Sunday, December 3, 2006

Safe Return

Delilah returned safely at 4 AM Pacific Time from her overseas visit with the U.S. troops in Germany, Turkey, Afghanistan and Iraq. She brought some photos and gave permission to share these with my blog readers.

OK, I admit it. When I first started drafting today's blog I was thinking selfishly. With Delilah gone for 16 days it was evident around the farm that there's not much fun in the hive when the Queen Bee is away. What do the worker bees do when the queen is not around? Do they fly around aimlessly? Do they make repairs on the hive? Do they inventory the stores of honey? Do some of them look for a new queen? The answers don't really matter. It's just a metaphor for life on Delilah's farm without Ms. Delilah, and a selfish one at that.

I felt my eyes open and my jaw drop as Delilah began recounting stories of her trip to entertain the troops. 57 hours on a military plane. Escorts on either side EVERY place she went (except the shower...but they were right outside, with their rifles).
Men and woman with their legs shot off. A soldier being brought in with a sniper's bullet through his neck, exiting behind his shoulder, missing his spine by a quarter inch. Real people, like my neighbors and yours, missing their spouses and parents and children on Thanksgiving Day thousands of miles from home. Remotely controlled exploding devices being set off under U.S. humvees, killing American boys and girls, most of them under the age of 25. The pain. The anguish. The futility. And, at the same time, the mutual love.

I'm ashamed. My problems are so miniscule by comparison. I'm humbled. And I'm sad.

It hurt to see the tears stream down Delilah's face this morning. Most of the time we trade fun stories. And most of the time we concur that no problem is too big to overcome, with the help of friends, and God's mercy and grace. This is one of those times that there's nothing that can be said to make it better. Warfare is plain English.

No, we haven't stopped laughing. The soldiers laughed among themselves even as mortar shells hurdled (or is it hurtled? either way, you get what I mean) the ten-foot barricade falling onto a patch of desert sand on the base. The base used to be one of Saddam Hussein's 52 palaces. "Those insurgent's are such lousy shots." LOL. "Good thing." LOL. "I got to pee in Saddam's toilet," remarked Delilah. LOL. Stop it please Miss D. It's hard to laugh with tears in my eyes...

The photo below shows Delilah at Saddam's palace. Read her comments about the chandelier in her notes below.

The show must go on. Delilah (center, in the red dress) and the other performers formally entertained the troops in four different locations in the Middle East (and informally in one other place) during the past two weeks.

Here are some thoughts that Delilah sent back to her staff, friends, listeners and extended family members while overseas:

"We are in Turkey again, having arrived last night at 3am from Baghdad. We didn't get to leave the base to go into the community at all, which is a good thing given they had the worst day of violence there. However, it was very dull, ugly and dusty on the base. We met hundreds, thousands of troops and spent a great deal of time enertaining and signing autographs with them. We were in Balad the day before, and took a late night flight to Baghdad from there. Most of our group stayed in tents, but the "primaries", as we are called, got spoiled and spent a night in one of Saddam's palaces.

Jamie O'Neal is such a talented singer. She did a rendition of "Stars and Stripes" that brought tears to the eyes of most of the soldiers. John Popper from Blues Travelers is a wild man, full of energy and passion and he rocks the house on his juice harp!

It was strange touring the palace, seeing millions of dollars of Italian marble and gold fixtures, but shoddy construction that looks like it won't stand another 5 years. The best illustration of the strange attitude of Saddam was in the palace entry way: a massive chandelier (see photo above) hung from the ceiling. It had thousands of lights, and yet it was made of plastic...not crystal.

Many of those we have met the last few days are younger than my son Isaiah, and it is weird to see 18 year old kids carrying a machine gun. At Balad, we were given a tour of a MASH style hospital that is in tents on the base. We got to talk to the patients who are Americans, but saw the most tragedy in the Iraqi section. We were not allowed to talk to them, but there was one person who had burns over 80% of his body; so very tragic! The hospital has a great survival rate. They try to stabalize the patients before flying them to Germany. The doctors and nurses were kind, nice and professional, but you could tell they all were weary and exhausted.

After our concert last night, we flew out on a C-17. We had to turn out all the lights and the pilots wore night-vision goggles to take off. They allowed me up in the cockpit once we were out of the war zone. I even got to wear the night vision goggles after they were no longer necessary. I had no idea there were so many stars in the sky! The pilots were extremely nice men, as are all of those who have helped us on this tour.

I told Colonol Mungavin, who is in charge of this operation, that I have a totally different perspective of the armed forces today. I knew there was camaraderie. I knew there was love and devotion. But I have rarely seen so much commitment to friends and comrads as I have witnessed on this trip. That is the most amazing aspect of this experience for me, meeting people who have bonded so closely they do not think twice about laying down their life for their buddies. The laughter is something I did not expect. Everyone I have met has had a positive attitude and a lot of gratitude, despite the fact that in Iraq there is so much dust and dirt that it is hard to breathe.


Last night's show was wonderful. Jamie O'Neal, the country artist that is on this tour with us knocked everyone's socks off with her set of songs. She has a strong, clear powerful voice. For whatever reason it seemed to be doubly powerful last night, and she rocked the house. John Popper from the Blues Travelers has had everyone out of their chairs on on their feet at every venue. He is such a great singer and harmonica player.

The best part of being with these talented artists, as well as with the New England Patriots Cheerleaders and the rest of the crew, has been getting to know them personally. John Popper comes across as a loud, obnoxious rock guy when he is performing, but the truth is he is a big teddy bear. He spends a lot of time with the cheerleaders, and most would assume that's for the obvious reasons, but he's like a big brother to the girls and fiercly protective of them. Jamie has a little girl at home, and this is her first trip away from her and we all know her heart is breaking, but each night she gets on stage and gives 110% for the troops, and never lets on that she is aching inside for her baby.

Most everyone we have met on this trip is aching inside for their babies, their children or partners or parents. Young men that are not as old as my own children haven't seen their girlfriends or wives for months. So many mothers have had to leave their children in order to come and serve. I am doing my best to encourage them and bring them love from back home. But I see the lonliness on their faces after the show is over.

It's great being a civilian with a microphone! I get to tease the commanders and poke fun at silly things that the officers and enlisted folks might think but never be able to say. I've had a blast meeting the generals and making them blush! They are all very nice and kind men who are grateful for the love and greetings that our listeners have sent to their troops here.

Yesterday the military police allowed me to drive one of their Hummers. Because I was raised on the dunes where we went four-wheeling for sport, I had a blast turning donuts in the desert and racing over the piles of rocks. My assistant Matty was sitting in the back, and didn't feel too good for a bit after the ride, but it was more fun than a roller coaster in a theme park.

The undisclosed location we are in is hot, dry and very boring. It's not an unsafe place, for the most part, but the people here work very hard day and night supporting their comrads in other locations. Mostly it's flat and arid, without a single tree for miles, not even a blade of grass. Good thing they don't allow dogs on this base. There are no bushes for them to visit! I'm not sure how the population of native people lived before the advent of planes and ships for food transportation. There is simply no vegitation that I have seen. The troops complain because in addition to no vegitation, there's no Starbucks (or Dunkin' Donuts - FN)!

They DO have a GREAT mess hall with delicious food, anything you could imagine: a taco bar, salad bar, hot home-cooked meals, pizza and more. They also have a great work-out club, a walking track and a spa where you can get a massage. I spoiled myself and got a massage after I worked out earlier. I thought about my friends and family back at home, imagining I am in harm's way, when really I am laying on a table getting a great back rub!

Now we are off to another location to put on another show. Jamie O'Neal sprained her ankle last night walking in the gravel, reaggravating an old injury, so she will be hobbling a bit on stage...I will be in my military style dress and my army-inspired boots from Nordstroms!"

While Delilah was away, we all prayed for her safe return. Inspired by Jane Olivor's latest CD called Safe Return, with a beautiful song by the same title, I wanted to ask producer Janie B to play that song on one of the shows while Delilah was away. But, alas, the show was in Christmas format, and the song wouldn't fit. So I didn't even ask.
Besides that, it seems (incredibly) that Janie O's songs don't make the appropriate demograhic marks in the focus groups and, therefore, they are not on the approved play list. But that's another issue for another time. Today, all of the bees in the hive, as well as her eight million listeners, are grateful for Delilah's safe return. I know it's selfish to say, but that includes me. OK, I admit it.

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