29 May 2009

Forgotten Soldiers receive burial with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery

Follow up to this story: Buffalo Soldier, Vietnam Medic, and WWII Sailor will finally come home to Arlington

Thanks to the Missing in America Project and others, the remains of three American heroes were buried with full military homors at Arlington National Cemetary today.

Their final journey across America started on May 20 from different states as far away as Arizona and California.

Here is the motorcade in Kentucky.

And this is a story about today's ceremony at Arlington.

They were:
Buffalo Soldier Corporal Isaiah Mays, Medal of Honor recipient
Vietnam War Medic James William Dunn, Silver Star recipient
WWII Boatswain’s Mate First Class Johnnie Franklin Callahan, Silver Star recipient.

Rest in peace, and welcome home.

Carson Daly films "Last Call" episode at National Training Center

TV personality Carson Daly receives a brief from Capt. Bowe Averill, commander of E Troop, 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, during his visit to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., May 27. Daly and his film crew visited the NTC to film an episode for his late night show, "Last Call with Carson Daly."

FORT IRWIN, Calif. - Carson Daly, the host of the late night show, "Last Call," visited Fort Irwin to film an episode dedicated to the Soldiers at the National Training Center, May 27.

The former radio DJ and VJ showcased the Soldiers of the National Training Center during an episode of "Last Call" which aired on June 1.

"We wanted to show one full episode of my late night show to tell the Army story, in particular to come to Fort Irwin where so much of that great national training is taking place," Daly said.

Originally, the producers of the show wanted to do just a segment, the idea then ballooned to a full 30-minute episode.

"We wanted to do a full episode to really draw awareness for our young audience of the incredible job the Army men and women are doing for our country," he said.

Daly is no stranger to the military, being the son of a military brat. His grandfather served with the 10th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, N.C., and deployed to Vietnam. His mother, Pattie, was born in Fayetteville, N.C. Daly said he has the Special Forces insignia tattooed on his left arm in honor of his grandfather.

Shell casings fly as TV personality Carson Daly fires an M4 while under supervision of Staff Sgt. John Kilburn, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, during his visit to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., May 27. Daly and his film crew visited the NTC to film an episode for his late night show, "Last Call with Carson Daly."

"Incredible," he said whole heartedly about the Soldiers. "The troops are what you want men and women to be like in the world. ... The way that they talk to each other, the respect for the chain of command, the character, the ethics, the morals, the patriotism; these are the qualities you want in human beings, so when I hang out with these troops, it reminds me of the way I want to be, and the way we all should act, it's been very influential."

If you're on Twitter, please join us every Monday for #MilitaryMon, created by Carson (@carsonjdaly) and SA's own Greta Perry (@kissmygumbo)!

27 May 2009

Military horse retirement ceremony

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Possum (the horse) and Sgt. Brent Miller, left, and Master Sgt. Houdini (horse) and Sgt. Brian Forward stand during a horse retirement ceremony at Turkey Creek Ranch on Fort Carson, Colo., May 11, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Rick Emert.

Speaking of horses, this is one of the next books I'm going to be reading:

Horse Soldiers is the dramatic account of a small band of Special Forces soldiers who secretly entered Afghanistan following 9/11 and rode to war on horses against the Taliban. Outnumbered forty to one, they pursued the enemy across mountainous terrain and, after a series of intense battles, captured the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, which was strategically essential if they were to defeat the Taliban.

Back "home" in Baghdad - as an American Soldier

U.S. Army Spc. Forat Aldawoodi, right, originally from Iraq, translates a conversation between an Army officer and an Iraqi police commander. Photo: Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY.

What a great story.

BAGHDAD — In the fall of 2007, Forat Aldawoodi fled Iraq through a special visa program for Iraqis who worked with the U.S. government. He landed in Pawtucket, R.I., where he soon became a New England Patriots fan, traveled to the Atlantic Ocean and enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves.

Today, after a year's absence, Aldawoodi is in Iraq again — this time as an American soldier.

In fact, until recently transferred to a post outside Baghdad, he was assigned to a unit patrolling his former neighborhood, Dora, in southern Baghdad.

"I know it might sound a little strange that I am back in Baghdad so soon after leaving here," Aldawoodi said in an interview at Forward Operating Base Falcon in Baghdad. "But I knew before I came (to the U.S.) that the Army was something I wanted to try."

Aldawoodi, who is an Army interpreter, is one of at least eight Iraqis who fled to the United States in the midst of the war, only to have returned home as members of the U.S. armed forces, according to Lt. Col. Les Melnyk, a Pentagon spokesman. Melnyk said the figure likely understates the actual number of Iraqis in the U.S. military because personnel records don't require recruits to list their nationality.

"Most of us had worked with the U.S. Army for a long time, so we had a good idea of what it's like to be a soldier and what life is like in the Army," said Aldawoodi, who had been a civilian interpreter for the Army before enlisting. He said two other Army recruits who went through training with him are also serving in Iraq.

Aldawoodi's dual identity has provided an interesting dynamic in interactions with his countrymen. Many Iraqis, he said, see the U.S. uniform and assume he's just another American soldier. As soon as they learn of his background, though, they become suspicious of him.

He recalled a recent discussion with an Iraqi police officer speaking candidly to him about possible criminal activity by other police officers. When it dawned on the officer that Aldawoodi was Iraqi, he expressed concern about speaking too freely. Many officials in the security forces are reluctant to speak out about corruption within their ranks for fear of retaliation, Aldawoodi explained.

"I reminded him that I am an American soldier, and that he had nothing to fear from me," Aldawoodi said.

"I reminded him that I am an American soldier, and that he had nothing to fear from me."

Wow. Read the rest about Aldawoodi's work in Iraq, his plans for the future, and becoming a U.S. citizen at a naturalization ceremony in Baghdad on the 4th of July.


You may have seen this before, but I hadn't. It's Marcus Luttrell, former Navy SEAL and author of Lone Survivor, in fine form speaking at an NRA event in Louisville May 16, 2008. Enjoy!

Thanks to SEAL Strong.

26 May 2009

The Few, The Proudest, A Marine Dad

Must read of the day.

West Point Graduation

A cadet at the graduation ceremony for U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. listens to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' remarks, May 23, 2009. DoD photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates hands a diploma and congratulates an honor graduate at the U.S. Army Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., May 23, 2009. DoD photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison.

Full story at Army.mil

Photo of the Day

From this past weekend at Landstuhl. Here's a patient named Aaron who was bored and wanted to help, so I sat him down with Yvonne to sort out hygiene items. They look so funny surrounded by all that stuff. LOL!

Armed Forces Day at Lorraine Military Cemetery

On May 16, Armed Forces Day, my friend Hartmut played Taps inside the Memorial at Lorraine Military Cemetery near St. Avold, France. Hartmut is a security guard at Landstuhl hospital and a member of Bugles Across America. This is just beautiful.

A family's war

Carol Ewens put four stars on the fence at the family’s Gig Harbor home to honor her sons. They lost Forrest, right, in Afghanistan in June 2006. Two sons serve there: Eli, center, and Oaken, second from left. Stephen, left, will deploy soon with a Stryker brigade. Photo: Dean J. Koepfler/The News Tribune.

Gig Harbor, WA - The mood was celebratory at the annual Armed Forces Day parade: the school bands, the old-timers with pins in their hats, the Vietnam vets on motorcycles filing past cheering families waving American flags.

And then Michael Ewens appeared – the father of one fallen soldier and of three more who serve in their brother’s honor. The mood turned somber and respectful. Parents hushed their children. Adults applauded and nodded.

Ewens, a Gig Harbor resident, marched near the front of a group holding large banners in the May 16 parade in downtown Bremerton. On his banner was a photo of a soldier wearing body armor and the patch of the 10th Mountain Division.

The photo is of Forrest Ewens, Michael’s son who was killed in Afghanistan on June 16, 2006.

LT Forrest Ewens was serving with the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division when he was killed in the Pech River Valley of eastern Afghanistan. He and his twin brother LT Oaken Ewens both entered ROTC in 2001, which is also where Forrest met his future wife, LT Megan Ewens.

Oaken later transferred to West Point and deployed to Afghanistan with the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain last December.

SSG Elisha Ewens joined the Washington National Guard in 2002 and served in Iraq in 2004. In 2006 he went Active Duty and deployed to Afghanistan in early 2007 also with the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain. His second OEF tour with the 10th Mountain began in January of this year.

SPC Stephen Ewens enlisted in the Army after Forrest's death and will deploy to Afghanistan with 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division from Fort Lewis this summer.

For the remaining Ewens brothers, Oaken, Elisha and Stephen, serving in Afghanistan has become a way to honor their brother’s memory. The three soon will be within 150 miles of each other.

“I feel that this is now our family’s war,” said Stephen, a specialist with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. “All four of us will finally be back together sharing the same fight, walking on the same dusty ground.”

21 May 2009

Tom’s Medevac Journey: The rest of the story

Capt. Kristen McCabe holds a patient's hand during the flight to Germany from Afghanistan in 2003. U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Keith Kluwe

The photo above is quite well known. I've even used it here myself. But I never knew the rest of the story until I recently found this archived page at DefendAmerica.mil.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, April 7, 2003 — Two service members were killed and one seriously wounded in an ambush March 29 in southern Afghanistan.

They were the first combat casualties since Sgt. Steven Checo of the 82nd Airborne Division was killed by hostile fire in December of last year.

Along with the army Special Forces soldier and air force tactical air controller killed, a Special Forces soldier named Tom was critically wounded.

Tom worked with a small team and when he was hurt, he was treated by a few different small teams. Tom had to work on healing while the teams treating him had to help him and at the same time deal with the emotional involvement caused by caring for one of their own.

Tom was shot in the right side, destroying one of his kidneys, perforating his diaphragm and puncturing his lung. Another round went through his right hand. Another round grazed his head. He also was cut over his left eye.

The Forward Surgical Team here saved his life in the operating room at Kandahar Air Field. They removed his damaged organ, closed the hole in his diaphragm and lung. They operated on his hand and closed the wounds he had above his eye and on the side of his head.

Once his surgery was done, it was the job of the Critical Care Aeromedical Transport Team to move Tom to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Everyone on the team had to do their part so he could be moved to a better medical facility.

A mixed crew of soldiers and airmen move "Tom" into the back of a waiting C-17 so he could be moved to a hospital in Germany. "Tom" is a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier that was wounded in an Ambush Mar. 29. U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Keith A. Kluwe.

Lt. Col. Wendy Tomczak, the senior clinical advisor in the Operation Enduring Freedom theater, was an army nurse in Vietnam and an Air Force nurse in the Gulf War.

“Tom was the first American casualty I’ve moved since Vietnam,” Tomczak said. “It was a mixture of feelings for me. There is the officer and the nurse in me, who treated a young man that was badly hurt and that was very touch and go.

“The other part is the mom, thinking Tom is two years older than my son,” she continued. “It’s made for complicated feelings looking at it from two different angles at the same time. I think if he would have been my son, I would have been so grateful that he survived the ambush and that there were skilled enough people there to help him survive. I would have been proud at the same time, proud that he elected to serve his country.”

“We were pretty busy with (Tom) when they brought on the two caskets. I didn’t have that much time to think about it. We did have things settled enough so that as they finished up the ceremony we all came to attention to render our respect.”

A Special Forces team from Tom’s unit wanted to ride on the aircraft with him and their friends that were killed.

“We usually don’t take passengers with human remains on board, but the guys came on board and asked us to reconsider,” Tomczak said with tears in her eyes. “They said they would be honored to go back with him and I couldn’t tell them no.”

Members of the 438th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, carry Tom, a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier wounded in Afghanistan Mar. 29, past the caskets of two of his team mates in the cargo bay of a C-17 at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Keith A. Kluwe.

[Technical Sgt. Dean] Altman was the most experience crewmember on the C-17 we flew on. He oversaw the loading of the two caskets twenty feet from Tom.

“My main thing was to not let (Tom) see what was happening, if he was awake enough to see it,” Altman said. “He didn’t know (two of his friends had been killed), but even if he did know, you don’t want him to see the caskets. It’s better that way. I didn’t want (Tom) to start thinking ‘why wasn’t I killed? Why couldn’t it have been me instead of one of my buddies?’ He needed to be thinking about himself and getting better.”

“I felt sad for them. I wish there was something I could do, but there isn’t. I just wanted to give (the two killed) dignity on their trip home so their family could bury them, get some closure,” said Altman.

Maj. (Dr.) Daniel Smith stands next to his patient in the back of a C-17 during landing in Germany. His patient "Tom" is a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier wounded in Afghanistan Mar. 29. U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Keith A. Kluwe

Maj. Daniel Smith was Tom’s CCATT doctor. He said Tom was very critical. Tom had a chest tube in, was on a ventilator to help him breathe, had three IVs for fluids, an arterial line to monitor blood pressure, an OG tube into his stomach. Smith said he had just about every line and every tube a patient could have.

“I have a great sense of honor taking care of one of our Special Forces guys that was injured in battle. Here was a soldier wounded in battle, protecting our liberty and freedom and it gave me a great sense of pride to help him,” Smith said. “When we were carrying him from the plane in Germany I was thinking that freedom is never free. There will always be a sacrifice the sons and daughters will have to make to maintain their freedom. It sometimes requires the lives and the spilled blood of those sons and daughters to keep our land free. I have a lot of patriotism and pride in our country and what these guys (special forces) do to defend out country. It really drove home to me that this is a real ball game and that lives are at stake here to keep us free.

Staff Sgt. Larry Minor is the youngest member of the team and was Tom’s cardiopulmonary technician on his flight from Afghanistan to Germany. He monitored Tom’s breathing and the drainage from the chest tube in the left side of Tom’s chest.

“It feels good to actually do the job we have been training for,” treating U.S. combat casualties. Minor’s team has moved injured Afghans in the past, but this was his first combat casualty mission. “That’s why I’m here, to help that one guy survive. I’m glad he is alive, that his family didn’t get that phone call or that visit.”

Capt. Kristen McCabe was Tom’s nurse. She was strapped to the floor standing next to Tom on the take off. She is the person Tom saw the most on his flight to Germany.

“This is what I’m here for. This is why I joined the military, to take care of patients. Those guys are out there taking care of America and I’m here to give them the best medical care I can if they are hurt. Tom was the first patient I’ve had that was true-blue, fighting for America, going out into harms way. I will always remember him, forever.

“Tom asked me where his weapon was, and told me he was OK, if I asked him. He could answer yes or no,” McCabe said. “I almost got possessive of him. I didn’t want to give him over to the team in Germany. I know he was in capable hands; he just wasn’t in my hand at that time. He kept telling me thank you,” she said crying. “All I did most of the time when he said thank you was give him a sip of water. He was out there taking bullets for me, and my family, and he was thanking me.”

She stood or sat at his side the entire eight-hour flight, giving him his medicine, holding his hand, talking to him. She didn’t start crying until she left his side in Germany.

* * *


March 29, 2003 - The Department of Defense announced today the identity of an Illinois Air National Guardsman who died from wounds sustained in an ambush today in Geresk, Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt. Jacob L. Frazier, 24, of St. Charles, Ill., was assigned to the 169th Air Support Operations Squadron, 182nd Airlift Wing, Peoria, Ill.


March 30, 2003 - The Department of Defense announced today the identity of a soldier who died after being wounded in an ambush on Saturday in Geresk, Afghanistan, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Sgt. Orlando Morales, 33, was assigned to A Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, out of Ft. Bragg, N.C., when his mounted reconnaissance unit took hostile fire. Morales was from Manati, Puerto Rico.

* * *

And now you know the rest of the story.

19 May 2009

EFMB - the mark of distinction among medical professionals

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Ricardo Gutierrez runs to the next obstacle while testing for the Expert Field Medical Badge on Camp Bullis, Texas, May 13, 2009. The course tests a soldier's mental and physical toughness during a real time medical evacuation. DoD photo by Benjamin Faske.

The Expert Field Medical Badge, or EFMB, is earned by a only a fraction of the hundreds who try for it every year, and almost no one makes it on their first attempt.

The physically and mentally demanding testing including a written test, emergency medical treatment, a litter obstacle course, land navigation and a 12-mile march.

During the emergency medical treatment portion of the test, soldiers must evaluate and treat three casualties under a strict time limit in a simulated a combat environment. The casualties must be evaluated quickly - the medics deciding who needs treatment most and acting. They treat mock head wounds, sucking chest wounds and bleeding gunshot wounds. In total, the candidates are required to carry out more than 250 tasks of various significance under battlefield conditions that include sniper fire, smoke, rocket blasts and the casualties' cries for help.

The EFMB is the most prestigious peacetime badge awarded to medical personnel.

18 May 2009

The Warrior Legacy Foundation

Launching today, the Warrior Legacy Foundation is a non-partisan organization committed to the protection and promotion of the reputation and dignity of America’s Warriors.

From BlackFive:

And our tag-line is something that has been sworn to by every veteran since 1955. We thought that the end of the Military Code of Conduct best described what we were and what we were to do... "I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free.”

Read the rest about this new foundation at BlackFive. I've already become a member and hope that you, too will join us in this worthy endeavor.

Go, Keith!!

Army Spc. Keith Maul of Pennsylvania gets a round of applause as he rides a new Segway. Photo and story: Joe Gromelski / S&S.

Keith is one of "our" former patients and it's wonderful to see him zipping around on his Segway. What's particularly amazing is that he was hurt just three months ago. You can see video stories about him from his local newspaper here and here.

Wounded servicemembers get new Segways

ARLINGTON, Va. — Thirty-nine more Segways were given to wounded warriors Thursday during a ceremony at the Iwo Jima Memorial, bringing to 340 the number of the personal transporters turned over through the Segs4Vets program of Disabilities Rights Advocates for Technology. ...

DRAFT's Segway program is financed solely through private donations, and the effort is definitely appreciated by the recipients.

"It's been a tremendous boon for my quality of life," said retired Staff Sgt. Dale Beatty of the North Carolina National Guard, who got his Segway last year and was on hand Thursday to help the new owners get used to their new means of mobility.

"It definitely increases my range as a bilateral amputee," Beatty said. "It's more conducive to good health than a wheelchair. It just lets me get out and play with my kids, go for long distances, whereas walking long distances, as any amputee knows, you've just got to sit down and take a break. Kids don't give you breaks."

Among the organizations supporting the effort is the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation, which funds the Segways given to Marines and sailors. And the Corps was represented at the ceremony by one of most distinguished members, Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient Col. Harvey C. "Barney" Barnum.

Make sure to click through to the Stars & Stripes article and look for the photo gallery. Some great stuff there! Here's the video story.

Update - LSUHSC to conduct study of hyperbaric treatment for TBI & PTSD

There are still eight slots available to Army patients for participation in this study. The other service branches have filled their quota.

If you or anyone you know was injured while serving in the Army and is experiencing either or PTSD and/or TBI, please pass this on!

Previously posted:

LSUHSC to conduct study of hyperbaric treatment for TBI & PTSD

Dr. Paul Harch, an LSU Health Sciences Center emergency medicine professor, has been treating TBI with hyperbaric oxygen for 19 years and is starting a pilot study for vets with chronic TBI and PTSD.

The study will examine 30 participants, half with TBI and half with TBI and PTSD.

Round trip airfare to New Orleans will be provided to all veterans approved for the study. Depending on branch of service, housing and meals are free or at highly discounted rates.

For more information or to find out if you qualify, call 504-309-1445 or 504-309-4948



New Orleans, LA – Dr. Paul Harch, LSUHSC Clinical Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine, is the principal investigator of a pilot study to determine the effectiveness of one or two courses of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in treating chronic traumatic brain injury (TBI) and TBI with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The study grew out of previous experience in treating TBI with hyperbaric oxygen therapy with improvement in symptoms and function.

Thirty participants will be recruited – half will have traumatic brain injury and half will have both traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder. The participants will undergo oral, written, and computers tests, as well as an MRI (if the participant has not had one since injury) and SPECT brain imaging. Participants will have 40 hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatments and can request up to 40 more if not improved to his/her satisfaction. ...

We would also like to thank the heroes who have fought for this country in Iraq and Afghanistan, who are the participants in the study."

16 May 2009

Spartans in Nerkh

Two soldiers of the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division take positions as an Afghan woman walks past during a search operation to hunt member of Taliban in Nerkh district of Wardak province in west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, May 1, 2009. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

15 May 2009

Tiny steps in Paktika

Somehow I think Captain Boris, for whom the FOB was named, would like this story.

U.S. soldiers search for midwife in Afghan war zone

Down a dirt alley a half-mile from Forward Operating Base Boris - a no-frills bastion that houses several hundred U.S. and Afghan troops behind 10-foot-high, sand-filled walls with a pair of 145 mm mortars at the center - American soldiers slinked like cats on the prowl.

Each was separated from the next by 30 feet to avoid suicide attacks, while Maj. Yince Loh, a 36-year-old brain surgeon from Los Angeles, searched for the home of an Afghan midwife.

A local pharmacist had given Loh her name. Both men hoped that the woman could help them open a small clinic to help address the health care needs in Paktika, one of the poorest and most dangerous of Afghanistan's eastern provinces.

Their task is made more difficult because a barren tribal region spans the mountainous border into Pakistan, where Taliban insurgents, backed by al-Qaida paymasters, plot to destroy U.S. forces' good deeds and outreach efforts. ...

Loh, who's worked with U.S. special forces fighting Islamic extremists in the Philippines, wants to introduce basic medical and nutritional development projects to Bermel's district center, which has open sewers and no electricity or running water.

"Right now, we can't help the Afghan government come in here and build a big Afghan clinic," Loh said. "But we have some options and we are still looking for midwives to help.

"Our goals are incremental: to improve infant mortality step by step. That will certainly help improve perceptions of the government." ...

In the Waziristan region, however, which extends into Paktika province, the enemy openly mingles day and night with the local population. Health workers seen or thought to be siding with U.S. or Afghan security forces become targets of the Taliban's wrath. Last year, militants kidnapped one midwife and shot another dead.

A firefight between the Taliban and U.S. special forces just to the south echoed in the distance as Loh and soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment (Airborne), part of the 4th Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division out of Fort Richardson, Alaska, stepped inside the small wooden clinic of a midwife named Shamshad.

Vietnam Veteran killed in Iraq

I've written a couple of times about older guys, including Vietnam veterans, rejoining the Army to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sadly, one of them has now become the oldest service member to die in Iraq. Maj. Steven Hutchison of Scottsdale, Arizona was deployed with the 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas when he was killed last Sunday.

Richard Hutchison told The Associated Press on Thursday that his older brother wanted to re-enlist immediately after the 9/11 terror attacks, but that his wife was against it.

He signed up again in July 2007 after she died, according to his brother and the Army.

May they both now rest in peace together.

14 May 2009

Three Fort Carson Green Berets to be honored for valor in Iraq

Sgt. 1st Class Michael D. Lindsay, left, Capt. Matthew A. Chaney, center, and Staff Sgt. Jarion Halbison-Gibbs, right, stand for their photograph at Fort Carson, Colo., on Tuesday, May 12, 2009. On Thursday, the Army will give the Distinguished Service Cross, its second-highest medal for valor, to Halbisen-Gibbs, Capt. Matthew A. Chaney and Sgt. 1st Class Michael D. Lindsay, will get the Silver Star as a result of their actions in during a raid in Iraq. AP Photo/Ed Andrieski.

Sept. 10, 2007, during a raid on a rural compound in Samarra, Iraq:

With Halbisen-Gibbs in the lead, the three men stormed one of the buildings, detonating a grenade and firing their weapons. Inside, Chaney was shot in the pelvis and Lindsay in the throat, and the force of an enemy grenade sent those two flying back out through the doorway. The blast of that grenade threw Halbisen-Gibbs into a corner inside the building. ...

Shrapnel from the insurgents’ grenade had mangled the thumb on Halbisen-Gibbs’ firing hand. Dazed and unable to see through the smoke and dust, he went outside to look for Chaney and Lindsay. He began running to Lindsay when he was shot in the abdomen.

“I was so jacked up on adrenaline, I didn’t really feel it that much,” Halbisen-Gibbs said. “Honestly, my thumb hurt worse than anything else at the time.”

He shot and killed the insurgent who injured him, then rallied the Iraqi government troops to press on with the attack.

“It wasn’t until about 15 minutes later when shock really set in that I really, really started hurting,” he said.

With other soldiers wrapping up the attack and attending to Chaney and Lindsay, Halbisen-Gibbs told them, “ ‘Hey, I got shot, and I’m going to go take a knee now.’ At that point I was pretty much done.”

When the fighting ended twelve insurgents lay dead, including a high-value target responsible for masterminding extortion and kidnappings. None of the U.S. or Iraqi troops were killed.

Despite the serious injuries sustained in 2007 all three of the Green Berets are still on active duty: Chaney and Lindsay have served another tour in Iraq, and Halbisen-Gibbs is in training and ready for another deployment.


A few words on the Camp Liberty shootings

From Castra Praetoria, currently deployed in Iraq.

First of all there are still a number of things we do not know surrounding this particular case. Knowing how long investigations can take, we will not likely know the specifics for some time. Until then, everyone is irresponsibly making conclusions without any information.

Reports surrounding the Camp Liberty incident have stressed the importance of finding out what led to this tragic incident. The media seems to assume combat deployments lead servicemen to commit inappropriate acts of violence, (appropriate being the lawful elimination of enemy forces), as if it wasn’t the shooter’s fault, but the stress of multiple tours which made him do it. This infuriates many of us who have and continue to serve on multiple combat tours. The assumption that all veterans coming home could snap at any moment spraying the area with automatic gunfire is as bigoted a concept as any I have ever heard.

The other implication, that we in the service aren’t taking care of our troops, is a slap in the face to those of us who consider duty and loyalty the highest of human virtues. Our very martial culture revolves around looking out for the guy on our left and right. Marines have waged entire battles in an effort to retrieve the bodies of their slain comrades. Leaving a comrade behind on the field of mental illness or traumatic stress seems equally distasteful.

Read the rest.

h/t yesterday's Dawn Patrol.

Mmmm... coffee!!

Happy nursing and tech staff on one of the wards at Landstuhl pose with their new coffee maker and coffee stash from Soldiers' Angels :-)

Boxers or briefs?

Army Spc. Zachary Boyd of Fort Worth battles the Taliban on Monday in Afghanistan as he wears his "I love NY" boxer shorts. Boyd rushed from his sleeping quarters to join his fellow platoon members. Photo: AP/David Guttenfelder.

Ah, yes. One of those personal question we know well here because we have to ask the patients all the time.

Fort Worth soldier's, um, boxers make him famous
By Bill Miller

Boxers or briefs?

A lot of guys consider that a personal question, but the secret has been revealed for a 19-year-old Fort Worth soldier, thanks to The New York Times, the Internet and, well, the Taliban.

Army Spec. Zachary Boyd, a 2007 graduate of Keller Central High School, was in his sleeping quarters this week when the Taliban attacked in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan. Boyd rushed to a defensive position clad in his helmet, vest and boxers -- the pink ones decorated with the "I Love NY" slogan.

As luck would have it, an Associated Press photographer was working at Firebase Restrepo in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan’s Kunar Province, where Boyd is stationed.

His boxers ended up on the front page of the Times.

His mother was surprised to see that her son was in the Times, but she was not surprised that he was wearing unusual skivvies.

"It was typical," she said. "He has always been an interesting little character."

Sheree Boyd recalled her annoyance at how her "Zacho" used to "sag" his oversized jeans to reveal the tops of his boxers.

"I was always telling him to pull up his pants," she said, chuckling. "I would give him a wedgie to make him do it. As a mom, you want your son to look nice.

"But he has always been one to run around in his boxers. He even went and played golf one time in his boxers."

Thanks to Miss Ladybug.

13 May 2009

Buffalo Soldier, Vietnam Medic, and WWII Sailor will finally come home to Arlington

I just read about this on a former patient's Caring Bridge page. He's currently an outpatient at WRAMC and is hoping to ride escort for the event. I did some Googling and learned about what I think is an incredible story.

Thanks to the Missing in America Project, the remains of three American heroes will be buried with full military homors at Arlington National Cemetary on May 29, 2009.

Starting on May 20, and from different states as far away as Arizona and California, the three heroes will begin their final journey across America.

Thousands more motorcyclists, many from such groups as the Patriot Guard and the Old Guard Riders, are expected to join the procession as it winds its way across the country, stopping overnight to place the crated funeral urns in a mortuary or funeral home, said Salanti, MIAP's national executive director.

The three identical bronze urns, each weighing nearly 26 pounds, were donated by the Christy Vault Company, Inc. in Colma, Calif.

"By the time we reach Arlington National Cemetery, I expect our motorcade procession will be more than eight miles ling with several thousand riders," said Salanti, who has difficulty holding back tears as he recounts the origins of the Missing in America Project.

Launched in late 2006, the MIA Project's mission is to locate, identify and inter the unclaimed cremated remains of American veterans through the joint efforts of private, state and federal organizations. Fox News did a story about them last year. (tissue alert)

The Buffalo Soldier, the Vietnam Medic, and the WWII Sailor to be buried at Arlington with full military honors on May 29 are:

Isaiah Mays
Medal of Honor recipient Corporal Isaiah Mays, a liberated slave who became a Buffalo Soldier — African American cavalry troops patrolling the wild west — who was buried in a pauper’s grave known at the asylum where he spent his last years before passing away in 1925.

Mays left the Army in 1893 and worked as a laborer in Arizona and New Mexico until 1922, when he applied to the United States Government for a federal pension and was denied as not qualified.

In March, Mays’ remains were disinterred from the Arizona State Hospital Cemetery in Phoenix, cremated and on May 29, will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

James William Dunn
Dunn, who retired Sept. 30, 1975 with 35 years in the US Army as a medical aid specialist, died on May 19, 2008.

When his base in Vietnam came under heavy attack, Dunn retrieved a number of wounded soldiers without regard to his own safety, administered life saving techniques and carried them to safety, demonstrating heroism for which he was awarded the Silver Star. He was also decorated with a Bronze Star with “V”, the Air Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, and the Vietnam Campaign ribbon.

Having completed his 21 years of USA service, he continued serving – this time as a foster parent – over the years impacting the lives of over 250 children, fostering as many as 11 children in his home at one time.

Dunn’s service will be remembered when his remains are interred at Arlington.

Johnnie Franklin Callahan
While at sea aboard the U.S.S. Aulick 569 in the Navy during World War II, Callahan was a Boatswain’s Mate First Class when a Japanese aircraft dropped a live bomb onto the deck of his ship. He was awarded the Silver Star, our nation’s third highest award exclusively for combat valor, in recognition of heroism for picking up the bomb and throwing it into the ocean, saving countless lives.

Callahan died on June 22, 1995 but his family kept his ashes with the hope it would be possible to fulfill his dream of being buried at Arlington with full military honors, including a 21-gun salute.

I hope to see much more coverage about this story of honor and respect for these three heroes as they travel to their final resting place.

Administration reverses position on release of detainee photos

Good news for the safety of our deployed military:

Obama agrees with Legion, suppresses detainee photos

WASHINGTON (May 13, 2009) -- In the wake of strong arguments advanced by The American Legion, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, and some members of Congress, President Obama has moved to block the release of controversial photographs depicting the abuse of detainees in Iraqi and Afghan prisons.

The photographs were to have been made public by May 28th by Pentagon agreement in response to a court-upheld ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) Freedom of Information Act request.

But, according to news sources, Obama met with his legal team, telling them that he was uncomfortable with the release of the photographs because their viewing could endanger U.S. troops and compromise national security.

The president's reported meeting nearly coincided with the publication in the Wall Street Journal of an op-ed piece by National Commander David Rehbein of The American Legion raising these same objections. The White House announcement today was made just a couple of hours before the commander was to meet with U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and national security experts to discuss ways of persuading the Administration to block the photos' release.

"This is the very best news we could hear," said Rehbein upon learning of the President's decision, "and we applaud the President for his response to those, like The American Legion, who are putting the welfare of our troops and our country ahead of political considerations."

The American Legion, celebrating its 90th year in existence this year, is the nation's largest veterans' service organization with 2.6 million members.

Good news, but not the final word on this. Unless the President issues an Executive Order blocking the release of the photos the courts will decide.

12 May 2009

Restoring faith with a single shot

And it was a nice one:

Day of the Sniper: 'Million dollar' shot clears road in Iraq
Apr 15
By Renita Foster, Public Affairs Office

The four man sniper team hardly dared to breathe. For two days and nights they had waited for the right situation, and it was finally here.

To Sgt. 1st Class Brandon McGuire it seemed that all his prior experiences such as serving on the 82nd Airborne Division's marksmanship team, being a sniper and reconnaissance platoon observer and shooting sniper weapons for a scout platoon, had prepared him for the moment. ...

Taking one last look, McGuire calmly squeezed the trigger of his Barret .50 caliber, Sniper Weapon System (SWS).

The round travelled 1300 meters - or 4,265 feet, about 8 tenths of a mile - before hitting its target.

A platoon sergeant in 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, McGuire had deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom nine months earlier and was stationed at Forward Operating Base, Iskandaryia, in Iraq.

Four days before his current mission, McGuire's platoon had been ordered to the western sector of their area of operations (AO) to locate and destroy an enemy mortar team.

Rebels were firing shells into the city, critically wounding people and destroying property. The shelling compromised faith in McGuire's unit to protect and keep Iraqi citizens safe.

Well. I'd say their faith is restored now.

Who is your hero?

As part of the TweetToRemind campaign (mentioned yesterday), on Tuesday, May 12 bloggers and Tweeters are asked to show their support through a simple blog or tweet answering the question, "Who is your hero?" and encourage others to do the same. Here's my first post about some of my heroes. I'll definately be doing more during the course of the campaign.

I have many heroes, but I have to start with the DUSTOFF crews. These heroes perform countless acts of professionalism, selfless service and dedication to duty on a daily basis. From the original story:

The Crew Chief operates the hoist, as he pulls a casualty into the aircraft. This is a one person operation that is difficult to perform when the casualty is in a SKED, especially when the casualty has the added weight of body armor and equipment. The Medic rides the hoist to the ground and back up, time and time again.

Imagine performing this operation 20-25 continuous times wearing Night Vision Goggles (NVGs), the Crew Chief continuing to advise the pilots of aircraft drift and rotor clearance as the mountain side is dangerously close.

He ensures the hoist is ready for the next lift and watches the Medic's hand and arm signals as he also directs the positioning of the aircraft. It becomes apparent this task is physically exhausting and difficult to master in routine conditions, let alone this punishing-unforgiving terrain at night.

The cabin of the aircraft becomes crowded, and the difficulty the Crew Chief and the Medic have maneuvering recovered personnel inside becomes increasingly challenging. Dust-off has a crew of 4: Pilot, Copilot, Crew Chief, and Medic.
Anyone that has operated in this environment understands the difficulty of the job these heroes do for us on a moments notice without hesitation under trying conditions and daunting circumstances. Not once do they ask for gratitude or thanks.

Here is one of these heroes.

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.

Matt Kinney has served twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan. During one mission alone, Kinney single-handedly treated five critical patients inflight: controlling bleeding, administering pain control, dressing wounds and starting intravenous drips. Their injuries included partial amputations, femoral bleeding, and gunshot and shrapnel wounds.

All that was after an ambush at the landing zone, during which Kinney not only returned fire himself but also called in Apache fire to the location of an enemy heavy machine gun. According to his Silver Star citation, his actions are credited with saving the lives of soldiers on the ground, as well as those of the entire medevac crew who were hovering over the kill zone.

Sgt. Matthew Kinney, 6th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, was awarded the Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross in the same ceremony. Photo: Spc. George Welcome / ARMY Staff

"I don't feel like I have earned my awards... we were just doing our jobs and go whenever we are called. And the fact that it comes at the price of others being hurt does not make it any better."
- SSG Matthew Kinney

And that's why Matt Kinney and all of our DUSTOFF crews are my heroes.

11 May 2009

Wardak Patrol

U.S. soldiers of 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division patrol during a search operation to hunt members of Taliban in Nerkh district of Wardak province, Afghanistan, Friday, May 1, 2009. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

TweetToRemind - Who is your hero?

On January 29, 2006, ABC News anchorman Bob Woodruff's life changed In an Instant when an IED struck his vehicle in Taji, Iraq.

Bob was medevaced from the scene and received life-saving care in Iraq before being airlifted to Landstuhl, where he was joined by his wife and brother. Five weeks later he woke up at Bethesda Naval Medical Center, facing 14 months of rehab and recovery.

Through this experience Bob and his family had an opportunity to get to know many of our nation’s injured heroes and their families. Realizing they held a unique position to be a voice calling for tangible support, they started the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

In 2008, the foundation funded $3.4 million in program spending through grants to charitable orginzations estimated to have impacted about 516,000 service members, veterans, family members, and support personnel.

Their current project is the TweetToRemind campaign, which asks individuals and corporations to donate $5.25 or more in an effort to raise $1.65 million by the end of the Memorial Day weekend.

From Bob:

I have so many heroes in my life who have affected me in so many ways. But after what my family and I went through more than three years ago, my greatest heroes are the doctors, nurses, medics, soldiers, pilots and others who risk their lives on a daily basis to save injured soldiers and bring them back to their communities. They did it for me, and my family and I can never thank them enough.

As part of the TweetToRemind campaign, on Tuesday, May 12 bloggers and Tweeters are asked to show their support through a simple blog or tweet answering the question, "Who is your hero?" and encourage others to do the same.

Tomorrow you'll meet one of my heroes. Can't wait to see everyone else's!

10 May 2009

Fighting together with the Canadians in Kandahar province

Staff Sgt. Dylan Lugibihl, 24, of Napoleon, Ohio, with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, shouts orders during a firefight with Taliban insurgents near the village of Zangabad in Kanadahar province, Afghanistan. Photo and story: Drew Brown / S&S.

Nice to see some news about these guys. The 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division assists NATO in providing a permanent presence in southern Afghanistan. They're based at FOB Ramrod, the only battalion-sized U.S. unit operating in the Kandahar province - and the only U.S. military unit that falls under a Canadian command.

Two of their companies accompanied Canadian forces on a recent four-day operation into the Panjwayi district, where some of the sharpest fighting has occurred in southern Afghanistan.

The objective was to secure the way in and out of the village of Mushan, about 10 kilometers to the west, where the Canadians would tear down a small outpost that had been occupied since late 2006 by eight Canadian advisers and 60 Afghan soldiers.

On the way out, the entire armored column of more than 400 Canadians, 200 Americans and 100 Afghans was stopped for a day when a Canadian tank was disabled by a Taliban bomb. Meanwhile, other soldiers were engaged in three firefights like the one described below.

From left, Sgt. Zachary Swelfer, 27, of Merrillville, Ind., Cpl. Aaron Barrett, 31, of South Bend, Ind., and Spc. Chad Brown, 24, of Jacksonville, Fla., who survived a close ambush by Taliban fighters near the village of Zangabad in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. The soldiers are with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment. Photo and story: Drew Brown / S&S.

On the second day of their operation, soldiers with 2nd Platoon were out on patrol again, not far from where they had gotten into a firefight with Taliban fighters the day before.

Kiowa scout helicopters were overhead, keeping watch on two men who had been shadowing the platoon for a while. They were believed to be part of the group that had set up the previous day’s ambush.

The platoon was nearing the end of the patrol when the lead squad entered a narrow alley set amid poppy fields and mud brick walls.

The alley forced the soldiers to narrow into a single file. Cpl. Aaron Barrett, who was walking point, turned and told the soldier behind him, Spc. Chad Brown, to keep his eyes sharp and be prepared for a close ambush.

The alley curved. As soon as Barrett went around the curve, two Taliban fighters opened up on him and Brown from no more than 10 to 15 feet away.

Barrett, 31, of South Bend, Ind., dove for cover behind a stump when the barrage started.

"I was trying to get as small as possible," he said, recounting the events a few days later.

Brown, who was carrying an M-249 light machine gun, was just behind Barrett in the file. He hit the dirt and began returning fire.

"We wanted to break contact, but the Taliban fire was too intense," said Brown, 24, of Jacksonville, Fla.

The Taliban had Barrett caught in a crossfire. One fighter with an AK-47 rifle was crouched behind a low wall, just to his front. Another was firing a PKM machine gun at him from down an alley to his left.

Taliban gunshots were cracking all around him, so close "I could feel the heat from the barrel and the pressure from the [muzzle blast] coming by my face," Barrett recalled.

Check out both of Drew Brown's articles and the great photo gallery.
Taliban command of Afghan terrain makes fighting conditions difficult
2nd Platoon soldiers survive harrowing Taliban ambush

Happy Mother's Day!

I just love these each year. Happy Mother's Day to all the military Moms out there, with a special hug to all of you Silver Star Moms. Love you!

09 May 2009

First jump from Ramstein's new C-130J

Airmen and Soldiers jump from the tail gate of a new C-130J Super Hercules during the first Ramstein Air Base, Germany, C-130J personnel drop over southern Germany May 4. U.S. Air Force photo: Senior Airman Kenny Holston.

The first of 14 J-models in production for Ramstein's 86th Airlift Wing arrived in Germany about a month ago. Eventually, the new plane will be the primary aircraft used for the 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron's medical mission. They're also are the first Air Force Super Hercules to be permanently stationed at an overseas air base.

Guitar Hero

Pfc. Anthony Vandegrift from Mililani, Hawaii, of 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division plays guitar outside his tent in a Blackhawk Combat Outpost in Nerkh district of Wardak province in west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, April 30, 2009. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

08 May 2009


June 2008:

"I see his beautiful blue eyes but he's staring right through me, and he doesn't know who I am and he doesn’t know I'm there," [Lt. Brian Brennan's mother] Joanne said.

Petraeus turned to leave, then decided to give it one last try.

"I just decided to shout out 'Currahee!'"

Grab a tissue and watch the video story.

German KSK gets their man

Germany's Special Forces, the KSK. File photo: dpa.

Special forces nab major Taliban leader

German special forces in northern Afghanistan have captured a high-ranking Taliban leader suspected of involvement in attacks on German soldiers, the website of news magazine Der Spiegel reported on Thursday.

The man, identified as Abd al-Racik, is thought to have close ties to the Taliban in Pakistan and the drug mafia. Believed to be the Taliban commander in the province of Badakshan in northeastern Afghanistan, al-Racik is suspected of involvement in a series of attacks on German soldiers and Afghan security forces, the magazine said.

The Islamist leader was under surveillance by the German army for months and was originally meant to be captured in an operation on Wednesday night. But the man was able to flee into the mountains after his aides recognised the helicopters of the German army flying over the region. That sparked an hours-long chase through the mountains before al-Racik was caught and brought to Kabul.

“German and Afghans captured the high-ranking Taliban leader after a chase,” the magazine quoted the Afghan police chief of Badakshan as saying. Investigators from the German army and intelligence services are said to have handed over a dossier on al-Racik to state prosecutors in the Afghan capital.

Germany’s elite KSK forces, comparable to the US Army’s Special Forces, are working in tandem with the regular military in Afghanistan under the mandate of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Germany has more than 3,500 troops in Afghanistan.

The capture of the Taliban leader comes on the same day that the German army held a memorial service for a 21-year-old soldier who was killed in a shooting after his convoy was ambushed near the northern Afghan city of Kunduz.

07 May 2009

CLS at Lejeune

Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 22, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, practice inserting intravenous needles in each other's arms during the 22nd MEU Combat Life Saver course, March 31, aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C. During CLS, Petty Officer 1st Class Joseph Rawson taught Marines how to assist corpsmen in dealing with mass casualty situations and render aid in the absence of a corpsman. The 22nd MEU is scheduled to deploy this spring. Photo: Cpl. Alicia Johnson.

Is it just me, or do the words "practice inserting intravenous needles in each other's arms" make you cringe?

Anyway... read about how the CLS course provides a bridge between the basic first aid taught to every Marine and the advanced medical training a corpsman or combat medic receives.

06 May 2009

Toby Keith at FOB Bermel

Bouhammer says he's the man, and boy is he right. FOB Bermel is only 11 kilometers from the Pakistan border.

Let that sink in for a minute, and then head over to Bouhammer's to see a photo of Toby with our friends of the Vampire Team.

Ooohh!!! More pics at Vampire 6's blog.

Photo of the Day

Do something nice for a Soldier today :-)

DJ Emery and Homes for Our Troops

Remember our Hero DJ Emery?

Here's the latest from his friends Jamie and Terra:

I hope that you are all doing well. I know it’s been a while since we’ve asked for help or support for our hero, but there has been a new flurry of activity in the Emery camp recently!

An incredible organization, “Homes for our Troops” is building an ADAPTIVE home for DJ! This is a wonderful organization and an incredible opportunity for DJ and Carlee! Since 2004 this nonprofit organization has built 40 specially adapted homes for severely injured veterans who have returned from service in Iraq and Afghanistan. These homes, and DJ’s home, will be built at NO COST to the veteran, but only with our help!!!! Homes for our Troops is looking for foundation grants, corporate sponsors and volunteers to make this project possible! Fundraisers are also needed!

DJ’s dream has been to build a home for himself and Carlee that includes a therapy room and is fully accessible to him, I am so excited that this dream of his is coming true! Below is the link to DJ’s page on the Homes for our Troops website where you can donate or sign up to volunteer.

There will also be a registration day for interested trades-people and volunteers to sign up to help build the home for DJ from 1-8 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday 5/7/09) at the Ramada Conference Center at 1450 S. Atherton St. in State College. There will also be a presentation given at 6:30 by project manager Rick Goyette. DJ will be participating in the presentation!

Please, please, PLEASE pass this email along to anyone and EVERYONE you know. It is going to take A LOT of wonderful people stepping forward to make this the success that DJ deserves!!!!

As always, thank you all so much for all of your help and support!!!!


DJ's page at Homes for Our Troops is here.

Help a real Hero build his dream home!

A new beginning in Wardak province?

A U.S. soldier kept watch from an outpost in the Jalrez Valley. American commanders think insurgents may try to reassert themselves in the area once the snows melt in the mountain passes. Photo: Michael M. Phillips/The Wall Street Journal.

About a year ago, a handful of US soldiers were tasked with holding down the entire Wardak province. (To understand the impossibility of that task, read this.) Now, thousands of troops led by the 10th Mountain's TF Spartan have a chance of making real progress.

Michael Phillips of The Wall Street Journal has written a good, solid article about the challenges facing the Task Force and what they've achieved so far.

"I'm optimistic, but I have to look at the worst-case scenarios," said Col. David Haight, commander of the Third Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, whose 3,500 troops were sent in the closing months of the Bush administration to bolster the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

U.S. officers here believe the surge forces will provide enough troops to pursue aggressive counterinsurgency tactics in the country's most volatile areas. That means not only clearing contested villages and valleys, but also leaving troops in place to keep insurgents at bay. Previously, U.S. troops left swaths of the country untouched and would fight their way in to others, but couldn't stay long enough to prevent the Taliban and other insurgent groups from returning. ...

When Col. Haight arrived in February, he split his forces between Logar and Wardak provinces. To the latter, he dispatched the Second Battalion of the 87th Infantry Regiment and a smaller artillery battalion, bringing the total U.S. force there to some 1,400 soldiers, on top of two Afghan National Army battalions totaling about 800 men.

The 2-87 commander, Lt. Col. Kimo Gallahue, a 43-year-old from Frankfurt, Ky., dedicated his entire force to taking eastern Wardak. The west of the province is populated largely by members of the Hazara ethnic group, who are generally friendly to the government and its coalition allies. Its east is heavily peopled by Pashtun, who form the foundation of the insurgency.

Lt. Col. Gallahue decided to take one valley at a time, prying the insurgents away from the villages and leaving a company of soldiers in each major valley to keep the peace. The Afghan government suggested he start with the Jalrez, which has 75,000 people and sits astride an important if heavily decayed stretch of road that runs west to Herat and eventually Iran. ...

Taking advantage of the calm, construction crews funded by the Italian government are preparing to pave the valley's pitted dirt road. Afghan and U.S. officials hope this will allow locals to more easily send apples to market in Kabul or Pakistan, and remind them that their interests lie with the government. ...

"I ask everybody to take a look at how things are going in the Jalrez," Lt. Col. Gallahue told Nerkh villagers over a hot cup of tea a couple of weeks ago. "Nerkh is next."

One middle-aged man complained about the lack of jobs. "Take a trip to Jalrez," the colonel responded. "We have a project to cobblestone the bazaar."

Two weeks ago, troops from Lt. Col. Gallahue's battalion helicoptered into the Tangi Valley, a dangerous stretch connecting Wardak and Logar provinces. His men encountered only light resistance and began providing food and supplies to the locals. Soon they expect to build an outpost to be jointly manned by U.S. and Afghan troops.

"We're in there to stay," the colonel said.

That speaks to locals' fears. "If the coalition left, the Taliban would come back and kill me and everyone else who worked with the U.S. government," Sayed Ali Abas, the 40-year-old commander of a new U.S.-backed neighborhood-watch brigade in Jalrez, said recently.

There's much more at the link, including a photo gallery.

See also:
U.S. Takes Afghan Strategy to Villages
The War Through the Taliban's Eyes

Jet Blue offers $1 flights during National Military Appreciation Month

For active duty military personnel, departing from 2 DC airports only, during the month of May.

Details at You Served.

Thank you JetBlue!

05 May 2009

Separating the people from the Taliban

Key to successful counterinsurgency operations but "easier said than done", observes John McHugh in his latest video report from Dewegal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan. John's spent a good part of the past 3 years in eastern Afghanistan, starting back in the fall of 2006 when the 10th Mountain Division was deployed to the area. (Since then, the 173rd spent a year there, followed by the current troops of the 26th Infantry, 1st ID.)

John's latest report is an excellent illustration of the difficulties and frustrations faced by both US forces and the local population. The root of the problem is that the villagers don't feel safe enough to take sides, which is essential to making real progress.

Related: Major fighting in Afghanistan's east and west at The Long War Journal

Godspeed PO2 Tyler J. Trahan

Petty Officer Second Class Tyler J. Trahan. Photo and story: Boston.com

Tyler Trahan, a 22-year-old Navy petty officer 2d class, was with two Marines when the three of them were killed [last Thursday], according to the Navy. Military officials would not provide further details, only saying the three were supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom, but Trahan's family has said that a roadside bomb exploded. It was not clear whether the device detonated on its own or was activated.

Trahan was a member of the Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Twelve, based in Virginia, and was temporarily assigned to a Navy SEAL team in Iraq. He was deployed last month.

His family said yesterday that Trahan's goal when joining the Navy was to work in an elite ordnance disposal unit.

"It's something he always wanted to do and strongly believed in," his sister, Molly Trahan, said yesterday. He would always tell her, "Tough times don't last, but tough people do," she said.

Trahan was a 2004 graduate of Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical School in Rochester, where he excelled academically and in sports. He was in the top of his graduating class, a member of the National Honor Society, and a star quarterback on the football team.

After studying at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy for a year, he enlisted in the Navy and graduated from boot camp in 2006. He underwent naval dive and salvage training, and naval engineering training, before he was assigned to the ordnance disposal unit.

The Navy has honored him with several decorations including the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Combat Action ribbon, National Defense Service medal, the Iraq Campaign medal, and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary medal.

"Petty Officer Tyler Trahan was an exemplary leader and exceptional EOD technician," Commander Joseph Polanin, commanding officer of Trahan's unit, said in a statement. "He was a great warrior, teammate, and friend to so many. His patriotic spirit will live on in each of us."

Trahan comes from a family of servicemen. His father, Jean P., served in the Army during the Vietnam era. His grandfather, John J. O'Malley Jr., served in the Navy during World War II. And, his sister said last night he also admired a great-uncle, Colonel Donald Allain, who served in World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars and was a veteran of the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945.

Jean-Pierre Trahan said his son Tyler recently told the family he "would much rather risk his life deactivating a bomb overseas than witnessing a bomb detonate on U.S. soil."

John Donovan has written about Staff Sergeant Mark A. Wojciechowski, one of the two Marines killed along with PO2 Tyler Trahan. The other Marine was Sgt. James R. McIlvaine.

Major Pain of One Marine's View has more.

Fair winds and following seas, young warriors. Our prayers are with your families, and with your brothers.

04 May 2009

University of Arizona hosts the "Ultimate Athletic Experience" for wounded OEF/OIF Veterans

GPS: Guide to your Personal Success, The Ultimate Athletic Experience

Are you a physically disabled OIF / OEF veteran?

Have you ever had an interest in athletics? In attending college?

You may be eligible for a free, fully grant-funded athletics experience taking place on The University of Arizona campus in Tucson, Arizona May 27-31, 2009.

Tentative schedule:
• Information specific to veterans about higher education (i.e. Post-9/11 GI Bill, Admissions, Financial Aid)
• Veterans Education and Transition Services Program: learn about the community of student veterans on campus and how to connect with one another on campus and in the community
• Hands-on introductions to the following sports:
• Wheelchair tennis
• Quad rugby
• Over the Line
• Wheelchair Football
• Handcycling
• Wheelchair track
• Survey of alternative health techniques such as Qigong, Acupuncture and Meditation
• Introduction to the concept of Mindfulness
• Opportunity to work out in an adaptive gym and develop personalized fitness plan, including nutrition goals
• Swimming
• Stress management
• Sleep health
• Go-Karts
• Tucson destinations such as the Arizona Desert Museum and favorite local restaurants

Questions? Contact Amanda Kraus, Ph.D., Program Coordinator
Tel (520)626-0940 or email akraus@email.arizona.edu

More information and online application form.

A friend of Chuck's is a friend of mine

Which means he's a friend of yours, too.

Chris was always a welcome guest in our room, either in the Malone House or in the hospital ward. He was a laugh riot. His humor and wit were infectious, and provided me and Carren with MANY much needed chuckles.

The funny thing is, I (or I should say, WE) had as much impact on him as he did on us.

A few months after leaving WRAMC, Chris up and joined the army, went to OCS, and is now a serving officer in Iraq. He claims it was because of his contact with me that he was driven to join the fight. Although humbled, I think it has more to do with him being a stellar human being than anything I said or did (I was stoned 24/7, after all.)

I couldn't be more proud.

For your part, I wan't y'all to send him a note, a card, a care package--anything you can, to tell him that you appreciate his service.

Find out how to send Chuck's friend that card or package here.

01 May 2009

Spartans in Wardak

A U.S. Soldier of the 10th Mountain Division tries to cross an irrigation channel in Wardak province on April 28, 2009. Photo and story BBC News.