28 March 2010

A Soldier and his blankie

While stocking the donations shelves in the outpatient barracks this weekend we saw this guy head directly for this specific blanket, open it up, and wrap it around himself saying he was freezing. Had to get a photo for everyone, and he was a good sport about it.

If you would like to make blankets for the patients medevaced to Landstuhl from Iraq and Afghanistan, email me for the guidelines and shipping address!

The Walls of the Balad CASF

Names and messages are scribbled on the wounded warrior wall at the contingency aeromedical staging facility at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Linda C. Miller.

Theater hospital wall preserves memory, sacrifice

by Maj. April Conway
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

3/24/2010 - JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq (AFNS) -- The 20-by 30-foot flag thousands of patients have passed under on their way to the Air Force Theater Hospital at Joint Base Balad often is photographed in military circles. But lesser known, though no less poignant, are the walls of the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility's recreation room.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of messages have been scrawled on the walls by patients passing through Joint Base Balad on their way to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

From all parts of Iraq and with every imaginable injury, patients spend anywhere from a few hours to a few days here awaiting aeromedical transportation.

The messages, some inked in shaky handwriting, offer thanks to the CASF staff, remembrances of fallen comrades and prayers for the future. The walls are such a historical part of Operation Iraqi Freedom that they're set to be photographically preserved and submitted to the National Museum of Health and Medicine or the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Some planners even have their sights set for a Smithsonian Institute museum.

"Museums are places we visit to learn about history and about human development," said Lt. Col. Connie Day, the chief nurse of the CASF. "These walls offer a snapshot in time that will reflect both in the years to come."

A person could spend hours reading the many notes, such as "R.I.P. PFC Harley Andrews, 11 Sept 06 Ramadi, Sappers in TF Dagger" and "A Co, 1/14th, 25th ID, Angels of Mercy."

More than 23,000 patients have passed through the CASF in just the last three years. The facility started in tents, but in late 2006 was built into a hardened shelter, and leaving messages on the walls began as part of a cathartic process, Colonel Day said.

"As mother of four, it seemed odd at first to hand over markers and say, 'Go ahead. Write on the walls,' but when you take a minute to read, you can feel the pain of people living with loss," Colonel Day said.

Planners are in talks with several museum entities and while the ultimate fate of the walls and their reflection on the history of a war is undecided, the CASF remains an oddly eloquent memorial at Joint Base Balad.

U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Linda C. Miller.

25 March 2010

National Medal of Honor Day

"I truly believe that you'll never truly lead anybody, until you learn to serve. And you'll never truly serve anybody, until you learn there's something more important than yourself."

- Medal of Honor recipient Gary Beikirch, US Army, Vietnam.

The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. It was first presented by President Abraham Lincoln on March 25, 1863. 
March 25, 2007 was the first official National Medal of Honor Day observed in the United States.

24 March 2010

A day at the Landstuhl Fisher House

What were you doing last Saturday?

This was March 20, 2010, at the Landstuhl Fisher House:

Ramstein Air Base, Germany -- Members of the Kaiserslautern Military Community gave a few hours of their time to bring just a bit of home to families staying at the Fisher House at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, March 20. Volunteers from the KMC 5/6 organization, along with other units, provided meals from their own kitchens to the families and patients staying at the Fisher House.

The volunteers unloaded their delivery one after another. The kitchen of the Fisher House soon became filled with an assortment of dishes and desserts. The meals consisted from a whole roast to the most simple, yet heartfelt, tray of cookies.

"The variety of food is really amazing. There's something here for everybody," said Karen Williams-Clarkson from Fairbanks, Alaska. "There's even something for my grandson."

Mrs. Williams-Clarkson is the mother of Sgt. Joel David Clarkson. She was staying at the Fisher House, along with her family of five, waiting to escort her son home.

FORT BRAGG (WTVD) -- An Army Ranger has died from wounds he received in a conflict in Afghanistan.

Sgt. Joel David Clarkson, 23, was seriously wounded in a fierce engagement with a heavily armed enemy force in the Farah Province on March 13. He was taken to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Landstuhl, Germany where he died on March 16.

Clarkson served with served with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

He was on his fifth deployment in support of the War on Terror with three previous deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan.

"Sgt. Clarkson was the epitome of the Ranger Team Leader -- he cared deeply for his men, always led from the front, and was at his best when the situation was the most dire," said Col. Michael E. Kurilla, commander, 75th Ranger Regiment. "He is a hero to our Nation, the Army, and his Family."

According to the Army, the Rangers ultimately killed eight enemy fighters during that battle, destroyed their base of operations along with weapons and ammunition, and captured a key leader of the terrorist network, according to official military reports.

Clarkson is survived by his wife, Cassandra and their son, Orion of Norfolk, Va.; his parents, Steve and Karen Clarkson of Fairbanks, Ala.; and his older sister, Jessica.

The Clarkson "Family Unit" posted by Doni Turner at the "In Support and Love of Joel Clarkson" Facebook page.

Godspeed, Sgt. Clarkson. RLTW!

Update: In a follow up to this story, Doni Turner writes about saying goodbye to her son-in-law.

23 March 2010

Our Docs' Littlest Patients

Afghan child recovering from grenade blast with older brother at her bedside FOB Shank, Logar Province, Afghanistan 2010. Photo: MAJ JF Sucher.

MAJ JF Sucher, MD FACS USAR MC Surgeon, of the 909th FST reports via Michael Yon's site from Afghanistan:

It’s also easy to just be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Taliban have no rules of engagement (ROE) and they certainly have no regard for life, no matter how young, innocent or precious. The young girl above (approximately 8 years old) and the young boy below (approximately 6 years old) were playing near coalition soldiers that were dismounted in a local village just outside FOB Shank, Logar Province. Someone in the village tossed a grenade over the mud wall sending grenade fragments into these young children.

The 909th FST, along with the “Charlie Med” team of the 173rd will hold on to these children until they have completely recovered. There is nowhere else for them to go and get this level of medical care.

The Soldiers' Angels t-shirt worn by the child in this photo (along with many other supplies) was no doubt sent to the FST by Soldiers' Angels Tactical Medical Support Director Roger Godskesen. God bless our Docs for taking care of these precious children.

C-5 City at Ramstein

Several C-5 Galaxy aircraft assigned to multiple Air Force bases across the United States are poised on the flightline, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, March 22, 2010. The C-5 was designed to provide strategic heavy airlift over intercontinental distances and to carry oversize cargo. It has been operated by the United States Air Force since 1969 and is one of the largest military aircraft in the world. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tony R. Ritter.

"Dear Dad, I'm sorry if you're reading this . . . "

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Robert Gilbert in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of the Gilbert family.

The letter sat on the dresser for four years.

Robert Gilbert never opened it. He only touched the envelope when he needed to dust around it. He wanted to give it back to his son unopened.

Every time his Marine son was deployed, his son would ask, "You still got my letter?"

His dad never wanted to read what was inside an envelope marked: "Dad, open this if I am wounded. Love, Robert."

The call to open it came March 8.

"Is Robert Gilbert there?" a voice from Marine headquarters in Quantico, Va., said.

"Junior or Senior?" Robert said.


The father felt his stomach drop even before he heard the words: "Your son has been injured in Afghanistan."

When he heard his son received "possibly a mortal wound," he sat on the bed, opened the yellow envelope and pulled out four handwritten pages of spiral notebook paper.

I'm sorry if you're reading this . . .

Just read: A father's promise, a son's sacrifice for his country.

22 March 2010

Soldiers' Angels brings Chefs to Landstuhl

The Chefs with their certificates of appreciation from the Landstuhl USO during their Soldiers' Angels-sponsored visit to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Chefs Blake Powers, Katy Gunderson, and Molly Greenwood with USO Assistant Manager Carol Sharpe (far left) and Manager Mel Parkins (far right).

The most beautiful cheesecake I've ever seen. And it tasted even better than it looked.

Molly and Katy of the Yellow Bowl Bakery with some of their pastry creations and Blake's chili.

The REAL stars of the evening - the patients getting some awesome chow!!

Soldiers' Angels was honored to bring three great chefs over to Germany to cook for the outpatients at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center on March 21, 2010. Former chef Blake Powers made the largest pot of savory, spicy chili I've ever seen - enough to feed about 50 hungry outpatients and staff. And pastry chefs Katy Gunderson and Molly Greenwood of the Yellow Bowl Bakery slaved for two days over a variety of delicious creations, including carrot cake, "death by chocolate" cake, cheesecake, apple and pear strudel and much more.

A huge THANK YOU to all of the chefs for their time, expertise and fundraising efforts to provide their wonderful creations to spoil the Landstuhl patients. We'd also like to thank Mel Parkins and Carol Sharpe of the USO Warrior Center for putting up with us ;-) as well as their volunteers for their able assistance! And, as always, we'd like to thank our Soldiers' Angels Germany team for taking the chefs shopping and volunteering at the event.

More information about the Soldiers' Angels "Cooking for the Wounded" project.
More information about the Yellow Bowl Bakery.

Update: Thanks to SSG Trevor Pedro of AFN Europe for covering the event!

19 March 2010

Georgia Gold Star Family License Plate Bill languishes in Committee

On this, the anniversary of the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, a note from Robert Stokely on Georgia HB 1012.

This week I was interviewed by CNN about the anniversary of the war in Iraq. I was asked a question that is one of the most often asked questions - Was Iraq Worth It. My response was to share this youtube video clip from a trip to DC a few years ago when I was asked without preparation or warning to speak:

Sometimes it just isn't easy getting civilians onboard with simplest of means to honor our fallen and giving survivors even a little ground to remain connected to the soldier they lost. Georgia Bill HB 1012 would amend original legislation I helped with in 2006, and is introduced in our State Legislature by my good friend Billy Horne. Horne called me today and not sure what has happened, but what seemed a no brainer seems to have hit a snag. The bill only allows for the children, sibilings and parents by marriage (step-parents) to also purchase the speciality license plate to honor their family member killed in action. It also would allow the existing family members who can get the tag for free to purchase additional tags if they own more than one vehicle - spouse, mother, father.

The bill is revenue neutral at worst, and actually will bring more money into the state treasury. Yet, today, Rep. Tom Rice, Chairman of the Motor Vehicle Committee House Representatives, allowed other tag legislation to pass on through but did not bring this for consideration. It has sat idle in his committee since February 1. I am extremely concerned about this seemingly lack of concern, or at best laid back approach to honoring the fallen from Georgia, especially our Georgia National Guardsmen and their families. The following link has Rep. Rice's contact info:


You know, I was willing to give a son for Iraq, and America. I have never questioned whether Iraq or America was worth it. I haven't blamed anyone or been bitter. But today, hearing this news, it is very hard for me to control my feelings of whether or not some people get it, especially those who would have to do virtually nothing at no cost to give our Georgia Fallen and their entire family full access to a license plate that identifies us as family of the fallen. At present, the spouse, mother and father get one free. The children, siblings, and parents by marriage are banned altogether. If Mike were here, he would say this "you want me and some of my guys to go have a talk with them dad?" Thing is, I would have to say no because talking is not what would be on his mind when it came to someone messing with his family.

Sorry so long winded, but I just needed to get it off my chest. If you would like to help, make a call to Rep. Rice at the Capitol in Atlanta and ask him to get HB 1012 passed out of his committee, then push it through Rules and then vote for it on the House Floor. I'd consider it a great favor and be in your debt.

Robert Stokely
proud dad SGT Mike Stokely
KIA 16 AUG 05 near Yusufiyah Iraq

17 March 2010

Honoring the Heroes of our Heroes

The Second Annual Military Health System’s 2010 Remembrance Ceremony was held yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery.

In March 2009, the Military Health System proudly hosted a remembrance ceremony dedicated to the fallen military medical personnel of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Due to the support and positive response from the family members of those the ceremony honored, Military Health System leaders decided to make this very special ceremony an annual event.

This ceremony focuses on a special group of U.S. military service members: our military medical personnel. These fallen heroes served on the battlefield both as warriors and healers, caring for their comrades in arms while risking and sacrificing their own lives.

"Countless people are alive, both in the United States and overseas, because of the courage and heroism of the servicemembers being honored at this ceremony."

- Dr. Charles L. Rice, Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs

Video and photos of the Remembrance Ceremony can be found at Health.mil.

The Dark Prince

Speaking of Marines, there's a great article at Stars & Stripes about "rough living" with the Marines of Company L, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment at Combat Outpost Coutu in Helmand. No cots, no showers, no toilets and no electricity. They share 2 sat phones. And they've been there for almost a month. “I feel like a pioneer in the 1800s,” says one Marine. Nice photo essay, too.

Delta Dogs

The special forces of 14 countries conducted the big joint military exercise "Cold response" in minus 30 degrees in Narvik, Norway. The picture shows an Austrian special forces trooper training parachuting with dogs. Land, air and sea special forces participated in the exercise. Photo: EuroPics.

In keeping with today's canine theme... from the UK's TimesOnline:

Dropping from 10,000ft, they glide in order to land unnoticed. The dogs often carry cameras and are trained to attack anyone carrying a weapon.

“Dogs don’t perceive height difference, so that doesn’t worry them. They’re more likely to be bothered by the roar of the engines, but once we’re on the way down, that doesn’t matter and they just enjoy the view,” said the dog handler. “It’s something he does a lot. He has a much cooler head than most recruits.”

Commandos from 14 countries, including British special forces and Royal Marines, took part in the Nato exercise. The use of dogs in High Altitude High Opening missions was pioneered by America’s Delta Force, which trained the animals to breathe through oxygen masks during the jump.

Home Sweet Home

Staff Sgt. Marty Brownlee, outside his sister’s Newton County residence, is home after surviving a suicide bomber’s attack in Afghanistan.
Staff Photo: Erin Evans.

Staff Sgt. Marty Brownlee, Bravo Co. 2/121 Infantry of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 48th Brigade, tells the story of how he was wounded February 11 at a remote outpost in Afghanistan during a suicide bombing attack.

He’s had several surgeries for his injuries, but Brownlee knows it could have been much worse. The bomber detonated his device in the doorway of a building where the soldiers were staying — had he made it a few feet farther into the building, Brownlee believes the damage would have been greater, maybe fatal.

Brownlee suspects the bomber was startled by barking dogs the soldiers had taken in — an eyewitness reported one of the dogs was biting at the man’s ankles — as well the presence of Sgt. 1st Class Gary Ware, who was walking down the hallway as the bomber entered.

“He may not have expected that. I guess he just freaked out and detonated early,” Brownlee said. “If he had been another 4 or 5 feet inside, it would have done some serious damage.”

Brownlee had just hung up from a phone conversation with his wife and settled in for the night when he heard the explosion that blew through the steel reinforced door to his room. He looked down to see a piece of metal sticking out of his foot.

“I put my boots on, and that hurt like crap, to put boots on over metal that was stuck in bone,” he said.

Initially, the soldiers thought it was a mortar attack. Once they realized it was a suicide bomber, they went into gear to prepare for another attack. Brownlee said suicide bombings often precede a larger attack.

At that point, Brownlee said adrenaline had taken over and though he knew he was injured, he could hardly feel the pain.

“My whole focus was, ‘We’re getting attacked. I’m not going to be in the medical center if we’re getting attacked. I can still move. I’m still in the fight,’” he said.

Another attack never came; it was time to assess the damage. There were six casualties and only one fatality — one of the stray dogs who had first spotted the bomber. Another dog was wounded but is on the mend.

Ware and Brownlee were the most seriously injured. Ware was hit by shrapnel in the eye and in the heart. Incredibly, he survived and is recovering.

Brownlee was hit in the foot, upper thigh and neck. A photo of his wound looks like a small crater — the gash in his thigh was about 4 inches long, 2 inches wide and half an inch deep.

There's more at the link, and more about Bravo Company's canine heroes Rufus and Sasha here and here.

All the best for a speedy recovery, Marty and Garrye!

"Brownlee asked that anyone interested in supporting soldiers donate to Soldiers’ Angels, a nonprofit organization that sends food and other items to deployed and wounded soldiers.

After he was wounded, Brownlee received clothes, blankets and pillows from the organization. The organization has also provided voice activated computers to soldiers who have lost use of their hands, he said.

“They make sure all soldiers are taken care of — they treat them like kings.”"

Thanks, Marty. But to us, you guys are better than kings. You are our heroes!

16 March 2010

Making today matter

From Chaplain Campbell of Warrior's Sanctuary:

Last weekend while my wife and I were returning from a quick shopping trip we saw some flashing lights on the other side of the freeway. Not from a police car or a fire truck. The flashing lights were from large "Am Buses" transporting our wounded warriors to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Navy Medical Center at Bethesda.

And it got him to wondering, "Why them and not me?", something many of us ask ourselves every day. He doesn't have an answer, but he does have some inspirational words about "making today matter".

13 March 2010


This Motivator created by The Sniper, using a photo apparently taken about the same time as this one. Says it all, doesn't it?

10 March 2010

Celebrating the grand opening of the new Soldiers' Angels center

Hope to see you there!

Soldiers’ Angels Exhibit Documents Military Heroes and Homefront Patriots

SAN ANTONIO, March 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Troop support powerhouse Soldiers' Angels is celebrating the grand opening of its first permanent, Angel-managed facility in support of America's service members, wounded, veterans, and their families with what is expected to be the largest exhibit on the war on terrorism since 2003, as seen through the eyes of America's heroes and those who support them.

"Salute to Heroes and Angels" is an exhibit spotlighting America's military men and women who continue to serve in wartime, and the homefront patriots who help ensure they are loved and supported. Framed by 9-foot canvas murals, the installation includes interactive video screens, photos, letters from the troops, stories of fallen heroes, highlights of the dozens of Soldiers' Angels teams and projects, plaques and certificates documenting the organization's impact, and opportunities for visitors to record their own stories on video, join Soldiers' Angels, or request support for a service member or veteran.

Housed in the new Soldiers' Angels permanent facility across the freeway from Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio, "Salute to Heroes and Angels" is the first of many events to be hosted in the organization's 3100 square feet of multipurpose space. Co-located with the Soldiers' Angels warehouse and shipping center run by veterans, the space will be used for exhibitions, meetings, concerts, book signings and a developing music therapy program with "Voices of a Grateful Nation."

"Salute to Heroes and Angels" is the centerpiece of a weekend of celebration for nonprofit Soldiers' Angels in San Antonio, including a black tie reception on Friday evening, a barbecue for the wounded and their families at Brooke Army Medical Center Fisher House on Saturday afternoon, and a party at the new shipping facility Saturday night. Throughout the weekend, guests, donors and visitors will have the opportunity to tour the Heroes and Angels exhibit and participate in packing activities at the shipping facility (call 626-529-5114 for more information).

For more about Soldiers' Angels, visit www.soldiersangels.org.

08 March 2010

A word about the UK Daily Mail / MailOnline story

How sad that the simple truths of a story can get lost in the retelling.

It was a story of how The Many pulled together and did everything in their power to meet The Needs of The One.

A story of how we as human beings take care of one another. A story of military medicine at it's finest.

Because I was personally named in the MailOnline article (which was republished by Michael Yon at his site) as having done something I did not do, I would like to formally set the record straight.

Michael Yon contacted Soldiers' Angels to improve communications about Soldier X's status between his officers in Afghanistan and the German civilian hospital after he was moved from British to US and then German medical care. Soldiers' Angels did not directly contact the Acute Lung Rescue Team. Soldiers' Angels' role is to support soldiers and soldiers' families, not to initiate or intervene in medical care.

100% of the credit goes to the coalition military medical teams, who pulled together across the world to save a human life - no matter what nationality. They would have done it for anyone. That is the spirit of my original blog post on this story, "The needs of the one."

Greyhawk has the real story, and tells it much better than I can.

I have contacted both Peter Almond, the author of the MailOnline story, and Michael Yon about the error. Both acknowledged that an unfortunate mistake was made in Mr. Almond's MailOnline article. Michael Yon has published a correction on his Facebook page. He also later added the correction as a comment below the story on his main web site, although I certainly would have preferred a more prominent correction appended directly to the article. (Update, 8 March 1900 GMT: Michael Yon has added the correction at the end of his reprint of Mr. Almond's article. Thank you, Michael.) As far as I know, there has not been a correction of any kind made by the MailOnline.

We fight because it's the right thing to do; because all of humanity is our tribe.

God bless all who answer that call, and God bless those who care for them.

05 March 2010

2010 Elections in Iraq

A young Iraqi child, who accompanied his father to the polling stations, shows off his purple inked finger in the International Zone of Baghdad, Iraq, March 4. Children are not allowed to vote, but this child was allowed to dip his finger in the ink. It is the day of Iraqi special elections for Iraqi police, army and medical care providers. Photo by Staff Sgt. Kelly Longbine.

I will never, ever forget all the sacrifices made by so many to make this possible...

02 March 2010

Soldier lays down his life to save wounded comrade

Covering fire: Rifleman Martin Kinggett, 19, from A Company 4 Rifles, was killed in Sangin, Helmand Province after selflessly protecting his comrades.

"There is much talk about everything that is wrong with the youth of today. Martin Kinggett however exemplified everything that is right about the young people of Great Britain."

- Platoon Sergeant Jimmy Houston, 3 Platoon, A Company, 4 Rifles.

Daily Mail UK:

A soldier was shot dead after making himself a target for Taliban gunmen so his comrades could evacuate a seriously wounded colleague.

Rifleman Martin Kinggett, of A Company, 4th Battalion The Rifles, selflessly drew fire so members of his patrol could deal with the casualty.

But the 19-year-old was killed by an enemy bullet during the battle near Sangin, Helmand, on Thursday.

Last night his comrades said there was 'no doubt' he had saved lives.

Rfl Kinggett was praised as loyal and enthusiastic, and senior officers said he had found 'his calling' in Afghanistan, becoming 'a rock' to his colleagues.

His family described the teenager, from Dagenham, Essex, as 'a loving son, brother, grandson, uncle and boyfriend' and said he was 'our hero'.

Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Jones, commanding officer 4th Battalion The Rifles, said: 'It is typical of him that he fell giving covering fire while his comrades extracted a seriously injured friend in contact.

'His family who he loved so openly and talked of so frequently will be devastated at his loss, but will take great pride that he fell as he had lived, helping his friends.'

Lieutenant Colonel Nick Kitson, commanding officer 3 Rifles Battle Group said: 'Brave as a lion and selfless until the end, he fell to enemy fire while protecting the evacuation of a wounded comrade shot minutes before.'

Captain Ben Shuttleworth, second in command of A Company, said: 'In his final moments, Rifleman Kinggett placed himself in the view of the enemy so that he could return fire as the remainder of his team attempted to evacuate a wounded friend.'

Corporal Brett Campbell, section commander of 3 Platoon A Company, said: 'He showed a great deal of courage and selfless commitment when the patrol was hit, by exposing himself under fire and suppressing the enemy firing points whilst the rest of the section was dealing with the casualty. His action no doubt saved his fellow rifleman in the section.'