USO Tour (#31DaysofBlogging)

Early in the year, we got an email saying that the male country artist we were currently singing with was going to be going on a USO tour in April to Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Germany and we were going to be a part of it. We would be playing shows and meeting soldiers at various military bases all over these countries.

Enter Jill’s COMPLETE AND UTTER PANIC.

Enter Kate’s PURE EXCITEMENT AND EXHILARATION.

Guys, you may know us as “Jill and Kate” and find it hard to differentiate between the two, but we are VERY different people…no better demonstrated than in hearing this news. 

So we are going to each write about how we felt anticipating this trip.

Jill:

I’m not exactly proud of how nervous I was about this trip, but it’s the truth, so here it goes:

What you may or may not know about me is that I’ve got a little bit of the “Nervous Nell” syndrome. My sense of adventure exists, but exists within reason. I’m not a thrill seeker. I’m a safe, logical person for the most part. I think through things and like to have a plan. I like to have control of situations or at least know that they’re under control somehow. I live to know timelines. And I need to feel safe. Also, I’m a major introvert and need my alone time to keep my sanity.

What I knew about the USO tours was that basically everything was the opposite of my guidelines. You really don’t know what’s going on. Flight information isn’t shared with you for privacy/protection reasons. You might get to sleep and you might not. (GUYS, I LOVE MY SLEEP. So this one was especially scary.) You will probably get no time alone. And safety is always a risk.

Everything was unknown. I was also nervous to travel to that part of the world because I have never been there before. Don’t get me wrong, I felt safe knowing that we would be protected by the greatest military in the world, but even knowing that, I felt so uneasy about the whole thing. I went to my doctor and said “GIVE ME EVERYTHING.” Haha. Antibiotics, anti-anxiety, sleep medication. Judge me if you will, but I got it all.

The honest truth is that I was not looking forward to this trip. I’m a little ashamed to admit that, because I should’ve been able to suck it up. After all, we were going to support/thank our troops who spend months and months at a time over there risking their lives for ME, and I was freaking out about going for a week? I felt selfish, but at the same time, I was scared and dreading this trip.

I was trying not to be a total buzzkill for Kate who had extremely different feelings about the whole thing….

Kate:

When we got the email that delivered the news of the USO tour, my face immediately lit up. Like, a giant smile was splattered on my face (which coincidently did not make me a good, consoling friend as Jill processed the news. Sorry Jill.)

A USO tour had been on my bucket list ever since we started doing music and I found out that USO tours were a thing. I have a brother who served in the military and so the armed forces are near and dear to my heart. My brother has since retired but still...the thought of going over and meeting people like him made me want to be the first on the plane.

Now let’s talk about the fear factor. I am not an  “adrenaline junkie.” No sir. No thanks. I don’t like rollercoasters or riding fast on motorcycles and the thought of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane sounds insane or like the recipe for me having a literal heart attack. I do not like the feeling of falling.  I like playing it safe. If friends are jumping off a waterfall I’m the one panicked that there’s going to be a rock and someone is going to paralyze themselves. I’m all “oooh careful….are you sure….is it deep enough...wahhhh…” Some of my most frightened moments have been driving snowmobiles up the sides of mountains at night or four-wheeling in muddy terrain down steep ravines. But, oddly enough, flying in active war-zones did not frighten me. Not one bit. Not sure how that adds up, but it’s the truth.

I had full confidence that 1) the USO would not send us anywhere where the danger was very significant and 2) I love adventure. I crave it. I get it from my parents who raised me all over the world and pumped it into my veins at a young age. I loved leaving thinking of the people that I’d meet, the lands I would see and the stories I would be able to tell. I love telling stories. And again, the fact that my brother had served so fervently for my freedom for so long, I figured this was the least I could do. I so badly want to connect with my brother in this way. I wanted to look people in the eye myself and say thank you. I felt like this also might give me a tiny understanding of the life he lived for so long.

Plus...you may not know this about me but I’m sort of a military aviation nerd. Like, I may or may not have watched documentaries on it...haha...this sounds even more lame as I type it. #yesiamstillsingle. I love military aircrafts and so the thought of potentially riding in blackhawks or C-130’s literally made me giddy with excitement. Living in Colorado Springs for a few years as a kid, my dad would take me to the Air Force Academy and we’d watch F16’s fly by and I was in total awe. Just to be clear though...I have absolutely no desire to go in a fighter jet...wayyyyy too fast and “rollercoaster-esque” for me.

So, I tried to assure Jill that all would be well and to just accept this gift of adventure and the unknown. And then we prayed. Like, a lot.

The truth is, we could never have prepared for the experience we had over there. We aren’t able to share every detail and picture because of the safety of the men/women still over there, but we are going to share with you what we can. We wish everyone was able to do this trip. It was challenging at times, but it was such an amazing learning experience and an honor to be a part of.

At one base in Afghanistan, we arrived in our dorm-like room (bunk beds and all!) to find instructions on what to do in case of an incoming rocket. (We memorized those instructions immediately and then prayed that we would not have to use them.) We heard helicopters flying back and forth over us all night. We woke up to the sound of people in the city saying their morning prayers. We flew in blackhawks and chinooks and huge military airplanes that we’ve only ever seen in movies. We rode in tanks (holy claustrophobia!) We met Generals who gave us military challenge coins. We went to a hospital and visited wounded soldiers. You guys, this part of the trip made it all so real. Like, these were men who had just suffered major injuries hours earlier. They were being awarded purple hearts. We got to stand in the hospital room and it was hard to even focus on the honor being handed out with all of the beeping of the IV machines, the smell of blood and the palpable tension in the air. This was one of the last stops on the trip and we were exhausted but this forever will be ingrained in our hearts and minds. Tears welled up in our eyes as we thought of their loved ones getting the dreaded call earlier that day. It was all I (Kate) could do not to just run over and hug them, hold their hands and be their family while they had none closeby. It literally was a harsh reality of the cost of freedom and of the giant looming reality that these men and women face each day.

While we were on the ground in most places we had to wear protective gear every time we traveled (which was often.) Walking to and from planes/helicopters, etc. we were weighted down with 40lb flak jackets and helmets. These were both non-flattering and non-comfortable but we wore them with great gratitude.

When we got off a giant plane there were 4 blackhawks fueled and ready to go...rotor blades turning. I immediately leaned over to Jill and said, “Omg, I hope those are for us.” She politely replied, “Oh gosh, I hope they’re not.” Ha. Well, they were for us and let’s just say it was the coolest flight of my life. Well, second coolest because the next day we were in a different helicopter and the pilots invited me to sit up in the jump seat. That’s right. I got to sit in the cockpit and be on radio and hear everything. Incredible.

We met good looking soldiers ;) who took good care of us and told us how long they had been there and how long until they got to go home. Everyone knew EXACTLY how long they had left. We met moms who hadn’t seen their babies in 8 months. We ate in the Defac (dining halls) with rows and rows of tables full of YOUNG men and women who are sacrificing so much for us and it was humbling. We heard their stories and they asked us ours. We ate a lot of ice cream after every meal which they found hilarious for some reason. (We have a newfound love for Pralines n’ Cream.)

We sang them songs. They were so grateful to have concerts that let them escape their reality for an hour and a half. Music MOVES people. We know this. We’ve seen it all over the world. But this was different. These guys and girls were so happy and appreciative of the entertainment that our group was bringing to them. That was such a huge honor to be a part of.

We can sometimes struggle with the belief that what we do (music) can be trite or unimportant, but this helped us see that the opposite is true. Music brings joy, peace, escape, nostalgia...and so much more. To be a part of that was one of the greatest privileges we have had so far in our career.

So in the end, Jill’s nerves and fears were far outweighed by the amazing experiences that Kate had anticipated all along.

We will absolutely never forget this trip and it has truly changed our perspective in a big way. THANK YOU to everyone who has served this country. We are truly humbled and so very grateful for your sacrifice.

God Bless the USA.

Coming up tomorrow...we’ll be talking about women, body image, and how being called “HUGE” shifted our year in a big way.

With much love and appreciation,

j&k

Getting all ready for the trip...

Getting all ready for the trip...

Hey Kate, your headband is upside down. Cool look, though.

Hey Kate, your headband is upside down. Cool look, though.

Kate's on cloud 9.

Kate's on cloud 9.

Jill's FREAKED OUT face. Subtle, but true.

Jill's FREAKED OUT face. Subtle, but true.

Driving through Kuwait.

Driving through Kuwait.

Kuwait City.

Kuwait City.

Crazy cool sunsets. 

Crazy cool sunsets. 

Getting a tour of the base.

Getting a tour of the base.

Kate in her happy place.

Kate in her happy place.

Selfie in a tank.

Selfie in a tank.

Flak jackets and helmets ready to go.

Flak jackets and helmets ready to go.

Ready to travel...

Ready to travel...

All strapped in.

All strapped in.

On another plane...

On another plane...

With our new friend Cherie who was the official USO photographer. We love her!

With our new friend Cherie who was the official USO photographer. We love her!

Sleeping quarters...

Sleeping quarters...

Wide awake at 3am. Hello jet lag.

Wide awake at 3am. Hello jet lag.

Can you hear me now?

Can you hear me now?

Epic.

Epic.

So grateful.

So grateful.

God bless the USA!

God bless the USA!