31 August 2010

Increase in wounded airlifted to Landstuhl at levels unseen since the 2004 battles of Falluja

Marine Cpl. Corey Griggs, wounded by shrapnel during a patrol in Afghanistan's Helmand province, was airlifted to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he is being treated. (Tony Perry / Los Angeles Times)

From an LA Times article about Landstuhl Regional Medical Center:

As darkness settled on a recent Saturday over the desert village of Sangin, someone threw a bomb over a mud wall at Griggs and his squad. The blast shattered his right forearm and embedded jagged shrapnel in his left.

After emergency surgery at a military outpost, Griggs, who is also being monitored for possible brain injuries, was placed aboard a specially outfitted cargo plane airlifting him to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center next to the U.S. air base at Ramstein, Germany.

Since 2004, nearly 13,000 U.S. service personnel wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq have been evacuated to Landstuhl, the largest American-run medical facility outside the U.S.

Some of the wounded are patched up and sent back to frontline duty. Many others are taken to the U.S. for advanced treatment at military hospitals in Washington, D.C.; Bethesda, Md.; San Antonio; or San Diego.

And here are the sobering statistics.

As the U.S. troop buildup in Afghanistan continues, Landstuhl is experiencing an increase in wounded patients to levels unseen since the 2004 battles in the Iraqi city of Fallouja.

The complexity and severity of wounds are also increasing, said Army Col. John M. Cho, a chest surgeon who is the hospital's commander. On a medical rating scale, the number of patients above a level considered extremely critical has increased 190% in the last two months, he said.

Please see this page if you would like to help support the Soldiers' Angels mission at Landstuhl. Our most-needed items are listed at the top.

And, as always, please keep our warriors and their families in your thoughts and prayers.

28 August 2010

Pakistan Disaster Relief

U.S. Air Force members assigned to the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing fly Halal meals to Pakistan as part of a humanitarian relief mission to assist more than 50,000 people July 31, 2010. Halal meals are prepared according Islamic tradition. Floods in the region have displaced hundreds of thousands and killed hundreds. The aircrew is a part of an Air National Guard Unit deployed from Peoria, Ill. Photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Boitz, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing.

In a show of appreciation, a local Pakistani man offers fruit juice and cookies to Marines from HMM-165E Reinforced, 15th Marine Expedtionary Unit during humanitarian relief efforts in the Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa Province Pakistan, Pakistan (formerly known as the Northwest Frontier province, Pakistan). Photo: Capt. Paul Duncan, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit Public Affairs.

Life in Iraq: Despite new mission name, the battle isn't over

"It's kind of a slap in the face to see on the news that all combat troops are out. We're infantry guys, and that's just a name change. It means nothing."

- Soldier with the 25th ID in Iraq

Thoughtful article by Leila Fadel of the Washington Post about the Soldiers of Charlie Company, 1-21 Infantry Battalion, 25th Infantry Division, who arrived in Iraq in early July.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARHORSE, IRAQ - Col. Malcolm Frost knew there would be questions. The official end to the U.S. combat mission in Iraq was approaching, but his soldiers, operating in two of Iraq's most dangerous provinces, would still be here.

He sat down and penned a letter to the soldiers' families. "01 Sept. 2010 does not mean a light switched on or off in Iraq," the brigade commander wrote. ". . . The weight of responsibility upon our shoulders is great, because we must follow through to the very finish."

For the soldiers in Frost's brigade, Sept. 1 will mark an arbitrary milestone. There are fewer troops here, just under 50,000 now, consistent with an Obama administration pledge, and the troops leave base less often. But Americans still die in Iraq, and the fight for stability is far from over.

Iraq remains a battleground, American soldiers say, even if they are no longer kicking down Iraqi doors.

Instead of carrying out combat missions, Frost's unit has been designated an "advise and assist" brigade, like five other American brigades left behind in Iraq. Its task is to train Iraqi security forces, gather intelligence, assist Iraq's fledgling air force, and, ultimately, close up shop and go home. The lower-profile approach under Operation New Dawn is the latest step in a transition that began more than a year ago when American soldiers were pulled back from Iraq's urban centers and for the most part retreated into their bases.

But less than two months into the unit's deployment, two of Frost's men have already been killed. The mission still involves risks as the soldiers escort commanders and trainers to appointments with Iraqi officials. Around them, assassinations and violence seem to be on the rise, although at drastically lower levels than during the darkest days of Iraq's civil war, between 2005 and 2007.

Last week, as news reports in the United States hailed the departure from Iraq of the last designated combat brigade, family members eagerly called their loved ones here, asking whether they too were headed home. No, the soldiers told wives, mothers, fathers and grandmothers. They have more than 300 days left in Iraq.

The day after other troops celebrated their exit from Iraq, soldiers at FOB Warhorse mourned the passing of Sgt. Jamal Rhett, a young medic killed on Aug. 15. A grenade was lobbed into his vehicle as he and his platoon left federal police headquarters in Baqubah, northeast of Baghdad. They were escorting a police training team.

Despite their new title, soldiers know that the battle is not over, not for them and not for Iraq. The names of Rhett and 1st Lt. Michael L. Runyan, both from the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, were added to a memorial of the fallen that spans at least five concrete blast walls at the base.

At the trailers where the Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment lives, Staff Sgt. Gilbert Ayala, 28, limped to the showers. Shrapnel ripped into his side and legs about two weeks ago, when Rhett was killed.

Ayala said it doesn't matter to him what the mission is called. This is his third deployment, and he has been wounded and lost friends before. But this wound was the deepest, this loss the hardest.

"I find new holes in me every day," Ayala said. He scoffed at the idea that the war was over. "It can't be, because things like this are still going down. Boom, and my friend is gone, right in front of me."

There's much more at the link, and it's worth your time to read - and to remember that our guys there are still in harm's way.

Letters for Lyrics Campaign - writing a letter to a deployed service member just got easier!

The Letters for Lyrics campaign from the Zac Brown Band, Ram Trucks, and Soldiers' Angels has already generated over 300,000 letters of thanks and encouragement for our deployed troops. Until now, the letters were written at Zac Brown Band concerts and at Dodge or Ram Truck Dealers. In exchange, each letter writer received a free Zac Brown Band CD.

Now you can write your letter using the widget above. You can also see what others have written and watch some great footage of the Zac Brown Band in Iraq. You can even select to send your free CD to a service member. The goal is one million letters, so write your note today and then spread the word!

25 August 2010

Afghan War Stories a 'Ratings Downer'

What has become of us?

CBS' Afghanistan trip unrewarded, a ratings downer

The Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Katie Couric and the "CBS Evening News" team did some striking work during a two-day trip to Afghanistan last week, only to see some record-setting low ratings in return.

The Nielsen Co. ratings have to be discouraging to news organizations contemplating expensive assignments in a tough economy. The broadcast's executive producer, Rick Kaplan, said he made "no apologies" for traveling to the war zone because of the importance of the story.

The CBS newscast averaged 4.89 million viewers last week, the lowest for evening newscasts in the nearly 20 years in which compatible Nielsen Co. records exist and most likely the lowest for at least a couple of decades before that into the early days of television. CBS also dipped below 5 million for one week in late July, during the normally slow summer months.

For the Thursday telecast that started the trip, the CBS newscast was seen by 4.69 million people, Nielsen said. Friday's show dipped to 4.38 million.

The broadcasts featured war zone interviews by Couric of the U.S. Afghan commander, Gen. David Petraeus.

Correspondent Terry McCarthy did a story about a U.S. Marine team in charge of locating and defusing bombs, and of the three men he featured one was killed and the others were seriously wounded in an explosion.

Couric's final essay was about what might happen to women if the Taliban regain control of Afghanistan. She asked: "Will the nations of the world allow the newfound rights of girls and women to become a casualty of a brokered peace?"

For those who are interested, here's Terry McCarthy's story about that Marines EOD Team.

Cpl. Kristopher "Daniel" Greer, of Ashland City, TN died August 8 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center of the wounds he sustained on August 6. Sgt. Johnny Jones and Staff Sgt. Eric Chir are fighting their way to recovery.

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."

- Ronald Reagan

"We will not cower, we will not retreat, we will not blame in bitterness, and WE WILL REMEMBER"

Robert Stokely on the fifth anniversary of his final reunion with his fallen son and our Hero, SGT Mike Stokely.

An air cargo hanger five years ago....

The hour of 1700 24 Aug eastern daylight time has now come and gone, and all afternoon I watched the clock as I worked. It has now been five years since I stood in an open doorway at an air cargo hanger for US Airways at Atlanta Hartsfield Airport and watched as an Escort Sergeant and the Casualty Assistance Officer uncrated Mike's Casket and drape the American Flag over him, neatly cornering it out and not accepting anything less than perfection.

I stood there, large tears dripping down my cheeks onto my coat, tie and dress shirt, trying to give a proper salute to Mike, an untrained civilian whose hand trembled against my forehead, my chest aching pain of a grieving heart. An office full of workers whose day was like any other suddenly realized what was happening and froze and stared. They were to say the least, aghast having been caught by surprise at the moment. As the Escort Sergeant and CAO satisfied themselves Mike's Flag was properly draped, they turned and looked at me, nodding with approval and I released my salute as they slid his Flag Draped Casket into the waiting hearse. I walked outside needing fresh air, but more importantly to call my wife Retta, as I had come alone. As she answered the phone I simply said "Our Boy is Home" and then the tears became a sob in unison as she sobbed from the other end. After a few moments I got in the hearse and rode the 30 plus miles to the funeral home, where Mike's mom and other dad were waiting and he would stay overnight, unannounced so the community could be given notice the next day and have their desired opportunity to welcome Mike home. It was the best we could do with just a two hour call block he was coming in.

Mike's Flag Draped Casket was just inches over my shoulder as we traveled many of the same roads he and I traveled over the years as I went back and forth with him on weekend, holiday and summer visitation trips between his mom's home and my home. Many moments of remembering, whether singing a goofy song, yelling up at our favorite local traffic copter announcer (Scott Slade who Mike called Scott Wade as a little boy), eating at a Burger King with a playground, visiting a game ranch where Mike once had to rescue his younger brother Wes from a somewhat aggressive small deer. Every mile was a memory, and yet another moment for a broken heart to ache even more.

It was a long ride but not nearly long enough, and over too soon and then, it was time to share him with others.... It was my Last Ride to Take My Boy Home. It is burned in my memory as vividly as scenes on film captured on DVD. As I go monthly or more often to tend Mike's grave and visit him I travel by Hartsfield just eyeball distance from that Air Cargo Hanger on a monthly basis, sometimes more often, as well as many of the same highways we traveled that moment in time five years ago. I never fail to look over going and coming and feel that moment and remember my first glimpse of my Boy's Flag Draped Casket, and I never want to forget the pain, for to hurt deep you had to love deep.

People ask me about Mike, how I am doing, and sometimes how I cope and I like that, for it means they Remember Him. I tell them I will die with a broken heart, but I choose to live with as much joy as possible, for God gives us life, and my Boy would want me to go on and live as full and happy a life as possible. I owe it to God and my Boy and it is the least I can. And in a selfish way, it is my sticking it back to those who killed Mike, my way of taunting them and saying you hurt us bad but you failed to take us all out and we will now stand up and we will not cower, we will not retreat, we will not blame in bitterness and WE WILL REMEMBER MIKE WITH HONOR.

I openly say that those who killed Mike and would rob our country of freedom would have been better off to have left him alone, for they awoke an entire family, community and many new friends around the world. Those who killed Mike failed, and he won. Mike and our family are not the only ones they failed with, for the Families of the Fallen in the War on Terror, even though knocked to their knees, as a whole, rose again to stand as tall as they might, joined by millions of supporters at home and hundreds of thousands of fellow soldiers and their families who stayed engaged, some many deployments over, even knowing what could happen.

Cut and Run was not a strategy, option or path to victory. Duty, Honor, Country, and might I now add Sacrifice, was! When others called to leave, those who really counted said no, I will go, some again and again, and many more gave their lives, while others had their lives altered in many ways. One in particular is SFC Mark Allen who served with Mike. Upon his redeployment from Iraq in 2006, he had a safe full time job at the State level with the Georgia Army National Guard. In mid 2008, when he got wind that a lot of his Iraq battle buddies, now with Bravo 2/121 of the 48th GAARNG were likely going to get orders in the coming year to deploy to Afghanistan, he demanded his way out of the safe job and into Bravo 2/121. I shall never forget on the 3rd anniversary gathering at Mike's grave, Mark and his wife came as they had the previous two years, and brought their one month old daughter and stood in the hot evening sun. He told me of his plans and hope to have orders to join Bravo 2/121 in a month or so. I was the unit's Family Readiness Chairperson and a month later at the Armory, which is near my work, in he pops and says its official "I'm here."

Mark and his wife weren't with us at the fourth anniversary gathering, and a few days before I visited them at Bethesda where Mark lay in a coma from a serious gunshot wound and brain injury sustained in a fierce firefight where his squad encountered overwhelming enemy forces and fire on July 8, 2009, just a month into his Afghan deployment. I looked at Mark's wife as she cooed to him and stroked his arm telling him I was there. I choked back tears and mumbled "You all have to be the bravest folks I know because you saw up close and personal what happened to us, yet you went again." Mark Allen has only recently began to make the first simple steps of cognitive recognition, but they are steps that the odds didn't support were possible. And you know what, if he could get out of the bed, he would go again.

And there are so many more like the Allens. There are more of the Allens than the "others" who want to slurp at the fountain of freedom but who don't want to do any lifting, much less the heavy lifting, and when it gets tough are the first to call for cut and run. It is because of those like the Allens that we will endure, we will prevail and we will live free.

And it is because of those like the Allens, the Chuck Zs, Greyhawks, Blackfive, Thunderrun, They have Names, Patti Patton-Bader and her entire SA organization too many to mention, as well as so many others that space and time can not measure, that my broken heart can rest gently on their support and endure with assurance that what Mike did mattered and what he gave will be Remembered with Honor. And I have to think thus it is so for the many like me. What a blessing to live among such great people in such a great country.


Robert Stokely
proud dad SGT Mike Stokely, Bronze Star and Purple Heart
KIA 16 AUG 05 near Yusufiyah Iraq
US Army E 108 CAV 48th BCT GAARNG

23 August 2010

Maine Run for the Fallen

Yesterday the annual Maine Run for The Fallen took place. The event, supported by the Warrior Legacy Foundation, honors the Heroes from Maine who have lost their lives during the current Iraq/Afghanistan wars.

This year, there were a couple of very special surprise guests.

Gearing up for the 5th Annual Blankets of Hope Marathon in Bowie, MD

The annual "Marathon" was created by Soldiers' Angels Lisa Dodson and Matt Dick of Bowie, MD who are now well underway with preparations for the 2010 Marathon. Mark your calendar if you're in the area, because you won't want to miss this terrific event! If you cannot attend, there are others ways to help - contact information can be found below.

The 2009 Blankets of Hope Marathon in Bowie, MD. Last year 200 volunteers made about 350 fleece blankets for wounded and ill service members medevaced from Iraq and Afghanistan to Landstuhl hospital in Germany.

Calling all Angels!

5th Annual Blankets of Hope Marathon

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ascension Catholic Church
12700 Lanham-Severn Road
Bowie, MD

8 Hour Marathon
8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
(or until we run out of fleece!)

Drop in anytime and stay as long as you like!

Angels of ALL ages are needed - boys, girls, teens, adults, seniors, scouts, everyone! Blankets are needed for our wounded soldiers. If you can tie a knot, you can make a Blanket of Hope. Volunteers will be on hand to show you what to do.

What is a Blanket of Hope?
A “Blanket of Hope” is simply that - a blanket created from love to provide hope and comfort to a wounded hero during one of the most difficult and vulnerable times of their lives. These Blankets of Hope are sent to Combat Support Hospitals in the Middle East, major medical facilities in Germany and around the world, and to some military hospitals here at home. It is a powerful thing for a wounded hero to know that someone cares.

Please bring the following supplies:
1. Material: 2 pieces of Fleece - MUST be 45"- 62" wide x 60"- 80" long. Bright colors are good, but patriotic colors and patterns work well. The front panel should be a pattern and the back panel a solid.
2. Ruler
3. Pair of Scissors (please label with your name).

If you would like to make a blanket but aren't available that day, here’s what you can do: Contact us for "How to" instructions. Complete your Blanket of Hope at home and then deliver it to Bates Hall the day of our Blanket Marathon or to the Parish Office by September 24th, 2010.

For more information, to request "how to" instructions, to let us know you are coming, or to make a donation (either monetary or fleece), please contact:

Lisa Dodson @ 301-805-1085 or lisa.dodson@verizon.net, Matt Dick @ mattdi1022@gmail.com, Valerie Potter @ 410-562-9480 (vpotter3@verizon.net), Maureen Barber @ 301-928-0603 (maureen167@msn.com)

Event organizers Lisa Dodson, Maureen Barber, and Valerie Potter.

More photos of last year's Marathon can be seen here.

Medical Airmen inspired by their patients

U.S. Air Force Aeromedical Evacuation Technicians Senior Master Sgt. Tony Staut, (right) and Senior Airman Nicole Caldwell, 332nd Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight, prepare supplies for a mission out of Joint Base Balad, Iraq, July 17. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andy Kin.

Medical Crews with the Air Force's 332nd Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight talk about their job:

JOINT BASE BALAD - Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines – too many to remember all of their names. But each service member to pass through the medical evacuation area here plants footprints in the memories of the medical crews, while some leave a little piece of their spirit and legend behind.

Those few are the inspirational, the proud and the patriotic – the ones the U.S. Air Force’s 332nd Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight remember as they transport patients from forward operating bases through Joint Base Balad and, finally, to a medical facility outside of Iraq.

Though she has been a nurse in other capacities – working in neonatal, recovery rooms, intensive care units and emergency rooms – for many decades, Maj. Marty Maddox, 332nd EAEF flight nurse, is relatively new to the aeromedical evacuation mission, having only two years experience as a flight nurse. Before arriving at JBB for her current deployment, Maddox’s first deployment experience as a flight nurse was a short stint transporting patients out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

A reservist deployed from the 36th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, N.C., Maddox and her medical crew transported some patients through Germany before taking them back to the U.S. for advanced medical care.

While flying from Germany to the U.S. with 57 patients during her first deployment, Maddox and the rest of the crew were able to chat with their patients throughout the long flight.

The medical crew really got to know the patients – where they came from and what they did, she said. One patient in particular, a 23-year-old Soldier, helped the major see that being a flight nurse was her calling.

The patient had already lost one leg, and “they were trying to save his other leg. He was missing some of [his] fingers, and we were trying to save his thumb,” Maddox said. “He was just the bravest young Army Soldier.”

The Soldier’s mother flew to Germany for her son then managed to get on the flight with him back to the U.S.

“We got to know him; we got to know his mom... He cried, I cried, his mom cried,” Maddox recalled. “That really got to me. That’s when I knew I had gotten into the right line of work - that being a flight nurse was truly going to be something I wanted it to be because we’re doing something good. Because we’re getting these Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines back home.

“I will never forget him,” she said of the Soldier she saw that day.

There's much more at the link.

22 August 2010

The Yellow Bowl Bakery Returns!

Last week we once again we had the pleasure of welcoming Katy Gunderson and Molly Greenwood of the Yellow Bowl Bakery in Lafayette, Indiana to Germany. They spent a very busy week shopping, prepping, and cooking at both the Landstuhl Fisher House and the USO Warrior Center.

Not only that, in their "spare" time Katy, Molly, and Tom Amenta of Ranger Up participated in our routine SA Germany volunteer activities like unpacking and sorting donations, stocking dnations shelves, making deliveries to the hospital, and visiting patients on behalf of their families.

Tom Amenta of Ranger Up learns the fine art of cupcake piping at the Landstuhl Fisher House. He was a good sport and did a great job! Thanks to Tommy and the guys of Ranger Up for donating some of our favorite Ranger Up t-shirt creations for the patients and SA Germany volunteers!

Even I was enlisted to help with the piping. It's not as easy as it looks!

Some of the finished products - Katy and Molly baked literally hundreds of cupcakes during the week. And they were YUMMY!!!

At the USO Warrior Center we prepared spaghetti and chicken & rice casserole to go with the deserts. As always, we delivered some treats to the hospital staff working that night.

I guess that's one way to eat a cupcake!!

Molly and Katy with some of their creations at the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl hospital.

Thank you so much for coming over and brightening the day for our Wounded Warriors and the Fisher House families at Landstuhl! It's not easy for a small business owner to take time off, not to mention the planning and fund raising activities ahead of the event. We appreciate your initiative, thoughtfulness, and your efforts. It was great to see you again and we hope you'll be back soon!

21 August 2010

Last US Combat Brigade Leaves Iraq, Part 2

From yesterday's Wall Street Journal Opinion page.

Victory in Iraq

American arms created a republic, if Iraqis can keep it.

When the men and women of Fourth Brigade, Second Infantry Division deployed to Iraq in April 2007 as part of President Bush's surge, American soldiers were being killed or wounded at a rate of about 750 a month, the country was falling to sectarian mayhem, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had declared that the war was "lost."

On Wednesday, the "Raiders" became the last combat brigade to leave Iraq, having helped to defeat an insurgency, secure a democracy and uphold the honor of American arms.

The classic lament about the war in Iraq is that it achieved little at a huge cost in American lives, treasure and reputation. That view rests on a kind of amnesia about the nature of Saddam Hussein's regime, his 12-year defiance of binding U.N. resolutions, the threat he posed to its neighbors, the belief—shared by the Clinton and Bush Administrations and intelligence services world-wide—that he was armed with weapons of mass destruction, the complete corruption of the U.N. sanctions regime designed to contain him, and the fact that he intended to restart his WMD programs once the sanctions had collapsed.

Those were the realities when the coalition marched into Iraq. In supporting the war on the eve of that invasion, we noted that "the law of unintended consequences hasn't been repealed" and that "toppling Saddam is a long-term undertaking," while warning that "liberal pundits and politicians are fickle interventionists" who were "apt to run for moral cover" when the going got tough. As they did.

Their opposition might well have led to defeat had not Mr. Bush defied Congress and the recommendations of his own Iraq Study Group in favor of the 2007 surge, which history will likely recall as Mr. Bush's finest hour. To his credit, President Obama has also delivered on the "responsible withdrawal" he promised in his campaign.

This admirable American effort has now given Iraqis the opportunity to govern themselves democratically. We supported the Iraq invasion primarily for reasons of U.S. national security. But a successful war also held the promise that it could create, in a major Arab state, a model for governance that would result in something better than the secular or religious dictatorships that have so often bred brutality and radicalism—which has increasingly reached our own shores. The fact that Iraq has a functioning judiciary, and that Iraqi voters have rejected their most sectarian parties at the polls, is cause for hope that the country is moving in that direction.

This is true despite the five months of political stalemate that have gripped the country since March's parliamentary elections resulted in an effective tie between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his principal challenger Ayad Allawi. Political gridlock is frustrating, but it is sometimes a function of democratic politics. We will soon learn if Iraqi politicians can meet the responsibilities of the democratic moment that American and British blood and treasure have given them.

They will have to do so despite the continuing spoiler role played by Iraq's neighbors—Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran—who fear a democratic, or Shiite-led, state in their midst. The withdrawal of U.S. combat forces will only increase their ambition to create more trouble.

That makes the mission of the 50,000 U.S. troops that will remain as trainers, advisers and special-ops forces until the end of 2011 all the more crucial. It should also provide incentive for Washington and Baghdad to negotiate a more permanent U.S. military presence, both as a balancing force within the country and especially as a hedge against Iran. Having sacrificed so much for Iraq's freedom, the U.S. should attempt to reap the shared strategic benefits of a longer-term alliance, as we did after World War II with Japan and Germany.

On the eve of war in 2003, we wrote: "About one thing we have no doubt: the courage of the Americans who will fight in our defense." Along with all of their comrades in arms, the men and women of Fourth Brigade, Second Infantry have fully vindicated that conviction. Somewhere down the road, we trust that August 18, 2010 will be remembered as Victory in Iraq day.

20 August 2010

The 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal

Now that I've recovered somewhat from the shock of all this, I thought I'd finally do a post and share some personal photos. Having been informed a just a little over two weeks before the ceremony that I'd been selected, I didn't have much time to get used to the idea.

Before I knew it, I was here.

All of us recipients were picked up at our hotel and brought into this beautiful room in the East Wing of the White House upon arrival. At first we stood around and talked (it was great getting to know everyone!)... but then when we wanted to rest our feet we were afraid to use the furniture. Fortunately someone finally got up the nerve to ask if we could sit down.

What a view!

I took this photo during the rehearsal for the ceremony.

Me and my friend, the Senior Army Aide to the President, who read the citations. He knew it was called "Landstuhl Regional Medical Center" and not "Landstuhl Air Base", which was originally in the script. Good man. RLTW!

After the rehearsal we requested a pit stop. Here we are in the room leading into the room that leads into the ladies' room taking pictures of each other taking pictures :-)

When we came back upstairs, the foyer was being prepared for the guests - complete with a Marine Corps string quartette. My mother thought they were from the Salvation Army :-/

Another beautiful room. At one point the door to the foyer opened and some of the recipients noticed their family members had arrived. Chaos ensued, with the awardees going out or bringing family members in. As the President was expected to come in and meet us any minute, the room needed to be secure with all of us in it. The poor military aides deserve a lot of credit for making order out of anarchy - getting us to follow the rules must have been like herding cats.

Another anarchy moment: My sister took this photo in the East Room before the ceremony started and long after photos were prohibited. It was a small and intimate ceremony including the President, the recipients and their families, a few Senators, and the press. Just perfect.

The entire family together with "my" two senators from Wyoming, John Barrasso and Mike Enzi. Meeting them was one of the highlights of the day. I very much appreciated them taking the time to attend the ceremony and to chat with us. Senator Barrasso actually took my Mom for a little spin right there in front of the stage so she could say she'd danced in the White House! They are good people and great Americans, and we're lucky to have them working for us in DC.

Here I am with my very proud parents.

It was an incredibly exciting day and a once in a lifetime experience to spend the afternoon in our beautiful White House with its rich and proud history. It was tremendous honor for me to accept the Citizens Medal on behalf of ALL of us at Soldiers' Angels.

The award is a wonderful acknowledgement of the volunteer work carried out by many thousands of Angels over the years who have been and continue to send care packages to our deployed troops, make blankets for our Wounded Warriors, write condolence letters to the families of our Fallen Heroes, visit our VAs, send donations, and many, many other activities that embody the motto of Soldiers' Angels: "May No Soldier Go Unloved". It was an honor and a privilege for me to accept the Citizens Medal on behalf of our founder, Ms. Patti Patton-Bader, and all of my fellow Angels and our donors.

Last, but not least, I am deeply grateful for the thoughtfulness and effort of those who nominated me for the award. You know who you are. Thank you.

19 August 2010

7 Special Forces Soldiers Awarded Silver Stars for Afghan Valor

Seven Special Forces Soldiers received public recognition for their actions during a Silver Star ceremony at Fort Bragg, North Carolina on Monday.

From CNN:

The medals - the third-highest award for valor in the Army - are being awarded for five separate battles over a span of more than two years.

Sgt. 1st Class Antonio Gonzalez and Sgt. 1st Class Mark Roland were part of Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha (SFODA) 732.

On June 11, 2007, their unit was sent to help a group of Afghan soldiers who had been pinned down by an enemy attack. When the unit arrived, they and their fellow soldiers were immediately enveloped in the same ambush by a much larger enemy force.

Even though the enemy was firing from just 10 feet, Roland immediately climbed out of the relative safety of his armored vehicle and started attacking enemy fighters in a nearby wadi, or dry streambed.

He and his fellow soldiers killed two of the enemy and cleared the rest of the wadi of enemy attackers, all while under fire from snipers. Their actions meant the enemy was no longer a threat to his unit's rear flank.

About the same time, Gonzalez saw that four Afghan soldiers were pinned down by enemy fire. He jumped out of his vehicle and ran nearly 40 yards through enemy fire.

"Without regard for his life," the Army account read, "over the course of three trips through enemy fire, he rescued all four soldiers and brought them back to the safety of his armored vehicle." He did it all while under fire from enemy sniper and machine gun fire.

After clearing the wadi and getting back in his vehicle, Roland saw eight Afghan soldiers who were pinned down by enemy machine gun fire. He got out of his vehicle, ran through enemy fire and moved four of the Afghan soldiers back to his vehicle and directed the other four to another armored vehicle.

All told, the actions of Roland and Gonzalez - both of whom had already received the Bronze Star for past battle - and their fellow soldiers defeated the ambush and led to the death of 60 enemy fighters including two Taliban commanders, according to the Army.

Staff Sgts. Mario Pinilla and Daniel Gould also had Bronze Star medals to their name, and Gould had also received the Silver Star for past heroics. They were both serving with Special Operational Detachment Alpha 7134 near Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan.

The two were checking reports of Taliban movements near the village of Faramuz when they were ambushed near a river. Pinilla saw one of his fellow soldiers pinned down by enemy fire and already shot twice. Pinilla grabbed a large machine gun, ran through enemy fire, shooting back the entire time, then dived to the ground to block the enemy fire from his wounded colleague, according to the Army

During a 10-minute firefight, he was shot twice. Eventually, more soldiers showed up to help Pinilla and the other wounded man. The Army account says even though he was wounded, Pinilla didn't stop fighting.

"While his fellow detachment members fought to get to him back to safety, Sergeant Pinilla drew his 9mm Beretta and continued engaging the enemy's ambush line, despite being critically injured," the account reads.

Gould also put his life on the line to save a fellow soldier.

When the Taliban ambushed the unit, he got into an intense half-hour gun battle with the enemy. His helmet was shot off his head, and he was hit once in his body armor.

During the fight, he saw one of his teammates, who was much closer to the enemy, get shot and critically wounded. According to the Army, he used a large machine gun to neutralize the enemy that was the greatest threat to the wounded man, giving a medic a chance to go help the soldier. Then, knowing then man need to be evacuated, Gould joined the medic first in dragging the wounded soldier through nearly 50 yards of enemy fire, and then carrying the wounded man the last 40 yards on his shoulders until they all reached safety.

An enemy unit ambushed Master Sgt. Julio Bocanegra's convoy on August 26, 2008. During the attack in Paktika province, Bocanegra noticed that a group of four Afghan national policemen were pinned down by the enemy, their pickup truck blocking the route for the rest of the unit. According to the Army, Bocanegra jumped out of his vehicle and ran through a hail of fire to reach the Afghan police, all but one of whom was wounded. The Army account spells out how he helped get them to safety.

"Sergeant Bocanegra then disregarded the enemy fire and picked up one of the wounded and placed him into the vehicle which [was] continuing to receive effective fire. Continuing to ignore the danger to his life, Sergeant Bocanegra then picked up a second policeman with multiple gunshot wounds to both legs and placed him into the vehicle," the account said.

Bocanegra, with the help of the one policeman who had not been shot, got the third wounded officer into the Afghan police pickup truck and moved them all to safety. All three Afghan police officers and three soldiers who had been wounded in the fight survived their injuries.

Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Clouse, an Army veteran, was working with a Marine special operations unit and was walking along a boulder-strewn path when one of his teammates was badly wounded. He immediately provided medical attention to that man. Then, according to the Army, another teammate was wounded.

"SFC Clouse ran through the kill zone to render further medical attention under head machine gun fire that struck the back of his body armor," according to the Army summary of the battle. The second man's life couldn't be saved.

The summary says Clouse continued providing advanced combat first aid amid intense enemy fire.

"Reacting to the calls for assistance from other wounded, SFC Clouse again ran through the kill zone to provide medical assistance," according to the report.

One enemy sniper bullet destroyed Clouse's weapon, but he kept on. All told, Clouse provided medical assistance to four American wounded and one Afghan soldier who'd been wounded in the attack and helped moved them to safety.

Sgt. 1st Class David Nunez was in a convoy of U.S. Special Forces and Afghan national army soldiers traveling through the village of Shewan in Ferah province on May 29, 2008.

As many as 60 insurgents attacked the convoy, disabling Nunez's vehicle with a rocket-propelled grenade. The vehicle started burning, and Nunez was worried that other soldiers were still in the vehicle, according to the Army.

"Without regard for his own life, [Nunez] began to discard ammunition and explosives from the rear of the vehicle in order to ensure others were not injured. During this entire period of time, SFC Nunez was engulfed in flames. Ignoring his wounds and the intense concentration of enemy fire, he continued to assist the convoy pinned in the kill zone until he eventually succumbed to his injuries," the battle account reads.

Nunez's obituary noted that he had already received a Bronze Star, an Army commendation medal and numerous other decorations.

After Monday's ceremony at Fort Bragg, his record will be upgraded to include the Silver Star for "his bravery in keeping with the finest traditions of military heroism and reflect distinct credit upon himself, this command and the United States Army."

16 August 2010

Remembering Mike Stokely

SGT Mike Stokely
KIA 16 AUG 2005 near Yusufiyah Iraq

My thoughts are with you and your family today, Robert. We'll always love and remember Mike.

Part of Mike's legacy - Hughes, Ark., native, Staff Sgt. James Robinson, Company C, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, hands out school materials donated by the Mike Stokely Foundation at a school in Mullah Fayad, March 27. (U.S. Army photo/Staff Sgt. Tony M. Lindback)

10 August 2010

Departure Ceremony for the Last US Combat Brigade in Iraq

Col. John Norris, commander, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, gives a speech alongside his counterpart, Staff Maj. Gen. Ahmed, commander, 6th IA Division, during the brigade’s farewell ceremony at Forward Operating Base Constitution, Aug. 7, 2010. USF-I photo.

Last American combat brigade departs

FOB CONSTITUTION – Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of United States Forces – Iraq, and the Iraqi Minister of Defense, Abdel Qader Jassim, and other U.S. and Iraqi leaders watched yesterday as a joint color guard marched crisply across the parade field here to where their unit and national flags were displayed.

The U.S. Soldiers, members of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division “Raiders,” knelt and removed the American flags from the display. After executing a left face, the detail marched off the field from the direction they came, leaving only the 6th Iraqi Army Division and Iraqi flag remaining on the field.

This gesture — symbolizing the departure of the Raider Brigade and the commitment of Iraqi Security Forces to the people of Iraq — brought the 4th SBCT, 2nd Inf. Div. one step closer to the end of their yearlong deployment as the last combat brigade to serve here in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

By Aug. 31, all U.S. combat missions in Iraq will end, and the 50,000 U.S. troops remaining in country under Operation New Dawn will move toward stability operations, advising, training and assisting the ISF in building civil capacity.

The Aug. 7 departure ceremony, hosted by the 6th IA Div. served as both a farewell to the Raider Brigade and a look at the capabilities of the Iraqi Soldiers who will be assuming full responsibility for the area.

Col. John Norris, commander of 4th SBCT, stood alongside Staff Maj. Gen. Ahmed, commander the 6th IA Div., and thanked the guests in attendance for joining him in celebrating what he called, “a new chapter in the ongoing story that is Iraq’s strategic partnership.”

“Together, we have forged strong bonds of partnership and unity of effort, where the Iraqi government, the Iraqi Army and Police are connected to the people, partnered with the Federal Police, as well as the Traffic and Patrol Police forces, Sons of Iraq, [and] along with the United States Military and Department of State, created irreversible momentum toward a peaceful and prosperous Iraq,” Ahmed said.

The 4th SBCT Soldiers’ focus in Iraq was on building a strong partnership with the ISF to ensure the security of the March 7 Iraqi national elections and improving the overall quality of life for the Iraqi people.

Arriving in country in September 2009, the brigade immediately began partnering with local ISF leadership to gain a sense of their Iraqi partners’ capabilities and relationships with community leaders and other Iraqi security organizations.

Among their many achievements, 4th SBCT Soldiers introduced military working dogs to the ISF — a program that had been unsuccessful until the Raiders’ arrived — improving their ability to uncover weapons, explosives and other illegal items during raids and searches.

The latest in evidence collection and other forensic techniques was also taught to the ISF, allowing for improved site exploitation after terrorist attacks and led to the first warrant using DNA evidence to be issued in Iraq’s history.

Raider Soldiers, in conjunction with two embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and partners in the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Army Corps of Engineers, strived to continue the development and reconstruction of western Baghdad, Abu Ghraib, Tajiand and Tarmiyah.

A few hundred feet away from where the departure ceremony took place was the FOB Constitution Joint Operations Center, where Norris and his ISF partners monitored the Iraqi national elections, accessing the latest on-the-ground information from polling sites throughout western Baghdad.

Another key achievement during the deployment was helping the IA expand the JOC concept to include the Iraqi Police, where they could share the latest intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information in a centralized location.

“Together, this collective group has more successes than I can list here today, but one that I will highlight as a prime example of the strength of this partnership is the national election conducted in March,” Norris said. “After weeks of detailed preparation, long hours and security in place ... the Iraqi national elections commenced with a record turnout.”

Norris said more than 60 percent of Iraqi citizens went to the polls to cast their ballot, showing solidarity against violent extremist groups.

“I am confident that the Iraqi government will move forward, and that the hopes and the dreams of a free and stable Iraq will become a reality,” he said.

In a display for gathered dignitaries, 6th IA Soldiers presented several demonstrations showing their capabilities in handling a variety of real-world situations they may encounter.

Iraqi Soldiers cleared and secured a building, set up a traffic control point, neutralized an improvised explosive device using a remote-controlled robot and partnered with Raider Soldiers to show off hand-to-hand combat techniques.

For the Raider Soldiers, the departure ceremony marked the end of a job well done that will have a lasting impact on the people of Iraq.

“We depart having accomplished our mission to the fullest of our ability, with honor and respect [and] the Raider Brigade’s legacy and reputation intact,” Norris said. “This is only the beginning of Iraq’s continued success and forward progress.”

Well done! We're so proud of you all and eagerly await your return home!

Grim's thoughts at Blackfive. And more from Greyhawk.

04 August 2010


Crew Chief CPL Jaimeson Bard (left) and Flight Medic SGT Adam Connaughton of Company C, Sixth Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment in a moonscape-like scene caused by the rotor wash of their MEDEVAC helicopter in Afghanistan. Courtesy photo.

02 August 2010

On the Front Lines in Afghanistan

Sean Smith of the UK Guardian has just spent five weeks in Afghanistan, first with an Air Force Pararescue team, and then with the Marines. This extraordinary footage was shot during that time, and the units with which Smith embedded were involved in two events you're likely familiar with. The USAF PJs subsequently lost four men in a helo crash, and the Marines discuss the death of Cpl Larry Harris.

Warning: Video contains strong language and distressing MEDEVAC scenes.

Smith's diary of the embed can be found here.