July 16, 2012 - Preparations

As National Wild Turkey Federation spokesperson, I’ll be heading overseas today along with several other outdoor personalities as we support our troops as part of the Outdoor Legends Tour. Jim Shockey, Bill Miller and I will be traveling to military bases in Germany and Southwest Asia to entertain and thank U.S. troops.

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We used a large world map to help two of the grandkids better comprehend the geography of my upcoming travels for the Outdoor Legends Tour. I’m not sure how well they comprehended the stories of my grandfather fighting a war in Germany and now I am going there to visit our injured troops in Landstuhl Hospital.

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Only one person in my family has ever been to Germany. My grandfather fought there long ago when he was hardly more than a kid. Now, I will going there to bring support and appreciation to injured members of our military with the Outdoor Legends Tour. Life sure is a twisty road.

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I’m packing my gear, dissecting maps and feeling a connection to an ancestor I hardly knew.

Jul 17, 2012 - Leaving Nashville

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Although I fly out of the Nashville airport several times each month, this time is different. I am going to personally tell our fighting and injured military that we patriotic Americans of the hunting community respect and appreciate them. This is not about if we agree or how we feel about the wars we are fighting on foreign soils, it is about the fact that these are our own sons and daughters who are making supreme sacrifices so every American can enjoy the many freedoms that we have all sometimes taken for granted.

As is normal for me, I stepped in it before I got out of town. A distinguished looking gentleman who looked vaguely familiar sat near me at the airport gate. I asked him if he was our Tennessee Governor, Mr. Bill Haslam, to which he grinned and replied, “No, I’m Bob Corker, the State Representative.” I was close! And, he did agree they often were mistaken for one another. That made me feel a little less embarrassed.

When I landed in Philadelphia, a gentleman seated in front of me, traveling with his family, stopped to comment, ” Mrs. Palin, it is an honor to meet you. I’m glad you decided not to run for president and instead to spend time and focus on your family.” Grinning, I explained to him that I was not the real Sarah Palin, although hardly a day passes that someone doesn’t make a similar comment. Guess I am not the only one that suffers from mistaken identity syndrome now and then.

Later,

Brenda

 

Safe Arrival, More to Come

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I am alive and well in Afghanistan, however, I still have very limited access to Internet and no laptop or clothes besides those I bought at the PX, thanks to Turkish Airlines. The troops have been great to us and more than a few have learned the new skill of turkey calling.

Day 1 - Germany to Istanbul

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Gazing out the window of Flight 700 headed to Frankfurt, Germany, I watched the last fragment of US soil near Philadelphia, PA, slowly fade from sight while pondering what lay ahead for our small group of pioneers. Over a year ago I was contacted by Armed Forces Entertainment and Paralyzed Veterans of America about being among a selected few for a special mission called the “Outdoor Legend’s Tour”. The plan was that a small group of hunting personalities representing the North American hunting community would visit troops inside a war zone to personally thank them for their service and sacrifices. This was not to be a big production, entertainment-type tour but rather a personal handshaking marathon trip with stops to as many camps as possible. This kind of mission had never been attempted and every detail would have to be carefully orchestrated if it was to be carried out safely and successfully.

Members of this small, diverse group consisted of:

  • Bill Miller, from MN, a pillar of the outdoor media world and an all-around nice guy. Bill was at the helm of the huge “North American Hunter” magazine and TV show for 28 years and has extensive gun and hunting knowledge. While Bill is experienced with all types of hunting, his specialty is waterfowl and upland birds with a real love for training sporting dogs.
  • Jim Shockey, a world-renowned big game hunter and award-winning TV host. Jim is from Canada and a wise choice for this mission, since so many Canadian military men are serving alongside our US troops and allies from so many countries. His trademark black cowboy hat was recognizable to hunters from everywhere.
  • Lt. Col. Lew Deal, a retired Navy cobra pilot who now works with Armed Forces Entertainment among other military and veterans organizations. We were all glad to have someone along to advise us on military protocol. Although Lew was our official escort, he soon became just one of the guys.
    Ronnie (Cuz) Strickland, from MS, the man behind the many successful Mossy Oak TV productions as well as a recognizable hunting personality, was scheduled to be a part of our group from the get-go, however, the timing for the trip occurred during a family health crisis. I really felt bad for Cuz since it was truly in his heart to support and commend our fighting men and women in the field.
  • I completed this diverse quartet. And, there is no doubt in my mind that the many service people I met from the southern US appreciated hearing a familiar accent with a sincere “Thank Y’all”.

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Our group met at dawn for the first time at the Frankfurt airport after all night flights. The good news was there was a driver in a big red bus there to meet us. The bad news waas that we couldn’t check into our hotel rooms until 2:30 that afternoon. As much as our bodies were screaming rest, our adventuresome spirits were chomping at the bit to explore. We chartered a boat up the Rhine River and was fascinated by the towering granite castles amongst the miles of well-maintained vineyards, both defying time and progress as the river rolled on.

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Lunch was in a quaint old villa near the river with ancient grape vines adorning the canopies and open-air dining. I was enjoying the ambience of the experience with unfamiliar background music and other diners chatting in unknown tongues when a rocking blast of “Cotton Eye Joe” spit out of speakers someplace. The tune and music was the same but the words were being sung in German. How is that for a hybrid culture? It took me a long study of the menu to decide on what to order. Mainly because I couldn’t read it and if I could figure out the words I wasn’t sure what it was.

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A “pig knuckle” sounded pretty wholesome and something I could identify with, however, I didn’t expect it to be the better part of a hog’s leg. Bill and I had enough pork to share with everyone. So far I’m digging these German ways. Two-stepping music and pig knuckles, what else could a country girl want??

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We spent our first night in Germany at the Hotel Paulushof, which was originally a monastery and then an orphanage, among other things. This place was brimming with old world character. The first stop of the day was the USO Warrior Center at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

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Sick or injured military personnel are first transported to this hospital for treatment or therapy before coming to the states or going back to the deployment, whatever the situation may be. The Warrior Center was such a clean and supportive place. There is a swarm of activities for the patients, the food is fresh, tasty, and plentiful, moral is high and many of the staff are hunters.

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I just happened to have a copy of Turkey Country to add to their library and gave a few turkey calling lessons using a drinking straw. We signed pictures and spent time with the rehabilitating servicemen much of the day.

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After lunch, we were taken on a tour of the hospital and offered an opportunity to visit the patients. As far as hospitals go this one was very good. The US built it in the early 1950’s and it still looks brand new. Everything was sparkling clean, the staff was professional but super courteous and friendly, and best of all it didn’t smell like a hospital.

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Patients seemed pleased to see and talk with folks from home. The common theme I noticed from every conversation was the desire to get back with their comrades and the regret that they weren’t there to help their unit complete their mission.

Following the day visiting our hospitalized and recuperating service members, we had our last German dining experience. Kangaroo meat was on the buffet along with a few other critters I can’t pronounce. Yes, of course I tried it! Not bad at all.

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After another all night flight with a stop in Istanbul we arrived in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan where the Manas Military Base is located. LT. Col. Lew couldn’t wait to don his Mossy Oak “Turkey Thug” cap.

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On the other hand, I couldn’t wait to find an English speaking person so I could report my missing luggage. Folks kept telling me not to worry, it was JUST luggage. I have a theory about missing luggage and toothaches. Both are whole lot more serious when they are yours!

Day 2 - Austerity

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Welcome to Camp Manas near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan! Thousands of troops transient through here each month. We arrived a little before dawn and, after a short briefing, settled in to bunks. Since I had only the clothes I was wearing there wasn’t much unpacking to do. Thank goodness my toothbrush, passport, American flags, and cell phone were in my backpack. I figured I could borrow Shockey’s hair dryer and Miller’s lip-gloss.

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Everyone was packing and dragging firepower except us hunters. We were feeling pretty underdressed for the occasion.

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Soon we were issued protective gear and were feeling overdressed. The vest had thick bullet-proof plates surrounding our vitals that felt as if they weighed a ton. No kidding, the vest alone was like wearing two concrete blocks over your shoulders …and I am a very strong woman. I can’t imagine how some of the small-frame girls handle this piece of gear all day in the triple-digit heat. My helmet is certainly off to the female service members.

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This powerful sign is posted at the artillery area of Camp Manas, where we were introduced to all kinds of high-tech weaponry. That evening we had a formal meet & greet with the troops at Pete’s Place, the main gathering point of the camp. We met servicemen from everywhere but a group of former Florida cowboys from the Red Horse Unit and some guys from Guam hung with us till quitting time. I met a couple of young female enlistees from the St. Louis area who wanted to get into turkey hunting. The common thread we all shared was the love of country and hunting.

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I saw lots of last minute good-byes and faces filled with a myriad of emotions among the shifting troops at Manas. My teammates’ bags finally arrived and I held out hope until the last minute that mine would come straggling in, but no such luck. The PX was small with limited inventories and almost no clothing for women. I purchased a towel, a package of men’s T-shirts, socks and 2 pairs of men’s trousers right before we went on lock-down for the flight to Afghanistan. My laptop, good boots and stacks of neatly ironed Mossy Oak RedHead shirts with matching tactical pants would never find me now.

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I learned a lot that day. “Lock-down” simply meant being locked in a very hot large tent with all your belongings along with a whole bunch of other sweaty people for a couple of hours while someone in the front screamed orders so fast I couldn’t understand a word. Thank goodness Lt. Col. Deal could interpret the announcements for me. Someone tipped me off that the seats along the sides of the plane were the best but they were all filled when I boarded and far be it for me to argue over a seat …especially when the occupant is wearing a 9-mm and I’m just wearing a boat anchor in the shape of a vest.

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I believe there is justice.

Can you believe that no sooner had I found my seat in the cramped front-middle of the plane, I struck up a conversation with a young man in a tan jumpsuit. He was a hunter so we hit it off immediately. As the cargo was being loaded he asked if I would like to ride in the cockpit with him and the other pilot as we flew from Kyrgyzstan to deliver the load of passengers and gear. He didn’t have to ask me twice.

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The sky was crystal clear, giving me an eagle’s eye view of the mountains below.

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Somewhere in Afghanistan we landed and about a dozen passengers loaded on a C-117 along with a menagerie of pallets, fuel tanks, and things I had not a clue what was. However, there was all kinds of against-the-wall seating availability on this flight. We landed in Camp Bagram sometime before midnight. Our contact was there to meet us and assign us a bunk.

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This place had none of the casualness we found in Manas. The obvious fortifications spelled war zone.

Day 3 - Getting Acquainted

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The Army, the Marines, and the Hunters unite.

Yes, there are a few female Marines and this one is an avid hunter, too.

Having never served in the military, I’m not exactly sure what I expected camp atmosphere to be like. The truth is, things were way different than what I thought they might be…in a very good way. It occurred to me early the first morning, when I followed my nose to the nearest coffee pot, how courteous everyone was, not only to me but to each other, be they military, civilian contractors, or local workers. Early morning joggers exchanged warm greetings, food servers smiled sincerely, pleasantries were exchanged between every rank and station. It was not just the greetings that caught my attention but the manners and respect that is often lacking in our society. Small gestures such as holding doors open and addressing others with Sir or Ma’am. It was so uplifting to see and feel this wonderful attitude. I can truthfully say that I saw not one act of rudeness during the entire tour. I’m sure I will talk more on this later simply because I was so impressed.

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Up to this point we just thought we had been busy: the storm was about to be unleashed. Our group had adjusted well to the mounting air miles and 12-hour time difference. We were anxious to shake hands and exchange hunting stories with the troops.

The first camp where we dropped in had a fine lunch ready followed by a lengthy meet and greet in the dining area, or DFAC as they referred to it. Each of us was presented with a certificate of appreciation by the Chief of Staff, given a tour of the compound and briefed on the state of affairs. I was especially pleased when permission was granted to display the American flags I had brought from home. The Amvets Post 45 had entrusted me to bring their flags and messages of encouragement and brotherhood to this war torn country. One generous officer gave me extra flags to add to my collection. There is no telling where these might surface some day for a good cause.

These folks were the epitome of hospitality. Many hailed from Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Tennessee, so I felt right at home and wished we could have stayed longer but our chariot was waiting and so was another camp full of service men and women who were anxious to talk hunting.

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It is hard to say enough about the hospitality and the warm receptions each of the Afghanistan camps offered. One particular unit made a road sign from a target (notice the holes) with directions to each of our home towns. Check out the caps. These were personalized gifts from a Special Forces unit. Mine will go in my collection curio of treasures. While visiting with one camp that had seen its fair share of action, a young guard noticed my turquoise cross necklace and said, “I see you are a Christian, please take this gift.” It was a rosary made of beautiful black beads. I reasoned with him that considering his present situation he might need it more than me but he would not hear of it. That is another special gift I shall always treasure.

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Lt. Col. (ret) Lew Deal, form the Armed Forces Entertainment and also Hope For The Warriors, had the forethought to get a zillion of these autograph photos printed before the trip. I can’t begin to estimate how many we signed but often it was hurriedly done in unusual circumstances. This photo was taken inside a Blackhawk helicopter using the top of my helmet for a desk. The pilot/co-pilot/and gunners were all hunters but couldn’t get off duty to attend the official meet & greets.

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From Generals to Snipers to Doctors to Pilots to Septic Truck Drivers, we were given an opportunity to meet and spend time with each department and learn about their specific part in Operation Enduring Freedom. It was so nice to learn more of the humanitarian projects that are going on in that country. I must not have been watching the National News when they explained about the schools we have started for Afghan children and how much of the focus is on helping young girls get an education. I didn’t know that childbirth was the number 1 killer of women there and that we have established birthing clinics staffed with female doctors to assist these women. I also didn’t know that, in some camps, as many as 18 Allied countries are working and fighting side-by-side to help these people gain their independence. It was also news to me that the U.S. and our Allies are teaching the Afghans to govern and sustain themselves as they gradually gain control of their homeland. Above all, I am so thankful I had the opportunity to see the kind and caring nature of the greatest military force on earth, the United States Armed Forces.

Day 4 - Let the Fun Begin

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Each day we were scheduled to visit two outlying camps. This meant getting out early donned in heavy protective gear and hopping into a Blackhawk helicopter to ride from each location.

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I really enjoyed these flights with the fresh air blowing through the open doors and the sights of the country below us.

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Of course there were capable men and women armed with machine guns pointed out the chopper doors at all times, too.

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One of the most memorable camps we visited took us on a sight-seeing tour followed by an opportunity to shoot their weapons and then to share a meal. As luck would have it, a sandstorm blew in at the appointed return flight time and we were able to spend several more hours with this great group. I’m sure my traveling companions will agree this was the most relaxing and entertaining evening of the entire trip.

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This camp was all about shooting and we were the perfect group to appreciate every opportunity offered. They even had an archery range set up and a small assortment of recurve and compound PSE bows. None of the bows actually fit me but that is such a minor detail when so far from home.

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The troops had the range ready with a wide assortment of weaponry and ample ammo waiting for us. Qualified instructors were available at every station to brief us on each particular firearm. Granted, none looked like my old Browning deer gun which made the experience even more fun. I soon figured out the basics are all the same: just aim and shoot.

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This turreted .50 cal required a little different shooting technique. I likened it to high caliber texting since my thumbs were now my trigger fingers. With no recoil, a flat trajectory and a comfortable seat, this thing could become habit forming.

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I have always felt that everyone should learn to shoot a firearm with open sights first before advancing to optics. My early squirrel hunting days with an open-sighted single-shot .22 was a firm foundation for catching on to this much larger firearm. The only problem I had was the hot shell casing rolling under my forearms and frying the skin on both arms. Thank goodness for a good old southern country doctor amongst the forces who patched me up quick as a wink.

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From recurve bows to M2-.50 cals from AK47’s to 9-mm side arms, we shot them all. However, one of the coolest things in the arsenal was this rocket launcher. The back blast is ferocious for anyone behind the shooter but the actual shooting wasn’t bad. I blew a tank to smithereens at almost 300 yds as did both Bill Miller and Jim Shockey. I give credit to our years of shooting and hunting experience for the flexibility to easily switch from one firearm to another.

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No, we didn’t actually shoot these antique Russian tanks but it was fun just checking them out. This equipment bone yard is a rusting reminder of a country that has seen more than its share of war and misery.

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Every camp had hardworking women capably carrying out whatever jobs they were trained for. Everywhere I went they expressed to me how nice it was to have a female civilian visitor in camp. Many of these women have husbands and children back home, so please remember all of these special military members in your prayers.

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As the fun afternoon wore on, a distant sand storm began to cloud the setting sun, making for an amazingly beautiful sky and dangerous flying conditions. I will continue this story soon.

Day 5 - Old Glory

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With the sandstorm delaying our pickup flight, we were given bonus time with this Special Forces unit. This unexpected opportunity pleased us all since we’d had such a fun afternoon on the range and our group had bonded almost instantly with many of them. Members of the camp were eager to display one of the flags I’d been carrying on this incredible journey.

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Old Glory was always shown honor, respect and reverence each time it was displayed. The handlers in each camp were disciplined in the correct manner of folding and carrying our flag. Every American should feel a patriotic pride whenever they see the Stars & Stripes knowing there have been hundreds of thousands throughout history who have given their lives to defend that flag and our freedom.

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Flags were flying everywhere. This colorful group was flapping proudly in the center of a base. It reminded me of a flower garden blooming brightly in the center of a land devoid of color. Notice the American flag is flying at half staff. I learned it is presented in that position all over Afghanistan in honor of those that have fallen there.

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Allied forces in each camp displayed their country’s flag alongside our American flag. This display of unity was prominent in most camps. The desert wind, sun and sand is brutal to everything and the flags are not spared the ravages of the elements. Although sometimes dirty and worn, they all still hang strong and proud.

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This camp had such a large Canadian force they asked if their flag could also be honored. As quick as a wink someone fetched the Canadian maple leaf and it was stretched inside the courtyard where we had previously displayed my US flag. The Canadian’s loved having one of their own (Jim Shockey) representing them on this tour. These were some of the friendliest folks we met and I’m so pleased to call them our good neighbors to the north.

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As day was dawning on an almost deserted street, I was drawn to how lonely this one flag appeared. It had patiently hung at half staff throughout the nightly vigil and was now proudly ready to face a new day and whatever that might bring.

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I realize these photos may seem repetitious, however, I cannot stress how many times these same ceremonies were repeated wherever we went and how moving and meaningful each was. I do not apologize for the repetitions.

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The flag ceremonies each ended the same way,with me being presented with a perfectly folded flag which meant there was no red showing. These flags were to fly again by brave men and women in this war torn country, but I’ll save those photos and stories for another diary post.

Day 6 - Big Night in Camp

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As I’ve mentioned, my luggage was lost on the flights from Germany and the few things I did have in my backpack were perhaps a bit nontypical. I had my passport, kindle, American flags, lip balm, a Mossy Oak cap with the NWTF logo, a light jacket and one of my Sweet Talk turkey calls. Might as well make the best of every situation is my motto.

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With the sandstorm halting our pickup and time to spare in camp I figured this bunch of southern boys would enjoy doing a little turkey calling. Most of them were turkey hunters but as with any group of hunters their skill and experience levels ranged widely. They were quick to critique each other’s calling or sometimes just scowl if the notes were off key. I finally parted with the Sweet Talk call in this camp and left it for them to practice on till the time they are able to come home and actually use their calling skills in the turkey woods.

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Certainly not all our time was spent riding in helicopters, displaying flags and shooting weapons. Our mission was to personally thank and shake hands with as many of the troops as possible and deliver a message of gratitude from the American hunting community. Each of us were so very honored to have this opportunity and we thoroughly enjoyed spending one on one time with each person. Of course, many of these servicemen and women were hunters and had grown up watching hunting shows on TV so they were eager to get pictures and autographs. Our team felt humbled every time this happened because we knew they were the real heroes.

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The sandstorm had us temporarily stranded and by now the troops were feeling pretty well at ease with us. What started as one soldier asking us to autograph his guitar ended in a full fledged jam session.

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The guys built a nice evening fire near the high wall and one by one the instruments came out of storage. Soon there were two guitars, a bongo drum, some sort of tambourine in a box, and even a banjo. I was so tempted to join in with my turkey call and wish now I had. No one there really seemed to be playing the same song and none of us really cared. It was just one of those soothing kicked-back nights that can never be planned. There is a strict ban on alcohol in any military camp in Afghanistan. However, I think everyone was slightly intoxicated from the lack of stress for a few hours and such a perfect ending to a good day. These troops told us they had been in this camp for two years and we were the first civilians they had seen. There is not much traffic to small camps out in the boonies.

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One other item I found hidden in a pocket of my pack were a few DVDs of Bass Pro hunting shows. The video production staff at Bass Pro Shops headquarters in Springfield, MO had copied many of our hunts onto these discs to give the troops. Luckily, I had tucked three or four in my pack before the rest of my bags went missing. The wind calmed in camp, the fire blazed high and the guitar pickers’ fingers got sore about the time some techno wizard figured out how to rig up a movie screen using the concrete wall surrounding the camp. Watching a Kansas deer hunt under the Afghan stars with a bunch of new friends is another large deposit to my memory bank.

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I really appreciate the Bass Pro Video Dept. for taking the time to prepare these videos for me to give the troops. They thoughtfully selected hunts from many geographic locations in hopes that servicemen might recognize places from home. Not every camp had the means to play them for group viewing but I’m sure those that did enjoyed them. The message at the top of the menu is genuine and sincere from everyone at Bass Pro Shops.

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Time to leave this ancient place. It was close to midnight when the Blackhawks got clearance to fly and I regret that I didn’t get photos of that ride. The cool night air blowing in the open sides of the helicopter was soothing as we lifted above the camp that had such a history of turmoil. The few camp lights soon faded below us, replaced by the stars above us as each stared at the darkness reflecting on this wonderful day; our evening with the troops around the fire, making our own brand of music, watching movie reruns, and just being thankful for having a short break from the realities of war.

Day 7 - Palatial Splendor

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The days of our trip were winding down. So far we had been in and out of at least two camps each day. Every one of them was staffed with incredibly nice people who seemed overwhelmed to have us hang out with them a while. I felt safe under the guard of these capable servicemen and women. We visited one of the most interesting camps towards the end of our tour. I think you will agree.

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I spotted the Queen’s Palace from the air as we swooped by in the Blackhawk helicopter. The roof damage was monumental but I was more taken by the grandeur of what was once the home of the Queen of Afghanistan.

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The grand old palace stood on a hill high above the camp and was visible from every location. It was a short distance from the heli-pad. The temperature that day was way beyond hot but even so we were anxious to see more of this once magnificent structure that bore so many scars and held so much history. We were told that there was as much of the palace below ground as there was above ground. The King’s Castle was on another hill well over a mile away and underground tunnels connected the two. Look closely and you can see openings on the terraced walls at the base of the palace.

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The Queen’s Palace was constructed in the early 1920’s. It is mostly built of marble and granite. Even then it sported indoor plumbing and electricity, which I’m sure few other homes in Afghanistan had. The palace was taken over by the Russians in the 1950’s and a Russian officers compound was built in a nearby area outside of Kabul. The lovely old mansion has changed owners twice since then. Al-Qaida claimed it for a while until the US and our Allies took control of it and gave it back to the Afghan people. These people keep a squad of watchful guards over it now.

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The King’s Castle (left) is visible in the distance as is the Russian officers’ compound from the Queen’s Palace. Underground tunnels connected the King and Queen’s homes. Today, razor wire and bomb shelters surround the place.

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My tour companions and armed escorts walked the winding road to the top of Palace Hill. Bomb squads were sweeping alongside the roadway. Note the white spray paint marks that indicate a possible explosive device is buried there. Most all of the surrounding structures have been demolished in the many attacks over the years.

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Halfway up the hill we stopped to sip water and check out the view. The guard on duty offered his seat in the shade to us. This was the only bit of shade there was anywhere but we were anxious to see the palace and trudged on.

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Far below the palace was a small village that apparently had a good water source. I saw clusters of trees with children playing in their shade and several cows lounging near the adobe wall. There were small blocks of green fields and gardens that I assumed were on some type of irrigation system. Those cattle were the first and only animals I saw in that country except a few ravens and doves around the camps.

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The Afghan guards kept a constant vigil of the palace. They have a commanding view of the area from their fortress on top of the hill.

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Floor after floor and room after room of the palace was a wonderful discovery tour back in time. It was easy to imagine gala parties and happier times in the large open areas that were remindful of an American ballroom. The winding marble stairways with wrought iron banisters connected the floors as did a primitive elevator. The many open-air verandas in every direction offered views of the surrounding countryside. Despite the disrespect and desecration she had received over the years, we were simply in awe of this grand old mansion.

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I couldn’t resist sitting in the Queen’s own bathtub. After all, it’s not every day that I have the opportunity to sit where the Queen once sat. Note the large oval bathtub is lined with one solid piece of hollowed marble. This was only one of many bathrooms in the palace but most were heavily damaged or destroyed. Almost all the rooms were very spacious and well lit, with natural light pouring in from the abundant windows. The walls of the palace were several feet thick in some places so this made the interior very comfortable compared to the relentless sun bearing down outside.

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There were so many options for scenic places to honor the flags I brought that I just couldn’t decide, so I asked our patient escorts if they minded if we displayed Old Glory in several places. They were so agreeable and kind. This is in front of one of the numerous pillared stairways inside the palace.

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We were hoping to get a view of the mountains and countryside in the background but there was just too much light contrast to do that. Note how huge the windows are. No matter if the photography failed, we were successful in our intentions of showing our patriotism and pride of our Flag.

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The outside of the palace tells a grim story. The bombed-out roof grids look skeletal-like above dangling mortar and brick balconies. Small armed guard stations are nestled midway up near the great columns. Razor wire is tangled everywhere and the Stars and Stripes look more bright and beautiful than ever.

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Jim, Bill and I all agreed we would never forget our visit to the Queen’s Palace. It evoked so many emotions it is hard to describe them all. We oohed and aahed at the magnificence of it all. We marveled at the skills of the various tradesmen it must have taken to build it. We imagined what life might have been like living there in its heyday. Mostly, we mourned over the sadness of war and how it can destroy even the mightiest of kingdoms.

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Nothing tops off a fine day of palace sightseeing like a little shopping at the local mall. Maybe a soothing Star Bucks coffee and then a trip to Kay Jewelers will be just the trick to lift my mood. Too bad I didn’t discover this shopping center earlier in the trip since I still have not seen my lost luggage.

Day 8 - Unexpected Gifts, Life-changing Perspectives

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“The more you give the more you get” is a truism that has proven itself over and again. The Armed Forces Entertainment experiment dubbed the “Outdoor Legends Tour” was no exception. Each of us were thanked repeatedly and shown profuse appreciation at every stop along the tour. From hospital beds to armored vehicles, the occupants expressed the same gratitude when hearing how the hunting community was filled with appreciation and support for their sacrifices. Little did these service members realize how honored we were to bring that message and how humbled we each felt to be in their presence. Spending time in their world gained us all a greater understanding of the armed forces programs and their missions.

Another less expected gift I received from this tour was the insight into the lives of my team partners. None of our group will ever know how or why we were selected for this project. Personally, I think it was all about balance. There was a man from the upper mid-west with a zeal for good dogs, fine guns, and all things feathered; an adventuresome Canadian with a craze for continent hopping with a muzzleloader over his shoulder; and a woman from the south with passion for shooting whitetail deer, wild turkey, and anything bearing a scope or peep sight. The list of obvious demographical differences far outweighed the short list of two similarities: each of us are outspoken about hunting and patriotism. I can truthfully say that despite our strong personalities and the added stress of heat, sleep loss, tight schedules and other daily issues, we never exchanged a cross word or displayed a sour mood. In fact, as the tour progressed, we bonded and found a greater appreciation of each one’s strengths. We soon began to function as a team instead of three individuals who were traveling together.

As I said in the beginning of this diary, no matter your personal views on war or the military involvement in Asia, the men and women who are risking their lives there daily are our sons, brothers, sisters, mothers, neighbors and friends. We must support our own and continue to thank them for protecting our freedom while praying for their safety till each one returns home.

This was a life-changing experience in many ways, but the change it brought about as a hunter was of renewed pride. One of the most poignant statements I heard in Afghanistan that continues to reverberate in my head is, “The anti-hunters sure haven’t sent anybody over here to see us and make us feel appreciated.” These words alone should make every hunter feel a little prouder and stand a little taller whenever they see an American Flag. I know I do.

Outdoor Legends Press Release

National Wild Turkey Federation spokesperson Brenda Valentine is one of several outdoor personalities heading overseas to support our troops as part of the Outdoor Legends Tour. Valentine, Jim Shockey and Bill Miller will be traveling to military bases in Germany and Southwest Asia to entertain and thank U.S. troops in July. The NWTF partnered with Armed Forces Entertainment and the Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Outdoor Recreation Heritage Fund to participate in the Outdoor Legends Tour.

NWTF CEO George Thornton and Mossy Oak’s Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland worked closely with retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Lew Deal to recruit outdoor industry celebrities to travel overseas to visit and entertain active-duty U.S. military personnel.

The first half of the tour took place in March with Thornton, NWTF spokesman Michael Waddell, NWTF Foundation Board member and former major-league baseball player Ryan Klesko and a number of other outdoor personalities visited military posts in Germany and the Middle East.

“Honored, humbled, flattered, anxious – there are so many adjectives to describe how I feel about being the only woman invited by Armed Forces Entertainment to join the Outdoor Legends Tour in Germany and Southwest Asia,” said Valentine. “If I can thank our troops in the field and the hospital for their service and brighten their day with news and stories of hunting, home and the outdoors, it will be a mission accomplished.”

Deal will lead Valentine, Shockey and Miller on the 10-day tour.

“For those currently serving in a war zone there are few things that mean as much as knowing the folks back home care about you,” said Deal. “It’s a handshake tour. There will be no production crews, no agents or sponsors − just high-profile outdoor people mingling, posing for photos with the troops and thanking them for their service.”

Valentine will be posting a number of blog entries during the trip to give readers a first-hand look at the tour. The posts will begin about July 16 and can be read at www.nwtf.org/blogs.

The NWTF is the leader in upland wildlife habitat conservation in North America and was a driving force in restoring wild turkeys, which now number more than 7 million.

The NWTF and its volunteers, working closely with wildlife management agencies and other partners, have invested $372 million and conserved 17 million acres of habitat to benefit wild turkeys and countless other species. The NWTF also works to preserve our hunting heritage, and its dedicated volunteers introduce about 100,000 people to the outdoors every year through NWTF programs.

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