Brenda Valentine’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Wrap up

The more you give, the more you get.

It’s 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 who participated was thanked repeatedly 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 full of appreciation and support for their sacrifices.

Little did these service members realize was how honored we were to bring that message and how humbled we felt to be in their presence. Spending time in their world gave us a greater understanding of the Armed Forces programs and its missions.

Another less expected gift I received from the 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 about balance.

There was a man from the upper Midwest 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 a passion for shooting white-tailed deer and wild turkey with anything bearing a scope or peep sight.

Yet each of us is outspoken about hunting and patriotism. I can truthfully say despite our strong personalities and the added stress of extreme heat, sleep loss and tight schedules, we never exchanged a cross word or displayed a sour mood. In fact, as the tour progressed, we bonded and found greater appreciation of the others’ strengths. It didn’t take long for us to function as a team.

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 risk 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 freedoms while praying for their safety until each one returns home.

This experience was life changing in many ways, but the change it brought about to me, as a hunter, was a sense of renewed pride. One of the most poignant statements I heard in Afghanistan that continues to reverberate in my head was, “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 stand a little taller when they see an American flag. I know I do.

— Brenda

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 6

I witnessed a lot of last minute goodbyes and faces filled with emotions among the shifting troops at Camp Manas.

My team’s 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 pack of men’s t-shirts, socks and two pair 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.

Seeing who got the good seats…

I learned a lot that day. Lock-down simply meant being locked in a very hot, large tent with all your belongings and 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. (ret) Lew 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 full when I boarded. Far be it for me to argue over a seat, especially when the occupant has a 9-mm and I’m just wearing a boat anchor in the shape of a vest.

I think this guy’s got it.

But there is justice. I found a seat in the cramped front-middle of the plane and soon struck up conversation with a young man in a tan jumpsuit. He was a hunter so we hit it off immediately.

As the cargo was 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.

View from above the mountains of Kyrgyzstan

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

We landed somewhere in Afghanistan, and about a dozen passengers loaded on a C-117 along with a menagerie of pallets, fuel tanks and things I couldn’t identify. But that left all kinds of against-the-wall seating on this flight.

We arrived at Camp Bagram sometime before midnight. Our contact assigned us a bunk. This place had none of the casualness we found at Camp Manas.

The obvious fortifications spelled war zone.

— Brenda

 

Brenda Valentine’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 4

Lt. Col. (ret) Lew Deal couldn’t wait to don his Mossy Oak Turkey THUG cap in Kyrgyzstan, a Turkic state.

We left Germany today, which meant my last German dining experience. Kangaroo meat was on the buffet, along with a few other critters I can’t pronounce.

Of course I tried them! Not bad at all.

After another all-night flight with a stop in Istanbul, we arrived in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan where the Manas Military Base is located and our luggage awaited us.

Apparently, my luggage went on a different tour than I did…

Lt. Col. (ret) Lew Deal couldn’t wait to don his Mossy Oak Turkey THUG cap. I, on the other hand, 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.

— 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.

 

George’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 1

Six months ago retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Lew Deal of the Paralyzed Veterans of America contacted me and asked if men and women in the outdoor, hunting and conservation communities would be interested in visiting our troops in the Persian Gulf. What a question! Of course we would! He put together two teams to undertake the trip.

After all the waiting and planning the opportunity to visit our servicemen and women in the Persian Gulf theatre is finally here.

Our mission is simple: Travel to a military hospital and forward bases to express the gratitude of all Americans to those who defend our freedom and keep harm away from our shores.

I am traveling with retired 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. We’re all relieved to be boarding our plane because just three days ago, the other half of our group had had their tour delayed because of things heating up in the region. Everyone in that group — TV host Jim Shockey, Mossy Oak’s Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland, North American Hunting Club Executive Director Bill Miller, NWTF national spokeswoman Brenda Valentine, and Deal — was bitterly disappointed to suspend their visit.

We are the guests of the Department of Defense’s Armed Forces Entertainment, whose mission is to provide entertainment to troops around the world. We are told that this tour is the first of its kind in that we will be on the ground, meeting one-on-one with servicemen. We all feel a great sense of responsibility to carry the best wishes of our fellow countrymen to sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines serving overseas.

We met up at Dulles International Airport for a flight to Frankfort, Germany where we will tour Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Landstuhl Air Base. This hospital is the first stop for our severely wounded veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq.

You can learn a lot about folks around the poker table. I’m certain I’m a sitting duck to card sharks Ryan Klesko (a shifty dealer), retired USMC Maj. Gen. Randy West and Jerry Martin. Keep your friends close and your wallet even closer…

As a distraction from the delays of travel, and I suppose from the seriousness and gravity of the world we are about to enter, we have resorted to poker. You can learn a lot about folks around the poker table. It’s obvious to me that Klesko spent way too much time in MLB baseball clubhouses, buses and planes. The games he deals are only understood and won by the dealer. Gen. West and Martin spent a lot of hurry-up-and-wait times in their military careers. They are like patient, quiet sharks in the water. DO NOT let them hold your wallet. I am somewhere between a place holder and a victim, but I’m learning fast. Waddell and Zumbo are feigning inexperience, sitting on the sidelines like predators watching prey. I expect they’ll make a move in the next day or two.

Off to bed after a full 30-hour day. More after we return from Landstuhl.

— George