really nice and the ride was “smooth”. Today we visit Marine SF, tomorrow the Seals, and our last day Army SF. We were a big “surprise” to the little Marine SF today but they handled it well. The young man who picked us up is a huge country music fan. They told us that he thought his guys were “messing” with him when they said Darryl Worley was coming in. Then when they started teasing him about getting to drive Darryl around, he insisted on seeing the email documenting Darryl’s visit. He said, and I quote, “and sure as shit, here you are”. We cracked up. Since breakfast for the boys was a pop tart and a cup of coffee for me over 6 hours ago, we headed to the DFAC for lunch. It was questionable but edible. J We stopped back by one of the camps that we had not planned to perform at but a guy came running out with a guitar and asked Darryl to play one song. He did and then signed autographs and took photos with everyone. We went up to the SF camp “on the mountain” and did a short performance and autograph signing for those guys. They were really sweet and accommodating considering we were a surprise to them. From there we took helicopters to Herat where we were supposed to stay last night. We visited with some guys there and they grilled burgers outside for us and had mashed potatoes and corn to go with it! No performance there but signed autographs again. C-130 picked us up for an hour trip to TK (Terin Kot) where we are spending the night. Seal team met us and took us to lodging which is a nice building in their TOC with individual rooms. They had me across the way a bit in the female building but we doubled up some guys and moved me into the male building. Really, really nice people here. They gave us a quick tour of the immediate area which includes the lodging, latrines, gym, MWR center with computers, and chow hall. I checked email on one of the office computers then took a shower. It’s 1:15 am and I have to get up at 6 am, so going to bed. Don’t think we have had more than an hour sleep since we arrived last night!
FRIDAY, APRIL 27TH – NAVY SEAL TEAM:
Ever had one of those days where you think, “It just doesn’t get any better than this?”. I did. Today. And here’s why. Woke up at 4 am freezing and had to hike to the latrine. I accidentally hit the wrong button on the heating unit and turned it off. Took me almost half an hour to get it back on! Got up at 6 am and got ready to leave. I slept in my clothes because I left most of my things in Bagram. We all walked over to the “Galley” and had an incredibly good breakfast. They had an omelet bar but the line was long, so I opted out of that. We had to go to the chopper pad immediately after breakfast. But of course, the choppers were late which meant we arrived at the tiny Seal camp late. I’m guessing there were about 20 guys there and all very happy we were visiting. I mean, they are in the middle of nowhere. There are some locals who live right beside their compound and it’s very friendly and peaceful here. They have never had an attack. First thing I did was walk up on top of a building and could see for miles in every direction. There is a little “bazaar” in the village that I am hoping to visit later. The tiny camps like this are referred to as “VSP’s” – which means our guys go live in a village and make friends and try to bring peace, like we did to succeed in Iraq. It is definitely working in this area as well. We stood around and chatted with everyone and then Darryl sang several songs for them and signed autographs and took photos. At 11:30 am, we had an incredible lunch – Mexican food! Our choppers weren’t due to pick us up until 2:50 pm, so the guys took Darryl out to the firing range which is on the encampment. I watched and took photos but was also watching the weather. Storm clouds had rolled in and helicopters don’t fly in rain. Had a sneaking suspicion that we were going to get stuck here overnight. No better place to be – great guys and very safe here. We hung around and talked to the guys and felt guilty because we were taking them away from their work – very important work, too! It was amazing to see the locals go by on a donkey and then 2 minutes later, a guy in robes riding a new motorcycle with a child in front of him and one behind him on the seat. There were more motorcycles there than in Nashville, I think! We were told if the choppers didn’t come in by 6 pm, we would stay the night. So when 6 pm rolled around and no choppers, we had dinner with the guys – turkey, mac and cheese and black eyed peas – delicious. Sean our SF escort kept calling to check the status of getting us out. The “powers that be” do not like for a VIP to spend the night at a remote location. We were fine with staying here. The guys had found us beds and showed me how to use the shower….which was a room carved out of the side of the mountain but very clean and nice. Now, keep in mind that none of us have any clean clothes to change into because we were assuming we would be back in Bagram tonight. The guys found me shampoo and I borrowed a hair dryer from Darryl. Right before I got in the shower, they told me that the choppers are coming for us at 1:45 am to take us to TK where we were last night. We’ll spend the night there and then take a C130 back to Bagram tomorrow. The only reason I was pushing to get out tonight was so we wouldn’t have to cancel any more visits. We were scheduled to visit 2 locations today and only made it to one. We have two Army Special Forces camps to visit tomorrow and might have to cut that back to one as well. Kills me to have to disappoint those guys when they are expecting us and they never get any celebrity visits or entertainment. Can’t begin to tell you how impressed I am with the young men we met today. We spent so much time with them, I feel like I really KNOW them. They are doing such a wonderful job and never get the credit they deserve. I’ve threatened every one of them if they don’t stay in touch with me. To get to spend the entire day and evening with America’s finest is such an honor and I feel so incredibly lucky. Going to try and sleep for a couple of hours and then chopper to TK. No cell or internet service on my blackberry out here, so having to work off a borrowed computer! Of course, I laid down at 11 pm only to have one of the Seal’s knock on my door at 11:30 am to tell me the choppers were en route and should be there in 30 minutes. Everyone got up and grabbed our gear and stood outside by the landing zone. We heard the choppers and then they disappeared. A few minutes later, the aircraft that was “dropping” the supplies that night flew over. The Seal’s had a team out waiting for that drop. We think the choppers had to divert because of the aircraft. Not real sure. We stood outside and froze for about an hour and then I went back into my room with a couple of the other guys. I swear if I lived there, I’d shoot that darn donkey! He would “bray” or whatever a donkey does every 10 minutes. If they kill him, they have to pay the villagers for him. It would be worth it to me. J The Chinooks finally arrived at 2 am, exactly the original time they were scheduled. The Seal Team was so apologetic but it certainly wasn’t their fault!!!
SATURDAY, APRIL 28TH – LAST SHOWS IN AFGHANISTAN:
Our rooms from the previous visit were ready for us. I got in bed at around 3 am and had to get up at 7. Walked over and got breakfast “to go” so I could work for a little while before we left. The guys were howling with laughter this morning. Seems Marc forgot he was on the top bunk in the middle of the night and not only fell flat on his face but took the mattress with him. Sgt. Major (our Army escort who took Colonel Crate’s place on the tour) woke up and asked him if he was okay. Sean (our Army SF escort) managed to open one eye, hear he was okay, and go right back to sleep. J We were all ready to go at 9:15 am as scheduled but of course we spent over an hour waiting on our “ride”. The “ride” today is another contractor helicopter but it is like a Chinook. The crew was super nice and let Darryl sit in the jump seat most of the flight. At one point I looked out the front and saw that it was raining and panicked. I sat in the jump seat for about the last 20 minutes of the flight. The co-pilot was a huge country music fan. We landed at the Army Special Ops VSP and the guys there were great. There were about 20 of our guys and lots of Afghans working with them. We had to kill a little time before Darryl could sing, so they took us in an MWRAP out to their firing range so Darryl could fire the “mini-gun” on top of the vehicle. I was standing on the ground with the others in our group while Darryl was getting ready to shoot. I had my ear plugs in my hand and was going to put them in once they were ready to start firing. Then I got busy answering emails on my Blackberry (first time I’ve had service in a couple of days!) and didn’t hear them say Darryl was going to fire. It was so loud, I must have jumped 3 feet in the air. My blackberry went sailing but I caught it before it hit the ground. Gave my boys a good laugh though. Still! Darryl and Soir performed for around 40 people – our guys and the Afghans and then signed autographs and took photos with everyone. I think I took as many photos with the boys as he did today. I walked back into a separate room to give some of the Afghans “gifts” and they were cooking back there. There was some kind of bloody meat in a bucket and I almost hurled. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast and the SF guys said they were going to cook for us. I was thinking “grill burgers” like they did the other day but instead they came out with plates of the mystery meat, some kind of very hot “salad” and their traditional bread. I made every effort to eat the meat which I had been told was deer, sheep and goat – all by different experts! It was tough as leather and I couldn’t get past the vision of seeing it in the bucket. I chewed one piece but it just got bigger and bigger in my mouth. I finally had to spit it out. My guys LOVED it and ate all theirs and mine, too. I managed to get down a couple of bites of bread. It had started storming while they were performing and I figured we’d get stuck there overnight. But it cleared up and our blackhawks arrived right on time – 7:30 pm. It was about an hour and 20 minute ride back to Bagram. Colonel Crate had arrived and it was great to see him and introduce him to Darryl and Soir. He’s the one who got clearance for this type of tour and made the whole thing possible. After signing autographs for him, Sgt. Major, Colonel Crate and Marc took me over to the food court so I could grab a pizza. We came back to lodging and about an hour later, I walked over to take a shower. Only, I didn’t have the “code” to the Shower Door. Had to wake up poor Marc who was in the room next to me. He hiked over with me and we met a female coming out who gave us the code. It has been one of the best tours of my life. Can’t believe it’s almost over. And our “team” – Marc with MWR, Sgt Major Perez, and Sean (our SF guy) were simply the best. After only an hour together, you would have thought we had been working together for years. Sean pulled strings and got our transportation issues worked out quickly and it wouldn’t have been possible without his connections. Sgt. Major Perez was our “rock”…always patient and taking care of business behind the scenes. Mark was so flexible and anticipated our needs before we had to vocalize. I’d tour with these guys again any day. But, Sean leaves in a day or so and the Sgt. Major leaves in a few weeks. And now, I’m going to bed for 4 hours again. Almost 2 am and I still have to “hike” to the toilet!!!! Jude
SUNDAY, APRIL 29TH – BACK TO KUWAIT:
Actually got about 4 ½ hours sleep. What a luxury it is to wake up in a room where there is a mirror on the wall and more than one electrical outlet – and it’s a U.S. plug! J Hoping our flight departs on time today and we don’t have any glitches. Really sad to leave here when there is so much more we’d like to do. We all went to breakfast and then got the info that our flight might be leaving earlier. We got all our bags ready, but actually didn’t have to depart to the air terminal until 12:30 pm. Toby Keith arrived Bagram today and will perform there tonight. Rich – his guitar player – has been a friend of mine for years. He stopped by my lodging to say hello and will be on our flight home Monday night. Once we departed for the flight line, we were detained at the gate because there was a ramp ceremony taking place. Might have been the SF guy they lost the first night we were there. We got clearance to go to the plane so we wouldn’t miss the flight and passed the humvee with a casket in it en route. So very sad. Our flight crew was out of Ali Al Salem where we are performing tomorrow night. They were fantastic. I sat in the first seat and they blocked the seat next to me so I could have some room. A C-17 is a huge aircraft and it was packed full with troops going home for R&R. Darryl and Soir sat in the web seats along the side. The best thing about a C-17 is there is a toilet on board! Our MWR escorts had gotten us box lunches with sandwiches because we forgot to eat lunch and it is a 4 hour flight. They got way more than we needed and we offered the remaining lunches to the flight crew. They were some happy boys because the flight kitchen had screwed up their order and some of them didn’t get lunch. So glad we could accommodate them. I slept the first hour and then told Darryl to go up on the flight deck and say hello. I worked the remaining 3 hours and it passed quickly. The flight crew said there are posters all over the base and they are hoping they don’t have to fly tomorrow night so they can attend. They have only been in country a few days but this isn’t their first deployment to Kuwait. We landed exactly on time and of course, Air Force Protocol and Ed were planeside waiting for us. We got off first so we could grab our luggage and guitars. All the troops bags were palletized and we didn’t want anything to get mixed up with theirs. Stayed around long enough to have photos taken with the crew. It was about an hour drive to the hotel and once again, the rooms were screwed up. This time the hotel manager was there and we got everything straightened out….I hope! Had coffee with them and then came to the room to work and Skype with my “babies”. Darryl and Soir didn’t want to eat dinner, so I went downstairs and ate by myself. It was “bar-be-que” night and they were playing country music songs. After I have been there for a few minutes, a “live” entertainer started singing, “I’m Gonna Miss Her” by Brad Paisley. It was hilarious. Went back to my room to work and had a Facebook message from one of my sweet security escorts who I won’t get to hang out with this trip. He came to the hotel to see me and I forced him to go downstairs and have dinner. The chef came out and told him they were bar-be-queing on the outdoor patio and listed about 6 meats they had available. Hello???? Where were they when I was eating? Just tried to check in for our flights and they had moved all our seats. Went in and looked at the reservation and there was an aircraft change AGAIN. That means we are in the really old plane where the seats in business class don’t lie flat. So glad I got Darryl upgraded to first on that one!!! I changed our seat assignments but every time I look at them, they are changed again. Will have to check this tomorrow. Going to bed VERY soon as it is after 1 am. Jude
MONDAY, APRIL 30TH – PERFORMANCE AT “THE ROCK”:
Got 5 ½ hours of sleep….a record. Decided I would jog instead of going to the gym. Big mistake. At 8:00 am in about 100 degree heat for 5 miles was brutal. But I did it! This time the only vehicles that almost ran over me were police cars. In all three instances, they were cutting through parking lots where I was running and all three had their phones up texting! Ran into Darryl and Soir leaving the restaurant as I was going to breakfast. Darryl had a nasty cut on his thumb from where the knob on the shower came off when he pulled it to turn it on. I had my “egg white omelet” and then went to my room to shower. The big metal “ring” where the hand towel was hanging fell off the wall and put a rather large hole in my toe. We left the hotel at 1 pm and drove for one hour up to Ali Al Salem to perform at the Rock. First stop was a meeting with the Air Wing Commander and his staff. I had met them in December with the Comedy Tour and was excited to see everyone again. The Commander gave us his really interesting brief and then Darryl walked outside to cut a PSA for the base. The wind had started blowing very hard and dust was everywhere. The camera was set up on a tripod and the wind blew it over. Fortunately it still worked. Toby Keith was flying into this base later tonight – hopefully in time for our flight home – and the dust storm wasn’t making landing look very feasible. The base had provided DV rooms and we went there for Darryl and Soir to run through some songs for the show later this evening. There was wireless in the rooms and after a quick trip to the coffee shop and exchange, I was able to answer some emails. We went to the theatre a few minutes later to sound check then over to the DFAC for an early dinner. The food there was great. Air Force really does things “nice”. J Darryl made a quick stop by the “landing zone” to sing Happy Birthday to all the folks having a birthday this month – a monthly “dinner” tradition that they hold here. The theatre was packed and it was the perfect ending to a fantastic tour. Darryl was supposed to perform for 60 minutes but ended up singing for 75 minutes. Then the autograph line ran long because so many people lined up. We stayed until the very end of the line which meant we missed the chance to take a shower before heading to the airport. But, it was well worth the sacrifice. Arrived at the airport in plenty of time to check in and go to the lounge for a few minutes. Toby and his group had arrived as well. Boarded on time and had a little “chat” with the flight crew about getting us into DC early after I had given them gifts. We have a one hour connection and will have to run through Immigration and Customs to make it. I knew several of the flight attendants from previous flights and one of the flight crew remembered me. The aircraft had been changed to one of the old planes and was packed full. One of the pilots told us we had a wounded warrior on board and Darryl when back and signed a photo for him. He was injured in Bahrain (non-combat, of course) and was heading home to recuperate. This aircraft has the old video system where there are 4 movie choices and all start and end at the same time. I watched “War Horse” and it was pretty good. My light on my seat didn’t work and the video stuck half way through. They were able to repair the video but not the light. There was very little turbulence on the flight and I can’t believe I slept for 5 ½ hours solid. Didn’t even get up to go to the toilet! Of course, when I was in Afghanistan and going to the toilet meant getting dressed, putting on my boots, locating my flashlight, and hiking a half mile I the dark over the big rocks, I had to go to the toilet every 2 hours! Strange how that works, huh? We landed a full 1 hour and 15 minutes early which was great. Only Customs doesn’t open until 6 am so they held us on the plane until 6 am. I thought we would get off at exactly 6 am but at 6:15 am, we were still waiting. Finally got off at about 6:20 am and the line for Immigration was backed up all the way to the escalators. Three flights had landed – which happens every morning at this time – and there were about 700 people in line. I was lucky because I have Global Entry and was able to go through the computer kiosk. As I walked out to baggage claim, I noted that only ONE person was working the Immigration counter for the 700 people! I heard a pilot say that “the Immigration staff has ‘overslept’”. Don’t you love how your tax payer dollars are being spent? I collected all the luggage and waiting an hour for Darryl and Soir to come out. We hustled through Customs and security check and to the gate. Our great friends at United had gotten the departure gate out of “C” instead of “A” so we didn’t have to take the tram. The flight to Nashville departed on time. I was sitting in the Exit Row with Darryl but a friend of mine who is a pilot was on the flight so I sacrificed my great seat to sit with him on the flight. Haven’t seen him in months so it was nice to chat with him although I’m sure my constant “yawning” was irritating! He had flown all the way from Kuwait only 20 miles behind us. Said they were at a much lower altitude and it was incredibly turbulent for them. He had even called our flight crew at one point to have them say hello to us from him. Our departure out of DC was delayed because of turbulence but we still landed on time. My daughter picked me up but the twins were with the sitter and I won’t see them until tonight at their “tumbling” class. Again, this tour was life changing. I’ve already received some beautiful emails from some of the guys we visited, our escorts and our hosts. Wish all the tours could be exactly like this one. Darryl and Soir are truly wonderful to work with and make me proud to be an American. Jude