Brenda Valentine’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 9

Let the fun begin!

We were scheduled to visit two outlying camps each day, which meant leaving out early every morning, donning heavy protective gear and hopping in a Black Hawk helicopter to ride to each location. I really enjoyed these flights, with the fresh air blowing in the open doors and the sights of the country below us.

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

One of the most memorable camps we visited took us on a sightseeing tour, followed by an opportunity to shoot their artillery. 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.

Click on on the first image below to see a slideshow of all the cool hardware. If you’re a Keepin’ Up With Karen subscriber and reading this off the email that was automatically sent to you, you’ll want to click on the blog web link to view the slideshow.
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Brenda Valentine’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 8

One unit made a road sign from a target (notice the holes) with directions to each of our hometowns. And check out the caps we’re wearing. These were personalized gifts from a Special Forces unit. Mine will go in my collection curio of treasures.

It is hard to say enough about the hospitality and the warm reception each of the Afghanistan camps offered.

While visiting 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. A special gift I shall always treasure.

Lt. Col. (ret) Lew Deal from Armed Forces Entertainment and Hope For The Warriors had the forethought to get a zillion of these 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. I signed it using the top of my helmet for a desk. The pilot, co-pilot and gunners were hunters but couldn’t get off duty to attend the official meet and greet.

From generals to snipers, doctors to pilots, even septic truck drivers, we were given an opportunity to spend time with each department and learn about their specific part in Operation Enduring Freedom.

It also was nice to learn more of the humanitarian projects going on in Afghanistan. I must not have been watching the 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 childbirth was the No. 1 killer of women there and that we have established birthing clinics staffed with female doctors to assist the 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 the Afghan people gain their independence. It was also news to me that we are teaching them to govern and sustain themselves as they gradually gain control of their homeland.

— Brenda

 

Brenda Valentine’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 7

The Army, Marines and hunters unite!

Having never served in the military, camp life was way different than what I thought it might be … in a good way. It occurred to me early one morning, as I followed my nose to the nearest coffee pot, how courteous everyone was. Not only to me but also to each other, no matter if they were military, civilian contractors or local workers.

Early-morning joggers exchanged warm greetings. Food servers smiled sincerely. People of every rank and station exchanged pleasantries. It wasn’t just the greetings that caught my attention, but the manners and respect that often lacks in our society — small gestures such as holding doors open and addressing others as sir or ma’am.

I can truthfully say that I witnessed not a single act of rudeness during the entire tour.

 

I was especially pleased when I received permission to display the American flags I brought from home. An AMVETS post from my home state of Tennessee entrusted me to bring their flags and messages of encouragement and brotherhood to this war-torn country. There is no telling where these flags might surface some day for a good cause.

We just thought we’d been busy up to this point, but 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 we visited had a fine lunch followed by a lengthy meet and greet in the dining area, or DFAC as they referred to it. They presented each of us with a certificate of appreciation from the chief of staff, gave us a tour of the compound and briefed us on the state of affairs.

These folks were the epitome of hospitality. Many hailed from Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Tennessee, so I felt right at home. I 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.

— Brenda

 

 

Brenda Valentine’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 5

Everyone at Camp Manas was packing and dragging firepower, except us hunters. We felt pretty under-dressed for the occasion.

Welcome to Camp Manas near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan!

Thousands of troops pass through here each month. We arrived a little before dawn. After a short briefing, we settled into our 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 simply borrow Jim Shockey’s hairdryer and Bill Miller’s lip-gloss.

Soon we were issued protective gear. The vest had thick bulletproof plates surrounding our vitals and felt as if they weighed a ton. No kidding. The vest alone was like wearing two concrete blocks over my 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 them.

Now I feel a bit overdressed…

That evening we had a formal meet and greet with the troops at Pete’s Place, the main gathering point at 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 shared was a love of country and hunting.

— Brenda

 

Brenda Valentine’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 3

The first official stop of the Outdoor Legends Tour was the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

Our first official stop was the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Sick or injured military personnel are first transported to this hospital for treatment or therapy before coming to the States or being deployed wherever duty calls, whatever the situation may be.

The Warrior Center was clean and a place of support. There seemed to be a swarm of activities for the patients. The food was fresh, tasty and plentiful. Moral was high. And many of the staff are hunters.

This recuperating serviceman couldn’t get enough turkey talk, so I left copies of Turkey Country for the center’s library, as well as DVD copies of the Bass Pro TV show.

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

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

The common theme I noticed from every conversation was a desire to get back with their comrades.

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

— Brenda

Brenda Valentine’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 2

View from the Rhine River

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 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 were fascinated by the towering granite castles amongst the miles of well-maintained vineyards, both defying time and progress as the river rolled on.

No German dining experience is complete without a round of “Cotton-Eyed Joe.”

We had lunch in a quaint old villa near the river. Ancient grapevines adorned the canopies and open-air dining. I was enjoying the ambience, including other diners chatting in unknown tongues, when a rocking blast of “Cotton-Eyed Joe” spit out of speakers. The tune was the same, but the words were sung in German. How’s 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. A “pig knuckle” sounded pretty wholesome, 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.

Pig knuckles — enough pork to feed an army

I’m digging these German ways so far. Two-stepping music and pig knuckles, what else could a country girl want?

— Brenda

 

Brenda Valentine’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 1

Gazing out the window of Flight 700 headed to Frankfurt, Germany, I watched the last fragment of U.S. soil near Philadelphia slowly fade from sight. I pondered what lay ahead for our small group of pioneers.

Armed Forces Entertainment and Paralyzed Veterans of America contacted me more than a year ago about being a part of a special mission called the Outdoor Legends Tour. 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.

Brenda Valentine is a woman on a mission: to say thank you on behalf of the National Wild Turkey Federation to the military men and women serving our country.

It was not to be a big production, rather a personal handshaking marathon trip with stops at as many camps as possible. Every detail would have to be carefully orchestrated if it was to be carried out safely and successfully.

The group I was part of included Bill Miller from Minnesota, a pillar of the outdoor media world and an all-around nice guy. He was at the helm North American Hunting Club 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 is a world-renowned big game hunter and award-winning TV host. He is from Canada and a wise choice for this mission since so many Canadian military men and women serve alongside U.S. troops and allies. His trademark black cowboy hat is recognizable to hunters everywhere.

Lt. Col. Lew Deal is a retired Marine Cobra pilot who now works with Armed Forces Entertainment among other military and veterans organizations. We were glad to have someone along to advise us on military protocol. Although Lew was our official tour coordinator he soon became just one of the guys.

Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland, 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. However, a family health crisis kept him from going. I felt really bad for Cuz, since it’s truly in his heart to support our fighting men and women in the field.

I completed the diverse quartet. Pretty sure the service people I met from the South appreciated hearing a familiar accent with a sincere “thank y’all.”

—   Brenda

Keepin’ Up With Brenda

Another NWTF representative is eastbound. Our spokesperson Brenda Valentine has headed overseas to personally thank our troops as part of the Outdoor Legends Tour.

She, along with TV personality Jim Shockey and North American Hunting Club’s Bill Miller, are on their way to military bases in Germany and Southwest Asia.

Meet the cast of the second Outdoor Legends Tour of 2012. Safe travels, y’all!

It’s the second tour of the year. If you remember, NWTF CEO George Thornton went on the same type of monumental voyage in March. Miss it? Then click here to get caught up.

Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version for those in a time crunch…

The NWTF partnered with armed Forces Entertainment and the Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Outdoor Recreation Heritage Fund to participate in the Outdoors Legends Tour. George 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 crew to head over yonder included George, of course, as well as USMC Maj. Gen. Randy West, former Major League Baseball player Ryan Klesko, Bass Pro Shops TV host Jerry Martin, NWTF national spokesman Michael Waddell and outdoor TV personality Jim Zumbo.

Reading George’s blog entries, no doubt the experience was a life-changer for him. And I’m pretty sure the servicemen and women appreciated the gesture.

Now we have Ms. Brenda over there slathering those brave folks with her sweet-as-molasses Southern charm and extending the most sincere gratitude that I know she has for military fighting for our freedoms.

“I am honored, humbled, flattered. I have so many feelings about being the only woman invited to join the Outdoor Legends Tour,” Brenda said. “If I can brighten the day of troops in the field and hospital with stories of hunting, home and the outdoors, it’s mission accomplished.”

For the next week or so, you can keep up with Brenda by clicking on the “Brenda’s Outdoor Legends Tour” tab to the right. Check back as often as you can to see what she’s up to. Or you can subscribe to have the most up-to-date posts sent to your inbox.

I’ll be back on the scene soon enough … if Brenda hasn’t taken over my job by then.