29 June 2010

They don't call 'em Jarheads for nothin'

A kid comes walking through the lobby of the outpatient barracks wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

CQ (Charge of Quarters, i.e., the on duty person responsible for the barracks and its patients): Are you on pass? (Civilian clothing may only be worn when on pass.)

Kid: Huh?

CQ: Are you on pass?

Kid: I don't know what that is.

CQ: Are you WTU? (Civlian clothing may be worn by patients here for the 8-week PTSD program. They are then considered WTU instead of MTD patients.)

Kid: Huh?

CQ: Are you WTU?

Kid: I don't know what that is.

CQ: Did you get the briefing?

Kid: Huh?

CQ: The patient inprocessing briefing - did you get it?

Kid: ....

The CQ thinks for a minute, then asks, "Are you a Marine?"

Kid: Yeah.

(Just kidding!! Everyone knows I love the Marines. Especially this one.)

28 June 2010

Remembering Operation Redwing

SEAL Team:

Lt. Michael P. Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, New York
STG2 Matthew Axelson, 29, of Cupertino, CA
GM2 Danny Dietz 26, of Littleton, Colorado


Staff Sgt. Shamus O. Goare, 29, of Danville, Ohio
Chief Warrant Officer Corey J. Goodnature, 35, of Clarks Grove, Minnesota.
Sgt. Kip A. Jacoby, 21, of Pompano Beach, Florida
Sgt. 1st Class Marcus V. Muralles, 33, of Shelbyville, Indiana
Master Sgt. James W. Ponder III, 36, of Franklin, Tennessee
Maj. Stephen C. Reich, 34, of Washington Depot, Connecticut.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael L. Russell, 31, of Stafford, Virginia
Chief Warrant Officer Chris J. Scherkenbach, 40, of Jacksonville, Florida


FCC Jacques J. Fontan, 36, of New Orleans, Louisiana
ITCS Daniel R. Healy, 36, of Exeter, New Hampshire
Lt. Cmdr. Erik S. Kristensen, 33, of San Diego, California
ET1 Jeffery A. Lucas, 33, of Corbett, Oregon
Lt. Michael M. McGreevy, Jr., 30, of Portville, New York
QM2 James E. Suh, 28, of Deerfield Beach, Florida
HM1 Jeffrey S. Taylor, 30, of Midway, West Virginia
MM2 Shane E. Patton, 22, of Boulder City, Nevada

Killed in action Kunar Province, Afghanistan June 28, 2005.
We will love you and miss you always.

The Lone Survivor:

PO2, later SO1 Marcus Luttrell

The Prince and the Marine

Britain's Prince Harry, right, helps push U.S. Marine veteran Todd Nicely along the route while participating in the Achilles Hope and Possibility Race Sunday, June 27, 2010 in New York's Central Park. The Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans trains and sponsors recently wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to participate in races nationwide. AP Photo/Stephen Chernin.

Geez, do you think Todd will remember us "little people" after this? :-)

Yesterday Prince Harry took part in the five-mile Achilles Hope and Possibility Race through New York's Central Park. The organization, Achilles International, formed the Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans to help recently-wounded veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq take part on races across the United States.

Prince Harry has been on a three-day tour with a strong focus on finding ways for British and American veteran support organizations to work together.

Prince Harry walked 1.7 miles of the course through Central Park. He was accompanied by security staff and a number of disabled veterans.

At one point, Prince Harry helped to push U.S. Marine veteran, Corporal Todd Nicely, in his wheelchair. Corporal Nicely lost all four limbs in March when he stepped on an explosive device.

Previous, read more about Todd's amazing recovery:
Marine Corporal Todd Nicely update
"They got me home"
One of our Marines could use your prayers

Australian Task Force leadership visits wounded soldiers in Germany

Defense Media Release, Monday, 28 June 2010

Middle East Commander visits wounded soldiers in Germany

The Commander and Regimental Sergeant Major of Australia’s Joint Task Force 633 have visited seven Australian commandos who continue to receive treatment for wounds they sustained in a helicopter crash on June 21.

Major General John Cantwell and Warrant Officer Class One Don Spinks made the flight into Germany over the weekend to see the soldiers in the US Army’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and pass on their best wishes.

Major General Cantwell said the soldiers were receiving first-class care from a team of very experienced and well-resourced medical staff at the facility.

“The latest medical assessment confirms two soldiers remain in a critical condition with very serious injuries, with the other five in a satisfactory condition,” Major General Cantwell said.

“The wounded soldiers still have a long way to go given they were involved in a very serious helicopter crash but they have received excellent care in Afghanistan and here in Germany.”

Major General Cantwell and Warrant Officer Class One Spinks also took the opportunity to speak with families of the wounded soldiers who had been moved to Germany to be with their loved ones.

“It has been a really tough week for the families and I assured them that the thoughts of the entire ADF family are with them. I know they are confident we are doing everything we can to assist the soldiers,” Major General Cantwell said.

“As the Commander I consider the care and welfare of these families part of my responsibility and I’m doing everything I can to ensure that they are being looked after as well.”

You may remember MG Cantwell from this recent post about the Australian SOTG's offensive in Shah Wali Kot, which included the video below. I knew he looked familiar but (as usual!) couldn't place him until afterwards. The nurses say he spent a good amount of time with each patient and his family, which is as it should be. We wish the soldiers all the best for a speedy recovery and a safe flight home. Proud to stand with you, Australia!

27 June 2010

Kandahar MEDEVAC

U.S. Army soldiers carry a critically wounded American soldier on a stretcher to an awaiting MEDEVAC helicopter from Charlie Co. Sixth Battalion, 101st Airborne Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Shadow June 24, 2010 near Kandahar, Afghanistan. Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images.

U.S. Army Sgt. Grayson Colby holds the hand of a critically wounded U.S. Army soldier while aboard a MEDEVAC helicopter from Charlie Co. Sixth Battalion, 101st Airborne Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Shadow June 24, 2010 near Kandahar, Afghanistan. Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images.

Blood and medical supplies litter the floor of a U.S. Army MEDEVAC helicopter from Charlie Co. Sixth Battalion, 101st Airborne Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Shadow June 24, 2010 near Kandahar, Afghanistan. Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images.

Justin Sullivan continues to provide excellent photography during his long embed with TF Shadow MEDEVAC. The series above is from the medical evacuation of the same badly wounded Soldier. Much more of Sullivan's work can be found on Getty's site.

24 June 2010

The Long Salute

The Long Salute

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

By Cpl. Scott Schmidt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

H/t Shelle Michaels and Carrie Costantini

Marine Corporal Todd Nicely update

Love you Todd, Crystal, Julie, and family!!

The Depatment of Defense covers expenses for Todd's immediate family in Washington, D.C. but they will suffer a loss of income during their stay. Many other members of this large and loving family face repeated trips from their homes to the D.C. area to spend time with Todd as he recovers.

Donations are being accepted to support Todd and his family.

Bank wire transfer:
Navy Federal Credit Union
Routing # 2560-7497-4
AC # 3021742329

Checks may be made out to:
Todd A. Nicely Donations

Send to:
Todd A. Nicely
6900 Georgia Ave, NW
Abrams Hall Box 4207
Washington DC 20307

"They got me home"
One of our Marines could use your prayers

23 June 2010

Band of Brothers: The General is a Soldier

A message from Patti Patton-Bader, Soldiers' Angels Founder.

Our thoughts and prayers go out for General McChrystal, the brave leader of our troops in Afghanistan who probably needs some friends right now. He has served his country during a very difficult time, with an unimaginable weight of responsibility for lives both civilian and military resting on his shoulders.

Like his great predecessor with whom I share a name, he has found that the intersection of war and politics has its own challenges.

The Soldiers' Angels spirit is to have the backs of all our soldiers, from the lowliest private right up through the generals. We don’t take a stand on politics/policy or on conflicts up or down the chain of command, but we always remember that these are real people fighting a really hard war.

The General has done what he believed needed to be done in leading that war and we support him for that. Our support is not about politics. It’s about a Soldier who has served to the best of his abilities and who has our appreciation and love for having done so.

I can only Imagine what General Patton would be saying during these times, and how many times he would be called to the Big Office himself.

Thank you for your service, Sir.

21 June 2010

California DUSTOFF Guardsmen honored with Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross

From left to right, Staff Sgt. Thomas A. Gifford, Staff Sgt. Emmett Spraktes, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Brandon Erdmann and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Scott St. Aubin pose for a group photograph after an award ceremony at Mather Airfield in Sacramento, Calif., June 13, 2010. During the ceremony, Spraktes was awarded the Silver Star Medal while Gifford, Erdmann and St. Aubin received the Distinguished Flying Cross with V Device for heroic actions in Afghanistan while assigned to the California National Guard’s Company C, 1-168th General Support Aviation Battalion. (Photo by Sgt. First Class Jesse Flagg, California National Guard)

California Guardsmen honored with Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross
By Brandon Honig, California National Guard

SACRAMENTO, Calif., (6/15/10) -- Hovering 70 feet over a battle zone, about to be lowered to the ground on a cable dangling from his helicopter, medic Staff Sgt. Emmett Spraktes drummed up the necessary courage by picturing the parents of the injured Soldiers below.

“We’re up there, and we know we can’t land and there’s a risk, but I imagine looking into the eyes of a [Soldier’s] parent and saying, ‘I can’t do this,’” Spraktes recalled. "How could I talk to the mother or father of one these boys and say, 'I was just too afraid to go’?"

Moments later, when the cable stopped moving only partway to the ground — making Spraktes a sitting target above the battlefield — it was his own children who came to mind.

“When I was hanging, I thought I would never get out of there. I was convinced this would be the end of me,” he said. “'This is all my children are going to know of me — everything we've had up to this time.’”

He called up to Crew Chief Staff Sgt. Thomas A. Gifford: “Tell my children I love them.”

“You love me?” came the confused response.

“Not you, you idiot!” Spraktes yelled. “My kids!” The men shared a momentary laugh amid the gunfire, and then the cable started moving again.

Spraktes reached the ground intact with explosions and gun bursts echoing all around him and went to work on the three injured patients as his UH-60 Black Hawk crew flew to safety. This was only the beginning.

After tending to the most severely injured patient, Spraktes called for the Black Hawk to return to his location to pick up the injured Soldier and fly him to a nearby base.

The Black Hawk delivered the patient then returned and picked up two more injured Soldiers — again leaving Spraktes behind to care for and defend the Soldiers on the ground.

"By the grace of God, we were not hit," said co-pilot Chief Warrant Officer Scott St. Aubin. "I have no idea how you miss a giant Black Hawk helicopter. It was really surreal."

After dropping off patients for the second time, the Black Hawk returned to find that Spraktes was treating two Soldiers for dehydration. He again deferred his place on the aircraft to the injured Soldiers and sent the Black Hawk on its way, this time telling the crew he would stay on the ground and return to base on foot.

Spraktes’ crew would hear nothing of it, though, and returned to the dangerous location for a sixth time to perform yet another combat hoist extraction, finally bringing Spraktes to safety.

“I told the pilots I wasn’t leaving him,” Gifford said. “I was just doing my job and trying to get our guys out. [Medical evacuation] is a very dangerous job — there’s always somebody trying to shoot you down and stop you from what you’re trying to do.”

What a story. Much more about these heroes at the link.

20 June 2010

"They got me home"

Marine Cpl Todd Nicely in Afghanistan before being wounded in March 2010, resulting in the loss of all four limbs. He is the second surviving quadruple amputee of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cpl Nicely served a prior tour of duty in Iraq. Courtesy photo.

From the the spouse of an American Hero:

My name is Crystal Nicely, and my husband Marine Cpl Todd Nicely was severely wounded during his tour in Afghanistan this past March 2010. Todd stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device) which was embedded in to the ground. When he placed his foot on the device it triggered, doing a lot of damage. Now I do thank the Lord for the fellow Marines who utilized their abilities to save his life, for if it were not for them he would not have made it.

The explosion resulted in amputation of portions of all four of his limbs. His jaw was broken in two places.

Todd and Crystal Nicely. Cpl Nicely was seriously wounded in Afghanistan in March 2010, resulting in the loss of portions of all four limbs. He is the second surviving quadruple amputee of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Courtesy photo.

Crystal continues:

Now, I know it's a lot to take in... at first your mind takes you to the worst place... but I can say that when I saw him for the first time all I saw was the man whom I fell in love with, my best friend, and the man I'm going to grow old with. Todd is not only a wonderful husband, but a son who I'm almost certain was a handful...

After regaining consciousness at Maryland's Bethesda Naval Medical Center, one of the first things Todd requested was a beer. The doctors allowed him a few sips.

Todd's swift progress is an amazing testimony to his strength, determination, and courage. He began using arm prosthetics mere weeks after the explosion that nearly took his life and just last week stood up on his "stubbies", the first step to full-length leg prosthetics. Most of Todd's time is spent as an outpatient. Recently, he flew to North Carolina to welcome the Marines from his unit back home.

Todd and his family are still at the very beginning of a long journey that will involve a year or more at Walter Reed Army Medical Center as he heals and learns to use his prosthetics. During this time he will draw on the strength of his loved ones. His wife, parents and siblings are committed to being there for him. His brother Ricky, who had planned to enlist in the Army, now plans to remain with Todd as long as needed.

The Depatment of Defense covers expenses for Todd's immediate family in Washington, D.C. but they will suffer a loss of income during their stay. Many other members of this large and loving family face repeated trips from their homes to the D.C. area to spend time with Todd as he recovers.

This is where you come in, as written by veteran David Bellavia just after hearing of Todd's injury.

I pray that Todd never has to live a day where he is not reminded of his greatness. I pray that someone is there to hold him and thank him for his sacrifice, before Todd can thank them for their aid. I pray that Todd will have a job that pays him what he is worth to all of us.

And that he never has to question his worth in this world.

Todd Nicely is what makes America great. While his peers prepared to better themselves in college, he bettered his nation with his service. And that love for his nation led him into combat that has forever broken his body.

It is the responsibility for the survivors, for those he bled protecting, to make sure that his spirit never suffers the same fate.

Donations are being accepted to support Todd and his family.

Bank wire transfer:
Navy Federal Credit Union
Routing # 2560-7497-4
AC # 3021742329

Checks may be made out to:
Todd A. Nicely Donations

Send to:
Todd A. Nicely
6900 Georgia Ave, NW
Abrams Hall Box 4207
Washington DC 20307

Todd has given almost everything to protect America, and it’s time for America to give back. In the middle of this war, he stepped up and led with his actions. Please step up and show Todd your gratitude, appreciation, and faith in his future by supporting him and his family during the long journey ahead.

From Todd via his wife Crystal:

"Thank you so much. I second everything my wife has stated on my behalf. And for the people who keep telling me that "they don't know what to say to me"... well, I can't find the words to express how much your caring and understanding means to me... so I'll just say 'thank you.'"

Cpl Todd Nicely with his mom Julie. Cpl Nicely was seriously wounded in Afghanistan in March 2010, resulting in the loss of parts of all four limbs. He is the second surviving quadruple amputee of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Courtesy photo.

Shortly after arriving at Bethesda Naval Medical Center, Todd was asked if he had a message for his fellow Marines back in Afghanistan. "Tell them... ", he said, "Tell them they got me home."

One of our Marines could use your prayers

18 June 2010

Double amputee makes historic jump

Staff Sgt. Shaun Meadows shares a laugh with his son after completing his jump June 14, 2010. Sergeant Meadows is assigned to the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Leah Young.

Special tactics squadron double amputee makes historic jump

by Airman Leah Young
62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

6/16/2010 - JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (AFNS) -- Air Force history was made June 15, when a wounded warrior from the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron became the first active-duty double amputee to successfully participate in a personnel drop.

Staff Sgt. Shaun Meadows, along with 39 of his co-workers, conducted a practice parachute jump from a C-17 Globemaster III, in prreperation for a change of command ceremony.

The combat controller lost both legs during a combat reconnaissance patrol in Afghanistan when his convoy hit an improvised explosive device in July 2008.

"It's a huge accomplishment for Shaun to come back from being injured on a mission and to then go up in the air again," said Master Sgt. Angela Fernandez, the 22nd STS first sergeant. "He's doing what he loves."

The practice exercise is the first jump Sergeant Meadows has participated in since his injury.

"Today is significant because we're all very close to Shaun," said Lt. Col. Bryan Cannady, the 22nd STS commander. "It's very much like a brotherhood. We're all glad to be here for him and support him."

Sergeant Meadows will also be participating in the 22nd STS change of command ceremony, which will be his last jump before he separates from the Air Force.

"Shaun's spirit and desire to do this made us believe we could get it done," said Colonel Cannady. "It's an honor, not just for me, but for every guy out there to be doing this today."

Sergeant Meadows' co-workers said he hasn't allowed his injury to hold him back or keep him from doing his job.

"Shaun is the epitome of positive," said Sergeant Fernandez. "He always walks into work with a smile on his face and makes us laugh."

Sergeant Meadows said he's happy to participate in operations again.

"Everything went well today," Sergeant Meadows said. "It felt good to get up there and jump again after two years."

Kandahar Air Field

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN - JUNE 16: A U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter from Charlie Co. Sixth Battalion, 101st Airborne Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Shadow, sits on the flight line at Kandahar Airfield June 16, 2010 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. As combat operations begin to escalate near Kandahar, the 101st Airborne MEDEVAC unit is tasked with transporting casualties of war as well as sick and injured local residents. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

17 June 2010

'Never refuse a mission'

A soldier washes out the blood from the floor of the Blackhawk. Picture: Gary Ramage.

"The Marine was gone - he most probably left us before being placed on the Blackhawk - but I still had to try and save him, that's my job'', Sgt Montavan said.

Once the engines were shut off, the rest of the detachment came out and started to help strip the armour platting from the floor so they could wash out all of the blood.

They handed out plastic gloves and began to scrub. I put my cameras down again, and started to help with the cleanup. After we had finished, Sgt Derek Costine called my name.

"Gary... catch.'' He threw me the unit patch and said, "Welcome, thanks for helping out''.

The time now was about 10.30am.

This was day two of my embed with Dustoff. It is going to be a busy two weeks.

Australian Gary Ramage is embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan, most recently with the Dustoff crews from Charlie Company, 6th Battalion Combat Airmobile Brigade (CAB) of the 101st Airborne Division. Read the whole story, and don't miss the photo gallery.

Thanks to our DUSTOFF crews for all they do. And thank you to Gary for telling their stories.

Australian Special Operations Task Group deal 'major blow' to Taliban in Shah Wali Kot

The Canberra Times:

The five-day offensive by the Australian Special Operations Task Group and Afghan National Security Force troops, supported by a United States helicopter detachment, was part of efforts to improve security around the city of Kandahar and deny insurgent forces a ''staging area'' on the way to Oruzgan province the primary area of operations for Australia's 1500-strong military contingent in Afghanistan.

The Defence Department claimed the offensive resulted in the deaths of ''a significant number of insurgents''. However, the department refused to issue any estimate of the Taliban casualties, with a spokeswoman asserting the Defence Force ''does not use body counts as a measure of success''.

One clash on the second day of the offensive lasted more than 13 hours, with Taliban fighters using small arms and machine-gun fire from concealed positions to bring sustained fire against the Australian and Afghan government forces.

An Australian soldier was wounded in the arm while an Afghan security force officer was struck in the side. Both were evacuated while under fire and are recovering at the medical facility at the Australian headquarters in Tarin Kowt.

After five days of operations, the Taliban forces reportedly withdrew from the area. Australian troops captured a number of weapons including assault rifles, heavy machine-guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and several radio handsets.

The commander of Australian Forces in the Middle East, Major-General John Cantwell, said the combined Australian-Afghan government operation had dealt ''a major blow to the insurgent forces and their commanders''.

16 June 2010

Racing the clock of life

SGT Adam Connaughton and litter team from Company C, Sixth Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment carry a patient to a waiting MEDEVAC helicopter near Kandahar. Courtesy photo.

Adam's friend Matthew Kinney, now a flight medic instructor at Ft. Rucker, coined the title of this photo when he remarked to Adam, "I miss running with you. I miss running, racing the clock of life."

You'll remember both Matthew and Adam from their 2008 deployment in Afghanistan.

In that interview Adam also spoke about "running, racing the clock of life":

Connaughton felt it after his second mission, left behind by his damaged helicopter — realizing he was running across the rocky ground and getting shot at for the first time, moments later carrying a soldier with a blown-off leg across a river to a second bird.

It was "pure amazement," he says. It was something he thought could never happen. And he’s talking about himself.

"All you can do is try," he says, "and move as fast as possible."

Stay safe out there, Adam. We love you guys.

15 June 2010

Return to Iraq

Retired Staff Sgt. Chris Bain (center) touches the ground near Gunner Gate on Camp Taji, Iraq, where he was ambushed, April 8, 2004. Bain and eleven other wounded warriors visited Camp Taji June 13 as part of Operation Proper Exit VII. Photo by Spc. Roland Hale.

On Taji, the veterans were hosted by the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, a unit that among other things, flies the type of medevac aircraft that evacuated many of the wounded Soldiers. CAB, 1st Inf. Div. Soldiers led the wounded warriors on a tour of the brigade; many of the wounded warriors were unconscious during their first encounter with a medevac helicopter, and do not remember it.

“So this is what those things look like,” remarked a veteran.

The wounded warriors toured Taji, making an emotional stop at Gunner Gate, the spot where Bain was injured. There, they followed Bain as he re-lived that afternoon six years ago.

Bain stood apart from the rest of the group. Leaning with his good hand on a tree, he looked towards the gate. After a few minutes, Bain found the spot where he thinks the mortar landed. He took a knee and asked his buddies for a knife.

The mood had shifted from a seemingly incongruous cheer to sympathy, and as Bain used the knife to scrape dirt from the ground, another wounded warrior collected it in a small plastic bag.

“I came here to get closure – to feel the dirt – to walk on the ground that I couldn’t walk away from before,” said Bain.

Read the rest about the Wounded Warriors who travelled back to Iraq this month with Operation Proper Exit VII.

13 June 2010

“I don’t leave people behind”

During a recent battle near Marja, an infantry patrol carried a wounded Marine to a medevac helicopter. The black helmet in the foreground belongs to a crew member of Company C, Sixth Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment. Photo: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times.

C.J. Chivers, a former Marine, continues his incredible reporting from Afghanistan. In this article he describes several missions with the Army MEDEVAC crews from Company C, Sixth Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment in Helmand province.

The Black Hawk completed its turn, this time low to the ground, and descended. Gunfire could be heard all around. The casualty was not in sight.

“Where is he?” [Pilot Chief Warrant Officer Deric G.] Sempsrott asked over the radio.

The sergeants [crew chief and flight medic from the Black Hawk] dashed for the trees, where a Marine, Cpl. Zachary K. Kruger, was being tended to by his squad. He had been shot in the thigh, near his groin. He could not walk. The patrol had no stretcher.

A hundred yards separated the group from the aircraft, a sprint to be made across the open, on soft soil, under Taliban fire. [Flight Medic Sergeant Ian J.] Bugh ran back. [Crew chief, Sergeant Grayson] Colby began firing his M-4 carbine toward the Taliban.

Inside the shuddering aircraft, the pilots tried to radiate calm. They were motionless, vulnerable, sitting upright in plain view.

The Taliban, they knew, had offered a bounty for destroyed American aircraft. Bullets cracked past. The pilots saw their medic return, grab a stretcher, run again for the trees.

They looked this way, then that. Their escort aircraft buzzed low-elevation circles around the zone, gunners leaning out. Bullets kept coming. “Taking fire from the east,” Mr. Sempsrott said.

These are the moments when time slows.

Cobra attack helicopters were en route. Mr. Sempsrott and [Co-pilot First Lt. Matthew E.] Stewart had the option of taking off and circling back after the gunships arrived. It would mean leaving their crew on the ground, and delaying the patient’s ride, if only for minutes.

At the tents [back at Camp Dwyer], Mr. Sempsrott had discussed the choices in a hot landing zone. The discussion ended like this: “I don’t leave people behind.”

More rounds snapped past. “Taking fire from the southeast,” he said.

He looked out. Four minutes, headed to five.

“This is ridiculous,” he said. It was exclamation, not complaint.

His crew broke from the tree line. The Marines and Sergeant Bugh were carrying Corporal Kruger, who craned his neck as they bounced across the field. They fell, found their feet, ran again, fell and reached the Black Hawk and shoved the stretcher in.

A Marine leaned through the open cargo door. He gripped the corporal in a fierce handshake. “We love you, buddy!” he shouted, ducked, and ran back toward the firefight.

Six and a half minutes after landing, the Black Hawk lifted, tilted forward and cleared the vegetation, gaining speed.

Corporal Kruger had questions as his blood pooled beneath him.

Where are we going? Camp Dwyer. How long to get there? Ten minutes.

Can I have some water? Sergeant Colby produced a bottle.

After leaving behind Marja, the aircraft climbed to 200 feet and flew level over the open desert, where Taliban fighters cannot hide. The bullet had caromed up and inside the corporal. He needed surgery.

The crew had reached him in time. As the Black Hawk touched down, he sensed he would live.

“Thank you, guys,” he shouted.

“Thank you,” he shouted, and the litter bearers ran him to the medical tent.

The pilots shut the Black Hawk down. Another crew rinsed away the blood. Before inspecting the aircraft for bullet holes, Sergeant Bugh and Sergeant Colby removed their helmets, slipped out of their body armor and gripped each other in a brief, silent hug.

Read the whole thing, and make sure to look through the photo gallery.

09 June 2010

The shadow of the Almighty

Staff Sgt. Edward Rosa reads the Bible and extends a cigarette to Pfc. Jorge Rostra Obando, who was stunned by an explosion in Afghanistan’s Arghandab Valley. One comrade was killed and two injured in the blast. Pfc. Rostran asked the sergeant to read Psalm 91, a favorite from his childhood. Photo: Ricardo Garcia Vilanova for The Wall Street Journal.

Psalm 91 reads in part:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.

Found at First Thoughts.

08 June 2010

Task Force Destiny Door Gunner

Staff Sgt. David Senft, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Destiny UH-60, Blackhawk helicopter door gunner surveys the ground during a flight in Afghanistan May 27. Photo by Staff Sgt. Sadie Bleistein.

07 June 2010

Duty, Honor, Country

Lt. Dan Berschinski, wounded August 2009 in the Arghandab River Valley of Afghanistan, at his recent homecoming celebration in Peachtree, GA on Memorial Day weekend.

Thanks to Andrea Taber for this abridged version of Dan's speech. The orignal, in two parts (here and here), courtesy of Dan's father. Dan has a blog, too.

Well done, Dan. Much love to you from everyone at Landstuhl.

06 June 2010

D-Day: The Prayer

This is a repost from last year; it can always be watched again...

Update, June 7: Yesterday in St. Mere Eglise.

U.S. military color guard, German military band, U.S. Army Airborne Soldiers, German Special Operations soldiers, British soldiers, followed by the townspeople of St. Mere Eglise, Normandy, France march into the town square to honor the heroes of D-Day, June 6th, 1944.

04 June 2010

Soldiers' Angels competing for $50k "Pepsi Challenge" Grant - Need your vote!

The Pepsi Refresh Project allows ordinary people to vote for their favorite projects that will have a positive impact on the community. Each month brings a new set of projects. This month, Soldiers' Angels is one of the projects.

All you have to do is go to the page for Hire a Hero - Soldiers' Angels Project SAVE Support A Vet's Employment.

Soldiers' Angels is competing for $50,000! Only 10 projects will be selected, so we need your votes, every day, from now until June 30! Currently, Hire a Hero - Soldiers' Angels Project SAVE Support A Vet's Employment is in 57th place. We've got a LONG way to go to get into the top ten. Please share this with everyone you know: share it with your email contacts, your facebook friends, tweet about it!

"It was the sad faces of the children"

Staff Sergeant Edwin Rivera.

A Soldier and the father of two sons:

Last summer, six months before he was deployed to Afghanistan for the second time, infantry Sgt. Edwin Rivera sat in his car in the driveway of his parents' house in Waterford and explained to his mother why he was returning to war.

It was the sad faces of the children that he had seen in Afghanistan during his first tour there in 2006, he told his mother, faces that still reminded him of why American soldiers were there.

"When the U.S. soldiers drive by," Rivera told his mother Gladys that night, "the children will scramble like mad in the dust just to get thrown a simple pencil from us. They don't even have pencils. I was born for this, it's my duty, to protect those families over there."

Yesterday, Staff Sergeant Rivera came home.

Waterford firefighters stand in formation as the hearse carrying the flag-draped casket of National Guard Staff Sgt. Edwin Rivera passes by on Rope Ferry Road in Waterford on Thursday. Rivera, a Waterford resident, was fatally wounded while serving in Afghanistan. Photo: Dana Jensen/The Day.

Rivera was wounded on May 20, 2010, medevaced to Landstuhl, and then on to Bethesda Naval Medical Center where he died on May 25 as the result of his wounds. Rivera deployed to Afghanistan in early January with the 1st Battalion of the 102nd Infantry Regiment, a Connecticut National Guard unit based in New Haven.

He was loved, and he will always be remembered.

Kiowa Pilot Receives American Legion Valor Award

SERVING AGAIN— Although not piloting a Kiowa, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Patrick Benson is once again serving his country after recovering from wounds he sustained when his helicopter was attacked during a battle in Afghanistan. Benson is serving as the safety security officer for the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Project Office, Program Executive Office for Aviation. Photo and story by Kari Hawkins.

You're going to want to read the entire story about CWO4 Patrick Benson and the day back in September 2009 when, with his unconscious pilot at his side and seriously wounded himself, Benson few his Kiowa helicopter out of a danger zone after successfully defending the MEDEVAC helicopter it was assigned to escort.

Benson and then-Chief Warrant Officer 2 Adam Stead were deployed with the 7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, working with Medevac units from the California, Wyoming and Nevada National Guards. They were assigned to Operation Enduring Freedom and part of Task Force Pale Horse in support of the Regional Command East, Afghanistan.

The Kiowas provided reconnaissance and security for lift assets (Chinooks) and MEDEVACs (Black Hawks). On that day, after completing one security mission, they were re-tasked to another.

“Two Soldiers were hurt and they were going to have to be hoist lifted out.”

In such a procedure, a Black Hawk hovers at about 75 to 100 feet above the ground to drop a one-man hoist to, first, provide a medic to aid and assist the wounded Soldiers, and then to bring each Soldier up into the helicopter.

“The Black Hawk is very exposed during something like this,” Benson said. “There was a lot of radio traffic indicating the enemy was in the area. I was scouting and trying to find what the infantry was telling me about. We were trying to find the enemy before they found us because we wanted to position ourselves between where the enemy was and the Medevac.”

The Medevac picked up one Soldier, repositioned itself and then picked up the second Soldier. About the time the Medevac started to hoist up the medic, Benson’s Kiowa was shot at.

“There was a lot of radio chatter. We were really intent on finding the bad guys,” Benson said, as he and his pilot worked to position themselves to protect the Medevac helicopter.

“There was a loud noise and a concussion. Adam Stead was in the right seat at the controls. I realized I had been hit in the leg. There was a hole in the belly of the aircraft at my feet. Then I saw Adam was unconscious. Our aircraft started to pitch up and turn right. I grabbed the controls and recovered the aircraft. And I descended out of the valley.”

Knowing Stead was still alive, although badly injured, Benson decided to land at the first friendly location – Combat Outpost Able Main in Konar, Afghanistan.

Like I say, you're going to want to read the whole thing.

On May 16, 2010 Benson received his American Legion Valor Award during the 59th annual Valor Award Military Ball hosted by the Aviators’ Post No. 743 of the American Legion, the only post exclusively for military flying officers. Since World War II, the Valor Award has been presented annually to recognize military aviators who performed a feat of courage or bravery during the prior year.

But, as usual with these guys, Benson maintains what he did was nothing special.

“There are a billion stories like this every day,” he said, referring to the Sept. 8 mission. “Every day, there are Americans out there doing this same stuff. There are so many servicemembers doing great things in battle. We are doing what we’re trained to do. Every single day, another American is doing something like what we were doing that day.”

03 June 2010

Landstuhl caregivers discuss stress and honor of job

“You’re safe. You’re out of Iraq. You’re in an American hospital. We’re contacting your family.”

- Maj. Angela Muzzy, Landstuhl ICU Nurse

Landstuhl caregivers discuss the stress - and the honor - of caring for our wounded warriors in this article from Stars & Stripes.

During busy times, the hospital sometimes resembles a scene out of the television show “M*A*S*H,” [Dietician Col Joanne] Slyter said, as gurneys carrying wounded soldiers roll by in every direction and doctors dart in and out of surgery.

The hospital reserve units are made up of mostly nurses, who come from a variety of backgrounds and sometimes are years removed from bedside care, said [Capt. Rogelio] Alonzo, assistant head nurse for the hospital’s medical and surgical ward.

Nurses from large metropolitan hospitals often have little trouble adjusting to the volume of patients and gravity of the injuries that Landstuhl handles daily, Alonzo said. But others find themselves in an environment that is difficult to prepare for, he said.

Alonzo recalls holding the hand of an Army staff sergeant in his 40s who lost sight in both eyes after a makeshift bomb exploded near him in Baghdad last year.

“There is nothing you can say to make him feel better,” Alonzo said. “Sometimes just being there and letting them know that you’re there for them is the best thing.”

Maj. Angela Muzzy, a nurse with the 349th reserve unit who works in the hospital’s intensive care unit, delivers the same basic message to her patients, no matter if they appear coherent or not, she said.

She tells them: “You’re safe. You’re out of Iraq. You’re in an American hospital. We’re contacting your family,” she said.

And when she is not helping soldiers deal with severe injures, she concentrates on dealing with the carnage she sees by praying, traveling on her days off and talking with people trained to help nurses with job-related stress.

“And I spend a lot of money at the PX [post exchange],” Muzzy said with a smile.

Recurring images of burn victims and amputees still remain for Muzzy, a professor of nursing at the University of Arizona. But that was a price she was willing to pay for the “most honorable nursing job I’ve ever had,” she said.

"The epitome of our Ranger medics"

Spc. Jonathan K. Peney. DoD photo.

Marietta ranger killed in Afghanistan hailed as hero
By Mike Morris
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

An Army Ranger from Marietta who was killed in Afghanistan while trying to give medical aid to a fellow soldier is being hailed as a hero for his actions.

Spc. Jonathan K. Peney, 22, died Tuesday in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when he was shot by enemy forces. He was killed while moving under heavy fire to provide aid to a wounded Ranger, the Defense Department said.

Peney was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia, according to the Department of Defense.

Peney, who enlisted in the Army in 2005, had served as a combat medic for more than two years. He was on his fourth deployment to Afghanistan.

"Spc. Peney was the epitome of our Ranger medics -- warrior first, expert in advanced medical treatment, and selflessly dedicated to the care of others," Col. Michael E. Kurilla, commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment, said in a statement released by the Army.

"Spc. Peney did not hesitate to move under heavy fire to the care of another wounded Ranger," Kurilla said. "He is a hero to our nation, the 75th Ranger Regiment and his family."

The soldier had previously received numerous medals, including the Army Commendation Medal, and was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal and Meritorious Service Medal.

Peney, who had been married for less than a year, is survived by his wife, Kristen E. Peney of Savannah and his mother, Sue L. Peney of LaGrange.

Godspeed, SPC Peney. RLTW!

01 June 2010

WTC Beam Unveiled at Bagram Air Field

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti (left), commander of the Combined Joint Task Force 82, and U.S. Army Command Sgt. Major Thomas R. Capel, CJTF-82 command sergeant major, unveil an I-beam from the World Trade Center in New York that was attacked, Sept. 11, 2001. The unveiling was part of Memorial Day celebration and remembrance at Bagram Airfield, May 31. The beam was donated by the Sons and Daughters of America of Breezy Point, N.Y. and will be on display at Bagram Airfield until the U.S. mission is complete in Afghanistan, the beam will then be moved to the 82nd Airborne Division museum at Fort Bragg, N.C. Two other I-beams have been donated to the U.S. military and are on display in the Infantry Museum, Fort Benning, Ga., and on the USS Nimitz, which is a Navy aircraft carrier. Photo: Spc. Jason Venturini.

Meanwhile, in New York City, the WTC Run...

Approximately 400 Marines, Sailors, Coast Guardsmen, New York police and firefighters ran through downtown Manhattan, June 1, in honor of the victims of 9/11 and America's fallen heros. More than 3,000 Marines, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen are in the area participating in community outreach events and equipment demonstrations, May 26 - June 2. This is the 26th year New York City has hosted the sea services for Fleet Week. Photo: Cpl. Patrick Evenson.

Soldiers' Angels SAVE (Support a Vet's Employment) and Pepsi Refresh

Soldiers' Angels is competing for a $50,000 grant to be awarded by Pepsi Cola, Inc, as part of its Refresh Everything project. Winners of this competition are determined by the number of votes received at Pepsi’s Refresh Everything web site.

We are asking for your vote today and every day during the month of June.

To vote, click here.

You will be asked to register the first time you visit the site, but nothing else is required.

Soldiers' Angels "Hire a Hero" Overview

The opening of our center allows us to reduce costs significantly and implement our newest program SAVE (Support A Veteran’s Employment). The Soldiers’ Angels Center is staffed with veterans transitioning out of military service and back into civilian employment. The Soldiers’ Angels Center is much more than just a warehouse facility. It is also home to our “Salute to Heroes and Angels Exhibit” which displays items from our men and women who serve combined with the very best examples of volunteerism in America. The Center also houses a music therapy room for our wounded warriors. Being able to provide all our services quickly and efficiently and hire heroes in need of jobs is a winning combination!

How will the $50k be Used?

$ 30,000 Salary for 1 year for to hire a veteran
$ 10,000 Music Therapy program at SA Center for wounded
$ 10,000 Museum Operations

Start spreading the news to your friends & family and ask them to vote. There's no time to lose, voting ends June 30th, 2010. Thank you!

Two-man "advance team" on a mission

Spcs. Joseph Wagner (left), contracting officer representative assistant, and Daniel Booles, contracting officer representative, are attached to the Regional Support Team-North at Camp Mike Spann, and are responsible for overseeing mission-essential construction endeavors at combat outposts across northern Afghanistan that support the Afghan National Security Forces in their efforts to defeat the insurgents and secure the population.

Awesome story about two young guys who regularly get dropped off in the middle of nowhere for weeks at a time to coordinate construction of new Afghan and coalition army outposts.

Living at a remote Afghan national army outpost in northern Afghanistan, two U.S. Army soldiers operate autonomously to ensure construction projects for ANA and coalition soldiers are completed correctly and on time.

Contracts to build and expand ANA combat outposts are regularly monitored by COR team members to ensure that supplies used to sustain forces are received and correct construction materials are delivered on time. The pair serves as the RST's eyes and ears on the ground, a critical task that comes fully equipped with its fair share of unique obstacles and challenges.

"Being dropped off at a Forward Operating Base without a vehicle, interpreter, and limited supplies definitely made our mission a challenge," said Spc. Daniel Booles, a Fort Worth, Texas, native assigned to the 10th Mountain 1st Brigade 2-22 Infantry Delta Company from Fort Drum, N.Y. "Making sure equipment and supplies made it to the right locations by the contractors was an interesting experience."

Ensuring the timely delivery of materials by local contractors sometimes requires eliciting the assistance of international partners in the region while they dually work to organize logistical support from other U.S. units operating in the area.

"We had to coordinate with the Germans as well as the ANA to ensure delivery to Bashir Khan," said Spc. Joseph Wagner, a Crittenden, Ky., native also assigned to 10th Mountain 1st Brigade 2-22 Infantry Delta Company from Fort Drum, N.Y. "I'm glad we were able to get everything done and I am ready for the next mission."

Despite the remote location and austere conditions, the modest pair managed to ensure the completion of the combat outpost at Puza-i-esan, a critical project that directly contributed to bringing stability to an area that once served as a safe haven for insurgents.

Letters for Lyrics on FOX News

Patti Patton-Bader and Toby Nunn talk about the "Letters for Lyrics" campaign to send 1 million letters to deployed troops. Soldiers' Angels has teamed up with Ram Trucks and the Zac Brown Band for "one of the greatest collaborative troop support outreach projects in the history of the global war on terror."