US Troops Tour – Djibouti, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia & Coming Home

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Djibouti, although sweltering and hot, humid, and a shared base between all military branches (which can make for some confusing rules), was for me the best show on the trip.  The crowd was drinking, great lights (first time we had lights), and although not the best sound system, this was a crowd ready for a show.  A packed house – finally!  I did some improv comedy regarding our stay on the base and it went over so well.  We did a most fun show, with another standing ovation to end and a final moment to relish in the joy we could offer these wonderful people serving our country.

Following the show at 11:30 PM we had a Meet & Greet in the Chapel and did a mini-Fireside, kind of a “Meet the Mormons”.  We had a nice turn-out and this whole aspect of this tour has made it even that much more touching and poignant at each location.  To help our fellow comrades realize we believe in Christ, we worship and live to spread the Gospel, has been eye-opening to those attending our impromptu meetings.  I am continually amazed at Dean’s wit, his genius on the piano, his spirit which pretty much can barely be held inside the bounds of his physical body.  He is a spiritual giant and has become one of my life heroes on this trip.  Dan has been a friend for a long time, and I thought I knew all he could do.  But my eyes have been opened to his ability to connect, to draw in any audience, his stories that resonate on another level, not just humorous or motivational as more inspirational, it has been incredible to watch him.  And David, he is a most wonderful gift to our earth.  His spirit is great, his heart is pure, his example something I wish I could emulate.  We all need to “Mimic Masters” (a Chapter in my Book, “Signature Moves”), and I want to mimic all of these most marvelous men.

By 1:30 AM our fireside was over.  The spirit was there, the feeling of love and respect was strong, as we heard testimonies from those of many faiths.  What an experience!  Bed by 2:30, up at 6 for breakfast, on the bus by 8 for the long, sweaty, check point after check point Djibouti departure.  The airport is literally on the base of Djibouti, but we had to go outside the gates to fly out, so in essence it’s a 5 minute drive.  However, it took us 2 hours to get from the base, through all security, to the Airport check in, which was another fiasco, and finally to our gate by 11 AM in time for our 11:50 departure.  From there we went to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a most welcome layover, as the air was COOL, wonderful, beautiful greenery contrasting Djibouti’s desert sand conditions.

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Our layover in Addis Ababa was 10 hours.  Had I been alone I would have not gone to the hassle of doing anything, I would have written in my journal, written a blog, called my family, etc etc.  But not with these guys around!  Dean worked so hard to put together the most significant moment of the trip regarding our spiritual aspect of it – an LDS Fireside for all of the people able to make it.  It was a FULL HOUSE.  A few white people including us, and to walk into that chapel and see these beautiful Ethiopian Saints, I’m not sure there are more beautiful people than Ethiopians.  Their skin is flawless, their eyes shine light, their smiles are ever-present.  I’ve not been to Africa before to feel of their great spirit, but Dean told me there would be something I’d never felt and it was true.  Upon entering the Chapel I just started crying at the sight of these great people, sitting side by side, black and white, it was something my eyes will never forget.  And to be able to address them and realize that my material works in any language (although a majority of the youth speak English), to hear explosive laughter, to see their smiles as David sang, Dean played piano, Dan told stories, it was most remarkable.  We all bore testimony and spent over an hour taking pictures.  This was my favorite moment of the whole trip.  To know we could combine inspiring the Troops and do service for our Saints at the same time, this was something most perfect.  It was also a pleasant surprise to have a few youth recognize me from doing assemblies and leadership trainings they had attended all the way back to elementary and high school.  So amazing, such a small world in the Church.

The Branch President, along with the missionary couples, took us to an authentic restaurant of Ethiopian cuisine and experience prior to our return to the airport.   I’m sad I missed the name of the place, but just driving there was like being in NASCAR while dodging other cars swooping through roundabouts, as well as people walking in the streets, honking, lights flashing, people crashing, it was a sight to behold!  The level of poverty was extreme, kids standing on the streets with their hands out as we passed, a woman with one white eye came up to the car begging for money as we raced away in the van.  This was just like every movie I’d seen, so sad, so incredible the challenges people the world over face, and here I am complaining I’m sweaty from the heat….

The restaurant was worth noting, filled with music and a live band in front and center, the stage captivated the audience with dancers, singers, African music that drove a stake of authenticity and beauty into my heart.  No auto-tune.  No fake pretty faces lip syncing.  No frills and fireworks.  This was tribal dancing on stage, joyous smiles and faces were REAL on the face of happy people dancing their hearts out, playing their instruments like it was the most wonderful moment of their life.  I already love music, but being in Africa, seeing people play, sing, dance just reignited my desire to get to the root of what my next album will become.  This was a most significant night, and I could help but shake my bum as I walked to my seat, garnering stares and smiles from the multi-cultural audience.

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Encouraged by some to take the stage, as audience members are to run up and put money in the shirts of the dancers, I hesitated too long and never got my chance.  It wasn’t meant to be.  But next came a real special moment, when the restaurant owner approached our table and begged David to sing.  Now, I can only imagine how he felt.  I’ve been invited to many a Christmas party and been disappointed to find out it was only because they wanted me to be the show after dinner without my notice or preparation.  But this moment proved the humility of David and his kindness.  I have been around other celebrities asked to do things and they say disturbing insults to the one asking.  David tried to let them know he wasn’t prepared and was embarrassed, but not in a jerky way, just in a “who told them I could sing?” kind of way.  After enough prodding he took the stage.   Dean brought his guitar in case he’d have a chance to play with the band.  When introduced the crowd kind of took notice and clapped a little, but once he laid into the first line of “Stand By Me” with “When the night has come”, there was a collective gasp and everyone reached for their phones to record it.  With the flutes and drumbeats, and whatever other instruments were on stage, backing Dean and David’s performance, this was something most unique to witness.  The cheers following the song lead to him throwing down REM’s, “Everybody Hurts”, to which the audience chanted “ONE MORE!  ONE MORE!” upon his finish.  Turning red from embarrassment we returned to our seats to sit back down and then came the flood.  The whole room seemed to converge on David like a swarm of flies to a recent kill.  We had to flank him with our people as we rushed him out of the place for his own safety.   One guy grabbed David, in a headlock for a picture, Dan and I ripped the guy’s arm off David and yelled, “Hey, NO Touch!”  It got scary quick.

And that was our night.

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As we drove away people were taking pictures of the van, looking in, it was like the Beatles but wrapped in one person.  To scare them off I did my Raptor face out the window, which did scare a few people ;)

An all night flight and we are now in Paris, France awaiting the long flight home.  Direct flight to SLC, UT.

In Djibouti, as I announced it was our final show for the Troops, I said, “We have been waiting for this day to come in anticipation of returning home to our families, but at this moment, here with you, I feel like I don’t even want to leave, we love and appreciate you all so much.”  And that was the overall sentiment.

To think that it could only get better the next day in Addis Ababa, speaking to the saints, being missionaries as we will be the rest of our lives, the whole trip came to the perfect close.

Seated here in the Charles DeGaulle Ariport in Paris, France I don’t know anyone but my 3 travel partners.  I don’t know about their lives, where they are headed, from whence they’ve come.  A lady on the shuttle over here, with her children, said she was just coming from Kenya to refuge in San Francisco following her husband being shot and killed in their home country a month ago.  These children are now fatherless.  Had we not said hello and asked why she was going to SF, CA, USA, we would have never known her story.  My heart wrenches for this family.  Seated next to me is a couple in love.  Stealing a kiss in between enjoying a croissant and a tonic water.  The languages, the smells, the excitement in the air, the heads cranked down studying their phones, the smiles on faces of people passing by….

I sit here in quiet contemplation knowing we have just had a most significant moment, a trip of a lifetime; the smiles, the hugs, the tears, the coins, the mishaps, the triumphs, the songs, the machine guns, the heat, the small inconveniences that became the inside jokes of the trip, the moments everything went right in the name of bringing joy, the little parts that make up the whole, the faces….

The faces of the unknown Troops.

The gratitude, the service, the care they gave to us.

Was this a trip for them or for us?

I have to laugh at the fear I felt upon leaving my family in Salt Lake City.  The fear is gone.  I have been surrounded by people who know they face death daily, and there is no fear.  Just a peace that if it is their time they will go in peace, knowing they had done a job, and well, and for a higher purpose.

Upon our return to our homes, I feel a greater peace than I’ve ever felt.  The peace that only comes when you have done something for the right reason, for the service and love of others, and no matter what I do from here on out with my carer or life, with my gifts, I know that for one trip, for one magical 3 week tour of the Middle East and Southwestern Asia, I did something good and it was for my Country, for my God, for my family.

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Comments

  1. Zharmaine Antenor

    Wow. What an inspiring blog… I hope, I could have an adventure like that… Although I’m not a celebrity or something (just an ordinary medicine student haha) … But your emotions and heartfelt joy radiate out of your words. I dream of being able to do that… Meet people, understand them and give them hope or some sort of inspiration, and then at the end of the day you’d feel happy and at peace because you’ve felt the love of God through others. I am not a mormon (but that’s not important), you guys are cool…. And thank you for your ‘service’ to those who ‘served’. Have a safe trip sir :) keep making funny faces :)

  2. Patty-Ann

    I really have no words, except THIS IS BEAUTIFUL!
    I have enjoyed this journey right along with all of you.
    THANK YOU Jason, Dan, David and Dean.

  3. Sharon K. Riley

    Jason, I think that you are a gifted writer after reading all of your posts. I feel like I am there with you and I can feel your emotions. I am so glad that you got to have this experience of a life time and that you got so much out of it. Wow, it was amazing and inspirational to say the least. I hope someday to meet you and shake your hand for all the good you do in this world. You are a gift to the world too.

  4. Janel Woodbury

    Have a safe flight home. It has been amazing seeing other parts of the world through your eyes, David’s, Dan’s and Dean’s. I admire you all for taking the time to entertain the troops and giving fireside to the LDS members along the way. As you have given your gift to others, God gave you a gift of this experience. We’ve been given a gift through your writings and pictures. A million times over Jason, thank you! The high temperature in SLC today will reach 93 degrees. That will feel nice compared to 120-140 I’m sure. Again, safe travels. I’m sure your family is excited to see you!

  5. Martha

    Jason, you write so beautifully! I can see how you would feel the trip may have been more for you than “them”. It is something that will live with you forever. Someone once said, the only true way to happiness in this life is to serve. There were never words more true. So many lives in need; people hurting all over. David, as you say, has a special God-given gift, and it’s not just his voice. People are naturally drawn to him because of the love of God in him. It is a gift I know he cherishes. He was made to be a servant and a leader. The music career is a byproduct. Again, thank you all for your sacrifice. You affected the lives of many a long the way. I’m sure they will never forget.

  6. Sandy

    Hey Jason, we’re all curious about the little girl missing a shoe holding David’s hand. Do you know the story behind that? Thanks

  7. Nancy

    Jason…..you, Dan, Dean, & David have definitely blessed everyone you’ve met on this unbelievable Military Tour and, in doing so, have felt blessed, in return. After appreciating every word & picture you’ve shared, as well as those of Dan, Dean, and David, all I can say is, ‘well done, they good and faithful servants’!!!! THANK YOU….and WELCOME HOME

  8. Lily

    Reading the blogs and photos on ‘social media’ from the Fab 4~ You, Dan, David and Dean, has been a most wonderful gift! We were there, *through your eyes*, to see another part of the world and civilizations that we would not have seen if it hadn’t been for the contributions from the four of you! THANK YOU (yes, I shout it) for taking this extra time ~ *hours* ~ to share all the moments of a most unusual and exciting trip! Safe travels as you approach home and Family!

  9. Maureen

    How do I express my gratitude to you, David, Dan, and Dean for sharing your incredible trip with us? You’ve all been so gracious to share your experiences with us through tweets, blogs, pictures, and videos. It’s been an eye-opener to get a glimpse into what our troops are doing to keep our country and other places around the world safe.

    Thank you all for sharing your God-given talents to bring hope and inspiration through words, music, and laughter to those desperately needing a respite from the horrors of war.

    As you so eloquently stated, “no matter what I do from here on out with my career or life, with my gifts, I know that for one trip, for one magical 3 week tour of the Middle East and Southwestern Asia, I did something good and it was for my Country, for my God, for my family.” I would bet that your three companions feel the same way. Together you’ve touched so many lives and share a bond with one another that will connect you forever.

    God bless and have a wonderful homecoming! :D

  10. Marylee_NCGirl

    Dear Jason ~ I’m on my way out so only skimming your incredible blog ..until later when I can take it all in properly. Don’t want to miss a thing! You, sir, are a master story teller! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking us along on your journey to honor our troops. God Bless!

  11. Marylee_NCGirl

    P.S. KUDOS to The FAB4 ~ I am in awe of your amazing efforts along your journey! This is something we will ALL remember for years to come!

  12. Gwen Porea

    Jason I am in tears, you have touched my heart so deeply. You are probably just about home by now and I pray that you are rejoicing with your beautiful family.Thank you for your heartfelt words,your giving heart ,your love of your fellow man ,your love of God, those amazing faces that you share with all of us and for taking us along with you all. I am so thankful that Dan created this Fab 4 ,the cream of the crop!!
    . I have a son that just retired from the US Navy( 22yrs) and this quote from JFK was on his program. ” I can imagine no more rewarding career .Any man who may be asked in this century What he did to make life worthwhile,I think I can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction,I served in the a United States Navy” so proud of my Tim.
    Your admiration,love and concern for our military is so honorable and I will never forget what you all have given to these courageous folks. It has been such a pleasure meeting you through pics and blogs and I sure hope one day to meet you in person as well as Dan and Dean. Now David I have had the joyous pleasure of already meeting and he has taught me so much and his music has helped me through some sad times. He is a very special gift to all of us and I admire him tremendously. From day one we could feel something very special in David.
    Go now and catch up with those little ones . They are blessed with a wonderful father.
    WELCOME HOME !!!! ❤️

    • Gwen, this is so incredible. Thank you for your son and his service, for your family’s sacrifice in having him away. God bless you and continued love and success sent your way!

  13. sunny

    Jason, thank you so much for sharing your blogs of your trip with us. I have enjoyed all of them and appreciated that you write so well that we could feel like we were apart of the journey. What an experience you four have had in these past 3 weeks!! Your family is probably so happy to have you back home now so enjoy your time with them. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your humor, emotions, experiences, etc. with all of us!!

  14. Judie Miller

    Jason, Thank you for all your blogs of the wonderful journey you, Dan , Dean and David encountered. We appreciate all the time you took to relate your trip to us. It has been a memorable experience to so many because of the Fab 4′s effort. God Bless you and your families.

  15. Sue from SoCal

    Welcome back home Jason! You are such an excellent writer…keeping us all updated throughout this military tour, not to mention all the great pics and videos that have been posted over the past few weeks! What an awesome adventure! Thanks again to the “Fearsome Four” for giving your time and energy to help inspire and entertain our troops! Take care and God bless you all. :)

  16. Pastel

    “Was this a trip for them or for us?”

    It was for everyone you touched. Including for us :)

    I really hope I meet you one day Jason. God bless and hug those waiting in Utah for you very tightly.

  17. Diana Garcia

    ” To scare them off I did my Raptor face out the window.” I’m still laughing at this! lol Your such a great writer. I’m so happy you got home safe. Thanks again for letting us take this journey with you. :-)

  18. Mary Dee

    It has been a most exciting ride with you guys! Thank you for taking us to places we would probably never see with our own eyes and thank you for loving our troops and lifting their spirits. May God shower you and your family abundant blessings for your generosity. Welcome Home!!!

  19. Dorothy

    Jason:
    Thank you for being you! I am glad I have gotten the chance to know you and really hope to meet you soon. Good job my man!

  20. cathy

    Jason, you have a gift for writing that kept me hanging on each and every word. Within each blog, I’ve realized a little more about what our brave troops endure and that no matter what, they give their all for love of country and our freedom; a freedom that we so often take for granted. I can’t thank you enough for giving us the most colorfully and beautifully written accounts of your entire Middle East and Africa tour and want to commend you on your own bravery, along with the three ‘D’s’! You guys are shining stars to me! Thank you Jason! God bless America forever!

  21. Anne-Marie

    Hi Jason,
    Just want to offer a huge thank you to you, David, Dan and Dean for sharing your experiences overseas with us here at home. It’s been a pleasure reading your posts and I have been reminded of what our brave men and women do for us to keep us safe here at home. God bless all 4 of you for sharing your God given talents with our troops and giving them the gifts of inspiration, song and comedy. Welcome home!!

  22. Jana in Oregon

    Welcome home, Jason! Thank you for your incredible blogs, your humor, and your service. I am so pleased you were involved with this tour and my hub and I hope to see you perform sometime. Jim Carrey has always been a fave of my husband who suspects you carry the gene for extreme facial contortions.;) It’s a gift!! Just as your sweet spirit and incredible ability to tell stories are gifts. Thank you for all your teaching and for providing so much understanding in your blogs. I hope we hear a lot more from you. Blessings to you and your beautiful family! Jana #JDDD ROCK!

    • Jana, thank you! Jim Carrey is the greatest, I hope someday to meet him and tell him thank you. I’m grateful the blogs could be a source of understanding, that is awesome. Thank you for reading and posting!

  23. canadianarchie

    Gracias.. this is beautiful. We appreciated every blog, update, it was an incredible journey for us as who followed and waited to hear the story, that impacted all of us.

  24. Connie

    Thanks Jason for the final blog of this journey. I always enjoyed reading your post. So detailed and full of excitement. Welcome back and keep in mind you have new fans now that will continue to read your blogs. Hope to meet you one day of you do shows somewhere here in Canada. Take rest and enjoy your time with
    your family . Ciao

  25. jeaniut

    Jason, You are the best writer in the world. You’re like a painter of ideas with words. You just make my heart feel all happy. THANK YOU !!!!

  26. Bonnie

    Jason, thank you so much for blogging about this trip. You are such a great storyteller and I just love the honesty of your writing and your insights. You guys have had a remarkable trip. Life-changing, I’m sure. Thanks for including us in your journey. You’ve really opened my eyes to what life is like for these courageous soldiers and their sacrifices for us. I’ve really looked forward to and enjoyed every one of your blogs. You all have been a gift to many. Thanks for agreeing to go.

    • Bonnie, it is so nice of you to say I’m a great storyteller, and that you enjoyed reading and my honesty. That really means so much to me. I’m grateful you’d come along with us on our journey! God bless you!

  27. Coleen

    Aww Jason! Thank you so much for your beautiful blog:) I’m sorry I just now had a chance to read it and I’m so glad I did. You write so well I could picture everything you were talking about, that’s awesome:) What an adventure you all had! Thank you to all of you for making this journey and sacrifice to perform for our troops! After reading David’s blog as well it sounds like you were all incredibly blessed by this experience. One of my favorite hymns, Prayer of St. Francis, says: “It is in giving ourselves that we receive”. You all gave the gift of your time and talents to this tour and in return received the gift of a once in a lifetime experience:) I think that’s awesome! God bless you all, Jason, David, Dean, Dan. Welcome Home:)

  28. TrudyFOD

    Hi Jason: thank you so much for sharing your journey. Your detailed stories have really been eye opening for us in the states. I appreciated all the time you have spent writing your blogs and sharing all your pictures on your tour. And thanks for “saving David” at that restaurant — how scary!!! You’re the best! If you ever come to the east coast, I’d love to see you perform and meet you one day.

  29. Shanny in Australia

    Thanks for taking us along so eloquently on this journey too Jason.
    I have felt a wonderful spirit through it all. Thank you to all of you for allowing yourselves to be vessels that the Spirit can work through.
    God Bless.

  30. Jason, thank you for your service to the troops. My son served in Haiti and Bosnia. Then he reupped and went to Iraq after 9/11. He is back in civilian life now, but I know he would have loved your show. He would have also loved in interaction. He escorted a couple of celebrity groups on tour, and that does not always happen.

    You do have a gift for writing. It was interesting to see David through your eyes and to visualize the performance in Africa.

    I look forward to working with you in November. It is always a blessing to have a role model who lives what he or she professes.

    Best wishes,
    Terr Hamm

    • Terry, thank you for your son’s service and your family’s sacrifice. Please give him my best. I’m really looking forward to Texas in November, always wonderful seeing and working with you as well. Thank you for your belief in me.

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