Hi Broncos Country, reporting back to you from Tikrit, Iraq. Well, we were supposed to be on a C-130 to Baghdad, but due to a sandstorm we were grounded in Speicher for another day. We had no problem finding something to fill our time. Our military tour guide, Carmen, set up a Special Forces tour for us where we were able to explore the MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) and even hang out on the gun range. We were all brave enough to shoot M-9 pistols and a few of us even shot automatic M-4s. After taking several pictures and signing autographs with the Special Forces Unit we made a surprise visit to the soldiers at the car wash and by car wash we mean tank wash! They were so excited to see us.
We were really lucky to be staying at “Freedom Rest” which is where soldiers go to stay for R&R. We joined them for a pizza party that evening. Afterwards, we had time to watch movies, catch up on emails and phone calls back home, swim at the pool, and even play a little ping-pong.
The sandstorm cleared up and we made our way to Baghdad on another C-130 plane. We were all in shock to be in Baghdad…a place you only hear of and see in movies. We even had our own anthem “Broncos over Baghdad”. We instantly fell in love with our MWR guide, Julia, who was continuously briefing us on the history of Baghdad and Saddam Hussein. We were staying at the Victory Base Compound, which is where Saddam himself entertained thousands of people during his time in power. He also used the land as a hunting reserve, where he brought in his own animals from around the world to hunt. The property on the base is filled with extravagant buildings and man-made lakes. Saddam believed anything that happened on a body of water was not seen by the god, Allah. We went on a tour of The Al Faw Palace, which is the headquarters for the US military in Iraq. The commanding 4-Star Army General resides here.
Next, it was Blackhawk time! It was our first Blackhawk ride and the first time in a helicopter for most of us. It was an unbelievable experience! We were able to look out over all of Baghdad and even saw some wild camels running in the desert. We flew to FOB Hammer (a Forward Operating Base); it was the smallest base we had visited thus far. There were 150 soldiers on base and 900 civilians. As we drove to the recreation center for our performance we came to an immediate stop as soon as we saw the “Denver Broncos Road” street sign! It was the perfect photo opportunity. Although the center at Hammer was our smallest facility, the crowd was our best yet! We were told that Hammer had never seen so many people attend a show in 7 years. Some highlights from the show included a serenaded performance by 2 soldiers singing Usher and a push-up routine performed by Allyson on a pool table due to the lack of space on the stage. We took a night time Blackhawk ride back to Victory Base and enjoyed seeing all of Baghdad at night…it was absolutely beautiful!
We were taken on a tour of Camp Slayer at Victory Base. We were told that we would probably be the last American group that was going to ever tour Camp Slayer.
A few fun facts we learned on our tour:
We learned so much history and were so appreciative to have our tour guide, Julia, who was a plethora of information!
After our tour it was time to leave Baghdad. We left Baghdad on another C-130 plane to go to COB (Contingency Operating Base) Delta. We were only on base for a couple minutes before jumping on another Blackhawk to go to FOB Eastern Barracks. Eastern Barracks is a JSS (Joint Security Station) which means that it was both an American and Iraqi military base. There were only 80 soldiers on base and they were thrilled to see us! We were scheduled to go to another FOB, but due to ANOTHER sandstorm we were stranded at the Eastern Barracks DFAC (cafeteria). We were really disappointed that we did not get to meet the soldiers at FOB Gary Owen and Kalzoo. Although we were stranded at Eastern Barracks, we couldn’t have been in better company. Since the base was so small we were fortunate to meet almost every soldier on base and a special few hilarious ones who entertained us with their comedy. They didn’t seem to mind that we were stranded at their base!
The sandstorm finally cleared up and we were able to take off on the Blackhawks back to COB Delta. Mid-flight the sandstorm picked back up and we had to make an emergency landing in Talil, Iraq at Camp Adder. We were a little disappointed because we were scheduled to have a show back at COB Delta. We found out that there were 800 soldiers waiting for us to show up and perform.
Since we were stranded without any personal amenities we made a quick stop to the PX on base in order to purchase toothbrushes, face wash, and our Men’s Hanes shirts. Our military guide was impressed with what troopers we were!
We were up bright and early in order to catch our plane back to Delta, but once again, the weather was not cooperating. This trip has certainly taught us to “go with the flow” and we have tried to make the most of every situation. We slept in the airport for a few hours hoping to catch a plane, but since the weather wasn’t improving we took our time to eat lunch with the troops. The day continued to get even more interesting as our entertainment tour guide accidentally lost her passport after throwing it in one of the trash bins at lunch.
After hours of stressing over the lost passport and sitting in the airport at Adder base we were finally able to fly and we made it back to COB Delta. When we landed in Delta we were notified that the passport was found by an incredible group of soldiers that dug through the dumpsters to find it. Our servicemen truly will do anything for us!
Tonight was our final show and we had time to get ready and head off to the stage. We were all very emotional that it was our last show and we were determined to make it the best! The stage was absolutely perfect; it was outdoors, bleacher seating, and palm trees surrounding the back drop. There was even a fire truck parked near the stage so the fire fighters could enjoy the show as well. We were all having bittersweet emotions prior to the show knowing that it was our last show of the trip and we may never have the opportunity to come back to Iraq again. As always before any performance, we had our group prayer and we each said our memory of the trip and what we were grateful for. With heartfelt tears of joy and energy running high we took the stage for our final show.
Not only was there a diehard bronco fan in attendance with a broncos tattoo but the soldiers even started the wave in the bleachers…we felt right at home! By the end of the show we had the soldiers on their feet singing and clapping along to songs like, “Shook Me All Night Long” and “Magic Carpet Ride”. At the end of the show we were presented with certificates of appreciation from one of the Commanding Officers and once again WE were the ones that felt appreciative to all of our service men and women.
Our last official breakfast with the troops and we all made the most of it. It has become one of our favorite parts of the tour, having the privilege to eat with the soldiers and hearing their stories. After breakfast we went on a tour of the Medevac (Medical Evacuation) unit. The Medevac is the team who attends to POIs (Point of Injury). Their crew welcomed us with open arms and let us tour and sit in the newest Blackhawks the military has issued to the Medevac teams.
We had time to kill before our flight so we drove around base and even did a little souvenir shopping. After killing some time we packed our bags for what we planned to be a 45 minute flight back to Kuwait. Instead of the short trip to Kuwait we took a detour up to the northeastern corner of Iraq, near the border of Turkey. Here we picked up several congressmen from California, Texas, and St. Louis. They were in Iraq for a conference with other Americans and the Prime Minister of Iraq. From there we took the 2 hour flight headed back down south down to Kuwait.
We were excited to be back in Kuwait and see our “family” (security staff) that we had grown to love when we first arrived in Kuwait at the beginning of our tour. We were also welcomed by the Chief from Adder who personally flew to Kuwait to hand deliver the found passport to our entertainment tour guide. We all couldn’t believe it!
We had a full day in Kuwait to regroup, reflect, and repack our bags before heading back home to the states. Again, we had such a bittersweet feeling knowing that we were going home, but feeling like we still wanted to stay to support our troops. After hearing comments on the tour like, “Thank you for bringing a little piece of home out to us”, “You girls are a reminder of why we are out here fighting”, “This was the best part of my deployment”, “I’m now a Broncos Fan!”, makes us want to stay longer to reach out to more soldiers. We were blessed to meet so many service men and women including many soldiers from Colorado that we cannot wait to reunite with and acknowledge at our Broncos game for the Military Salute.
The trip came and went so fast and we know the experiences we had and memories we made will be cherished forever. We all have a new sense of American pride! As we continue to pray for our troops, let us all be grateful and remember the sacrifices they are making for us to live in the land of freedom – Broncos Country!
Sincerely from the Middle East,
Allyson, Heather, Jessica, Kelly, Kim, Lindy