26 February 2010

You can take a Marine out of the fight, but you can't take the fight out of a Marine

(click photo to enlarge)
Wounded U.S. Marine Sgt. Shane Hanley of Punxsutawney receives treatment from U.S. Army flight medic Sgt. Michael G. Patangan while airborne in an army Task Force Pegasus medevac helicopter shortly after Hanley was wounded on Feb. 9 in southern Afghanistan. AP photo, likely from Brennan Linsley.

A Punxsutawney woman says Taliban forces might have taken her son out of the fight — but they didn't take the fight out of her son.

Marine Sgt. Shane Hanley, 21, a squad leader from Easy Company, 2-2 Marines, suffered shrapnel injuries to the left side of his body when an improvised explosive device detonated Feb. 9 in Afghanistan, said Diane Hanley.

Shane underwent surgery Thursday — his fifth operation since being wounded — at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, where physicians are trying to save the vision in his left eye, his mother said. Surgery is scheduled next week to repair a ruptured eardrum.

Hanley was leading a squad of 11 Marines on foot patrol in Garmsir City when a tripwire detonated the IED, his mother said.

"He actually was unconscious for a little while. When he woke up, he did not want to be on the gurney when they took him to the bird (the casualty evacuation helicopter). He wanted to walk," Diane Hanley said from her son's bedside yesterday.

"I asked him: 'I heard you walked to the bird.' His eyes were closed but he shook his head yes. I said, 'I bet that was your way of giving your men the thumbs up and the Taliban the middle finger.' He whispered, 'I ran to the bird.' He wanted (Taliban forces) to see him walking away so they didn't think they got the best of him."

LRMC staffers receive Air Force excellence awards

Major Shannon Womble received honors as the Critical Care/ICU Nurse of the Year as well as the 2009 Air Force Nurse of the Year Award. Womble is the first nurse to receive the newly established award. She was joined in the winner’s circle by Lt. Col. (Dr.) Raymond Fang who won the U.S. Air Force Surgical Excellence Award, and Lt. Col. (Dr.) Alexander Servino who garnered honors as the U.S. Air Force Podiatrist of the Year.

They are assigned to the 86th Medical Squadron at LRMC which works side by side with fellow Army and Navy medical practitioners who have treated more than 60,000 wounded warriors aeromedically evacuated to LRMC since January 2004. It is in that spirit of selfless service as part of a joint medical team that makes their accomplishments even more special, said Col. (Dr.) John M. Cho, hospital commander.

Congratulations Major Womble, Dr. Fang, and Dr. Servino! Their many achievements are impossible to summarize here, so please read the article and get to know three indivduals who have dedicated their careers to serving our wounded warriors.

25 February 2010

A Tale of Two Dogs

From the Telegraph UK:

Treo, a nine-year-old black Labrador, has been honoured with a Dickin Medal - the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross - for saving soldiers' lives in Afghanistan.

What a great story.

And then there's Rufus.

No, he's not quite as handsome as Treo. He's a little worse for the wear, having been hit while trying to keep a suicide bomber out of "his" guys' barracks.

But he certainly looks better than he did right after the attack. The injured Soldiers are recovering well, too. The one most seriously wounded has now been moved out of the Intensive Care Unit at Walter Reed.

We don't expect Rufus to be given any awards, but we sure do hope Baghdad Pups can get him to the US, where he can live out his life in peace after being adopted by some nice American family.

24 February 2010


Photo series from Brennan Linsley of the AP, who has been embedded with the DUSTOFF crews of TF Pegasus. DUSTOFF crews fly to the scene of the fight in helicopters and provide the first medical attention to wounded service members after they have been treated by the "ground" medics. Both often provide patient care under enemy fire.

A series of 10 of his photos can be seen here.

During a medevac mission by the U.S. Army's Task Force Pegasus, flight medic Sgt. Bryan Eickelberg, center, directs Marines as they gently extricate a wounded comrade following an attack on their armored vehicle by a planted improvised explosive device, in Marjah, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Tuesday Feb. 23, 2010. Pegasus crews are providing daily the fast medical evacuation of those wounded in Marjah, as U.S. and Afghan troops take part in an assault on the Taliban stronghold. AP Photo, Brennan Linsley.

During a medevac mission by the U.S. Army's Task Force Pegasus, flight medic Sgt. Bryan Eickelberg, left, stands in a crater as he directs Marines extricating a wounded comrade, not visible, following an attack on their armored vehicle by a planted improvised explosive device, in Marjah, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Tuesday Feb. 23, 2010. AP Photo, Brennan Linsley.

During a medevac mission by the U.S. Army's Task Force Pegasus, flight medic Sgt. Bryan Eickelberg, left, directs Marines as they carry two wounded comrades to a waiting helicopter, following an attack on their armored vehicle by a planted improvised explosive device, in Marjah, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Tuesday Feb. 23, 2010. AP Photo, Brennan Linsley.

23 February 2010

Training jump at al Asad

Paratroopers with 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division (Advise and Assist), exit a C-130 aircraft Feb. 12, at Al Asad Airbase, Iraq, as part of the largest airborne training exercise conducted by U.S. forces in Iraq since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. A jumper’s parachute is opened by the yellow universal static line along the fuselage of the aircraft. Photo: Spc. Michael J. MacLeod.

Story here.

“It was my pleasure, Sir.”

David Bellavia tells the story of the day his friend and Wounded Warrior Sergeant William “Bill” Brooks met his Commander in Chief.

With supreme effort, Bill stood before President Bush and extended his hand. Bush clasped it, but didn’t shake. Instead, he embraced Brooks and holds on to him.

Bush didn’t break the embrace. Instead, he cradled the back of Bill’s head with one hand and kissed his cheek.

Bush said with tears in eyes, “I want to thank you again.”

Brooks replied, “It was my pleasure, Sir.”

Please read the rest of David's story.

While you are there, take a few moments to read "Our Mission is Finally Accomplished… Anyone Care?", and remember.

21 February 2010

Corpsmen save Afghan girl injured by insurgent IED

Quassiam holds his 4-year-old sister, Azerha, as Navy hospital corpsmen of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, discuss treatment options and Marines provide security around them Feb. 10. Photo: Sgt. Brian Tuthill.

Her older brother knew where to turn when he needed help.

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – When a 4-year-old Afghan girl named Azerha was struck by shrapnel Feb. 10, her brother Quassiam did the only thing he could think of – approach a group of armed Marines miles away and ask for medical assistance.

He drove his sister east from near the city of Marjah toward an intersection known as "Five Points," a key intersection of roads connecting northern Marjah with the eastern areas of Helmand province. Marines and Sailors of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, seized the Five Points area the day prior during a helicopter-borne assault.

Azerha had been struck in the chest by a fragment of metal from an improvised explosive device using 82 mm mortar rounds which detonated near her home. The wound had caused bleeding and breathing problems for Azerha by the time she arrived, Navy corpsman reported as they examined and began to stabilize her for a medical evacuation to a medical trauma facility.

"When the car came and I approached the vehicle, I saw the blood coming from her chest," said Petty Officer 1st Class Eric E. Casasflores, 30, an independent duty corpsman assigned to Charlie Co., 1/3. "I could see there was a small wound where something had penetrated. Once we put the dressing on, she began having more trouble breathing and I determined we needed to medevac her."

Navy hospital corpsmen of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, prepare and talk to Azerha, a 4-year-old Afghan girl injured by a piece of shrapnel from an explosion near her home Feb. 10, before inserting a needle to decompress her collapsed lung. Photo: Sgt. Brian Tuthill.

While waiting inside the walls of a farming compound for a helicopter to arrive, corpsmen treating Azerha found that her lung was beginning to collapse. Between the time her flight was scheduled to arrive and her worsening symptoms, Casasflores, the senior corpsman on scene, decided they had to act quickly to stabilize their patient.

"Her vitals began to drop while we were waiting for the medevac and we had to do a needle decompression," said Casasflores, who was born in Lima, Peru, but calls Newark, N.J., home. "She wasn't bleeding very badly, but with almost any trauma to the chest, you have to do a needle decompression [to allow the lung to expand again]."

"She took it extremely well for a small child," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Adam E. Neep, a field hospital corpsman with Weapons Company, 1/3. "For taking a big needle through her chest, she barely fussed."

Once the needle was in, Azerha began to breathe easier and she and her brother seemed to relax. As Azerha began to stabilize in the open field, the corpsmen decided to move her back into their compound's aid station and redress her wounds. They wrapped her in emergency blankets to keep her warm and Neep talked to her through an interpreter to keep her awake and alert to help ward off shock.

Only minutes before the helicopter's arrival, Azerha's vitals began to wane again, and Casaflores decided to perform a second decompression. Azerha winced at the momentary pain of the needle but quickly calmed and her vital signs stabilized. As soon as the helicopter touched down, corpsmen rushed Azerha on a litter for evacuation. Quassiam joined his sister on the flight and will likely remain with her throughout her treatment.

"The quick reaction from the Marines and corpsmen and getting her the medevac was what made the difference for her," said Casasflores after the helicopter lifted off. "I foresee a good prognosis for her coming back and playing with her brother back at home."

For Neep, 22, from Ceres, Calif., treating Azerha struck a personal chord with him after she departed. He said seeing the older brother with blood on his clothes helping his injured sister made him think of his own sister back home, who is 10 years younger than he.

"I'm glad we were here to save her life," said Neep. "If she didn't get the proper medical attention, she would have died. It's that simple."

Casasflores credits the success to the Marines and his corpsmen on scene.

"Our corpsmen did well treating her," said Casasflores. "Everyone stayed calm and things moved smoothly. That's exactly what you want in a trauma situation."

Navy medical officers report they performed surgery on Azerha upon her arrival and removed a piece of shrapnel from near her heart. They expect her to make a full recovery.

h/t Phibian

17 February 2010

30 Days Through Afghanistan interviews doctors and patients at Role 3 hospital

"Numbers Never Again"

I can’t get the experience of meeting Lance Cpl. Edward Swingle, a U.S. Marine wounded in action, out of my head. ...

I am so honored for having met him. He’s such a young man, a true hero and Marine. He was the first wounded I have ever met and while the experience will be burned in my mind, I’m not sure if I would ever want to repeat it. Meeting him was very hard for me. Before I walked in, I kept thinking about how I’m just some reporter, and how I really didn’t want him to think I was trying to use him to make some story. I wanted to respect everything about the situation.

After meeting him, I could only think back to the beginning of my deployment, I helped out on the Joint Operations Center floor, which is the command and control center for all of Afghanistan. It’s an amazing place and they have five massive screens lining one wall. On the center screen, casualties and deaths are listed by country. Every day, I looked at that board and most of the time there were some numbers. There were great days though, when there weren’t any numbers.

The world and I have something in common, everyone sees these numbers, whether it’s on the JOC floor or in the newspaper. Numbers do life no justice. I met a “number” today, and I was ashamed for the period of my life I associated a number to the 20-year-old Edwards out there.

Charity Day at Ranger Up!

On Wednesday, February 17, online apparel store Ranger Up is taking its continuing support for Soldiers' Angels to another level with “Soldiers’ Angels Day.”

Ranger Up will be donating 20% of the price of everything they sell today to Soldiers’ Angels.

My personal favorite is below, but there's lots to choose from at their store, and no better time to stock up!

Saint Michael Archangel Protector T-Shirt

(See this shirt being modeled by some patients at Landstuhl here .)

16 February 2010

Rufus the Dog: Hero of Bravo 2-121

Soldiers with the Georgia National Guard's 48th Infantry Brigade say the outcome of the suicide bombing which took place in their camp last Thursday could have been a lot worse if it wasn't for two stray dogs they'd adopted.

Five Soldiers from Newnan, Georgia-based Bravo 2-121 were wounded in the attack. But no one was killed, and the Soldiers say that's because their dogs Sasha and Rufus attacked the intruder when he tried to enter their barracks.

Sgt. Devin Shaner sent this account of Rufus and his heroic act to the Times-Herald.com.

Our National Guard unit is currently deployed to Afghanistan. We recently had a suicide bomber attack our base.

Five soldiers were wounded in the blast, but the outcome could have been far worse.

We have had several dogs come onto our base from time to time, and we have somewhat adopted two of them. We have a small puppy named Sasha, and an older dog named Rufus.

On the night of the incident, both dogs were seen barking at and trying to attack someone in an Afghan police uniform near one of our buildings. Two of the five soldiers that were wounded heard the commotion and yelled at the dogs, which were right outside of their room.

Right after them yelling, chaos happened. The suicide bomber detonated himself in the doorway of the building. Amidst the smoke and confusion, soldiers were scrambling to find out what had happened.

Once everyone realized that we had taken casualties, everyone started to move and treat the wounded, and we began to secure the base.

After the five casualties had been medevaced to another base, secondary assessments of the area began. During that check, Rufus was found lying outside of the building.

Witnesses said they saw Rufus and Sasha biting the leg of the attacker as if they were trying to keep him from entering the building. Because of their efforts, the attacker was only able to make it to the building entrance. Had the dogs not tried to stop him, no one knows what the outcome would have been or how many more casualties we would have taken.

Plain and simple, Rufus saved countless lives.

Some people say they have read or heard stories of dogs with another sense in which they can detect danger. It was clear that Rufus sensed danger that night.

The next day, medics treated Rufus for his injuries sustained in the blast. Unfortunately, Sasha did not survive the attack.

Three of the wounded soldiers are returning to duty soon. They have had time to reflect on what happened, and they feel that they owe their lives and many of their brother's lives to the efforts of Rufus and Sasha.

To show their appreciation to Rufus, they are organizing an effort to have Rufus shipped back to the United States as they plan to adopt him. These three soldiers feel that people at home should know "The Rufus Story" as he is now viewed as a hero in their eyes.

-- SGT Devin Shaner

As it happens, our friend Robert Stokely is the co-leader of the unit's FRG. We looked after the two Soldiers medevaced to Germany (and who are now stateside), and Mr. Wolf of Blackfive has gotten word to the good people at Baghdad Pups who will be working on getting Rufus back to the US.

Update 25 Feb 2010: Photos of Rufus.

The Gypsies

2nd Platoon “Gypsies” of Company C, 3rd Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade have pulled hundreds of wounded U.S., British and Afghan troops from the battlefields of the Helmand River valley over the past year (you may remember them and Staff Sgt. Robert Cowdrey from this post).

Here they are working missions during Operation Mushtarak on February 13 and February 15.

Photographed through the plexiglass window of a U.S. Army Task Force Pegasus medevac helicopter rescuing two U.S. Marine casualties, Marines and Navy Corpsmen shield their patients from the dust wash caused by the landing helicopter, in Marjah, Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, Monday Feb. 15, 2010. AP Photo/Brennan Linsley.

Airborne in a Black Hawk medevac helicopter, Crew Chief Spc. Timothy Johns, of Mitchell, S.D. , with Task Force Pegasus, scans for threats during a mission to rescue two U.S. Marine casualties from the battlefield in Marjah, Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, Monday Feb. 15, 2010. AP Photo/Brennan Linsley.

A U.S. Marine helps provide security as a U.S. Army flight medic with Task Force Pegasus evacuates two Marine casualties from the battlefield, in Marjah, Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, Monday Feb. 15, 2010. AP Photo/Brennan Linsley.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. and flight medic Robert B. Cowdrey, of La Junta, Colo., with Task Force Pegasus, runs from his helicopter to evacuate two U.S. Marine casualties from the battlefield in Marjah, Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, Monday Feb. 15, 2010. AP Photo/Brennan Linsley.

Airborne in a Black Hawk medevac helicopter, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. and flight medic Robert B. Cowdrey, of La Junta, Colo. , left, and Crew Chief Spc. Timothy Johns, of Mitchell, S.D. , both with Task Force Pegasus, rescue two U.S. Marine casualties from the battlefield in Marjah, Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, Monday Feb. 15, 2010. AP Photo/Brennan Linsley.

U.S. Army flight medic Staff Sgt. Robert B. Cowdrey, of La Junta, Colo., right, with Charlie Company, All American Dustoff, evacuates a U.S. Marine wounded in a rocket-propelled grenade attack, in Marjah, Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, Saturday Feb. 13, 2010. AP Photo/Brennan Linsley.

Airborne in a Black Hawk medevac helicopter, U.S. Army flight medic Staff Sgt. Robert B. Cowdrey, of La Junta, Colo., right, with Charlie Company, All American Dustoff, talks with a Marine wounded in a rocket-propelled grenade attack, as Crew Chief Spc. Timothy Johns, of Mitchell, S.D., assists at left, over Marjah, Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, Saturday Feb. 13, 2010. AP Photo/Brennan Linsley.

Update, October 2011: Godspeed, SSG Robert 'Brian' Cowdry.

15 February 2010

Guardsman Posts Best U.S. Finish in Olympic Biathlon

U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program biathlete and Utah National Guardsman Sgt. Jeremy Teela nears the finish line for ninth place with a time of 25 minutes, 21.7 seconds in the Olympic men's 10-kilometer sprint race Sunday at Whistler Olympic Park in Callaghan Valley, British Columbia, Canada. Photo: Tim Hipps.

Clearing phase of Operation Mushtarak continues

U.S. soldiers and one Afghan soldier exchange fire with insurgents during a patrol in the Badula Qulp area, West of Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010. In the fight, one soldier was wounded and at least one insurgent was killed. The soldiers are operating in support of a U.S. Marine offensive against the Taliban in Marjah area. AP Photo, Pier Paolo Cito.

Alfred de Montesquiou of The Associated Press reports:

Sniper teams attacked U.S. Marines and Afghan troops across the Taliban haven of Marjah, as several gun battles erupted Monday on the third day of a major offensive to seize the extremists' southern heartland.

Multiple firefights in different locations taxed the ability of coalition forces to provide enough air support as NATO forces forged deeper into the town, moving through suspected insurgent neighborhoods, the U.S. Marines said.

In northern Marjah, an armored column came under fire from at least three separate sniper teams, slowing its progress. One of the teams came within 155 feet (50 meters) and started firing.

Troops braced for the estimated 2.5-mile (four-kilometer) march to link up with U.S. and Afghan troops who had been airdropped into the town. Small squads of Taliban snipers initiated firefights throughout the day in an attempt to draw coalition forces into a larger ambush.

Inside Marjah, sporadic firefights increased by midday as small sniper teams fired at U.S. Marines before withdrawing, hoping to lure them into chasing them into a larger ambush.

"Literally every time we stand up, we take rounds," warned one Marine over the radio.

Marines said their ability to fight back has been tightly constrained by strict new rules of engagement that make their job more difficult and dangerous. Under the rules, troops cannot fire at people unless they commit a hostile act or show hostile intent.

"I understand the reason behind it, but it's so hard to fight a war like this," said Lance Corp. Travis Anderson, 20, from Altoona, Iowa. "They're using our rules of engagement against us," he said, stating that his platoon had repeatedly seen men dropping their guns into ditches before walking away to melt among civilians.

Allied officials have reported two coalition deaths so far — one American and one Briton killed Saturday. Afghan officials said at least 27 insurgents have been killed in the offensive.

U.S. amy crew chief Spc. Emil Rivera, of Tuscon, Ariz., left, with Task Force Pegasus, keeps watch at the door of his Black Hawk helicopter as a wounded U.S. service member is evacuated, in Marjah, Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, Sunday Feb. 14, 2010. Pegasus aero-medical crews are supporting U.S. and Afghan troops taking part in an ongoing assault in the Taliban-held town of Marjah, attempting to break the extremists' grip over their southern heartland and establish government control. AP Photo, Brennan Linsley.

Nearby, another AP reporter, Christopher Torchia, has a pretty exciting day in Badula Qulp, just northeast of Marjah.

The patrol began in the early afternoon, heading off a canal road and into farmland to the west. Fifty men: an American platoon, up to 30 Afghan soldiers and 10 Canadian troops who advise the Afghans. They moved slowly, in two columns. Two Afghan soldiers with metal detectors, searching for mines, led the way.

An Associated Press reporter and photographer accompanied the patrol.

The sky was clear, the air brisk, and it was very quiet. About 700 yards off the road, the soldiers saw four or five unarmed men, watching. The men moved away. Within minutes, gunfire erupted. Caught in the open, the patrol hit the earth and returned fire.

But it was an exposed position and hard to locate the source of fire. One group of soldiers picked up and sprinted, slowly, it seemed, with their cumbersome gear, for a shallow irrigation canal. It was cover, but not for long.

“I saw five guys, moving right to left,” said Spc. Nathan Perry of Cedartown, Ga., hunkered in the ditch. He said he had felt bullets “around my feet, popping off.”

A Canadian berated an Afghan soldier whose gunfire was too close to soldiers scattered elsewhere in the field.

“You’ve got friendlies there!” he screamed. “You’ve got friendlies there!”

“Hey sir, where’s it coming from?” an American shouted to his platoon leader, 1st Lt. Gavin McMahon of Brooklyn, N.Y.

“Somewhere over there,” McMahon said. He gestured west.

The men in the ditch pushed forward, trying to reach a low earthen berm for better cover. The Taliban had a line of sight straight down the canal. Rounds snapped a couple of feet away. To the AP reporter, a civilian with no military background, it seemed counterintuitive: running forward, toward the danger. Not back.

Then the American soldier got hit. The bullet hit the shoulder piece of his protective vest, and bounced down into his chest.

Spc. Benjamin McQuiston of Tucson, Ariz., was just ahead of the man, who cannot be identified until his family is notified in keeping with U.S. military regulations.

“When the shots went off, I heard him yelling. I thought he was scared. I was yelling too,” McQuiston said later. “Then I heard him coughing. It sounded weird. I looked back and he was coughing up blood.”

With shooting all around, soldiers cut away the injured man’s shirt, and put a chest seal on the wound to prevent air entering.

“I’m going to be good,” the man said. He was able to walk and had the energy to shout an obscenity at the Taliban.

McMahon was on the radio, calling for help. The mission had immediately shifted from fighting the Taliban to getting a wounded man to safety and treatment. The patrol pulled back, different groups laying down fire while others ran to cover, bunching up against mud walls.

But it wasn’t over.

The AP reporter, hauling the wounded man’s ammunition belt, was with two or three men who sprinted around a corner, straight into another ambush. The bullets flew past just a few feet away, maybe. It was hard to tell. It was also hard to tell what was cover and what wasn’t. The only thing to do was to lie, crouch, curl up and hope.

There were glimpses of another world. A calf wandered in the midst of it all, moving its head this way and that, as though uncertain about which way to go. Up close, a big ant crawled over chunks of earth, oblivious to the adrenaline-fueled men trying to kill each other.

Spc. Andrew Szala of Newport, R.I., tried to keep the injured man talking, conscious. He chatted about the plot of a season of the American comedy series, “The Office,” a send-up of white-collar life.

“Michael starts his own paper company. Pam goes with him. Jim stays behind,” Szala said as the battle raged...

Much more at the link.

14 February 2010

Michael Yon: Valentine's Day Weekend in Afghanistan

(click photo to enlarge)
A crew from the United States Air Force spent Saturday night and Sunday morning airlifting different groups of wounded soldiers from Kandahar to Camp Bastion to Bagram, back to Kandahar, then back to Bagram, and back to Kandahar. These patients were from Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, and the United States. Here, an Air Force nurse caresses the head of a wounded, unconscious Canadian soldier while whispering into his ear.
Photo: Michael Yon.

Michael says FOX News will be running this photo of our fighting and medical Heroes today.

13 February 2010

Operation Mushtarak, Day One

A U.S. Marine from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, takes aim as he tries to protect an Afghan man and his child after Taliban fighters opened fire in the town of Marjah, in Nad Ali district, Helmand province, February 13, 2010. Photo: Reuters.

The first full day of Operation Mushtarak in and around Marjah. Commanders expect to push through the area in a few days, followed by weeks of clearing bombs, booby-traps, and pockets of resistance. Troops will then remain there for months to secure the population and set conditions for the Afghan government to establish public services and develop the economy.

More than 30 transport helicopters ferried troops into the heart of Marjah before dawn Saturday, while British, Afghan and U.S. troops fanned out across the Nad Ali district to the north of the mudbrick town, long a stronghold of the Taliban.

Maj. Gen. Gordon Messenger told reporters in London that British forces "have successfully secured the area militarily" with only sporadic resistance from Taliban forces. A Taliban spokesman insisted their forces still controlled the town.

In Marjah, Marines and Afghan troops faced little armed resistance. But their advance through the town was impeded by countless land mines, homemade bombs and booby-traps littering the area.

Throughout the day, Marine ordnance teams blew up bombs where they were found, setting off huge explosions that reverberated through the dusty streets.

The bridge over the canal into Marjah from the north was rigged with so many explosives that Marines erected temporary bridges to cross into the town.

"It's just got to be a very slow and deliberate process," said Capt. Joshua Winfrey of Stillwater, Okla., a Marine company commander.

Lt. Col. Brian Christmas, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, said U.S. troops fought gunbattles in at least four areas of the town, including the western suburb of Sistani where India Company faced "some intense fighting."

To the east, the battalion's Kilo Company was inserted into the town by helicopter without meeting resistance but was then "significantly engaged" as the Marines fanned out from the landing zone, Christmas said.

Marine commanders had said they expected between 400 and 1,000 insurgents — including more than 100 foreign fighters — to be holed up in Marjah, a town of 80,000 people which is the linchpin of the militants' logistical and opium-smuggling network in the south.

Shopkeeper Abdul Kader, 44, said seven or eight Taliban fighters, who had been holding the position where the Marines crossed over, had fled in the middle of the night. He said he was angry at the insurgents for having planted bombs and mines all around his neighborhood.

"They left with their motorcycles and their guns. They went deeper into town," he said as Marines and Afghan troops searched a poppy field next to his house. "We can't even walk out of our own houses."

Saturday's ground assault followed several hours after the first wave of helicopters flew troops over the mine fields into the center of town before dawn. Helicopter gunships fired missiles at Taliban tunnels and bunkers while flares illuminated the night sky so pilots could see their landing zones.

The offensive, code-named "Moshtarak," or "Together," was described as the biggest joint operation of the Afghan war, with 15,000 troops involved, including some 7,500 in Marjah itself. The government says Afghan soldiers make up at least half of the offensive's force.

Once Marjah is secured, NATO hopes to quickly deliver aid and provide public services in a bid to win support among the estimated 125,000 people who live in the town and surrounding villages. The Afghans' ability to restore those services is crucial to the success of the operation and in preventing the Taliban from returning.

Helping Heroes Home

Members and volunteers of the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility carry a patient to a bus and then onto a C-17 Globemaster III at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, Feb. 11, 2010.

The patient is one of seven receiving a medical transfer from JBB to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, where their care will continue. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Linda C. Miller/Released.

12 February 2010

Michigan surgeon spends vacation working at Landstuhl

Dr. Carlo Dall'Olmo of Bloomfield Hills poses in an examination room at Michigan Vascular Center, where he has worked since 1975, in Flint Township Tuesday. Dall'Olmo took two weeks of vacation in January to volunteer his time assisting with surgeries for soldiers in intensive care at an Army hospital on the Landstuhl base in Germany. Photo: Sarah A. Miller, The Flint Journal.

“This was my way of supporting the young men and women who are away from home fighting for the ideals of this country. It was a privilege to go.”

- Dr. Carlo Dall’Olmo, vascular surgeon

I love these guys.

On his trip last month, Dall’Olmo treated patients who came in almost straight from a war zone, airlifted to the hospital in Germany usually heavily sedated and on life support systems.

All were young and injured from explosive devices, still the enemy’s deadliest weapon in the two wars in the Middle East.

Some needed abdominal procedures because colons or livers had been pierced by gravel and other shrapnel. Others faced losing limbs.

At least one didn’t make it.

The sprawling German hospital is where most service members are sent to be stabilized. Their stays range from a couple days to longer before being transferred to a U.S. military hospital such as Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. where many ultimately spend the bulk of their recovery time.

“The objective was to get them stable so they could move on,” Dall’Olmo said.

Dall’Olmo said he wanted to volunteer overseas after receiving a letter from the Society for Vascular Surgery asking for medical volunteers to aid the armed forces prompted his trip.

He spent most of his days caring for patients in the intensive care unit and assisted trauma surgeons with nearly one operating procedure a day, mostly abdominal.

Many of the service members he helped were never conscious. Some would never be the same.

But none was bitter.

“I marveled at the attitude of the soldiers, that they were facing life threatening problems everyday but they still did their duty faithfully,” he said. “It was remarkable. They took danger in stride.”

But not everyone made it past the German hospital.

There was the young 25-year-old man from New Hampshire who had suffered severe head injuries from a blast in Afghanistan.

His parents had barely gotten there to Germany before having to make the decision to take him off of life support.

“That was a tough day,” said a teary-eyed Dall’Olmo. “The hardest part was seeing them have to say goodbye in those circumstances.”

More at the link.

11 February 2010

Strawberry bars and bullets

One of the 1st Battalion 6th Marines explains the "bare essentials" needed for life in the field before heading out towards Marjah. (Language alert. He's a Marine, after all.)

More on the road to Marjah.

The road to Marjah

Lance Cpls. Keith B. Lawson and Spence G. Press, scout snipers attached to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, work together to identify targets as Taliban fighters approached from Marjeh toward their position at the "Five Points" intersection, Feb. 9. Marines of Charlie Company conducted a helicopter-borne assault earlier that morning to seize the key intersection of roads linking the northern area of the insurgent stronghold of Marjeh with the rest of Helmand province. Lawson, 25, is from Reedly, Calif., and Press, 20, is from Newbury Park, Calif. Photo: Sgt. Brian Tuthill.

Marines Fight Insurgents, Secure Key Intersection on Road to Marjeh

HELMAND PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, 02.09.2010 – Marines and sailors of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, battled Taliban insurgents, Feb. 9, after conducting a successful helicopter-borne assault to seize a key intersection east of the insurgent stronghold city of Marjeh.

The Marines, some carrying more than their body weight in gear, moved toward the center of an area known as "Five Points," an intersection of major roads in western Helmand province, located between the cities of Marjeh and Nawa. The Marines were joined on the assault by their partnered Afghan National Army soldiers who fought alongside them against the Taliban.

A Marine with Weapons Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, affixes a mortar round to his pack before a helicopter-borne assault to seize the "Five Points" intersection east of the insurgent stronghold of Marjeh. Five Points is a key province. Some Marines carried more than their body weight during the assault. Photo: Sgt. Brian Tuthill.

"I felt the assault went well," said Capt. Stephan P. Karabin, commanding officer, Charlie Company, 1/3. "We got in here quickly, under the cover of darkness on the helicopters, moved into position, set everything in place and were able to seize the objective. This area is important because it's the one intersection which links northern Marjeh ... to (eastern Helmand province) and it blocks that supply route.

"Marines did their job well here, and some engaged with the enemy for the first time in this deployment," said Karabin, 30, from West Palm Beach, Fla.

The Five Points intersection and surrounding area is also part of the main route from Marjeh to Lashkar Gah, the Helmand provincial capital, said Karabin.

"These roads are very important to our movement within the area of operations," said Karabin.

Capt. Stephan P. Karabin, commanding officer, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, gives directions to units on two different radios from a rooftop during a firefight at the center of "Five Points," a key intersection of roads linking the northern area of the insurgent stronghold of Marjeh with the rest of Helmand province. Marines of Charlie Company conducted a helicopter-borne assault that morning to seize the area. Karabin, 30, is from West Palm Beach, Fla. Photo: Sgt. Brian Tuthill.

Not long after Marines established their defensive positions in the area did they observe Taliban fighters approaching from Marjeh. The Taliban immediately began firing their machine guns at the Marines. Marines and ANA soldiers fired back with heavy machine guns, rockets and small-arms fire, wounding and killing several Taliban fighters, forcing them to flee.

Marines took the brief respite to fortify their fighting positions with sandbags and concrete blocks scrounged from the area around them.

"While we were reinforcing our position on a roof, we came under fire again," said Sgt. Stephen Y. Roberts, a 23-year-old assault section leader, Weapons Platoon, Charlie Company, "It was three or four of the same fighters we had seen firing at us earlier."

Roberts responded to the enemy machine-gun fire by launching a Javelin shoulder-fired missile into the position the fighters were firing from, immediately silencing the heavy machine gun. Marine AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters flying the area followed Roberts' fire to strike a volley of heavy machine-gun fire and rockets, putting an end to the engagement.

Charlie Company Marines were joined at Five Points that evening by squads of Marines from Bravo Company, 1/3, having traveled the nine kilometers from Nawa on foot while sweeping for and clearing improvised explosive devices along the road linking the two locations.

The Marines were also joined there today by the 5th Stryker Brigade:

Marines and Taliban insurgents exchanged gunfire Thursday on the outskirts of Marjah, a southern militant stronghold where American and Afghan forces are expected to launch a major attack in the coming days.

To the north, a U.S.-Afghan force led by the U.S. Army's 5th Stryker Brigade linked up with Marines on Thursday, closing off a Taliban escape route to the nearby major city of Lashkar Gah.

No casualties were reported in the scattered clashes, which broke out as Marines moved ever closer to the edge of the farming community of 80,000 people, the linchpin of Taliban influence in the opium poppy producing province of Helmand.

Clearing the way in front of ground troops going into heavily mined areas are the Breachers.

U.S. Marines from the 2nd MEB, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion sit on top of their Assault Breacher Vehicle (ABV), at Belleau Wood outpost outside Marjah in Afghanistan's Helmand province Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2010. The 72-ton ABV tank plows mine fields and fire ribbons of C4 explosive nearly 150 yards ahead of them to blast safe passage. Photo: David Guttenfelder, AP.

09 February 2010

Where Heroes Rest

Snow blankets the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, Feb. 7, 2010, after a near-record snowfall in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. The severe weather closed government offices and national monuments through the weekend and on Monday, including the Tomb of the Unkowns. U.S. Park Police photo by Sgt. Klebaner.

08 February 2010

Need your help

Things have been busy here. And if you've been watching the news, you know they're likely to get busier. Please help if you can.


Items are listed in order of need.

- Sweatpants and Zippered Hoodie Sweatjackets, size MEDIUM (grey, black, dark blue)

- Sweatpants and Zippered Hoodie Sweatjackets, size LARGE, need more pants than tops (grey, black, dark blue)

- Sweatpants and Zippered Hoodie Sweatjackets, size EXTRA LARGE, need more more tops than pants (grey, black, dark blue)

- Lounge/sleep pants/pj bottoms (M, L, XL - any color or pattern)

- Blankets of Hope (click for details)

- Men's Boxerbriefs (M, L, XL) 2nd choice boxers. Please do not send "tightie whities".

- Shorts, baggy basketball-type (M, L, XL - any color)

- FlipFlops to wear while showering (men's large sizes)

- Calling cards (click for details)

- Body lotion, travel size only

- Lip balm

- Shaving cream, aerosol cans, travel size only

Shipping instructions and our complete list of requested items can be found here.

Thank you for your support on behalf of our wounded and ill warriors.

First MEDEVAC for Joint U.S., Afghan Crew

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Richard Kramer and Afghan Sgt. 1st Class Ghulam Sakhi, flight medics with the 438th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group/Combined Air Power Transition Force, discuss with an Afghan soldier through Shakira Azzizi, an Afghan translator, what is going to happen on a rotary wing medical evacuation from Bagram Airfield Feb. 3, 2010.

This rotary wing medevac is the first of its kind in Afghanistan, where a combined Afghan and U.S. crew takes Afghans from coalition medical facilities and returns them to Afghan facilities. Photo: Tech. Sgt. Jeromy Cross.

Afghan Sgt. 1st Class Ghulam Sakhi, flight medic with the 438th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group/Combined Air Power Transition Force, looks after an injured Afghan soldier on a Mi-17 used for rotary wing medical evacuation missions Feb. 3, 2010. Photo: Tech. Sgt. Jeromy Cross.

A joint U.S. Air Force and Afghan National Army crew from the 438th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group/Combined Air Power Transition Force, pilots a Mi-17 used for rotary wing medical evacuation missions, Feb. 3, 2010. Photo: Tech. Sgt. Jeromy Cross.

An Afghan solider with the 438th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group/Combined Air Power Transition Force, serves as the door gunner on a Mi-17 used for rotary wing medical evacuation missions, Feb. 3, 2010.
Photo: Tech. Sgt. Jeromy Cross.

Two Mi-17s used for rotary wing medical evacuation missions sit on a snowy helicopter pad in Gardez, Afghanistan, Feb. 3, 2010. Photo: Tech. Sgt. Jeromy Cross.

German-born US Soldier headed for OCS two years after being seriously wounded in Iraq

Remember the Battle of Donkey Island near Ramadi in 2007?

Bill Roggio:
U.S. Army forces, with the help of Iraqi police, beat back an attempted al Qaeda in Iraq assault on Ramadi on June 30 and July 1. At least 23 insurgents "affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq" were killed in a series of raids against Donkey Island, which sits about 3 miles south of Ramadi. "Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces received reports that a significant number of anti-Iraqi forces had gathered on the outskirts of Ramadi to stage a series of large scale attacks," Multinational Forces Iraq reported. "The group, affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq, intended to regain a base of operations in Al Anbar with suicide car and vest bomb attacks."

Spc. Jeffrey Jamaleldine:
"It was a normal day like any other. It was July 1, 2007. We had just rolled back in and had a break ... got back, relaxed, had a shower. And it was steak and shrimp night. I couldn't wait to eat steak and shrimp," he said.

However, evening chow would be delayed when Soldiers of his platoon called requesting food be brought out to the combat outpost outside of the Ramadi tent.

"On the way out we got a call from Blue Platoon saying they were taking fire and that there must've been 80 guys. They said they were almost black on ammo. We decided to take a truck and roll out there to see what he was talking about and, yeah, there was close to 80 people shooting at us ... we were outnumbered," he said trailing off.

The events following would fly by in an instant as live fire would jet left and right, explosions would light up the night sky, and Apache helicopters would hover in an effort to aid the few ground forces fighting the many enemies.

"I was shooting from the M240 Bravo. It was controlled chaos. There were no friendly fire incidents ... we really had it under control. Then I looked left and I see (him) ... coming towards me," Jamaleldine said. He refers to the enemy combatant approaching, strapped with an explosive vest, ready to kill.

"I couldn't tilt my M240 down far enough to engage. So I took the 240 out of the mount and leaned myself over ... if I didn't do what I did, our vehicle would've exploded. But by then my head was outside of the armor, so I took a bullet to the face," he said, pointing to the now faint scar on his left cheek. The bullet ripped through his skin, disconnecting the bone structure of his jaw, and finally exiting from his temple.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Allen Crist and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Kevin Purtee, Company B, 1st Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment (Attack), 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, checks on the medical condition of Spc. Jeffrey Jamaleldine, Company C, 1st Battalion, 77th Armor, after an unusual Casualty Evacuation (CASEVAC) in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, on June 30, 2007. U.S. Army photo: Maj. Gregory T. O’Connor.

You may also remember the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Spc. Jamaleldine's CASEVAC.
Upon landing, the co-pilot/gunner helped load the injured Soldier into the front seat without further injury. Despite the heavy small arms fire and surface-to-air fire events in the area, the co-pilot/gunner strapped himself onto the left side of the aircraft and hunkered down on the wing. The pilot flew to Camp Ar Ramadi medical pad, where emergency medical personnel provided treatment.

And now, over two years later, Jamaleldine is slated to attend Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning.

Spc. Jeffrey Jamaleldine, left, site coordinator at the Schweinfurt Tax Office, assists a Soldier Feb. 1. Jamaleldine, a wounded warrior, still contributes to the Army mission and is scheduled to attend Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Ga. Photo: Emily Athens, USAG Schweinfurt.

Today, with what may seem like a lifetime later, Jamaleldine has fully recovered and awaits his class date for Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga., where he will continue his faithful service to the United States Army.

"I'm here to take an active approach ... to do my part to make this a better country, a better world," Jamaleldine said.

Jamaleldine, a native of West Berlin, grew up in Germany like any other child. He went to school and dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player. After completing 13 years of education in the German school system, he was offered a four-year soccer scholarship to Missouri Southern State College. Things were going according to his plan.

But things would soon change and his life would take a different course after the devastation of 9/11 and other global acts of terrorism.

"It was just after (the terrorists) attacked London and Madrid. It made me mad that a small group of people were dictating what they wanted the majority to believe. I knew what I wanted to do ... I wanted to do my part."

Whether it is his strong sense of patriotism, or maybe just his genuine passion to give back, Jamaleldine stresses the importance of taking action for the things he believes in.

"Everybody gets born into a country. If you're born into France, you're French. I was born in Germany, so I'm born German. But I chose to be a U.S. citizen and there's not a day that I take things for granted. I want to do my part," he said, repeating his motto for life: "Actions really do speak louder than words."

I just love this guy. Make sure to read the entire interview. Congratulations and best of luck, Spc. Jamaleldine!

04 February 2010


This is just the most terrific program.

BAGHDAD – The last time they were here, they lost a piece of themselves. Years, and numerous surgeries later, they've returned to get a small piece back.

A hush fell over the crowd as the six Soldiers, many with noticeable limps from their prosthetic limbs, and two military mentors, also wounded in Iraq, entered the chapel.

The uncomfortable silence hung in the air, but only for a few seconds, as the crowd quickly realized that the men seated in front of them were their brothers in arms.

Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Huggins (right), command sergeant major of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, talks with Master Sgt. Tom Carpenter about the capabilities of a Stryker. Carpenter, who had his right leg and left foot amputated after being injured in a bomb explosion, visited 4th SBCT as part of Operation Proper Exit, a military mission designed to give wounded warriors a chance to gain some closure by returning to where they were injured. Photo: Sgt. Bryce Dubee.

The wounded warriors shared one of the most difficult things about being hurt that people don't often think of, but which we hear a lot here at Landstuhl.

"That was the most frustrating part was not being in the fight, not knowing where my guys were," said Sgt. Omar Avila, who, while serving with 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division was struck by a 200-pound improvised explosive device, May 14, 2007, suffering burns over 75 percent of his body and had part of his foot amputated.

Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Olson, an active duty military mentor for the six Soldiers and making his third return trip to Iraq since being wounded, echoed Avila's sentiment.

"I was with my boys for nine straight months, 24-7, and then I woke up in a hospital and they weren't there," he said. "That was the most frustrating part of the transition for me."

Letters from their buddies back on the line, even just simple email updates were helpful in keeping them informed and keeping their spirits up while they healed, they said.

"We didn't come back to flags waving – we didn't have any real reintegration period," said Sgt. Jay Fain. "We still felt like we were in the fight."

However, it wasn't long before inhibitions broke down and the serious and somber tone of the conversation transformed into one more commonly heard around infantrymen.

"The best part about being injured is you can really mess with people," laughed Sgt. 1st Class Michael Schlitz, the other military mentor travelling with the group, who suffered burns on 85 percent of his body and lost both hands after being hit by an IED in 2007.

The wounded Soldiers teased one another about their injuries, the burn victims saying the amputees only had "paper cuts" while one Soldier who had his leg amputated joked that he now dresses as a pirate with a peg leg every Halloween.

This levity had a huge impact on many of the Soldiers in the audience, showing them that life goes on after being wounded.

"It was very inspirational," said Spc. Carlos Perez, a Stryker gunner assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th SBCT, 2nd Inf. Div., who said that he was a little nervous about the experience at first, not knowing the extent of the Soldiers' injuries.

"They were very outgoing, and handling their situation really well," he said.

Pfc. Adam McHenry, also with HHC 4th SBCT, 2nd Inf. Div., agreed.

"It's reassuring knowing that if you do get injured you will be taken care of," he said.

Schlitz, who is on his second visit to Iraq in nearly a month, said that for him, meeting with the Soldier currently serving in Iraq is the most important part of the Operation Proper Exit mission.

"We get to support you guys," he said. "You guys are the ones bringing the fight to a close."

A video interview with SFC Schlitz can be seen here.

Pearl Harbor survivor still has Wounded Warriors at heart

Some people never stop giving...

Peter Limon, a Pearl Harbor survivor, displays a sign he envisions for a San Clemente motel he is resurrecting as the Patriots' Motel. He says he'll donate $5 per night's stay to the Wounded Warrior Fund. Photo: Fred Swegles, The Orange County Register.

Peter Limon was a 17-year-old sailor aboard the USS Swan when, on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese airplanes appeared over Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, bent on destroying the U.S. Navy's fleet.

Limon was lucky. His ship, in drydock, was an aircraft tender, a far cry from the battleships the Japanese pilots were targeting.

In 1972, Limon built San Clemente Motor Lodge, a motel he recalls was used by some of the entourage that followed President Nixon during presidential visits to the "Western White House" in San Clemente. Limon later sold the motel, but he came out of retirement this year at 85 to acquire and revitalize a motel built in 1947. He is upgrading the Brisa Motel at 711 S. El Camino Real, planning to expand it and rename it the Patriots' Motel of San Clemente.

He says $5 of each night's room rate will go to the Wounded Warrior Fund to assist wounded military personnel returning from battle.

"When we get through with this, it'll be something good for San Clemente and for the Wounded Warriors," Limon said.

03 February 2010

Wounded Warrior returns to West Point as WTU Commander

Army Capt. Scott M. Smiley salutes 1st Sgt. Deon E. Dabrio after returning the guidon during the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Unit change of command ceremony at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y., Feb. 1, 2010. Smiley is the first blind officer and second wounded warrior to hold a position of command. U.S. Army photo by Tommy Gilligan.

Capt. Scott M. Smiley is a Soldier, infantryman, Airborne Ranger, combat diver, mountain climber, skier, tri-athlete, surfer, husband, father, and now Company Commander of West Point's Warrior Transition Unit.

He's also blind.

Smiley was wounded and permanently lost his vision during his 2005 deployment to Iraq. He attributes his strength and drive during his recovery to his family, faith and friends.

“It was my wife, my family and friends who were in my hospital room singing songs and reading the Bible that gave me the strength during my recovery,” said Smiley, a member of the USMA Class of 2003.

“It was all of this which allowed me to put one foot in front of the other,” he continued, “and has allowed me to accomplish everything that I have done to get to where I am today.”

Over the past six months, Smiley had been an instructor with the academy’s Behavioral Sciences and Leadership department, teaching a leadership course to third-year cadets.

Smiley’s “endurable spirit and character are traits that the cadets can just relate to,” said West Point instructor Lt. Col. Eric Kail. “He has overcome so much, through his attitude and desire to excel in life. Scott is a great teacher.”

After receiving medical attention following his tour in Iraq, Smiley was transferred to the Ft. Lewis, Wash., Warrior Transition Unit, where he began his recovery and journey to return to active status.

"There were some very long dark days, physically and mentally, but I just had to keep pushing on," Smiley said.

Smiley transitioned back to active duty, working at the U.S. Army Accessions Command at Ft. Monroe, Va. After being there for some time, Smiley's commander told him he had been selected to go to graduate school.

"I thought he was kidding me. I was absolutely shocked," Smiley recalled. "Then, they are going to let me go teach -- that was awesome.”

Smiley attended Duke University where he received his Masters of Business Administration.

After completing his master’s degree, Smiley returned to start a new chapter of his life at West Point, where his military career began in the summer of 1999.

Smiley is the second Wounded Warrior to hold a command position. In June of 2009, Lt. Col. Danny Dudek assumed command of the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Lewis.

02 February 2010

Multiple Air Force crews, Landstuhl staff team up to save Peace Corps member injured in Kazakhstan

What an amzing story. We all hear so many negative things that it's sometimes easy to forget how many wonderful, dedicated people there are in this world. And when multiple teams across Central Asia, Europe, and the US come together save a life, they can make miracles happen.

Transit Center Airmen help save Peace Corps member
by Staff Sgt. Carolyn Viss, 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

2/2/2010 - TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan (AFNS) -- Jan. 18 was a snowy day in Central Asia. Jamie Morris, a female Peace Corps volunteer assigned to a village in Kazakhstan, was traveling in a taxi with two other passengers when their vehicle was hit by a truck, killing the two others and leaving her with severe head injuries.

Officials from the Transit Center at Manas, the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek, and the Peace Corps worked throughout the day to coordinate on-site medical care and evacuation. There was no way to treat Ms. Morris there, and no way to fly her out, so she was driven five hours by ambulance in whiteout conditions, to the Transit Center, where Airmen were waiting to help.

"Our team led by Col. Jerry Flyer went to work immediately to save her," said Col. Blaine Holt, the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing commander. "Although weather kept the teams and aeromedical evacuation team from reaching us until early morning, they kept the badly wounded patient stable."

The entire 376th Expeditionary Medical Group staff worked together to warm the patient, start an IV and administer oxygen, ensuring Ms. Morris was stabilized and ready for air travel, said Colonel Flyer, the 376th EMDG commander and general surgeon.

"She arrived about 11 p.m. and left about 5 a.m.," he said. "Everybody was involved. There wasn't a single person who wasn't in some way helping, whether directly or indirectly, from logistics to the bio equipment repair person, it was a total team effort. She was back in the United States by Thursday morning, which is an incredible tribute to our entire air-evac system."

A C-17 Globemaster III detachment carried her to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, where the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing's medical and flying teams were ready and waiting.

"While we were speaking with the doctor, the critical care team (U.S. military) was circling in a plane, trying to land to pick her up," said Lailah Morris, Ms. Morris' sister-in-law, in a blog post Jan. 19. "They are waiting for the fog to clear out a bit before they can land."

With the U.S. military taking over the medical efforts, Ms. Morris was transported to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and eventually to George Washington University Hospital, D.C.

"It's a good feeling to be able to use your knowledge, experience, and training and apply that to actually help somebody who's injured and return them to their family," Colonel Flyer said.

"There were many Airmen along the way, including friends of the family, (colonels) from (U.S. Army Garrison) Garmisch, who were aiding the family," Colonel Holt said. "It's a great account of the whole team, whether interagency, U.S. Air Forces Central, or Air Mobility Command working together. We are all optimistic here that Jamie will win this fight."

"The U.S. Air Force pulled out all the stops for Jamie," said Ms. Morris' mother, Kathy. "We are staggered by their service for one Peace Corps volunteer. We have always held our U.S. military forces in high regard, but that admiration and respect has increased a thousand-fold since Monday. They are an incredible group of men and women.

"The doctors have told us that Jamie is responding to our voices and our touch," said her mother. "We pray and pray and pray over her and tirelessly read scripture to her. Our Jamie is a fighter, and so are we, and so are you. God bless you all. I love you."

I found the family's blog. First of all, they have posted a photo of Jamie, because "Some of you have been asking for a picture of Jamie (before the accident) so that you can keep her in mind while you're praying and thinking about here. Here you go!"

They also have this so say about the kindness they experienced during the first days after Jamie's accident:

What has amazed me so much throughout this whole ordeal is the care and attention that the U.S. Military has shown Jamie. From the Air Force pilots and crews who flew her all over central asia and into Europe, and finally to the States, to the Military nurses and doctors who answered our questions, found us beds and fed us. They carried our bags, made sure we were warm, and did it all with amazing kindness and respect. Have you noticed something? I haven't mentioned returning our rental car - that's because we didn't. Staff at Landstuhl graciously offered to contact the rental agency to pick it up so that we wouldnt have to worry about it. What is more amazing is that Jamie is a civilian, not military, yet they have treated her like she is their most important patient. I can never remember all the names or say enough thank you's to express how they have impacted us. They made the longest day of our lives bearable.

I didn't meet the family during the few hours they were here, but I'll certainly be praying for Jamie and following her progress at the blog.

Utah ANG Refueling Wing flies 2-week AirEvac mission

"Traditionally, you might hear a few complaints when you ask people to work a 22-hour day, but there were absolutely no complaints on this trip. It's really hard to complain that you're working a long day when you're transporting guys who are missing legs and arms."

- Maj. Dan Boyack, KC-135 pilot with the Utah National Guard's 151st Air Refueling Wing

Aircrew members from the 151st Air Refueling Wing pose for a group shot in front of their KC-135 after completing an aeromedical evacuation mission from Ramstein Air Base, Germany to Bagram AB, Afghanistan. With the exception of one boom operator, this was the first AE mission for the entire crew. (Front row): Tech. Sgt. George Kalakis and Master Sgt. Brian Lawson (Back row - left to right) Maj. Corey Love, Maj. Daniel Boyack, Staff Sgt. Enoch Pitzer, Staff Sgt. John Lawson, Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Hall and 1st Lt. David Geerdes. U.S. Air Force courtesy photo.

Because KC-135s usually carry out refueling missions, flying aeromedical evacuation was a rare - and rewarding - opportunity for this crew. Thanks, guys!

151st ARW aircrew performs most rewarding of missions
by Maj. Krista DeAngelis, 151st ARW/PA

2/1/2010 - RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Landing in the black of night, a Utah Air National Guard KC-135 air refueling tanker touches down at the Bagram Air Base airfield in Afghanistan. With no external lights and the clock ticking, crews on the plane know they only have a finite time to refuel and load injured patients onto their "air ambulance" for transport to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

With lives on the line, aeromedical evacuation crews scurry to load a handful of patients who have lost limbs, suffered head trauma and other injuries into the back of a reconfigured aircraft. Having loaded the KC-135 with medical support equipment in Germany, the aeromedical crews have virtually turned the back of the plane into a mobile hospital.

"When we arrived in Germany on the evening of December 27, Ramstein aeromedical crews began to configure the jet with patient support pallets," said Maj. Dan Boyack, a 191st Air Refueling Squadron pilot who flew his first AE mission during this trip. "While medical personnel arranged the aircraft, we went into crew rest to prepare for the next day's evacuation sortie."

That mission took them on a six-and-a-half-hour flight from Ramstein AB to Bagram to pick up the injured patients. With only two and a half hours on the ground, the aircrew fueled up, AE crews loaded up the patients, and the KC-135 turned around for another seven-and-a-half-hour flight back to Germany.

"It ends up being about a 22-hour day from start to finish," said Maj. Corey Love, 191st ARS pilot. "We land at about midnight when it's dark for security reasons. Although there is currently no surface-to-air threat there, the biggest threat is small arms fire... which is why we perform a tactical decent and arrival with all of our lights out. The KC-135 is the only non-defensible airframe that is allowed to land at Bagram, so we have to be very safety conscious."

Once the aircraft lands at Bagram, the AE crews and/or critical care teams take over and load the patients, who range from civilian contractors to U.S. and coalition military members, into the back of the aircraft and prepare them for the flight to Germany. In flight, the medical crews monitor the patients, take their vitals, provide drugs, and try to assist with their comfort levels. Once the plane lands at the Ramstein flightline, aeromedical ground crews off-load the patients on K-Loaders and transport them via an ambulance bus to LRMC where they receive the critical medical attention they require.

A specialized medical K-Loader prepares to offload patients who have been recently flown in a Utah Air National Guard KC-135 from Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan to Ramstein AB, Germany. Once medical ground crews offload the patients, they will be transported to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center for further medical treatment. U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dan Boyack.

A K-Loader is an unusual sight at Landstuhl, and I did a double take when I saw one last month. As the name implies, it's used with KC-135s. Most aeromedical evacuation is carried out with C-17s or C-130s.

"A team of about 15 people is usually waiting for us when we land," explained Major Love. "They have ambulances - those big medical busses on the ramp - and usually a flight surgeon who will take control of the patients. It usually takes about 30 minutes to get them all off."

By the end of their two-week rotation to Ramstein, the Utah aircrew had flown four AE missions on December 28 and 30 and January 1 and 3, as well as transported nine critical care patients, 33 litter patients, 18 ambulatory patients and 20 medical attendants. The crew arrived safely back in Salt Lake on January 6.

"There was no down-time on this trip," said Major Love. "We were either in crew rest or flying for 13 straight days, so it was busy."

Historically, the Utah ANG's primary focus has been the KC-135's air refueling capability. The AE mission has often been understated, but aircrews agree that it is the most satisfying of all missions.

"It was the most rewarding and demanding mission I've ever done," said Major Love. "This is the first time I've felt like we were really involved in what was happening in the war. You're pretty much detached when you're air refueling... you go up there and refuel fighters or bombers or cargo planes, then you go home and land somewhere safe and warm. But this time, it was rewarding to land where people are actually getting injured and putting their lives on the line and then we get to bring them home."

The pilots weren't the only ones who felt the AE mission was worthwhile.

"People really hustled and the crew chiefs really got into their jobs on this mission," said Major Boyack. "Traditionally, you might hear a few complaints when you ask people to work a 22-hour day, but there were absolutely no complaints on this trip. It's really hard to complain that you're working a long day when you're transporting guys who are missing legs and arms."

"We also talked to some of the medical crews out there who are deployed for four to six months and you hear the same kinds of things from them - that this is the most rewarding mission they've been a part of," said Major Love.

Major Boyack echoed the sentiment, and explained how their mission was also integrally intertwined with current events.

"It was pretty interesting to go back to the room and watch the news and know what you were probably going to be doing the next day," he said. "We were actually on the ground when the bomb went off and injured the CIA guys, and we ended up bringing some of the wounded back for that."

Over the past several years, the 151st Air Refueling Wing has performed five AE missions. The wing is currently scheduled to fly another mission in March 2010.

01 February 2010

Operation Proper Exit: Fourth group of wounded vets return to Iraq

But first, here's a video about SFC Michael Schlitz's participation during OPE-III. We've been able to read about him during coverage of that event, but it's great to get to know a little more about him as a person and a Soldier in this profile.

SFC Schlitz arrived in Iraq again yesterday as a mentor with the OPE-IV group.

Rick Kell, executive director of the Troops First Foundation, has done it again. Six wounded warriors arrived in Baghdad in C-130 Hercules, Jan. 31, and took their first steps in Iraq after being severely wounded the last time they were here.

This is the fourth time Kell, with support from the USO, has returned wounded service members to Iraq as part of Operation Proper Exit, a program aimed at helping the warriors find emotional closure after being injured.

Although this is the fourth trip, this set of Soldiers differs from previous groups; all six Soldiers are retired.

They include Capt. Ferris Butler, Capt. Lonnie Moore, Master Sgt. Tom Carpenter, Sgt. Omar Avila, Sgt. Jay Fain, and Cpl. Charles Dominguez.

You can read their profiles in the full story at the link.

Also returning in the role of military mentors are Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Olson and Sgt. 1st Class Michael Schlitz. This is the third Operation Proper Exit trip for Olson, who had his entire right leg amputated in 2006 after being struck by a RPG. Schlitz, on his second Operation Proper Exit tour, sustained burns to 85 percent of his body and lost both hands when his vehicle hit an IED in 2007.

The Soldiers will travel throughout Iraq for the next week with Command Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Wilson, United States Forces-Iraq command sergeant major. Wilson has worked with Kell for nearly a year to continue to bring troops back to the places that had changed their lives forever.

"We welcome these warriors. This is going to be a great trip for these guys, and we thank everyone for their support in getting them to his point," he told a crowd of service members gathered to welcome the warriors.

I just love this project. What a great experience for these wounded warriors!