To friends and loved ones who can't be with us; and to those who are no longer with us.
You are always in our hearts.
Auld Lang Syne (to days gone by)... farewell 2014.
Wishing everyone a safe and happy 2015.
It was supposed to be a routine combat patrol, but it became a life-changing event for a Marine Corps Reserve officer, Major Justin Constantine.
Less than two months after volunteering to deploy with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines to Iraq in 2006, the civil affairs team leader was shot in the head by an enemy sniper near Fallujah. The bullet caused catastrophic damage, destroying his jaw and much of his face. He was not expected to survive. But Justin Constantine is a Marine. And thanks to the immediate efforts of a Navy corpsman, his own warrior spirit, and the self-less dedication of the woman who became his wife, he has made an amazing recovery.
WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Some of the unsung heroes inside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center are the mothers of wounded warriors - military members who have been severely injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Around the halls of Walter Reed, they've been dubbed the Mighty Moms, a fearless, feisty group of mothers fighting for their wounded children.
"They understand your life. You don't have to explain it," said Stacy Fidler, whose son Mark is still recovering from serious war injuries.
"We're strong. We will do anything for our kids. We fight a lot of battles," said Vallence Scott, who's been caring for her wounded son, Robert.
"Our sons can't speak up, but we can," said Tammy Karcher, the primary caregiver for son, Jeffrey.
Most Americans focus on the service and sacrifice of our military, but these women have put their own lives on hold, often for years, ever since receiving the call every family dreads.
"Leaving your other children, I was running two households. The stress was way out of control," added Karcher.
"When I talk about it, I really get teary about it because I just thank God he's here," said Scott.
"That's the most important thing for me."
Their love for their children, and each other, is unconditional.Much more at the link. And don't forget there is a great new book about them, called Unbreakable Bonds: The Mighty Moms and Wounded Warriors of Walter Reed. A portion of the proceeds go to the families featured in the book.
A MARSOC Marine who was left paralyzed by a sniper's bullet in Afghanistan fulfilled a promise to himself on Friday and walked using robotic leg braces in a ceremony at Camp Pendleton, where he was awarded a Bronze Star with Valor.
The crowd of 300 Marines was silent as Capt. Derek Herrera walked. All that was heard was the faint whirring of electric motors from the device.
Herrera then stood, holding onto one crutch. With his other hand, he saluted his commanding officer, who presented him the award.
"We were on the rooftop observing some suspicious activity in the valley to our north," Herrera of 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion said.
Just after sunrise on June 14, 2012, he was leading a patrol in Afghanistan's Helmand province.
"Then all of a sudden, I felt kind of a pulsing sensation on my back," he said.
It was an ambush. A bullet from an AK-47 had lodged in his spine.
"As I was lying there, I immediately knew I had some pain, almost electrical stimulation, pulsing through my back," he said. "... In an instant, an inch one way, it would have missed me completely. An inch the other way, it would have gone straight to my heart and killed me."
Months of rehabilitation would follow, a new battle for the officer adjusting to being completely paralyzed from the chest down.
"Over time, I came to realize that of the many friends that I've had who've made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, any one of those guys would be happy to be in my position, continue to live a life," Herrera said.
He sent us all into a panic when he was barely two, leaving the house on his own and walking over to the tennis courts at the local high school.
He could disappear in a store in a flash, leaving me at first angry, then frantic when I could not find him, and no amount of reasoning or threats could dissuade him from this practice. He felt safe and completely at ease and could not understand my anxiety.
I never cured him of this habit; the only thing that changed was that it was not as bad to lose a 10-year-old as a two-year-old.
He was smart, very smart, and I often felt he knew more than the rest of us, and along with his strong will, he was also brave.
Just a few months after he entered West Point, the future of the United States was violently changed by the events of September 11, 2001. Matt was not intimidated by the thought of what this meant.
He graduated from West Point in May 2005, near the top of his class, with a major in Chinese and economics. He joined the infantry, and after graduation became a Ranger, and was assigned to the 173rd Airborne in Vicenza, Italy, a choice post.
It has been a decade since Marines fought for their lives — and their brothers-in-arms — in Iraq's bloodiest battles, which would spark a turning point in the eight-year war.
Nearly 100 Americans, mostly Marines, would die in the battles of Fallujah during some of the toughest fights in the campaign. Fallujah secured its place in Marine Corps heritage, alongside battles fought during the same era, like that in Sangin, Afghanistan, as well as those of past wars, like Iwo Jima and Tarawa.
On Sept. 14, 2004, Maj. Gen. Larry Nicholson, then a colonel, was medevaced from the city that had become an al-Qaida stronghold after he was wounded in a rocket attack the day after taking command of 1st Marine Regiment. Back stateside, Nicholson recovered at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, as Operation Al-Fajr, a door-to-door fight in Fallujah, kicked off on Nov. 7.
Within months, Nicholson was back in Iraq, seeing the last moments of the operation and how the city would change for years to come.
"I think Fallujah will always be remembered as that gritty, hard fought, room by room, house-by-house battle where our Marines and soldiers prevailed," Nicholson told Marine Corps Times. "It will always be synonymous with an urban fight where small unit leaders won the fight."
It was Marines and soldiers fighting block-by-block, street-by-street, kicking in doors during the most intense urban warfare the Corps waged since the battle of Hue City in Vietnam in 1968.
"After the city was cleared, it really began the awakening. Giving that city back to the Iraqi people was critically important. It facilitated elections in Fallujah, and also in Ramadi and all over Anbar province.
"When we came back with the 5th Marine Regiment in 2006, we started to see a lot of dramatic change in terms of Iraqis taking responsibility for their own security. We started to see Iraqi tribal leaders turning against al-Qaida.
"That really hit full throttle in late 2007. The Sons of Iraq was exploding all over Anbar, all over Iraq. By 2009, it was relatively quiet, and we left and turned Fallujah over to the armed forces of Iraq. None of that would have been possible without taking Fallujah away from the enemy."
RHINE ORDNANCE BARRACKS, Germany (Oct. 27, 2014) -- The last time ground was broken for a major military medical center in Europe was in 1951, when Germany and other nations were still recovering from the devastation of World War II.
About 63 years later, and eight miles away, Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell Jr., the commanding general for U.S. Army Europe, performed the same rite of passage alongside U.S. and German dignitaries, breaking ground Friday, to signify the start of construction of the Rhine Ordnance Barracks Medical Center Replacement, or ROBMCR, which is scheduled to replace the U.S. Army's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, referred to as simply Landstuhl, and the Ramstein Air Base Clinic.
Although current hostilities in Afghanistan are more than 3,000 miles away, Campbell, noted that the site of the groundbreaking ceremony remains vital.
"This important location in Germany is, and has been, a strategic lifesaving place for the United States. The last 13-plus years of conflict have validated and proven the vital need for world-class military medical care in this region of the world," Campbell said before a crowd of approximately 150 U.S. and host nation guests.
Those sentiments were echoed by U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Karen Guice.
"This new hospital and clinics will continue to provide a place of healing for our warriors wounded in battle -- continuing 60 years of service and commitment into the future," said Guice.
She noted that the new medical center will be the largest and most sophisticated military system outside the United States and an "unmatched medical asset for our military."
Equally important to the facility's unmatched structural sophistication, said Guice, will be the continued selfless service by doctors, nurses, medics, technicians, administrators and support staff who will be the "heart and soul" of the new facility.
Their dedication will "turn bricks and mortar, stones and steel into a place where patients will be cared for, treated and supported; a place where care is safe. A place where quality is high. A place of pride, of service, of hope. A new beginning for an ongoing history of excellence," she said.
More than 72,000 U.S. Service members and civilian employees medically evacuated from Afghanistan and Iraq have landed the past 13 years at Ramstein Air Base, adjacent to the site of the new medical center. From there, patients are loaded onto ambulance buses for the approximately 30-minute ride to Landstuhl.
When the ROBMCR is open for business, those same patients will land at Ramstein and travel only about 15 minutes to the new medical center, without ever leaving the secure confines of a U.S. military installation.
In the meantime, world-class health care will still be offered at Landstuhl and Ramstein, where approximately 600,000 patients are treated annually. Landstuhl is the largest U.S. hospital outside the United States, and serves the needs of beneficiaries in U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Central Command, U.S. European Command and the western U.S. Pacific Command areas of responsibility. The Ramstein Air Base Clinic is the largest Air Force clinic outside the continental United States.
However, both healthcare facilities are beyond their intended services lives. Landstuhl was built as a semi-permanent hospital in 1953, and is one of the oldest inpatient facilities in the DOD inventory. Fundamental building layouts and infrastructure cannot be modified through repair and severely limit the fielding of up-to-date medical and building technologies needed to meet current standards.
"The facilities are aging and becoming outdated, thus the need for modernizing our current capability, replacing Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and the Ramstein Clinic with a single, more cost-effective solution that will continue to provide world-class medical care for our Service members wounded in combat, along with their families and retirees stationed here in Germany and throughout Europe," said Campbell.
The $990 million ROBMCR will include nine operating rooms, 68 beds and 120 examination rooms, and will include a surge capacity that will allow it to rapidly expand to 93 beds. The hospital design complies with stringent German environmental quality requirements.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been instrumental in every step of the process of bringing the new medical center to fruition. From conceptual planning and design until construction is complete, the Corps of Engineers will continue to play a key role. One of corps' vital contributions is working hand-in-hand with its German partners.
"Many may not know that the German government is the lead agency for most aspects of the planning, design and construction which truly makes this a world-class facility through our professional and vital partnership," said Campbell. "As stated before, much hard work and great work through teamwork has gotten us to this point and those efforts will continue to be the foundation of success in the way ahead as this great facility develops."
"The earth that will be turned today and the construction of the medical center are only possible through the partnership and support of not only the German construction agencies, but also the federal, the state, and the local communities and officials representing them," said Lloyd Caldwell, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers director of Military Programs. "They are all stakeholders in this project."
The next phase for construction of the ROBMCR will be mass grading, scheduled to begin in February, and last for about one year. The center is projected to be operational in 2022.
Marines in Afghanistan handed over the Corps’ last remaining base there to Afghan National Army troops Sunday, marking the official end of the service’s primary work in support of the war.
Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan’s Helmand province and the adjacent British airfield, Camp Bastion, were both transferred from International Security Assistance Force control to Afghan authority in a ceremony attended by Marine, U.K., and Afghan military leaders.
The transferr marks the close of the NATO and allied war mission in Regional Command Southwest, overseeing Helmand and Nimroz provinces. It also represent the start of a more rapid withdrawal for the Marines remaining in Afghanistan. According to the Washington Post, Marines and British troops remaining in Helmand are tasked with maintaining security for Leatherneck and Bastion until they return to their home stations.
Helmand province has been the location of some of the most costly battlegrounds of the war in Afghanistan, including Marjah and Sangin district. The latter region alone saw the deaths of 50 Marines and 100 British troops as they fought to weaken an insurgency fueled by a thriving drug trade from Sangin’s opium-producing poppy plants.
Over the course of the 13-year war, 458 Marines died supporting combat operations in Afghanistan, according to data from the Defense Casualty Analysis System.
The last night Noah Galloway's body was whole, he was behind the wheel of a Humvee in Iraq. His night-vision goggles didn't reveal the trip wire. "The roadside bomb was big enough to send our 10,000-pound Humvee flying through the air," he says in his Alabama drawl. "We landed wheels down in a canal."
Back in the States a disabled vet, he stopped going out. "I'd sit at home and drink and smoke and sleep. That's all I did."
But one day in 2010, he finally saw it: what was left of him.
He remembers the night vividly. He was standing at the mirror. The remnant of a man looking back at him was dirty, flabby, sallow, beer-soaked. He'd been so consumed with what he had lost that he couldn't see what he was doing to the remainder.
But there it was: the mirror moment of clarity.
It's a thing of beauty designed to honor an ugly fact: the wounds of war. The name of Washington's newest memorial -- American Veterans Disabled for Life -- makes the point.
Project director Barry Owenby gave Martin an advance look at the memorial, which opens next Sunday. It's for disabled veterans of all wars, of whom an estimated three million are alive today.
"It doesn't end with the war; they live with it forever," Owenby said.
"They have a trauma of injury, a healing process, and then their rediscovery of purpose. So that's the story that we're trying to tell here."
”The service rendered the United States by the American mother is the greatest source of the Country’s strength and inspiration.
We honor ourselves and the mothers of America when we revere and give emphasis to the home as the fountainhead of the State.
The American mother is doing so much for the home and for the moral and spiritual uplift of the people of the United States and hence so much for good government and humanity.”
Whereas the American Gold Star Mothers suffered the supreme sacrifice of motherhood in the loss of their sons and daughters in World Wars, Public Resolution 12 provides: the last Sunday in September shall hereafter be designated and known as “Gold Star Mother’s Day”.
- The preamble to Public Resolution 123, approved June 23, 1936, the first legislation to provide recognition for Gold Star Mother’s Day.
In the early hours of July 13, 2008, a battle was raging in Wanat, Afghanistan.
In the final hours of the battle, a medevac helicopter flew in, navigating through heavy fire from enemy and U.S. forces to rescue the injured.
Dr. Justin Madill, 39, was the doctor on that helicopter. The Billings native now lives in Great Falls and is an emergency room physician at Benefis Health System. His parents, Cecil and Linda Madill, also live in Great Falls.
"There was really no good place to land," Madill said. "I thought for sure I was going to die."
Madill and other medics had to climb down farming terraces and through razor wire to reach the troops and then help them back up to the helicopter.
Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts was one of the troops Madill pulled out that day.
Last month, Pitts was awarded the Medal of Honor at the White House for his actions during the battle.
Madill and the other troops involved attended the ceremony.
It was the first time they were all together again, in a calm and safe situation, Madill said.
At the ceremony, he also met family members of those killed during his deployment, including Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Kahler, for whom the outpost at Wanat was named.
Kahler was Pitt's platoon sergeant who was killed in January 2008 and was Madill's first medevac mission in Afghanistan.
"It gave everyone a sense of closure," Madill said. "It was a bigger deal than I thought it was going to be."
Former Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts received the Medal of Honor on Monday for his heroism during the Battle of Wanat in 2008, one of deadliest clashes of the Afghanistan War.
As President Obama draped the nation’s highest award for valor around Pitts neck at a White House ceremony, the former infantryman said his mind was on his nine “brothers” who fought beside him and died in that battle.
“Standing there, I thought of these incredible men, and those present here today, especially our brothers who fell,” Pitts said in a brief statement after the ceremony. “Valor was everywhere that day, and the real heroes are those who made the ultimate sacrifice so the rest of us could return home.”
Bolstered by four soldiers who braved gunfire to help hold the position, Pitts called for air support that helped repel the attack and prevented the enemy from taking the remains of his fellow soldiers who had been killed.
1st Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom, 24
Sgt. Israel Garcia, 24
Cpl. Jonathan R. Ayers, 24
Cpl. Jason M. Bogar, 25
Cpl. Jason D. Hovater, 24
Cpl. Matthew B. Phillips, 27
Cpl. Pruitt A. Rainey, 22
Cpl. Gunnar W. Zwilling, 20
Spc. Sergio S. Abad, 21
In an Army Times interview weeks earlier, then-Capt. Matthew Myer, the company commander who was at VPB Kahler that day, said Pitts, who continued to fight and radio in information despite his injuries, was the “linchpin that held that ground.”
An Army statement lauds Pitts’ “incredible toughness, determination, and ability to communicate with leadership while under fire” for allowing “U.S. forces to hold the observation post and turn the tide of the battle.”
Pitts separated from the Army on October 27, 2009, from Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He has since begun work in business development for the computer software industry.
He is the ninth living service member to receive the nation’s highest award for valor for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq. Seven troops have received the medal posthumously for their actions in those wars. Pitts is also the third soldier from 2/503 to receive the MoH for actions during the unit’s 2007-2008 deployment to Afghanistan. Former Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta was the first living service member to be honored for his actions in Iraq or Afghanistan; before Pitts, Sgt. Kyle White had been the most recent, in May. All three men deployed together in the same battalion in May 2007 for a 15-month tour in some of the toughest parts of eastern Afghanistan.
Fewer warfighters have died from bleeding complications in forward-based hospitals since 2006, when the military changed its protocol of blood transfusions used for such cases, according to a study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The DCR ["damage control resuscitation"] protocol is now widely used in civilian trauma centers, said Dr. John B. Holcomb, a surgeon with the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston who retired from the Army in 2008 after serving 23 years.
“Everybody says that the silver lining that comes out war is improved trauma care, and I think this war is no exception,” Holcomb said.
KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — Five soldiers had a chance to be with fellow soldiers once more and leave a combat zone on their own terms, including Fort Hood’s Col. Timothy Karcher, chief of staff for Operational Test Command.
Within minutes of touching down in Kandahar, Black Hawk helicopters lifted the wounded warriors back into the air to take them to Forward Operating Base Pasab.
Karcher said just being able to thank the soldiers in the fight was satisfying enough for him, because he couldn’t otherwise be with soldiers in a combat zone.
“I miss being with soldiers more than I miss my legs, but the fact of the matter is I get to come back and see you all,” he said.
The wounded warriors enjoyed town hall meetings where they met with soldiers and answered questions, both to give them insight and encouragement.
Questions ranged from how they’ve dealt with the loss of limbs and eyesight to how their front-line care saved their lives. One question that was asked at both Pasab and Kandahar was what soldiers could do to help their injured buddies back home?
“If you guys could do one thing to increase the morale of those guys in some hospital trying to heal, contact them every now and again,” said Adam Hartswick, who was injured serving with the 1st Armored Division about a year ago. “I’ve got to tell you, when I got a call from the guys it was the highlight of my week, because you are there lying in bed, and you want to know what’s going on with your brothers and sisters over here. So just pick up the phone and call.”