31 December 2008

Happy New Year!

As always, with my all-time favorite "Don't Drink & Drive" poster, which I find hilarious for a couple of reasons. I mean, the tank and the Smokey standing over the feet in the bag are just darkly and perversely funny right there. And second, well, telling soldiers not to drink is hilarious all by itself.

All the best for 2009!

Auld Lang Syne

To friends and loved ones who can't be with us; and those who are no longer with us.

You are always in our hearts.

Farewell 2008!

28 December 2008

Famous WWII tank "found"

Right under our noses, so to speak, at Rose Barracks in Vilseck.

Vilseck tank confirmed as ‘Cobra King’
By Jennifer H. Svan, Stars and Stripes

A World War II-era M4 Sherman tank on display at Rose Barracks in Vilseck, Germany has been confirmed to be the “Cobra King,” the first tank to reach besieged American troops defending Bastogne from the Germans’ counterattack during the Battle of the Bulge.

U.S. Army Europe officials announced the discovery Friday in a news release timed to coincide with the Dec. 26, 1944, anniversary of the Company C, 37th Tank Battalion’s famous arrival in Bastogne.

Much more at the link.

Update: Adding this photo from a new article about the Cobra King at Army.mil.
'Cobra King' on Rose Barracks in Vilseck, Germany, February 25. During the Battle of the Bulge the tank and its crew led an armor an infantry column that relieved the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne, Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. U.S. Army Europe historians and museum curators recently confirmed the tank's identity and lineage. Photo: Dave Melancon.

Eagle Scout candidate assists Landstuhl patients

Over the course of the years, Soldiers' Angels has had the opportunity to work with many Eagle Scout candidates who have volunteered to support wounded and ill Soldiers as part of their community service projects. Soldiers' Angels Germany has been at the receiving end of a few of these efforts, coordinated by my colleague Roger who is SA's POC for Eagle Scout projects.

Because it takes over 300 individual requirements and several years to accomplish the necessary steps, only about 3% of boys who enter the scouting program earn the Eagle Rank.

The final, and one of the most challenging requirements, is performing a service project to aid the community. The scout is responsible for planning, organizing and running the project, which can often run into hundreds of hours of work.

"May the Force be with you" - one of the quilts from Lehi Hazen's Eagle Scout project for patients at Landstuhl hospital. Clockwise from top left: Lehi Hazen, Elder Hoyt, Lehi's Dad LTJG Vaughn Hazen (USCG Reserve), and Elder Aguirre.

Today, I'd like to introduce Lehi Hazen of Boy Scout Troop 832 in Rosenberg, Texas. Inspired by his Mom Jori's long-time support as a Blankets of Hope sewer, and knowing how cold Germany is at this time of year, Lehi decided blankets would be the focus of his Eagle Scout project. Enlisting the support of family, fellow scouts, and community members, Lehi recently sent over 30 Blankets of Hope for distribution to the patients at Landstuhl hospital.

Just 21 of the 30-plus Blankets of Hope generated through Lehi's Eagle Scout community service project for the patients at Landstuhl hospital.

The scouts of Lehi's Troop 832 in Rosenberg, Texas created the squares for this quilt sent to Soldiers' Angels Germany for the patients at Landstuhl hospital.

Mom Jori Hazen at the sewing maching with Lehi's youngest sister Harmony. Jori, assisted by Harmony, has been making quilts for the patients at Landstuhl hospital since 2006.

On behalf of Soldiers' Angels, I would like to thank Lehi for his Eagle project to collect and send Blankets of Hope to Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany. Landstuhl has served over 50,000 patients since 2003, and the tangible support of patriotic citizens like him has made their stay here brighter and more comfortable.

27 December 2008

Godspeed John P. Pryor, Surgeon and Soldier

John P. Pryor, 42, surgeon and soldier
By Michael Matza
Inquirer Staff Writer

John P. Pryor, 42, of Moorestown, the dedicated leader of the University of Pennsylvania's trauma team and a decorated major in the Army Reserve who wrote eloquently about the painful parallels between battlefield deaths and urban homicides, was killed on Christmas by enemy fire in Iraq while serving as a combat surgeon.

Dr. Pryor deployed Dec. 6 and was with a risky frontline surgical unit when he was killed by shrapnel from a mortar round. It was his second tour of duty in Iraq.

Dr. Pryor, who was experienced and cool under pressure, was born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., and raised near Albany. He completed surgical training at the State University of New York in Buffalo, and came to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in 1999. After a fellowship in trauma surgery and critical care, he joined Penn's surgical faculty and served as director of the hospital's nationally recognized trauma program.

"JP was a magical man, with boundless energy and goodness," said Dr. Pryor's mentor at Penn, Dr. C. William Schwab. "He was a devoted son, husband, father, colleague and friend. . . . At his core were many great values, but his passion for service to others" stood out.

In an undated document that Dr. Pryor wrote and left with family before he deployed, he recounted his early affinity for injured people, his passion to serve - specifically in wartime - and the difficulty of balancing his love of country and family, because he felt his decision to go to Iraq was not always supported by those closest to him.

"Since an early age, Dr. Pryor was involved in the care of the sick and injured," he wrote of himself in the third person. "He was certified in CPR when he was 14 years old, joined the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Ambulance Corps at 17, and became a N.Y. State Emergency Medical Technician at 18," adding that it was "emotionally very challenging" to balance his dedication to family and country. "He hopes and prays," he wrote, "for forgiveness from his family and colleagues."

Friends said a favorite quote from Albert Schweitzer that hung on Dr. Pryor's Penn office wall captured his spirit.

"Seek always to do some good, somewhere," it reads. "Even if it's a little thing, do something for those who need help, something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it. For remember, you don't live in a world all your own. Your brothers are here, too."

A technically skilled surgeon with a fierce adventurous streak, Dr. Pryor dashed to the heart of Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001, to volunteer his services. He wound up deciphering and filling medical requests that crackled over rescue-team radios.

"I don't think about it every day, but I've had flashbacks," he said in 2002.

A hard worker who drove himself relentlessly, Dr. Pryor took it personally when he was unable to save someone on his operating table.

In a 2006 Inquirer opinion piece describing his service with the 344th Combat Support Hospital in Abu Ghraib, Dr. Pryor wrote of the "palpable grief" that comes over the staff when a U.S. soldier doesn't survive.

"Everyone is affected and everyone deals with it in a different way. For me," he wrote, "it is very, very personal. I was the surgeon who couldn't save him... The staff people come and give me a hug. They ask me if I am OK; they pray for me. I appreciate it, and I hate it at the same time."

Dr. Pryor is survived by his wife, Carmela V. Calvo, a pediatrician at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children; a daughter, Danielle; sons Francis and John Jr.; a brother; and his parents, Richard C. and Victoria.

Arrangements were incomplete, although the family expects that a Funeral Mass will be said at Our Lady of Good Counsel Roman Catholic Church in Moorestown.

In an August 2007 article published in The Washington Post, Pryor wrote:

"In Iraq, soldiers die for freedom, for honor, for their country and for their buddies. Here in Philadelphia, they die without honor, without purpose, for no country, for no one."

Major Pryor was assigned to the 1st Medical Detachment, Forward Surgical Team in Mosul, Iraq.

Must read: Roger has posted an article written by Major Pryor during his first deployment in 2006 in which he talks about losing a patient.

After a few minutes, I collected myself and began to direct the care for his final journey home. We closed what we could of the wounds and wrapped the ones we couldn't get together. We washed all of the dirt and oil off his skin, combed his hair and washed his face. He was transferred to a litter and brought to a private, enclosed room where we placed him inside a heavy black body bag. The body was draped with the American flag, and a guard was posted. The chaplain gathered some of the providers, and we said prayers over the body. ...

We arrange for his buddies to come in and say goodbye, something I cannot even bear to watch. After a time of reflection, the unit gathers the equipment and prepares to go out again that night. Courage: to lose a friend in battle and go right back into the fight. I love every single one of them.

Read the rest.

26 December 2008

Christmas spirit at Combat Outpost Kushmand

Michael Gisick of Stars and Stripes continues his reporting from Afghanistan, this time from the remote home of Company C, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. Thanks, Mike!

Combat Outpost Kushmand, a dusty base home to about 100 U.S. soldiers, probably doesn’t fit the bill. Near the southern tip of the U.S. presence in eastern Afghanistan and a punishing, days-long drive from the next closest base, it is not overwhelming in its amenities. Until a week ago, there was no water for showers or laundry.

Snow covered ridges are just visible in the far distance, but Kushmand is a capital of dust, a plywood town on a barren plain. It’s chow hall is known as the "Dusty Spoon," although some wit removed the "S" and the "n" from the sign.

Call it what you will, it’s a well-regarded place to eat, and the post’s six Army cooks worked for several days ahead of Christmas to uphold their reputation. Longer, actually.

"We’ve been ordering food for this for three months," said the head cook, Sgt. First Class Wilford Coleman, Jr, 36, of Chipley, Fla.

"We don’t just cook stuff that comes in a bag," he said. "We cook real food. A lot of visitors tell us this place is better than those contractor chow halls."

Roast beef, steak and ham notwithstanding, as Christmas came and went the dusty outpost was still a long way from home. Nine-and-a-half time zones, by one measure. Seven-thousand and some miles, by another.

The post has no chapel. And, while a chaplain visited the base and performed a short service on Tuesday, there was no church on Christmas.

Sgt. James Kendall, a medic with Company C, 1st Battlalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, re-enlists on Christmas Day at Combat Outpost Kushmand in southeastern Afghanistan. Photo: Michael Gisick, Stars and Stripes.

Sgt. James Kendall, who re-enlisted in a Santa hat, was on his third [Christmas away from home]. But unlike some, he gave the holiday spirit a go.

"I just got done watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ " the 31-year-old said, sitting on the back steps of his plywood barracks as other soldiers tossed a football.

Spc. David Brasket, a medic attached to Company C, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, plays a hand-crafted drum set made from scrap metal, old oil drums and a garbage can as part of Christmas festivities at Combat Outpost Kushmand in southeastern Afghanistan. Photo: Michael Gisick, Stars and Stripes.

Later, after [Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser] and his entourage had flown off, an ad hoc band — a few infantrymen on guitar and a mechanic on drums — took to a corner of the "Dusty poo."

The mechanic, Spc. David Brasket, 25, of Vancouver, Wash., built the drums with scrap metal, some old oil drums and a garbage can during his lunch breaks. It took about two weeks. He tries to rock out twice a day, usually by himself.

Merry Christmas and come home soon!

Christmas homecoming!!

Bob Connolly emailed me this morning to say his son-in-law arrived at Fort Campbell from Afghanistan yesterday!

Homecoming story and lots of photos at his daughter's blog (you should see the dog going wild!), including the one below.

Josh and Regan Huneycutt.

Merry Christmas to the happy couple and the entire family. Thank you for your service, Josh. WELCOME HOME!

25 December 2008

A holiday miracle unfolds

Denise Nix of the Daily Breeze with the latest on this story (keep scrolling for the whole thing), and it truly is a miracle.

For the Troops ---- A holiday miracle unfolds
By Denise Nix, Staff Writer

Many are strangers. Some are friends. They are Boy Scouts, veterans and a famous actor.

All of them were touched by news about the theft of clothes and handmade blankets gathered by a Torrance woman for wounded soldiers stationed overseas.

In the three weeks since, they've helped Linda Ferrara replace what was stolen - and then some.

Ferrara, whose son, Army Capt. Matthew Ferrara, was killed in Afghanistan last year, said this week she is so thankful to all who responded.

"I'm gratified that so many people are thinking about the soldiers," Ferrara said Friday. "I'm so thankful."

Some have given all they could - as little as $5 - while others said they redirected their Christmas money to the cause.

Actor and director Rick Schroder said he plans to replace everything that was stolen after reading about the theft.

"I just couldn't let these thieves feel like they've won," Schroder said in a telephone interview. "It's really what got me - was the people who stole the stuff knew it was bound for service people overseas."

Schroder said he went to Landstuhl a couple of years ago, and will always remember the faces of the soldiers - young, scared and alone.

"I hope Americans really, really take a second and think about them and what they sacrifice," added the 38-year-old actor who has appeared in "NYPD Blue," "24" and "Strong Medicine."

The Ledford family, friends of the Ferraras, sent an $800 check and card that read: "Read about your recent troubles and hope this will replace what was taken - we all decided to contribute our Christmas money."

Kimberly Irwin sent $100 she earned at a garage sale she held to raise money for Christmas. She said it was in honor of Matthew Ferrara and the troops, and called Ferrara and her husband, Mario, her "new heroes."

Sgt. Ryan Edwards, stationed in Iraq, sent $10 and a note: "You need to know that you're wonderful people."

Michele Lewis, a co-leader of Girl Scout Troop 452 in Garden Grove, saw Ferrara and her handmade fleece blankets on the news, and knew the third- and fourth-grade girls in her troop would want to help.

The troop members were already making similar blankets for themselves, but they each put together an additional one to send to Landstuhl.

"The girls are really proud of what they did," Lewis said. "It means something to them to help those soldiers."

A Torrance Boy Scout troop that Matthew Ferrara and his three brothers once belonged to also sent donations, Ferrara said.

Matthew Ferrara attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, as did two of his brothers. Another brother is also in the Army.

Matthew Ferrara, 24, was killed Nov. 10, 2007, when insurgents attacked his NATO-led patrol in Afghanistan. He was killed instantly, never going to Landstuhl, but many in his troop did.

On Thursday, Ferrara joined fellow members of the Orange County West Point Parents Club and others in a conference room at Torrance Memorial Medical Center for a marathon blanket-making session.

Fifteen of them made 18 blankets in about three hours.

All the items are delivered to the hospital through Soldiers' Angels Germany. The goods are needed all year, not just at the holidays, and Ferrara said she will continue collecting.

In January, the organization is flying Ferrara to Germany so she can help distribute some of the items.

Read the whole story and see the photos at the link.

"Thank you" hardly seems enough to express our gratitude to everyone who helped make this happen.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas in Baghdad 2008

Nice report from CNN's Jill Dougherty about the first-ever official Christmas celebration in Baghdad, sponsored by Iraq's interior ministry.

More on Christmas celebrations in Iraq from Gateway Pundit here and here.

24 December 2008

Stille Nacht

For God so loved the world

Ghosts of Christmas past.

It was late evening when I walked by and looked into the room.

Both legs gone, way up. The rest covered with bandages and surgical draping (caution: graphic image at that link), even his face. What was left of his arms was on boards out to both sides.

My body felt like lead. So heavy I was afraid the floor might give way beneath me. And I thought, this must be like the pain - and the love - Mary felt watching her son die for us.

Then, a voice in my head, saying over and over, “For God so loved the world, for God so loved the world... ”

I asked his nurse if I could gown up and go in.

It was Christmas Eve.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

23 December 2008

On Army PT gear

The other night at the outpatient barracks a guy wearing PT shorts and t-shirt caught a glimpse of his reflection in the window. He hiked the shorts up until the waist was near his armpits, turned to the other soldiers and said,

"Here we are, the strongest Army on the face of the earth, and *this* is our PT uniform?"

20 December 2008

Certification Dive

Divers swim over a reef during a certification dive as part of the Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba program. The program teaches disabled and wounded recovering veterans to scuba dive. Photo: Petty Officer 2nd Class Jayme Pastoric,
Navy Visual News Service.

18 December 2008

Sharpshooter Team

Airman 1st Class Todd Maghamez, right, and Senior Airman Todd Robinson, 386th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron Close Precision Engagement team, blend in with their environment during a training exercise on Dec. 8 at an air base in Southwest Asia. Photo: Tech. Sgt. Raheem Moore, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing. Story: Staff Sgt. Vincent Borden, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs.

16 December 2008

"America's Favorite Mom" Plays Santa for the Troops

"America's Favorite Mom" Plays Santa for the Troops

Patti Patton-Bader, founder of Soldiers' Angels, has given her prizes from the America's Favorite Mom contest to service members and their families.

New York, NY (December 16, 2008) -- America's Favorite Mom played Santa for a Day in New York, using the prizes she won to bring an early Christmas to military personnel and their families. Patti Patton-Bader, named America's Favorite Mom last Mother's Day, received the remainder of her prizes in New York last week, which she immediately donated in support of her heroes.

Such generosity is typical of Ms. Bader, who is president of Soldiers' Angels, a military support nonprofit she founded soon after her soldier son was deployed to Iraq in 2003. Five years later, it is now a volunteer-based organization operating over 30 different teams and projects in support of America's military, veterans, and military families around the world. "Soldiers' Angels is proud to acknowledge the continued generosity of its founder, Patti Patton Bader, through her donation of the proceeds and prizes she received from the America's Favorite Mom contest," said Soldiers' Angels Treasurer Mark Concialdi.

Redbook magazine interviewed Ms. Bader in New York at a private lunch with editor Stacy Morrison before she received her final prize of a shopping spree. At Ms. Bader's direction, the shopping spree was spent buying Christmas gifts for children of wounded soldiers living in Fisher Houses while their parents recover at nearby military hospitals.

The cash grand prize was distributed as a lump sum of $150,000, which Ms. Bader donated to Soldiers' Angels this summer. She has also donated the set of household appliances she received to nonprofit Homes for Our Troops, where they will be added to a home to be constructed for a quadriplegic wounded soldier. In a recent email, the soldier described his reaction. "We are indebted to you incredibly for your donation of those fantastic appliances. Your generosity is truly humbling," he wrote.

But Ms. Bader herself is humble about the experience. "The best part of winning was being able to give the prizes to America's heroes--our soldiers and their families. There are so many wonderful mothers in this country, and I was just glad to have the opportunity to shine the light on our military and the importance of supporting them in this time of war. I am so grateful to Stuart and Linda Resnick of Teleflora for developing the America's Favorite Mom contest," she said. The individualized, diamond-encrusted necklace declaring Ms. Bader "America's Favorite Mom" was donated to the Soldiers' Angels Museum, which documents the development of Soldiers' Angels and responses from Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen it supports. Ms. Bader was named America's Favorite Mom in a primetime NBC television show on Mother's Day 2008, sponsored by Teleflora and hosted by Donny and Marie Osmond.

Established in 2003, Soldiers' Angels is a volunteer-based 501(c)(3) non-profit providing aid and comfort to the men and women of the United States Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, as well as veterans and military families. For more information, see www.soldiersangels.org or call 626-529-5114. Tax ID# 20-05834

Blackwater CEO on the role of security contractors

Today's Wall Street Journal carries a piece contributed by Erik Prince, former Navy SEAL and founder and CEO of Blackwater Worldwide.

There are a lot of misperceptions about contractors in Iraq. The majority of contractors provide a wide variety of support functions such as transport, laundry and garbage disposal services, for example.

Blackwater is in the business of providing security. For State Department employees. It's really quite simple, but a lot different than what many people think - namely, that Blackwater contractors are performing in combat roles. Or, that they are some kind of wild, bloodthirsty, money-hungry cowboys allowed to act at will, when in fact they are professionals operating under very strict controls.

How Blackwater Serves America
Think of our staff as soldiers who re-enlist.


Since United States military operations in Iraq began in 2003, I have visited Iraq at least 15 times. But unlike politicians who visit, the question for me has never been why the U.S. got into Iraq. Instead, as the CEO of Blackwater, the urgent question was how the company I head could perform the duties asked of us by the U.S. State Department.

Last week the Department of Justice announced charges against six Blackwater security guards for a shooting incident in Baghdad in September 2007. But before the histories are written, it is crucial to understand the often mischaracterized role of security contractors in this unique war.

In Iraq, State Department civilians and U.S. soldiers have been operating in the same location in an active war zone. While the troops have been facing insurgents, the State Department civilians have been working to rebuild institutions and infrastructure. Blackwater's role in this war evolved from this unprecedented dynamic. The government saw a need for highly experienced, highly trained Americans to protect our civilians abroad, and so it selected Blackwater.

Every individual who has worked for Blackwater in Iraq has previously served in the U.S. military or as a police officer. Many were highly decorated. And from the beginning, these individuals have been bound by detailed contracts that ensure intensive government direction and control.

Obviously, protecting civilians in a war zone is very dangerous, and Blackwater employees are exposed to the same kind of hostile attacks as soldiers. Later in the article Mr. Prince talks about an employee severely wounded while providing security to State Department employees in Iraq.

If the 6 individual Blackwater guards charged with unjustified shootings in September 2007 are found guilty, they should receive appropriate punishment. But we should not allow a shadow to be cast over the vast majority who have acted professionally, responsibly, and honorably over the past 5 years.

It is also worth noting that not a single civilian has been killed while under the protection of Blackwater employees.

15 December 2008

Update: Donations for wounded Soldiers stolen from Gold Star Mom

"Did you hear about the Mom whose donations for the wounded Soldiers were stolen? Well, that's me!"

- Linda Ferrara, while chasing a WalMart manager through the store to ask for a donation.

Gotta love it!

Linda related the WalMart incident last night on the phone as we spoke about the latest on her efforts to replace the stolen donations she had collected for the patients here at Landstuhl. (Back story here, keep scrolling at that link.) And yes, the manager did make a contribution.

Since the story about the theft broke she has received over 400 emails, many donations in kind, and about $25,000 in cash. She's told everyone that this is (unfortunately) an ongoing project, so if they are unable able to help now they may do so in the future.

Linda has been busy purchasing items from our wish list with the funds. She's also recruited two new groups of "blanket ladies" and bought fleece for them. She and her family have already packed up lots and lots of boxes and brought them to the Soldiers' Angels warehouse for shipment.

On top of everything else, Patti of Soldiers' Angels has arranged for Linda to fly here to meet with us in Germany (loaded up with even more donations from SA) and distribute some of the items to our wounded warriors personally. I'll of course be posting photos of the visit!

Our deepest gratitude to all of the generous donors on behalf of the patients here. And many thanks to everyone who covered this story, helping Linda snatch victory from the jaws of defeat - bloggers, newspaper journalists, and TV reporters, to the West Point Parents Club for putting out a mailing to all of its members, and to Patti of Soldiers' Angels.

But most of all, thank you Linda for your courage and undaunted spirit.

Linda and the "blanket ladies".

The Marines have the watch

A Marine with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, provides security with an M249 squad automatic weapon Dec. 8 in Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Under the request of Regional Command South, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan supplied Co. I to provide security for a large British logistics convoy, moving supplies from an area in transient with NATO Forces. Co. I and its headquarters, 3/8, are the ground combat element of SPMAGTF-A, whose mission is to conduct counterinsurgency operations, and train and mentor the Afghan national police. Photo and story: Lance Cpl. Brian D. Jones, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Afghanistan.

14 December 2008

Back in Iraq

President Bush during a surprise visit to Bagdhad today celebrating the recently-signed SOFA agreement, five years and one day after the capture of Saddam Hussein. Video from Greyhawk.

I'm looking forward of seeing some photos of the CINC with the troops!

Here we go.

President George W. Bush reaches to shake as many hands as possible as he meets with U.S. military and diplomatic personnel Sunday, Dec, 14, 2008, at the Al Faw Palace-Camp Victory in Baghdad. White House photo by Eric Draper.

Another photo and the transcript of the President's remarks to the troops at Blackfive.

THE PRESIDENT: Over the past five years, you have shown the world some unmistakable truths:

You have shown that when America is tested, we rise to meet the test.

You have shown that the desire for freedom is more powerful than the intimidation of terrorists.

You have shown that there is no task too difficult for the United States military.


Gateway Pundit has video.

...and here in Afghanistan.

President George W. Bush troops gathered at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Dec. 15. Photo: Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse, Combined Joint Task Force 101.

Also at DVIDS, B-roll video of Air Force One's and the President's arrival at BAF (part one of three).

Visiting volunteer from the US: Thank you and miss you, Pat!

It takes a special kind of person to come all the way over from the US in order to spend days in this room... someone like Soldiers' Angel Pat Scanlon. Pat's been a supporter for years and finally decided to fulfill a dream by coming over to see where all those boxes she's sent have ended up. Well, now you know - haha!

Here's Pat baking cookies in the kitchen of the Medical Transient Detachment outpatient barracks. When I came in with the camera, this patient who had been sitting there chatting with Pat while she worked jumped up to make it look like he was helping... which we found pretty funny.

At one of the hospital medical/surgical wards where the nurses have created a display showcasing Soldiers' Angels' donations such as our logo sweats. We were doing our rounds distributing phone cards, backpacks, and other items when I decided to snap this photo.

One of six "self-service" donations shelves we have set up in the outpatient barracks. The laundry room is a great location because if you know Soldiers, you know they'll find this room within hours of their arrival here. It may not look like much, but these shelves need to be refilled twice a week to keep up with the demand - particularly for the warm, soft Blankets of Hope. Also provided are extra clothing and personal care items, shower shoes, and empty backpacks.

Patients with puzzled looks on their faces often ask "is this stuff for us?" and "where it all comes from?". We say it's from people back home who know they're here and want them to know how much they love and support them.

...people like Pat and so many others. Thank you!

13 December 2008

After being wounded, Team Cherokee Captain gets his Christmas wish

He's leaving Germany this week to go back downrange.

By Seth Robson, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Friday, December 12, 2008

HOHENFELS, Germany — Capt. Terry Howell could have stayed in Germany for Christmas with his wife and 10-year-old daughter and people would still regard him as a hero.

The Taliban shot the 43-year-old Team Cherokee (Company C, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment) commander in the left kneecap and right calf back in August, two months into an eight-month mission to Afghanistan.

After two surgeries downrange, another two in Germany, three months on crutches and numerous physical therapy sessions, Howell is on the verge of achieving his goal — rejoining his unit downrange.

"My big drive to get back there is because I’m the commander. I need to be with my boys and help the guy who has taken my place — Capt. Chris Wadsworth — who had to step up and do my job along with 1st Sgt. Montae Clark," Howell said.

The 22-year Army veteran leaves Hohenfels this week for southern Afghanistan’s Zabul province, where Team Cherokee is battling Taliban insurgents near the porous border with northern Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas.

Team Cherokee commander Capt. Terry Howell shows the scars on his left knee, where he was wounded by enemy fire in Afghanistan. Photo: Seth Robson, S&S.

The return to Afghanistan is likely to be emotional, Howell said.

"There’s probably going to be a tear in my eye when I see them … the guys who helped me when I was shot," he said as he prepared to leave Wednesday.

Most soldiers would not be rated fit to deploy in Howell’s condition.

Eight-inch-long scars run down both sides of his swollen knee and along his calf where the bullet lodged. There are nine screws and two metal plates that will stay in the knee for another year, limiting its movement to 100 degrees.

Howell said he can live with his physical handicaps.

"It is the emotional part (that is hard)," he said. "Being the first one in my team to get injured is not what I expected. You don’t think it’s going to happen to you."

When he gets home, the former triathlete hopes he can get back to cycling but doesn’t expect to run again.

"I could hump up a mountain with my gear but coming down would be painful," he said.

Lt. Col. John Lange, the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment commander, said that Howell recovered faster than expected and that he was probably pushing himself because he wanted to get back to his unit.

At the Mudville Gazette Robert Stokely shares a story about CPL (soon to be 1st LT) Elijah Carroll, who was wounded when his son Mike was killed.

Meanwhile, others somehow continue to believe this is a funny subject.

12 December 2008

"You can take my leg, but you can't take my heart and you can't take my soul. I'm a Green Beret."

Some of you may have seen this story on TV last night. Here's more about the ten Soldiers of Operational Detachment Alpha 3336 of the 3rd SF Group who will be awarded the Silver Star today for their actions in the Shok valley of Nuristan province, Afghanistan back in April.

As [Master Sgt. Scott] Ford and Staff Sgt. John Wayne Walding returned fire, Walding was hit below his right knee. Ford turned and saw that the bullet "basically amputated his right leg right there on the battlefield."

Walding, of Groesbeck, Tex., recalled: "I literally grabbed my boot and put it in my crotch, then got the boot laces and tied it to my thigh, so it would not flop around. There was about two inches of meat holding my leg on." He put on a tourniquet, watching the blood flow out the stump to see when it was tight enough.

Now that's tough. But it was just the beginning.

Finally, after hours of fighting, the troops made their way down to the streambed, with those who could still walk carrying the wounded. A medical evacuation helicopter flew in, but the rotors were immediately hit by bullets, so the pilot hovered just long enough to allow the in-flight medic to jump off, then flew away.

A second helicopter came in but had to land in the middle of the icy, fast-moving stream. "It took two to three guys to carry each casualty through the river," Ford said. "It was a mad dash to the medevac." As they sat on the helicopter, it sustained several rounds of fire, and the pilot was grazed by a bullet.

By the time the battle ended, the Green Berets and the commandos had suffered 15 wounded and two killed, both Afghans, while an estimated 150 to 200 insurgents were dead, according to an official Army account of the battle. The Special Forces soldiers had nearly run out of ammunition, with each having one to two magazines left, Ford said.

Read the rest.

Ironically, this morning Mrs. Greyhawk made several of us aware of another kind of story about wounded soldiers remaining on active duty. After you've seen it, come back and watch this video again to cleanse your palate.

11 December 2008

18th MP Brigade returns home to Germany

Col. Mark Spindler (Right), commander, 18th Military Police Brigade, Multi-National Division – Baghdad and native of St. Louis, holds the 18th MP Bde., colors as Command Sgt. Maj. Bernard McPherson (Left), command sergeant major, 18th MP Bde. and native of Orangeburg, S.C., cases the brigade’s colors as the unit transfers its Police Transition Team mission to the 8th Military Police Brigade, deployed from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, Dec. 1 at Camp Liberty, Iraq.

Vigilant brigade concludes 15-month deployment

Story and photos by Sgt. Daniel Blottenberger, 18th Military Police Brigade, MND-B PAO

... The 18th MP Bde. accomplished a great deal with its IP counterparts and in support of its four battalions, which were strategically placed all throughout Iraq, with their mission focus being IP expansion, development and legitimacy.

The brigade expanded the IP force by training over 20,000 IP throughout Iraq, of which 13,000 were trained to protect the streets of Baghdad.

After expanding the IP force the brigade also saw the development of two national IP training centers in Diyala and Baghdad.

“A year ago the IP did not have a voice,” said [Col. Mark] Spindler, referring to the stature the IP force was in when the brigade arrived to assume the PTT mission. “Now they have a voice in the collection of Iraqi Security Forces along with the National Police and the Iraqi Army, as it rounds out the Iraqi security Forces charged to protect Iraq and its citizens.”

Spindler went on to say the IP will continue to succeed as long as they continue to hold their position and enforce rule of law in their respective communities.

Spindler also credited the success of the IP to the dedication of the brigade’s PTT teams, which he said, were unwavering in the support to their IP counterparts.

“You have made a difference to the generations to come,” said Spindler. “They will remember a time when American Soldiers stood on this soil.” ...

The Ever Vigilant Brigade’s success did not come without a cost, however, as the brigade lost 15 of its own during the deployment.

“This has been a difficult mission and a difficult task,” said Spindler. “We lost 15 of our warriors along the way, who fell for their buddies to their right and left. We will remember them and we will honor them as we continue to be inspired by their sacrifices.”

The Ever Vigilant 18th MP Bde. will return home to Mannheim in the upcoming weeks as it concludes its third deployment in five years.

Maj. Gen. Yves J. Fontaine, commanding general, 21st Theater Sustainment Command, shakes the hand of a military police Soldier from the 18th Military Police Brigade as he disembarks a transport plane at Ramstein Air Base Dec. 5. The 18th MP Bde. served 15 months in Iraq where they were responsible for law enforcement operations as well as training the Baghdad Police Transition Teams. Photo: Sgt. Fay Conroy.

Welcome home!

08 December 2008

2nd SCR Soldiers reunited with their Strykers

2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment soldiers unloaded dozens of Stryker armored personnel carriers at the Vilseck railhead on Saturday. The vehicles were back from a 15-month deployment to Iraq. Seth Robson / S&S.

"Like welcoming home fellow Soldiers":

[One of the] soldier[s] at the railhead, Sgt. Joseph Young, 35, of Lakewood, Calif., is a forward artillery observer by trade but ended up driving a Stryker in Iraq. It was his first experience in the Stryker after past deployments in Bradley fighting vehicles and Humvees, he said.

"The Stryker was a nice upgrade. I felt safe in it most of the time," he said. "The only thing that scared us were the [explosively formed projectiles] because they made Swiss cheese of everything."

Insurgents didn’t know how to combat the Strykers, Young said.

"If you shoot at us, a remote-controlled 50-cal (machine gun) is going to point at you," he said. "If not, you will have a squad (of troopers) in your face."

Young said his Stryker had two close calls with roadside bombs, but both bombs were mistimed and neither damaged the vehicle. Small-arms fire bounced off the Stryker’s armor during combat, he said.

"When we took fire you could hear the little pings. I felt really secure inside," he said.

The Strykers were also comfortable with air-conditioners, heaters and a sound system that played heavy metal band Metallica, Young said.

Seeing the Strykers back in Vilseck was like welcoming home fellow soldiers, he said.

"[A Stryker] is a part of you. You can rely on it. It will always get you home and if not you have your buddies’ Strykers who will help you get back," he said.


"There's many medics and they all do their jobs well. Then there's those who want to be flight medics - who want to practice medicine in an aircraft, and then practice medicine in an aircraft at night... in war. I mean, that takes a special kind of person."
- CW2 Wayne McDonald, Medevac Pilot

"Burning gas to save your ass."
- Motto of 1st platoon, Company C, 6-101st Aviation Regiment

Staff Sgt. Matthew Kinney, a flight medic, treats a wounded U.S. soldier while Staff Sgt. James Frailey, a helicopter crew chief, looks on. An Afghan soldier, in the rear, was wounded. Photo and story: Michael Gisick / S&S.

Michael Gisick of Stars and Stripes files this report after spending most of October with the Jalalabad-based DUSTOFF unit from the 101st Aviation regiment. Make sure to watch the video at the end of the article and let the pilots and medics tell you the story of their year-long deployment in their own words.

Based in Kunar province, which includes the infamous Korengal Valley, these guys flew into Wanat during the July attack there while "insurgents’ fire was still lighting up the mountainside as if there were some huge invasion of flash photographers."

Pilot CW2 Wayne McDonald compared it to something out of Hollywood:

"It was something like I saw as a kid growing up in the Vietnam movies. The guys were getting dragged on ponchos. They’re screaming. Their clothes were blown off them. They’re burned in the face, they’re bleeding, they’re disoriented, and they’re just piling into the aircraft to get out of there."

The medics try to take a clinical approach, which offers a certain detachment. Anyway, they don’t know how many people they’ve saved or how many they haven’t because they don’t know what happens after a patient leaves their aircraft. Leaving it that way is a recommended coping strategy, but some of the medics still wish they knew.

[Flight medic Staff Sgt. Matthew] Kinney got an e-mail once from one of the soldiers he pulled out of Wanat. The soldier told him it was the most amazing thing he’d ever seen, the way they had come for them.

There are no words to describe how I feel about these guys, whom you can meet by watching the video here.

Update: Flight medic SSG Matthew Kinney awarded Silver Star

Kinney's Dustoff unit worked other missions you're familiar with: He and fellow flight medic SGT Adam Connaughton helped take care of CPT Rob Yllescas. They medevaced the casualties out of Wanat. And Connaughton pulled out the guys of 3rd Group after they were ambushed in the Shok valley. You may remember 10 of them were awarded Silver Stars for their actions in that battle. SGT Connaughton received a Bronze Star with Valor and later an Air Medal with Valor.

06 December 2008

Go Navy, beat Army!

Carol (on her third visit here from the US!) with some of our Navy friends on one of the med/surgical wards. Note the big BEAT ARMY buttons.

Well, at least the nursing staff at Landstuhl are happy tonight. The patients, not so much...

Just kidding, guys. Congratulations!

04 December 2008

Linda's donations for Landstuhl patients stolen

Sad news - I posted recently about the Blankets of Hope Linda Ferrara (keep scrolling at that link) and her friends made for the patients at Landstuhl. She's also been working with the West Point Parent Club collecting other donations for the warriors here.

From left to right: Donna McLaughlin, Scotti Steip, Rita Gannam (hidden in the back), Barbara LeQuire, Linda Ferrara, Joan Krause, Debbie Collins, Toni Tramontin, Anne Viersen, Sass Kupfer, Virginia Burns, Janet Gonsalves, Joann Waybright. Not shown: Penni Smith, Corinne Yano, Michele McGowan.

Everything was stolen this past weekend.

Update: Just emailed with Denise Nix of The Daily Breeze who broke this story and is all over it:

- Mother's donations stolen "I don't want to let them down," Ferrara said. "This wasn't just stuff, this was going to wounded soldiers."
- "Those guys are over there putting their lives on the line, even for the thieves"

Update 6 Dec: The Ferraras have been informed that their insurance company is, indeed, going to cover the cost of the stolen items. Good on them. Of course, some of the donations such as the blankets cannot be replaced with money alone and will take some time to recreate. Our thanks to everyone for their support.

Update 3: Linda's interviewed by a local TV station, and an article in the LA Times.

What donors gave, thieves took away

By Jia-Rui Chong
December 5, 2008

The Ferraras had filled their motor home chest-deep with boxes of zip-up hoodies, underwear and eagle-emblazoned blankets -- a rolling trove of gifts intended for U.S. troops abroad.

But when Linda Ferrara checked on the RV, parked outside the family's bakery in Compton this weekend, she found a lot of empty boxes. A heartfelt note thanking the troops for their service was ripped into confetti.

Ferrara, whose son Matthew Ferrara was killed in Afghanistan, burst into tears.

Her husband, Mario Ferrara, who arrived about an hour later, wondered what they would tell MaryAnn Phillips, the military support group contact who was expecting the boxes at the Army's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. And what would they tell the people who had donated clothes, tailored blankets and knitted beanies?

"Soldiers over there risk their lives with little or no thanks," Linda Ferrara, 58, said Thursday as the family gathered replacement items at their Bay Cities Italian Bakery. "These guys were stealing the little things we were doing to make them feel wanted."

As the sweet smell of bread wafted out of their low-slung bakery in an industrial part of Compton on Thursday, the Ferraras and their daughter, Simone Carmichael, busily answered a flood of e-mails offering help, spoke to camera crews and took orders for bread deliveries.

A neighbor dropped off two plastic bags filled with hundreds of T-shirts in the middle of the day. Phillips, a volunteer for the nonprofit group Soldiers' Angels at Landstuhl, had called from Munich.

She told Ferrara not to worry. Ferrara told her not to worry.

"I'm getting over the stress," she told Phillips. "We're going to get more stuff. We're going to make more blankets."

Ferrara, a slim, tireless woman who wears Matthew's dog tags or a beaded necklace with his picture every day, met Phillips in January. The Ferraras had stumbled upon Phillips' blog post describing a medical evacuation from a rugged mountainside in Afghanistan. It was the aftermath of an ambush that had killed Matthew instantly.

Matthew, a 24-year-old Army captain, never went to Landstuhl, where injured service members are taken from the battle zones, but Phillips told the Ferraras about men in Matthew's company who ended up there.

The Ferraras, who live in Torrance and have three other sons in the Army, try not to think about injuries that might send their sons to Landstuhl. But they wanted to do something.

Linda Ferrara saw on the blog that sweat pants, sweat shirts and socks were among the most popular items to help wounded soldiers get through the chilly German winters.

The Ferraras belong to the West Point Parents Club of Orange County, because Matthew and two of her other sons attended the military academy. Linda went to work with the group to collect donations. She and her friends also stitched together about 40 tasseled fleece blankets with patriotic themes to send as more personalized gifts.

They amassed more than $8,000 worth of clothes and blankets, and made plans to drive them to a Soldiers' Angels office in Newbury Park, in Ventura County, for shipping.

The Ferraras couldn't fit it all into a car, so they put the boxes in the family's 1989 Tioga motor home, which is usually parked in front of the bakery.

In the 15 years the Ferraras have worked there, no one has ever tampered with the RV or broken into the building, Mario Ferrara, 64, said. Then came the theft late Saturday night or Sunday morning.

"It's life," he said with a shrug. "Maybe they saw us loading it in."

According to Sgt. April Tardy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department station in Compton, the thieves made off with 308 pairs of socks, 231 T-shirts, 200 sweat shirts, 200 pairs of sweat pants, 103 pairs of boxer briefs, 48 washcloths, 45 hats, six handsewn blankets, three lounge pants and one scarf.

They also took a CD player and some DVDs, though they skipped a few of the clothing boxes and blankets, the Ferraras said. A box of romance and adventure novels was also untouched.

So far, Tardy said, there are no leads. A deputy returned to the bakery Thursday afternoon to follow up.

Phillips, who was reached in Germany on Thursday, said she was upset about the theft and the torn-up letter.

"It may only mean the thieves were young or something," she said. "I'm disturbed by what I see sometimes as a lack of respect for our service members."

She worried mostly about Linda Ferrara. Phillips hopes to help her replace the items and fly her out to Germany to distribute them.

"People put their love and hopes into this," Phillips said. "It's not just stuff."

Checks to help replace the items can be written to the West Point Parents Club of Orange County and sent to the bakery at 1120 W. Mahalo Place, Compton, 90220

03 December 2008

Pictures of Courage: The Heroes of 2 Para

Led out by 25-year-old Lance Corporal Tom Neathway, who lost both legs and an arm in Afghanistan, wounded paratroopers head out to meet their Colonel-in-Chief Prince Charles.

Lance Corporal Tom Neathway stands to receive a medal from the Prince of Wales.

Pictures of courage: Britain's injured war heroes struggle to their feet to be honoured by Charles and Camilla
By Andrew Levy
3 December 2008

After serving in the terrifying battleground of southern Afghanistan, his extraordinary bravery was already beyond question.

But there was one more heroic deed paratrooper Lance Corporal Tom Neathway needed to perform – taking a few precious steps yesterday to collect his campaign medal from his Colonel-in-Chief, Prince Charles.

The achievement was all the more poignant because it was the first time his parents had seen him walk since he lost both legs and an arm to a booby trap in July.

Lance Corporal Neathway, 25, from Worcester, only received his prosthetic legs last month and had been practising every day in preparation for yesterday’s ceremony.

He said afterwards: ‘As soon as I was injured, one of the first things I decided to do was work towards walking today. I walked and I am happy. I have the same life as before, only I am in a wheelchair – that’s it.’

The regiment endured some of its fiercest fighting since the Second World War during its battles with the Taliban. Lance Corporal Neathway’s unit, 2 Para, lost nine soldiers and six other servicemen attached to it – more than any other unit in Afghanistan or Iraq.

The other injured men were Private Dan O’Callaghan, Private Dave Tatlock, Lance Corporal Mike Lewis, Lance Corporal Terry Byrne, Private Mick Day, Private Karl Clutton, Private Alfie Pope and Private Russell Brandt.

The Prince and the Duchess of Cornwall spent an hour talking to the soldiers and presenting them with their medals before joining them at a reception.

CASF Airmen of the 332nd AEW Move Warriors Out of Theater

November 27th, 2008 - Capt. John Davis troubleshoots an intravenous pump as Senior Airman Samantha Brunner inspects the IV pump's port for any kind of blockage at the CASF on Joint Base Balad, Iraq. Both Airmen were preparing patients for an aeromedical evacuation flight.

November 27th, 2008 - Senior Airman Samantha Brunner helps lower a patient from the ambulance bus to volunteers and medical staff at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. Litter-bound patients and critical care air transport patients are carefully loaded onto aircraft before being aeromedically evacuated out of Iraq. In 2008, more than 7,500 patients have been transported from the CASF in 650 missions.

November 27th, 2008 - Senior Airman Samantha Brunner helps rack a patient onto a C-17 Globemaster at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. Litter-bound patients are carefully secured onto the aircraft before flight. All photos: Airman 1st Class Jason Epley, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing.

The first photo was taken inside the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility. The CASF is a medical facility for patients who have been cleared from the nearby CSH or Combat Support Hospital for medevac to Germany.

As you can see by the second photo, the patients are loaded on to the aircraft at night - somewhere around 0200 local time. That's midnight in Germany, and that's when the Missions Team at Landstuhl receives the final flight manifest which contains all relevant patient information.

From there, the patient information goes to the Triage Team. They determine where the patients will be admitted at Landstuhl: outpatient facility or hospital inpatients by ward or ICU. If necessary, additional nursing or surgical staff are called in so everything is prepared for the patients' arrival in the early morning German time.

Over 60,000 patients have been medevaced to Germany from Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003, a number that would overwhelm any other hospital and which makes Landstuhl the busiest trauma hospital in the world.

01 December 2008

Godspeed CPT Rob Yllescas

Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called Sons of God.
- Matthew 5:9

Rob is with God now.

Update: Cassandra has written a beautiful piece about Rob. Thank you, Cass.

Update 08 DEC: Our Fallen Comrade in Arms, Capt. Robert Yllescas

Jalalabad Airfield, December 6, 2008 - Soldiers of 6th Squadron, 4th Calvary Regiment, pay respect to a friend, mentor and former commander of Black Troop, sending a warm and respectful goodbye, to their fallen comrade. Photo: Pfc. Charles Wolfe

Army Mom and friends make Blankets of Hope for Landstuhl patients

From left to right: Donna McLaughlin, Scotti Steip, Rita Gannam (hidden in the back), Barbara LeQuire, Linda Ferrara, Joan Krause, Debbie Collins, Toni Tramontin, Anne Viersen, Sass Kupfer, Virginia Burns, Janet Gonsalves, Joann Waybright. Not shown: Penni Smith, Corinne Yano, Michele McGowan.

Aren't these blankets beautiful? And so soft and warm... perfect for the winter weather here. The Soldiers who receive them are going to love them!

Proud Army and Gold Star Mom Linda Ferrara is the ringleader of this happy group of blanket makers. They made these during a couple of get-togethers and have more evenings planned in December and January. Thank you Linda and Co.! You all rock!!