31 December 2010

Auld Lang Syne

To friends and loved ones who can't be with us; and to those who are no longer with us.

You are always in our hearts.

Auld Lang Syne (to days gone by)... farewell 2010.

30 December 2010

Blanket of Hope x 90!

Carole Kirkwood of the Sunshine Club in Wilmington, CA sent along these photos and information about one of their latest creations:

I have finally finished the "scrap" quilt. It took 714 squares - 357 being the corners of blankets made for the soldiers. It took 90 blankets to get the scraps needed. The back side is denim with ragged edges (357 denim squares). The quilt will be raffled by the Sunshine Club to earn money for yardage.

What a terrific idea!

The Sunshine Club and other friends of Linda Ferrara have lovingly made and sent hundreds of blankets for our Wounded Warriors recovering at Landstuhl hospital.

We thank them for their ongoing dedication and support of those who have sacrificed so much for all of us. We love you, ladies!

29 December 2010

Marine injured in Afghanistan gets Purple Heart for Christmas

Gen. James F. Amos, 35th commandant of the Marine Corps, pins Cpl. Kevin B. Walker of Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, with the Purple Heart medal during an award ceremony in Musa Qal'eh, Dec. 25. Walker was awarded the Purple Heart after receiving shrapnel and a concussion from an improvised explosive device blast while on patrol. Photo by Lance Cpl. Joshua Hines.

Video Story: Christmas with the 101st Airborne in Afghanistan

In a follow up to Soldiers' Angels & BAE Help Military Families Send Care Packages (with raw video), FOX News reports on the arrival of the packages in Afghanistan. (Tissue alert!)

25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

The Christmas Tree at Landstuhl Hospital Fisher House. Photo: Soldiers' Angels.

And the angel said unto them,
Fear not: for, behold,
I bring you good tidings of great joy,
which shall be to all people.

For unto you
is born this day in the city
of David a Savior,
which is Christ the Lord.

Thank you and Merry Christmas to all of our generous supporters. May you find joy this holiday season knowing you have uplifted our Wounded Warriors through the priceless gift of love.

24 December 2010

For God so Loved the World

[This is an annual post.]

It was late evening when I walked by and looked into the room.

Both legs gone, way up. The rest covered with bandages and surgical draping, even his face. What was left of his arms was on boards out to both sides.

My body felt like lead. So heavy I was afraid the floor might give way beneath me. And I thought, this must be like the pain - and the love - Mary felt watching her son die for us.

Then, a voice in my head, saying over and over, “For God so loved the world, for God so loved the world... ”

I asked his nurse if I could gown up and go in.

It was Christmas Eve.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

23 December 2010

"Don't feel sorry for me."

"My feet hurt", printed on the t-shirt worn by double amputee Sgt. Joey Jones as he exercises in his hometown of Dalton, GA.

"When I went there it was so another Marine could come home to his family. I want respect, not for myself, but something bigger than me, and that's love for one another."

- Marine Sgt. Joey Jones

Another great interview with Sgt. Joey Jones, home for the holidays after months of surgery and rehabilitation. (You'll remember Sgt. Jones from this CBS News story posted last week.)

17 December 2010

Silent Night

Part of Landstuhl hospital as seen from the Fisher House. Photo: Soldiers' Angels.

16 December 2010

"We're the ones paying the price, and we're telling you it's worthwhile."

Meet some of your Marines wounded in Afghanistan, interviewed by
CBS News' David Martin at Bethesda Naval Hospital and Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

14 December 2010

The Hospital on the Hill

Each year during the Christmas season a cross shines brightly on the hill above the town of Landstuhl from the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center site. Photo: Soldiers' Angels.

Montana Soldier "glad" he stepped on IED

Brig. Gen. Joseph Caravalho Jr., left, commanding general of Brooke Army Medical Center and the Southern Regional Medical Command, presents Sgt. J.D. Williams with the Purple Heart medal and certificate Nov. 6 at the medical center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

"I'm just glad I stepped on that IED. Otherwise, it would have been one of my buddies."

- Army Sgt. J.D. Williams, triple amputee.

Harrison High graduate receives Purple Heart
By GEORGE PLAVEN Montana Standard The Billings Gazette

BUTTE — U.S. Army Sgt. J.D. Williams never really wanted a Purple Heart. Nobody does, he said.

The 23-year-old Harrison High School graduate is missing his right arm and both legs, amputated after he stepped on an improvised explosive device in October in Afghanistan.

Williams received the decoration Nov. 6 from his hospital bed at Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. About 12 friends and family attended the ceremony, held the same days as his daughter's first birthday. The Purple Heart is awarded to any military personnel wounded or killed in an action against the enemy.

His wounds now closed and skin grafts removed, Williams told The Montana Standard in a telephone interview that it felt good to be honored, but that he hopes not to see any of his fellow soldiers have to endure the same pain.

"I'm just glad I stepped on that IED," Williams said. "Otherwise, it would have been one of my buddies."

An infantryman with HHC 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry, Williams, who grew up in Anaconda, spent more than five months fighting the Taliban and pushing toward an end to the war.

On Oct. 9, at 8:30 a.m., Williams took one wrong step. The blast sent him 20 feet in the air, he said, and left a 6-foot crater in the ground.

When the smoke from the explosion cleared and Williams could finally see again, he rolled over and tried to assess his injuries. He remained conscious the entire time.

Taking long, deep breaths, Williams lay on his back and stared into the sky. He thought about his wife, Ashlee, and almost 1-year-old daughter Kaelyn back home.

"I always thought I was unstoppable," Williams said.

It took 19 minutes to load Williams onto a helicopter and out of danger. Doctors in Germany performed the necessary amputations and sent him back to the United States on Oct. 15.

Williams calls himself a lucky man.

"I really think God has a purpose for me on this planet," he said. "I will find it, whatever it is."

The cards, letters and support keep Williams motivated, his mother said.

"They keep him positive and remind him he is still a hero," she said. "If he did not have the support he has, the excruciating pain might have brought him down."

Donations, cards and letters to Sgt. J.D. Williams and family may be sent to:

Powless Guest House
No. 330, c/o Ashlee Williams
3298 George C. Beach Road
Fort Sam Houston, TX 78234

The full article can be read here.

13 December 2010

Christmas Bears To Go

A small Army of Christmas bears ready for distribution to patients leaving Germany for the US over the next week. This way our guys will have a little gift for very young children who would be too young to understand why Daddy doesn't have a Christmas present for them... Photo: Soldiers' Angels.

12 December 2010

Wounded medic greets fellow Soldier who saved him in Afghanistan at unit's homecoming

Sgt. Ed Matayka, right, shakes hands with Spc. David Schwerer, left, who saved Matayka's life after an explosive device detonated in Afghanistan. The two reunited for the first time since the incident as 160 Vermont National guardsmen returned home finishing their tour of duty in Afghanistan, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010, in South Burlington, Vt. Photo: AP, Alden Pellett.

"This was one of the first things he requested coming out of unconsciousness, to greet the man who saved his life," said Laurie Ingalls, his mother-in- law. "He wanted to greet him so badly."

In a follow up to an earlier story, Sgt. Ed Matayka got his wish at the homecoming of his fellow Vermont National Guard Soldiers on Saturday.

Sgt. Matayka was injured by a roadside bomb back in July. He lost both legs, fractured his back and suffered a stroke that rendered the left side of his body paralyzed.

08 December 2010

Traveling home with America's Wounded Warriors

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

NBC Nightly News report "Traveling Home with America's Wounded Warriors" featuring interviews with patients and one of Landstuhl's long-time ICU nurses, Dee Dee Price.

06 December 2010

New policy helps protects troops from repeated exposure to blasts

Although it's hard for guys to be taken out of combat (for them and for their units), the long-term risk of brain damage is now taking priority due to a new, unprecedented policy.

Military doctors are diagnosing hundreds of concussions among combat troops because of an unprecedented order requiring them to leave the battlefield for 24 hours after being exposed to a blast.

Doctors say the order helps prevent permanent brain damage that can result if a servicemember has a second concussion before the first one heals.

"For the last eight years prior to the implementation of these protocols, we weren't doing things the right way," said Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army vice chief of staff.


Roadside bombs are the most common source of injuries to U.S. troops. Troops in the past tended to shake off blast effects and continue fighting, according to Army field studies.

To treat symptoms of concussions, the military has set up five "rest centers" here [in Afghanistan] where troops can recover, says Army Lt. Col. Kristofer Radcliffe, a neurologist supervising the effort. Scientists warn, however, that it is unclear whether the brain has healed even if symptoms go away.

Read the full article here.

I've spoken with many patients medically evacuated to Germany for further testing as a result of this and prior, smiliar policies. They are almost universally disappointed to have been taken out of the fight, but I hope I've been able to convince at least some of them that the rest of their lives is more important than the rest of their deployments.

House groundbreaking ceremony for Wounded Warrior Marine Cpl. Zach Briseno

On Monday, November 22nd, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for Corporal Zach Briseno, USMC (Ret.) to celebrate a new beginning. Helping a Hero has partnered with Standard Pacific Homes and the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund to provide Zach with a new wheelchair-accessable home near Fort Worth, TX.

From the Helping a Hero press release:

Zach grew up in Fort Worth and played baseball, basketball and football. Both of Zach’s grandfathers served in the Marine Corps and Zach knew he wanted to be a Marine when he was only 9 years old. In 2005, Zach joined the Marines and did his first tour in Iraq in 2006. His father died one week before his second deployment in 2007.

On November 29, 2007, Zach and his convoy were hit by an IED and an anti tank mine exploded under his Humvee. Both of Zach’s legs were blown off below the knee and he also broke his arm and has a plate in his wrist. For his service in Iraq, Cpl Briseno was awarded the Purple Heart for his sacrifice for our freedom and numerous other medals and awards.

Now he is faced with the daily challenges that result from the loss of both feet. Unfortunately he isn’t able to wear his prosthetics 24 hrs a day. Thus, he has to spend time at home in a wheelchair so he can get around and not overuse his prosthetic legs. He is a leader and is committed to giving back and helping other wounded heroes as they embark on their road to recovery.

“All of us at Standard Pacific Homes are proud to be a part of this project with the Helping a Hero organization. We want to make sure that every detail in his home will make Zach’s life easier. It is an honor and a privilege for us to build this new home for Zach and his son, Eli” Chris Matzke, President, Standard Pacific Homes, Dallas

This 4 bedroom, 3 bath home will feature wider doors, a roll in shower, a roll under sink, flush thresholds, lower counters, wheelchair accessible appliances, and many other safety features that will enable Zach to have a firm foundation as he rebuilds his life. He is a single Dad with a 5 year old son, Eli. Zach dreams of being married one day and perhaps having more children.

“Corporal Zach Briseno is a true American hero. He has battled back from a near fatal injury and has endured so much on his road to recovery. We count it an honor to help this young hero begin a new life in a brand new home where his ability to live independently will be maximized.” Meredith Iler, National Chairman, HelpingaHero.org.

“We are very proud to partner with HelpingaHero.org on Corporal Briseno’s home. Watching Zach throughout his recovery and seeing him now is an inspiration to everyone who knows him. He has that can do attitude and doesn’t let anything deter him from forging ahead.” Karen Guenther, Founder, Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund.

If Zach's name sounds familiar, it's because you've "met" him here before:

- Meet one of your Marines, Cpl. Zachary Briseno
- OORAH, Zach!

Congratulations, Zach! We're so happy for you and can't wait to see your new home when it's completed!

05 December 2010

Ramstein-based C-130Js arrive in Israel with firefighting assistance

Government officials and members of the international press welcome the arrival of a C-130J Super Hercules at Ben Gurion International Airport, Israel, Dec. 4. The aircraft delivered rire retardant from Ramstein Air Base, Germany as part of a joint U.S. Air Forces and U.S. European Command effort to assist the Israeli government in fighting wild fires in their country. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Markus M. Maier)

"Wii-hab": Video games used in rehab for Wounded Warriors

Last month, the community of milbloggers raised $95,205 for Soldiers' Angels Project Valour-IT. While this project started out with the goal of providing laptops with voice-activated software to severely wounded troops, it has since expanded to include other technologies. Personal GPS systems help build self-confidence and independence by compensating for short-term memory loss and organizational challenges related to severe TBI and severe PTSD. Wii video game systems provided to medical facilities to assist with physical rehabilitation.

You might wonder how a video game would help with physical rehabilitation:

Using the game console's unique, motion-sensitive controller, Wii games require body movements similar to traditional therapy exercises. But patients become so engrossed mentally they are almost oblivious to the rigor, Osborn said.

"In the Wii system, because it's kind of a game format, it does create this kind of inner competitiveness. Even though you may be boxing or playing tennis against some figure on the screen, it's amazing how many of our patients want to beat their opponent," said Osborn of Southern Illinois Healthcare, which includes the hospital in Herrin. The hospital, about 100 miles southeast of St. Louis, bought a Wii system for rehab patients late last year.

"When people can refocus their attention from the tediousness of the physical task, oftentimes they do much better," Osborn said.
This kind of therapy seems ideal when working with wounded troops:
The Hines Veterans Affairs Hospital west of Chicago recently bought a Wii system for its spinal cord injury unit.

Pfc. Matthew Turpen, 22, paralyzed from the chest down in a car accident last year while stationed in Germany, plays Wii golf and bowling from his wheelchair at Hines. Turpen says the games help beat the monotony of rehab and seem to be doing his body good, too.

"A lot of guys don't have full finger function so it definitely helps being able to work on using your fingers more and figuring out different ways to use your hands" and arms, Turpen said.

At Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the therapy is well-suited to patients injured during combat in Iraq, who tend to be in the 19 to 25 age range — a group that's "very into" playing video games, said Lt. Col. Stephanie Daugherty, Walter Reed's chief of occupational therapy.

"They think it's for entertainment, but we know it's for therapy," she said.
While the big annual fundraiser by the milblogs may be over, the need for our wounded troops is always ongoing. If you can, please consider donating to Project Valour-IT.

04 December 2010

Return to the Korengal

An Afghan National Army soldier from 2nd Company, 2nd Infantry Battalion, traverses the mountainside along with soldiers assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, Task Force Bulldog, during a joint clearing operation Nov. 24 in the Pech River Valley in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar Province. U.S. Army photo/Staff Sgt. Mark Burrel.

"I stood in the Korengal with 1,000 of my guys."

- Col. Drew Poppas, commander of the 1st BCT and Task Force Bastogne

They probably thought we'd left for good. But we've got unfinished business there.

Poppas sat down with The Leaf-Chronicle while home on mid-tour leave. He shared what his task force has done in the eight months since being deployed to an area that he calls the biggest front in the war against the Taliban, al-Qaida and Lashkar-e-Taiba fighters. It's the same area where Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta earned his Medal of Honor and the home of the Korengal Valley — once referred to as the "Valley of Death."

"This is the fight they wanted here," he said. "This is the infantry fight 101."

That fight sometimes brings the 1st BCT soldiers within 50 feet of their enemies, close enough to lob grenades and watch the fighters come at them before "destroying them in detail."

Poppas is aware that many of the headlines coming out of his area of operation have been negative. Six soldiers died in one operation two weeks ago, and another five were killed in a massive IED strike in June.

However, he said his task force of nine battalion-sized elements combined — a force more than twice the size of his own brigade — is making progress, both in security and on the governance and economic sides of the fight.

"I stood in the Korengal with 1,000 of my guys," Poppas said, describing a recent days-long mission to root out enemy fighters from the 6-mile by 1-mile valley once held by the Taliban and al-Qaida. He said the valley is now a safer place because of what his soldiers have done.

"We're taking away the mystiques of these valleys," he said.

The strategy Poppas used was a simple one. The Taliban like to fight from advantageous high ground, so knowing this, Poppas' soldiers took the high ground, came in on the floor of the valley and backfilled behind. The Taliban probably thought the Americans would be gone in a matter of days, but they weren't. The Americans stayed and waited for the Taliban to return, killing them on sight.

Poppas called it "the classic definition of defeat."

Since then, the local villagers have watched what the Americans' efforts to eradicate the Taliban, something the villagers could not have done on their own.

"(The Taliban) don't give anything back. They just take," Poppas said.

Now the villagers have formed an armed resistance against the once forceful and embedded Taliban fighters. Anti-Taliban sentiment is growing, too.

"The whole Pech River valley," Poppas said, referring to how far that sentiment has spread.

As that progress was made, the headlines in the U.S. were about six soldiers who died in the fighting. Poppas said they did not die in vain, though. Those men died "to change the dynamic of the entire (Kunar) province," he said.

Read the rest of Jake Lowary's interview with Col. Poppas in The Leaf-Chronicle.

Angels at Tennessee Senior Center make quilts for Wounded Warriors

Faye McGhee (far right, in green) and some of the 18 members of the Folk Art Class at The Campbell County Senior Citizen's Center in La Follette, TN. The group makes quilts for wounded troops recovering at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Courtesy photo.

Six sewing machines whirr in one area. In another, women tack together the almost-finished quilts. The 18 women of the Folk Art Class at The Campbell County Senior Citizen's Center in La Follette, TN have had to spread out to work as their numbers have grown.

When they are finished, the quilts will be sent to the non-profit military support group Soldiers' Angels in Germany for distribution to wounded troops at Landstuhl military hospital.

"We love our country. We love our troops and what they are doing", says member Faye McGhee. "It breaks my heart that they have to go away from their homes to keep the rest of us safe. As you know my husband and my son were military men. My son has finished 33 years. 9 years in the Marines, the rest in the Army National Guard. He is retiring as a Major. Some of the other ladies have family members that have served also."

The Campbell County Senior Citizen's Center is owned by its 300 members, who raise funds within the community and through grants.

The Folk Art Class began with a grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission through Arts Builds Communities, which was used for training in the art of hand piecing and quilting on a quilt frame. The group is currently on its fourth grant which will provide funding to hire artists to teach American Indian bead work as well as tapestry scenery quilting, combining old traditions in with the new.

Since 2007, the Folk Art Class at the center, which makes the quilts, has grown from 8 to 18 members.

"We are devoted to helping our community", continues Faye. "Nursing homes, homeless people, abused children and others that we find who need our help. It is such an important part of the area, that I hope we can continue to do our part. The Lord has blessed me so very much, that I want to do my part to help where help is needed most... I can go on and on, when it comes to the center and the people."

On behalf of the Wounded Warriors at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Soldier's Angels would like to thank each and every one of them for their patriotism and their compassion:

Maudine Daugherty, Mary Horner, Wanda Hansen, Peggy Hensley, Pat Garner, Pat Lay, Charlotte Cabrera, Linda Bruce, Bernadine Johnson, Mildred Kimbell, Barbara Jones, Rosemary Lively, Sandy Brehm, Marie Wentland, Rose Reimer, Louise Powers, Sue Troy, Faye McGhee.

Thank you, ladies! We love you!

If you'd like to receive the guidelines for making and sending quilts or fleece blankets for our patients, please email me.

02 December 2010

Citizen Soldiers - A National Guard MEDEVAC unit talks about their experiences

Soldiers from Charlie Company of the 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation, an Oregon National Guard MEDEVAC unit, talk about their experiences in the military.