"The Persian Gulf is beautiful," she said. "When I landed in Kuwait there was lightning that was pink and yellow. I thought, 'This is surreal.'"
Also thrilling were the warnings about black fat-tailed scorpions and giant camel spiders, although she was pleased to report the only ones she saw were in jars.
But mainly she was impressed by the troops she met as she traveled with five other writers to eight camps throughout the war theater in the Middle East.
"It was an honor and a privilege to meet the military and say thank you to them," she recalled. " I will never again take our military for granted."
Antrim was chair, handling all the logistics for the whirlwind 10-day, eight-base tour, which included authors Michael Connelly, Brad Meltzer, Joseph Finder and Andy Harp, all members of the International Thriller Writers.
Only Harp had been on the previous tours, which began in 2010, the first one to Iraq and the second to Afghanistan. During the first two tours, the authors were allowed to blog, but for this tour they had to wait until it was completed.
"The tour was a life-changing experience," Antrim said. "I really thought I understood what the military does but until I saw it ... they sacrifice so much, day in and day out to stand between us and danger."
She noted that the writers are in the "hero business" but none of their heroes come close to what the military does each day as a matter of course.
"Guys were willing to run into burning planes, then say, 'I'm just doing my job.' They defuse IEDs. They're protecting people they'll never meet," she marveled.
Antrim prepared for the trip by doing combat training with Craft International in Arizona.
"I wanted to learn how to handle myself," she said, knowing they would be traveling a lot in commercial airplanes plus she wanted to be prepared to walk by herself on the streets of Istanbul, which she visited on her own. "You carry yourself differently, you don't look like prey or a victim."
She noted she'd done Craft courses before, including SWAT training, and that writers often do so to gather firsthand information for background for their books.
"I'm an adrenalin junky and adventuresome," she said. "My dad was a police officer. The first time I fired a gun I was 5 or 6 years old."
A typical day on the tour would start with their arrival at a new base and meeting the commanding officer for a briefing on the mission. Then they would go to the dining facility, where they would mingle with the soldiers.
"One day I had lunch with three female soldiers -- 15% of the military is female now -- and I asked if they had children. One teared up. She had three small children at home, and she wasn't going to see them for a year," Antrim recalled. "Another guy had left a 2-week-old baby -- he won't see that baby for a year."
After lunch the group would see various demonstrations by the soldiers to learn what they are doing.
"As an employer I would love to hire people out of military; their level of responsibility is unbelievable, and they so dedicated," Antrim said. "You have 18- to 20-year-olds doing flight maintenance on billion dollar aircraft."
The authors did an event at each base, depending on its size.
"At a bigger base, I would be onstage," Antrim said. "If the base was smaller, we would sit and talk with them."
"After dinner we would get a little shut-eye, then hit the road," she said. "We lived out of our duffle bags, and it was go-go-go."
They were provided with clothes and gear by 5.11 Tactical, a sponsor of the trip.
Temperatures were in the 90s but in the summer, some of the areas get to 130, she was told.
"One of most important things there is water -- even more important than guns," she said. "There is bottled water everywhere."
Antrim has been a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, a correspondent for NewsMax magazine and a political commentator on radio and television.
"I claim no political party but I have a philosophy. I'm a Jeffersonian Conservative, which is a Libertarian Conservative. I'm fiscally conservative," she said.
"I work very hard to keep my political philosophy out of my books -- they are meant to entertain," she added.
She published her thriller, "Capital Offense," and was a contributor to "Thriller 2: Stories You Can't Put Down."
She's currently working on an action/adventure/historical novel set in the 1200s in the Mongolian empire, Italy and the Middle East. She remained overseas after the USO tour to do research in Istanbul. Previous research included a voyage on a ship.
Back home in Pleasanton, Antrim said she missed being on the USO tour.
"There's something about being around people who are so dedicated but humble and professional," she said. "They were inspiring to me. I would go back in a second."
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