Darryl Worley, along with 2 band members, traveled to Kuwait and Afghanistan to spend Thanksgiving, giving back to the troops that fight and protect our freedom every day, over the holiday. Darryl is no stranger to showing his patriotism to our men and women in the armed services. He has traveled to Korea, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan to entertain and show his support, as well as many performances state side.
Darryl is best known for monster hit, “Have You Forgotten”, about the terrorist attack on September 11, as well as “I Miss My Friend”, “Awful, Beautiful Life”, and “Sounds Like Life To Me”.
(COURTESY OF JOB ROBERTS PHOTOGRAPHY)
SATURDAY AND SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 23-24, 2013:
Met Darryl Worley, Soir, Jeff and Joe at the airport at noon today for a 1:30 pm flight to Dulles, then a 12 hour flight to Kuwait. Check in was painless and we had a little time to eat something before boarding. Of course on my Atkins diet, I can’t really eat “fast food” so I ran into Noshville and talked them into making me an omelet in 10 minutes or less. Sat across from Darryl on the tiny little jet that was our ride to Dulles. I haven’t flown a plane that small in a long time and every bump had me gripping the armrests. We talked and talked and got caught up since we haven’t toured together for more than a year. It was windy on landing so that was lots of fun. My United contact – Jon – arranged for us to get our one extra person into the First Class Lounge for our 6 hour layover. The other option was arriving with only a 55 minute layover and that’s just too risky! The Lounge had wonderful shrimp and lots of cheese. J The Customer Service rep came by from United that we met last year and brought two of her co-workers with her. My friend who usually makes sure we are taken care of – Jackie – has retired and loving life. The time passed pretty quickly and I got quite a bit of work accomplished! I can’t remember ever taking this flight from Dulles to Kuwait with so few people on board. There were only supposed to be 3 people in first but they moved some pilots who were traveling to “critique” the flight up and then a couple of people used their miles to upgrade. Same thing happened in business class. There were lots of empty seats in coach, too. I took gifts up to the cockpit for the crew and the co-pilot was someone who had flown us back from Kuwait to Dulles when Darryl was here in March of 2012. He remembered us. The lead flight attendant was male and very sweet. Darryl and I both tried to get the guys in coach upgraded to business but failed. Wish some of my pilot friends had been in the crew and they would have made it happen. Darryl had a show in Atlanta on Friday night and didn’t get home until 3 am Saturday morning and then had to pack for this trip. So he was “sleep deprived”. He fell asleep sitting up before we ever took off and slept like that for 8 hours…missed dinner (didn’t miss anything good). I ate the fish which was “edible” to say the least and watched a movie…”Jasmine” something. It was strange and I should have expected that because Woody Allen is the producer. I slept for 6 hours and Darryl was up and eating when I woke up. Watched another movie with Denzel Washington in it that was great but we landed before I saw the ending. Will fast forward on the way back and see what happened. We landed and there was a text from Lindsey telling me that Darryl’s wife had posted on Facebook that she was at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital with their daughter Savannah. Darryl had not heard from her since we had been in the air for over 12 hours. I tried calling her but my service wasn’t working in the terminal. He finally reached her after we left the airport. Evidently, she hasn’t been feeling well for a couple of weeks. Vandy did lots of blood work on her and should have results back in a few days. She may have been misdiagnosed with Mono. Know how frightening this all is for them, so please keep them in your prayers. The newly renovated Radisson is BEAUTIFUL! I hated having it closed for 3 years but they really did a good job with it. Lots of the original staff are still here, too. I got everything unpacked and sorted and decided to go have some dinner. Just as I was leaving I got a phone call from our Kuwait hosts regarding having our visas stamped out of the country. Evidently once they stamp us out, we are on “lock down” and have to stay on the military base until we depart the country. We had originally planned to stay in DV Quarters tomorrow night at Ali Al Salem after our show. But, I was given wrong information by Kuwait telling me that our flights were out of Camp Arifjan. I knew that only rotary wing aircraft can land at Arifjan but when I questioned our flight departing from there, I was assured that things have changed and that’s where we would be departing. I assumed that they were just getting Arifjan confused with OKBK which is the military side of the Kuwait International Airport. However, they confirmed tonight that our flights ARE out of Ali Al Salem as I originally thought! The problem is…. Ali Al Salem (The Rock) is a 1 ½ hour drive from the Radisson. If we finish the show on time, we should be back at the Radisson tomorrow night no later than midnight. We won’t know what time our flight from Kuwait to Afghanistan is on Tuesday morning until after 7 pm Monday night. So, if we have a really early call time (we’ve had to arrive at the flight line as early as 3 am before), it would mean finishing the show, driving back to the hotel, showering, packing, and driving back to The Rock…with no sleep the night before we fly to Afghanistan. Not what I want for the guys. I’ll have to make a decision tomorrow morning as to whether we take a chance that our flight will be later in the day and stay at the Radisson or check out and take our chances on exactly “what” our lodging will be at The Rock…. Not a great way to start the tour but it will all work out. Important thing is getting to Afghanistan for Thanksgiving. Went down and had dinner with the boys. It’s still the most fabulous buffet I’ve ever seen. Of course, it’s “wasted” on me since I could only eat salad, cheese and meat. But the guys loved it! It’s almost midnight here, so I’m going to try and get about 6 hours sleep and get up and run tomorrow morning…or work out at their great health club! Jude
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 25TH – SHOW AT ALI AL SALEM, KUWAIT AIR BASE (THE ROCK):
Got a good 4 hours sleep in the nice, new beds. But, I have to ask for a “sheet” from housekeeping today. There’s only a comforter and it gets too hot with it over me and too cold with it off. I usually bring my own sheet but decided I didn’t want to pack it this time. Mistake! It’s still really warm here in Kuwait. I had turned the air conditioner down to 19 C in my room because it was very hot. But, the temperature just kept climbing. I called the front desk and someone called me back. He said some of the guests had complained that their rooms were cold so he had turned on the heat! He reversed that decision with my phone call. When I opened by suitcase stuffed full of autograph sheets, cds, coins, and little gifts for the troops (62 pounds total!!!), there was a notice that TSA had inspected the contents which I anticipated. But…they wrote a sweet note on their form saying “Thank the troops for us! And Thank you!” Now how special was that??? Evidently Camp Arifjan had a horrible rain storm earlier this week. That’s the camp where we will perform on Sunday night when we return from Afghanistan. In fact, MWR had wanted us to stay in lodging on that base while we are in Kuwait and I refused. Good thing we didn’t plan on staying there. The entire camp flooded … so bad that vehicles were turned over and huge tents washed away. Sounds like all the buildings had water damage and people were being moved off the base and into local hotels. Today was my “jogging day” and I decided to run the opposite direction from the way I ran when I stayed here previously. I thought I’d run down towards the Movenpick Hotel because I can get down to the beach from there. Big mistake. It was 7 am when I left the hotel and rush hour traffic was at its peak. I ran out of sidewalk about 4 minutes into my run and realized I was running in the turning lane! Not a good idea when cars here think nothing of driving on the sidewalks. Turned around and headed back down the way I always run. The weather was perfect….probably around 55 degrees. After showering, I went downstairs for breakfast which is a HUGE buffet again. And again, it’s wasted on me since I could only have them make me an omelet and eat some of the cheese and sausage. The fruit looked wonderful and there were lots of smoothies and yogurts to pick from….which aren’t on the diet. L We left the hotel at 11:30 am for Ali Al Salem. We have an office call with the Wing Commander and then a couple of “unit visits”, sound check, dinner with the troops, perform, autograph session and then back to the hotel. I’ve decided we are not checking out of the hotel tonight but will take our chances and come back here. Left at 11:30 am and arrived way earlier than anticipated. Fortunately, the Command was ready for our visit, so we didn’t have to kill any time. Really, really nice group of people. I asked the Colonel if I could speak with him after our meeting regarding Protocol. Told him our “situation” regarding the flight tomorrow and he said we didn’t need to talk to protocol because the “air field is his”. His staff took over and worked our flight to Bagram. Wheels up are at 12:30 pm. The flight terminal told Kuwait MWR that we have to arrive 5 hours prior to that which would mean leaving the hotel at 6 am. The Colonel said we need to arrive 1 hour prior to flight time, so we are departing the hotel at 9:30. J After our visit with the Command, we went to the flight line and let the boys “play” with the Apache helicopter pilots. Jeff Johnson has never been on one of these tours, so they let him sit in one. They wanted Darryl to sit in one but he assured them he had tried before and his legs are just too long. I agree. We almost NEVER got him out of the F16 in Korea a few years ago! Sound check was next on the agenda and it went really well…and fast. We finished early and walked over to the base exchange to “shop”. Went back to the venue and had about an hour to kill. I think we all fell asleep for that hour backstage. Dinner with the troops was really nice. We had a private VIP room and about 15 Airmen/women joined us. We went around the table and asked where everyone was from, what they did, their families, etc. It was a really, really nice meal with them. Our show was supposed to begin at 6:30 pm but somehow the information went out to the base that it started at 7 pm. So, we had another hour to kill before show time. The Base Commander and a couple of his staff came by and chatted with Darryl for a few minutes. Great guys! I had been told that the previous Commander has banned all “comedians” from performing at The Rock. I asked this Commander and he said that was not the case. I was worried because this is one of 4 bases my Improv Comedy Tour is supposed to visit in a month. The performance was awesome…we had 293 people in a 300 capacity venue. Darryl not only gives a great performance but talks to the audience. I know entertainers prefer the full band situation but these acoustic shows are really nice because they are more intimate and make the audience feel they really get to “know” the artist. Darryl signed autographs for an hour and a half (I think all 293 people were in line). We departed the base at around 10 pm and we were back at the hotel a little after 10:30 pm…a record time. I think our bus driver was Korean tonight because he pushed on the gas pedal and then let off the entire drive back. J Going to “repack” and try to get in bed at a decent hour. Really excited to be heading back to Afghanistan for Thanksgiving with the troops! Jude
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 26TH – KUWAIT TO AFGHANISTAN:
Didn’t have time to go to the health club this morning but got in a few exercises in the room before showering and heading down to breakfast. The guys were already in the restaurant having their breakfast. No lunch again today as we will depart at 12:30 pm and it will probably be about a 3 ½ to 4 hour flight into Bagram. It actually snowed in Nashville yesterday but guess it didn’t stick. Heard the weather is going to be bad in the Northeast the next couple of days which will impact the Holiday travel. We lose touch with reality pretty quickly once we depart Kuwait. This will be the last “news” I’ll see until we return on Sunday evening. We departed the hotel at 9:30 am and arrived at The Rock by 10:30 am…earlier than needed. On the drive out to the base, our MWR escort received a phone call from Afghanistan MWR saying Darryl Worley had missed his flight from Afghanistan! He kept telling the person calling that Darryl Worley was NOT in Afghanistan and that he had the entire group on his bus right then driving them to catch their flight TO Afghanistan. Crazy!!! When we arrived at the aircraft, the air crew had gone to lunch because there was a “delay”. I was worried that it was mechanical but turns out it was only delayed to file a new flight plan. Our escorts suggested we go over to the DFAC and grab some lunch. We were all still so full from breakfast that no one really wanted anything. I got a to go box with a chicken breast, carrots, and salad and the minute the others sat down to eat, our security detail came in and said they were ready for us. The plane was a C-17 and had airplane seats in the middle and hanging seats along the sides. They let us board first and most of us sat in the front row or along the front in the hanging seats. There were plenty of empty seats for the contractors and military that we were flying with, too. Our flight crew was out of Travis and they let Jeff go on deck for the take-off and Darryl for the landing. It was a 3 hour and 38 minute flight with no turbulence. Since I hadn’t slept the night before, I tried to sleep most of the way over. Woke up after about 1 ½ hours of very bad sleep (can’t sleep sitting upright very well!) and read for a while. I ended up throwing the “to go” lunch away and ate some peanut butter instead. J Elissa our escort met us as soon as we landed and I definitely remember her from Iraq. We are lodged in DV Quarters this time which are much nicer than where we have stayed previously because they have a shower and toiled on the floor with our rooms. We all walked over and had dinner at the DFAC. It was “Mexican” night and not much I could eat. Had some green beans and a salad and then had a really hard time getting the cook to give me a hamburger patty. They were frozen and he was cooking them on the grill, only he kept giving me the frozen one that wasn’t cooked. Finally had to call another cook over to make him understand. They are all local Afghanis. After dinner we checked out the internet situation. I rented a wireless from XCom Global and believe it or not…it works! Very slow but so is the internet on base. And I can stay in my room and use it. Got in touch with my T-Mobile guy in Nashville who told me how to “fix” my blackberry so that my email would work again. I love the Q10 but every time I go out of the country (which is every month), my email quits working. So, I will trade when I get back to Nashville!!! Took a shower at around 11:30 and it’s almost midnight now. There is a “heating/cooling” system in the room, but it can’t be turned off. I turned off the controls and there is still hot air blowing from a ceiling vent with a very loud fan. No idea how to stop it! Going to bed soon as I have to get up at 5 am. We depart Bagram tomorrow, so I can’t post this report until we leave here.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 27TH – BAGRAM TO PHOENIX TO NKC (NEW KABUL COMPOUND:
How do you write about one of the best days of your life…a day that you will re-live, think about, talk about, and share memories of forever? That’s what Wednesday, November 27th in Afghanistan was for me. I went to sleep at 1 am and woke up at 3:15 am and could not shut my mind down and go back to sleep. I knew it was going to be a big day with no “nap” time but nothing I could do about it. We met at 7 am for the walk to the DFAC for breakfast and shortly thereafter departed to the flight line. We had a few minutes to kill and Darryl signed autographs for the guys and girls working there. They told us we would be flying on a “contractor” helicopter which is much more comfortable than military choppers. Honestly, I don’t like that at all. I want a chopper with gunners on each window wearing military uniforms if I’m going to be flying over areas where bad guys could be shooting at us. It’s happened just about every visit to a combat zone and fortunately I’ve always had our military protecting us. The flight to Camp Phoenix was short and we met my “Alabama” boys. They are mostly out of Mobile, Alabama and they “talk just like I do”. I was just at Camp Phoenix in March with Craig Morgan but of course, it’s all different folks here now. We met up with Major Hood who will be our military escort for the duration of our stay in the Kabul area. He took us to lodging and Darryl and I are in DV Quarters. Our rooms are much like I’ve stayed in many times – one bedroom on each side with a shared bathroom in the middle. Trust me, sharing a bathroom with anyone is hundreds of times better than having to hike a half mile outside in freezing weather to find a toilet and/or a shower! Major Hood had gone to the trouble to get each of us a Sniper Hill internet account. Problem is, the signal was so low, none of us could get on it. We spent the few minutes of free time we had cussing the connection and it never worked. I was able to get my XCOM wireless set up and connected but it was so slow, I couldn’t open any of my emails. And my T-Mobile blackberry is totally useless. Trust me, that thing is history the minute I get home. We all met in front of lodging and then met a lot of the men and women at base headquarters for a security briefing – mostly Alabama folks, too. I cannot tell you what a great group of people they have here. We were assigned a detail of about a dozen folks to take care of us. We walked over to the DFAC and had a quick lunch and then had a few more minutes to cuss the internet before taking a helicopter to New Kabul Compound. It was the same chopper and crew we had earlier today (seems like days ago already!) but the flight was only about 7 minutes. All of our escorts from Phoenix accompanied us and we were met by another large contingency of wonderful folks at NKC. We had another security brief and I learned that we are less than a quarter of a mile from ISAF Headquarters where two of my best friends in the world are located – Colonel Kyle McClelland and SFC Will Pickens. Both work for General Dunford, the Commanding General of Afghanistan. I had told them that I wanted to make sure they got out to see me if we were close enough. One of the security officers said that they are “close enough to walk over and that they had done it many times”. I’m not sure that is true as I later found out it is through the most dangerous area of Kabul – much like the area between the Green Zone and BIAP were in Iraq. I called both Will and Kyle after the meeting and warned them that if they didn’t find a way to come to see me, I would walk over on my own to see them. Both were horrified since they know I don’t have a “bad” sense of direction – I have “NO” sense of direction. They did not want to take responsibility for me entering Pakistan. J We “toured” the NKC which is about 1 ½ miles square. They took us to see some folks who will be working tonight and unable to attend the show. We went to the top of a tower and were able to look over into the “square” and see the traffic circle – the most dangerous area. I remember convoying through that area with Chely Wright and Dave Price when we traveled from Phoenix to Camp Eggers years ago. Our escorts were constantly screaming into their ear pieces about vehicles getting too close to us. Dave Price was in the lead vehicle (the one that will take the first hit) and was about to have a heart attack. We met Major General Richardson and he reminded Darryl that he had met him as a Major, a Lt. Colonel, a Colonel, a General and now as a 2 Star General. What a wonderful man he is and the men and women serving under him are very fortunate. He’s one you’ll see with 4 Stars on his chest in the future. I can always “spot” them. Next on the agenda was a “flag raising” ceremony. We weren’t real sure what it was but it turned out to be one of the most special events we have ever experienced and trust me, there have been a lot in combat zones we have visited. It was outdoors, dark and very, very cold. We gathered around the flagpole and two female soldiers conducted the ceremony. Basically, one by one, we were called up and a flag was raised, lowered, and presented to each of us. While that in itself was a solemn, moving experience, the highlight was watching Joe (Darryl’s long-time tour manager). Joe served in Vietnam with Special Ops and like most Vietnam Vets, he just doesn’t talk about it. Pulling a couple of sentences out of him is a real achievement. He’s very humble but we all know why he served. He comes from a military family and there is no one more proud of his country than Joe. He came close to completely falling apart during his presentation which, of course, just tore all of us up. I wasn’t sure I could get through mine without crying the entire time. I think the only thing that saved me was it was cold enough to freeze tears before they ever rolled out! It was an experience we will all remember the rest of our lives. Even Donald our sound tech from Kuwait was part of the ceremony as he should have been. Donald is from the Philippines and one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met. I’ve known him since early 2003 and logged more miles with him in Iraq and Afghanistan than anyone I’ve worked with. He is always so sweet to carry my bags or Kevlar for me even though he has plenty to carry of his own. We had a few minutes to kill and I went down to the library to get online and check emails. The twins are going to their father’s for Thanksgiving so my worry level is at its peak. When I opened my email, there were about 6 messages from Kyle. The first was very positive saying he didn’t realize we were so close to him and he and Will were trying to make it over. Then the messages became progressively less positive about their ability to see me. The last one ended with an apology saying they just couldn’t make it happen. But, he also threw in a line about “why don’t you mention to MG Richardson that we don’t have a ride over”. Sometimes ignorance is bliss I suppose because I immediately looked at our security escort and said, “Can you take me to General Richardson? I have a message for him”. My escort seemed stunned but saw the look on my face and decided better than to try and talk me down. The General was sitting in his office and I told him about my long time friendship with Kyle and Will and what the problem was. He looked at his Aide and said, “Send my PSD over to pick them up”. That simple and that quick. Then he picked up his phone and called Kyle. I would give a million Iraqi Dinars if I could have recorded that conversation. He had Kyle on speaker phone and without any preliminary discussion, told Kyle who was calling and said “get out front of your building. I’m sending my PSD over to pick you up”. Of course, about all Kyle could manage was a stunned “Yes, sir”. I got to stay and thank the General for a few minutes and hugged him more times than I can count. How horrible it would have been to be less than ¼ mile from Kyle and Will and not even be able to give them a Thanksgiving hug! I had sent Darryl to “his room” for about 30 minutes before he had to do sound check. He said he passed out so hard that when someone knocked on the door, he bolted straight up and had no idea where he was. That nap probably helped a lot with getting through the show. Sound check was quick and then Darryl did an interview with AFN. We had about another 30 minutes before show time and I had an email from Kyle saying “we are on our way”. The General introduced Darryl and the show started before Kyle and Will arrived. While I was waiting at the back of the room for them, I met a guy that we had met in 2004 in Korea on one of Darryl’s tours! He was at Camp Red Cloud and was responsible for getting my “boys” in trouble with some Shoju. I certainly remembered him. J Then later I met another soldier who was one of the escorts on the very first Stars for Stripes tour which was 2 weeks in Iraq over Christmas and New Years in 2003! I’ve seen him several times throughout the years in various parts of Iraq and Afghanistan. He is most memorable for not picking us up when we landed at BIAP and we had to sit in the passenger terminal from around 11 pm until 2 am waiting for “someone” to claim us. Then when we were departing, he sent us to the wrong terminal and our chopper pilots spent 4 hours looking for us. The pilots were furious and “fired” him on the spot. LOL. Again good memories now that it’s over and a very good “learning” experience for me. Kyle and Will arrived about 20 minutes into the show and I can’t tell you how happy I was to see those boys. They brought Kyle’s Deputy with them – Mike – and I think he got an education on how special my relationship is with the two of them. He’s a really nice guy, too, and I’m glad he is working for Commander Kyle! We watched the show which is one of the best I’ve ever seen from Darryl. He talked so much about our experiences during the day and related stories from past tours. He went much longer than the 60 minutes we had allotted but it was worth it. Major Hood was able to delay the time our choppers were picking us up by an hour. At the end of the event, there was a presentation of the flags that we had raised earlier during the day. I NEVER speak on the microphone during a concert but this time I had to call the General up and thank him for bringing Kyle and Will to me. Of course, no one knew what I was saying because I was so choked up, I couldn’t even make sense. But the General, Kyle and Will knew and that was what was important to me. Kyle and Will had to go back to ISAF at around 10:15 pm and Darryl signed autographs and took photos with everyone until our choppers came for us at 11 pm. By the time we left NKC, I felt like I was again leaving my “family”. Such wonderful men and women serving there defending our freedom. I think that is the one thing I took away from the flag raising ceremony. As Americans we know not to take our freedom for granted and we know why we have it. But to witness that solemn ceremony with men and women in uniform who are willing to risk their lives for us is more powerful than I can describe. I’ve been fortunate to visit so many countries around the world and I can honestly say, there is nowhere in the world where the citizens show such pride and are willing to fight for their country. The General told us he was late getting to the concert last night because two of his soldiers had been killed. And he meant that – “his boys” – and we all felt his personal loss. I don’t know what happened but my heart breaks at the thought of their loved ones receiving that message at any time but to get that call the day before Thanksgiving would be unbearable. We arrived back at Camp Phoenix close to midnight and I was able to get my wireless working well enough to spend 3 hours answering emails. Decided to take my shower before going to bed and there was no hot water. It’s really, really cold here but I had to shower, so gritted my teeth and dove in. About 10 minutes into the freezing water, it warmed up. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I am so thankful that we are here with the wonderful men and women serving our country. I can’t send this report until we leave Camp Phoenix so I’m sure I’m going to think of lots of information that I forgot to include and go back and edit it many, many times! One note – the guys at NKC are receiving LOTS of “care packages” from folks back home and they appreciate every one of them. However, they now have more than they can use which is the case in many areas because of the outpouring of love and support from Americans wanting to show their support. I asked “what” we could send them that they don’t have and unanimously, the answer was CHOCOLATE….WE WANT CHOCOLATE! So, I’m going to get an address and I hope everyone will send over some chocolate. Doesn’t have to be a lot of expensive – Snickers bars will do just fine. And, yes, it may melt before it reaches them although less likely this time of the year but they don’t care. They throw it in the fridge and wait for it to solidify again. J I’ll post some addresses on my Facebook sites soon. Jude
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 28TH – THANKSGIVING AT FOB PHOENIX, AFGHANISTAN:
I got 5 hours of sleep…not uninterrupted but still life changing. Got up and dressed and headed over to the DFAC to grab coffee. I said “Happy Thanksgiving” to everyone I met and they all seemed surprised. Every day is Ground Hog Day so either they didn’t realize it’s Thanksgiving or they were just surprised by the greeting. Darryl took his shower this morning and had plenty of hot water. Guess I primed it for him last night. When I turned the water on in my sink last night, it was black…not brown…black. And that’s what we are showering in. Hope it’s good for the hair and skin. J We won’t be flying anywhere today but will be visiting lots of troops. Our first stop was at Command Group Headquarters for a “meet and greet”. Had no idea it would be more than 100 people and was very happy I brought enough autograph sheets with me. We had lunch after that and they had quite the “spread” for Thanksgiving. I was so looking forward to having whipped cream – the one “desert” I can have on Atkins. But, they didn’t have any whipped cream, not even for the pumpkin pie! These folks can’t be from Alabama and not have whipped cream with their pumpkin pie. J After lunch we visited Camp Vose and they let us fire their weapons. The boys loved this. Even Joe who has been on numerous trips to the AOR with Darryl but never fired a weapon when they offered this “treat”, joined in the “fun” and tried several of the guns they had available to us. It was a struggle for me because I have mono-vision. I am right handed but have to sight with my left eye. I gave it my best and fired a pistol and two of the “big” guns. They were all so sweet and patient with me. I told them my story about going to the Secret Service firing range in DC with Aaron Tippin a few years ago. Aaron shot every weapon they had and destroyed about 5 paper targets. He’s quite the marksman. They kept pushing me to shoot but I told them I had never shot a gun before. Finally they gave me an MP5 but I had to shoot left handed because I had to “sight” with my left eye. They told me to pick a spot on the target where Aaron hadn’t shot and try to hit it. I put 5 rounds dead center of the “paper man’s” crotch. They took my weapon away from me and wouldn’t let me shoot any more. But they did sign the target and I have it hanging in a place of honor in my office. J One of their “sharpest” guys is from Romania and he speaks really great English. I thought he was from America – except his uniform gave him away. His name is “Lt. Dan”, so I had to talk to him. He knows who Gary Sinise is but only knew about his role in “Forrest Gump”. I told him about all of Gary’s other movies and “CSI New York” and about the Lt. Dan Band and how supportive they are of the military and first responders. We took a photo together with me holding a sign in front of him that says “Lt. Dan”. He is supposed to come to the U.S. next year and promised to get in touch. I gave him my card and I know he will email me because he wants copies of the photos I took. LOL. I actually quit shooting even though they wanted me to try every weapon. The casings were flying everywhere from the rounds being fired and I was afraid one would land on me. I have had a couple of friends who were burned really badly when one flew down the collar of their shirts! We went from there to meet the Quick Reaction Force — was also very impressive. They were in a situation recently with 22 casualties and they managed to get everyone out, didn’t lose anyone. This “team” was assembled with guys and girls from all over the U.S and their “leader” is a very sharp female. Darryl and Jeff played for a long time on the MRAPS. They have the older model with the gun turret but they also have the new one where the gunner stays inside (out of danger) and has a camera mounted on top. I had to ask why they would ever use the older model and endanger the life of one of their men/women. The answer was that they can see so much better than trying to use the camera. The camera is very limited on what it can pick up. We made a couple of more stops to visit with some Generals and then went to the stage for the sound check. I was teasing the Alabama folks about not having whipped cream on Thanksgiving and they sympathized with me. The General (who was in a meeting when we arrived and we just “crashed” in), told his female aide to find me some whipped cream. I thought he was kidding but she walked back in with a cream puff and explained that she eats them all the time – just goes for the whipped cream in the center and throws the pastry away. SWEET!!! Unfortunately, the gear had not arrived at the stage and it took quite a while to find someone to bring it over. By the time they got the stage set up, the Chaplain was having a service and the Chapel is directly in back of the stage. Also, no one remembered that we needed “lights” since we moved the concert outdoors. That was resolved pretty quickly but sound check had to be postponed until after dinner. I had convinced Darryl to skip sound check and go to his room and rest his voice. He reluctantly agreed and we thought he had 2 hours to rest. Nope, he had less than an hour to grab and nap. I felt awful having to wake him out of a dead sleep to go to dinner. I know he would have loved to skip dinner and just rest but since we were having a special meal with the troops, he “soldiered” on, as usual! We all got “to go” plates from the DFAC and walked a few buildings down to have dinner with the troops. And guess what….right next to the ice cream was a large tray of whipped cream. So I got to eat whipped cream for dessert! Someone must have heard my comments. We actually had Thanksgiving dinner one MP Unit (mostly from Arizona) and all their components. The Brigadier General presented everyone in the group with a beautiful plaque commemorating our visit here. We have to get someone to ship to us because there is a lot of glass involved and we all brought soft duffle bags. Show time is set for 8 pm and it’s going to be cold. Still, I think it was a good decision to move outdoors because I believe we will have lots more than the 350 we could have accommodated at the indoor venue. The show started on time but the stage was so low to the ground that only the first few rows could see Darryl and the guys. They also made the decision to turn the heaters off that we had placed next to the stage. They were making a lot of noise. I sure hated that decision because I was sitting on the side of the stage and freezing! J About half way through the show, Joe asked Darryl if he wanted to stand and sing so everyone could see him. It worked much better. He performed for 90 minutes instead of 60 and everyone loved it. Since these are predominately “Alabama Boys” here, they even sang “Sweet Home Alabama” and had two guys from the audience come on stage to sing the 2nd and 3rd verses. As I said, Elissa and I were sitting on the side of the stage. This large man in uniform stepped in front of me and I noticed that he had a piece of paper in his hand. Darryl was right in the middle of telling this really touching story about the song he was about to sing and the man walked on stage before I or security could stop him. He handed Darryl the note and Darryl looked sort of stunned but said “okay”. Then a female soldier walked on stage and she took Darryl’s mic. She said, “I just got off the phone with the Secretary of Defense” and paused. I assume she was expecting thunderous applause but instead was met with dead silence. But she pushed on…”and he said to tell you Happy Thanksgiving”. Again dead silence. So she left the stage and should have had more sense than to interrupt an entertainer in the middle of his performance. Wonder how the Secretary of Defense would have liked her interrupting him in the middle of an important speech? Just when you think you’ve seen and heard it all, something comes along to prove you wrong! Darryl signed autographs for well over an hour. It was a really special Thanksgiving but for me, my “happy” Thanksgiving was yesterday at NKC. I was able to call Lindsey and Chris and wish them a Happy Thanksgiving. Very sad that I can’t talk to the twins today but hope they are enjoying their day as well. We fly to our last FOB tomorrow and do a 1 pm performance. Then back to “home base” in Afghanistan to catch a C17 back to Kuwait on Saturday… I think it will be Saturday. Not real sure anymore. Loving my boys – Darryl, Soir, Jeff, Joe, and Donald” for making Thanksgiving so special. And a sincere thanks to Elissa from MWR Afghanistan for spending not only her Thanksgiving but the next year here away from her family. Major Hood has been great at keeping things on schedule and all our “escorts” at Camp Phoenix are definitely our guardian angels. I was concerned for a few minutes yesterday about Darryl’s voice. He never, ever complains but did mention that he could feel the effects on his voice from spending all day talking and not resting it at all. Going to try and make it easier on him tomorrow because we have 2 more shows before we fly to the U.S. Jude
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 29TH – VISIT TO CAMP MOOREHEAD:
Five hours of sleep again – getting spoiled! I was putting on my makeup and heard Darryl in the shower. He yelled through the door and asked if I had turned off the light. Nope. It went out the other day, too, so he had to shower in the dark! Walked over to the DFAC and got a “to go” omelet and a huge cup of coffee. Came back to the room and was trying to get caught up on some email when there was a knock on the door. Major Hood informed me that our visit to Camp Moorehead was cancelled because our chopper flights are cancelled. They lost 2 pilots last night due to indirect fire at Bagram. Found out it was two civilian helicopter pilots and the hit occurred on their lodging area. Just breaks my heart that their families will receive that information on Thanksgiving. Not a lot of details yet and we are still scheduled to fly back to Bagram tonight but not until 9 pm. Elissa is working on this and hopes to get us an earlier flight back. We have learned not to wait until late in the evening since anything can happen to delay that flight as well. Better to try and make it back now and then we are staged and ready for the flight back to Kuwait. I was really looking forward to visiting Moorehead again. I was there in March with Craig Morgan. On that trip, we landed at Moorehead but walked up the hill for the dedication of Camp Riley Stephens after SFC Riley Stephens who was killed in September, 2012. The Afghan Commando Training Camp is located at the base of Camp Moorehead and our guys are there to work with them and train them. They do a great job and rarely get celebrity visits so I am very disappointed that we won’t be able to visit them. But, we do what we have to do. Everyone was given “free time” until 11:25 am when we have a special lunch with some of the troops. There is a “bazaar” here today for Black Friday…can you believe it? I’m going to go check it out in my “free time”. We probably won’t know if we are going to be able to get out earlier until around 1:30 pm today. At a few minutes after 9, Joe and Donald were working to “re-pack” our equipment. We had reconfigured the containers so that we could take a really small production package up to Moorehead. Only 50 men/women are there and that is if everyone was able to attend the show. As they were working, a very angry Lt. Colonel arrived and wanted to know why we weren’t at the flight line. Our helicopters had arrived to take us to Moorehead! I wish I had been there because we could have gone with just our guitars if necessary. The LTC was very upset that no one had told him the mission had been cancelled. We later learned that while the choppers that were to take us TO Moorehead had not been cancelled, the choppers to get us back from Moorehead had been cancelled. So we could have been stuck there indefinitely. At least that’s the “story de jour”. It changes by the hour. I walked over and purchased two postcards at a price of 25 cents each at the exchange and then dropped them in the “free mail” slot. What a deal!!! We met for lunch at 11:25 and had a private room where we ate with the guys and girls who have been taking care of our production equipment for us. They have worked very hard to loading and unloading for our performances. After lunch we walked over to the TF Tarfon Commander’s office. We were supposed to visit with them later tonight but since we are trying to get an earlier flight, wanted to make sure we saw them. Good thing we did because we got the call that the choppers would arrive between 2:30-2:45 pm to take us to Bagram instead of 9 pm tonight. Really glad Elissa was able to pull this off for us. She actually said that General Richardson pulled some strings. First he provides his PSD for my friends and now he finds choppers for us. What an amazing man. We had two Chinooks (very happy about that!) and it was about a 15 minute ride from Phoenix to Bagram. We have our same rooms as when we were here a few days ago….only it seems like it was weeks ago. Dropped our bags and went down to the Exchange and Bazaar for last minute shopping. I didn’t buy anything. Darryl and Joe decided to eat at Popeye’s Chicken instead of the DFAC tonight. We met at 7 pm and walked over to the DFAC. Our flight time tomorrow is really good. We depart at 2:30 but have to be at the terminal at 11:30 am to “clear customs”. We should be in Kuwait no later than 4:30 pm if we leave on time. Should be at the Radisson by 6:30 pm latest. Everyone is still a little “down” about having to cancel the visit to Camp Moorehead. Really didn’t make a lot of sense that they would cancel our flights in that area when the incident happened at Bagram. I was much more worried that they would cancel the flight back here tonight! Glad we made it back. Was in bed by midnight for the first time since we left Nashville. At 1 am my phone rang but I couldn’t tell who was calling, so let it go to voice mail. Then I got a text message from Kuwait asking if I had our flight details for tomorrow. Texted the info I had back to them and told them I would give an update later today.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 30TH – AFGHANISTAN TO KUWAIT – MAYBE!!!
Got up at 6:30 am because I just couldn’t sleep any more. Showered, dressed and walked over to the DFAC. I made SURE that I looked where I was going so that I wouldn’t have any problem finding my lodging when I returned. Of course, you go in one door at the DFAC and come out a completely different side! I walked right past lodging and about a quarter of a mile down the street before I realized I had to turn around. But, I found the building again! We were all meeting Elissa downstairs at 9 am to give her our passports so we could be manifested for our 2:30 pm flight. When we got downstairs, she said she had some bad news for us. Our flight was not departing until 8:00 pm local time and we had to go through Kandahar on the flight back to Ali Al Salem. She was trying to get it changed, but I remember this is what happened in March with Craig Morgan. I don’t hold much hope of her finding another flight back. An airman who was stationed in Greenland and communicated with me for quite a few years about getting entertainment to them contacted me on Facebook. He is here at Bagram so I’m going to meet him for lunch today. Will meet Elissa at 1 pm for an update on our flight status. I was able to meet Josh – the airman who has been emailing me for about 3 years. Really a nice young man. We had lunch and I really enjoyed talking to him. His wife and children are in California and he will miss the holidays with them but loves that he feels he is here “making a difference”. Elissa confirmed that the 8 pm flight is the only one from Bagram to Kuwait, so that’s the one we are taking. Darryl may have the flu – fever, chills, and chest congestion…all brought on by the Afghanistan “dust” and using his voice too much. Hopefully resting today and most of tomorrow will help and he can still perform at Camp Arifjan Sunday night. Flying home may be miserable for him though. So, now our aircraft has “mechanical problems” and our departure time has been bumped to 11 pm local time. Means we won’t arrive at the Radisson until around 5 am. Brutal. I just hope we get out tonight because waiting until tomorrow could mean more delays and result in us missing our flight to the States! We took our personal bags down at 5:30 pm and then walked over to the DFAC for dinner. From the way my clothes fit, I think I’ve lost several pounds on this tour. Sure hope so. Getting really tired of the “Induction Phase” of Atkins. We departed lodging at 8:30 pm and it didn’t take very long to get through Customs. Signed autographs for everyone there and then went to the DV lounge. Bus took us out to the aircraft and we boarded at around 9:45 pm. At 10 pm, they told us we were going back to the terminal because there is a 2 hour delay! That means a 1 am departure. That means “IF” we actually depart at 1 am, we won’t arrive at the hotel until around 5 am! I asked the flight crew why there was a delay and they said that there is a maximum number of aircraft that can be parked on the ground at Ali Al Salem and they are at that limit. Until someone departs, we can leave to fly there! I also asked about their time left that they can fly – their “duty day”. Including the 2 hour delay, they only have 2 ½ hours left. NOW I am really worried that we will get out of here tonight. If it turns into a case of flying out tomorrow, we run the risk of missing our flights back home!!! We are back in the DV Lounge, just “waiting”. They called us back to the plane at about 12:30 and we departed (finally) at 1 am local time. Should be in Kuwait at 3:00 am local time (3 hour 30 minute flight). Jude
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2013 AND MONDAY, DECEMBER 2ND – LAST SHOW IN KUWAIT:
We had the same flight crew taking us back to Kuwait as we did bringing us over. Such nice guys. They let Darryl go up on their flight deck and sleep in their bunk the entire trip. He said he was soaking wet when he woke up, so the fever probably broke. He looked a lot better. It was a smooth flight and we landed at 2:30 am. Our escorts were supposed to be waiting for us on the flight line but they weren’t there. Our flight crew told us to stay on the plane. I was texting and calling and not getting any answers. Finally Aaron answered and said they were at L&N. I told the pilot that and he had no clue what that was. The pilot called Protocol and told them to come pick us up. Aaron said they were all driving over together. When they pulled up, it was our security vehicle, the bus and the cargo van and they went to the wrong airplane! One of the flight crew went running after them and got them all turned around. When he walked back to me he said I should have videoed for YOUTUBE because it looked like the Keystone Cops. I asked our security escort why they didn’t meet us at the plane in the first place since he has clearance to drive on the runway! The one bright spot upon arrival was the surprise that Auburn had beat Alabama and “how” they beat them. One guy played the winning touchdown for us on his iphone. War Eagle!!! We got to the hotel at 5 am and everyone was dragging. It was 5:30 am by the time I got everyone in their rooms and a few minutes later, my phone rang. It was MWR Kuwait informing me that we had to get BACK on the bus and go to APOD and have our Visas issued. I had checked with them numerous times before we departed to make SURE we didn’t need to do this. When we were here in March, our escort took our passports when we landed and had the visas issued. We did not have to be present and we were told it would be the same way again. So instead of getting a few hours of sleep, we had breakfast and headed back to the airport. We met a really nice General in the DV Lounge who is over at Arifjan. He was leaving today and couldn’t come see Darryl’s show but said he would definitely be there for the NYE Comedy Show. We sat around the DV Lounge until 9:30 am and then got in another bus and drove to Kuwait International Airport. We went in the back way and up to Visa Issuing. The escort took our passports and told us to go shopping for 40 minutes. We just sat in some seats because we were much too tired to do anything. Forty minutes later, he called us up and handed us our visas and passports. There was no reason for us to be present. MWR could have easily handled this. Darryl was really looking flushed again and I felt of his forehead and his fever is back. Gave him some Tylenol and we arrived back at the hotel at 11 am. He will be able to sleep until we check out at 3 pm and go to Camp Arifjan for the performance. We had to cancel everything today including the visit with the Base Commander. When we arrive, Darryl will go over and see him and the guys will set up for sound check. Then everyone will sound check, perform, sign autographs, go to the airport and fly home. At this point, it is Sunday afternoon and no one has slept since Friday night. If we are going to bring entertainment to the troops in Afghanistan who so desperately deserve our support, Kuwait is going to have to figure out a better way of handling the visa situation. We arrived at Camp Arifjan for sound check but all our equipment was still sitting out on the sidewalk outside the Chapel. Evidently the church service ran long and our guys had not been able to load in. We left Joe, Jeff and Soir there and Darryl and I went to the Command Call. We were pleasantly surprised to find that it was with Major General Stein who we had met with MG Richardson at NKC earlier this week in Afghanistan. He asked about our trip back and we told him about the flight delays. He said that he had flown back that same day on a private plane and we could have flown back with him! Darryl did a quick sound check and then we all walked over to the DFAC for dinner. Everyone was starving after having slept through lunch. The chapel where Darryl performed was really nice and had 667 seats. I was surprised that it wasn’t filled but we only had around 300 people. That’s testimony of how few troops we have left in the area. In the past when we were stopping through Kuwait en route to Iraq, all our shows had to be outdoors because the crowds were around 2,000 people. Joe Bowser’s niece “Taylor” is serving at Camp Arifjan and I was able to meet her and introduce her to Darryl. Will try to see her again when I’m back for the Comedy Tour over New Year’s Eve. Darryl did a great show despite the fact that he was losing his voice by the end of the 60 minute set. He was having fever and chills off and on all day but pushed through the meet and greets, performance and autograph session afterwards. He finished signing autographs by 10 pm and we left for the airport. Because our PSD is so GREAT, check in was a breeze. We were even able to take everyone into the Lounge to wait until time to board. Once we arrived at the gate area, we saw the Commander and his Chief from Ali Al Salem. They are going home for a much needed break with their families. I barely managed to stay awake through the meal service (which really wasn’t worth waiting for). Watched one movie while I was eating and then passed out for 5 hours. Darryl took some Nyquil but still didn’t sleep very long. People in Afghanistan who have had this “krud” that he has said that the fever sometimes lasts for 5 days! I know how badly he wants to see his wife and daughter but know he also hates to infect them. Just hope we don’t all get it. I’ve been using Zicam and thankfully I got a flu shot just before we left! We landed and my dear friend Jon with United Airlines Global Services met us at the gate. He had a van and drove us from the C gates where we landed over to the A gates. Saved us a lot of time on our very short connection. And Darryl certainly appreciated it because he looked very weak and flushed again. The flight to Nashville is the most miserable part of the tour. It’s one of the tiny planes and was packed full. The flight attendant asked several times if everyone on the plane was scheduled to go to Nashville. No one spoke up. She said there was one extra passenger. Finally she came back on and called a lady’s name. The lady was irate and said now she would miss her connection. I guess she just decided to get on our flight to Nashville instead of a later flight she was booked on without asking anyone. Darryl was sitting a few rows in front of me and the flight attendant asked if his entire row could move. There was a husband, wife and 2 children sitting together but there are only 3 seats across and one baby was a “lap” baby. I guess the row Darryl was in had extra oxygen masks for the babies. We took off a few minutes late but landed close to “on time”. Darryl looked really, really sick by the time we made it home. Feel so sorry for him. Hope he will go see a doctor today! It was such a great tour for Darryl and his group and the hundreds of lives they touched over the holidays! Home until New Year’s Eve now when I take the NYE Improv Comedy Tour back to Kuwait on December 28th. Jude