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JSI, Inc. and Stars for Stripes's Journals
DECEMBER 8, 9, AND 10 DAYS 1, 2 AND 3:
Off to Hong Kong and China for a Corporate Christmas Party for Watsons. Sort of like our Walgreens. Theres one every couple of blocks and they sell just about everything. Seals & Seals (Dan Seals and Jim Seals) and Travis LeDoyt (young Elvis impersonator who looks and sings exactly like the young Elvis) are performing. Theres only 14 people including myself, so this is an easy trip.
Arrived at the airport at 6 am and everyone was on time. No problem checking in except that everything is now E-Ticket and you have to use the computer terminals. Which mean I had to check everyone in myself. Most of my friends at Northwest are either retiring or have already retired. They are all being replaced by computers. The only need for the ticket agent seems to be to attach the luggage tags and help if there is a change or problem with the ticket.
Flew from Nashville to Detroit, Detroit to Narita (Tokyo) and Narita to Hong Kong. First flight was 1 ½ hours, then a long 14 hour flight to Japan and another 5 hour flight to Hong Kong. Actually, it seemed incredibly short after the 38 hours of traveling I did only a few days ago to Kyrgyzstan! No problems with any of the flights or getting our luggage/equipment checked in. We were met in Hong Kong by our representative and had a nice bus for the 45 minute ride to the Intercontinental Hotel. Room keys were waiting for us when we arrived at the hotel. This is definitely a 5 star hotel, located right on the Harbor.
I cant help but compare my accommodations to the tents I was in last week. The room is huge with separate rooms for the sink, the powder room, the toilet, and the tub plus a walk-in shower --- call marble, glass and gold fixtures. The bath towel is longer than I am tall! And there is a jet lag recovery kit in the bathroom. The hair dryer comes in a separate cloth bag and there are separate bags for laundry and dry cleaning --- cloth, of course! Big down comforters on the beds and you get to choose which newspaper you want delivered to your door every morning. There is a fabulous work out facility, couple of pools, incredible spa that I really want to take advantage of and probably wont have time, and of course, the shopping.
DSL line right in my room which is the best perk of all. Meeting the guys in the lobby at noon today to take them sightseeing and shopping. Ive spent so much time here, I can definitely be a tour guide for anywhere they want to go.
Got up and jogged along the harbor this morning, which is my favorite place in the world to run. Still lots of construction but the railway station that they have been working on since I first began coming here is finally finished. You can hop on a train to China right outside our hotel doors. The weather is beautiful. Should be around 75 degrees here today.
When I came back from jogging (and picked up a latte at Starbucks), the doorman met me with a hand towel and a bottle of cold water!
This is all the ultimate pampering but I wish I could trade places with one of our guys or girls over in the AOR and let them enjoy these luxuries. What a treat it would be for them and they deserve it for the sacrifices they have made to allow me to be able to come here and enjoy this.
I havent been here in a couple of years and am wondering which of my favorite shops are still in business. Lots of changes since the handover to China in 1997.
We had the buffet lunch in the restaurant and it was absolutely sinful. A salad bar that included fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, an antipasto bar, sushi and sashimi, then an entire hot bar with about 15 different items and a dessert bar that had about 30 different items.
Took my boys sightseeing. We took the Star Ferry across the harbor to Hong Kong Island and then took a double decker bus up to Aberdeen where all the junks (house boats where the Chinese live and work) are located. Came back to Kowloon and let them shop for a while. Elvis ordered a suit from my tailor. I havent seen him since 2001 and when I walked in, he yells Charlie Daniels. I took Charlie in there MANY years ago and he still remembers him because Charlie purchased 3 three piece suits, a smoking jacket, a long cashmere coat and several dozen shirts. He still has Charlies photo in his display case.
I got all dressed up for the Welcome Party and was getting on the elevator in my heels. There is a space between the floor of the hotel and the elevator and my heel went down in that space and would not come out. The doors to the elevator closed on me and some strange man had to pull my foot out of the crack for me! So embarrassing
.all dressed up and looking like a klutz!!
The Welcome Party was held in our honor
to welcome us to Hong Kong. All the artists got up and did a couple of songs and Gerry and the Pacemakers performed a full show. I sat next to Gerry and he is a delightful man. He is the only original left in the group but they were truly great musicians. Mary Wilson from the Supremes was also at our table. Dan and Jim Seals performed several of their hits and then Travis got up. He looks and sounds just like the young Elvis the one from the 50s with the big baggy, suits, not the shiny rhinestone jumpsuits. He has all his moves down including the facial expressions.
Ian Wade is the owner of Watsons and several other little companies Priceline in the U.S. for instance! But a really down-to-earth, genuinely, nice man. Watsons is the largest supplier of health and beauty aids second only too Walgreens. But Walgreens is not worldwide and Watsons is.
Got to get in bed. After midnight and we have a 9:30 am sound check with Travis.
DECEMBER 11TH DAY FOUR:
Up early to work out. Great gym right in the hotel and its free! Travis had sound check at 9:30 am and I planned to go shopping afterwards. No problems with his sound check and the person who was mixing Seals & Seals on this gig came down at the same time and began working off stage.
Decided not to go shopping because I needed to stay and run interference for Seals & Seals engineer. The group wasnt scheduled to sound check until 1 pm. All the other artists began and finished their sound checks right on time. Then we threw the whole day off because of their problems. Every time I looked at the sound tech, he had about 10 cables hanging around his neck. I stayed until 4:30 pm and finally got so disgusted, I had to leave. The Seals Brothers and all their musicians have been wonderful to work with and all the musicians were also frustrated with this 7 hour sound check. It was beyond ridiculous.
Travis made a big fan out of Mr. Wade last night and was invited to sit at his table tonight. I brought him down at the very end of the cocktail party and took him in to the dinner. It was a Country and Western theme and they spent tens of thousands of dollars on decorations. Had everything decorated like a Western Saloon and had really nice cowboy hats at everyones table. Everyone in attendance dressed in western wear. The best part of the event was the fact that some of the Chinese men didnt understand the term dress like Cowboys and Indians. They showed up as Indians as from India and had on turbans and robes! It was hilarious but they were pretty embarrassed.
There were several groups on before Seals & Seals and the sound was perfect. Seals musicians had commented that this was the best gear they have ever had at a gig. When Seals & Seals took the stage, it was absolutely PAINFUL! If I stood near the front, all I could hear was the bass guitar. If I moved to the back, couldnt hear anything. No vocals or whatever vocals did some through were distorted. Travis was sitting near the front and came running back to tell the sound engineer. He didnt know that Seals sound engineer was mixing them and there was nothing we could do. It took him 7 songs just to get the sound so that you could hear ANY vocals. There were never any background vocals in the mix the entire night, so every song sounded incredibly thin. I had to leave and go sit outside for a while just to calm down. Mr. Wade sent word that he was not happy with their performance. But, it had nothing to do with their performance and everything to do with their guy not knowing how to mix. Hard to believe that every other group can have a 1 hour sound check and sound perfect but he spends 7 hours and it sounds horrible. Hate it for Dan and Jim but they need to be aware of this and hire a professional sound engineer.
I talked to the band afterwards and they said it was bad on stage, too. Also said that the ear monitor board that they insisted on bringing from the U.S. was a piece of crap
which could definitely contribute to the terrible sound.
Mary Wilson and the Supremes were really, really good! Crowd danced to every song.
Thankfully, Little Elvis was amazing. I promise you, he looks exactly like the young Elvis and sounds almost exactly like him. Besides the repeat gig here and in Macau next year, we also picked up a show in Russia! Lots of new countries of my visits this year Djibouti, Russia and tomorrow mainland China for the first time. We bus to Shenzhen tomorrow afternoon.
Have to go to bed. Its 3 am and I have to be in the lobby at 5:30 am to get Seals & Seals off to the airport!
DECEMBER 12TH DAY FIVE:
Managed to crawl out of bed after 2 ½ hours sleep and go to the lobby to get everyone off to the airport. I felt so bad because I always thank the artist for a great show and this time I just couldnt do it. I did thank them for coming and tell them how much I enjoyed working with them which was definitely the truth.
Went back to bed for 2 more hours then got up and did my final run along the harbor. It was another beautiful day with perfect weather. And I found a new route so that I didnt have to double back a couple of times to get in my 5 miles. There is a lot of construction and what I thought was an on ramp to an interstate being constructed was actually a pedestrian bridge. I saw another runner going up it and decided to follow him. Only negative was it is a long, steep incline and Im not accustomed to running hills. But, once I got to the top, it leveled out and then wound down into a pretty little park.
We had the Australian band traveling with us to China today. I was excited to actually be going to mainland China for the first time. Nothing like I expected. Its really beautiful very clean and the architecture on the buildings is amazing. Theres a tropical feel in this city of Shenzhen where we are staying at a beautiful hotel. Palm trees and lots of green foliage lined the highway. What impressed everyone is the fact that there is no litter, no graffiti, no homeless people, and no RAP music blaring in any of the cars in Hong Kong or China. The young people are much more respectful than in America, too.
Travis was concerned at his show last night because there wasnt a boisterous response to his songs. The audience loved him but they think it is disrespectful to interrupt his music while he is performing and they hold their applause and enthusiasm until the show is finished.
We had to clear immigration going out of Hong Kong and then again coming into China. In Hong Kong, this meant getting off the bus, going inside and giving them our health forms and meeting the bus on the other side. In China, it meant taking everything off the bus, hauling it through customs, clearing immigration and then loading everything back on the bus on the other side. As we were loading up, our escorts/coordinators received a frantic phone call from one of the promoters who was still in Hong Kong. Evidently several cases of equipment (guitars and keyboards) that belonged to Gerry and the Pacemakers got mistakenly loaded on the bus with our things! They were supposed to perform at a benefit in Hong Kong tonight and we had their gear. So we had to sort through everything, hire another vehicle and send one of our escorts back to Hong Kong.
Fortunately, its only about a one hour drive.
Had trouble getting my internet to connect. Its a free DSL line provided by the hotel and its slower than a dial-up!
Hotel is really beautiful and I finally got to treat myself to a massage (with HOT STONES
.lovely) and a facial (look 10 years younger
not!). Really shouldnt admit this, but looking back, its pretty funny. The little girl giving me my massage (with hands of steel!) didnt speak a lot of English. She mostly just used hand signals. I went into a changing room and was given a robe and something in a plastic package. When I opened it, it appeared to be one of those paper hair nets, so I put it on my head thinking it was to protect my hair. But I noticed it was more like a paper head band than a full net. When I came out, the little masseuse collapsed in a fit of giggles. She started pointing to my head and then rubbing her mid-section. She finally pulled the net off my head and I noticed there were THREE holes in it. It was a pair of paper panties! Have to admit I dont think Ive ever worn panties on my head before unless there was alcohol involved!
I checked in on the Salute Americas Heroes Tribute that I have worked so hard on and could not attend because it was a conflict with this trip. The event was a big success for our wounded. Check out the website at www.saluteheroes.org Definitely going to plan better next year so I can attend.
After midnight now and Ive got some work to do before going to bed. Tomorrow is sound check and then we go into Shenzhen to SHOP, SHOP, SHOP. Show tomorrow night and the we drive back to the Hong Kong airport because we have an early flight out on Tuesday.
DECEMBER 13TH DAY 6:
I keep forgetting to mention this Chinese Dance Troupe that was on the concert in Hong Kong. They were incredible even though they were hired to do the can-can and instead did a beautiful dance with Chinese fans and silks. Anyway, the star was a beautiful, very young female. She was back stage stretching before her performance and she bent her leg back behind her and put her hand behind her head and grabbed her ankle. She was standing on one leg and the other foot was at least six inches above her head. Try it. Its not human. Im doing good to grab my ankle and bend my foot back far enough to touch my waist in the back!
Got up and worked out in the hotel fitness club. Nice little gym
small, but all the latest equipment. I dont eat breakfast but knew I would be skipping lunch, so went to the breakfast buffet. They were able to make me an egg white omelet. You would not believe the spreads they put out for these buffets. I would weigh 200 pounds if I ate there every day. They have buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner and its a bigger variety of food than Ive ever seen anywhere.
Travis did a quick sound check and then we all went down to the shopping center. It was a 5 story building with thousands of little shops. And, the prices and quality were better than Hong Kong or Korea. Now Im spoiled and only want to shop in China. I got two Prada and 2 Louis Vitton Bags plus another pair of shoes (just what I need) and some souvenir items that friends wanted. We only had 2 ½ hours there and I needed at least 4 more. Cant believe we have to leave after the show tonight. Im going to put together a shopping trip for a group of women and come over here just for fun next year!
While we were away shopping, the hotel changed our keys and basically checked us out of the hotel. They wanted us to all move into one room until we departed after the show tonight. That didnt happen!
Very strange show tonight for the Chinese. They just wanted to party, so Travis got down on the floor and invited everyone to come up and dance while he sang his Elvis 50s hits. This one little short, obese Chinese guy in a pink shirt came up and started humping Travis right in the middle of a song. Scared me! Also, there were these Chinese impersonators on the show. They were supposedly look-alikes for Chinese celebrities. Of course, I didnt recognize who they were supposed to be. But, they sang and it was like a cat howling. No one sang on key. It was painful.
Learned a very interesting fact about the Chinese. They have the money to buy the best and build the best. But then, no one knows how to utilize what they have. For example, if they buy a computer, they go out and purchase the very best model. Then no one knows how to operate it. The dinner tonight for Watsons was a disaster. The food looked beautiful but tasted horrible or so I was told. We ate in the hotel restaurant, thank goodness.
Leaving in less than an hour to drive from China to Hong Kong. Staying in a hotel near the airport since we have to be at the airport by 6:30 am tomorrow. Almost home
DECEMBER 14TH DAY 7:
The worst part about shopping in Shenzhen is the fact that they wont leave you alone. The sales people follow you saying, Missy, Missy
copy watch, Missy; bag, Missy whatever
.The only way to get away from them is to go into a shop and then those salespeople start harassing you. I refused to buy several items just because I couldnt get them to shut up long enough for me to look. They are forever forcing another item on you and wont allow you to browse. After we left, I learned the Chinese phrase that means No, Im not buying anything. It sounds like Boo-Yaw. The items are NEVER in the stores. They ask you to wait 2 minutes while they go get them and that 2 minutes is usually more like 10. One guy wanted me to follow him to his office. He seemed reputable so I agreed. Then he tried to take me outside the main building and into an area that I wasnt familiar with. I refused. So, he took me back to the shop and said he would go get the bags. While I was waiting a couple from Singapore who spoke excellent English started talking to me and said that they were going over to his office so I agreed to go with them. Wow! Thats where I found all the great bags and prices. Got his card so next time Ill know where to go.
After the show, we were supposed to be able to leave no later than 11 pm for the drive to Hong Kong. But, the party ran late and the photographer who the promoter insisted had to ride with us, couldnt leave. It was almost midnight before he came out which meant we were not going to get a lot of sleep before our flight. I didnt care about myself, but I knew that Travis and his group were in coach, the flight was sold out, and they had to get off the plane in Minneapolis and go straight to sound check and two shows that night! The bus driver drove like a maniac to make up for lost time. When we arrived at the border crossing about 10 minutes after we departed the hotel, the photographer said, Oh, heres my friend. Im riding with him and left us. We all wanted to hunt him down and torture him. Didnt arrive at the hotel until after 1 am and the guys left a wakeup call for 6 am. I got in bed at 2 am and left a 4 am wakeup call. Had to get up and get on the internet before I left.
I purchased an internet card the night before and the pass code kept coming up invalid when I tried to log on the next morning. I spent almost an hour of valuable time trying to communicate with the front desk and get it fixed. Not to mention that I paid for a 3 hour card and only got to use about 30 minutes of it. Oh well. At least I got my email checked before the flight.
Because Ive flown NW so much these last few weeks, Ive seen all the movies. And, they are NOT good movies. What they list in their in-flight magazine is NOT what is actually available. I got so desperate, I watched Princess Dairies 2! On the flight from Narita to Minneapolis, I was the ONLY female in the entire upstairs area on the plane. Sat next to a young guy (23 college student) who was a scientific engineer. He had been hired for 6 weeks to travel all over Asia and visit fertilizer plants that he had developed some kind of system for. He fired up his laptop and proudly showed me photos of dust on something that looked like a battery and all kinds of charts and graphs. Nice guy but the conversation was way over my head. He had an old IBM laptop that he had converted and I think it rivaled anything I saw at CENTCOM. Informed me that he never watches TV and will not pay to go see a movie. He never pays for cds or dvds, just burns copies of someone elses. Ahhh
.our future leaders! Makes me even prouder of our fine young men serving in the U.S. military.
Landed in Minneapolis and I assume all the luggage and equipment made it. I had to leave for my connecting flight before the bands instruments came out. Short flight to Nashville and now Im home for less than a week before departing to Korea through New Years.
November 20, 21 and 22:
Yep, flying for THREE days.
Taking Little Big Town to Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and Qatar to entertain the troops over Thanksgiving.
Arrived at the Nashville airport 2 hours prior to departure. BUT, we had 33 bags to check for 9 people
lots of excess charges. We had to fly our own sound system since the countries we will be visiting do not have anything available. No problem getting everything checked in but we were on Delta and dont usually use them as our carrier overseas. Wish we could use them more because they are really great
.all about service. They had never heard of Kyrgyzstan, so that took a little while to get our luggage checked through. Then we found out that the airlines had cancelled two of our passengers flights entirely and had re-routed two other passengers through Paris instead of Frankfurt with the group. Delta was able to fix everything, thank goodness. Heidi from AFE flew in from D.C. that morning and met us at the gate to travel with us.
Easy, short flight to Atlanta and a very short layover. The flight attendants in Delta were absolutely SUPERB. Such a refreshing change. Its not that we demand anything
just nice to have people who enjoy their jobs working with you. Had a great meal for an airline and then slept for about 3 hours. I thought I was dreaming for a while because I kept hearing someone snoring REALLY loudly and then everyone laughing. But I wasnt dreaming. We had one passenger that could peel the wallpaper off the wall with his snores. I also had my recurring dream that the plane is crashing and we have to land on an interstate, crashing into trees and other cars and power lines. I have this dream all the time, but we always land safely. Strange!
Landed in Frankfurt with a 3 hour layover. Got passes to the lounge and it was one tiny little room and all the seats were taken. I was able to get online and answer 69 emails that I had received since I had departed the U.S
.and on a Saturday no less! When we got to the gate to board, one of the gate agents tried to tell us we couldnt take our computer cases and guitars on board. I assured her that I had a letter that allowed us to carry everything on board. Turned into quite a stand-off. I knew we were on a big airbus but I also knew we were on Aeroflot Russian Airlines. Tried every way possible NOT to fly Aeroflot and there was just no other way to get there. I told her everything would fit in the overhead and she said we couldnt put anything in the overhead because it could shift and come out and hit someone during the flight! Hello
havent you seen people stuff huge duffels that they can barely lift in the overhead on every flight? Anyway, I won and we got on the plane with all our carry on luggage. Everyone was in business class because the travel agency let the flights expire before ticketing and had to pay for business class
your U.S. tax dollars at work! The plane was huge and we had no problem fitting anything in the overhead.
We did have a problem understanding the pilot and flight attendants. They served a meal and the lady said, We only have sneck meat and fish. I asked her twice and I thought she was saying snake meat and fish
.obviously I opted for the fish as did everyone else. But it was very raw salmon and a couple of shrimp both of which tasted horribly fishy. Fortunately there was also cheese and bread. Then they came out and asked if we wanted fish, chicken, pork or beef for the main meal. I finally figured out that she was saying, We only have a snack (not snake) and the choices are meat or fish!
We landed in Moscow, which is my first visit to the Soviet Union. There was about 4 inches of snow on the ground and it was freezing cold. We had to take a bus from the plane to the terminal and it took forever for the buses to arrive. The pilot came on apologized because he said that Americans are taking a vacation and it take a long time for the buses to come
.which translated as something about being sorry to the Americans because it was taking so long to evacuate because the buses were busy!
We were expecting to spend hours trying to get boarding passes and transported to the other terminal. But it was painless and I got everyone in the lounge. The next flight is from Moscow to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and its on a small plane
not sure how small. I cant wait to fly on a small plane, that has probably iced over, at night, over Soviet territory. What was I thinking?
So, add this up. We arrived at the airport at 1:30 pm on Saturday, November 20th. 1 hour flight to Atlanta; 2 hour layover in Atlanta; 9 hour flight to Frankfurt; 4 hour layover; 3 ½ hour flight to Moscow; 3 ½ hour layover; 4 hour flight to Bishkek
.when we arrive, it will be 5 am on Monday, November 22nd which is 4 pm Sunday afternoon in Nashville
24 hours of travel.
Hopefully I will have internet access in Kyrgyzstan
I had packed all my coats so I wouldnt have to carry them around. But, we had bus gates in Moscow so I had to buy something. There were no sweat shirts for sale there, only t-shirts, so I found this plastic jacket and bought it. One of the artists also packed all his coats so he bought one, too. Weve decided this will be the official tour jacket and we can write the name of the tour on it with a Sharpie!
.scratch that 24 hours of travel. The flight from Moscow to Bishkek was delayed! Instead of departing at 11:30 pm, we didnt depart until 2:30 am. So make that a 6 ½ hour layover in Moscow. Then we took the 4 hour flight to Bishkek
.only Bishkek was fogged in
.so we circled for one hour and then they diverted us to Uzbekistan
.another hour flight. We sat on the ground in Uzbekistan for THREE hours IN THE PLANE. Wouldnt let us get off. Met a really nice man who works with all the World Banks and lives in this area. He was very helpful. He assisted in translating with the flight attendants and got our 4 people in coach moved up to business class. We then had to fly from Uzbekistan to Bishkek. So, we had been traveling for more than 36 hours and we were absolutely Zombies.
ALL our luggage and equipment made it (unbelievable) and thankfully our escort met us at the airport. It is freezing cold here. The guys are in one tent and the girls are in a DV (distinguished visitor) tent. The latrine (toilets and showers are about a half mile from where we sleep. Its a small base. We grabbed a snack after we got checked in to our tents and then several of us went to the gym to work out. Great gym, of course. Then most of us got massages. It costs $15 for a 50 minute full body massage! And it was better than anything Ive ever had in the U.S.
Then I came over to the little Coffee Shop which is the only place on this base that we have internet access for AOL! Its open 24 hours BUT they were having a party for the Coffee Shop. So, Im sitting her at a little table that they rigged up for me, answering email, while people are dancing to really loud rock music!
And I am SOOO tired and I haven't had a shower since Saturday morning....it's Monday night here. So, I'm hitting the shower now. Its 10:30 pm here now and we have to start early tomorrow. We do not get one break all day long
meeting the troops, VIPs, sound check, show and Im sure a very long autograph session. Fly to Afghanistan the next day.
DAY FOUR NOVEMBER 23:
Thought I was timing the shower just right when it would not be busy at midnight last night. Well it wasnt busy but guess a lot of people had just used it. There was NO hot water. And its freezing here.
We visited with a lot of the troops today who would not get to attend the show Fire Department, Services Division, Chaplain, all the outposts. Signed autographs and they sang a couple of songs at one of the stops. All the equipment arrived without any damage but since it was the first show day, took a long time to get everything set up.
I wasnt really expecting a huge crowd because Little Big Town is not very well-known yet. But, the place was PACKED. Could not have gotten anyone else in there. Today was also beer day. They are not allowed to drink except on certain days/special events. And, then there is a two beer limit. There were not only American troops there, but troops from the Netherlands and Spain. They ALL loved the show. Group signed autographs after the show for a long time.
Tomorrow we fly to Afghanistan on a C-130. The plane doesnt depart until 9 am (supposedly) but we must have our bags outside the tent at 4:30 am
and be at the PAX terminal at 5 am. Then we can go back to bed, right
..but have to be at the flight line at 7 am. Never had to be there 4 hours prior before. The flight to Afghanistan is 2 ½ hours and we have a show tomorrow night. Going to be some tired people tomorrow night! Took my shower before the show tonight again thinking Im miss the rush. Guess I picked the wrong time again. Still no hot water. Everyone else in our group is not having this problem. Im jinxed!
Sorry this is so LONG. I have not been able to access my email from Afghanistan. Back in Nashville for a few days now.
DAY FIVE NOVEMBER 24TH:
We all got 2-3 hours sleep and it was a pretty sad looking group. Of course, we did NOT need to be at the passenger terminal at 5 am! All they needed was for someone to take our orders and ID cards and they never even asked to see each of us. I could have handled it for the group and let them sleep. But, when I asked about this last night, I was told that we all absolutely HAD to be there. We all went over to eat breakfast and wait for our ride to the flight line. While we were eating the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (who was visiting the base; we shared a tent with some of his flight crew and met several others at dinner and the show the other night) came in. Only one of the artists met him and she couldnt find the rest of us. We had already gone back over to the PAX terminal lounge. She came over to tell us and we were told that we did not have time to go back and meet him because the bus was ready to take us to the flight line. BUT, we insisted that we absolutely had to go to the toilet first because all the C-130 has is a honey bucket and its not designed for women. Plus it was a 2 ½ hour flight. We left for the toilet but made a quick stop in the dining facility to meet the Vice Chairman and have our photos taken with him. I coined him and he pulled out one of his coins and presented one to each of us. How cool is that? We gotten some great coins on the trip and this one is really awesome.
Of course when we arrived at the flight line, they were not ready for us to board. We sat for about 45 minutes and were finally allowed on board. There were several other really nice soldiers most of them from Colorado flying with us. The flight crew was so sweet and let all of us take turns sitting on the flight deck. The pilot Tim and co-pilotKevin and Navigator Doe treated us all like visiting royalty. There was some beautiful scenery on the way over the Himalayas! We had to do a combat landing and it was quite treat for the band. None of them have ever flown on a C-130 and it was a real roller coaster ride for them
Arrived at Bagram, Afghanistan and learned that they are on ZULU time which totally confuses me. Plus Afghanistan is 10 ½ hours ahead of the U.S. The half hour is always confusing. Were trying to learn Zulu time but its now easy. Ate some lunch and then I suggested that we all try to sleep for a couple of hours before sound check. The dust is really working on everyones throats and Im worried about their being able to sing. All the girls are in one houch and all the boys are next door. Its one big, long room with cots in it and it is heated and cooled. About 10 minutes after we laid down, one of the reps came in to bring us sheets, pillow cases, etc. Tried to go back to sleep only to have another rep come in with a combination lock for us and instructions on where the bunkers are located and when we need to run. Again, back to sleep only to have another rep walk in looking for the previous rep. Then all three stood right outside our door and laughed and talked for about a half hour!
e couldnt get in to do a sound check because a military band was in the venue rehearsing. Then they had a Thanksgiving service right after rehearsal. Show started late but it was another awesome performance. There was about 600 people packed into the building and lots of NATO forces. We saw people from Norway, U.K., Germany and Egypt. Lots of Marines. This base has not had any celebrity entertainment in well over a year. Only had a couple of military bands come perform for them. To say that they were all appreciative is quite an understatement.
Not only did I collect 4 more coins but I got one of the new digitized desert camo shirts that the Marines are wearing, one of the Marine caps, AND a Marines dogtag! Told the girls my secret to securing the clothing. Just walk up to a guy, introduce yourself and ask his name. And THEN, turn around and press your back against his back and say, I think were the same size and I just love your pants. (doesnt hurt to sort of wiggle around a little to make sure youre getting the right fit.) Works every time. I have two sets of desert BDUs, one desert flight suit, 2 green flight suits, and one set of green camos. The jackets all have the guys names on them so when I wear them, I get to promote the soldier who gave me the article of clothing. The dog tag is more special to me than any of my coins and Ill wear it every day. By the way, Chely, I got you a date with a REALLY cute Marine who will be back in the States in 3 days. J
The band signed autographs for a couple of hours and it was such a blessing. Everyone who attended had big smiles on their faces and just couldnt thank us enough for coming to entertain them. THIS is what makes it all worthwhile. Theres never any way we will ever be able to repay them for their services but for just a little while, it makes us feel like were doing a little to show them how much we appreciate their sacrifices. They got 3 guys and 1 girl up on stage to sing Sweet Home Alabama and this was again the highlight of the show for those attending.
The showers here are a challenge but guess what? I broke my cold water jinx. Had steaming hot water and it was wonderful. Only the shower is so small and the shower head doesnt move. So when you try to shampoo your hair, it washes out before you can rub it in. But, hey, no complaints. Were here for one night and these guys and girls are here for as long as a year at time. I will say that this was the first dining facility weve been in where the food was actually seasoned and tasted good! I was hiking s. I said, boy did you ask the wrong person. I dont have a clue. Then they said, you walk like you are in Hollywood. What??? I walked like Im wearing heels that are way too high and trying not to break my neck on the big rocks that cover the dust!
Tomorrow we dont have to put bags out until 0700 Zulu which someone tells me is the same as 11:30 am. Wow, we get to sleep in. Im going to get in as workout at their gym before we take another C-130 into Kandahar where well have Thanksgiving Dinner with the troops stationed there. No show tomorrow night and its a good thing! One of the artists has completely lost his voice and another is headed that way. Just cant travel like they have had us going and not let them get any rest and expect them to stay healthy. Glad that tomorrow will be an easy day
.Famous last words.
DAY SIX, NOVEMBER 25TH HAPPY THANKSGIVING
Couldnt check or send email last night because AOL was blocked at the cyber café. Making me crazy. I think the girls and I got up every hour last night to go to the bathroom. And, or course, it was a hike to reach it over really large rocks and dust.
Did get up and get in a great workout even though I was the only female in the gym!
Then we headed over to the PAX terminal to check in for our flight. I was NOT happy about traveling on Thanksgiving Day instead of performing but I dont get to call the shots. When we arrived at the terminal, they told us that the dining facility wouldnt be open until after we had left. So, for lunch, we had food from Burger King! When we finished eating, we were then told that our plane had mechanical problems and we would not be leaving until much later that day. This base has been really lax on taking care of us no information, no transportation just basically picked us up and dumped us off to fend for ourselves. One of the guys met a soldier who said he would be happy to take us on a tour of the perimeter.
We drove around for a couple of hours and saw lots of land mine fields, some bombed out tanks and an old Russian plane that is supposedly one of Osamas. Also saw a hanger that is haunted. The Afghans came in and butchered the Russian soldiers and our guys have some barracks in there. They sleep with the lights on because the noise get too loud if they turn the lights off!
Also saw lots of little local kids who would beg for water. Were not allowed to give them anything and it just breaks your heart. But our soldiers are taking good care of them and give them food, water, toys, supplies regularly.
We got stopped by an MP and he took the keys away from the driver and said we had to stay where we were until more MPs arrived. Evidently, we were not supposed to be taking photos or video taping the perimeter. For a few minutes it looked like they were going to confiscate our cameras. But once they found out who we were and why were here, they said they didnt see any cameras and asked for autographs.
Got back to the main base and was able to log onto AOL but it took 20 minutes to open one message and my response never went out. Just gave up. Had 84 waiting for me and sure hope none of them are urgent!
Instead of departing as scheduled, we were told that we had to grab something to eat and then go to the Pax Terminal. I absolutely was not going to agree to that. We had already been robbed of performing on Thanksgiving, then we missed lunch with the troops and now they wanted us to miss dinner with\ them. We went to the dining hall and ate dinner with them but it was rushed. I also went from table to table and wished them all Happy Thanksgiving and thanked them for their service. I feel so cheated that the artists gave up their Thanksgiving to spend it cheering up our troops and then we were denied that privilege. Letters will be written when I get back home!
We took a C-17 instead of a C-130 much larger and has jet engines instead of props. But, they did a combat takeoff and it was pretty intense. Flight crew was out of Charleston and just great guys. Let us go up on the flight deck and they are going to ask if they can come pick us up for the long flight from Kandahar to Qatar 4 hours. The C-17 has a TOILET and the C-130 doesnt would make a huge difference.
Arrived at Kandahar and I met a soldier who was there to lead a memorial service and escort the bodies of two young marines back home. They were killed a couple of days ago by an IED. So sad! The whole base was talking about what great guys they were.
Got in our lodging (conex) and the toilet is right outside the door for once. Of course, the shower is almost a mile away
.We were hiking back from using the telephones when a couple of really sweet guys in Special Forces picked us up and gave us a ride.
We fly to T.K. tomorrow a very remote site for a show and then come back to Kandahar the following day.
DAY 7 NOVEMBER 26TH:
Went down to take my shower last night because I thought it wouldnt be crowded and MAYBE there would be some hot water. Hiked about ¾ of a mile over the big rocks and walked into the Ladies Shower Tent. Only there were 2 men laying on the benches instead of women showering. They jumped up and said that the showers were broken and wouldnt be repaired for several hours!
Up early to shower and this time it was repaired. Only I forgot my towels! So, hiked BACK down again
Put my clothes right outside the shower and when I finished, realized that the water had leaked out and the clothes that I was going to wear were soaked!
We flew a Chinook from Kandahar to K.T. Tarrin Kowt a VERY remote site exactly where we like to go. Chinook ride was a blast for the artists who have never flown one. One of the flight crew called me up to the window so I could take photos. Only, he decided it was time to do the friendly fire just as I leaned out of the window. The blasts were deafening, even with my ear plugs in. The scenery was pretty spectacular
.all brown and lots of mountains. I can definitely see how the Taliban can hide out forever in those mountains.
Everything is primitive at this camp. It is the most remote one we will visit. The girls were in one tent and the boys were in another and they were not near each other. The only toilets are portapotties that are about a half mile away, EXCEPT for these outhouses that are really nasty. The boys have, excuse my language, piss tubes. Its just these tubes going into the ground and there is a half-wall of plywood around the front of them. Of course, Im always approaching from the rear, so thats interesting. The tent at least has a floor in it and is supposedly heated and cooled.
This is also the tent where the two young soldiers that were killed were from. The guys are pretty subdued.
I took the two girls out to visit the outposts because those guys were not going to get to come to the show. They actually LIVE in these little towers for a week at a time, guarding the perimeter. Those soldiers were so happy to see us and so impressed that we would take the time to come out and sign an autograph for them! Very heart-warming for us.
The soldiers stationed at this camp were so excited to see us. They never get celebrity entertainment at this Camp. We probably had 350 attend the show which was great considering the other soldiers were on duty. We started the show early while the sun was still up. It was really HOT here today, probably in the high 90s. Then the sun went down and the temperature dropped immediately. It was freezing by the time they finished the autographs. There were lots of local Afgan National Police at the show and they all wanted an autograph and to have their photos taken with the artists. The U.S. soldiers had given them all nicknames and brought them up one by one and had them say their American names for our video camera. There was Earl, Jeff Gordon, Sweet Ricky, Homey Boy, Charlie Manson and several others that I cant remember. It was hilarious but the Afghans are really proud of their U.S. nicknames! And, they have such a wonderful friendship with our soldiers.
I think this will be our best show just because these soldiers needed it so much and because we really, really boosted their morale.
The internet works better here than anywhere else we have been in Iraq which is a total surprise. Of course, I still cant use my laptop so dont know when Ill be able to send this road report out.
DAY 8, NOVEMBER 27TH:
Soooo, last night the girls went to bed early and I walked over to use the internet. Then I decided to hike up to the port-a-potty. As I walking in the pitch dark, a mortar landed somewhere to my right. It wasnt too horribly loud and I didnt see any fire or smoke after it hit, I figured it was pretty far away but I make the stop at the port-a-potty pretty quick.
Went back to the tent to get some sleep. We had brought duffels full of blankets for the girls and guys. We slept on cots with the blankets and no pillows. We were supposed to bring our own pillow but I didnt want to carry one around for just one camp. So, I folded my coat up and make it into a pillow
not a very good one and certainly not comfortable! I probably hadnt been in bed for an hour when a mortar or RPG hit and it sounded like it was right next to our tent. We all sat up in bed and had no idea what to do because we had not been given a briefing. Our MWR rep went outside to check things out while we sat shaking on our cots. She came back in and said that it was just our guys doing some test firing and everything was fine. Sure wish they had told us they were going to do the tests. About 20 minutes later, another one went off then all was quite. It got so cold in the tent and the blanket did absolutely no good. We had left all our clothes in Kandahar and just brought over enough clothes for the show and for the trip back. But, we put on everything we had brought with us. If I hadnt been using my coat as a pillow, I would have slept in that, too. It was a very long, cold, miserable night. Then we found out the next morning that the duffle full of blankets for the boys had not been in their tent! I felt so sorry for them.
We flew back to Kandahar on Chinooks again but had to make several stops on the way to pick up and drop off soldiers and packages. At the last stop, they loaded a couple of large packs and one was placed right in front of me. I noticed a white sticker on it that had the soldiers name, his social security number and then it said: KIA-24 Nov 04 and a note that said an inventory was located inside the pack. It was one of the soldiers packs who had been killed a couple of days ago. I cant tell you what that does to your heart to sit there and stare at that label and his personal pack for a half hour. Even though we didnt know them, it still makes you feel a personal attachment.
Landed in Kandahar with several hours off. We went down to the Subway sandwich shop and then to the Exchange to do some shopping. Girls got a massage while I went to the gym to work out. Missing my early morning runs and workouts tremendously.
Our show tonight is in the new MWR building and its a pretty small room but Im sure we will pack it out.
Show was fantastic. The room was packed and I met so many wonderful men and women who attended the show. A couple of guys offered to let us use their office for phone calls and internet service after the show and we took them up on their offer. We have pretty much just been dumped at every site in Afghanistan and left to fend for ourselves. No one to drive us to the dining hall, sound check or shows and its a long walk to those places. So, it was nice too hook up with two guys who had wheels. I managed to go in the mens latrine after the show. Was busy talking to our escort and he didnt stop me from walking right in. I saw some really big feet in one of the stalls as I went into the door and it made me realize I was in the wrong place.
DAY NINE, NOVEMBER 28TH:
Got to work out AGAIN today. Im a new woman. Showers are closer to the gym than to our lodging, so I stopped on the way back from my workout to shower. Then I somehow went into the wrong building when I was going back to lodging. Thank goodness I couldnt find a door with the number 6 on it or I would have waltzed into someone elses room!
I ordered 20 Subway sandwiches for our 4 hour flight and we took a quick tour of the Old Taliban headquarters before our flight. The U.S. Air Force dropped a J-Dam right in the center of the building and killed everyone in it. It was amazing. Our troops just say the hole is a skylight in the room. Saw the old airplane hanger where we had our show when I was here in December 2002 with SGM Tilley and Darryl Worley.
Our flight crew was out of Texas and were so sweet to us. I stayed up on the flight deck for most of the 4 hour flight getting to know them. Its refreshing to talk to people who are so knowledgeable about what is really going on in this area. The girls were praying that we wouldnt have to use the honey bucket but 4 hours was just too long for us to not use the toilet. It was QUITE an experience.
We landed right on time in Qatar. I remember the lodging and venue (and shopping) from this past July. But none of the same staff is here.
Today is Gordons birthday (guitar) and Im sure it is one he will remember for the rest of his life! We went to dinner and hooked up with our flight crew again. Karen was putting salt on her salad and the entire top fell off
.compliments of one of the flight crew. I feel sorry for him tomorrow night when she gets that microphone in her hand.
Its sad that tomorrow night will be our last show. I dont think anyone is ready for the tour to end.
DAYS 10 AND 11, NOVEMBER 29-30TH
So, Qatar is like paradise for the troops. Lots of the men and women are sent here for R&R. Theres a huge swimming pool, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Subway Sandwich Shop, Coffee Beanery, Baskin Robbins, Dunkin Donuts, etc., etc.! Its not supposed to get cold here and we were really looking forward to some 90 degree weather. But, of course, the day before we arrived, the wind kicked in and it turned cold. I was going to run outside this morning but the wind was blowing too hard. But there is a great gym here and I got in 30 minutes on the treadmill and 30 minutes of weights. I am definitely feeling normal again after getting to work out 3 days in a row.
Although we try not to complain, its going to be nice NOT to have to get up, put on clothes and shoes, and walk a half a mile to a bathroom several times in the middle of the night. But, at least here, its REAL toilets and not portapotties and the showers are awesome. There is a curtained off area where you can undress before stepping into the shower. All the other showers had no privacy. You just undressed in the middle of the room and stepped into a tiny shower. In these showers, theres actually room to step to the side and not be standing directly under the water all the time. Which means, we could all shave our legs! What luxury. Makes me appreciate the women who are deployed even more.
And, the dining hall is the bomb! They were making omelets this morning and I think everyone in our group had one. I had another massage which is really nice right before flying for 24 hours. Only cost $34 here for one hour. She was great but right in the middle of the massage, she stopped and said, Excuse me mam, where you buy you pants? J She had this really old American music playing very loud and she sang along with is. Trust me, she was definitely off-key the entire time. At one point, she added some toe-tapping and this clicking sound with her mouth. Quite the entertaining massage.
Our show is at 4 pm today because we have to fly home at 1:50 am tonight. All the flights out of here depart at around midnight in order to make connections in Europe.
Weve now had 4 people who have had to visit the medic. Jimi (artist) had to go after only a couple of days in country because he was losing his voice. Phillip lost his the next day and couldnt even sing for 2 of the shows. Its nothing more than the 36 hours of non-stop travel and breathing that airplane air and then not getting by 3 hours of sleep after the first night because of our travel schedule. Andy (drummer) is congested today and Karen (artist) is feeling queasy so both of them are at the medic now.
A lot of the show posters were advertising the show for 8 pm instead of 4 pm. We told as many people as possible, but the audience was very light at the beginning of the show. But as people began to hear the music, they started wandering up. The group called a couple of our pilots up on stage for the audience participation part of the show. Andy our pilot thought everyone was going to sing together and was horrified to learn that he was supposed to sing solo. He talked Jimi into getting behind him and singing his part until the girls figured out what he was doing. Then they made him sing and lets just say that he should stick with what he does best flying a plane. Tried to get Luke up on stage because hes the one who pulled the salt-shaker trick on Karen last night. But he hid out and wouldnt come up.
Had lots of compliments from everyone saying how good the group was and thanking us for taking the time to come over and entertain them. If only I could explain to them what a blessing we get out of these trips! Lots of people wanting to buy cds, too. Sure wish AFE would allow the artists to sell to them.
We went to dinner after the show and sat with some troops from Australia. They were so nice and it was fascinating listening to them give their take on the efforts in Iraq. They were stationed north of Mosul and were only in Qatar for a few days of R&R. The group that we met is training the local Iraqis to be policemen. They told us all about their efforts and how the Iraqi men are so scared that something is going to happen to them or their families because they have agreed to serve.
Had to shower and pack up so we can depart the base at 9:30 pm. Have to clear customs on the base and then go to the airport. Our flight doesnt depart until 1:50 am!
Check in was the usual nightmare only we didnt get attacked by the luggage handlers this time. We did have to take all the gear from the check-in counter to the oversize belt ourselves. Then, the little door on the ramp wouldnt open and they couldnt send the equipment to the plane. They finally ended up calling someone to open it from the outside. I spent a couple of hours just getting the excess charges taken care of. Then we started through security and got stopped for carrying on the guitars. They wouldnt give us the main cabin baggage tags so we had to go back and talk to a supervisor. While we were waiting for her, I sort of stole some of the tags and managed to put them on all but one of the guitars before the Supervisor arrived. Good thing because she also refused to let us carry them on. I had sent everyone else through and only kept the one guy without the tag with me. She asked how many guitars we had and I told her four. Then she wanted to know where everyone else was and I told her that they were allowed to carry theirs on. Then she said, Well, just go ahead then. It was only a little lie and there were lots of passengers with bigger, heavier carry-on bags than our guitars. And, once we got on the plane, there was plenty of space in the overhead for the instruments.
Qatar Airlines is not an airline I look forward to flying. The seats are very uncomfortable and the flight attendants are not very attentive. It was almost an 8 hour flight and was pretty miserable. At least the guys in coach had plenty of empty seats so they could lie down. Landed in London with a 3 hour layover and it took all that time to get our boarding passes. The girl working the counter told our Kansas City passenger that he was booked to Nashville and that the ticket he had for Kansas City was on a flight that didnt exist. I knew that wasnt correct because Qatar Airlines would not have been able to issue him claim checks for his luggage if that had been true. The agent finally blamed the mistake on the computer and got everything straightened out.
Then, we started through security and one of the business class passengers had been issued a coach boarding pass. Took another 30 minutes to get that cleared up with the same inept ticket agent. Got to the gate and went through the same scenario with the guitars. We were finally allowed to carry them on and they fit just fine in the overhead! This was a 9 hour flight to Atlanta from London.
Landed in Atlanta with a 4 hour layover but it took us that long to collect all our gear and go through customs. One of the artists got detained because he filled out his customs form incorrectly! Flight to Nashville was less than an hour and uneventful except for the 300+ pound man sitting next to me using the seat belt extension and the 300+ pound man sitting in front of me who was so heavy that his seat pressed back against my knees the entire flight. At least I was well-cushioned if we had gone down. J The artists manager did hear that a plane had crashed in Afghanistan and had a panic attack that it was ours.
It was a wonderful tour and again, life-changing for the artists. I know first-hand why the soldiers in Afghanistan are saying they are the forgotten war. These men and women still have a very important mission in Afghanistan and their efforts are definitely beginning to show. I hope we can continue to take entertainment into that area as well as into Iraq. The remote sites are the ones that need the morale boost and thats the places we need and want to visit.