29 October 2009

The Airmen of the 86th CASF at Ramstein

A major player in providing critical care to wounded warriors, the Ramstein CASF is scheduled to complete its 100,000th patient movement in late October 2009. The facility receives patients who are medically evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan for treatment at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

Video follow up to this story. Thanks to the Airmen of the 86th CASF at Ramstein for taking such good care of our guys!

28 October 2009

'The lives of 18 other guys was worth it'

“I think Dickison’s sacrifice and my sacrifice are what led to 18 other guys being alive. I went back to Fort Riley and got to see some of the soldiers who were near the explosive that day. One of my soldiers that I knew very well, his wife just had a baby. I think to myself, 'Well, what would have happened if we didn’t find that device and disabled it? Then he wouldn’t be here.' If I have to go through life without legs, it was worth it."

- Former Army Staff Sgt. Joe Beimfohr

Former Army Staff Sgt. Joe Beimfohr used the example of other wounded warriors to re-adapt after losing his legs in an explosion in Iraq. Now he's helping others with disabilities. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army.

This story takes me back. It began when I was asked to check on Tony, one of the Soldiers from Joe's unit medevaced to Germany in the Fall of 2005. When I asked about the KIA bracelet he wore, he told me about the events of July 5, 2005 in which SPC Christopher Dickison was killed and SSG Joe Beimfohr was hurt. Then he pulled out his laptop and showed me a tribute he'd created for Christopher. When the tribute came to an end, our eyes met and I remember wondering how it was possible for someone's eyes to be so completely filled with tears without spilling over. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Through Tony, I later met Joe in Washington, DC. When he picked me up at my hotel it was the first time I rode as a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone without legs. And it didn't help when Joe nonchalantly told me he had just gotten the car outfitted with hand controls and wasn't too familiar with it yet...

The quote above says just about everything about Joe you need to know. Although we only spent a couple of hours together, I remember him telling me he'd thought a lot about what happened. And had come to peace with the conclusion that it was a good tradeoff - his sacrifice and Christopher's against the lives of 18 other men.

So I was very happy today to see that Joe has been featured in DefenseLink's Wounded Warrior Diaries. Because now I can share the reason I think about Christopher, Joe, and Tony every July 5th. And now you can think of them, too.

In January 2005, Joe was was deployed to Baqouba, Iraq with the 1st Infantry Division’s 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment out of Fort Riley, KS.

Beimfohr’s 25-vehicle convoy had stopped to investigate a possible IED, and he led a team to inspect the site. The team found and cut a wire that led to the road, disabling the IED. But terrorists were watching, and detonated another IED.

Army Spc. Christopher W. Dickison was killed instantly. Beimfohr lost both his legs, fractured his pelvis and right hand, and suffered abdominal injuries. His team’s sacrifice in disabling the first IED directly contributed to saving the lives of other soldiers in the convoy.

Beimfohr was transported from Balad to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and eventually to Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, where he spent nearly a year in recovery. He became involved in many sports-related activities, from mastering martial arts to excelling in hand-cycle marathons.

Beimfohr says he’s stubborn by birth, and that he believes his internal drive to persevere and overcome helped him to move past his injuries.

“When I woke up and I was alive, that is what changed everything -- that was the last thing I asked God,” he said. “When I woke up and realized I was alive, everything else didn’t matter, because I was alive.”

“We are a unique club -- we are a unique band of brothers,” he said. “Our experiences are one-of-a-kind, and especially with this generation, with the media and the Internet, and a population that supports what we do. They want to learn more about us, and that brings us together.”

Wounded warriors have choices during their recovery, Beimfohr said. “You can sit in your hospital bed and complain about your injuries,” he said, “or you can accept what happened to you and move forward in a positive direction.”

Beimfohr said he doesn’t believe he is a hero, but rather servicemembers killed in battle are the true heroes.

“The heroes are the guys like Specialist Dickison -- the guys who didn’t come back who sacrificed their lives for their units, for their comrades, for their soldiers,” he said.

Please take a moment to read the rest of Joe's story.

Yummm.... puppies!

And Marines don't spit them up afterwards, either. (You'll have to click on that link to get the joke.)

It's Day 2 of the Soldiers' Angels Valour-IT fundraising competition and so far over $20,000 has been raised for this worthy cause. We're neck-and-neck with the Army so keep spreading the word and donate to Valour-IT via the MARINE TEAM.


UPDATE: The father of our MARINE TEAM co-captain Cassandra is matching $100 donations up to $2000!!! This allows you to effectively double your donation to Valour-IT. Details here.

27 October 2009

Air Force and Navy over Afghanistan

An F/A-18F Super Hornet flies in front of two F/A-18C Hornets, one of which, center, is re-fueling with the assistance of a U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender over Afghanistan, Oct. 13, 2009. The F/A-18s are part of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, which is on a routine deployment to the region. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Kyle Terwilliger.

Just giving these services a little love, seeing as their blogging teams are soooo far behind in the Valour-IT fundraising competition ;-)

Ramstein CASF to reach 100,000 patient transfers in October

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Laura Small, 86th Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility medical technician, unloads gurneys at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. The gurneys will be used to transport wound warriors to an aircraft taking them to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for further medical treatment. U.S. Air Force photo: Senior Airman Nathan Lipscomb.

Another part of the incredible chain of life-saving logistics required to move our Wounded Warriors out of theater and on to higher levels of medical care.

CASF to reach major milestone in warrior care

By Senior Airman Amanda Dick, 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

10/19/2009 - RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- The 86th Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility here will soon be reaching a new milestone since opening its doors and receiving its first patient six years ago.

A major player in providing critical care to wounded warriors, the facility is scheduled to complete its 100,000th patient movement sometime between now and late October, fitting as November is Warrior Care Month.

According to Maj. Rebecca Dols, CASF health services administrator, the number of patient movements was at 99,837 as of Oct. 13.

The one hundred members of the CASF provide support and medical care to servicemembers injured during Overseas Contingency Operations as they await transit back to the United States. They also transport patients from Ramstein's flightline to Landstuhl Regional Medical Facility, Germany.

"The mission is basically to provide ground support for patients that are coming into and out of Ramstein on their way to definitive care," said. Maj. Mark Knitz, 86th CASF flight commander. "The kind of support we provide is ground transport, en route medical care and staging and preparation at the CASF."

The facility operates around-the-clock and consists of a joint-force staff of active duty, guard and reservists, including one Soldier, one Marine and one Canadian military liaison.

"I think it's been a great honor, working here," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Cynthia Shepard, CASF Army liaison. "Currently not being deployed downrange, this is the next level of being there -- making patients feel comfortable when they get back and letting them know someone is here for them in their time of need. We make patients feel at home."

The facility began taking patients in 2003 from Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, and was set up to provide care for those who couldn't receive treatment at Aeromedical Staging Facilities and Mobile ASFs during those operations.

One of the gurneys delivered by the CASF personnel stands ready to transport a patient to the following morning's US-bound medevac flight in front of a showcase with a Soldiers’ Angels backpack on one of the medical/surgical wards at Landstuhl hospital. At 2200 the night before a medevac mission, Air Force personnel pick up "baggage" and park a gurney for each outgoing patient in the hallway of their ward.

Soldiers' Angels to receive The Spirit of Hope award

Soldiers' Angels humbly announces the impending receipt of the prestigious Spirit of Hope Award, to be presented by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff. Trustee Richard M. John and Operations Manager Toby Nunn will be in Washington, DC tomorrow to receive the award in the form of a unique bronze medallion, which is being bestowed in recognition of the many troop support activities of Soldiers' Angels in 2008. Past recipients include U.S. Military service members, senators and congressmen, and everyday Americans.

The Spirit of Hope Award originated with the USO, inspired by the efforts of Bob Hope to support and raise the morale of American military servicemen and women. It is now handled by The Wiegand Foundation, and each of the five military branches as well as the Office of the Secretary of Defense have the option to honor up to two people or organizations each year with a bronze or silver medallion, for a total of twelve honorees. All twelve medallions have never be bestowed in the same year, and the Secretary of Defense has bestowed only two medallions since 2003.

Receipt of the Spirit of Hope Award is a tribute to all the Angels who make Soldiers' Angels such a powerful organization--the individuals, families, companies who work together as a team of Angels to make sure no Soldier, Sailor, Airmen, Marine or Guardsman goes unloved!

Stay tuned for more on this tremendous honor...

'New Media' Effort Fuels Laptops and More for Wounded Troops

Soldiers' Angels Conducts 4th Annual Online Valour-IT Fundraising Competition

PASADENA, Calif., Oct. 27 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Divided among four "virtual teams," a wide variety of bloggers and other New Media mavens are competing on the Internet to see who can inspire the most donations to help wounded troops. Part of the Soldiers' Angels fifth annual online Valour-IT Veterans Day fundraising competition that runs through Veterans Day (November 11), the effort helps ensure America's wounded soldiers have access to voice-controlled laptops and other technology that supports their physical and psychological recovery.

In just over four years, Project Valour-IT has given 4,100 voice-controlled laptops to severely wounded Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, and has supplied additional items that may be a surprising fit in a recovery regimen -- Wii game systems and handheld GPS devices.

"This project changes lives," says Soldiers' Angels founder Patti Patton-Bader. "Wounded heroes say that being able to use a laptop helps them feel whole again. Physical therapists are actually designing therapy sessions around Wii Sports! And something as normal as a handheld GPS reduces stress and helps a hero cope. It's just amazing what this project does!"

Each of the devices Valour-IT supplies helps restore confidence and independence. Voice-activated laptops reconnect the wounded with the world and develop self-confidence by showing soldiers they can continue to be engaged and productive despite their injuries. Wounded servicemembers also use the laptops for education about their medical care or preparation for a post-military career. Physical therapists report Wii Sports and similar programs are extremely motivational and beneficial when used in physical therapy settings, though they are not standard equipment in military hospitals. And wounded personnel with short-term memory loss due to TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and severe PTSD use GPS systems to keep from getting lost or disoriented when they move on to more independent living.

Donations for Valour-IT may be made online at Soldiers' Angels, or by sending checks or money orders to Soldiers' Angels, Valour-IT Fund, 1792 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91104. Details of the current fundraising competition are available at www.soldiersangels.org.

Established in 2003, Soldiers' Angels is a volunteer-based 501(c)(3) non-profit providing aid and comfort to members of the United States Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, as well as veterans and military families. For more information, see www.soldiersangels.org or call 623-570-3903. Tax ID# 20-0583415 CFC #25131

Landstuhl Photo Essay

If you're on Facebook head over to the new photo album at the Soldiers' Angels Germany Fan Page to view a photo essay of patients, staff, and angels at Landstuhl hospital. (And become a fan of SA Germany while you're there.)

God bless our Wounded Warriors and all who take care of them at Landstuhl hospital.

26 October 2009

Off to a great start!!

As of the time of this post, the MARINE TEAM is leading the next-closest team in donations by over 2 to 1.

Update: Curses! The Doggies have pulled ahead!
Update: We've retaken the lead!

Let's keep it up, people! And remember, we don't accept applications - only commitments.

2009 Valour-IT Fundraising Competition Starts Today!

Today marks the start of the 2009 Valour-IT Blogging Fundraiser Competition, which will continue until Veteran's Day. As always, the "competition" is between blogging teams representing the 4 service branches, Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines to raise funds for Valour-IT. All donations go into one fund and will of course be used for members of all service branches.

Readers of this blog are familiar with Soldiers' Angels Project Valour-IT, which provides laptop computers and other electronic devices to wounded service members recovering at major military medical centers in the United States. And as you can imagine, this project is very close to our hearts. We see our guys as they arrive in Germany directly from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan on a daily basis. And as we watch them leave for the U.S. three times each week, we take comfort in the belief that their fellow Americans back home will take care of them and make sure their sacrifices have not been forgotten.

Your contribution will help keep them connected to the world as they heal. It will remind them they are NOT alone - that they still have something to contribute, they are still a vital part of this nation, and even though they may have lost parts of themselves they can never recover, though they may temporarily be feeling hopeless, helpless, even alone, they aren't.

Soldiers' Angels Germany is proud once again to be a member Marine Valour-IT blogging team, this year headed up by Cassandra and Carrie of Villainous Company (thanks, ladies!)

You can donate using your credit card or electronic check by clicking on the Valour-IT widget in the right-hand sidebar, or by sending a check to:

Soldiers Angels Project Valour-IT
1792 E. Washington Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91104

Please note "Marine Corps Team" on your check so we get credit for your donation, because we want to WIN this thing!

You can also help by spreading the word about Valour-IT:

* Blog and email your friends about Valour-IT and the competition
* Tell your friends, family and neighbors about Valour-IT
* Challenge your co-workers or employer to match donations
* Consider involving clubs, churches, or charitable organizations you are involved with. Maybe your church would designate all or part of a Sunday collection. How about Scouts or your favorite civic organization?
* If you have any contacts in the media (local or national newspapers, radio, TV, PLEASE spread the word! Point them to the Project Valour-IT site.
* No matter which way you decide to get involved, remind everyone to specify the MARINE TEAM!

Thank you and Semper Fi!

About Valour-IT
Project Valour-IT provides technology to service members recovering from serious injuries. Technology supplied includes:
- Voice-controlled and other adaptive Laptops allow wounded service members to maintain connections with the rest of the world during recovery.
- Wii Video Game Systems which are used as part of physcial therapy program, and
- Personal GPS, to build self-confidence and independence by compensating for short-term memory loss and organizational challenges related to severe TBI and severe PTSD.

25 October 2009

"The Way We Get By" to air on PBS November 11

The Way We Get By - Trailer from The Way We Get By on Vimeo.

On call 24 hours a day for the past five years, a group of senior citizens has made history by greeting nearly 900,000 American troops at a tiny airport in Bangor, Maine. The Way We Get By is an intimate look at three of these greeters as they confront the universal losses that come with aging and rediscover their reason for living. Bill Knight, Jerry Mundy and Joan Gaudet find the strength to overcome their personal battles and transform their lives through service. This inspirational and surprising story shatters the stereotypes of today's senior citizens as the greeters redefine the meaning of community.

Until now the film has had limited screenings but this is its national broadcast premiere. Don't miss it! Check here for times and listings.

24 October 2009

Ricky Forever in our Hearts

Marine LCpl Richard "Ricky" Slocum
Feb 2, 1985 - October 24, 2004

When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are.

You can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us.

It means... that if we meet again, you will know me.

It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart.

-- Frederick Buechner

Thinking of you Kay, Bob, and all of Ricky’s family and friends today. I promise to remember him always.

Ricky will be forever in my heart.

23 October 2009

They came in peace

"Through these fields of destruction
Baptisms of fire
I’ve watched all your suffering
As the battles raged higher
And though they did hurt me so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me
My brothers-in-arms"

From Brothers-in-arms: 'They came in peace' by Lance Cpl. Jeffrey A. Cosola. Read the rest here.

Beirut bombing victims, left to right, Lance Cpls. Burham Matthews, Lovelle Moore and Mike J. Balcom talk to reporters at the Landstuhl Army hospital. Stephanie James / Stripes file photo.

26 years ago. Thanks to Carrie for the link.

"It all comes down to the Soldier creed. I will never quit."

Staff Sgt. Luis Elias has no problem with his push-ups. He also finished the Ironman run, 13.1 miles in just over two hours. Photo Credit: Charmain Z. Brackett.

Drill Sergeant determined to return Army Strong

A freak accident may have cost Staff Sgt. Luis Elias his hand, but it hasn't stripped him of his positive attitude or impacted his plans for the future.

"Hopefully, in about a month or so, I'll be back to being a drill sergeant," said Elias, who is currently receiving treatment at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center Active Duty Rehabilitation Unit.

On June 30, Elias was training his new Soldiers at Fort Benning, Ga. when a grenade simulator exploded in his right hand leaving just his thumb. Surgeons at Dwight David Eisenhower Army Medical Center amputated the hand.

Since then, Elias has been in physical therapy learning to use a prosthetic hand and preparing for his return to active duty. A bionic hand called the ilimb is on its way, and once Elias has learned to use it, he will be back training young Soldiers.

He's hoping to go back to duty in November, but his physicians have not given him a specific date.

"It all comes down to the Soldier creed. I will never quit. I take those words to heart," said Elias, who credits his wife, Claudia, and four year-old son, Noah, with providing him the extra strength and support he has needed.

Keeping in good physical shape is an important part of the readiness to return to duty. He can do push-ups with one prosthetic device.

Also, on Sunday, Sept. 27, he competed in the running portion of the ESI Ironman 70.3 Triathlon in Augusta, finishing his 13.1 miles in two hours and five minutes. He did not compete in the swim or the bicycle portion of the race because he did not have a recreational prosthetic, he said.

Read the rest.

22 October 2009

From trauma care to rehab: VA doctors visit Landstuhl

Dr. Steven Scott, chief of rehabilitation medicine at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Tampa, Fla., has treated countless wounded warriors - some of them over a period of years.

Scott helps the servicemembers — many whose injuries would once have confined them to nursing homes — learn to drive without fingers, communicate with the movement of their eyes and, in one case, steer a sailboat rudder with a device that responds to puffs of breath.

But Scott had never seen what his patients experience when they are evacuated from the battlefield until a frigid morning in Landstuhl last week. Several gurneys holding soldiers fresh from Afghanistan were removed from a pale blue school bus and wheeled through the front doors of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

“I’ve been working six years and I never realized that,” Scott said of the 15-minute bus ride from Ramstein Air Base to Landstuhl.

The lonely bus trip provided new insight for Scott about what patients experience before they make it to his stateside polytrauma ward.

Scott was among several doctors and nurses visiting Landstuhl last week from four VA hospitals in the U.S. In Landstuhl, they met with staff to find ways to improve communication. They also saw, for the first time, the treatment their patients receive at the Army’s way station for troops injured in war.

By the time someone like Dr. Scott sees a patient for the first time, that patient has traveled up to 12,000 miles, been seen by up to 20 doctors and 300 other medical professionals, and generated literally thousands of doucments.

Advanced electronic document sharing along with weekly video conferences between doctors downrange, in Germany, and in the U.S. contribute to this incredible chain of life-saving logistics. Read the rest of the article at S&S.

Gearing up for the 2009 Valour-IT fundraiser

I was inspired by today's cartoon at Delta Bravo Sierra to kick this off. (See also previous SA installments here and here.)

It's that time of year again! Starting 26 October and continuing through Veteran's Day, the (mostly military) blogosphere will be raising funds for Soldiers' Angels Project Valour-IT, which provides technology to our wounded service members.

To make things "interesting", bloggers join teams representing the different service branches and compete to see which team can raise the most money. Soldiers' Angels Germany is proud to be blogging again this year for the Marine Team, led by Cassandra of Villainous Company. See the rest of the team in the right-hand sidebar. We're called The Few... The Loud... THE MARINES!

Keep an eye on the countdown clock and watch for more about Project Valour-IT.

About Valour-IT
Project Valour-IT provides technology to service members recovering from serious injuries. Technology supplied includes:
- Voice-controlled and other adaptive Laptops allow wounded service members to maintain connections with the rest of the world during recovery.
- Wii Video Game Systems which are used as part of physcial therapy program, and
- Personal GPS, to build self-confidence and independence by compensating for short-term memory loss and organizational challenges related to severe TBI and severe PTSD.

20 October 2009

VFW National Commander Urges Decisive Action in Afghanistan

Children in Chaghcharan, Afghanistan.
From Michael Yon's latest, 'Adopt-a-stan'.

VFW National Commander Urges Decisive Action in Afghanistan

KANSAS CITY, Mo., October 15, 2009-The national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. is concerned that the intense debate in Washington over the assessments and recommendations by the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan is posing a direct threat to troops as well as to the nation’s defense.

In a statement, Thomas J. Tradewell Sr., a Vietnam veteran from Sussex, Wis., said, “In battle, weaknesses are exploited and attacked, which proved to be the case during the Vietnam War. North Vietnam correctly perceived that the United States government did not possess the political will to complete the mission, and that perception became reality. Their strategy revolved around the fact that U.S. political interests trumped important military decisions, which resulted in a lengthened war and more U.S. casualties.

"In Afghanistan, the extremists are sensing weakness and indecision within the U.S. government, which plays into their hands, as evidenced by the increased attacks in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan. I fear that an emboldened enemy will now intensify their efforts to kill more U.S. soldiers.

(emphasis added)

Read the entire statement here.

Hornet over Afghanistan

A U.S. Navy F-18 Hornet aircraft receives fuel from a KC-10A Extender aircraft during a mission over Afghanistan, Oct. 5, 2009. The KC-10A crew is assigned to the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller.

19 October 2009

Army explores concept of "post-traumatic growth"

Intriguing article about research on the positive effects of combat and other traumatic experiences.

Research appears to show that many people can emerge from traumatic experiences with greater self-confidence, a keener sense of compassion and appreciation for life, says Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, director of the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program. Cornum and other experts call this concept post-traumatic growth.

Although the military focuses attention on troops who develop mental health conditions in combat, Cornum says, the majority of war veterans do not suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other problems.

“We never ask if anybody had some positive outcomes. We only ask about this laundry list of illnesses,” says Cornum, referring to a battery of health questions soldiers face when they leave the combat zone.

Her goal is to include a self-assessment on traumatic growth with a health questionnaire given to soldiers three to six months after they return from combat. She would also like to include in preparations before and after GIs are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan short video segments of servicemembers describing how their personal lives changed for the better after surviving combat.

The new tools could be put into effect within a year, Cornum says.

Richard Tedeschi, an expert in post-traumatic growth at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, is collaborating on the project with the Army. Even though he calls the initiative “uncharted territory,” Tedeschi says research indicates that soldiers have found value in their combat experiences. If informed about potential for post-traumatic growth beginning in basic training, he says, soldiers might not automatically assume “that the combat experience produces PTSD and you’re kind of doomed.”

During remarks at the American Enterprise Institute recently in Washington, Tedeschi said some servicemembers found the changes in their lives so profound after combat, they expressed gratitude for having gone through it — even if it cost them permanent physical damage.

“They’d felt they’d changed as people in ways they otherwise wouldn’t have,” Tedeschi says. “At the same as this trauma separates them from other people, it also allows them to maybe see themselves as more human than they ever were before, have a closer connection with what it means to be a human being.”

The article quotes Sgt. 1st Class Gregory Frikken, a father of three children who has served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, as saying his deployments “have made me realize to live every day as if it were my last. I take nothing for granted.”

Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, a former Commander of Landstuhl hospital, says she finds the concept convincing. She knows what she's talking about. Shot down over Iraq in 1991 during the Gulf War, she suffered the loss of 5 fellow soldiers, two broken arms, a gunshot wound to the shoulder, and eight days in enemy captivity.

“We never want something bad to happen,” she says. “But if there’s an opportunity to learn something from some adverse circumstance, we certainly want to take advantage of it.”

Sgt. Richard Yarosh portrait to show at Smithsonian

Matthew Mitchell's life-sized oil portrait of Sgt. Richard Yarosh will go on display at the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington later this month. Matthew Mitchell via AP.

Yarosh, who moved back to Windsor, N.Y., after his retirement in January, concedes he was a little uneasy when he sat for the portrait because he worried about how an artist, likely to be more liberal, might depict him. Still, Yarosh agreed because he thought having his portrait done would be “super cool.”


Yarosh was astonished when he saw the completed portrait.

“It was perfect. I couldn’t believe that he captured me,” he said. “It captures my pride. I’m proud of the way I look. I’m proud of the reason for the way I look.”

Read Sgt. Yarosh's amazing story here. What a guy.

18 October 2009

Special Tactics Airmen complete memorial march

Twelve special tactics Airmen enter the base as they conclude an 824-mile memorial rucksack march at Hurlburt Field Oct. 16, 2009. The men marched from San Antonio, TX to Hurlburt Field, FL to honor Staff Sgt. Timothy Davis, a combat controller assigned to the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron killed in action Feb. 20, 2009, and 12 other fallen special operations forces members. U.S. Air Force photo by Drew Buchanan.

Story at AF.mil.

Three times each week, Wounded Warriors are welcomed home at Andrews AFB after medevac flight from Germany

“This is America at its best. You see sergeants carrying colonels and colonels carrying sergeants. You see African-Americans carrying Caucasians. You see Mexican-Americans carrying Chinese-Americans. Everyone is one team, all working together for each other.”

- Air Force Col. (Dr.) Richard Niemtzow, 779th Medical Operations Squadron

An informative and heartwarming story about the arrival of our Wounded Warriors at Andrews AFB after medevac from Germany. It will make you proud of each and every member of this team.

Wounded Warriors Get Heroes' Welcome at Andrews
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Md., Oct. 2, 2009 – Minutes after the hulking C-17 transport jet rolled to a stop on the tarmac, two oversized ambulances backed up to its rear loading ramp to receive its precious cargo: 23 wounded warriors and sick or injured servicemembers in need of advanced medical care.

Most of the patients aboard the Sept. 28 mission arrived from Iraq and Afghanistan after being stabilized at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

The 779th Aeromedical Staging Facility at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., transports a severely wounded soldier being medically evacuated from Iraq for advanced treatment care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. DoD photo by Donna Miles.

Several had serious combat injuries. A soldier who had been in a helicopter crash in Iraq was headed to the National Naval Medical Center in nearby Bethesda for specialized care for his head and other injuries. Another, suffering serious musculoskeletal injuries from a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle accident outside his forward operating base in Afghanistan, was en route to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington for treatment.

Another patient, severely wounded in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Afghanistan, remained on the aircraft to be flown directly to the burn unit at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

The patients who didn’t require critical care walked off the plane and onto a bus that stood ready to whisk them off for an overnight stay at the 779th Medical Group’s Aeromedical Staging Facility. After getting a hot meal and a good night's sleep under the watchful eyes of the facility's medical staff, they would be flown to other treatment facilities throughout the United States.

The little-known 779th Aeromedical Staging Facility, tucked within the base's Malcolm Grow Medical Center, serves as the gateway for patients returning to the United States for specialized care, explained Air Force Capt. Nicole Stoneburg, the facility’s acting commander.

Three flights arrive here each week bearing sick or wounded soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, as well as Defense Department civilians, contract employees and military family members. So far this year, 5,230 patients have transited through the facility, Stoneburg reported.

Patients with the most serious conditions immediately move on to next-level treatment facilities. But about three-quarters of the arriving patients remain overnight to rest before continuing to their ultimate destinations.

Ensuring inbound patients get the care they need and treatment they deserve begins long before the flights -- most flown by the Mississippi Air National Guard -- arrive from Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Critical-care air transport teams made up of a doctor, a critical-care nurse and a respiratory therapist are forward-deployed to Germany to accompany every inbound flight, explained Air Force Maj. Ron Jones, deputy commander of the 779th Medical Operations Squadron’s Critical Care Flight. The team monitors patients' conditions and delivers care as needed during the eight-hour flight.

Meanwhile, the 779th ASF’s medical administration team at Andrews tracks every inbound patient's medical status and knows exactly what care they need and what treatment facility they're headed to. Airman 1st Class Chelsey Morgan and her team call themselves the “brains of the operation,” keeping their eyes glued to a computer-based global patient tracking system to ensure no detail falls through the cracks.

Thirty minutes before the Sept. 28 flight’s arrival, the facility staff bustled with final preparations. Ambulance crews readied to meet the aircraft. A forklift prepared to offload patients’ bags. Litters and wheelchairs were moved into position.

“What we do is very much a team concept,” Stoneburg said. "We work very closely together to coordinate all the details of our missions, both the inbound and outbound flights."

Driving their efforts is a recognition that every minute counts when getting patients, particularly those with the most serious conditions, to care.

Combat troops typically arrive here within 72 hours of suffering a severe battlefield injury -- a vast improvement over past conflicts, Stoneburg explained. During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, it took 10 days. The average was 21 days during the Vietnam War.

Today, patients categorized as “urgent” are moved even faster. “These are patients that, if you delay, you lose a life. If you delay, you lose a limb. If you delay, they lose their eyesight,” explained Air Force Col. Steve Cramer, the 779th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander. “So the faster we’re able to move, the better their outcomes will be.”

That concept drives the staff as they offload critical-care patients with choreographic precision and transfer them onto ambulances against the backdrop of roaring C-17 engines.

“This is America at its best,” said Air Force Col. (Dr.) Richard Niemtzow, a 779th Medical Operations Squadron physician who boarded the aircraft as soon as it landed to greet the patients. “You see sergeants carrying colonels and colonels carrying sergeants. You see African-Americans carrying Caucasians. You see Mexican-Americans carrying Chinese-Americans. Everyone is one team, all working together for each other.”

Niemtzow or another colonel, as well as a chaplain, are part of an official party that welcomes every arriving patient to U.S. soil. “We tell them we're proud of them and appreciate what they have done,” he said. “But we also assure them that they are going to continue to get the best-quality care available.”

The official greeting sets the stage for a no-holds-barred effort to make patients as comfortable and relaxed as possible as they’re transferred to their follow-on treatment facilities.

Army and Marine Corps liaisons greet patients from their services to resolve service-specific questions and issues.

“We’re representing the entire Army in welcoming them back,” said Army Col. James Conaway, who leads a three-person Army medical evacuation team that greets every arriving flight. The team offers the comfort of familiar-looking uniforms to the arrivals, 80 to 85 percent of them typically from the Army.

“We’re here to make sure every Army soldier gets a proper greeting, gets proper care and gets an opportunity to bounce information off of us as we prepare to hand them off to the warrior transition units,” Conaway said.

He presents all arriving patients, regardless of their service, pre-paid phone cards, funded through the Army Emergency Relief Fund. Battle-wounded soldiers get a $200 gift card to cover incidental expenses.

A staffer at the 779th Aeromedical Staging Facility at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., consults with Army Staff Sgt. Rosario Hernandez, who transited through the facility from Iraq before flying on to his home station at Fort Bliss, Texas, for specialized surgery. DoD photo by Donna Miles.

Non-critical-care patients who remain overnight at Andrews get the red-carpet treatment as they arrive at the 779th Aeromedical Staging Facility.

“When our wounded warriors come through the doors, they are greeted with the hero’s welcome they deserve,” said Air Force Col. Robert Miller, the 779th Medical Group commander. “We feel this facility is like a five-star hotel for them to rest and recuperate before they continue on with their journey home.”

The ASF staff, augmented by a cadre of Red Cross volunteers, lives up to Miller’s pledge from the minute they walk or roll patients in their wheelchairs or gurneys to their rooms and help them settle in. Each room holds two to four patients, and each bed has its own medical equipment, television and phone.

Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Constance Jackson, the facility’s medical director, and her team tend to the patients’ medical needs and offer them assurance that they’re in good hands.

“I want them to know we appreciate where they have been, and go the extra mile to take care of whatever it is they need,” she said.

After settling into their rooms and getting their immediate medical needs tended to, most patients who physically are able prefer to move into the facility’s common areas to relax. There, they can stretch out in oversized leather chairs enjoying a large-screen TV, or they can telephone home, check e-mail or access computer game stations.

Red Cross volunteers circulate with kind words and a cart of soft drinks and snacks. They check to ensure the patients have everything they need, and offer up toiletries, clothing, shoes and other items donated by local churches and other groups to ensure nobody goes without.

“We're here to help provide them the things that can bring them some comfort,” said Ed “Smokey” Smolarsky, a retired Air Force senior master sergeant who runs the supply closet. “By being here, we feel that it's a way to give back. And these guys are definitely thankful for what we're able to do for them.”

Shortly after the patients arrived, the staff serves up a hot meal of foods most troops say they've missed during their deployments: pizza, fried chicken and filet mignon, among them.

Air Force Airman 1st Class Angela Thoma, who spent hours helping prepare the meal, said comfort food goes a long way in helping the patients feel at home. “Their eyes light up as soon as they see the food,” she said. “But there’s another benefit. It fills them up and helps them relax. And that helps them sleep longer through the night.”

As he stretched out in front of the wide-screen TV, Army Staff Sgt. Rosario Hernandez was having no trouble putting himself at ease. He was transiting through the facility before flying out the next day to his home station at Fort Bliss, Texas, for surgery to repair compressed nerves in his ankle and leg.

Three combat deployments, including the past five months in Iraq, had taken their toll on the 33-year-old’s body. Hernandez had regrets about leaving his soldiers, but said he recognizes he’s in no shape to lead them until his body is repaired.

Hernandez said he was impressed not just by the medical care, but also by the compassion he felt as he was evacuated out of Iraq, through Germany and back to the United States.

“At every step of the way, they treated everybody with complete kindness,” he said. “It was culture shock to see how they treated everybody.”

Based on his experience, Hernandez said, he’s got nothing but reassurance for his fellow servicemembers in the event they’re ever medically evacuated out of the combat theater.

“They’ll be in good hands,” he said. “I never imagined it was going to be this good.”

16 October 2009

Cartoonists visit Landstuhl patients

A group of cartoonists visited patients at Landstuhl hospital today as part of a USO-sponsored trip to Germany and the Middle East.

"Doonesbury" cartoonist Garry Trudeau sketches out his B.D. character for Spc. Ben Brashier Friday in a ward at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. The USO and the National Cartoonist Society sponsored ten popular cartoonists and caricaturists on a week-long entertainment tour to visit troops stationed in Germany and the Persian Gulf. Photo: Ben Bloker / Stars and Stripes.

The group includes:

• Jeff Bacon of “Broadside” and “Greenside”
• Chip Bok of the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Time and Newsweek
• Bruce Higdon of Army Times, Army Magazine, Soldiers Magazine, and Stars and Stripes
• Jeff Keane of “The Family Circus”
• Rick Kirkman of “Baby Blues”
• Stephan Pastis of “Pearls Before Swine”
• Mike Peters of “Mother Goose and Grimm”
• Michael Ramirez of Investors Business Daily
• Tom Richmond of MAD Magazine
• Garry Trudeau of “Doonesbury”

Thanks for coming over, guys!

See the nice photo gallery of them with our patients at S&S.

Update: Tom Richmond of MAD Magazine has a great writeup of their travels at The MAD Blog. Thanks again for coming over!

14 October 2009

A Tribute to Military Health Care Providers

Seen at Kanani's, whose husband is deployed with a Forward Surgical Team. Most of the images are from downrange, but I recognize areas of Landstuhl hospital in a couple of them. Really hits home.

Wounded Warriors receive Heroes' Welcome in Iraq

Soldiers from the 14th Iraqi Army Division express their gratitude to Sgt. First Class Joshu Olson, Spokane, Wash., and five more Soldiers a part of Operation Proper Exit at Salah Ad Din Provincial Joint Coordination Center, Tikrit, Oct. 12. Olson suffered a right hip disarticulation from a rocket propelled grenade on Oct. 27, 2003. He is currently serving as a member of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit.

Iraq progress inspires returning US war wounded

13 October 2009 CAMP VICTORY, Iraq - A group of US soldiers badly wounded in combat in Iraq have returned to the war-torn country, hailing the improved security situation as a rousing vindication of their sacrifices.

For retired lieutenant Edwin Salau, whose wounds from a 2004 ambush attack near Tuz Khurmatu north of Baghdad left him without a lower leg, the trip has shown the pain he endured was not in vain.

Sgt. Robert H. Brown, Moncks Corner, S.C., adjust his prosthetic leg after boarding a C-130 aircraft headed from Contingency Operating Base Speicher to Baghdad International Airport during Operation Proper Exit. Brown was injured on Sept. 24, 2006 in Ramadi. Brown is serving as mentor for this group. He participated in the first Operation Proper Exit trip in June.

“The return was very inspiring,” the 30-year-old said of being driven along the “Highway of Death,” as the notorious road from Baghdad airport had become known for its ambushes and bomb attacks.

“I felt the changes on the way to the base. We had no escort, didn’t hear gunshots,” said Salau.

“I saw construction sites, civilian workers, businesses. That couldn’t have happened five years ago. Clearly the economy is growing, the security has improved.”

Along with seven other war wounded, he is taking part in “Operation Proper Exit,” a week-long tour of the country to show them Iraq’s “changes through their sacrifice,” the US military says.

Service Members from Camp Victory, Iraq, welcome the Wounded Warriors of Operation Proper Exit II during a ceremony in the rotunda of Al Faw Palace on October 11, 2009.

On their arrival on Sunday, the group of soldiers wounded in war were greeted at Camp Victory, one of the largest US bases in Iraq near Baghdad airport.

A poignant welcoming ceremony was held in a former palace of Saddam Hussein with a presentation punctuated by accolades, cheers and shouts of “You’re a warrior!”

Sergeant Robert H. Brown, who left Iraq in September 2006 on a stretcher, said the decision to return to the field of action has been an opportunity to “turn a page” in his life as an amputee.

“I’m here to say to the soldiers in Iraq that if injured they will be fine,” said Brown, 26, who made a similar trip last year and is overseeing this one as a mentor.

The sergeant was wounded during an ambush in Ramadi, where at the time US forces were supporting the Sahwa (Awakening), the Sunni tribal militias fighting al-Qaeda.

“I didn’t know what to expect but I was impressed. So much has changed. Last time I gave a TV interview on a rooftop in Ramadi which had been not possible ever in 2006,” he said referring to his first year in Iraq.

“I wanted to give the same kind of experience I had, a feeling of closure because I left Iraq without completing my mission. I close a chapter of my life and now I leave on my own free will.”

Others in the group too welcomed the improved security situation.

“On the way from the airport I’ve seen new buildings, and I didn’t hear gunshots every five minutes. Now it’s silent,” said Sergeant Joshua Olson who suffered a serious hip injury just months after his deployment in Iraq in 2003.

Soldiers participating as part of Operation Proper Exit board a C-130 aircraft headed to Forward Operating Base Sykes outside of Tal Afar Oct. 12. The six wounded warriors returned to Iraq to visit Soldiers they had been serving with when wounded, camps throughout Iraq and to see firsthand how things have progressed since they were last deployed.

“I’m happy that we are able to bring people back as it is not as dangerous as before. It’s reassuring,” said the 30-year-old who has since returned to duties as a sniper instructor.

Sergeant Brown admitted “some had reservations, but not to the point they did not want to take the plane. They saw that others had already been back, it’s reassured them.”

Chief Warrant Officer Lawrence Wilson, who organised the tour, said the returnees had to be prepared mentally and physically and shown to have made medical progress since leaving Iraq.

“They will also leave Iraq on their own, not carried out by medics. It is part of a healing process and for some a new beginning. Now they can move forward,” said Wilson.

Col. Gary Volesky, commander of 3rd "Greywolf" Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cav. Div., thanks Sgt. Robert Brown, a Soldier participating in Operation Proper Exit, at Forward Operating Base Sykes, Oct. 12, for his heroic service and sacrifice. Volesky awarded Brown with the Order of the Spur and a Commander's Coin for Excellence to recognize and honor his sacrifice.

“Operation Proper Exit” has the support of General Ray Odierno, commander of US forces in Iraq, who sees the benefit to his troops still active on the ground.

“It’s also valuable for military here, because they see injured, amputated soldiers who want to come back,” said the general who spent half an hour with the group after the welcoming ceremony.

According to the independent website iCasualties.org, 4,349 US soldiers have died and 31,527 have been wounded since the start of the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Photos: MNC-Iraq Facebook page.

I could look at the photos all day... don't these guys look great? I'm so happy they had the opportunity to go back and see all of the accomplishments made possible through their sacrifices.

13 October 2009

Happy Birthday, U.S. Navy!

On behalf of Soldiers' Angels, a special HOOYAH and THANK YOU to all of the Navy personnel currently serving at Landstuhl hospital. Congratulations on 234 years of being a Global Force for Good. We love you!

Marine Training Team in the Korengal Valley

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Charles Kim, a native of Springfield, Va., describes the proper coaching position while teaching Afghan national army soldiers how to fire an M-249 squad automatic weapon, at the Korengal Outpost in Kunar province, Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, Sept. 25. Kim, along with fellow Embedded Training Team 7-5 Marines and Sailors, have been teaching ANA soldiers on proper use of NATO-style weapons, such as the U.S. military's M-249 SAW, in order to transform the emerging army from a Soviet-style military, into a modern fighting force. Combined Joint Task Force - 82 PAO Photo by Sgt. Matthew Moeller.

Attention Sewers!

This is for you:


My name is TSgt [redacted] and I wanted to take a moment to thank you and your organization. I was recently deployed to Afghanistan with my squadron (Air Force) and became ill and had to be medivaced to Germany. Just before I boarded the plane I was given a blanket made by Soldier's Angels. The blanket made my day, it was so comfy and provided me a little piece of home during my flight and stay in the hospital. I know your organization does so much for me, my brothers and sisters and thank you isnt enough.

The war on terror has been hard on service members such as myself and I wanted to applaud citizens such as yourself for standing behind us no matter what your true belief on war may be.

A grateful Airman,

TSgt [redacted]

My thanks as well to all of you who provide that "little piece of home" for our medevaced service members.

Email me if you'd like to make and send blankets for our patients at Landstuhl.

12 October 2009

"If you have any interest in this war, watch this."

A note from Afghanistan:

Tomorrow, OCT 13th, Frontline will be showing a very important program about the battle for Afghanistan. Last spring we had Danfung Dennis embedded with us - he helped to produce the "Wardak Warriors" documentary that many of you watched. He has spent the summer with the Marines in Helmand.

... It is very well-done and very accurate. It gives a very real, very in-depth look at what life is like for us here in Afghanistan. What is especially compelling is towards the end there is a great deal of interaction with the local elders, up close. You will gain a much better perspective of what life is like here "outside the wire." From this piece you get just a glimpse of the enormity of the problems here, the frustrations, the harshness, and the human side of war.

I hope that you watch it.

Greyhawk has thoughts here.

Note: Much of this is live footage from downrange and as such contains graphic language and images.

Update: The entire program may be viewed online here.

Market Garden Remembrance

Looks can fool: The most dangerous animal on the planet is a young infantryman. Michael Yon.

Wonderful, wonderful photos and story from Michael Yon's visit to the Netherlands during the remembrance ceremonies surrounding the 65th anniversary of Operation Market Garden. The remembrance was attended by 50 - 100 thousand people, among them many veterans of Operation Market Garden, and complete with parachute jumps, re-enactors, and parades.

Progress with treatment of traumatic brain injuries

Here's some encouraging news. Due to early screening as well as an ever-developing program of psychological and medical treatments, more soldiers are successfully recovering from TBI.

Maj. Alan Hopewell, officer in charge of the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic at the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Hospital [at Fort Hood], said the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center is reporting that Army-wide 90 percent of soldiers are returning to duty after treatment and therapy.

"We don't have the breakdown yet, but the large majority are getting well and able to return to duty," Hopewell said. "I think the public and the media thinks everyone that's injured is having problems. But the good news is they are doing well. It's only a small number that we have to do more aggressive treatment."

The Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic at Fort Hood sees close to 10,000 patients a year.

The treatment is a combination of psychological and medical treatments.

"This is a medical injury, not a psychological injury," Hopewell said. "It's a medical injury that affects the nervous system in the body. People can have psychological reactions to it. For example they may hurt or not be able to work."

Medications are used to help stabilize the brain and how it works. In a rare form TBI can develop electrical abnormalities in the brain, Hopewell said. There are medications that will calm the nervous system. Other medications treat nausea, balance, and vision problems.

"We are looking at secondary effects in ears and eyes that may take consultation by an eye doctor or ear nose and throat specialist."

Other treatments involve speech and occupational therapists. Their treatments improve speech communication and thinking and reasoning ability, Hopewell said. These are things disrupted by concussion or head injury.

Viewed as a flow chart, a Fort Hood soldier injured in combat goes first to an aid station, then to a Level II medical clinic or the combat support hospital. After that it's evacuation time to Balad, Iraq and Landstuhl, Germany. These are staging points for a lot of brain injuries.

Afterward it's to Fort Hood if the patient is doing well. If they are having problems they go to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington or Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

"Screening for TBI is not just done at Fort Hood," Hopewell said. "It's done at every step along the way."

"When I see a soldier in my clinic I am able to go back and look at results of all the exams and the doctors who have seen them," Hopewell said.

09 October 2009

Make a difference - adopt a service member today!

A note from the field to SA:


I wanted to write and thank you for your continued support of my team. Also, I wanted to share a quick story with you about the impact your organization makes in our lives. A couple of weeks ago, I was at Combat Outpost Zerok in the province of Paktika.

Those Soldiers have been there for 7 months and live in the most dire conditions. They do not have running water, fresh vegetables are rare, their gym is home-made and triples up as a sleeping area and dining hall. An old roommate of mine had not showered for 2.5 months when I saw him. The only bit of luxury at that COP has the Soldiers' Angels logo on it.

The care packages you send are the only deviation from the Meals-Ready-to-Eat and one hot meal a day they get... and everyone there was so appreciative of it. All the care packages your team sends to Bagram are forwarded to the field for my guys. Even if you may not hear back, please know you are making their day go by that much easier. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for everything.



In a place like that, it doesn't take a lot to make a BIG difference. Find out more about adopting a service member at Soldiers' Angels.

Patti Patton-Bader, founder of Soldiers' Angels adds: "We are getting flooded with basic requests from Afghanistan and have packages ready to go. Unfortunately donations are low and the postage bill is high. PLEASE consider spreading the word, sending money and praying we can do what is needed to help this heroes." Donation information at the Soldiers' Angels website.

Here are your soldiers at Outpost Zerok on July 4 of this year.

Iraq Graduates First Class of Rotary-Wing pilots in Years

In fact, they are not only the first new Iraqi rotary wing pilots in over six years, and they are actually the first Iraqi *Air Force* rotary wing pilots ever. That's according to BillT at the Castle, who provided the photo above and who helped train them. Go over and see more of his photos and congratulate him on a job well done!

Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq
Oct. 6, 2009

Iraq Graduates First Class of Rotary-Wing pilots in Years

KIRKUK REGIONAL AIR BASE, Iraq – The newly emerging Iraqi air force celebrated advancement in military capability when 23 airmen earned their pilot’s wings during a graduation ceremony here Sept. 27.

Eleven Iraqi officers became the first class of student pilots to earn their rotary-aircraft pilot wings in 12 to 15 years. Twelve Iraqi airmen earned their fixed-wing pilot wings.

Congratulations to the new airmen and to the GoI on this important milestone!

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Iraq, the Marines leave Anbar province after six years:

On Sept. 26, a date that will forever be marked in history, Regimental Combat Team 6, commanded by Col. Matthew A. Lopez, and RCT-8, commanded by Col. John K. Love, the last two remaining Marine Corps RCTs to deploy in support of OIF, transferred authority of their areas of operation to the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team (Advise and Assist Brigade) of the 82nd Airborne Division, commanded by Army Col. Mark R. Stammer.

The transfer of authority ceremony marked an occasion that is quite possibly the most historically prominent event for Marines in Operation Iraqi Freedom since the initial invasion in 2003.

"It is an understatement to say that we have witnessed historic events in Iraq this year, and today's ceremony is certainly an example of positive change as we transition U.S. combat forces to a new formation - one whose name is synonymous with its mission, the Advise and Assist Brigade," said Maj. Gen. R.T. Tryon, the commanding general of Multi-National Force - West. "These gains have been accomplished not because of what the U.S. forces have done, nor because of what the Iraqi security forces have done. Rather, these achievements are a result of what we have done together in partnership with one another."

A New York Times op-ed piece calls it Mission Accomplished in Anbar.

Wow. Just wow. So many mixed feelings about the events of the past six years in Iraq. But the strongest one is pride. THANK YOU US MILITARY!

08 October 2009

Little Girl Can't Let go as Sergeant Daddy Leaves For Iraq

Paige Bennethum, 4, holds her daddy's hand as he lines up in formation before heading to Iraq. Credit: Abby Bennethum.

Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Brett Bennethum was preparing to depart from Fort Dix, N.J., for Iraq, leaving behind his pregnant wife and two little girls. His family was there to see him off.

His commanding officer didn't have the heart to tell Paige she had to let go of her daddy.

If this touching story doesn't bring a tear to your eye, there's somethin' wrong with ya.

With thanks to Miss Ladybug.

Update: Soldiers' Angels currently has over 2300 soldiers waiting for adoption. Please join us and show these troops how much they're appreciated!

07 October 2009

The Battle for COP Keating

Patrol outside of Forward Operating Base Keating in Nuristan province, Afghanistan, March 1, 2008. FOB Keating is the most North-Eastern forward operating base actively used by coalition forces. Photo by Staff Sgt. Brandon Aird, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs.

As six of the eight Fallen Heroes from Saturday's battle made their final journey home yesterday, 56 of their comrades back downrange are coping with their losses.

These men have lost friends, their outpost, and all their belongings. One soldier who made it out wrote that “most people back home dont even know, no one gives a $#!§”. Well, many of us do. And you can prove it by giving whatever you can. These guys need things like running shoes, and other essentials, as well as some comfort items like iPods and DVD players.

Please go to the Burn Pit to read about the battle and the men who fought there. Make sure to scroll all the way down to find out how we can show these guys how much we care.

Update: An embedded ABC News journalist, who previously reported on wounded soldiers refusing medevac and others giving blood during the battle for their wounded comrades, has a new eyewitness account.

By the time Chief Warrant Officer 3 Ross Lewallen and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Chad Bardwell arrived over the embattled outpost, dubbed Camp Keating, parts were in flames and dozens of insurgents could be seen on the camp's perimeter.

When the battle was over and the fire extinguished, many who survived had nothing left "except the clothes off their backs and the weapons in their hands," one soldier told ABC News.

"When we first showed up and put our sensors on Keating, it was just kind of shock," said Bardwell, 35, of Liman, Wyo., who piloted one of a swarm of Apaches that rushed the base's defense. "All the amount of flames and the smoke and to see that amount of personnel running outside of their wire. It was really kind of shock."

Lewallen added, "I've been on three deployments and I've never seen that large of a force attacking one static position."

Hunkered down inside the base's operations center were 1st Lt. Cason Shrode, 24, of Dallas, and Sgt. Jayson Souter, 22, of Tuscon, Ariz. The two men were working radios and directing traffic for the Apaches and attack jets that swarmed overhead.

Soon the camp was on fire with strong winds fanning it along to additional buildings. Eventually, every building in the camp, except one, was burned.

"We were basically surrounded 360 degrees," Shrode said. "I think there were significant numbers [of enemy fighters] throughout the day."

He immediately called for air support.

"We had fixed wing [jets] 20 minutes after fight started," Shrode told ABC News. "We had helicopters 20 minutes later. ... We had so many different assets up in the air ... they were stacked on so many different levels."

22 and 24 years old. What these guys did was incredible. Read the whole thing.

Update: The interview above has now been made available by DVIDS as video.
Part One.
Part Two.

And Part Three is below. Watch them all.

In the Mortar Pit

Spec. Michael Ballou, 21, of Atlanta, after firing back at enemy positions from the mortar pit when his combat outpost was hit on the morning of Sept. 24. Ballou is with the 10th Mountain Division, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, Bravo Company. Photo by Stephanie Gaskell of the NY Daily News blog 'War Zone'.

Soldiers' Angels October Newsletter is up!

Lots of great stories this month. The newsletter can be found here.

05 October 2009

He ain't heavy

In this photo of Monday, Sept. 28, 2009, U.S. Army K9 handler Sgt. Adrian Garcia, 24, from El Paso, Texas, carries (Military Working Dog) Staff Sgt. Kirby over a concertina wire fence during a patrol with 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division in the Jalrez Valley in Afghanistan's Wardak Province. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Wounded U.S. Soldiers Refused to Leave Taliban Fight

ABC News reporter Karen Russo spent a few minutes on the ground at the scene of Saturday's firefight in the Kamdesh district of Nuristan province when she flew in with a medevac crew (via Michelle Malkin):

Once on the ground, I hopped out of the chopper, but could see little other than smoke wafting through the moonlight, likely from a fire that was burning much of the base. Then I could make out the shadows of soldiers as they carried the wounded towards the helicopter.

Any noise of the conflict was drowned out by the propellers of the helicopter. The area smelled of burned out pine trees something one solider described as "death and hell."

Three wounded soldiers, one U.S. and two Afghan, were carried down the steep incline and quickly placed on the helicopter.

Some of the injured refused to be MEDEVACED out of the combat zone and continued to fight despite their wounds, according to soldiers at the base.

Soldiers told the MEDEVAC crew that troops were donating blood during the battle, so it could be transfused into wounded comrades.

Much more at the link. See also Bill Roggio's report on the battle.

I think we'll be hearing more stories like this in the days and weeks to come, and none of them will surprise me at all.

Please keep the families of our Fallen Heroes in your prayers.

Update: The Battle for COP Keating and how you can show your support here.