29 May 2012

Staff Sergeant Robert "Brian" Cowdrey honored at FOB Fenty on Memorial Day

82nd Combat Aviation Brigade Troopers salute a memorial dedicated to U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert "Brian" Cowdrey. Cowdrey died Oct. 13, 2011 while rescuing wounded servicemembers from a small combat outpost near the Pakistan Border. MEDEVAC troops on Forward Operating Base Fenty had the helicopter landing pad in the V.I.P. arrival area re-named "Cowdrey Ramp," and erected a small monument to honor his life on Memorial Day. Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Pahon.

I just love that the guys downrange did this.

The real “memorial” day
Written by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Pahon, RC-East PAO

JALALABAD, Afghanistan – There wasn’t a BBQ with friends. No kids splashed in a pool or lined up for a rollercoaster on the official first day of the “summer fun” season. No-one got the day off. Memorial day wasn’t anything except a day to gather and remember, mark a patch of concrete with a small monument, and lament losing a friend.

“Sometimes, I think about how many lives Brian affected,” said U.S. Army Capt. Augustine Castronovo, the MEDEVAC platoon leader on Forward Operating Base Fenty, near Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

On October 13th, 2011, Castronovo’s MEDEVAC unit responded to an urgent call from a small observation post in Kunar province, near the Pakistan border. The post had been under heavy enemy fire, and three Coalition Soldiers were critically wounded, requiring evacuation.

Among the medics on board was U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert “Brian” Cowdrey, from Atwater, Ohio. Cowdrey was seasoned combat veteran on his fourth deployment, known for his “hard right over easy wrong” attitude.

As crews raced to rescue the wounded, weather deteriorated as the number of patients increased. The Task Force Talon, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade MEDEVAC crews made the decision to continue on, despite dangerous, rugged terrain and limited visibility. Rain showers soaked the valley they traveled.

“U.S. Soldiers fought side-by-side with their Afghan counterparts. What happened at OP Shal wasn’t about politics, foreign policy, or ethnicity,” said Castronovo, of Woodland Hills, Calif. “These Soldiers were fighting for each other’s lives.”

Cowdrey jumped from the helicopter as soon as the pilot got two of three wheels on the ground, and ran to find the wounded. The helicopter delicately balanced on the side of the mountain, the whirling blades of the main rotor just a few feet from the ground.

“When it came to the wounded, it wasn’t about the uniform or the country of origin - for Brian, it was about helping another human being,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Deane Bostick, a flight medic who was with Cowdrey that night.

Cowdrey loaded the two most critically-wounded patients onto the Black Hawk, then asked for permission to go back and get more.

“Brian didn’t have to go back,” said Castronovo, “but leaving a wounded Soldier behind never crossed his mind.”

“I was with Brian the night he left us,” said Bostick. “The last thing I said to him was ‘be safe,’ and with a crooked smile he responded with the same, and then he was all business.”

On his way back with yet another patient, Cowdrey was struck by one of the low rotor blades, killing him instantly.

“A ground medic who witnessed the events told me ‘as Brian moved to the aircraft with the third patient it appeared he pushed the patient to safety before being mortally wounded,’” said Bostick. “I would like to think that was the case; that his last act in life was to ensure the safety of another. That is who he was.”

“Brian gave his life while in the service of others,” said Castronovo to a crowd of commanders, MEDEVAC crew members and pilots collected in front of a sheet-draped memorial just off the main runway on Fenty. “He died doing what he loved most and I know in my heart that he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Brian laid down his life out of love for his brothers.”

To honor Cowdrey’s life and sacrifices, the MEDEVAC crews serving with Task Force Saber in Jalalabad dedicated FOB Fenty’s V.I.P. landing pad to Cowdrey, and marked the site with a memorial- a simple marble plaque atop a pedestal of concrete.

“I will never forget you, nor will anyone else who was fortunate enough to have known you,” said Bostick. “I am humbled to have known this man and think it only appropriate that here at Jalalabad Airfield the V.I.P. pad be named in his honor, forever to be known as ‘Cowdrey Pad.’”

“Sometimes, I think about how many lives Brian affected,” said Castronovo. “I try to count how many mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers can embrace their loved ones because of Brian’s actions? How many family trees will continue to grow because Brian saved lives? Brian’s impact is immeasurable.”

Godspeed, SSG Robert 'Brian' Cowdrey
All-American DUSTOFF (II)
All American DUSTOFF
The Gypsies
‘No one dies in my aircraft’

28 May 2012

Memorial Day

When you go home,
Tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrow,
We gave our today.

On Memorial Day, we pause to reflect upon the principles that have made our Republic great.

We pause to remember the high cost of freedom, and honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect it - the brave men and women who answered the call of duty by saying, "If not me, then who?"

Each time we watch the news we are reminded that liberty is a rare commodity in this world, and how blessed we are to be Americans.

May God bless our Fallen Heroes and their families. We honor your sacrifice, and will love and remember you always.

For some, every day is Memorial Day.

Where no rockets fly nor bullets wing

To fallen soldiers let us sing,
Where no rockets fly nor bullets wing,
Our broken brothers let us bring
To the Mansions of the Lord.

No more weeping,
No more fight,
No friends bleeding through the night,
Just Devine embrace,
Eternal light,
In the Mansions of the Lord.

Where no mothers cry
And no children weep,
We shall stand and guard
Though the angels sleep,
Oh, through the ages let us keep
The Mansions of the Lord.

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

- John 14:1-2

27 May 2012

The Long Salute

[Originally posted in 2010.]

The Long Salute

The bullets of morality fire more true than our lead’: Lone Marine honors veterans on Memorial Day

By Cpl. Scott Schmidt

WASHINGTON – Now and again a person may stumble across events that will impact their life with the force of a wrecking ball. For Staff Sgt. Tim Chambers, he found himself overwhelmed with indecision tearing his mind in every direction.

His quandary: how to reach each and every veteran’s emotions and heal their pain with respect and compassion.

Chambers’ spontaneous march into the middle of the street seven years ago to render honors to the thousands of veterans riding in Rolling Thunder was his answer. A salute was his method.

During the ride that takes place Memorial Day weekend every year, Chambers stands with his hand on his makeshift memorial at 23rd and Constitution Avenue and the lone Marine addresses the crowd.

“This is for my brothers and sisters and your fellow patriots. It stands here in honor of those in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is their memorial,” he said.

Boots, a rifle, flack jacket and Kevlar were displayed proudly at his feet. Families of fallen service members donated personal effects of their loved ones to symbolize their body and spirit.

“The bullets of morality fire more true than our lead,” continued Chambers. “I stand here to show respect and welcome these veterans home who returned at a time filled with negative sentiment for their service. We have not forgotten.”

The rolling thunder from thousands of motorcycles emerged from Memorial Bridge and Chambers’ heels slammed together, his fist lined his trouser seam and his right hand snapped to a stern salute perfectly aligned with his brow.

By noon, sunshine engulfed the morning mist and echoes of encouragement joined with the roar of engines in a symphony of compassion as the Rolling Thunder procession made their way through the district.

As veterans rode passed Chambers, shouts of “Semper Fi” and “Ooh-rah” emerged through the rumble of exhausts.

“Semper Fi, thank you for your service,” Chambers replied while looking directly into their eyes.

Chambers later said that it look as if many of the veterans’ eyes who rode by still had remnants of the thousand yard stare acquired in combat. However, Chambers’ eyes held the thousand yard stare of sincerity.

“I haven’t been deployed so I have to do everything, everything I can to make a difference on the home front. I can’t grasp what these and current combat veterans have gone through but I can keep giving what I do,” he explained.

Occasionally veterans, some wearing jean jackets weighed down with patches, medals and patriotic pins, would stop his bike and march to Chambers’ position to show his gratitude by returning a salute.

“I consider it my homecoming,” said Robert L. Seltz, who served as a corporal from October 1970 to April 1972 in Vietnam. “Seeing staff sergeant up there gives me pride. I want to stick my chest out, walk taller and hold my head high.”

Seltz explained that over the years, seeing Chambers’ strength standing for hours has given some veterans, including himself, the courage to finally confront the pain they kept inside for so long.

After an hour of holding his salute, discomfort began to set in. Salt rings grew around his collar and his face turned dark red, but he did not falter as there were still thousands of veterans left to honor.

“I do this for the pain,” he explained. “It’s all about the pain. A lot of these guys still hurt and if I can relieve their pain through mine just for one brief moment, then I’ve done my job.”

After three hours and seven minutes, the statuesque Marine stumbled back and dropped to his knees as the last motorcycle passed. He stood slowly regaining his strength and balance and placed his hand on the memorial then closed his eyes and prayed.

Throughout the day hundreds of emotional veterans thanked him for his efforts and shook his hand. Each time Chambers said, “No, it was my pleasure. Thank you.”

Before the ride began, veterans threw and placed flowers at Chambers’ feet in a salute to him, but the flowers took on an unintended and more profound symbolism for one girl. As he stumbled back from exhaustion, a young red-headed girl walked up to Chambers wearing emotions on her face.

“Thank you so much, my name is McKenzie,” she told him. “I lost my father in Iraq five days ago…” she buried her face into Chambers’ shoulder.

After a long embrace, he walked with her to where the flowers were thrown and whispered, “These were thrown down here for your father. You may never hear this but he was a hero. He preserved freedom and left behind a legacy of leadership that will continue to save lives.”

Chambers said he never found out her full name or who her father was, but he will remember the moment for the rest of his life.

Chambers said coming to Washington for the past seven years has been quite a journey. This year, he accompanied Carry the Flame, a non-profit organization raising awareness about the needs of veterans, through every state across Interstate 40 and participated in the name readings of the fallen from Iraq and Afghanistan, rendering a salute at each location. The journey also lead him to console and break bread with more than 200 ‘Gold Star’ families.

“When you meet a gold star mom, time stops,” explained Chamber’s wife Juls. “They have given so much and have made the biggest sacrifice of their son’s and daughters to America. It is just as important to honor the families as it is to honor the fallen.”

Chambers said his determination to thank each and every veteran is what drove him to this street seven years ago and is what keeps him going today.

Chambers said the events on Sept. 11, 2001, helped instill the conviction to stand on the corner of 23rd and Constitution Avenue for so many hours.

“I’ll be here for the rest of my life. The only thing that can take me away would be a deployment,” Chambers said.

Chambers has ambitious goals for next year’s Memorial Day and hopes he can reach out to even more veterans than ever before.

“I want to line the side of the street with children saluting the veterans as they pass,” explained Chambers. “The median spanning the whole street will be filled with dedications from ‘Gold Star’ families of their loved ones and perhaps one day these items will grace a memorial dedicated to the heroism of the generation fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

H/t Shelle Michaels and Carrie Costantini

"If not me, then who?'

"I served in the military for 30 years. But it was impossible to fully understand the sacrifices of our troops and their families until April 29, 2007, the day my son, First Lt. Travis Manion, was killed in Iraq.

"Travis was just 26 years old when an enemy sniper's bullet pierced his heart after he had just helped save two wounded comrades. Even though our family knew the risks of Travis fighting on the violent streets of Fallujah, being notified of his death on a warm Sunday afternoon in Doylestown, Pa., was the worst moment of our lives.

"While my son's life was relatively short, I spend every day marveling at his courage and wisdom. Before his second and final combat deployment, Travis said he wanted to go back to Iraq in order to spare a less-experienced Marine from going in his place. His words — "If not me, then who . . . " — continue to inspire me.

"For the Rozanskis, Snyders, Douvilles, Looneys and thousands more like us, every day is Memorial Day. If the rest of the nation joins us to renew the spirit of patriotism, service and sacrifice, perhaps America can reunite, on this day of reverence, around the men and women who risk their lives to defend it."

Col. Tom Manion, USMCR (Ret.), in the Wall Street Journal. Read the whole thing.

H/t CDR M at Ace of Spades HQ.

Fox News’ Jenna Lee: A Personal Reflection on Memorial Day

Fox News’ Jenna Lee reflects on the loss of her husband’s Navy SEAL teammates and what Memorial Day means to her.

25 May 2012

'Remember the Fallen, Embrace the Living'

A plaque bolted onto the prosthetic arm of Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry lists the names of 19 men killed in action from the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment over the last 30 years. Petry lost his arm the same day that one of those men, Spc. Christopher Gathercole, was killed. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.

From today's Stars and Stripes:

Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry felt that honoring just one of his fallen comrades wasn’t enough.

So he had a plaque bearing the names of 19 fallen soldiers — all of the men from the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment who have been killed in combat over the last 30 years — bolted to his right arm instead.

“I carry them all, because they’re all part of my family,” he said. “And I have a little more real estate on my arm to work with than most people.”

Petry lost his right hand and forearm to injuries suffered in a Memorial Day firefight four years ago, when he saved two soldiers by tossing away an enemy grenade that had landed nearby.

He received the Medal of Honor for his sacrifice, and used his new prosthetic arm, with plaque attached, to shake the president’s hand at the award ceremony.

“There’s hardly a unit out there today that hasn’t lost somebody,” he said. “They get it. You never forget. You always try to remember the fallen, and embrace the living.”

24 May 2012

Memorial Day Tribute to War Dogs

From Jason at The Dog Training Secret blog:

Having served in the Marine Corps and being an avid dog lover, I am elated to have the opportunity to write an article on how dogs have been utilized by the military for thousands of years. And, to pay tribute to the many dogs who have faithfully and honorably given up their own lives as a sacrifice so that their human partners could safely return home to their families.

I hope you will please take a moment, with Memorial Day coming up, to read this memorial and share your thoughts and experiences with us.

His post covers the history and current use of Military Working Dogs, as well as famous MWDs and lots of great photos. A fitting tribute to these often overlooked fallen heroes.

From Lieutenant General John Kelly to his Fellow Gold Star Parents

From the Marines' Memorial Association website, with thanks to Taco of the Sandgram.

In February 2012, Gold Star Families of 109 Marines, soldiers, sailors or airmen lost in Iraq or Afghanistan since 9/11 came to the Marines' Memorial Club in San Francisco to network with each other and to help each other with the grieving process. In the past seven years, we have worked with more than 600 Gold Star families.

This year, we invited Lieutenant General John Kelly, USMC to speak to the Gold Star families. Gen Kelly and his wife, Karen, are also Gold Star parents, having lost their son, 2ndLt Robert Kelly USMC, on 9 November 2010 in Afghanistan. Here are LtGen Kelly's remarks:

I never met any of your loved ones… your sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and spouses. I also don’t know how you came to know they were lost in the wars waged today and over the last ten years in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and dozens of other locations around the world. I don’t know the details, but the stories are ultimately all the same. Most often it started with a knock on the door, or a ring of the doorbell in the early morning hours by a casualty officer who’d been sitting outside your house waiting anxiously for hours for the first lights to come on. He dreaded the mission he’d been assigned that day. He was not glad to be there, but he was privileged to be there as the duty is a sacred one. It is an honor to be called to do it. Most often the casualty officer is a complete stranger. Sometimes he’s your best friend. The minute you saw him standing there framed in the doorway you knew…you knew without being told… before he uttered his first words… you knew.

After that it varies. Some then steeled themselves to walk up stairs to wake a mother, your wife, and break her heart as yours was broken only moments before. Some drove to a daughter’s place of work to tell her about a big brother now gone, and tear another heart in two. When you could you started making the calls… to your other children, your siblings, to uncles and aunts, grandparents… and friends. It’s hard to get through it but you do… somehow… you had no choice. Every experience is different, but in the end it’s all the same. A family is brought to its knees in a grief that is unexpectedly physical in its impact on the body, unbearable to the mind, and agonizing to the heart. A grief that never goes away. Not even with the passage of time.

Then begins the waiting and the heartache seems to turn minutes to hours, and hours to days. You wait because there is little left to do as the military with precision, and reverence, brings your cherished loved one home to the country they served… to rest in the good earth of the America they loved. Some of us went to Dover, others elected to wait at home not wanting to double the hurt. It doesn’t matter. In the end, it’s all the same.

Since the birth of our nation, 45 million have served in uniform. A million have died in its defense. All of them, but particularly the fallen, are part of a legend that, God willing, will never end — our America. The irony is that your loved ones who we remember this weekend came out of an America that no longer seems to value commitment, self-reliance, and selfless dedication to a cause… but they did. Rather, it seems most of our countrymen today are more interested in objects of status or what America can do for them, than serving the nation and protecting its people, and the principles for which it stands… but yours did. Most of the fallen we remember tonight were only nine or ten years old on 9/11. If they remembered anything about that day it might be the images of the burning towers, or the looks of concern and confusion in your eyes as you held them close that day as much to get comfort, as give it. A decade later, and much to your surprise I bet, they astonished you when after screwing up enough courage they marched into the room one day, or at dinner one evening, and informed you they’d decided to join…to serve. You likely, and immediately, asked yourself: “Where the hell did that come from? I never raised him to go in the service… never thought of it… never wanted him to go to war…no parent would ever want that… oh my God, what if she has to go overseas?” It’s my bet you never looked at him or her again in exactly the same way, particularly if he followed it up with: and I want to be a soldier…or a Navy Doc…or a Marine.

Even as a private citizen worlds away from the Pentagon, Baghdad, or Kabul, you know our enemy — the one your loved ones voluntarily stepped forward to fight — is slave to an ideology based on an irrational hatred of who we are. 9/11 and the scenes of devastation in New York and Washington was evidence enough of that. You also know through the media or perhaps from letters from Iraq or Afghanistan of his conduct on the battlefield with the murderous beheadings, suicide attacks, and complete disregard for the innocents of his own country and religion. All of this stands as further proof of his disdain for decency and human life. This enemy has repeatedly proven himself to be brutal and homicidal, offering no quarter and with a single focus… to kill every one of us here at home, or enslave us with a sick form of extremism that serves no God or purpose that decent men and women, regardless of the God they worship, could ever grasp. In past wars since the birth of our Republic, the burden of stopping such evil fell on the shoulders of an entire generation. Today the task is taken up by only 1% of America. The 1% all of us here tonight represent, whose children fill the ranks of our Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps in barely enough numbers to defend us all. They are men and women of character who believed in this country enough to put life and limb on the line without qualification, and without thought of personal gain.

Aside from everything else you have endured the weeks, months or years since your loss, you should be proud of their decision… of their commitment… of their actions on the battlefield. Proud they stepped forward when so many others never even considered it. Proud that by this one very personal decision — to serve a cause higher than themselves regardless of the outcome to them personally — they gave meaning to two questions that have, over the centuries, defined the dedication of free and righteous men and women in the fight against wickedness: “If not me, Dad, who? If not now, Mom, when?”

If we did not have citizens willing to not only ask, but also to act on these questions, we would have lost in our struggle against the oppression of the British Empire. Slavery might never have been eradicated from our shores, and the rights of all Americans under the law might still be just a dream. The Nazis would have triumphed, the death camps never liberated and eliminated, and untold millions never saved from the gas chambers and furnaces. Communism, a cancer that killed over 100 million and sucked the human spirit from billions more during its 70 year life span, would never have been thrown onto the dust bin of history. And today, the high tide of Islamic intolerance and extremism — an empire of hate that Osama bin Laden himself proclaimed would last forever — was counted in only days after 9/11 once our country woke up and took the fight to them on their home turf. That is the kind of men and women we remember here this weekend. That is the kind of young person you raised… you shared a room with as a brother or sister… you married. Be at least as proud of their having stepped forward, as you are sad at their loss.

The comforting news to our countrymen who have decided to sit it out and watch in amazement from the sidelines at what ours did every day for them in this war against extremism, is that they were as good as any who came before them in our history. As good as what their fathers and uncles were in Vietnam, and their grandfathers were in Korea and World War II. But, like those who came before them, they were not born killers. They were good and decent young men and women who, every day, performed remarkable and most often unsung acts of bravery and selflessness to a cause they decided was bigger and more important than themselves. And you know that any one of them could have done something more self-serving with their lives as the vast majority of their age group elected to do after high school and college, but no, they chose to serve knowing full well a brutal war was in their future. They did not avoid the most basic and cherished responsibility of a citizen — the defense of country — they welcomed it. Our kids were the best of the best of their generation, and in their unselfishness put every American ahead of themselves. All are heroes for simply stepping forward, and our people owe a debt they can never fully pay. Their reward for service is the legacy they left behind: selfless valor, the Country we live in, and the freedoms so many take for granted.

I said earlier when I started my comments that I’d never had the pleasure of meeting your loved ones, but I can say without hesitation that I knew every one of them very well. I certainly was not there in the hospital when they were born. I did not share with you the joy of their birth. I also was not at the church when they were Baptized or years later when they received First Holy Communion, Confirmation, or were married. I didn’t share the anxiety the day you took off their training wheels and let them leave the driveway for their first solo ride on their two wheeler. I also wasn’t at the sports field to see them play Little League baseball or mob ball that was supposed to be soccer… or when they went on their first overnight as a Cub Scout or Brownie. I wasn’t there for their first day of school, or their first job, or their first date or prom, or their graduation from high school or college.

I knew them all well, however, because after nearly four decades of service in uniform I’ve been privileged to know thousands and thousands exactly like them. Privileged to have known them, and honored to have taken responsibility for them from you and continue your tremendous work. To help them through the homesickness they felt at boot camp and their first duty stations far from home, to stand in for you and make sure they picked up their rooms, did their laundry, advised them to continue to stay away from drugs, drink in moderation and lead good lives, to go to church, and hang out with the right crowd. I counseled them about relationships and marriage, and helped young couples through the rocks-and-shoals of every marriage’s first year. I taught them how to balance their checkbooks, and use a credit card responsibly, and trained them so they’d be less likely to kill themselves on the motorcycle they never should have bought. All of which built on the work you did, along with their sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, neighborhoods, communities, churches, helping them achieve the greatness they already had in their hearts. I loved them all.

In some respects I knew them better than you did. I met them as grownups, never having had the opportunity of knowing them as children or adolescents. In ten thousand conversations over the years in peacetime and war, I was touched when they talked to me about their parents, and the families they loved and missed so much. About their favorite uncle who kicked them in the butt when they needed it, or a respected grandparent who lived with them. The older brother that took care of them and showed them how to use a pocket knife, or kid sister they worshiped and looked out for every day on the way home from school. About the home towns they could not wait to get back to someday. About the girl they wanted to marry — or had already — and how they wanted a family of their own, and kids that would look up to them as they did their folks.

The biggest difference in the way I knew them? I was with them in combat. I have seen them literally turn the intangibles of commitment, bravery, and selfless devotion, into real and meaningful action. In my three tours in this war as an infantry officer and commander, I never saw one hesitate, or do anything other than lean into the fire and with no apparent fear of death or injury take the fight to our merciless enemies. Day after day, the kids we came here to remember this weekend unhesitatingly climbed into trucks or helicopters, or departed the wire on patrol, and did it as if they were born to it… were indestructible…were without fear. They learned early as anyone who has truly experienced combat does, however, that fear is always with you. They also knew how random combat is, and how you have absolutely no control over whether you live or die. They also knew what can happen to you — or just as importantly to your best friend or one of your men — in an instant. They’d seen it… it’s frightening… horrible… but still they went out. The fear is at times an all-consuming constant but that is what courage is, isn’t it, pushing through the dread and completing the mission assigned regardless of how dangerous. You may or may not have ever seen that in them when they were growing up, or when you said “I do” holding their hands and gazing into their eyes… but I saw it every day. You may or may not have known him or her as one of the bravest, most courageous and committed young people our society produces… but I can attest to it.

As terrifying as combat is when it starts, when the explosions and tracers are everywhere and there is no rational reason on this earth for a man or a woman to do anything but run away in horror or find a hole to hide in and pray to God for it to stop — they didn’t. When no one would call them coward for cowering behind a wall or shivering in panic in a bunker, slave to the most basic of all instincts— survival — none of them did. When the calls for the Corpsman or medic were shouted from the mouths of young kids who know they will soon be with their God — when seconds seem like hours and it all becomes slow motion and fast forward at the same time — and the only sensible act is stop, get down, save yourself — they never did. It doesn’t matter if it’s an IED, a suicide bomber, mortar attack, fighting in an upstairs room of a house, or all of it at once…they were magnificent. And please take comfort in the fact that when they fell they were not alone. When they went they were surrounded by the finest men and women on this earth — their buddies — who desperately tried to save their lives while holding their hands and comforted them, prayed with them, listened to all the little stories about their families and their homes… until they were gone. They were not alone and when the spirit left them and God in his infinite wisdom took them to his bosom, their military family lovingly wrapped them in whatever passed for a shroud and sent them home. In this, their last journey, they were never alone. At every stop along the way, they were treated with the greatest reverence and deepest respect due a fallen hero until members of the service they proudly joined brought them to you.

Over 6,000 have died since 9/11, and we their families are sentenced to a life of dealing with their loss for the rest of our lives. Thousands more have suffered wounds since it all started, but like anyone who loses life or limb while serving others, they are not victims, as they knew what they were about, and were doing what they wanted to do. The “chattering class” wants to make them and us, their families, out to be victims, but they miss the point. Those who chose to serve willingly, and the families who supported them, will have none of that. Those with less of a sense of service to the nation will never understand it when men and women of character step forward and look danger and adversity straight in the eye, and refuse to blink or give ground even to their own deaths. The protected can’t begin to understand the price paid so they and their families can sleep safe and free at night. What they are missing, what they will also never understand, is the sense of commitment, joy, and honor of serving one’s country in uniform. Every service member does, as do we their families who support them, and fear for them, and, yes, will mourn for them the rest of our lives.

In my hundreds of trips to military hospitals around the country since 2003 and the start of the war, I’ve visited with thousands of grievously wounded American kids and their families. No matter how battered they were, no matter how many arms or legs they’d lost, their families thanked God they’d come home to them alive…but they also always very quietly asked me if it was worth it. I never tried to answer that question — I couldn’t — it wasn’t one of my boys lying in the hospital bed. I could never fathom the innermost thoughts of a parent who stood watch through the night at the bedside of someone they loved so much, who was so terribly wounded. Who was I to offer an opinion? And in my dozens of conversations with families of the fallen at Dover, or at gravesides at Arlington, or at gatherings like this, I’ve been similarly asked if it was worth the life of someone they brought into the world, raised and nurtured so lovingly, and so much looked forward to seeing grow and find wonderful husbands and wives, and give them grandchildren to spoil. Again, I had no right to reply because as hard as I tried to understand what the immensity of their loss might be, and the depth of the sorrow in their heart, I knew it was impossible. My sense then was it is inconceivable for anyone to understand that has not had his own heart pierced with such sadness. I learned I was right.

I’ve asked this same question of myself a million times these last months, usually when I unexpectedly caught a glimpse of him in a picture at the house, or when a thought of an earlier time came to mind, or in a quiet and unguarded moment when his loss washes over me in emotions I still can’t control. Since the day I had my turn standing in the door looking into the glistening eyes of a casualty officer, and the day I woke my wonderful wife and crush her heart with the news, and had to nearly pick my daughter up off the floor where she worked, I have desperately tried to convince myself that it was worth it. I have worked hard at believing his life was worth the sacrifice on the altar of America’s freedom. But it all came to me the day we buried him in the sacred ground that is Arlington, at Section 60, Gravesite #9480, that it doesn’t matter at all what I think. The only thing that matters is what he thought. That he had decided it was more important to be where he was that morning in the Sangin River Valley, Afghanistan, to be doing what he was doing with the Marines and Doc he loved so much and led so well in what was at that time the most dangerous place on earth. In his mind — and in his heart — he had decided somewhere between the day he was born and 07:19, 9 November 2010, that it was worth it to him to risk everything — even his life — in the service of his country. So in spite of the terrible emptiness that is in a corner of my heart, and the corners of the hearts of everyone who ever knew him, we are proud…so very proud. Was it worth his life? It’s not for me to say. He answered the question for me.

It has been my distinct honor to have had the opportunity to be with you here this weekend. In spite of our loss I am confident that our America, this experiment in democracy started just over two centuries ago, will forever remain the “land of the free and home of the brave” so long as we never run out of tough young Americans like ours who are willing to look beyond their own self interest and comfortable lives, and go into the darkest and most dangerous places on earth to hunt down, and kill, those who would do us harm.

God Bless America, ladies and gentlemen, may they rest in peace, may we who loved them find peace and understanding in their sacrifice, and that the America that they so loved and protected, and gave their lives for, is forever worthy of their sacrifice. Of this I pray.

Semper Fidelis.

His Brothers Brought Him Home

...all the way to his native Liberia.

United States Marine Corps casket bearers walk past members of Operation Onward Liberty carrying the remains of Lance Corporal Abraham Tarwoe, 25, of Providence, R.I., during a dignified transfer ceremony at Roberts International Airport, Liberia, on May 15. Tarwoe, who was born in Liberia, died from wounds suffered in combat in Helmand province, Afghanistan, on April 12. At the time of his death, Tarwoe was deployed from 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Camp Lejeune, N.C. Photo: Public Domain.

United States Marine Corps Corporal Michael Wiles, of Willingboro, N.J., comforts family members of his best friend, Lance Corporal Abraham Tarwoe, 25, of Providence, R.I., during a dignified transfer ceremony at Roberts International Airport, Liberia, on May 15. Tarwoe died from wounds suffered in combat in Helmand province, Afghanistan, on April 12. Wiles was tasked with escorting Tarwoe's remains back to his family in his native Liberia. At the time of his death, Tarwoe was deployed from 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Camp Lejeune, N.C. Wiles is stationed with 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, Camp Lejeune, N.C. Photo: Public Domain.

United States Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Dick DeBoy, of Salamanca, N.Y., makes final preparations to the casket prior to a memorial service in Flehla, Liberia, for Lance Corporal Abraham Tarwoe, 25, of Providence, R.I., on May 17. Tarwoe, who was born in Liberia, died from wounds suffered in combat in Helmand province, Afghanistan, on April 12. At the time of his death, Tarwoe was deployed from 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Camp Lejeune, N.C. DeBoy is a member of Operation Onward Liberty, a U.S. military mentor mission that is building capacity within the Armed Forces of Liberia. DeBoy is deployed from 3rd Intelligence Battalion, Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan. Photo: Public Domain.

A United States military processional follows behind U.S. Marine Corps casket bearers to the gravesite of Lance Corporal Abraham Tarwoe, of Providence, R.I., during a memorial service in Flehla, Liberia, on May 17. Tarwoe, 25, who was born in Liberia, died from wounds suffered in combat in Helmand province, Afghanistan, on April 12. At the time of his death, Tarwoe was deployed from 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Camp Lejeune, N.C. Photo: Public Domain.

United States Marine Corps personnel fold a flag during a memorial service in Flehla, Liberia, for Lance Corporal Abraham Tarwoe, of Providence, R.I., on May 17. Tarwoe, who was born in Liberia, died from wounds suffered in combat in Helmand province, Afghanistan, on April 12. At the time of his death, Tarwoe was deployed from 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Camp Lejeune, N.C. The casket bearers were all members of Operation Onward Liberty, a U.S. military mentor mission that is building capacity within the Armed Forces of Liberia. Photo: Public Domain.

United States Marine Corps Corporal Michael Wiles, of Willingboro, N.J., presents a flag to Famata Kar, mother of fellow U.S. Marine and best friend, Lance Corporal Abraham Tarwoe, of Providence, R.I., at a memorial service in Flehla, Liberia, on May 17. Tarwoe, who was born in Liberia but immigrated to the United States prior to joining the U.S. Marine Corps, died from wounds suffered in combat in Helmand province, Afghanistan, on April 12. Wiles was assigned by the Marine Corps to escort Tarwoe's body back to Liberia for burial. At the time of his death, Tarwoe was deployed from 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Camp Lejuene, N.C. Wiles is stationed with 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, Camp Lejeune, N.C. Photo: Public Domain.

United States Marine Corps Corporal Michael Wiles, of Willingboro, N.J., speaks with friends and family members following a memorial service for fellow Marine and best friend, Lance Corporal Abraham Tarwoe, 25, of Providence, R.I., in Flehla, Liberia, on May 17. Tarwoe, who was born in Liberia, died from wounds suffered in combat in Helmand province, Afghanistan, on April 12. Wiles was tasked with escorting Tarwoe's body back to Liberia. At the time of his death, Tarwoe was deployed from 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Camp Lejeune, N.C. Wiles is stationed with 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, Camp Lejeune, N.C. Photo: Public Domain.

A.J. Tarwoe, the son of United States Marine Corps Lance Corporal Abraham Tarwoe, 25, of Providence, R.I., stands guard over his father's casket during a memorial service in Flehla, Liberia, on May 17. Tarwoe, who was born in Liberia, died from wounds suffered in combat in Helmand province, Afghanistan, on April 12. At the time of his death, Tarwoe was deployed from 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Camp Lejeune, N.C. Photo: Public Domain.

Well done, Marines. Thank you for your service and Rest in Peace, LCpl. Tarwoe. May God comfort your family.

More photos at the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) Facebook page.

23 May 2012

Paratrooper Overwatch

A U.S. Army paratrooper provides overwatch security to fellow paratroopers and Afghan soldiers after a firefight in Afghanistan's Ghazni province, May 17, 2012. The paratrooper is assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.

19 May 2012

Honoring Cody Green, the boy who wanted to be a Marine

Marine opens up about Cody Green: wlfi.com

For the first time since this story came out, former Marine Mark Dolfini goes public about his relationship with Cody Green and his family.

Sergeant Mark Dolfini heard of Cody Green's situation through his co-worker, and got in contact with Cody's parents. When the call came that Cody was passing, he took action.

"I got the call from David about 3:00 or 4:00 that afternoon," said Sgt. Dolfini. "He made it pretty clear to me that he was terminal and he wasn't going to last too much longer. I thought this is something that needs to happen right away."

"When I was driving down there, I had no idea what I was going to say, I had no idea what I was walking into, I didn't know if Cody was conscious," said Sgt. Dolfini. "I didn't know anything. I didn't know what I was walking into whatsoever."

When Sgt. Dolfini arrived, Cody was not awake.

"He was not conscious, " said Sgt. Dolfini. "I mean, if he was, he was not responsive but he was heading to a better place."

Sergeant Dolfini made the decision to stand guard outside Cody's door for as long as Cody was alive, which turned out to be eight straight hours.

Thank you, Mark, for honoring this brave young man. Rest in peace and Semper Fi, Cody.

'Standing for the Fallen' at Landstuhl
Standing for the Fallen event benefits wounded warriors at Landstuhl
Marine helping wounded troops
The American Spirit on Independence Day Weekend

Armed Forces Day: Honoring Those Who Serve

We are the Land of the Free because of the Brave. Thank you for over 200 years of service and sacrifice!

16 May 2012

Valkyrie MEDEVAC

U.S. Army Sgt. Daniel Buzard, of Petersburg, Alaska, reaches out to steady himself against U.S. Army Spc. Mark Jordan, of New Albany, Miss. during MEDEVAC hoist training on Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan. MEDEVAC crews face extraordinary terrain challenges in eastern Afghanistan, which lies among some of the world's most challenging mountain ranges. Hoist operations are often the only way to rescue injured Soldiers, so MEDEVAC crews practice the dangerous and difficult operation both day and night and in a variety of weather conditions. Photo: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Donna Davis, Task Force 82nd CAB Public Affairs.

15 May 2012

Pennsylvania practitioner prepares for service with military trauma team: "A way to give back"

Patients of Pennsylvania internist Dr. Richard Lorraine are rescheduling their appointments for July. Lorraine, a Lt. Colonel in the PA Air National Guard who joined up after 9/11, will be flying between Germany and Maryland with a CCATT team on a 30 day deployment starting July 1.

Each injured soldier that arrives at the U.S. Army-run Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany will have already received some medial treatment from forward level medical facilities and theater hospitals, but Landstuhl is the third step in getting them home for top level medical care. Treatment the CCATT teams provide using equipment they call an allowance standard — essentially a mobile intensive care unit - is the next step and can be provided in flight by only a handful of military medical specialists.

“The equipment standards for a CCATT team consists of nine bags and three backpacks, each weighing 50 pounds, for a total of 550 pounds of equipment,” he said.

“The cost of the equipment is about $250,000 and with it, we are able to basically equal the care in any intensive care unit, but in the back of a C-17, KC-135 or C-130,” Lorraine said.

“Because of the high operations tempo of military activity in the past ten years, military medicine and trauma medicine has advanced tremendously. In previous conflicts, mortality rates were still running to 20 or 25 percent,” Lorraine said.

“At this point, if the patient survives to get into the air medical evacuation system, they have at least a 95 percent change of survival, which is the highest that has ever been achieved in any military conflict,” he said.

Advances learned in military trauma medicine over the past decade are working their way into general practice and save lives - with lifesaving consequences both in theater and back home.

Learning new skills and the latest in his field of internal medicine are part of the reason Lorraine has volunteered for the deployment — and the updated training may allow him to volunteer for more deployments in the future — but the pursuit of knowledge is not his only motivation.

There is also the feeling of giving back to one’s country — enlisting in the national guard after Sept. 11, as Lorraine puts it, “was really what prompted my decision to say ‘Here’s a way that I can give back, and a way that I can participate and give some of what I’ve gotten back to my country.’”

“It is an honor for me to be able to use my skills and knowledge to provide potentially life-saving medical care for the heroic men and women of our armed forces, who have put their lives on the line for the safety and security of our country,” he said.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord's Rangers hold rare public ceremony to celebrate service, sacrifice

Decorations await 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment troops at their unit's combat awards ceremony in Tacoma, Wash., May 10, 2012. Photo: David Poe, Northwest Guardian.

TACOMA, Wash. (May 15, 2012) -- The U.S. Army Ranger story is typically a closed book, but Joint Base Lewis-McChord's Rangers opened the pages of their latest chapter for an evening last week. The South Sound community had the rare opportunity to join 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, in recognizing its own at the Tacoma Dome, May 10.

More than 50 Rangers received commendations, which ranged from Army Commendation medals to a Silver Star for combat and non-combat action going back to 2005. The battalion also received two Valorous Unit awards for actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, 2-75 Rngr. has deployed for Overseas Contingency Operations 14 times. Their most recent Operation Enduring Freedom deployment concluded in December. During the five-month rotation they conducted 475 combat operations where they lost four rangers and one attached Soldier.

Staff Sergeant Sean Keough received the Silver Star for courage under fire in Afghanistan last year. The Silver Star is America's third highest combat decoration.

Last fall, Keough, serving as a Ranger rifleman and squad leader, was part of a joint task force conducting a raid on a Taliban compound. When a comrade was injured during the assault, Keough positioned himself between the wounded Ranger and insurgent fire so that other task force members could administer medical aid.

After he and another teammate eliminated a charging insurgent, he was hit by enemy fire and still held his position between the enemy and his downed teammate as his squad radioed for a medevac. Refusing treatment throughout a long firefight, he continued his integral part of the mission, helping the team to overtake the enemy compound eight hours later. He also received a Purple Heart for the wounds he suffered during that engagement.

Lt. Gen. John F. Mulholland, commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, traveled from his Fort Bragg, N.C., headquarters for the event. He said to be a part of a night when so many Rangers were honored for heroic deeds was awe inspiring.

"That convergence -- that range of valor is extraordinary," he said, "and by itself should tell us what it means to be a Ranger, and to be a Ranger battalion."

Lt. Col. David Hodne, 2-75 Rngr. commander, said the openness of the ceremony was a reminder that though Ranger operational missions are shrouded in security, it's important to touch base with a public that might know the legend of the Army Ranger, yet never have the opportunity to shake his hand.

"The community is insulated from the Rangers when we're only in our compound, and they are our biggest fans and supporters," he said, "so when you talk about getting a perspective on what these great Rangers are doing, there's no better way to do it."

Hodne also said any benefit to the community was matched by appreciation from his ranks.

"After now more than 10 years of war, for families to celebrate amongst themselves -- to do this in isolation -- they've done that for years," he said. "Over time it's difficult to continue when you think you're alone in your effort in fighting the war. These men get up every day and do the hard jobs -- without complaint."

Rangers from 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, stand in formation at their unit's combat awards ceremony in Tacoma, Wash., May 10, 2012. Photo: David Poe, Northwest Guardian.

14 May 2012

Back in the fight

Maj. Kent Solheim, Charlie Company, 4th Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group Company commander, defends his position from insurgent small arms fire during a fire fight in Kunar province, Afghanistan, Mar. 7. Solheim was injured July 27, 2007 in Karbala, Iraq, while conducting a raid to capture an insurgent commander. During the firefight that ensued, Solheim was shot four times. Solheim did not initially lose his leg. It was only after he lost function of his lower left leg that doctor’s felt there was a slim chance of making a full recovery. Solheim eventually elected to amputate his leg below the knee. Solheim was motivated by others he knew who continued to serve on active duty with a prosthetic. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Clayton Weis.

U.S. Army Major Robert Eldridge, 2nd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group executive officer, prepares before mounting a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, May 7. Eldridge was injured while on a combat patrol in Shkin, Patika province, Afghanistan, Dec 17, 2004. He was in the lead vehicle when it was struck by an anti-tank mine. Upon arriving at Forward Operating Base Salerno, his left leg was amputated in order to save his life. Photo by Sgt. Devin James.

For Maj. Kent Solheim, the Charlie Company, 4th Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group Company commander and Maj. Robert Eldridge, 2nd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group executive officer, their personal courage, coupled with their desire to continue to serve alongside their Special Forces brothers, was stronger than any challenge that confronted them, including the amputation of their limbs.

“I did not want to be defeated by my injury and felt that I could still contribute regardless of the fact that I am an amputee,” said Solheim.

Read this entire terrific story at DVIDS.

In the company of Heroes

CBS News correspondent David Martin has been talking to wounded warriors -- many of them amputees -- for 10 years. Here are a few of the men he'll never forget.

"This is the epic human struggle of our time in our country," says [producer Mary] Walsh. "When you meet these wounded soldiers and their families and realize what they are going through, you just grab onto it and say this is something that the American people have to see."

"Everybody, myself included, will tell you meeting the wounded from America's wars is a life-changing experience," says Martin in the intro to his latest piece below called "The Role of a Lifetime". Actor Gary Sinise's role as amputee "Lt. Dan" in "Forrest Gump" made him a hero to real-life disabled veterans and inspired Sinise to help build homes for the most gravely wounded.

From the transcript of the interview:

Gary Sinise: It's a part of my life. It's a part of my, what I think is important and what makes me feel that I can contribute.

David Martin: You're a big shot actor, but this is what makes you feel important?

Gary Sinise: It gets you outta yourself, you know, it puts everything in perspective real good.

Previous: Gary Sinise, Mensch

13 May 2012

Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day Military Moms!

We'd especially like to acknowledge the Moms of our wounded warriors for their unconditional love, dedication, courage, and support under extraordinary circumstances.

And to our Gold Star Moms, there are no words to convey the very special place you hold in our hearts.

We love you! ♥

09 May 2012

"MEDEVAC, you guys are crazy"

Army Sgt. Julia Bringloe. Photo: Jay Sauceda for The Daily.

We've mentioned DUSTOFF 73 - C Company, 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade - before... first when they received the Air/Sea Rescue of the Year award at Ft. Rucker, and again when they were honored at the 2012 Army Aviation Association of America’s annual forum.

The four-soldier Black Hawk crew — pilot Chief Warrant Officer 4 Kenneth Brodhead, pilot Chief Warrant Officer 2 Erik Sabiston, flight medic Sgt. Julia Bringloe and crew chief Spc. David Capps — spent nearly 12 hours in the air, extracting 14 wounded and one soldier killed in action and flying three critical resupply missions during a three-day operation in June 2011 in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

Now Sgt. Julia Bringloe has received the Distinguished Flying Cross:

On the first day while flying in the thin, sparing air at 10,000 feet, her chopper's blades desperate to find purchase and provide lift, Bringloe was lowered more than 15-stories to the ground.

On the rocky soil, she hauled a wounded soldier from his stretcher and hooked him to her cable for the ride 150 feet back up into the chopper, which was still desperately clawing for purchase in the rarefied air.

As the hoist pulled them up, the cable swung Bringloe and her patient straight into a nearby tree where she swung her body around to protect his, breaking her leg.

“In some of the write-ups I’ve seen you would think my leg was dangling off of (my torso),” Bringloe told Paul Ghiringhelli at the Fort Drum paper. “But really it was just a small fracture.”

Back at base when Bringloe brought the wounded to the infirmary, one of her pilots, Chief Warrant Officer Erik Sabiston noticed her leg, and asked her if she needed to quit.
Bringloe said it wasn't an option. “I was the only medic in the valley and it was a huge mission,” she told The Daily.

Back where she'd broken her leg, Bringloe was dropped down again to rescue a fallen Afghan translator who needed to be lifted out before troops in the structure below could move on.

Pilot Sabiston slipped the Black Hack into a hover that locked him eye-to-eye with enemy insurgents on a ridgeline about 70 feet from the house below. The site was a frenzy of gunfire.

“As soon as she hit the ground she was in a no-lie, real-deal firefight,” Sabiston said.

A nearby Apache gunship pilot radioed Bringloe's crew, “Medevac, you guys are crazy.”

Make sure to read it all.

Sgt Aaron Yoder and MWD Bart - Reunited

Remember how K-9 handler Sgt. Aaron Yoder took a bullet for his MWD Bart in Afghanistan last month? Grab a tissue and watch them reunite at Brooke Army Medical Center.

08 May 2012

Last MRAP home from Iraq

Ports America stevedore Marshall Jones, far right, keeps the truck's side to the crowd. The Army's final vehicle from Iraq came back to the United States, Monday, May 7, 2012, to be part of the First Cavalry Museum at Fort Hood. It is a Mine Resistant Armor Protected vehicle, or MRAP for short. The Army closed the gate behind it as it left Iraq and the vehicle was lifted off a military cargo vessel at the Port of Beaumont. Dave Ryan/The Enterprise Photo: Dave Ryan / BE.

Bagram CASF team plays critical role for wounded in theater

Airmen from the 10th Expeditionary Air Medical Evacuation Team reconfigures a C-17 Globemaster aircraft to transport injured and wounded patients from Bagram Air Field to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for further care and treatment. The C-17 can accommodate up to 36 litter and 50 ambulatory patients. Photo and story: Staff Sgt. Catrina Dorsey.

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – The team of nurses, medical technicians and litter carriers wait for the C-130 Hercules aircraft to arrive, ready to receive, in-process and prepare patients to go forward to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for further treatment.

The team is part of the contingency aeromedical staging facility, a modular staging facility designed to support worldwide expeditionary missions. Patients are staged at the CASF for approximately 24 hours where they’re provided medical attention while waiting for transport to a higher level of medical care.

“We provide 24/7 operational support to all scheduled and unscheduled aeromedical evacuation missions at Bagram Air Field,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Kimberly Boswell-Yarbrough, a native of Plattsburgh, N.Y., CASF flight commander. “We provide ground transportation and manpower for all AE patients to and from the aircraft, Craig Joint Theater Hospital or CASF.”

There is a core of 30 personnel comprised of nurses, medical technicians, administrative technicians and a pharmacy technician. They all come from different duty stations within the United States.

“The job I do in the CASF is very important, not only do we bring in, orient, change dressings and administer medications to these patients, we try to establish a report to assist them in coping with their injuries,” said U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Steven Holmes Jr., a native of Greenwood, S.C. “Some patients arrive and have their best friends over in the intensive care unit at CJTH in critical condition. To see the hurt in these soldiers’ eyes humbles me and helps me feel, even if a relative small amount, of the pain they go through in these situations.”

The CASF mission is unique for the members of the team because the vast majority of the staff performs a job entirely different from their home station occupation.

“Its extremely rewarding and gratifying sending our wounded servicemen and women to a higher echelon of care and knowing they are one step closer to being home with loved ones and able to receive the specialized care, treatment, or rehabilitation required,” said Boswell-Yarbrough. “I am very privileged and honored to have the opportunity to be part of this mission.”

In order to transport a patient through the different levels of care, the CASF staff interfaces and communicate with numerous agencies in order to complete an AE mission. The patients must validate and manifest on an AE mission prior to any movement.

The CASF team receives upwards of two C-130 intratheater missions daily from various medical facilities throughout Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar. Inbound missions can range from one to 20 patients.

To get to the next level of care at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, the CASF team launches five scheduled outbound C-17 Globemaster aircrafts each week. The average outbound patient load can vary from five to 40 patients. The C-17 can accommodate up to 36 litter and 50 ambulatory patients.

“Our staff has really come together throughout this deployment. It takes strong individuals, physically and mentally to do what we do,” said U.S. Air Force Airmen 1st Class Alexandra Kennedy, a native of Westminster, Md., stationed at Brook Army Medical Center. “There is a sense of pride in knowing you are good at what you do and are part of a team.”

Once the outbound mission has been confirmed and scheduled, it takes approximately four hours to prepare the patients with appropriate medications, documents, equipment, medical supplies and litters. The CASF team begins loading the patients onto the ambulatory bus approximately two hours prior to departure.

“The patients are why I love my job. I am just truly honored to be here and do anything I can for soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen we get to help on a daily basis,” said Kennedy. “The real wounds aren’t always visible, and even when a mission is hectic or urgent, we can’t forget who we are serving, who we are caring for, or why we are here.”

“The military is my family. This is my way of thanking them for all they do for me,” she added.

06 May 2012

Guest post: This is How I Serve My Country

One of our donors, Becca Bryan of FLorida, asked that I share these thoughts about why she supports our wounded warriors. I think she hits the nail on the head with the last paragraph - it's all about letting our warriors know that people care.

This is How I Serve My Country
By Becca Bryan, SA Germany donor

I am often asked why I donate to Soldiers’ Angels Germany. I have not served in the military. I know a few people who are serving or are veterans of the military. For me, it is a strong desire to give back to those who are injured while on deployment. The simple comforts are home can be hard to find in a foreign country.

I cannot imagine being wounded on the front lines and send to LRMC with the clothes (or not) on my back. What would I wear? Where can I get some things that would make me feel more comfortable? Who can tell me where I can find these things? How long will I be here? But I do not have any underwear! I need to shave. I can’t wear a hospital gown on the flight home. What will I wear? My family is back home and can’t get here to bring me just a few things. Is there anyone here who can help me?

Those thoughts run through my mind when I shop for our wounded troops. It is the reason why I go a little overboard at the stores. It is the reason I keep smiling as I stack men’s boxer briefs in my cart, make a second trip for a pile t-shirts and basketball shorts and a third trip to fill a hand basket with Q-tips and razors.

Often, I hear funny and a few nice comments about the items in my cart and basket. Below are a few to hopefully put a smile on some faces:
- “You sure must have some hairy legs.” (I had a hand basket full of men’s razors)
- “That must be some vacation you’re going on!” (Had another hand basket full of travel size Q-Tips)
- “Why do you have so many t-shirts and now 5 pairs of basketball shorts” (asked by a guy in the men’s dept. He was impressed with my sending them wounded troops)
- “Why do you feel you have to supply them with all that stuff?” (I can put myself a wounded troop’s shoes better than this commenter)

You see, I do it because I want these incredibly brave men and women to know that someone in Florida thought about them. It is a sense of duty, actually. I wonder why more Americans don’t have the same sense of duty.

Our thanks to Becca and all who care about those who have sacrificed so much for all of us.

05 May 2012

Shout out to Camp Marmal

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Norma Garza conducts a pre-flight inspection on a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter at sunrise on Camp Marmal, Afghanistan, May 2, 2012. Garza is a pilot assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division's Company A, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, Task Force Lobos. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Joe Armas.

04 May 2012

Meet some of the 2012 Warrior Games participants

(Tissue alert.)

U.S. troops' organ donations save European lives

From Garrett Hubbard of USA TODAY:

After Kelly Hugo flew through a snowstorm to reach the bedside of her mortally wounded son at a U.S. Army hospital in Germany, where he had just been brought from Afghanistan, she didn't hesitate when asked about organ donation.

"I said, 'Oh, yes,' " the junior high school counselor recalls, memories still fresh of that December in 2010 when she last saw her son, Marine Cpl. Sean Osterman, 21, of Princeton, Minn., "because something good has to come out of something bad."

Since 2006, about 140 European lives have been saved because organs — hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys and pancreases — were harvested from 36 U.S. servicemembers determined to be brain dead from wounds suffered in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to statistics from the German foundation that oversees organ removal and implantation.

All casualties from combat funnel through the U.S. Army's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for care before being flown to the USA.

The window for removing, transporting and transplanting organs is narrow given the viability of organs, making it difficult for them to be used in the USA, says Insel Angus, a Landstuhl intensive care nurse involved in these cases.

Troops who are brain dead from head wounds arrive on a ventilator. Even with ventilator support, key organs last for only 24 to 36 hours, says Joel Newman, a spokesman for the German foundation's USA counterpart, the United Network for Organ Sharing.

The U.S. military flies family members to Germany for a final reunion and, when appropriate time has passed, asks about organ donation, says Angus, trained to handle the discussions.

"It is very emotional. It is very difficult," she says, "because we feel the pain of losing one of our servicemembers. … We feel the grief of the family."

Read the rest here.

See also, The Final Gift.

For the Children

U.S. Army Sgt. Joshua Smith chats with an Afghan boy during a combined patrol clearing operation in Afghanistan's Ghazni province, April 28, 2012. Smith is assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.

03 May 2012

First nurse takes command at Landstuhl

Col. Barbara R. Holcomb, the incoming commander of the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, left, takes the LRMC colors from Brig. Gen. Nadja Y. West, commander of the Europe Regional Medical Command, at a change of command ceremony in Landstuhl, Germany, Thursday. Holcomb took command from Col. Jeffrey B. Clark, who is slated to replace West at ERMC. Photo: Michael Abrams, Stars and Stripes.

First nurse takes command at Landstuhl

By NANCY MONTGOMERY, Stars and Stripes
Published: May 3, 2012

LANDSTUHL, Germany — Throughout Landstuhl Regional Medical Center’s long, storied past, medical doctors have almost always been in charge.

But on Thursday, Col. Barbara Holcomb became the first registered nurse – and second woman – to take command of the hospital, considered a jewel in the crown of military medicine.

“ ‘Landstuhl is such an awesome place,’ ” Holcomb, in her change-of command ceremonial speech, recalled a friend telling her when she got the news of her assignment. “ ‘They saved several of my soldiers.’ ”

Such admiration for the hospital staff’s expertise at saving the lives of wounded troops “runs deeply through many military leaders,” Holcomb said. “This is indeed an honor.”

Holcomb relieves Col. Jeffrey Clark, who served less than a year before being nominated for promotion to brigadier general and, next month, to take over as commander of the Europe Regional Medical Command. Clark will replace Brig. Gen. Nadja West, who is to become an assistant Army surgeon general.

Clark told those assembled for the ceremony – a group that included, as the hospital does in its 3,000-person staff, servicemembers from all four branches, civilians, Germans and a variety of other U.S. allies – that it had been an honor to be their commander.

“Landstuhl will change a person,” he said. “There’s something special about the place and the people who serve here.”

Clark said that although numerous, admiring luminaries have continuously passed through the hospital, the praise that meant most to him came from a Canadian warrant officer assigned there.

“I have two sons serving in the Canadian army,” the warrant officer told Clark. “What Landstuhl does is provide comfort for mothers like me.”

The hospital opened in 1953, part of the huge U.S. military presence after World War II and through the end of the Cold War. Today, it is the only U.S. military hospital remaining in Europe.

More than 62,000 wounded troops from Iraq and Afghanistan have been treated at Landstuhl over the past 11 years. More than 99 percent of them have survived.

The hospital is expected to stay busy with combat casualties for at least the next two years, when the U.S. withdraws most of its troops from Afghanistan.

The hospital, which also does clinical research and delivers about three babies a day, has received numerous awards, certifications and verifications, not only for its unparalleled trauma care. Landstuhl was also named best hospital in overall care throughout the military and veterans’ hospital system by a military surgeons association.

“Landstuhl is a commander’s dream,” said Clark, a family practice doctor with 28 years in the Army, who hasn’t practiced clinically for the past several years. “We think, wouldn’t it be great if, one day, I could command Landstuhl?”

Every Landstuhl commander in the past decade has been subsequently selected to be a general officer.

Holcomb, a 1987 ROTC graduate of Seattle University, has previously made nursing history. She was also one of the first two nurses to command a Combat Support Hospital – the 21st CSH, out of Fort Hood, Texas, which deployed to Iraq in 2010.

Having a nurse in command of Landstuhl for the first time is a testament to “the increased responsibility given to the Nurse Corps,” said Landstuhl spokeswoman Marie Shaw.

In fact, the Army surgeon general, Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, is also a registered nurse, the first nurse – and the first woman – ever selected for the job.

At the ceremony, West, Clark and Holcomb all lauded a non-medic who provided a highlight: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Craig Bowman, of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band, who sang both the German and U.S. national anthems, a cappella, and with a soulful flourish.

“That was truly remarkable,” West said, before Bowman got a huge round of applause.

Cpl. "Robin Hood" Jones

Cpl. Justin Jones (left) gives a high-five to one of his Marine teammates after he recorded a “Robin Hood” by splitting an arrow with another arrow Wednesday during the Warrior Games at Air Force. In his first archery competition, Jones triumphed in the compound class, beating Fred Prince of the Army and Mark O'Brien of the Marines. Photo: Erilee Bennett, The Gazette.

You rock, Justin!

Justin Jones stares at his target, his bow in one hand, his arrow in the other. He zeros in, then he slings the arrow. And he’s transformed. His mind goes blank, and he finds peace.

Gone are the horrors of war. His pain is hidden. His ability far outweighs his disability.

Archery has become therapeutic for Jones, a corporal in the Marines with a bum leg and a weak shoulder, and it serves the same purpose during the Warrior Games, featuring more than 200 wounded, injured and ill service members and veterans from all five branches of the U.S. military competing this week at Air Force and the Olympic Training Center.

As a child, Jones, 24, of Ellijay, Ga., first shot a bow, and he hunted deer and turkey with his father, Tim. He never had entered an archery competition before he almost was killed in August in Afghanistan, struck by an improvised explosive device as he helped carry a wounded comrade to safety on a stretcher. Lance Cpl. Jeremy Vanhoose lost his left leg in the blast, and had the IED fully detonated, both Jones and Vanhoose might be dead.

“I have a lot of other buddies, and a lot of them are in worse shape than I am,” said Jones, who won the compound class Wednesday at Air Force, beating Fred Prince of the Army and Mark O’Brien of the Marines. In recurve, Dan Govier of the Marines was the winner.

Read the rest of Justin's story.

Update, great photo of Justin's mom and wife watching the Games :-)

Leigh Jones, right, the mother of Marine Corps Cpl. Justin Jones, and Nayelli, Jones' wife, rejoice after seeing the corporal win the gold medal in the compound bow portion of the 2012 Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, May 2, 2012. Marines won four medals in the archery competition, including two golds and two bronzes. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Aaron Hostutler.

Congratulations again, Justin!!

Another update - video. (There are going to be more updates on Justin... he's now up to FOUR Gold Medals after winning both the Pistol Open and Rifle Prone Open competitions!)

02 May 2012

Soldiers recount 60-second attack that left them reflecting on life and death

Staff Sgt. Damian Remijio shows the entry and exit wounds he sustained during a firefight with insurgents April 12, 2012. He was saved from further injury by the chest plate of his body armor, which stopped two bullets from an AK-47. Photo: Joshua L. Demotts / Stars & Stripes.

Remijio didn’t see the grenade. His reaction relied on instinct and experience.

He dropped down to wrap his body around the injured Fitch to protect him from shrapnel. The grenade landed amid a mound of rocks a few feet in front of them and tumbled in their direction.

Ting … ting … ting …

“Tell Ashley I love her. Tell Leiah I love her. Tell them I’m sorry.”

“What? Why?” Fitch asked.

He had heard the clinking of the grenade, but he was disoriented after being shot.

He struggled to pull free. Remijio hugged him tight. Their faces were almost touching.

A gripping account superbly told by Martin Kuz of Stars & Stripes. Must-read.

01 May 2012

Carrying the Torch

Retired Army veteran Melissa Stockwell and Royal Marine Capt. Simon Maxwell from Croydon, England, carry the torch after lighting the cauldron to kick off the 2012 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo., April 30, 2012. U.S. Department of Defense photo.

Wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans from the Army, Marines, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Special Operations Command, will compete for the gold in track and field, shooting, swimming, cycling, archery, wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball during the 2012 Warrior Games. Follow the action at the Department of Defense website.