Country super-star Chely Wright, along with Dave Price from the CBS’s “The Early Show” and Joey Gilbert, boxing sensation from NBC’s “The Contender” put on a variety show for the troops stationed in remote bases in Afghanistan.
“It was a remarkable experience….Unfortunately, It is difficult to truly comprehend the extreme sacrifice of these men and women serving in the armed forces — without seeing them operating in these harsh environments in person. It was great to bring some laughter and smiles to these folks — if even for a few hours. I come away from this tour with a lifetime of memories and eternal respect for the people I’ve met.” – Dave Price, CBS – The Early Show
It was a remarkable experience….Unfortunately, It is difficult to truly comprehend the extreme sacrifice of these men and women serving in the armed forces — without seeing them operating in these harsh environments in person. It was great to bring some laughter and smiles to these folks — if even for a few hours. I come away from this tour with a lifetime of memories and eternal respect for the people I’ve met. – Dave Price, CBS – The Early Show.
DAYS 1 & 2 – AUGUST 30 & 31:
After two days of the worst stress I’ve had in a very long time, we are off to Afghanistan to entertain our U.S. Military men and women deployed to that area. “WE” being Chely Wright and 2 musicians (Lonnie and Clay) and her sound guy (Jeff), my production manager (Scott), Dave Price (CBS The Early Show) and his producer (John), and Joey Gilbert (from the boxing reality show – The Contender) and Joey’s Dad (Warren). We pick up our USAREUR rep in Frankfurt (Ann). Today we fly from Nashville to Atlanta and meet up with Dave, John, Joey and Warren and then on to Frankfurt. From there we take a C17 into Afghanistan on September 1st.
So….here’s my stress….Hurricane Katrina. We were supposed to have prime coverage on CBS Early Show this morning because Dave was going to talk about our trip. BUT, I got a call on Sunday night saying, “Dave is in the Superdome in New Orleans”. Of course all the flights out of New Orleans were cancelled due to the hurricane. Then, it looked like the flights out of Nashville would also be cancelled. But, Thank God, things were not as bad as they could have been. Last night, Dave was trying to charter a helicopter or a speed boat to get him to an airport where he could fly to Atlanta. Finally got the call this morning that he was on the helicopter with “just the clothes on his back”. We’ll go shopping in Frankfurt! He had asked me previously if his photo could be as large as Chely’s on our autograph sheets if he put on a halter top. Guess we should offer him one of her halter tops!
Our flight is delayed but only by about 15 minutes, so we should be fine! I’m so excited about this trip. We’re going into the remote FOB’s and cheer up some men and women who haven’t had any entertainment in a long time – if ever. It’s a “mini-Variety Show”. Dave will “emcee” and do his “stand up” and Joey will involve the audience in a little “sparring match”. Then Chely will finish with an acoustic performance.
For the first time, because of the support of “America Supports You”, we are being allowed to film. Highlights of our trip will air on CBS Early Show on September 12th. So mark your calendar now!
We arrive in Atlanta and met John –who is a sweetheart. Joey and his Dad landed about 30 minutes later and Dave came running up about 10 minutes before we began boarding. What a terrific group of people we have on this trip.
I have all the “bells and whistles” for my international flight – my air purifier, stretch socks that keep my feet from swelling, anti-bacterial cream for my nose to keep away the germs from other people, etc., etc. I had sent an email to everyone telling them that they should start taking “Airborne” about a week before we left. Scott said that he purchased some and opened it to take one. He didn’t have his “cheaters” on, so he popped it in his mouth and began chewing it…..these are made to be dissolved in water! It had to be like chewing an alka seltzer….foaming at the mouth.
When Dave and John’s flights got changed, they moved them out of our cabin and into a different cabin….so no party time. But Dave has been up for FORTY – that’s 40 hours – because of Hurricane Katrina. We’ll let him rest for a little while and then we want STORIES.
Landed in Frankfurt and we were met by the USAREUR visitor’s reps and I recognized several of them from our visit here with Charlie Daniels. Had quite a long wait for our luggage and equipment but EVERYTHING arrived – a really good start for us. The bus driver was not my usual friend from Tournee Services. It was someone that Tournee had hired because they were too busy to pick us up. He was a really sweet guy but he took us to the wrong hotel. Everyone got off and was unloading their luggage when I realized it wasn’t our hotel. We all got back on the bus but he had to go down this little narrow alley and turn the huge bus — WITH A TRAILER attached – around. He did it in one smooth movement which got him a round of applause from everyone.
The hotel had all the rooms ready for us — probably because I have called them 3 times a day for two weeks. I went down and drank coffee with Heather and Ann from USAREUR and went over plans for our tour. Then took a shower, answered about 200 emails, and met the rest of the group in the lobby for our “shopping trip”. Okay, Dave was the only one who “NEEDED” clothes but I will use any excuse available to me to shop. We all split up and went our separate ways. Scott and I walked around and found some things that I had been looking for. I asked him if he wasn’t “bored” going into ladies boutiques and his was response was, “Absolutely not. That’s where all the beautiful women are”. I can certainly tell he is recently divorced! J
We all met back at the bus and I treated everyone to a fabulous dinner at an Italian restaurant. Dave had recovered and I was finally able to talk with him at dinner. What a GREAT guy — Marty and Bill, how can I ever thank you enough for bringing him to my attention? We are going to have some really happy troops in Afghanistan after our visit.
Everyone was really tired so the bus driver walked back to get the bus which was parked about 15 minutes away. We waited and waited and after almost an hour, we realized he thought we were going to walk to the bus, too. Called him and he picked us up in about 10 minutes. Got back to the hotel and was just getting undressed and ready to answer the next 200 emails when the phone rang. It was the front desk telling me that there was a lost child in the lobby asking for me. I asked the name of the “lost child” and it was one of the soldiers I had met in Korea in 2002 with Chely. Went down and chatted with him for a few minutes but had to get back upstairs to deal with email. Then there was a knock on my door and Chely came by to chat which was great because we really hand not had any time to talk on the entire trip. I finally got in bed at 1 am and set the alarm for 5 am so I could get in a good jog.
DAY 3 – SEPTEMBER 1ST:
Let me tell you, it is DARK at 5 am….very, very dark. And, with my sense of direction, I KNEW I couldn’t go jogging. So I got a key to the exercise room (and I say that term very “loosely”) and went down for a mediocre workout.
Got the bus and trailer loaded and everyone checked out. Had ordered “box lunches” for the flight over because even though we were being told a 4 ½ hour flight, it didn’t sound right to me. Originally we were told 8 hours which seemed a lot more realistic. Bus drove out to the airplane and I got off to put some tape and tags on some of the items we had shipped over. Also went on the plane to say hello to the flight crew and give them some gifts. Really nice flight crew out of Washington State. Five guys and one female. I immediately made friends with the female because she was “outnumbered”. She is only 22 years old and a sweetheart. Her dad is a retired Marine. Whent up on the flight deck to chat with the pilots and one of them said, “You’ve got a bug on your shirt” which immediately sent me screaming “get it off”. He said no way he was going to get it off so I looked down and saw exactly “where” it was located. Thank goodness it was just a “ladybug”! Gave everyone an autographed photo of the entertainers and the pilot said, “Thank you, Chely”! Thanked him for the “compliment” and told him I’d pay him later. J
The C17 is a HUGE cargo airplane and even though USAREUR chartered it specifically for our flight, they told the Air Force that they could carry some other “cargo” if necessary. Well, they FILLED it up with pallets full of “something”. So, even though we are the only “passengers”, space is still very limited.
Our band gear somehow got “stuck” back at the terminal and we waited and waited for it to arrive. I asked the pilots how long the flight would be and was told 6 ½ hours. Glad I got the box lunches….
Got it cleared for our CBS guys to sit up on the flight deck for take-off and landing so that should give them some good footage. We have our sleeping bags with us, so we’re able to open those up, put them on the floor and take naps!!!
John (CBS producer) fell asleep and his mouth fell open. All the cameras and videos came out. Enough to make me determined NOT to fall asleep around this group. Carson Amos (one of the cute little flight crew guys) was sitting by me and he cleared off the top of some of the containers and put his huge blow-up mattress on top of it. Chely was laying in the floor on her sleeping bag and I tried to get her to use it but she preferred the floor. She had just fallen asleep when I had to wake her up to get in her seat and put on her seatbelt. We were doing the mid-air refueling and it got really bumpy. John and Dave sat up on deck and watched and filmed. This is especially fun for Dave because he is getting his pilot’s license.
I didn’t want Carson to be offended because he went to all the trouble of setting up the mattress, so I climbed up on it. Plus, I was in danger of falling asleep in my seat and being “filmed”. I made SURE I put my jacket over my head when I got “situated”. Of course, then I couldn’t fall asleep. PLUS we hit some massive turbulence. I actually thought I was levitating for a minute. Thank goodness it didn’t last very long. Have I mentioned that I hate to fly?
The flight took exactly 6 ½ hours (always listen to the pilots). We landed and there was the usual confusion about our luggage/gear and who was picking us up. Ann finally got a ride over to the Pat Tillman Center to see why no one was there to meet us. Everyone was lined up there waiting for us! We eventually got “delivered” to our housing. The boys are all together in one B-Hut with cots (a long wooden building). Chely has her own room in the DV (distinguished visitor’s) quarters and Ann and I are sharing a room in the same building. (BEBE, we MISS you!). We have a private bathroom AND A DSL LINE, so I’m in heaven. I told Chely that this is the “Ritz” compared to where we will be housed after this.
We all went over to the DFAC and they opened it up early and gave us some food. The food is 100 times better than it was the last time I was here! Had a quick meeting about the itinerary for tomorrow and then everyone went to their quarters. Tomorrow the “real work” begins. We take a convoy from Bagram to Phoenix (about a 50 minute drive). Phoenix is one of the FOB’s (Forward Operating Bases) near Kabul. They don’t get a lot of entertainment there, so it’s exactly where I want to go. We will spend the night there and then come back to Bagram.
Gotta get in bed. It’s 1:30 am and I have to get up at 5:30 am.
DAY 4 – SEPTEMBER 2ND:
Went to the “little” gym by our building for a workout. Its’ going to be very hot today. Got dressed and had our bags outside the door at 9 am. We were supposed to convoy to Phoenix Task Force today but at the last minute, the plans were changed and we took the Chinooks over. I found out later in the day that the reason the convoy was cancelled is because of security. They found two IED’s outside the base at Bagram. I knew they would cancel if there were ANY concerns for security. Ann and I went to the DFAC to grab some breakfast before our departure but she had a shoulder bag and I was wearing a fanny pack. You’re not allowed to bring any type of bag into the facility. So, she stood outside and held the bags while I grabbed us some cereal to go. LTC Tim Sughre came by to say meet me. I was given his contact information by one of the soldiers who is an old friend from Korea that I stay in contact with. Tim has been awesome in helping answer my hundreds of questions.
We got to the Chinooks and as we were boarding, Dave and John were exiting. When I asked what happened, I was told that they had to have a briefing from PAO (Public Affairs) before they would be allowed to film anything. I was wondering WHY this had not happened before our departure until waiting until the last minute. We sat in the Chinook for the longest time and I assumed we were waiting for them. When we finally took off, I knew we had two helicopters and thought they were in the one behind us.
It was a very short flight – only about 15 minutes. Scenery was very interesting – mountainous and lots of poverty. Landed at Task Force Phoenix only to find that Dave and John were NOT in the helicopter behind us. We were told that we should go ahead and eat lunch and they would be there in about 15 minutes. The people at Task Force Phoenix – Cpt. Aaron Neal and his staff and volunteers – were awesome. Photos were up everywhere and our every need was met before we even had to ask. They had a great stage set up with the American flag as the backdrop (and of course, the desert camo netting!). Chely’s room was right behind the stage and Ann and I are sharing again just below her. Guys are all in one building near the stage as well.
We finished lunch and Dave and John still had not arrived. We were supposed to “convoy” to Camp Eggers and sign autographs for the people deployed there since they never get any entertainment. We finally learned that the helicopter that brought Dave and John over went to the wrong airfield. So, then we were told that they would meet us as Camp Eggers.
The convoy was the highlight of the day. There were two armored humvees with gunners – one in front and one behind – with our three armored SUV’s in the middle. The first car was the lead car, the second car was the General’s car and the last car was the chase car. Dave and John were supposed to be in the lead car which meant if anyone tried to attack our vehicle (the General’s car with me and Chely in it), their car was supposed to take that vehicle out. Joey and his dad were in the chase car – which is exactly what it sounds like. Their car is supposed to give chase if anything happens to the General’s car. They drove erratically and “jerky” plus drove really fast. They NEVER stop and anyone else who is on the road has to get off! If they stop, the become a “target” and that is not allowed to happen. If a car fails to pull over or looks like it’s coming toward the General’s car, then the humvee gives them a warning. If they don’t obey the warning, then they take appropriate action to keep it away from the General’s car. They all wear earpieces and our wonderful escort – Cole (who is a special agent with the DOD) – explained that there was so much going on in the earpieces constantly. The humvees drivers are constantly yelling out warnings and instructions to the drivers of the three SUVs.
We drove through some areas of extreme poverty. But, we also saw the school that our troops helped and heard stories about the good things that are taking place over here. We saw posters of the candidates that are running in the upcoming election and one of them is a woman which we were told is truly remarkable. I hope she wins!
When we arrived at the base we were greeted by Major Golaboff and escorted to his office. Several other VIP’s came by while we were waiting for Dave and John to arrive so we could start the autograph session. I was told several times that they would arrive in 15 minutes. We finally had to start the autograph session without them. They arrived when we were almost through signing. Evidently “someone” told them that they had to go to a “briefing with POA”. But, they waited and waited in some building and no one ever gave them a briefingl Then there was the nightmare of trying to get a helicopter over the Task Force Phoenix and being dropped at the wrong place when they finally arrived. They also had not had anything to eat while they were “waiting”. Had I known they were not following us in the other helicopter, I would NEVER have allowed us to leave and them stay behind.
Major Golaboff gave the entertainers a beautiful plaque after they had signed autographs for a couple of hours. Dave was thrilled to hear that he was going to be in the “lead car” after I explained exactly what that meant. J
We made it back to base with no problems and started getting ready for the show. Sound check went just fine and afterwards, I walked over to a little bazaar to look around. Didn’t buy anything but saw some beautiful children.
Walked over to the DFAC and got Chely a vegetarian plate to go so she could eat as she was getting dressed for the show.
As I mentioned, our room was right behind the stage and Brown & Root handles all the building and maintenance of the stage we were performing on. They had ran these long extension cords into our room and out our bathroom window and the lights were being powered by those. Of course, we couldn’t close our door to the room or the door to the bathroom!
The show started right on time and Dave was SO FUNNY. The crowd loved him. He did a little question and answer session with them and also got a couple of the soldiers up on stage to sing. Then he introduced Joey and kept up a running commentary as Joey brought up several “audience” members to spar with him. One of his sparring partners was a female chaplain. The crowd loved seeing their soldiers on stage boxing with a professional. Dave introduced Chely who of course, stole the show. She’s not only beautiful and talented but she talks to the audience from her heart. She had the entire crowd captivated from the second she took the stage. Right in the middle of one of her most poignant ballads, the Camp dog “Cherry Balls” wandered up in front of the stage and ummmm….relieved himself. I had already been watching him backstage because he was eyeballing and sniffing my duffle bags with all the show swag in them. I was sitting on go if he even thought about lifting a leg but there evidently was no attraction there. However, Chely had to stop her show and ask if he just did what she thought he had done in the middle of her song! Now, the history of the name Cherry Balls. He was adopted by the Finance Department and they had the colored spray that you put in your hair flown in. They would paint the dog for all the “holidays” – he was green for St. Patrick’s day, etc. When they painted him red, all the paint eventually wore off except in one place. You got it! This the name.
All three artists signed autographs afterwards and THAT was a challenge. But, we pulled in off in just under 3 hours and they signed 450 photos! All three of the entertainers take so much time with each service member to make sure they feel “special” and know how much we appreciate their sacrifices.
I got Chely up to her room and Joey was finishing up signing some photos for the guys who were out at the watch towers and couldn’t come to the show. Brown and Root told me to unplug the extension cords and just throw them outside the door, so I did. Then I plugged in my computer so the battery would charge and did a couple of things in the room. Went back out to check on Joey and the entire area was in the dark. Someone had pulled up a truck and turned the headlights on so he could see. Evidently when I unplugged the extension cords, that cut all the lights outside. I honestly had no idea that I had done this!
Learned that this is the first celebrity entertainment that the guys and gals deployed here have had. A couple of weeks ago they had a little non-celebrity band come through. They were so appreciative of our willingness to come here.
Got in bed a little after midnight. None of the guys even went to midnight chow. Not only was it a long, hard day, but the jetlag and especially the “heat” makes everyone so tired. I will say that once the sun goes down, the weather is absolutely PERFECT. We are supposed to convoy back to Bagram tomorrow but I’m expecting THAT to change.
DAY 5 – SEPTEMBER 3RD:
While we were having breakfast, one of the musicians came in and said that the convoy had been cancelled and that we were taking a chopper – departing at 2:30 pm. So, I decided to go work out since I had planned to do after we got back to Bagram.
The choppers arrived and only 10 minutes late! This time, it was only a 10 minute flight. The reason it is different length of time (yesterday was 20 minutes) is because they have to vary the route to avoid being attacked.
After we landed at Bagram, we went to their little coffee shop and then waked around though their mini-bazaar. Didn’t buy anything – once again – a record for me.
I had dinner tonight with LTC Sughrue. He is a mutual friend of Wally and Marc – two soldiers that I met in 2002 in Korea. He has been an absolute godsend….taking care of so many things for us. We all then went to his building for a tour. He is the Deputy Chief of Staff for CJTF 76. We got to watch their “Hail and Farewell” party – this is for the soldiers leaving and the soldiers just coming in. We got a “briefing” about what they do in the Joint Operations Center and then Chely, Dave and Joey signed autographs and then took photos with everyone. We learned that the reason our convoy was cancelled is because a convoy out of Camp Phoenix took hostile ground fire this morning.
Our flight was supposed to leave at 6:30 am tomorrow and we were being told we would need to depart to the airfield by 3:30 am! I knew that was going to be too long of a day. Tim took care of this for us, too. We are now leaving at 10:30 on the Chinooks.
I probably won’t have email access from my laptop again until we return to this base on September 6th.
DAY 6 – SEPTEMBER 4TH:
Although we have only performed one show, it feels as if we have been gone for weeks. I understand why the troops refer to every day as “Ground Hog” day. I had to ask someone what day of the week it was yesterday.
Set the alarm to get up and jog since I’ve only been working out with weights lately. We were told last night about a “ceremony” that they have for fallen soldiers. They lost a soldier in this area a few days ago and his body was being transported out of the area this morning. They announce on loud speakers at what time the “hearse” will be moving through and everyone goes and stands on the main road. They all salute or put their hands over their hearts as it passes. I was afraid that I would still be out jogging when the announcement came, so I decided to wait until we arrived at Camp Salerno to work out. As it turned out, they made the announcement that it would happen in 5 minutes and we stood roadside, but never saw the procession. Some of our guys were at the flight line and they saw the ceremony.
Found out when we loaded the choppers that one of our escorts had made the boys get up at 8 am and depart to the flight line instead of 9:30 when I had told them to be ready. Evidently, the escort had to “load” the aircraft with our luggage and gear and couldn’t leave to go back and get them at 9:30 am. Very poor planning and I apologized to the guys.
Chopper flight was about one hour long and pretty painless. I did have a few minutes of “unease” when we were flying through the mountains. The temperature dropped significantly and the dust seemed to get much thicker. The wind picked up and I kept thinking about the chopper that crashed during a sandstorm in this same area when I was here with Charlie Daniels in April. My eyes were constantly “scouting” for somewhere we could land if the dust got too bad. Fortunately, we made the trip without incident since I sure didn’t see anywhere to land. It was about a one hour flight and Salerno is definitely one of the really remote bases that I always ask to visit.
We landed and then went to the DFAC. An Air Ambulance pilot had been emailing Chely’s manager about Chely’s visit and she forwarded the message to me. I have been in contact email contact with him for about the last two weeks. I met him in the DFAC and we arranged to come by and visit with his Unit – DUSTOFF – later that afternoon. They presented Chely with a flag and certificate that was flown during their mission and gave the guys a patch. Chely had the “honor” of promoting one of the guys to Captain! We also toured the post office and “finance”. Went by the Special Ops building to tour it but they were working an “incident” and we had to skip that one.
Went to find out lodging which is definitely not as nice as Bagram but is fine. All the females are in one “hard building” (nice, because we don’t have to run to a bunker if we get attacked!). Guys aren’t so lucky. They are in tents. The “bummer” is the fact that the nearest latrine (showers and toilets) is about a half mile walk away. This wouldn’t be so bad except that there are big rocks everywhere and I am constantly turning my ankle. Going to be interesting going to the toilet at 2 am!
Since the show time was changed from 7 pm to 8 pm, I had time to go work out. The gym was a “tent” but had state of the art equipment and was absolutely spotless. I got on the elliptical trainer and within 5 minutes was dripping with sweat. Started looking around to see if I could get on one that was closer to a fan and realized – THERE ARE NO FANS! Now, keep in mind, it’s about 110 degrees today. I managed to work out for 40 minutes and then thought I was going to faint. I don’t know how the guys and girls do it and I don’t know WHY there are no fans in the tent.
Showered and went to the DFAC to eat. Met some of the nicest guys we’ve met the entire trip. Chely doesn’t put on makeup and she puts her hair in pigtails and wears a bandana during the day. The soldiers at this Camp kept asking me for my autograph and even the Afghans working in the kitchen thought I was Chely. I told her to keep looking like Pippy Longstocking because it sure was a boost for my ego!
You have NEVER seen anything as DARK as it gets in Afghanistan. The base isn’t allowed to have any lights showing after dark, so no one can drive around in a vehicle or they risk hitting a soldier. All the flashlights must have red or blue bulbs in them! The show started right on time and the audience was unbelievable. Dave Price was funnier than ever – picking on the Colonel and Command Sergeant Major who both had the unfortunate privilege of sitting in the front row. I can’t remember the last time I have laughed so hard and the soldiers were laughing harder than me. Joey came on with several sparring partners and his part of the show was much better tonight too because of the enthusiasm of the crowd.
I had to go tell Chely that she would be going on a little later than what we had told her. I decided not to bother Don (Don is the Security MP that is accompanying Tim the Deputy Chief of Staff but he has been “assigned” to watch our for us girls!) He had told me NOT to walk around by myself because he didn’t think it was safe but I didn’t want to bother him. So I “stumbled” down to the building and gave Chely the message. Then he “busted” me because he came walking down the road as I was going back. He was NOT happy with me.
Chely, of course, WOWED them with her performance and appearance. I talked to the Chaplain for most of the show and he was pretty interested in finding Chely a husband. Not sure if he had someone particular in mind or not!
They started signing autographs and the Chaplain took me to his office to quickly check my email. Not bad—only 17 – thank goodness for holiday weekends. Then he gave me a tour of the chapel – hmmmm….wondered if he thought I needed to be “saved”?
During Chely’s show a couple of guys in civilian clothes got up and started walking out during a ballad. She stopped the show and asked them where they were going! Then she said that she knew they had to go to the bathroom but to sit back down because the song was only a little over 3 minutes long. Surprisingly enough, they sat back down. Then when she was signing autographs, they came to meet her but had a large German Shepard with them. I teased them about needing to bring the dog for protection against Chely. One of them was from Alabama so we started talking and I learned that they are Special Ops. We talked for the rest of the evening and took pictures with the dog who turned out to be a sweetheart after all. They said that the dog has even put on a parachute and jumped out of an airplane!
The troops at FOB Salerno was so surprised that we came there to perform. They told us that other than a couple of NFL football players, it is the first entertainment that they have had. It is a remote site! We signed 450 autographs sheets tonight.
Ann and our escort –Janay – went to take showers. Since I had showered before the show, I was just going to wash my face and shower when we arrived at Orgun E the next day. But I started talking to Chely and time got away from me. I was hoping to walk BACK from the showers with Ann and Janay but evidently they left just as I was entering. It was so dark and scary walking down the road to the showers. I freaked myself out several times. But, walking back was the worst. I kept thinking I heard someone following me. At the end of the row of buildings where we stayed, there were a lot of Afghans in one of the rooms. Wasn’t sure if they lived there or not. I kept shining my flashlight around trying to see if someone was following me but didn’t see anything. Then this huge generator kicked on just as I walked by it and scared the heck out of me! I did make it back safely but sure didn’t want to try and come back down there to use the toilet in the middle of the night. We HAVE to drink tons of water to stay hydrated and then we have to go to the bathroom every few minutes.
I couldn’t get Chely to eat any dinner last night or tonight. We are at a higher altitude and she was feeling nauseous. I gave her a phenagren and she went to bed. Because we’re all sharing one room, I was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to sleep.
I had to get up and go to the toilet at around 2 am. I was NOT going to hike back down to the latrine and there was a port-a-potty next to our building. But it was the nastiest port-a-potty I think I have ever seen! I sure didn’t waste any time in there and thank goodness for strong thighs for hovering!
DAY 7 – SEPTEMBER 5TH:
Bags had to be out by 10 and we were to meet the choppers at 10:30 am. But there were mechanical problems and we were told it would be an hour later. They picked us up and we went to see the Colonel (that Dave had picked on at the show the night before). He had gifts for the entertainers. Then Chely and Ann went to a little bazaar while I went to the airfield to take care of some problems with the show duffles. Gave Chely some Tylenol for her headache and she said she still wasn’t feeling very well.
We boarded the chopper and not more than 2 minutes into the flight, Chely got naseous. We gave her a bag because she thought she was going to throw up. She had not been drinking enough water and had not been eating regularly. Plus we were at a much higher altitude.
We got off the helicopter and I was trying to get her some help as quickly as possible. The “welcoming party” was waiting for us and one guy stopped her and said, “Are you the Prima Donna who must have her own room”? Chely was completely taken aback and Dave’s mouth dropped open. I was so mad, I wanted to hit him. Then he said, “Where are you from” and she replied “Nashville”. He said, “Yeah, I knew you couldn’t be from Texas”! Now, normally, we are met by soldiers who THANK us for coming to perform for them. This was a “first” for me. I was horrified that the soldier could treat any of my group that way. Trust me, it is NOT normal. In fact, I’ve never met a rude soldier in my life. I didn’t have time to “deal” with him because I had to get help for Chely but I made a mental note to take care of that little incident later. I am the one who requested a separate room for Chely as I do for all the female entertainers. It’s not because she is a “prima donna” but because she needs privacy to dress for the show and then she needs a good night’s sleep after performing and signing autographs for 4 hours! Because Ann and I have to “work”, we stay up late and get up early. It’s not conducive to her getting any rest at all.
We got her in to see the medic and he immediately made her lie down and prepared to give her an IV for dehydration. Since her veins had collapsed, it took five tries to get the IV started. While I was waiting for her to take the IV, I checked out the other patients. There was a tiny beautiful little girl with a broken leg. She didn’t speak any English of course. A man was with her and I assume it was her father. They got a translator for me and I gave her one of the wristbands and my coin because that’s all I had with me. You should have seen her face light up. She immediately put the wristband on and showed her father the coin. Then I went over to a darling little boy. He looked to be about 8 years old and he had been hit by a car. They weren’t sure how badly he was injured and were medivacing him to a larger facility for more tests. I gave him the same items and he grinned from ear to ear. You should see how wonderful our soldiers are with these people. They are kind and caring and give them the very best of care. They did say that a lot of times, they “treat” Afghanies who really don’t need anything. But the Afghans want the “attention” from the Americans.
An Afghan man with some sort of injury was brought in and every time they would touch him, he would SCREAM loudly in pain. I thought he must be in critical condition but the doctors said he didn’t seem to have but one small injury but that the Afghans always scream like that. It’s just their “way”!
By the way, the Afghan man didn’t have on any clothes for them to examine him, Chely and I were treated to the full back view.
Once they got her stabilized, I had to go to the toilet. Only, I quickly learned that it was an outhouse! Seriously, no port-a-potties — just a building with a bench seat and a hole with a bucket underneath. Fortunately, the inside of the “stall” was clean but the smell was almost unbearable – especially as the day wore on. When I returned to the infirmary, I was treated to the full frontal nude view of the Afghan man. Hmmm….bet I’m one American Civilian that has seen more of the Afghan men than most other Americans.
They brought Chely a plate of fruit and made her eat it when she was feeling better. Don and I had not had any thing to eat and we finally found some packages of crackers. I was so scared, I was not hungry but didn’t want to end up like her!
The doctor finally said that she could take the IV out and was free to go. He lectured her about eating and drinking but said she could perform a “shortened” show if she felt like it. We got her to the room and we found an empty room with cots in it where me, Ann and Janay could move into and give her some privacy. She didn’t have a mirror and I had to find Tim to help me take one off the wall in the Female Showers. I went to eat some lunch/dinner because the DFAC closes at 5:30.
All the “medics” were telling me how “good” I smelled because I had on perfume. Trust me, since I missed my shower, I had on a LOT of perfume. We decided to have all the entertainers go ahead and autograph the photos before the show. Then we were going to sit all three in chairs with an empty chair between them. We would bring people up one by one and let them take a photo with the entertainers and then give them the autographed photo.
Someone told me that there was a very strange “vibe” on this base. Keep in mind that it is at 7,000 feet elevation and in the middle of no where. It is the most isolated base we will visit this trip. When I got to the show site, all the audience was way in the back near a wall. I knew THAT was not going to work well. So, I went out and group by group started teasing them about the fact that this wasn’t “church” and they couldn’t sit in the back and expect to sneak out or sleep. I got them laughing pretty good and then I told them that we were not at FOB Orgun E because we were being punished. I told them that we ASKED to come perform for them and that no one was getting paid to come there. I told them that we felt like Kandahar and Bagram always got all the celebrity entertainment and we wanted to do something for the guys and gals in the remote areas who needed it the mostl Suddenly, the tables turned and they were all talkative and friendly. They said they had received a couple of non-celebrity entertainers who weren’t very good. They said that a couple of weeks ago, two NFL players came by but wouldn’t get off the helicopters! I asked them why and they said that they had heard too many things about Orgun E and were afraid for their safety. Now I know why the morale is so low at this FOB and I understand why the soldier made that comment when Chely walked in.
Dave really had a hard time loosening them up but he’s terrific and he succeeded. I went to check on Chely and came back to find an Afghan Security Officer up on stage singing while Dave “coached” him! It was so inspiring! Joey got some guys up to spar and I walked around the audience again. One Afghan man came up to me and said, “I’m so glad you are here. We have waited so long for you to sing”. Ha. He doesn’t know how badly I sing. He thought I was Chely.
Chely finally went on and she seemed to do just fine. It was a shorter set but just as good! I walked around in the audience and a soldier asked me if I was related to her. Another fine compliment. Turns out, this soldier was the Assistant Chaplain! Hmmm, again!
Chely finished the set and the autograph session ran very smooth. Over 50 Afghans came through to have a photo taken with her and get an autographed photo. One in a uniform stood very close to me and every time I turned around he smiled from ear to ear. I told Ann that I thought he was on the verge of proposing so I went backstage for a few minutes.
The guys got to visit with the troops for a while today while I was taking care of Chely. They said that the soldiers meet with the “Mayors” of each area every week and ask them what they can do to make things better. Across the board, they always say “build a school for our children”! And we do!!!
Got Chely some cereal and I ate some with her. Then she played a game of scrabble with Dave and I went to check email. It is PITCH BLACK here, too, and I got lost several times just trying to walk from my room to the latrine. It’s very late now and I’m going to bed!
DAY 8 – SEPTEMBER 6TH:
As I knew I would, had to get up at 3:13 am to go to the outhouse. I was being extremely quiet so I wouldn’t wake all the others. The doors are wood and they are all cracked and broken. There is this huge bolt that you have to slide to lock the door and nails have been placed where the wood is broken to hold the bolt in place. You actually have to lift up on the door and slide the bolt to make it lock. Well, it got stuck and would not open. Trust me, stuck in an outhouse that has not been cleaned in 20 hours at 3 am is NOT where anyone should ever be. I knew that I had the strength to kick down the door if necessary because I was NOT going to stay in there for hours until the others at the camp woke up. I finally took off my running shoe (thank GOD I had put those on instead of my other “pretty” shoes!) and was able to beat the bolt back and open the door. Dave Price has one of the funniest “out house” stories I have ever heard but don’t think I can post that on the website!
Got up and went to their gym which was really excellent. Very clean and great equipment – except for the nautilus which was rusty. But, they had cardio and free weights AND air conditioning! Had breakfast with some of the soldiers and saw the Special Ops guys that I had met the night before. They invited me to come see their “house” because it’s on a different part of the base and very nice. They do have a solid black gate (armed) with a skull and crossbones on it, though!
Got packed and of course, the chopper was late. We milled around for a while and then I went over to check out the Special Ops house. Compared to the living conditions for the others, it is very nice. They each have a bed and a separate bedroom and the cutest little puppy you’ve ever seen!
Choppers finally arrived and we gave a couple of people from the post office a ride back to Bagram. But, that meant we also had to take the mail! The chopped was packed full and we were so crowded. We had mail stacked to the ceiling in front of our feet and it was impossible to stretch your legs out. Seats are the sling seats along the sides and very uncomfortable. So, we sat “scrunched up” for an hour and a half back to Bagram.
After we landed and got into our rooms again, I went to the base exchange to pick up some gifts for people that I promised to bring back. Then answered email and got ready for the performance. When I got to the performance, I learned that my production team had been there all afternoon with no one to assist with the items they needed to get the show up and running. We actually had to hold the start of the show while they found lights.
There were a lot of Korean soldiers in the audience and I went out to talk to them. They went “crazy” because I have been to Korea so many times. First thing I knew, they were all up out of their seats and asking to take a photo with me. Good thing this was BEFORE the show started.
We got up and rolling about 20 minutes late and it was a great audience – packed house in the “Clam Shell”. Dave had them laughing from the second he took the stage. He got one of the Korean soldiers up to sing and it was even more hilarious than the day before at Orgun E when the Afghany sang! This guy sang in Korean!!!
Joey got his sparring partners up and the audience loved seeing their “own” trying to knock him out. Of course, that didn’t happen!
Chely performed for about 45 minutes and got really emotional during “Bumper of My SUV”. Also, because this is our last show and last night in country, it was a very emotional time for all of us.
We finally figured out how to move the autograph line along much quicker and STILL give everyone an autographed photo and let them have their photo made with all 3 entertainers. Figures that we would get it right on our last night.
When we got back to lodging (our rooms are in the JOC area and all the Special Ops guys are there, too) one of the Special Ops guys asked if we could put 3 secret service agents on our flight. We said sure. Since I skipped dinner, we went to midnight chow where I conned them into making me an egg white omelet! Then back to the room to answer email until 2:30 am. The secret service agents were sitting out front and introduced themselves to me. They know my friend who is President Bush’s agent and had just spoken with him. Said they weren’t going to be allowed to fly with us because they had found seats on another plane. But, when we started talking, they said they were taking a C-17 to Frankfurt at 10:30 and I told them that I bet it was our plane but it wasn’t leaving until 11 am.
One of our escorts gave me the most beautiful rhinestone necklace. I always feel guilty “receiving” gifts from any of the soldiers….except their “coins” J
DAY 9 – SEPTEMBER 7TH:
Decided that even though I had only gotten 3 hours of sleep, I HAD to get up and run before that long flight. It was hot but not 100 degrees hot but the dust was really bad. I could only handle running for 45 minutes but at least I felt better.
Then the escorts tried to tell us that we were leaving EARLY but Ann just told them “no” in no uncertain terms because she had paid for the airplane! We got over to the flight line to go through customs and I had some prescription medicine in my bag that was not in the original container. Have never had a problem with this before but was told that Customs would take it. So one of our escorts said, “don’t worry”, I’ll take care of it. I won’t let them take it”. I trusted him and handed over the bag. If I don’t’ take the medicine, I get severe migraines — several a day! As we drove by the line of people waiting to board the plane, I saw our Secret Service Agents. KNEW they were going to be on our flight!!!
We went in for our customs briefing and as he was telling us things we could not transport back to the States he said “human body parts”! What??? Do they really need to include THAT in the briefing.
We sent someone over to pick up sandwiches that I had purchased from Subway and then went to the flight line. Ann went on the plane and had people move back to leave the front section over for our group. It’s a 6 ½ hour flight and she specifically purchased the plane so that we could stretch out and be comfortable. The flight crew is from Charleston and they are so sweet. Probably going to take them into Frankfurt tonight for dinner if I’m not too tired.
When I got on the plane, the first thing I did was check my pill holder and guess what…all my vitamins AND my prescription medications were GONE. I freaked out. We had to get off the plane (Joey’s dad went with me since he is a physician) and go back to customs. Then they had to go through all the trash in a huge garbage can. Not only was there trash in there, but there was sawdust, too. The pills are tiny – little pink round pills and even smaller little blue pills. We found most of the pink pills but only about half of the blue pills. I just didn’t feel comfortable holding the plane any longer and am going to try and get by with what I have.
Went up on the flight deck and talked to the flight crew and gave them gifts. Then I worked on my computer for several hours. Tried to lay down on the “sling seats” and sleep but it was too uncomfortable. I gave everyone on the plane one of my Stars for Stripes coins as a “thank you” for their service. They all thanked us for giving them the free ride to Frankfurt!
We landed and went to the hotel to get checked in. Decided we would go to a little town nearby for some traditional German food. Our flight crew decided to join us. When we went to our rooms, we learned that there was no air conditioning. I had to go back to the front desk and change everyone’s room.
The restaurant we went to was actually Croatian and had excellent food. I had some asparagus soup that was delicious and then of course, Weiner Schnitzel! Didn’t have desert but had one bit of Scott’s apple strudel.
Got back to the hotel and am still answering email at 1:30 am. Tomorrow the group flies back to the U.S. and I fly to Greece!
DAY 10 – SEPTEMBER 8TH:
Sure seems like we’ve been gone longer than 10 days! No time to exercise this morning because we have to leave for the airport at 9 am. Had a quick breakfast and started “rounding” everyone up for the departure. We were 15 minutes late and I couldn’t find Joey or his Dad. Had just seen them in the lobby and then they just disappeared. Someone said his Dad had walked over to the military base. I was concerned that I had 20 pieces of excess to get checked in plus Chely’s sound guy had a ticket issued in the wrong name. I finally just left a message with the front desk asking them to tell Joey and his dad that we had to leave and they should take a taxi to the airport. We had all their luggage on the bus and Ann agreed to watch it until they could get there.
Delta wouldn’t let Jeff board because the ticket was in the wrong “first” name. It took quite a while to get that sorted out but they finally allowed him on. Then, Delta charged me triple what I paid for excess on the way over. Seems strange since I had one less piece than we started out with! They also refused to let Clay carry his guitar on even though he had no problem carrying it on when we departed the U.S. Got all that figured out and by that time the flight had “closed”. My guys had to hustle to make it to the gate. I had to take a Skytram over to the next terminal to catch my flight to Athens.
As there always is at the end of one of these tours, there was a lot of “reflecting” on things that happened and stories being shared. At the really remote Camp (Orgun E), four of my guys got to go right outside the gate and see a road that the locals had built “by hand”. It was only a very short segment but they could not have been prouder of what they had accomplished. Several children came up to talk with my guys and they spoke amazingly good English. One young boy pointed out a tree and said, “That’s where we used to have our school classes. Now thanks to the American soldiers we have this nice building” and he pointed to their new school. The children and their parents love the Americans and are so appreciative of what we are doing to improve their quality of life. We didn’t meet any soldiers who didn’t believe in their mission in Afghanistan and all were proud to be a part of liberating these people.
Flight to Greece was uneventful and I was met at the exit from Customs by the Greece Country Music Association – the promoter (Nikos), his father, mother and brother and his “staff”. There were so many people – all kissing me on the cheek and handing me roses. This is a VERY big event for them. Even though this is the 3rd Country Music Festival, it’s the first time they have an artist from the U.S. performing.
The hotel is located right in the center of the city…only a couple of block from Parliament. I can see the Akropolis from my window! I worked on email until around 10 pm and then went to the “nightclub” that the promoter owns. He has turned it into a “Texas Honkytonk”. All his relatives and staff were there but he was at the radio station. He has a radio show every night for 3 hours where he plays country music. As we were driving to the nightclub, I heard him talking about me and Danni on the radio.
We left for the airport at midnight to meet Danni Leigh and her musicians’ flight which was supposed to land at 12:25 am. When we arrived at the airport, we learned it was going to be 1 hour late! So, we went to have coffee and wait. They are on Altalia (Italian airlines) and that airline is always unpredictable! When they finally landed, one guy learned that his bag never got checked in Bilboa (where they departed from). He’ll probably NEVER see that bag again! Danni had almost the same welcoming committee that I had. Made it back to the hotel and got into bed at 4 am! Lobby call is moved to 1 pm for