30 June 2008

A Marine's letter from Afghanistan

USMC Lance Cpl. Andrew Whitacre sent this letter home to Portland in late April 2008. (Emphasis mine.)

Well, the time has come again. Yes, the lovely United States Marine Corp. has decided that my services are needed in a far away land. And I have been given the chance to change the lives of people in not only a city but a different country. How lucky am I?

This time I will be working in Southern Afghanistan, a country who has seen more fighting than any other I can think of. But the country itself is quite amazing. Unlike the flat terrain wasteland that I was in last time, this place has some character to it, which is nice until you are climbing 6,000 feet with full gear. But it’s all in good fun — LOL.

I just wanted to write to let everyone know that all is well on the front lines. It will be a long hard summer, but I know that once again with the support of family and friends we will pull through. I want to take a second and thank all of you who support us in what we do. I know many of you do not believe in the wars we are fighting in.

Just remember that all the men and women who are here — are here because at one point they took an oath to protect and serve YOU. The support of the citizens of the country we fight and die for is all that we ask. We don’t need, nor want to be treated like heroes, although I have seen many young men who are worthy of the title. All we need is to know that we have not been forgotten.

So to all of you who have somebody in your life who is away fighting to keep evil at bay, I beg you pick up a pen and paper and let them know that you are proud of the sacrifice that they are making.

And if you don’t know anyone who is deployed and want to show your support to a group of marines who deserve it, I have put my mailing address on the bottom.

Send your letters to me and I will ensure that they find their way into the hands of one of my Marines. (List of useful care package items was included here - ed.)

Just know that the best thing you can send is your support and prayers.

Thank you all for your time and thoughts.

God bless all of you.

— Lcpl Andrew Whitacre

47 G Co. 2nd Plt. WPDS

On June 19, LCpl Whitacre was shot and killed while on patrol in Farah Province, Afghanistan.

Photo Kyle Evens/The Star Press.

Support them, and don't forget them. It's really not much to ask.

Rest in peace, young warrior.

Via The Captain's Journal

27 June 2008

Life with the Marines in Garmsir, Afghanistan

Lance Cpl. Michael Ertle, right, a Marine in Garmsir district, says "The hardest thing for us is to go home and not be supported for what we're doing over here, whether they agree with the war or they don't agree with the war, we're still here fighting for their rights." Photo: David Gilkey/NPR.

Last month, 1,500 Marines were sent to attack a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan's southern Garmsir district. The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit captured Garmsir from the Taliban after 30 days of constant fighting.

Now, their mission is to stabilize the region. Meanwhile, they're dealing with strenuous living conditions and wondering what's happening back home.

"Strenuous living conditions" includes, among other things, 2 months without a shower.

But the Marines, as always, "make do" (as my father would say).

On one particular day, the group bought several sheep from a passing Afghan shepherd and cobbled together a barbecue. They took a 50-gallon drum, cut it in half and made a grill.

The Marines of the 24th MEU would like you to know more about what they're doing in Afghnistan ("People should know kinda what we're doing over here probably a little more than they are," says Mason Bennet, a Navy medic.), so read the article and watch the video at NPR here.

Oh, and we can't help much with the showers, guys, but SA has a big shipment of clean socks, t-shirts, and underwear on the way ;-)

More on the Marines in Afghanistan.

h/t Mrs G's Dawn Patrol

Americans, Germans train air assault ops at Hohenfels

U.S. Hueys drop German personnel during air assault training Wednesday at Hohenfels, Germany. Photo: Seth Robson / S&S

About 100 US and German troops are participating in training exercises at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels in advance of the Germans' upcoming deployment to Afghanistan. The German parliament approved sending an additional 1000 troops to join ISAF forces, bringing the total to 4500.

One of them, Sgt. 1st Class Hubert Beer, 34, of the 104th Panzer Battalion, said soldiers in Afghanistan will likely soon execute the first troop air assault missions in German military history.

Next month Germany, which has so far held its troops back from combat roles, will take over responsibility for a quick-reaction force in Afghanistan — a mission that requires combat troops to quickly respond to security threats in the country, Beer said.

"The Germans [in the QRF] will have to do [air assault] operations like this," he added, as he prepared to board a U.S. Huey helicopter at Hohenfels.

Beer, a veteran of several missions to Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, said the German army recently created a special air assault unit — Jaeger Regiment 1 — and it is upgrading from Hueys to newer NH90 Eurocopters.

Black Hawk pilot and Falcon officer in charge Maj. Karl Wojkun, 32, of Fairfax, Va., has flown multiple air assault missions in Afghanistan explains the value of air assault training in what can later be the "surreal experience" of putting down in a hot landing zone.

"You can see people shooting at you, especially with night-vision goggles, and objects appear larger but it is very quiet. You see it happen and your training kicks in."

26 June 2008

Welcome Home, Andrew!

SPC Andrew Howard is welcomed home to Stoughton, WI from Iraq after making a couple of unexpected stops in Germany and Texas along the way.

"Somebody decided they wanted to try and blow me up." Then he laughs. "Yeah, I was on fire."

Andrew got hurt 2 months ago while working on the security barrier in Sadr City. By people who didn't want Sadr City to look like this.

Thanks for your service, Andrew. You did good.

25 June 2008


U.S. Army Task Force Regulators 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment Staff Sgt. Fred Hampton, of Lexington, Ky., kneels on a knee to talk with a young Iraqi boy at the future site of Regular 6 Park in the Thawra 1 section of the Sadr City District of Baghdad on June 20. Photo: Tech Sgt. Cohen Young, Joint Combat Camera Center Iraq.

In Sadr City.

There are no words to express everything conveyed by this photo. To me, it represents the highest ideals of our country and our guys, and the hopes and aspirations of the Iraqi people.

This is why we fight.

Information about how to adopt a deployed Soldier can be found here.

3 JUL: Wanted to share a couple of updates.

First, Chris has created one of his excellent Military Motivators using this image.

And pastor Scott Brewer shares these moving Reflections:

The picture captures the paradox of compassionate tenderness housed in a battle ready man.

But the primary reflection that seized me is the trust that the little boy has toward a mighty warrior. This is a picture of humanity with God. The Bible declares that God is “Almighty” and an awesome and terrible force against evil and unrighteousness. Yet, He can be trusted so that we may approach Him like a little child. He will lower Himself to listen to us and talk with us. He will allow us to find refuge upon Him from the scorching sands of this world.

From the Soldiers' Angels mailbox

Dear Soldiers' Angels,

My name is (...) and I am currently stationed in Baghdad, Iraq. I just wanted to take the time and thank you all for the incredible job you do and for having a truly first-rate organization.

The people that have contacted me because of your program have truly made a difference in the deployment. There is no price that could ever be put on what your volunteers and your organization do to lift the morale of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines all over the world.

You truly make it a pleasure for us to serve the GREATEST people of the GREATEST nation on Earth.

Thanks again for everything.

See you back in the States soon.


You've probably seen this before, but I hadn't. Hilarious.

Via Ace

24 June 2008

Special Forces score major victory in Mosul

The AQI network continues to get rolled up:

US forces kill al Qaeda's leader in Mosul

The emir, who has not been named, was killed after a Special Operations Forces team form Task Force 88, the hunter-killer teams assigned to take down terrorists in Iraq, stormed a building in Mosul. The commandos opened fire after one of the terrorists attempted to detonate his suicide vest was shot and another reached for a pistol. A woman with the group attempted to detonate the vest on the dead al Qaeda operative.

Mosul is considered AQI's last stronghold in Iraq, making this a very significant event. Well done, guys.

Who we trust 2008

Gallup's annual update on confidence in institutions is out. Once again Americans have the highest confidence in the military and the lowest in Congress. In fact, the military gained two percentage points over 2007's results while Congress lost two. This Congress has earned itself the worst rating Gallup has measured for any institution ever.

Congratulations to the winners and losers for their well-deserved respective ratings.

h/t MilBlogs

23 June 2008

Ernie Pyle could not be reached for comment

Buried in the Media & Advertising section of The New York Times (but unearthed by Mrs G of the Mudville Gazette):

Getting a story on the evening news isn’t easy for any correspondent. And for reporters in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is especially hard, according to Lara Logan, the chief foreign correspondent for CBS News. ...

According to data compiled by Andrew Tyndall, a television consultant who monitors the three network evening newscasts, coverage of Iraq has been “massively scaled back this year.” Almost halfway into 2008, the three newscasts have shown 181 weekday minutes of Iraq coverage, compared with 1,157 minutes for all of 2007. The “CBS Evening News” has devoted the fewest minutes to Iraq, 51, versus 55 minutes on ABC’s “World News” and 74 minutes on “NBC Nightly News.” (The average evening newscast is 22 minutes long.)

CBS News no longer stations a single full-time correspondent in Iraq, where some 150,000 United States troops are deployed.

Ms. Logan tells about working for months to get embedded with a group of Navy SEALs. After she went back to the network with the story, she was told by a CBS producer that “One guy in uniform looks like any other guy in a uniform.”

“If I were to watch the news that you hear here in the United States, I would just blow my brains out because it would drive me nuts.”

Yo, Lara. Welcome to the club.

Resolve in the face of hardship

"We feared the Americans would leave, that the airlift would be too much of a hardship. They could have hated us Germans, but they didn’t. They performed their mission, and some even gave their lives just to feed us."

- Traute Grier, 76, former citizen of Berlin.

My first of many trips to West Berlin was in 1982. Although that is a relatively short time ago – and even longer between then and the end of WWII - today it is difficult to imagine the complex set of regulations governing travel to Berlin still in place at that time.

Lufthansa, the German national airline, was prohibited from flying to Berlin. If you flew from the US to Germany on Lufthansa, you needed to change airlines in order to continue on to Berlin.

Travel by car was accompanied by (mostly) peaceful forms of harassment intended to test the will of travelers – and the willingness of businesses to operate in the city. The waiting time at the borders regularly stretched into several hours. Driving speed in the DDR was strictly controlled at 110kph through entry and exit time stamps. If you arrived at the Berlin border too soon, you’d driven too fast. If you arrived too late, well, that opened up an interrogation about what you’d been doing all that time inside the DDR. If your passport photo showed you wearing glasses, then you’d better be wearing them when the DDR border guards examined you and your documents.

Although West German citizens were allowed to travel freely between West Germany and West Berlin, West Berliners and their families were only permitted a limited number of trips to West Germany annually.

West Berliners I knew used to joke about how if anything happened between the superpowers, "you could just hang a big POW sign on the wall." They were acutely aware of the symbolic role they played as citizens of the free, yet captive, city.

But it could have been far worse, considering how it all started. On June 12, 1948 the Soviet Union closed the main highway between West Germany and West Berlin for “repairs”. During the following weeks, roads were closed between the Berlin sectors, barge transportation was halted, and rail traffic was stopped – all ostensibly based upon various “technical” difficulties.

Then, the Soviets announced that they would not supply food to the now-isolated Allied sectors of the city.

Over two million Berliners had enough fuel and food to last for about 5 weeks.

Although the Allies had occupation rights to their parts of Berlin, land passage rights were assumed but had never been explicitly negotiated. And because the Allies – unlike the Soviets – had already withdrawn most of their troops from Germany, victory through military action was unlikely.

The Cold War had begun.

General Lucius D. Clay, commander of the US occupying forces in Germany pushed for support of Berlin, knowing it had “become a symbol of American intent.” After discarding an idea to take the Soviet’s bluff by driving an armed supply convoy from West Germany, the Allies explored the option of using the allowed air corridors.

It was decided that unarmed aircraft would fly the route, in effect challenging the Soviets to shoot them down – or to back down.

There is so much more to this story. How the Berliners were offered food by the Soviets in return for changing "sides". Despite the incredible hardships they were enduring - including the threat of starvation - almost none did. In fact, thousands assisted in the operation.

How calculations were made to determine daily payloads (1534 tons), based on the number of calories per day each West Berliner needed to survive (1700). 3475 additional tons of coal and gasoline would be required daily.

At this point in time the USAF had two squadrons of C-47s capable of carrying 3.5 tons of cargo each. The RAF had a few more than the Americans.

The runway at Templehof airport needed to be repaired.

Weather conditions typical for Germany promised to make the entire airlift a nightmare.

But despite the odds, AF General Curtis LeMay maintained, “We can haul anything.”

And so on June 26, 1948, the Berlin Airlift commenced. Airmen from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa participated alongside British and US Airmen. (The French declined to assist, not believing it would work, but joined in later after success was assured.)

There were some disasters. It was initially believed coal could be dropped from the air, saving precious landing time. But the coal pulverized upon impact and was rendered unusable.

On so-called Black Friday, July 30, 1948, poor visibility caused by bad weather resulted in a plane crash at the end of the Tempelhof runway. A domino effect ensued for the following aircraft, and the entire airport was closed for a day.

New rules were initiated: Each pilot had one shot at landing. If he missed it, he was required to turn around and return to West Germany to keep the airspace clear for the planes behind him. A complex set of air corridors was defined for inbound and outbound aircraft.

Originally expected to last for 3 weeks, the airlift officially lasted for 15 months. As winter set in an additional 6000 tons of fuel were supplied each day. It was the coldest winter in Germany for decades.

At the height of the Berlin Airlift a plane landed every 62 seconds. Over 2.3 million tons of supplies were provided on 278,228 flights totaling over 92 million miles.

The Soviet blockade was lifted on May 12, 1949.

The first battle of the Cold War had been won.

The Berlin Airlift Memorial at Rhein-Main AB, inscribed with the names of the 39 British and 31 American Airmen who gave their lives during the operation. Similar memorials stand at Tempelhof airport and the former RAF base at Celle.

22 June 2008

Guess you had to be there

A newly arrived OEF patient received a blanket from supporters back home with a tag reading, "This afghan has been pre-washed and treated with fabric softener."

"Well," the wounded Soldier remarked dryly, "that's a big improvement on the ones downrange."

Lancer over Afghanistan

A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer aircraft moves out of position after receiving fuel, May 27, from a KC-135R Stratotanker during a mission over Afghanistan. B-1B is deployed from Ellsworth Air Force Base S.D. and the KC-135R is assigned to the 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, 376th Air Expeditionary Wing and is deployed from the 174th Air Refueling Squadron, Iowa Air National Guard, Sioux City, Iowa.

Now that's a beautiful sight.

21 June 2008

"Units in our AO go through ammunition really fast..."

Soldiers from Alpha Company, 173rd Brigade Support Battalion load ammunition onto a Chinook helicopter on Forward Operating Base Fenty in Nangarhar province. They are responsible for supplying an area the size of Maryland with ammunition. Photo: Staff Sgt. Brandon Aird.

Up to 200 tons a day, as a matter of fact.

NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Six Soldiers work around the clock at the ammunition point on Forward Operating Base Fenty in Nangarhar province, to supply Task Force Bayonet with ammunition.

The Soldiers from Alpha Company, 173rd Brigade Support Battalion, move ammunition to International Security Assistance Forces working in Nuristan, Kunar, Laghman and Nangarhar provinces.

Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment and the 173rd Special Troops Battalion, all rely on these six Soldiers for their ammunition.

Supply and demand in the area is extremely high, according to Staff Sgt. Dana Green, a Soldier in Alpha Company. In one day, over 200 tons of ammunition was recently pushed to numerous FOBs.

“Units in our (area of operation) tend to go through ammunition really fast,” said Spc. Matthew Harvey, a Soldier in Alpha Company. “Just one fire fight can leave the guys ‘black’ (short) on ammunition.”

Artillery, rockets, mortars, small arms and machine gun ammunition are accounted for and delivered by Alpha Company. Alpha Company conducts sling loads, hot loads (loading cargo onto a helicopter while the blades are spinning), and convoys to help get the ammunition across an area the size of Maryland. ...

Alpha Company has been in Afghanistan for 14 months and, since September, has handled over $23 million worth of ammunition.

In the next few months, Alpha Company will relinquish the ammunition point to Soldiers in the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

20 June 2008

2nd LAR Marines Conduct Op DAN

U.S. Marine Sgt. Daniel Leach, 2nd Platoon, Delta Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Task Force Mech., Multi-National Force-West Ground Combat Element, talks to fellow Marines on the radio during Operation Defeat al-Qaida in the North in the northern Al Anbar province, Iraq, on June 11. U.S. Marine Corps photo/Cpl. Tyler Hill.

Navy staff rotation at Landstuhl

Geez, seems like they just got here! We'll sure miss our many friends who have done such wonderful work during their deployment here. Thanks for everything.

Welcome and good luck to the next "wave" ;-)

Indiana National Guard Soldiers fight rising waters

During a downpour, Indiana National Guard Soldiers with the 38th Infantry Division pack sandbags in the early morning hours on a levee along the Wabash River in New Harmony, Ind., June 13. Photo: Spc. William E. Henry.

Story here.

Update 25 June. Rec'd on 20 June from the Iowa National Guard:

Dear Soldiers' Angels,

I am unsure as to how you received my name, but your boxes were received minutes ago as a large group of Soldiers were stopping in for snacks and refit. Your boxes put huge smiles on their faces as they returned to their security and sandbagging missions.

I thank you on behalf of all the Soldiers that received a special blessing from you guys. These Soldiers burn so many calories each day that eating three meals a day just doesn't cut it and drinking plain water in temperatures around 85 degrees just doesn't seem to do it. Gatorade is great!

Thank you again for your thoughtfulness and gifts.

PS they will also share with those who have been found homeless as they try to recover what they can.

God bless each of you!

Nuristan COP named after fallen paratrooper SPC Jacob Lowell

CPT John Page (right), Commander of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), and LTC Christopher Kolenda, Commander of 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment (Airborne), removes a poncho covering a plaque, which officially dedicated and renamed Combat Outpost Kamu to Combat Outpost Lowell. Photo: Staff Sgt. Brandon Aird.

NURISTAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Soldiers from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, renamed their combat outpost, located in a remote area of Nuristan province, Afghanistan, to remember a fallen comrade on May 12.

Combat Outpost Kamu was renamed to Combat Outpost Lowell to remember Spc. Jacob Lowell, who was killed in action June 2, 2007.

Lowell was manning a 50-caliber machine gun on a reconnaissance mission in the Gowardesh Valley when he was killed while engaging insurgents who ambushed his convoy.

“Lowell was a heroic paratrooper that did his duty all the way up until the end,” said Capt. John Page, Bravo Company commander. “His actions saved my life and others in his platoon. If Lowell had not gotten back up on his 50 Cal., even though he was shot in the leg, I probably would not be here today.”

Page and Lt. Col. Christopher Kolenda, 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment commander, dedicated a large plaque on COP Lowell during the ceremony so future Soldiers will remember his sacrifice.

Lowell was awarded the Bronze Star with “V” for valor and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge for his actions during the firefight.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

19 June 2008

Waldo the working dog

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Chase Paustian gives Waldo, a military working dog, a drink of water during Operation Gravel Dump, outside Jebadin, Iraq, May 28, 2008. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Stuart C. Wegenka.

18 June 2008

From the Soldiers' Angels mailbox

To one of the quiet teams at Soldiers' Angels, the Living Legends team:

Comments/Question: Regarding the passing of SFC Jason F. Dene

I just wanted to say "Thank You"... a million times over, for the special care you have provided during this difficult time. The cards and gifts were absolutely lovely. The outpouring of sympathy... overwhelming.

You have a fantastic program not only for deployed soldiers, but for the families who have lost their loved ones as well. I can't even begin to express how comforting it has been being embraced by all of your "angels".

Please continue your good work!

My deepest gratitude,
J. L.

"Military history is replete with time honored traditions. None are more sacred than those which honor a country's military dead. The military code of "leave no man behind" insures a soldier that his sacrifice will be honored from the moment he dies on the battlefield and that his remains will be treated with the dignity and respect accorded a brother in arms. In every conflict there are examples of soldiers honoring these traditions, sometimes with their own lives."

- from the Living Legends mission statement.

NASA flight directors and astronauts team up with Soldiers' Angels to support wounded service members

The "Failure is Not an Option" blanket, signed by NASA astronauts and flight directors.

Readers of this blog are familiar with Soldiers' Angel Joan Kranz who works at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Her father is retired Flight Director Eugene Kranz, best known for his role in directing the successful Mission Control team efforts to save the crew of Apollo 13, during which he coined the famous "failure is not an option" motto.

Gene Kranz in Mission Control during the Apollo 16 mission.

On the morning following the Apollo I disaster which killed 3 astronauts, Kranz made an address to the flight control team. Later known as The Kranz Dictum, it articulated the values which became his legacy to NASA:

When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write 'Tough and Competent' on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.

Kranz continues to be an inspiration to others today, as demonstrated by this story which took place during a shuttle launch last year.

Kranz autographs a blanket for a wounded service member.

As a Soldiers' Angel, one of Joan's projects has been making blankets like the one above. She then asks her Dad, current astronauts and flight directors to sign the blankets. Autographed photos, mission patches, and other momentos go in to a NASA binder. And an autographed copy of Gene Kranz's book, Failure is Not an Option completes the package before it is sent.

This blanket was signed by astronauts Kevin Ford, Terry Virts, Hans Schlegel, Tim Kopra, John Phillips, Chris Hadfield, Pamela Melroy, Jim Dutton, Kevin Ford, Rex Walheim, Terry Virts, Alvin Drew, Tony Antonelli, Steve Robinson, Tracy Caldwell, Leland Melvin, Steve Swanson, Randy Bresnik, Stan Love, and Joe Acaba, as well as flight directors John McCullough, Matt Abbott, Mike Moses, Kwatsi Alibaruho, Brian Smith, Chris Edelen, Richard Jones, Norman Knight, Bryan Lunney (son of another Apollo 13 Flight Director, Glynn Lunney), Kelly Beck, Ginger Kerrick, Tony Ceccacci, Rick LaBrode, Paul Dye, Joel Montalbano, and simulation supervisor Dave Pitre.

What a great expression of support and encouragement. Well done Joan, and our thanks to everyone at the Johnson Space Center who participated.

17 June 2008

Reporter's Notebook from Afghanistan

Kent Harris of S&S continues his on-the-ground reporting from Afghanistan.

Vicenza-based soldiers knew what needed to be done as their second tour in Afghanistan began

Few battalions in the Army have spent as much time as the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment getting to know their areas of operations.

Some soldiers in the Vicenza, Italy-based unit have served 25 of the past 40 months in Paktika province. They went on a 12-month tour in 2005-06, and followed it up with a 15-month stint expected to last until July.

Staff Sgts. Kevin Field and Matthew Fillinger and Sgt. Michael Fogleman all served in the same platoon when the 173rd Airborne Brigade jumped into Iraq in 2003. They’re still serving as Sky Soldiers.

The men said they’ve noticed differences between the unit’s two rotations to Afghanistan. ...

"We’re doing a lot of the same things in different ways," Fillinger said. "I don’t know if we’re doing them better than we were previously, but the results are becoming more visible."

One of the biggest events during their previous rotation in Afghanistan was the first national election since the fall of the Taliban-led government. The soldiers said they see a lot more interest by local people toward their government this time around and it might just take time for something like that to set in.

Fillinger said that if he has to serve somewhere in this region, it might as well be where he’s invested some time. ...

Lt. Col. Mike Fenzel, the battalion commander, said his unit "knew all the names. All the places. We knew already what we wanted to focus on."

For Fenzel, that meant getting troops out near the border with Pakistan. Half a dozen combat outposts have been built or refurbished during the battalion’s current tour. ...

It can get a little monotonous at some of those locations.

"There are discouraging days," Fillinger said. "But every day, I get up and see those names of my friends up on the Wall (of Heroes). Those guys died for their country, whether they always agreed with it or not. They were doing what they were supposed to do."

He said even little changes in the people or province can help him refocus.

"You see that progress is being made and you’ve just got to take pride in it."

Baseball and reenlistment:

U.S. troops at Afghan combat outpost can’t get baseball off their minds

ZEROK, Afghanistan - A platoon of soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Division’s Company D seems to be always talking about baseball — especially when its members are manning the towers that protect Zerok Combat Outpost.

Their counterparts with the 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment gave some of the ridges and mountaintops around the area female names to help quickly identify them during attacks. The Sky Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade decided they preferred the names of Major League teams.

"I ain’t never going to look at baseball the same when I go back to the States," Spc. Corey McRae muttered while pulling duty in one of the towers recently. "I’m going to forever hate the Boston Red Sox." ...

Staying in the Army
A 15-month deployment to Afghanistan isn’t keeping a large percentage of the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment from staying in the Army.

First Rock — as the battalion from Vicenza, Italy, is known — has exceeded its retention goals across the board, according to Sgt. 1st Class Rafael Ortiz.

Ortiz, the battalion’s career counselor, said the number of re-enlistments for those who had just joined the Army is particularly high. The battalion was tasked to have 40 soldiers from that category re-enlist. A hundred chose to do so. Sixty-two soldiers in mid-career are re-enlisting, topping the goal of 50. And 23 soldiers with more service time are staying in, opposed to a goal of 17.

"Does that make any sense while we’re in a 15-month deployment?," asked Lt. Col. Mike Fenzel , the battalion commander.

Fenzel attributes the high numbers to strong leadership by the battalion’s noncommissioned officers and junior officers. Ortiz gives credit to Fenzel and Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Weik.

"Gathering intelligence about the enemy is good. Getting the time to analyze that information is even better."

First Rock tries new intel approach in Afghanistan

ORGUN-E, Afghanistan — First Rock has expanded the number of troops analyzing intelligence it picks up from various sources around Paktika province, according to Capt. Tim Culpepper, the team leader. Instead of having six or seven soldiers perform that task, the team has 42 analysts.

"We are gathering more information, but the real benefit is our ability to go through it all," Culpepper said. "If I had a normal S2 (intelligence) shop, I wouldn’t get through 10 percent of what we’re getting."

The battalion decided to try the concept when its leadership realized it had never seen a lot of the information gathered after yearlong stints in Iraq and Afghanistan. So each company was told to provide three two-person teams to help form the intelligence-gathering-and-analyzing team.

Culpepper said that company leaders were generally reluctant to give up the soldiers for the tasking, but they’re now seeing the benefits. ...

The three teams go through three rotations before starting the cycle over again. While they’re with the battalion, they work on projects targeting their unit or area of operations. In another rotation, they’re assigned to their company headquarters as intelligence liaisons to the battalion. In the third rotation, they’re assigned to do their normal jobs with the company. In that mode, Culpepper said, they’re picking up information about individual areas of operation that the battalion headquarters doesn’t have. So they’re the experts on their own areas of operations when they rotate to the battalion again.

"They know the space much more than I do," Culpepper said. "The battalion gains the best ground-level information. And the guys who are up at the battalion level are getting to see the big picture, which they can carry back to the companies."

There's much more at the links.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

15 June 2008

Best Father's Day Ever

Meet an incredible Army couple, Alycia and James Hackemer, in their latest television interview (please watch!).

James and Alycia Hackemer

From James' CaringBridge page:

On Friday, March 14th, we received the news that James' heavily armored vehicle had been hit with an IED. Thanks to the bravery of quick acting soldiers, the lives of James and 3 others were saved. James lost both legs in the explosion.

James was initially sent to Germany before travelling to the Bethesda National Naval Medical Center. Bethesda is near two of James' sisters and also has a maternity ward where baby Addison was born. God was in every detail. James is now at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston where he is going through physical therapy and gaining strength every day. Once he is strong enough they will send him to Walter Reed Medical Center where he will receive his prosthetics.

We look forward to the day when James comes home with Alycia, Kaelynn, and baby Addison by his side. Thank you for your prayers!

The summary above doesn't even begin to tell the whole story. The fact is that James' initial diagnosis was grim. Very early on, when James was still in a comatose state, the family was told his progress had already plateaued and he would remain that way.

In spite of that devastating blow the family never gave up hope. And against all odds James began to become responsive in the following days. Since then, his recovery has been one miracle after another. The doctors originally said James would stay at Spaulding rehabilitation center for 6 - 12 months before moving to Walter Reed to receive his prosthetics. Now it looks like he'll be leaving in 6 weeks.

And thanks to his miraculous recovery, he'll be spending this Father's Day with his wife and two little girls, Kaelynn and Addison.

Here's a video of the Memorial Day "Ride to Remember" as almost 200 motorcyclists drive past the Hackemer home near Gowanda, NY in James' honor. Enjoy.

State Rep. & USMC Staff Sergeant Jim Watson from Iraq

Illinois State Representative Jim Watson addresses the 2008 Illinois Republican State Convention in Decatur via phone from Iraq. He is a staff sergeant with the United States Marine Corps and is currently serving as a liasion to the Anbar Provincial Council in Ramadi, Iraq.

In this story Watson talks about his mission in Iraq and why he wanted to be deployed.

14 June 2008

Saturday Night Flood

Texas Flood, that is.

Flag Day

New York City, October 2001

Happy Birthday, US Army!

The United States Army was founded on June 14, 1775 as the Continental Army to fight the British. Later, the Continental Army was replaced by the United States Army under the newly-established War Department. The US Army was a volunteer army until the first conscriptions took place during the Civil War. After the Vietnam War the US Army once again became an all-volunteer force.

Many units active today can trace their roots to the orginal colonial army, such as parts of the 5th Field Artillery, the 112th Field Artillery ("NJ Guns"), Pennsylvania's 111th Infantry (Stryker), and Rhode Island's 705th AAA Gun Battalion, as well as the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Quartermaster Corps.

13 June 2008

On Scouting

After this week's tornado tragedy in Iowa, Grim at Blackfive had this to say about the values taught in the Boy Scouts:

To be a Soldier or Marine, Sailor or Airman is to repay the debt you owe your ancestors: to be a useful defender of the civilization that bore you and made you prosperous and strong. The military is not the only organization that offers that chance.

For many, the beginning of service was with the Boy Scouts.

It is. Just yesterday my colleague Roger provided yet another example of his many experiences working with Scouts:

In my 7 years as a Scout leader, and another 2 years working with Scouts for Soldiers' Angels, I'm continually impressed by the contributions these young Americans make to support our soldiers. Look up "Patriot", and you'll see Eagle Scout.

780 DVDs and $4,500 collected by Life Scout Billy L. of Troop 310, Brooklyn, NY to complete his Eagle Scout service project in conjunction with Soldiers' Angels. The funds will be used to purchase phone cards which will be sent together with the DVDs to medical units downrange.

With a salute and a thank you to Scouts everywhere, and those who lead them.

The "Neighborhood Guard" of Sadr City

Young men dance and chant, waving their certificates at the end of a brief graduation ceremony for the newly formed “Neighborhood Guard” on Wednesday at the U.S. Army’s Forward Operating Base War Eagle. More than 50 men from Jamilla graduated from a three-day training course for the program, which is similar to the “Sons of Iraq.” Photo: Ben Bloker / S&S.

Meet the latest group of "Citizen Soldiers" in Iraq.

In the coming weeks, hundreds more residents will be cycling through FOB War Eagle to get trained up for guarding checkpoints throughout the Jamilla district, which is south of the new security wall that cuts across Sadr City.

"These guys are all from the neighborhood they’re protecting. It’s their neighborhood. It’s their home," said Capt. Aaron Newcomer, commander of Company A, Task Force 1-6 Infantry, which operates in the area.

Members of the "Neighborhood Guard" earn about $300 a month, a solid income in northeastern Baghdad. Their job is to man checkpoints and keep an eye out for outsiders and troublemakers. U.S. officials distributed several dozen seized assault rifles to group members who did not have their own weapons.

The initiative is similar to the "Sons of Iraq" program, which commanders say has helped secure numerous communities across Iraq. ...

Just before they received their certificates, some of the men talked about their motives for joining the "Neighborhood Guard."

"If I see anybody who wants to put a bomb in my street, I will kill him," boasted one of the young men.

Alia Krem Gerfer, a 25-year-old mechanic, was more reflective. He says people are tired of all the killing and want change.

"I want to move freely in my city," he said.

11 June 2008

9/11 "Truthers" harassing deployed Soldiers and Marines

Fox News interviews activist Mark Dice about an initiative to send letters and DVDs to troops in Iraq telling them that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job and that they are basically dupes. Fortunately, Pete Hegseth from Vets for Freedom was on hand.

All the more reason to Adopt a Soldier or send an email to a deployed troop right now.

Do you have a moment to send an email to the Sailors of the USS Russell?

Jim from Thinking Right has an ongoing project called Letters from Home. The "letters" are actually emails, which he collects and forwards to a specific unit of deployed service members.

This time the emails are for the men and women serving aboard the USS Russell, a guided missile destroyer deployed in the Middle East.

Just the other day, the crew of the USS Russell assisted a small boat adrift in the Gulf of Aden. Coalition forces have a longstanding tradition of helping mariners in distress by providing medical assistance, engineering assistance as well as search and rescue.

GULF OF ADEN (June 8, 2008) Lt.j.g. Scott Mason administers care to a Somali brought aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Russell after the ship responded to a vessel in distress between Bassasso, Somalia and the Yemeni coast in the Gulf of Aden. The 45-foot small boat had serious engine problems leaving it adrift for two days. Seven people were transferred to Russell and treated for severe dehydration and malnutrition. Russell is deployed as a part of the Abraham Lincoln strike Group and is operating as a part of Combined Task Force 150 conducting maritime security operations between the Gulf of Aden and the Gulf of Oman in the Arabian Sea. U.S. Navy photo.

Since Russell doesn't have huge email capacity, Jim will be printing out all the emails and sending them via snail mail for distribution.

Please send your email to this email address. Don't labor over it - a couple of sentences is fine! Just thank the Sailors for their service, tell them you appreciate what they're doing, and that we'll be here waiting for them when they get home.


10 June 2008

Quote of the Day

Here's COIN strategy for Afghanistan in a nutshell, from a village elder in the Garmser District of Helmand Province.

"If NATO really wants to bring peace and make us free from harm from the Taliban," the elder said, "they must make a plan for a long-term stay, secure the border area, install security checkpoints along the border area, deploy more Afghan National Army to secure the towns and villages, and then the people will be able to help them with security."

Maybe we should send him to Washington. Or better yet, to Brussels.

From "U.S. marines apply lessons learned in Iraq to Afghanistan" in today's IHT.

Widowmakers Fight Off Militant Attack While Searching for Cache Near Shulla

Multi-National Division-Baghdad Soldiers from Troop B, 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment, maneuver down a path while receiving heavy indirect fire and rocket-propelled grenade fire just on the outskirts of Shulla May 16. The troops were in the area searching for a possible weapons cache when an improvised-explosive device was detonated, followed by hours of indirect and RPG fire. (U.S. Army photo/Sgt. James Hunter)

Here's to a friend of mine from the Widowmakers, as they continue to take the fight to the enemy and "discourage others from making a mistake from joining that criminal element".

The scene going into the area was almost unreal. Animal carcasses littered the fields surrounding Shulla. The creek running to Shulla’s south filled the air with an awful odor. As the Soldiers pushed into the area, an improvised explosive device immediately detonated. Fortunately, it did not strike any of the troops. The IED attached was immediately followed by three rocket-propelled grenades.

For nearly the next two hours, the Soldiers continued to search the area for the possible cache while under attack by indirect mortar and RPG fire. The Soldier’s fought back against the violent extremists, firing 5.56mm and .50-caliber rounds into the enemy forces’ positions. ...

“We were going to clear the field to the west and (1st Platoon) was going to clear the field to the east. We crossed the bridge and everything was going fine… we were about to go into the gate and an IED went off,” said [4th Platoon leader 1LT Andrew] Bowling.

Initially, the Soldiers were all a bit shocked and surprised.

“I called up to my lead truck to make sure everyone was okay,” said Bowling, a native of Medfield, Mass. “They were!”

With the smoke filling the air, it was hard to tell what was going on, said Sgt. Daniel Unger, a native of Palestine, Texas. Shortly after it went off, the militants fired an RPG down the road, traveling from east to west, and buzzed past the whole convoy.

“One bounced off of our bumper, not exploding, and one went over Red Platoon’s truck and stuck in a wall,” said Pfc. Matthew Tonkovich, a native of Algonquin, Ill. “We started receiving small-arms fire from the west, coming from a Taxi, and just directly from the east from a red car. We ended up getting two trucks on line to watch east, and we had two trucks to the south to watch.”

Fourth Platoon set up a support by fire position, where they took contact and began engaging and suppressing the enemy. 1st Platoon pulled up to a gate. The lead truck couldn’t enter, so waited for the second truck to ram through the gate and into the junk yard. While waiting, an individual stepped out with an RPG and shot at them, though missing.

“It went over head. My gunner starting suppressing,” said Unger. “Once we fired, he hopped back behind a fence.”

Fourth Platoon had guys firing at them with PKC machine gun fire. The men then hopped into a car and proceeded to speed their way; however, it was the last move they made.

“We fired warning shots, and they didn’t stop, so we engaged them,” said Tonkovich, a gunner with 4th Platoon, Troop B, 1-75 Cav.

They were also receiving small-arms fire from a three-story building; The Soldiers couldn’t positively identify the shooter; however, the Bradley drivers could.

They immediately engaged their targets on the three-story rooftop.

From what Tonkovich said, the blast from the rounds blew one of the men off the rooftop, falling three-stories to the ground.

“Then, mortars starting falling on top of us. They were pretty accurate,” said Bowling.

With RPG and small-arms fire flying through the air, The Soldiers now had to deal with the possibility of a mortar falling in on them.

“My heart was beating pretty fast. I got kind of excited. I just did not want to get hit,” said Tonkovich. “It was pretty loud. My ears were ringing.”

With 4th Platoon ensuring the perimeter security, 1st Platoon, led by 1st Lt. Logan Dick, were through the gate and into the junk yard, where they dismounted and began their sweep for the possible cache.

They swept across fields, through old connexes, garages and clearing areas.

“We put as many dismounts on the ground as we could and started clearing the area,” said Unger. “Halfway through, we had to use bolt cutters to breach some buildings and a fence. We cleared that building and brought in a dog team to search for the cache.”

About the time they entered the compound was about the time 4th Platoon started receiving indirect fire.

“The enemy was basically walking the mortars in on them. At first, they were hitting hundreds of meters away. About the time we finished clearing with the dog, they were calling up on the radio that they were landing within 20 meters of the vehicle,” said Unger. “They then started walking them in on our position. We cleared back to the east. As we began moving back to the trucks, we received two more RPGs. The dog had a hard time clearing with all the indirect fire and small arms.”

Once 1st Platoon got back to their trucks, they pushed over to the gate they had previously busted through and began engaging enemy combatants.

Through all the chaos and rounds falling on the battlefield, Unger said he was very pleased with his Soldiers performance.

“That was the first time we worked with (4th Platoon) that directly, as one unit with one setting up support by fire,” said Unger. “I was very pleased and very confident. They took the majority of the contact. They took the IED and the initial fire. The indirect was landing in mere meters of their vehicles, but they continued to engage them and kept them off our back.”

Unger said his troops have never let him down, and this time was no different even with the plan having to adjust multiple times to accomplish the mission and hold off the militants.

“Multiple times, the plan was changed, but the strong point of our platoon is that we adapt really well,” Unger said. “Security on the ground was maintained.”

Lt. Col. John Hermeling, a native of Green Bay, Wis., said he was also very pleased with his Soldiers’ performance.

“Bravo Troop fought well. It’s good that when the enemy presents itself, we are able to kill them so they can’t present themselves again,” said Hermeling, commander, 1-75 Cav. Regt. “It discourages others from making a mistake from joining that criminal element, who continues to fight against the government of Iraq.”

And here's the Rakkasans at work. Wouldn't want to insult them by leavin' 'em out :-)

U.S. Army Soldiers from 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, run to the Black Hawk helicopter after conducting a search for weapons caches, March 12, 2008, in Albu Issa, Iraq.

09 June 2008

The Return

I took this photo at the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, South Carolina as a group of U.S. marines were returning home from the war in Iraq. As soon as they arrived, it began to downpour. I was lucky enough to capture the joy they were all feeling as they were getting drenched in the rain (which most of them hadn't seen in months), coupled with finally getting to see their families again. The two people walking and embracing are brother and sister. - Kodak's Moment of the Month winner, June 2008.

Bob Connolly on Lou Dobbs' radio show today

From Bob:

So, I am supposed to be interviewed on Lou Dobbs’ radio program this afternoon at 4:15-4:30. I guess he (or someone working for him) read something online about what we were doing here, and he thinks it is worth some air time.

I was perfectly content to be well known among a small set of infantry in eastern Afghanistan. I guess the time might have come to speak for all who are deployed in harm’s way.

Make sure to listen live between 4:15 and 4:30pm ET. Read this post if you don't know Bob yet.

Changes in Sadr City

Video by Stars and Stripes' Ben Bloker on TF Iron's achievements in Sadr City. Interviewed: 1LT Ryan Poole, 24, Charlie Company platoon leader.

Related article by John Vandiver at S&S.

Related: COIN in Sadr City: Iron Brigade Soldiers talk to Jamilla Market owners about microgrants

Thank you, Maine Troop Greeters!

For Immediate Release

There Are No Waiting Lines for Payphones with The Maine Troop Greeters of Bangor, Maine

Soldiers' Angels salutes The Maine Troop Greeters by donating $5,000 towards keeping service members connected to their loved ones.

June 8, 2008, Pasadena, CA - As the group of tired travelers get off the plane in Bangor, Maine, most are anxious to get to a phone to call home to let their family know they have arrived safely in America. These travelers are not just any travelers; they are members of the United States Armed Forces who have been serving overseas for the past year or more. Much to their surprise, there is not a line at the payphone; there are dozens of Americans waiting to greet them as they step into the terminal. Most of these supporters have a cell phone; handing it to the service members to make that immediate call to their family without having to wait any longer to touch base with those that they love.

On June 7, 2008 members of The Maine Troop Greeters of Bangor, Maine handed the phone to SPC Bretton Varn, not knowing that he is the son of Patti Patton-Bader, founder of Soldiers' Angels. Varn was able to call his mother to let her know that he was one step closer to seeing her and the rest of the family.

Knowing the importance of this connectivity to families, Soldiers' Angels is donating $5,000 to The Maine Troop Greeters to assist in their efforts of keeping service members connected to their loved ones. "This is the least that our organization can do in assisting this great organization in their mission," says Patton-Bader. "What a wonderful gift it was to hear my son's voice the minute he stepped on to American soil."

Led by Bill Knight of VFW Post 1761 in Bangor, Maine, caring individuals banded together back in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War to welcome troops passing through Bangor International Airport. Bangor serves as a gateway for service personnel heading to war and for those returning home. It is both the first stop on U.S. soil and last stop before going overseas for many. On average, at least two flights a day stop in Bangor on their way to or from destinations abroad.

Of the original 18 Maine Troop Greeters, Knight is the only one left. The other 17 have been replaced by more than 125 greeters, including members of other Posts and many folks from Bangor and surrounding communities. Most of the greeters are from the WWII and Korean War generations, though Vietnam vets are well-represented.

Why do these volunteer greeters often crawl out of bed in the middle of the night to cheer on war returnees at Bangor International Airport? Knight said it's because he doesn't want this newest generation of vets to feel like the Vietnam veterans.

The Maine Troop Greeters of Bangor, Maine are a non-profit group of veterans and men and women supporting our armed forces serving overseas by making sure that every troop flight is greeted at the Bangor International Airport. Day or night, rain or shine, it is The Maine Troop Greeters' commitment to welcome each troop home from war or give a proper sendoff to each of the young men and women heading overseas. They accomplish this by being there for them and offering them free cell phones to call a loved one, a snack to keep them going, and lots of hugs and handshakes to let them know we care.

Since the start of greeting flights in May of 2003, The Maine Troop Greeters have greeted over 400,000 service members and 35 military dogs. To view more information about The Maine Troop Greeters, please access their website or contact Bill Knight, (207) 478-3738 or E-mail troopgreeters@prexar.com. Meet the characters, watch promo clips, and get a behind the scenes look at the documentary film The Way We Get By -- A film about the Maine Troop Greeters of Bangor, Maine.

Soldiers’ Angels is a grassroots 501(c)(3) non-profit comprised of 200,000 volunteers in over twenty different teams and programs with unique and effective ways to support members of the U.S. military. Soldiers’ Angels operates internationally to provide letters, care packages, and comfort items to the deployed, and support for their families at home. They also provide assistance to the wounded, continuing support for veterans, remembrances and comfort for families of the fallen and immediate response to unique situations. For more information, visit the Soldiers' Angels website or call (615) 676-0239.


06 June 2008

The Longest Day

Shortly after dawn on June 7, Lt. Horace Henderson of the Sixth Engineer Special Brigade landed on Omaha Beach.

Going in on his Higgens boat, "I noticed that nothing moved on the beach except one bulldozer. The beach was covered with debris, sunken craft and wrecked vehicles. We saw many bodies in the water...

We jumped into chest high water and waded ashore. Then we saw that the beach was literally covered with the bodies of American soldiers wearing the blue and grey patches of the 29th Infantry Division."

- From the opening pages of Stephen E. Ambrose's Citizen Soldiers.


How cool is this?!?

Vet Plans Road Trip to Meet America & Needs Your Help

Daniel McConnell thought nothing of his country's request to relocate to Afghanistan... in fact he welcomed the challenge and the adventure. Unfortunately, his all-expenses-paid tour of Afghanistan ended early when the Apache he was piloting crashed in the barren landscape. Through a miracle, he escaped with his life. However, he did not come home unscathed. He lost his right hand below the elbow and sustained a traumatic brain injury among other injuries.

The one thing he's never lost is his passion for life. After several months at BAMC in San Antonio, Daniel returned to Tennessee where he is now in medical school at ETSU. Effects of the his brain injury and the obstacles presented by being an amputee increase the difficulty of medical school, but have not held him back. He continues to embrace life and has become an inspiration to others.

A little more that two years after his return to the states, his country is calling him again but in a slightly different way. It's calling him to explore the countryside and meet the people he sacrificed so much for. Year one of medical school is rapidly coming to a close and the summer break is to be used to 'set yourself apart' from other med students.

Daniel decided when he heard that, that he would set himself apart... and not by doing research like everyone else. He decided that since he dedicated eleven and a half years to this great country (and even lost body parts for it), he wanted to see it and meet his fellow Americans.

He's planning to make a big circle around the country... starting in Tennessee driving up to Maine, over to Oregon, down California, and then across to Key West. He will be driving (and living in) his old '84 Suburban affectionately known as the 'Pinto Bean' with only the company of his furry, four-legged co-pilot named Rocky. He's planning to stay off the beaten path and see as much as he can with plans to write a book about his adventures.

Daniel's heading for Bar Harbor, Maine today. Drop him a line if you're along the route and want to meet up for a meal or can offer him a bed for the night. If not, hit the tip jar to chip in some gas money.

Thanks to Mrs. G for the heads up!

Sometimes there's nothing like a warm, handmade blanket

Dear Paula:

My name is SFC Gregory (...) and I was wounded in Iraq in April by a road side bomb where I suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), tinnitus right ear, lower back injury, etc.

While at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center Germany I was given two blankets with one being of an American flag design and another one being blue with a flower design. The two blankets followed me back here to WOMACK Army Medical Center Fort Bragg, North Carolina along with the address/email tags attached to the ribbons around the blankets and this is how I’m able to make contact with you.

I am so grateful you donated your time and resources to supply a blanket. The flight from Germany was long and cold. I was able to snuggle up and stay warm in the blanket you donated. I’ll always hold onto the blankets.

I want to extend a heartfelt “Thank You” for your support and kindness.

Proudly Serving,

Thanks so much to Paula and all of the members of SA's Blankets of Hope Team for making a difference, one Soldier at a time...

If you'd like information about making Blankets of Hope, email me.

05 June 2008

Purple Heart recipient 63-7865 retires

An airman with the 86th Airlift Wing salutes on Wednesday at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, as C-130E cargo aircraft "63-7865" taxis down the runway for its final flight before retirement. This summer, the wing will retire five of its aging C-130E aircraft. Scott Schonauer / S&S.

The C-130E Hercules, one of the oldest in Air Force inventory, left Ramstein AB on Wednesday for its final resting place at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona.

A plaque on the flight deck tells the storyof how 63-7865 earned its honorary Purple Heart in Vietnam:

On June 1, 1972, the plane took a mortar round through the No. 3 engine while parked on the tarmac at Kontum Air Base. A maintenance team changed out the engine, but the new one failed to start. Pilots had to force the plane to take off with only three engines under "heavy mortar attack," the citation reads.

The aircraft was hit with several more mortar rounds during takeoff, puncturing the wings and damaging the other engines. The plane could climb to only 1,000 feet but made an emergency landing at Plieku Air Base, where mechanics determined it needed two new wings and four new engines.

The 86th Airlift Wing last deployed 63-7865 to the Persian Gulf region last year, during which it flew more hours than any of the wing’s other C-130 cargo aircraft. It flew its last combat mission on Nov. 13, ferrying cargo and troops around Iraq.

Airmen from the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing salute a C-130 Hercules, tail number 63-7865, Nov. 13 in Southwest Asia. The aircraft from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, had just flown its last combat mission. U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Tia Schroeder

USS Abraham Lincoln Flight Deck

Chief Aviation Machinist's Mate Crystal Crawford, assigned to the "Blue Blasters" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 34 waits near an F/A-18C Hornet on the flight deck of Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) as the strike fighter is prepared for a mission. Lincoln is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility supporting maritime security operations in the Persian Gulf. Photo: Petty Officer 3rd Class James Evans.

04 June 2008

With the 1-503rd IN, 173rd ABCT at Zerok Combat Outpost

Spc. Corey McRae looks out a telescope to try to pinpoint a spot where he thought there might be some insurgent activity. Soldiers from 3rd Platoon man the towers around their small outpost around the clock.

"It’s been a long deployment." - SPC Robert Hool.

S&S's Kent Harris gives us a glimpse of life at Zerok Combat Outpost in Afghanistan:

Zerok Combat Outpost, at the edge of a plateau about 7,700 feet above sea level, is surrounded by mountain ridges rising several hundred feet higher.

Enemies love to climb on the far side of those ridges and lob rockets and missiles toward the soldiers below.

It happened Saturday morning. And Saturday afternoon. And Sunday morning. And more than 100 times since 3rd Platoon, Company D, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment arrived in this area, in eastern Afghanistan, in May 2007.
The platoon was supposed to rotate into the compound for about a month at a time with another platoon, but those soldiers have largely been needed elsewhere. So there was an 87-day stint in the winter and another 67-day stint. They’ve currently been on post for about 33 days.

Soldiers admit that the days can run together.

"I don’t know what date it is," Spc. Corey McRae admits. "I don’t know what day of the week it is."

Attacks serve to break up the monotony, according to [1LT Justin] Thornburg. "It’s about 95, 96 percent boredom with about 5 percent excitement," he said.
"You’ve got to think of other things" besides the next attack, says Spc. Jason Leehan, the platoon medic, adding that if you don’t, "it would drive you nuts."

Another morale booster comes in the form of Pfc. Jordan Davis, a cook rotated into the compound who puts together breakfast and dinner every day. Lunch comes in the form of MREs.

The latest morale booster is the feeling that it won’t be long until they’re back in Vicenza, Italy — and away from the rockets, the dust and the football field-sized complex they’ve called home for much of the last 13 months.

It's been a long deployment.

More (with photos) at S&S.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.

Welcome Home, TF Marne!

"This Was the Surge".


Reflections on the outcome, not the beginning

"In the end, how we leave and what we leave behind will be more important than how we came." - Ryan Crocker, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq

Fouad Ajami in today's WSJ:

It is in categories of good and evil that men and women in those lands [the Middle East] describe their world. The unyielding campaign waged by this president made a deep impression on them. ...

To a man, they [the terror "theorists"] have told us that they have been bloodied in Iraq, that they have been surprised by the stoicism of the Americans, by the staying power of the Bush administration. ...

A word about that "staying power". It's called "street credibility", and has been earned in very large part by our Soldiers and Marines on the ground, something Mr. Ajami doesn't directly mention, but Michael Yon has often observed:

Before the war, our people had no street credibility in Iraq. Iraqis thought American Soldiers were soft, and that the body armor was a type of personal air conditioner. But if the Iraqis knew back then what they know now about American willingness to suffer and fight, it’s doubtful that Saddam would have taunted an angry America.

Yet today, knowing our Soldiers to be actually aggressive and able killers when the switch gets flipped to ON, they also see how our people are more competent street fighters than the Iraqi Army, even without the high-tech tools. ... Day after day, Iraqis come to Americans asking for justice, because they see countless thousands of daily actions... The man-to-man respect is there.

Mr. Ajami continues on the macro level, which, to be fair, is the focus of his Editorial:

It is not easy to tell people of threats and dangers they have been spared. The war put on notice regimes and conspirators who had harbored dark thoughts about America and who, in the course of the 1990s, were led to believe that terrible deeds against America would go unpunished. A different lesson was taught in Iraq.

To quote Michael Yon again, "Our military is a powerful tribe." Or as many have said, the American Soldier is our best ambassador. I don't think Mr. Crocker would have a problem with that description.

03 June 2008

That's Bob in the middle... but who the heck are those other two guys?

Army Chief of Staff GEN Casey, Bob, and ISAF Commander GEN Dan McNeill.

My friend Bob Connolly got set up recently. He was told some "senior Army folks" were coming by the Kenan-Flagler Business School, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill where he's a Professor to discuss some programs on organizational change and related topics for the armed services.

Turns out Generals Casey and McNeill were there to honor him for his "outstanding support of Soldiers in Afghanistan."

The letter from GEN Casey continues (emphasis mine):

You sent out a call for support and were able to organize, receive and package, and mail over 4000 pounds of care packages containing snacks, coffee, sundry items, movies, and magazines to our Soldiers in combat.

I know that the Soldiers appreciate your support and commitment to their comfort and well being. It is private citizens, such as yourself, who remind our Soldiers every day of the honor and respect that our Nation has for their sacrifices.

You can see some of what I call "Soldier loot" here - back when Bob was up to about 2400 pounds.

In typical fashion, Bob calls himself nothing but a "conduit" and gives all the credit to others. Not just to the generous donors in and around the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, but also to his contacts downrange.

The truth is that without the help of the 1-503 IN chaplain, CPT Kevin Guthrie, this would not have been nearly as successful. He pointed me to the leadership of the line companies doing the heavy lifting, he counseled on what items really made a difference, and he kept me in the loop enough to know who needed what and when.... all the while, I had no real idea where his paratroopers [of the 173rd ABCT] were really operating so OPSEC wasn’t an issue.

The leadership of the 1SGs, platoon leaders, and company commanders helped, too. Their emails back (and occasional photos) converted the concept of paratroopers working in a tough place into a reality that folks back home could understand. Their thank you’s, descriptions of daily life, stories, vignettes, and occasional photos were more compelling than anything I could ever dream up.

In the end, I functioned as the conduit, connecting generous people back home with some of America’s finest in the field. The recognition rightfully belongs to everyone who participated, and continues to do so.

I had the pleasure of seeing Bob again recently - this time during a trip to Germany with some of his students. He made a point of adding Landstuhl to the group's agenda giving me and Chris, a fellow Soldiers' Angel and nurse at Landstuhl, the opportunity to tell his students about our Heroes and their caregivers.

What a role model. Don't you wish America had more professors like Bob?

A big BZ and many thanks to Bob, his wife Cindy, the good folks at Kenan-Flagler Business School, UNC - Chapel Hill, CPT Guthrie, and everyone else who supported this effort to show the Soldiers of the 173rd how much we care for them. Airborne! Sky Soldiers!

COIN in Sadr City: Iron Brigade Soldiers talk to Jamilla Market owners about microgrants

Lt. Col. Brian Eifler (r), who hails from Farmington Hills, Mich., and Capt. Nicholas Cantrell (l), who hails from Topeka, Kan., help an Iraqi shop owner in Jamilla Market in the Sadr City district of Baghdad fill out a micro-grant application May 29. Business owners trying to get their businesses started again after nearly two months of intense fighting in Sadr City are eligible for grants up to $2,500 from coalition forces.

Eifler is the commander of Task Force 1-6, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armor Division, assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division - Baghdad, and Cantrell serves as a fire support officer with the unit. Photo: Maj. Michael Humphreys.

BAGHDAD – “We have specifically been looking for lost revenues and minor damages or losses, like a small generator or a refrigerator,” Cantrell said, of his door-to-door approach at educating business owners to the possibilities.

“The word is starting to get out … we are experiencing people starting to ask us about the micro-grants now instead of us telling them,” Cantrell said.

In four days, TF 1-6 handed out $85,000 in micro-grants, and though the money is a lifeboat to the individual business owner, Cantrell said TF 1-6 is leading the charge in concert with the Iraqi security forces, the government of Iraq, and civil affairs operations, to fix Jamilla Market on a grand scale.

“It was operating at zero percent,” said Lt. Col. Brian Eifler, a native of Farmington Hills, Mich., and commander of TF 1-6. “Now it’s about 30 or 40 percent of what it used to be, and every day we see a marked improvement in there.”

While micro-grants are being handed out to business owners pedaling everything from fruits and vegetables to hammers and nails, the work going on around them reads like an expensive shopping list as well. Cantrell said numerous small projects are underway to remove rubble, fix open sewers, improve power and install street lights and many other critical infrastructure improvements.

“We’ve cleaned up many of the areas affected by the fighting and fires, and all of this has resulted in stores and businesses reopening and with the residents feeling a new sense of security,” Cantrell said.

With a shout out and big hug to Amy Cantrell, a volunteer with the Soldiers' Angel's Blankets of Hope team and who sends us blankets for the patients at Landstuhl. CPT Cantrell is her son, from the Baumholder, Germany-based Iron Brigade which recently deployed to Iraq.

It's the unit's 3rd deployment in the last five years, and they're seeing a lot of positive changes. Now, the local merchants understand who is responsible for the losses they've edured and feel secure enough to talk about it.

“The terrorists – they destroy everything. They take everything,” one of them said. He's vowed to use the coalition-sponsored microgrant and other help from the GoI to rebuild his business.

“We are with the right,” he exclaimed. “We are with the people. We are with the new world.”

02 June 2008

Today's favorite news headline

Taliban flee U.S. Marines onslaught in Afghanistan

Found at The Long War Journal, which incidentally featured this headline yesterday: Iraqi Army interdicting Iranian operations in the South. Interesting, the Iranians having been so helpful and all.

Like when they manufactured the weapon that did this, something I've been unable to get out of my mind's eye since hearing about their supposed "goodwill" the other day.

PFC Ross Andrew McGinnis Awarded Medal of Honor

US Army photo.

President Bush:

When Ross McGinnis was in kindergarten, the teacher asked him to draw a picture of what he wanted to be when he grew up. He drew a soldier. Today our nation recognizing -- recognizes him as a soldier, and more than that -- because he did far more than his duty. In the words of one of our commanding generals, "Four men are alive because this soldier embodied our Army values and gave his life."

The day will come when the mission he served has been completed and the fighting is over, and freedom and security have prevailed. America will never forget those who came forward to bear the battle. America will always honor the name of this brave soldier who gave all for his country, and was taken to rest at age 19.

No one outside this man's family can know the true weight of their loss. But in words spoken long ago, we are told how to measure the kind of devotion that Ross McGinnis showed on his last day: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

PFC McGinnis in Iraq. Photo: S&S.

The members of PFC McGinnis's vehicle crew - whose lives he saved on December 4, 2006 in Adhamiyah, Iraq - were present at the ceremony: SFC Cedric Thomas, SSG Ian Newland, SGT Lyle Buehler, and SPC Sean Lawson. Ross was in 1st Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division (attached to 2nd BCT, 2ID).

Ross' Medal of Homor page can be found here, which includes the Citation, the President's full remarks, a video of the ceremony, and other video interviews.

Operation Rock Penetrator in Kunar Province

KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan (May 30, 2008) – Afghan National Army soldiers and paratroopers from Able Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment air assaulted into the Narang Valley on the evening of May 16 for a scheduled 24-hour mission in Kunar province, Afghanistan.

A part of Operation Rock Penetrator, the ANA soldiers took the lead role in this mission, which was to search and clear Bidal Village, designated “Objective Grappa”, while Able Company Soldiers secured overwatch positions.

Under the moonlight, approximately 150 American and Afghan soldiers flew into Kunar’s Narang Valley aboard CH-47 Chinooks and UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. The Soldiers, under the protection of Apache attack helicopters, were safely delivered from Camp Wright in Asadabad to five separate landing zones.

First platoon Soldiers were tasked with being the support element for the ANA soldiers. The paratroopers exited the Blackhawk helicopters in tall wheat fields west of Bidal.

Burdened with heavy equipment, the Sky Soldiers began moving upward with the help of their night vision devices. After several hours of climbing high stone terraces, crossing dangerous terrain with 10-15 feet drop offs, 1st platoon arrived at their position.

“We’ve had reports that rebels have been moving through this village intimidating people and keeping weapons and supplies there, so they can take them up into the Korengal and Shuryak Valleys,” said 1st Lt. Jason P. Levay, Platoon Leader for 1st Platoon. “I know this is not a peaceful area.”

At first light, from beneath camouflage netting, the paratroopers watched as ANA soldiers began moving in the valley toward objective Grappa. The ANA soldiers made their way through a mostly dry river bed and proceeded to search one side of the village and then the other looking for weapon caches, contraband and insurgent safe-havens.

“While the ANA were clearing a house, they found two anti-personnel mines and some explosives. We arrested the guy, and airlifted him out of there later on that day,” said Army Staff Sgt. Daniel C. Metcalfe, 25, from Rochester, N.Y., acting platoon sergeant for 1st Platoon.

In the afternoon, after the ANA soldiers had finished their search, an element of 1st platoon Soldiers led by Levay, climbed back down the mountainside and met up with the ANA soldiers in one of the village compounds. ...

Later in the evening, acting on intelligence that stated there were more enemy fighters in the area, the mission was extended 24 hours. Helicopters arrived and flew the Soldiers to 2nd Platoon’s position, where they were re-supplied.

Read about the rest of the mission here.

Click here for more 173rd ABCT Afghanistan posts.