DECEMBER 17 AND 18 – DAYS ONE AND TWO:
We flew from Nashville to DC yesterday, staying at the Ritz Carlton. Our last night in a “bed”. From here on out, it’s tents and port-a-potties! My first time to work with Darryl Worley and what a sweetheart. He tried to carry my bags and I used my Medallion Status to upgrade to first class and gave the seat to him. He refused to take it and I had to fight him to make him sit there. Better to let him know who’s in charge right away. LOL! Sat with a nice man who was a teacher in Cookville, TN and never stopped talking the entire flight.
Went over to Ft. Myers last night so Darryl could rehearse with the U.S. Army band. They are great musicians and nice folks. Darryl seemed surprised every time a horn played behind him though. Did some last minute panic shopping (I decided to buy a sleeping bag for the 16 hour plane ride) and had dinner with the USO rep. We have some Army Brass on the tour plus 2 cheerleaders from the Jacksonville Jaguars, “Bradshaw” – the WWE wrestler, a comedian named Kathy Griffin, an actress from JAG – Karri Turner plus the U.S. Army band. Should be a fun trip.
Got in bed at 1 am with a 4 am wakeup call. I can sleep on the 16 hour flight tomorrow. In-room calisthenics for an hour and then into the shower – only, guess what….there’s no water. I’ve called the front desk and they are supposedly sending someone up. Okay, now I’ve called them again to see if I can just go to another room. I’ve been informed that there are no vacant rooms AND they have now received calls from 3 other rooms. Evidently the water is out in the entire hotel. So, I’m going to see if I can stick my head under the faucet in the little sink and wash my hair and take a sponge bath. Yuck. 16 hours on a plane and no one getting a shower. Guess it’s good practice for the next several days. Amazing the little things you can’t do that I had planned…like shave my legs for the last time in a week. Even though I just shaved yesterday, there’s that need to do it again since I won’t be able to! Went crazy plucking my eyebrows because I’m afraid I won’t be able to see stray hairs after today.
We’re off to Kuwait today in a C-17. We don’t stop at all along the way but have a mid-air refueling. I’m going to make friends with the flight crew and make sure they wake me up to see this! Supposedly we’re going to get to take some blackhawk helicopter rides in Kuwait to visit some of the remote camps. We are staying somewhere called the “Marble Palace” which is definitely a misnomer. It’s base housing!
I won’t be able to send any email from my computer after today. Might be able to check some emails from the base computers but they said it takes an hour to download one email and an hour to send one email. No bandwidths!
So, have a wonderful Christmas and I’ll send all the road reports “en masse” when we get back to Nashville.
Much love to everyone,
DECEMBER 18-19, REMAINDER OF DAY TWO AND BEGINNING OF DAY THREE
So, the water finally came back on but then it took at least 15 minutes for it to get hot and it just sort of trickled out of the faucet. Needless to say, I was running late. Got downstairs and the bus that was coming to pick us up at 7 am had broken down. It finally arrived at 7:30 am and we left for Andrews.
Oh yeah, on our mad shopping spree last night, we purchased some reindeer antler headbands for our “last show practical joke”. (See, Carl, I don’t ALWAYS carry wigs with me!) There was a fabulous mall connected to our hotel and I only had a few minutes to spend in it. Like holding whiskey in front of an alcoholic’s nose and pulling it away! Mental note to come back soon just to shop.
Got to DV lounge at Andrews and Darryl realized that he had lost his money clip with about $700 cash. He and Jeff were in the bar until 1:30 am this morning, so I was a little concerned that we might never find it. Now, they weren’t getting drunk but they did have a couple of margaritas for me because I quit drinking last August. They did mention that the bar ran out of Jose Cuervo ‘round bout 1 am….After calling the hotel and starting the search, Darryl found it in the pocket of the pants he had on in the bar the night before.
Karri Turner from JAG showed up – straight from the red-eye flight from LA. Going to be a LONG day for her. She had to leave the set in a “1940’s” costume and “undress” in the van on the way to the airport. Almost missed her flight from LA to DC.
We all boarded the C-17 which could easily fit a football field inside. I’ve only flown on these aircraft a couple of times and that was internal flights in Europe. It is twice as noisy as the C130 or C141 and the take-off was quite an experience. Think theme park rides but completely enclosed and sitting backwards. They put airplane seats in for us but you fly backwards. GREAT flight crew from Charleston, SC, so they all “talk like I do”…nice Southern accents.
I’m on a mission to learn everyone’s name this trip. Thank God there are several John’s, Jeff’s and Sargeant Major’s! And some of the Army folks have their last names on their camo. The flight crew has first and last names on their flight suits which definitely helps. But, we lose this crew in Kuwait and switch to C130’s. Then they pick us back up at our last show which is under discussion. I was told it would be Baghram in Afghanistan and the flight crew was told it would be K-2 in Uzbekistan. Sure hope someone figures this out and we aren’t stranded. So far, I’ve managed to call “Henry” – “Dan” and “Caleb” – “Calvin”. Not too bad.
We have 3 birthday “people” on the trip and the flight crew purchased a cake for them. We all sang Happy Birthday and then I took over with the cutting and serving. Once a mom, always a mom. (Right Linz?)
We have been flying for about 5 hours and they tell us because of the “winds” we will arrive in 6 more hours. I never went to sleep. Worked for quite a while because there is electrical power to plug in my computer. If only there were email access, I’d be a happy camper.
Went up and spent several hours on the flight deck getting to know our aircrew. Both pilots were playing cards. Very comforting. We flew over Scotland and they began preparing for our mid-flight refueling. I “homesteaded” on the flight deck because I wanted to be first to see everything. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed. We saw the lights of a plane directly in front of us. They gave me night vision goggles and I watched as we lined up directly beneath the other plane. The “tube” or “hose” or whatever it is called was coming straight towards the top of the cockpit. It took the crew in the air refueling plane several attempts to line up correctly. Then there was a loud noise and quite a jolt and we were connected. With the night vision goggles, you could actually see the crew lying on their stomachs in the plane above us maneuvering the connection. I wanted to wave at them but didn’t know if they could see me. It was unnerving to know how close together we were and how fast we were going while “connected” by the fuel hose.
We are still connected as I type this it will take about 30 minutes to refuel. Very “bumpy” but totally amazing. Definitely a trip highlight. I had a list of things I wanted to do when I first got divorced many years ago. This was not on the list but sure should have been!
Everyone has heard of government “red tape” but it is very impressive to see it up close and personal. The entire pre-planning for the tour was a nightmare because I had to go through the USO who had to go through AFE (Armed Forces Entertainment) who had to go through the Army. And then, of course, we have an Air Force flight crew. So, I’m told that we play Kuwait, Uzbekistan and then 2 shows in Afghanistan. The flight crew is told that our last show is Uzbekistan and to pick us up there. I think we finally figured that one out but what we couldn’t figure out is why we finish our shows at 5 pm and don’t fly home until 1 am the next morning. We’re “working” that issue as I type. It’s like working with the Japanese – everything goes to committee and doesn’t come out for weeks. Also, trying to figure out some way our flight crew can arrive at our last destination in time to see the show. It would be a shame for them to fly us around the world and not even get to see a performance.
We’ve had two hot meals on the trip – tv dinner style and that’s probably the best it’s going to be for the next 7 days. Lunch is supposedly always going to be MRE’s. I’ve warned everyone to stay away from the omelets – looks like a gray sponge oozing water. Yuck. One of the pilots even had refrigerated cookie dough and baked us fresh cookies. (Yummmmm….Jolie…you should be here! I ate one for you, of course!).
We’re only 2 hours from landing. I stretched out on the folding chairs along the side of the aircraft in my new sleeping bag (which I didn’t need) and tried to sleep. “Henry” with our flight crew found several blankets and put them down on the seats for me to make it more comfortable. Only slept for 2 hours because my brain would not shut down. Too accustomed to working all the time and just can’t relax. We have had to fly a circuitous path because we cannot fly over Iraq. This will be the case for the remainder of the flights throughout the tour.
Landed and went to the “Marble Palace” where we will be housed. It’s definitely “base” housing. It was so strange driving through the desert. Hard to believe we are in Kuwait. Said good-bye to this flight crew until we fly home. They get to go to Turkey and SHOP for 3 days! Definitely not fair.
The “Marble Palace” was interesting. Evidently it was built by the King for his daughter when she got married. She drove out to look at it and found that it was located right beside an electrical power and water purification plant and said “no thanks”. It was then given to our U.S. Military for housing. There are two huge smokestacks which spew black smoke into the air 24 hours a day and hundreds of electrical towers and lines.
This was supposed to be our “day off” but instead the Army had arranged for Blackhawks to take us to one of the remote sights to have lunch and visit with the soldiers stationed there. So we dropped off our bags and went immediately to the choppers. Nice flight crews, again, who didn’t try to drop us out of the sky (Loren!). The country that we flew over was truly amazing. We were 30 miles from Iraq. We got to see the Scud missile launchers and learn how they worked. Then we had lunch with the soldiers – a rare treat for them “foodwise” because lunch for them is always an MRE and they had a hot meal because we were there. We all sat at different tables and talked to the soldiers and thanked them for what they are doing for America. Darryl sang a song that someone requested and then Sgt. Major Tilley requested that he sing a song that we could all sing along with. No one could think of anything until Karri came up with “Country Roads”. It was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever participated in. There wasn’t a dry eye in the tent when we sang the last note.
Got back on the choppers for a “tour” of Kuwait. This time the pilots said that someone had requested that we “have a little fun” and I KNOW what that means. I tried to convince them that I was positive it was a mistake but Sgt. Major Tilley was determined to have them “show us what they could do”. They did – twice. When the Sgt. Major started taunting them to do it again, one of the pilots said that someone in the front was ill. I thought they were talking about me but I knew I wasn’t sick – just scared to death. Looked over and Kathy (comedian) was a beautiful shade of green to go with her red hair. Than just a few minutes later, the female Sargeant hurled all over the back of the chopper. I am SO happy I was sitting in the front and my back was to her or I would have lost it, too. Our poor AFE rep caught the worst of it. And, we still had about another hour in the air!
We flew over desert, saw herds (?) of camels, and saw oil refineries where the oil is literally leaking out of the ground. We thought it was water, there was so much of it, but it was definitely oil. Flew over the city which has several beautiful resorts right on the water. We flew over what they said was the “jeep” graveyard. Hundreds of burned out, blown up vehicles. There were so many people killed in the vehicles that they never removed the bodies – just left the remains in the vehicles and labeled it a “graveyard”. Finally made it back to Camp Doha and did another little acoustic set for the soldiers there. It’s a really large base and has all the “comforts” of the bigger facilities.
Then we went to the Exchange for some shopping and straight to dinner – at only 4:30 pm! After dinner, everyone just wanted to come back to lodging and crash. It’s been an incredibly LONG day and I’m ready to crash as well and it’s only 8 pm. Going to get up at 6 am and go to the gym. Tomorrow is show day and I have been promised internet access!
DAY FOUR – DECEMBER 20TH
Up at 5 am for the gym. Great gym, of course. All military bases have outstanding workout facilities.
Went over to the gym (our “venue” for this show) for show rehearsal and saw my friend – Jim Pearcy – who is now working here as MWR Rep. He was formerly the director of the USO in D.C. He looks great, so evidently Kuwaiti life is agreeing with him. I thought I had him conned into taking me into town tonight to shop at the Gold Market. He checked and was told that we were not allowed to go into town, so that nixed that! Was able to check my email and send a few. Just very, very slow and I can’t plug in my computer. So no way to send the road reports.
The show was packed – at least 2,000 soldiers. The Army band is phenomenal and all the performers were great. It could not have been a better show. At times, it was extremely emotional. Darryl is such a good person and his love and appreciation for the soldiers just shines through in his music and in his voice.
I did manage to con the Sargeant coordinating this whole event for Camp Doba into giving me one of his desert camouflage shirts. He pulled me aside and said, “Come over to my trailer but don’t tell anyone”. So, of course, I yelled out to the entire group, “I’ll be back in a while. I’m going over to Sargeant Hughes’ trailer with him”. Everyone was asking where I got the shirt because he has all these great patches on it from “awards” (or whatever you call it when a soldier does something extraordinary and gets a badge commemorating it) he has received. “Hughes” stitched on the pocket is pretty much a dead giveaway though. He did cut my stripes off before giving it to me. My answer is supposed to be, “Sir, that is classified information and if I tell you where I got this jacket, I’ll have to kill you!” One of the patches shows that he did a combat jump and the other was a “free fall”. Now, you ALL know that I could never have qualified for either of those badges!
We came back to lodging after the show and received a coin, a personalized cap, and a certificate from the folks at Camp Doba. Then, Sargeant Major Tilley gave all our “hosts/workers” at Camp Doba a coin, knife, and flashlight. There were some very moving speeches made and this is one Christmas season I won’t soon forget. God Bless the wonderful men and women who work so tirelessly and give so much to defend our freedom.
Had to put our bags in the lobby at 10 pm tonight for palletizing so I decided to grab a quick shower. Turned the “sign” over to “Women” and shut the door. Right in the middle of my shower, some guy walks in and says, are both showers full? Jeez, why don’t guys just READ THE SIGN?
We depart at 5 am tomorrow for Kandahar, Afghanistan. Goodbye to showers, hair dryers, toilets that flush and private bedrooms. At least the food in the chow hall can’t be any worse. We all paid for our meals today at the food court because the dining facility food is so bad. Last night it was some kind of “stew” that they said was turkey but one bite convinced me it was NOT turkey. I went back and got a grilled cheese sandwich.
DAY FIVE – DECEMBER 21ST
Up at 4 am and off to the airfield. Everyone was grumpy and groggy because a cat was stuck in the ventilation of our ceiling. He “cried” all night long and roamed up and down the length of the building trying to find a way out. The cat’s screeches kept everyone awake! Plane was late coming in and the pilots were told they were picking up the Sergeant Major and his entourage – which they assumed meant 4-5 people. They had no idea there were 34 people with luggage, band gear, etc. So the entire plane had to be reconfigured. Then we were absolutely packed, wall-to-wall on the sling seats that run along the side of the plane. Forget about sleeping. Forget about stretching your legs out in front of you. And, we were told it was a 3-hour flight. Try 5 ½ hours! The only toilet facilities was a “honey bucket” they set up behind where the gear was palletized. Basically, it’s a bucket with a plastic garbage bag inside and a shower curtain pulled around it. All the women were trying not to drink anything but when we found out it was a 5 hour flight, that was impossible.
The flight crew was from Arkansas and very nice. They had only been in the area for a week. Everyone got the opportunity to go up on the flight deck and visit with them. Kathy put her sleeping bag in the floor and curled up to sleep. She was covered with a camouflage jacket and Ted didn’t see her and stepped right on top of her! Darryl got on top of all the palletized luggage/gear and stretched out. We had box lunches that we had to eat before the last 1-½ hours of the flight. We were told that we would be making a combat landing which basically means we had to spiral in. If you’ve ever watched an air show from the ground, that’s what it was like. We dipped, dropped and swerved and had it been in a commercial plane, it would have been your worst nightmare. Since there were no windows, we couldn’t really see what was happening. Near the end of the flight, this loud noise – like a steam release valve only 10 times louder – started in the ceiling of the plane. Since none of the crew seemed concerned, we assumed it was normal. We eventually hit the ground like we had been shot down. Welcome to beautiful downtown Kandahar! The base is reminiscent of early Bosnia except for the DUST. There is at least 4 inches of dust everywhere. It covers your shoes and pants even on a very short walk. There are still active land mines in the area and we were warned to stay on the paths. Don’t need to tell me twice! We are housed in “tent” city. All the women are in one tent and are surrounded by tents full of soldiers. Some of our “neighbors” were practicing giving IV’s today – a requirement for this positions. They were standing out front of their tent and invited us over for a “practice” run. No thank you! I pass out just watching someone else take an IV.
We were assigned tents and typical of the organization of this tour, the men got the tents right by the showers while all the women have to hike about a quarter of a mile down a road that consists of about 4 inches of dust. No point in taking a shower when we have to hike back through that! Waiting for our luggage now. General Myers and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are coming in here in a few minutes. Because we were late arriving, we will have to move our show from 3 pm to 7 pm tonight. Plus, I’m sure it will be a very early start again tomorrow.
There was ONE latrine but it was uni-sex meaning there’s a sign on the door that says MEN and you flip it over and it says WOMEN. You have to knock on the door and find out if anyone is in there, then enter at your own risk! In the portalets, the “lids” are always raised when we go in. Women do NOT sit on those things – we hover! Well, when you lower the lid and start to “hover”, the lid flies back up and smacks you on the rear end! The only option is to sit on the thing (and that’s not going to happen because we are all convinced that the “do-do monster” is in there and is going to come up and grab us if we get that close) or hold it down with one hand. We try to cover it with toilet tissue so that our hand doesn’t actually touch the lid but with the “spring action return”, it’s an interesting process.
We got to see the end of the show with General Myers, Drew Carey and one of the NY Yankees. Ned Powell, President of the USO, was there and I introduced him to Darryl and our group.
Another great show and the autograph line went on for days. Because of the brutal travel schedule and lack of sleep, the celebrities are really getting tired and it’s beginning to show in their voices and performances. They will only get about 4 hours sleep tonight.
DAY SIX – DECEMBER 22ND
Up at 5:30 am for a 6:00 bag call. At least the flight was only 1½ hours long and we didn’t have to “spiral” down. Another nice flight crew from Arkansas. We finally flew over something besides desert – snow-capped mountains!
We arrived at Baghram and everyone thought we had the day off until show time. Not true. The Army had scheduled for the entertainers only to fly to Kabul to visit with the troops. They got a late start and I was concerned about them getting back in time for the show. They didn’t even get to eat lunch before they left and I was not allowed to travel with them.
I went to the exchange but they have already moved most of the merchandise to a new exchange, so there really wasn’t anything to buy – except some “Tush wipes” which you definitely need to clean your hands. I did get my photo taken with a group of Afghanistan men working on the base. They “LOVE” Americans – especially women. You’ll have to check out my photo when it gets up on my website after January 6th.
I cannot even begin to tell you how “nasty” the portalets are here. And that’s all they have. There was a latrine in Kandahar but it was co-ed and totally disgusting. They told us if we went into one of the portalets and there were “footprints” beside the lid and a rock lying around, don’t use it. It means that an Afghanistan man had been in there. Since their toilets are in the ground, they have not been able to teach them how to sit on one. And, they use their right hand and the rock to wipe themselves. More information than you needed, right?
Of course, the entertainers did not get back by show time. The troops were really getting restless since the show started 1½ hours later than they were told it would start. Evidently, there had been a helicopter crash and the entertainer’s helicopter had to leave them in Kabul and go investigate. The entertainers said that Kabul was really depressing and there was a “smell of death” permeating the entire area. Karri was taken to see a jeep where one of our soldiers was killed only a few days ago and she said the odor was horrible and there was still blood all in the jeep.
The entertainers are incredibly tired and the days just seem to keep getting longer and longer. The autograph line tonight had gone on for 2 hours with no signs of ending. One of the cheerleaders was about to pass out and I was concerned about Darryl’s voice. I asked the USO rep and the AFE rep to please go stand outside the door and explain that the line was closed. Instead, they put up a sign which people completely ignored and keep coming in. I had to go stand at the door for almost an hour and turn people away. It was NOT a fun thing to do. I felt so guilty and should not have been put in that position. Afterall, it’s why we are there but we also can’t work the entertainers so hard that they are unable to perform the final show. I spoke with one young soldier who had just gotten off guard duty. He said that he had to engage his clip earlier that day because a local was walking along the fence line with a gun. He was thankful that he did not have to fire on the other person, but there was no doubt that he would have taken action to protect the base.
The base is covered with rocks about the size of baseballs. They put the rocks down so that the dust isn’t as bad as Kandahar. It’s really hard to walk on them and we had another ¼ mile hike from the tent to the latrine and showers. The two cheerleaders, the actress and I are in one tent and we all walked over together to the showers after the show. We had on the little shower shoes (flip-flops) and our ankles kept turning over. We were all trying to balance with our arms and walk across the rocks. I’m sure someone was video taping us. One of the cheerleaders had on platform flip flops and fell off them right into a ditch and the mud. We had to walk through this recreation room to get to the showers. So, of course, coming back after the shower, the guys get to see us in all our glory with no makeup and wet hair!
Bag call is 6 am again tomorrow and we fly to Uzbekistan for our last performance. We leave immediately after the autograph session to fly home. The Army had another full day of activities planned, but “supposedly” the USO rep has cancelled everything and they only have to participate in the show. We shall see……
I went to the portalet at midnight before going to bed. Had just gotten situated (flashlight between the teeth, pants unzipped, hover position) when this huge plane went over. The portalet started rocking and I thought it was going to turn over. I could just see those movies where the thing turns over and the people come out all covered from head to toe with ….. I ran out with my pants unzipped and tried another portalet. This one had a “Car and Driver” magazine in it . Can you imagine someone actually sitting in one of those things and reading???? The “girls” tent decided that we would make our own “Honey Bucket”. There was a large plastic garbage can lined with a black trash bag and it even had a lid. We turned that into our on private, in-room portalet.
We were told that the base was expecting an “incident” that night meaning they thought we might get fired upon. Tension was very high and all night long there was the sound of helicopters and planes being deployed. It was impossible to sleep with the noise and the uneasiness that something was about to come down.
DAY SEVEN – DECEMBER 23rd
Up at 4:45 am and the C130 to take us to Uzbekistan is late again. We also learned that the truck that was taking all the Army band’s duffle bags to be palletized evidently “lost” one of the bags. It rolled off the truck and now we can’t find it. They had to bring the entire pallet over to the terminal, unload everything, and check to see whose bag was missing. Harold, the drummer, was the lucky person. Hopefully, it will be found before we fly out.
We finally arrived at K-2 (it’s called that because the actual name of the base is too long for anyone to pronounce) to find the base covered with snow and it was still snowing. They weren’t sure we would be able to land. We had the most turbulence of the entire trip on the flight out this morning. We were all having to hang on to the straps for what seemed like an eternity. It finally smoothed out until we began our descent. Then we arrived at the base to find that the power was out on the side of the base where we would be performing. We passed some old Russian planes covered with snow out on the runway. This is probably the most remote site we will play. The soldiers are so happy to see us. They were supposed to have shows from a couple of other artists a few weeks ago, but the weather was so bad, no one could fly in. So, we are their “first” entertainment.
We had lunch and then went to the tents to dress for the show. As soon as we got dressed, the base commander came to tell us that the pallet with our band gear on it either never made it into the airplane with us this morning or flew over with us and somehow got sent out on another plane. Plus the venue where the show is to be held, still has no power. So, we’re going to do an autograph session at 5 pm and hope that the equipment comes in and the power comes back on before 7 pm.
We are supposed to fly home immediately after the show. I spent 3 days trying to get our flights re-booked. Now they are telling me that if the weather gets worse, we won’t be flying out tonight. I made a bet with our pilot for the C-17 that we would be stuck in Uzabekistan for Christmas. I bet because I always lose so I thought it would be good insurance to get me home. Evidently, this is one bet I might win!
We began the autograph session and were told that the pallet with our gear had arrived and the show was being set up. We went over to the show site and it was in a big hangar type of building and freezing cold – again. We tried our “Reindeer” trick on Darryl. When he sang “Rudolph”, we put “antlers” on the two cheerleaders, Karri and Bradshaw! Bradshaw also put a piece of red duct tape on his nose so he could be Rudolph. Then they walked out behind him and began singing. It was hilarious to see Darryl’s reaction. The show was extremely poignant – our last show, last day to say “thank you” to these wonderful men and women who are risking their lives for our freedom and safety. Lots of tears and sad good-byes to our new friends.
Went back to the tent after the show to pack up and change clothes for the 19 (yes, that would be 19 hour plane ride, thank you very much!) hour plane ride home. We stop for 3 hours in Germany to pick up another flight crew. Anyway, I digress. We went back to the tent only to find out that the power was out on that entire side of the base! We had no heat and no electricity. Had to change clothes in the dark, freezing cold and use our little flashlights to try and pack up everything. I’m sure I left half my things there. Made a quick stop at the latrine to see if we put anything on inside-out.
When we arrived at the plane, the pilots had cooked us a meal. Can you believe it? After the meals we have had for the past week, this was such a Godsend. It was excellent – ham, macaroni and cheese, hash brown casserole, green beans and for desert – you got it – fresh baked cookies.
We are giving 15 soldiers stationed in Uzbekistan a lift to Germany. They have been trying for a week to get a flight back home for Christmas. It’s so wonderful that we can do this.
I went up to Darryl to have my photo taken with him and he paid me the nicest compliment I might have ever received in my career. I am SO BLESSED to be able to work with such genuinely wonderful people and to do something that I love, yet pass it off for “work”.
Went up to visit with the pilots and they had made a little sign with a drawing on it for “mistletoe”. Do you know how long it’s been since I thought about “mistletoe” at Christmas…goodness, I must be OLD! These are really young guys! So, they wanted to lure women into the cockpit and have them stand under the mistletoe. I told them I would come back in an hour and pretend to be “surprised” and stand under it. Going to try and take a nap now. Once we pick up the other flight crew, this crew is going to want to come down and party with us.
Had a one hour nap and went up for my mistletoe kisses. Kari – the female pilot (YEAH!) – said that they kept asking what happened to me. Guess I was gone longer than they anticipated. Every time I go into the cockpit, the “curtain” grabs my sweater and I get tangled up. There is Velcro along the side of the curtain and it just loves the fabric of the sweater I have on.
We landed at RheinMein in Frankfurt, Germany. Sergeant Major Tilley gave us all coins and a pen in a little presentation ceremony. There were some very touching speeches. Picked up the new flight crew and they are all nice, young men as well. Only 8 more hours to DC and then the flight to Nashville.
Well, I got to watch ANOTHER in-flight refueling. Everyone else was sleeping, so I went up into the cockpit. Didn’t use the night goggles but instead looked out the windshield of the plane. OHMYGOD, the other plane is basically right on top of our plane. You just think that if there is the slightest mistake by either pilot, there will be a mid-air collision. It was extremely turbulent. I kept thinking that there is no way – as scared as I am to fly – that I could handle anything remotely close to this if I were on a commercial flight.
I found a bunk and decided to sleep for a couple of hours. The crew was supposed to wake me up when the “roast” they were cooking was ready and we were going to have our little Christmas party. Well, we ALL slept through both events.
Landed safely in D.C. and Sergeant Major Tilley had DONALD RUMSFELD come to the terminal to welcome us. Doesn’t it just figure that we have not had a shower in 47 hours and we get to meet the Secretary of Defense! We all had our photos made with him. The pilots on the C-17 had given me patches off their flight suits, so I had about 10 of these stuck all over the front of my sweater. Mr. Rumsfeld took one look at me and said, “I’m not even going to ask…” It was another incredible moment for everyone.
The USO forgot to tell our transportation that we were arriving early (imagine that?), so we had to wait over 2 hours for our bus. We could have taken an earlier flight home. Oh well. Everything happens for a reason. We had a really rude Delta employee at the check-in counter. As I always do, I got her name and will report her to the airlines. Mindy (cheerleader) and I went to have sushi for lunch while the others went to TGIF for a liquid lunch.
I met two incredible men on the flight from D.C. to Cincinnati. Both worked for the Department of Defense and one had been a fighter test pilot for 27 years. He started talking about the young men who are serving our country now and tears just started rolling down his cheeks which of course, made me tear up as well.
We landed in Cincinnati and made the short flight home to Nashville. My daughter met me at the airport, took one look at me, and said, “what happened to your hair”? We had been traveling for 25 hours – and it had then been 56 hours since the last shower…nice!
I have been into Bosnia 10 times and Kosovo/Macedonia 3 times. I know about war zones and have seen the places in the very early days of total devastation and the more recent times after rebuilding. Nothing has ever touched my heart as much as this trip. I spent a lot of time trying to analyze the difference and here are the conclusions I have reached.
I always make it a point to talk to as many of the soldiers as possible…to say thank you for being here and to let them know that my friends back in the U.S. appreciate them as well. The soldiers – men and women – that I met on this trip were much more “subdued” than in previous tours. They are always extremely polite, but this time they seemed much quieter. Standard questions I always ask are “What’s your name? Where are you from? How long have you been here? How much longer are you stationed here? Are you married and do you have children?” In the past, the response regarding when do you leave here has always been answered with the number of months remaining and a comment about how happy they will be to leave. This time, I didn’t get that response. Even in the incredible conditions in which they are forced to live – temperatures as high as 150 degrees in Kuwait in the summer and below zero in Afghanistan in the winter – none of them expressed enthusiasm about the fact that their tour would be over soon.
It took some serious thought, but I think I know why there is such a difference this time. In Bosnia, Kosovo, and even in Korea, our soldiers felt that they were fighting to preserve the freedom of another nation. There really wasn’t a true comprehension of the fact that they were also protecting the freedom of Americans. In Kuwait and Afghanistan, they KNOW that they are fighting an enemy that has attacked America and there is no way any of these young men and women are going to allow them to repeat their actions of September 11th. If President Bush calls for war, they want to be there and be a part of the action. I did not get a feeling that there was any “fear” but more of a bonding together and desire to take whatever action is necessary to keep America safe. Americans pulled together in the aftermath of 9/11, and at each of the bases I visited, I saw this same “bond”. Many of us in America have gotten back to our everyday lives, but the soldiers stationed at these bases have not forgotten. I really can’t explain what I witnessed because so much of it is just captured in my heart.
All the soldiers were so appreciative of having us visit with them. However, it was truly a blessing to all of us on the tour just to be able to say thank you to these fine young men and women. We all felt so humbled by this experience and I know that everyone on the tour will want to return again whenever possible to bring a little bit of “home” to the troops. We were embarrassed to have them thank us, when what we were doing was so insignificant compared to their contribution to keeping America safe.
This tour has made me more determined than ever to quit “whining” about what is wrong with the way tours are handled and do something positive about it. My goal for 2003 will be to make a difference!