Throwback Thursdays….I’m digging into the archives and found an old touring journal from 2003 when I was working for Collective Soul. We did a tour of US Military Bases in Europe and the Middle East to support the troops who were fighting “The War on Terror” following the attacks of September 11th.
9:00 -am The band and crew meet in front of a Holiday Inn just outside of Dobbins Air force base to be to escorted onto the base and to our plane. We’re scheduled to fly from Atlanta, GA to Rota, Spain via military aircraft.
Once we arrive on base we learn that our aircraft is stuck in Norfolk for some maintenance so we’ll be delayed until they can get our plane checked out and to Atlanta. We spend about an hour or so milling about in the bowling center, then head over to the hanger for a short tour of an F-18 and Huey chopper. WOW, an aircraft hanger actually used for it’s intended purpose and not as a poor excuse for a concert venue! The plans change and we are now going to be flown to Norfolk to meet our original plane and flight crew.
1:15 pm -We are on our way, what a relief not to have to deal with airport TSA and all the security nonsense. We get to Norfolk and while the C-9 is being loaded with all of our band equipment and luggage we are waiting in a briefing room at the hanger. One of the captains from the base stops in to say hello. When asked for any advice on our stops in the Middle East he replies, "Duck and keep your head down", not what we wanted to hear…
I’m told the plane will serve as our tour bus for the next few weeks, once on board we make ourselves at home setting up laptops, portable dvd players, coolers stocked with food and drinks. Besides our flight crew (all military personnel) we are the only people on the plane. All of our equipment is loaded on palettes in the front of the plane between us and the cockpit. No getting stuck in a middle seat on this plane, each of us has a row to ourselves, and it’s self-service in the galley.
4:30 pm -We're finally getting underway. Our first stop will be Newfoundland, one of two refueling stops en route to Rota.
3:00 am -We land in the Azores for our second refueling stop. An old school bus is driven out to pick us up and drive us to a “safe distance” while the plane is refueling. This fuel stop is taking substantially longer than our last one. Finally, the driver gets the signal to bring us back to the plane, but when he attempts to start the bus the battery has died. He calls for someone to alert the automotive service crew, in the meantime one of our pilots comes to inform us that our two HF radios are malfunctioning and we can't fly without them, they have been trying to repair them and are having no luck. At this point, we are going to have to spend the night on base in the Azores and hope they can be repaired by morning. Since both of our vehicles are having mechanical problems we have to wait for a second bus to pick us up and drive us to the base accommodations.
5:00 am -We are finally on a new bus heading to the lodge to spend the night while the flight crew tries to repair the radios. Not a good way to start the tour.
9/25/03 Day two
We’re not permitted to leave the base since this wasn’t a scheduled stop, so our options for dining are severely limited and let's just say…less than satisfying. They have not been able to repair the HF radios and are now awaiting arrival of parts from the US. In the meantime, we will be boarding a C-130 aircraft to get to Spain. This is starting to get interesting. Our equipment is loaded on two palettes inside the back of the plane and we are seated on canvas net seats along the sides of the plane in front of the gear. Ahh, the glamorous life of rock and roll!
We strap in and get ready for take off. It's loud and uncomfortable and let's just say the bathroom facilities leave a lot to be desired. Throughout the flight, we take turns sitting in the cockpit, nice view -nothing but stars. Almost four hours later we are in Spain.
Our first show in Rota, Spain. Not enough sleep and too much sun. It's a long hot day and the show is filled with technical problems, after an uneventful soundcheck my FOH console suddenly decides it doesn’t like me anymore. It’s the third song of the set and my bass guitar channel has become intermittent. Enough of that, I switch it to an open channel. Next, my lead guitar channel has quit, ok new channel for you too. A few songs later and my lead vocal is gone, re-patch and we’re now out of spare channels. My fingers are crossed that we can finish the show without any more problems. On a bright note, our original flight crew has rejoined us! They couldn't get the HF radios fixed so they commandeered a new airplane to meet us. After the show, we head into town for some nightlife.
We're back on the C-9 heading for Italy. We have a show today and it goes well. Afterward, we get back to the hotel early enough to get a good nights sleep.
3:30 am -My second Blackout in two months...First New York city now Italy.
After falling asleep only a half hour earlier I wake up to sirens going off outside and the power is out in my room. I stumble around the room looking for the breaker box, can't find one, finally hear from the tour manager that the whole city is without power. I try to go back to sleep but there is too much noise from all of the commotion outside. After about two hours of sleep, I’m up at 9 am because we are supposed to be going to Pompeii to shoot some on location video, record a few acoustic songs and do some sightseeing.
10:30 am -Pompeii is not going to happen, it's pouring outside. We're now planning on touring a few local vineyards at 1:30 pm.
Go back to sleep, get up at 1:00 pm and it's still raining. Learn that ALL of Italy has suffered a blackout, we're not going anywhere. I'd say things are really going well at this point.
Finally, at 3 pm the power comes back on. Later that night Charlie, our Italian “host”, takes us out for dinner in Naples. You’ve gotta love Italy, great food, great wine, and great hospitality! Four and half hours later we’re stuffed, drunk, and headed back to the hotel.
Now begins the interesting part of our trip. From here on out all of the bases we will be visiting, (until we get back to Europe), are “Threat Con C “ or High threat level.
10 am -We're on board the C9 for our flight to Bahrain. Stop in Greece to refuel. Our flight crew has been allowing us to take turns in the cockpit for takeoffs and landings and this is my turn. As we approach the Egyptian coast they let me take the controls to tilt the plane side to side in order to see the coastline. We fly over Luxor, the Nile river valley, the Red Sea, then Saudi Arabia into Bahrain. It's nothing but sand and rock here.
Bahrain reminds me of old Las Vegas, lots of Vegas looking buildings and interesting architecture. All of the billboards and signs are in English and Arabic. Everyone speaks English as a second language, a lot of people speak it as their first. Oh, and did I mention it's about 105 degrees here and our show is outdoors!
We get a private tour of the submarine Memphis today. The crew lets us test the ship's alarms, check out the sonar room, look through the periscopes and fire a couple of water slugs through the torpedo tubes, what a sound! Even with just water slugs, it’s an awesome feeling that you can feel and hear through the whole ship. We get a very close up look at a Tomahawk missile as the chief officer takes us through the entire ship. Before we leave we are joined for coffee by the Captain in the officer's mess. It’s been pretty incredible so far, all of the appreciation from the troops. Everyone has been so gracious, going out of their way to tell us how much it means to them for us to come here and give them a taste of home. It makes you feel really good.
10 pm -We're on the General's personal jet bound for Djibouti.
We’re not in Kansas anymore...
2 am -Arrive in Djibouti, it's hot here, Africa hot, really. We’ve all had a full day and as we’re driving through the base crammed into a little bus with our luggage, everyone is trying to find the words to describe this place. ‘Where the hell are we? ‘, is about all anyone can muster. The base in Djibouti is pretty bare bones. It’s a tent city, there are only a handful of permanent structures here. We arrive at our “accommodations”, there is a boys tent and a girls tent. We pick up pillows and bedding at the billeting office and wait to be escorted to our tent, and wait, and wait....Finally, at about 3:15 am the female LT and I are shown to our tent and told someone will be around for us at 9:00 am!!!
This ain't no Holiday Inn. These are big tents- 16 cots, overhead fluorescent lighting and AC (thank God!) There's only one other woman in the tent with the LT (who is one of our escorts from the Pentagon) and I. Once the lights are out its pitch black. The showers are in another tent and the toilets are trailer porta jons. I still haven’t seen my luggage which was on a separate plane and supposed to meet me here. I have no water, no clean clothes, and no towels to shower with anyway. I climb into my cot all gritty and sandy and sweaty and try to sleep but I'm wired and the only thing I can seem to do is lie there with my hands on my head thinking " Where the hell am I and what did I get myself into?" And, I have to be up in less than 5 hours for another very long day.