26 February 2011

Sandy's 100th Quilt

The 100th Blanket of Hope made with love and hope for a Hero's recovery by Sandy Mandigo of New York.

I received the first email from Sandy Mandigo asking about making blankets for the patients at Landstuhl back in January of 2007. By March she'd set an ambitious goal for herself - make one quilt each week for a year. Receiving her beautiful quilts became a regular occurance, often together with black fleece caps she'd also sewed.

Sandy's trips to the post office became a regular occurance, too. "Didn't you just send two blankets last week?", she was asked. "Yes, and the week before that and the week before that." So of course Sandy told her post office clerk the story.


I want to thank you for your beautiful quilt you made for our soldiers. My husband recently had emergency surgery at Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany. Your quilt brightened his dreary room. He is currently deployed to Kuwait. It meant a lot to both of us that there are wonderful people, like you, helping our "heroes." He is now back in Kuwait and recovering very well. He brought your quilt back with him to Kuwait. You and your organization are "angels" to our "heroes." Again, thank you for your kindness.

In October she'd reached her goal ahead of schedule, but by January 2008 she was back! Over the next couple of years Sandy worked on other projects like cool scarves for deployed troops, blankets for returning veterans, and stuffed animals for children at her local hospital. But she continued to send us quilts, too. "Quilts 30 and 31 left New York today", read a typical email.

Then, in January, this email: "Sent 4 more quilts and 10 more hats. The 100th quilt is in there. Don't think I'm giving up just because I reached that mark! I went out and bought enough fleece for 6 more blankets and 15 more hats. Must pace myself so I don't have to get out the credit card. But even that wouldn't stop me. Love, Sandy."

When I look back at my years as a Soldiers' Angels volunteer, some of my most cherished memories are of getting to know the many great Americans out there like Sandy. Thank you, Sandy, for your dedication and your thoughtfulness to those who have sacrificed so much for our country. Love you!

25 February 2011

"If the story of his heroism were a movie script, you would not believe it"

In 1952, during the Korean War, Roy Benavidez enlisted the Texas Army National Guard and later, in June 1955, in the regular United States Army. Benavidez deployed to Vietnam in 1965 with the 82nd Airborne Division as an advisor to an ARVN infantry regiment. He stepped on a land mine during a patrol and was medically evacuated to the United States, where doctors at Brooke Army Medical Center thought he would never walk again. Despite serious injury to his spine, Benavidez walked out of the hospital in July 1966.

Benavidez returned to Fort Bragg to begin training for the Studies and Observations Group (SOG). Despite constant pain from his injuries, he became a Master Sergeant in the 5th Special Forces Group and returned to South Vietnam in January 1968.

On February 24, 1981, President Ronald Reagan presented Roy Benavidez the Medal of Honor for his actions in combat near Loc Ninh, Vietnam on May 2, 1968.

Over the radio at his unit's base that morning, Benavidez had heard the cry "get us out of here!" with so much shooting in the background "it sounded like a popcorn machine."

Reagan reportedly turned to the press and said: "If the story of his heroism were a movie script, you would not believe it". He then read the official award citation.

Roy Benavidez died on November 29, 1998 at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. He was 63.

Thank you to the 173rd Sky Angels Fund

Leta Carruth (r.) of the Sky Angels Fund presents MaryAnn Phillips with a generous donation of $2000.00 in support of the Soldiers' Angels Germany mission. Courtesy photo.

The 173rd Sky Angels Fund was created in 2008 to finance a welcome home celebration for the Vicenza-based brigade after their redeployment from Afghanistan that year.

Founders Terry and Cheryl Blaskowski, Gold Star parents of SFC Matthew Blaskowski, were later joined by Mike and Michelle Brennan, Gold Star Parents of SGT Joshua Brennan, and Craig & Kelly MacCorquodale, parents of SSG Ryan Pitts, who was wounded at the Battle of Wanat and medically retired from the Army, worked tirelessly to raise the funds required to achieve their goal, which included travel for the 173rd's wounded soldiers well enough to make the trip from the U.S. back to their respective Battalions in Italy and Germany at the end of OEF VIII.

Cheryl writes:

Since our 173rd Sky Angels have redeployed to Italy now from their third deployment to Afghanistan, and since the purpose of this Military Support ~ 173rd Sky Angels Fund was and is that the monies go 100% to directly support our troops and veterans, we are doing just that by sending you a check that might assist your organization in continuing to support our troops.

We wish to do this in memory of all the Sky Soldiers who were KIA and injured during their multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

On behalf of Soldiers' Angels and our Wounded Warriors at Landstuhl hospital, we'd like to express our deepest gratitude to Leta, the Blaskowskis, the Brennans, the MacCorquodales, and all of the Sky Angels Fund's supporters for their generous donation. Your sons and all of our Heroes of the 173rd will remain forever in our hearts. We are honored to continue our mission of caring for today's Wounded Warriors in their memory.

24 February 2011

For the Soldiers on the Ground - BlackHawk MEDEVAC

Part of a series about TF Spartan Combat Aviation in Afghanistan, this story focuses on the courageous efforts of the medical evacuation teams. Produced and Edited by SGT. Robert A. Ham, TF Spartan, 2009.

21 February 2011

Fair Winds and Following Seas

Our love and prayers go out to the family and friends of Lance Cpl. Andrew Carpenter. We are so very sorry for your loss.

Family, friends mourn Marine
Columbia native taken off life support


Kevin Carpenter watched as doctors turned off his son’s ventilator.

“It took about five minutes, but it seemed like an hour,” Carpenter said by phone Saturday, hours after he watched the final moments of his 27-year-old son’s life.

Marine Lance Cpl. Andrew Carpenter had been hospitalized at Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany since Monday after he was shot in the neck while on patrol in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan. He was a member of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

The bullet severed his spinal cord, his heart stopped and it took officials 43 minutes to revive him. Medical officials declared Andrew Carpenter brain dead.

Kevin Carpenter and his wife flew to Germany last week to spend time with their son.

“We got to tell him we love him. We got to see him. And even though he wasn’t there, we got to hold him,” he said.

Before Andrew Carpenter was taken off life support, his parents shared a final moment with their son.

“We told him we loved him and were very proud of him, and that his wife and son are very proud of him,” Kevin Carpenter said as his voice began to crack.

A Marine spokesman declined comment Saturday, citing military policy that disallows comments on deaths until 24 hours after all family members have been notified.

Andrew Carpenter joined the Marines in 2007 and was serving his second deployment in Afghanistan. Kevin Carpenter said his son was due back sometime this spring.

He married Crissie Ponder in 2010. Crissie is pregnant and expecting to give birth to a baby boy, who will be named Landon, in less than two weeks.

The Marine’s father said officials tried their best to keep his son alive and entertained the idea of flying him back to the U.S. to let Crissie see him, but officials believed he would have died inflight.

“He was seriously degrading every day,” Kevin Carpenter said. “It came time to think of Andy and let Andy go. It was very admirable that she wanted to be with him, but it was safer to put it in the hands of God.”

Cpl. Joseph Davis, who has known Carpenter since childhood and grew up in Columbia, will escort Andrew Carpenter’s body back to Tennessee once he reaches U.S. soil.

Davis said Saturday his friend was always happy wherever he went.

“He lived a full life,” Davis said. “He loved doing what he was doing. He was glad to serve.”

Friends rallied around the family after word spread of Carpenter’s injury. On Friday night, more than a dozen people held vigil outside Columbia Central High School, where Carpenter once attended.

Well-wishers left hundreds of messages on Carpenter’s Facebook page. On Saturday, many thanked Carpenter for his sacrifice.

“You will be missed Andy! Thank you for fighting for our country and being a wonderful person! Rest in Peace. Watch over your family from above and protect them always. Thank you!” one friend wrote.

Crissie Carpenter, who has previously declined comment, also left a note on her husband’s Facebook account.

“I love you, baby. You will always be my soul mate and my best friend forever,” she wrote. “I know Landon will give me those hugs and kisses that I will miss so much. I look forward to seeing you in Heaven one day, baby.”

Kevin Carpenter said arrangements have not been finalized but he expects his son’s body will arrive in Columbia sometime this week.

“It’s a devastating loss, but we’ll get through it,” he said.

20 February 2011

"Every day is worth it that you save a life"

Veteran freelance cameraman Vaughan Smith spent two weeks embedded with a DUSTOFF crew from TF Shadow, 214th Aviation Regiment, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade. He lets flight medic SGT Tyrone Jordan of Charlotte, NC tell much of the story - about his patients, his job, and the impact this work has had on his life.

Thank you and well done to SGT Jordan and all of our DUSTOFF crews. We love you!

Warning: MEDEVAC videos contain distressing images. The most graphic content is between minutes 2:30 - 5:00, showing a Marine who has sustained a traumatic bilateral amputation of his lower extremities. Most of the patients gave permission to the photographer for their faces to be shown. Where obtaining permission was not possible, their identities have been obscured.

19 February 2011

From blindness back to combat - this time, as a platoon leader

Second Lt. Peter Sprenger lost an eye in Iraq but returned to active duty after completing a college degree. Above, he was working with his platoon in Deh Yak, Afghanistan. Photo: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times.

"From 2002 through June 2010, according to a database on American combat trauma, 1,735 troops suffered eye wounds because of explosions in Iraq or Afghanistan. Of these, five American troops permanently lost sight in both eyes and 122 others lost sight in one eye."

While the last two numbers are relatively low due to the implementation of protective eyewear there are cases, like that of 2LT Sprenger's, where injuries are sustained in the relative safety of the FOB.

After writing a recent article about about eye injuries, C.J. Chivers of the NYT At War blog didn't even have to leave Afghanistan to research a follow up story.

By any reasonable measure, Specialist Peter Sprenger, a radio operator in an Army infantry company, could easily have been dead. It was Dec. 19, 2003, in Talafar, Iraq. An Iraqi man driving an explosives-laden car had breached his company’s perimeter. American soldiers fired at him with light machine guns, but the driver accelerated toward the company command post.

Specialist Sprenger had not been inside the post. When gunfire erupted he knew he had to get to the radios. He began sprinting toward the tent as the attacking driver gathered speed, headed to the same place. The specialist did not have time to put on his protective kit. He wore no body armor, helmet or ballistic eye protection. And now man and bomb were converging.

When Specialist Sprenger and the vehicle were perhaps 50 feet apart, the car exploded, disappearing in a thunderous flash. The blast wave and shrapnel slammed into the specialist’s side. He was blown from his feet to the ground. Blinded, bleeding heavily, almost stunned, he somehow remained conscious, at least for a while.

As he was evacuated to the United States, he was one of those soldiers who had lost sight in both eyes. For weeks he was fully blind. Doctors worked on his other wounds. His body was laced with shrapnel, and, he said, “I also required a bone graft into my jaw, six teeth implants and retinal reattachment and cornea transplants three times.”

With time and treatment, the sight to his left eye was restored. But on his right side, he said, “the eye surgeries ultimately failed.” Sight in that eye had been lost.

Read about 2LT Sprenger's road to recovery and return to active duty - and combat - here.

18 February 2011

Top Marine General in Afghanistan: Insurgents "off-balance and afraid"

Marines on patrol in the Sangin district of Helmand province. Throughout the province Marines and Afghan forces conduct 500 patrols a day. At night, special operations personnel kill or capture insurgent leaders. LAT photo.

Maj. Gen. Richard Mills briefs from Afghanistan:

Fighting has "dropped off to virtually nothing" in the Sangin district of Afghanistan, where two dozen Marines from Camp Pendleton were killed and more than 140 wounded in the fall and early winter, the top Marine general in Afghanistan told reporters Thursday.

After weeks of fighting with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment from Camp Pendleton, those insurgents who survived have either fled or gone into hiding, Maj. Gen. Richard Mills told a group of San Diego reporters via teleconference.

Some have gone north into a mountainous area, with Marines in pursuit, he said.

Insurgents, Mills said, are "off-balance and afraid" and unable to receive supplies or reinforcements from Pakistan because Marines have disrupted their "rat lines." Hundreds of insurgents have been killed, he said.

Still, Mills, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), stopped short of declaring victory. He said he expects the insurgents, once the winter is over, to attempt a counter-offensive to regain control of Sangin and other areas in Helmand province, which had long been a Taliban stronghold.

"Is there still some tough fighting for those [U.S.] troops who come here in spring or summer?" Mills asked. "Yes, there is."

Another factor helping the Marines is a deal with the Alikoza tribe in which the tribe would receive construction contracts in exchange for intelligence and other help in the fight against the Taliban, Mills said. The Taliban is "desperate to break the agreement" by attempting to intimidate tribal members but has failed to do so, he said.

About 20,000 Marines and sailors are in Helmand province, about half of them from Camp Pendleton. In the spring, the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment is set to return to California, to be replaced by the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, also from Camp Pendleton.

Mills, also set to return to Camp Pendleton in the spring, gave an upbeat assessment of the Marine mission in the province. Schools are opening, village markets are thriving, Afghan security forces are gaining in competency and a key road project from Sangin to the Kajaki dam is close to completion, Mills said.

Once completed, the road will allow work to begin on a long-stalled effort to install an additional turbine at the dam and provide additional electricity to Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Throughout the province Marines and Afghan forces conduct 500 patrols a day, he said. At night, special operations personnel kill or capture insurgent leaders.

The Marines returning soon to Camp Pendleton will "come home with honor" from having bested the Taliban in numerous villages but "the Marines behind us are going to have a good amount of work to do," Mills said.

17 February 2011

JIEDDO: Better IED detection reduces casualties 37% in Afghanistan

USA Today:

The military has reduced the number of troops wounded or killed by homemade bombs in Afghanistan by 37% since August by improving its ability to find the explosives before they blow up.

About one-sixth of the bombs used by insurgents in January ended up wounding or killing troops compared with the one-quarter of such bombs that caused casualties in August, according to figures from the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, the Pentagon's agency for combating makeshift bombs.

In January, 215 IED attacks wounded or killed troops compared with 341 attacks that caused casualties in August. That dramatic reduction occurred even though the number of IEDs planted has remained at between 1,300 and 1,500 a month during that time.

"IEDs are still responsible for the greatest number of our casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we are making progress against the enemy's effective use of them," Lt. Gen. Michael Oates told USA TODAY.

In 2010, IEDs wounded or killed 7,800 troops in the U.S.-led coalition, according to data released to USA TODAY. That accounts for nearly half of all casualties.

Oates cited some factors that have eroded the effectiveness of the homemade bombs:

•Increasing the number of teams that scour roads for IEDs from 12 in 2009 to 75 today.

•Encouraging the 30,000 servicemembers ordered to Afghanistan last year by President Obama to mix with Afghan civilians, earn their trust and receive tips on where bombs have been planted.

•Expanding use of planes, drones and balloons with cameras and other sensors to spy on insurgents and detect where they have planted bombs. From Jan. 30 through Feb. 5, for example, the Air Force flew 371 surveillance missions.

"They have darkened the skies in Afghanistan with airplanes looking for these guys," Pike said.

Despite the gains, Oates said he expects fighting to be "vigorous" this spring, when weather improves. Insurgents will still plant 1,300 to 1,500 bombs per month, he said.

"The enemy has a will to win and the capability," Oates said. "And he has a very good chance to inflict casualties on us."

Troops on foot patrol remain particularly vulnerable, he said. There has been a "significant spike" in the number of those soldiers and Marines who step on bombs in the past year.

"You have a homemade explosive planted in the ground, it produces a lot of natural shrapnel," Oates said. "It's dirty, so you get soil and rocks that penetrate deep into tissue. They tend not to kill, but to blow off arms and legs."

16 February 2011

ANA and TF Storm Break Trail

LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Afghan National Army soldiers move through Kharwar District to prevent the Taliban’s freedom of movement on February 12. Afghan and U.S. soldiers assigned to Company D, 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division’s Task Force Storm braved more than 3 feet of snow in some areas during the patrol. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Cooper T. Cash, Task Force Patriot)

Iraq Confidential Humvee Donated to Soldiers' Angels

The unique and historic "Iraq Confidential" Humvee, rebuilt in Iraq by "Monster Garage" host Jesse James and members of the 181st Transportation Battalion, has been donated to Soldiers' Angels and will be sold to support the troops. PRNewsFoto/Soldiers' Angels.

Iraq Confidential Humvee Donated to Soldiers' Angels

PASADENA, Calif., Feb. 16, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Military support nonprofit Soldiers' Angels proudly announces receipt of the unique and historic Iraq Confidential Humvee from Jesse James, host of Monster Garage and owner of West Coast Choppers, Austin Speed Shop and Cisco Burgers. James recently donated the restored, combat-damaged Humvee, which was rebuilt in Iraq as part of James' special visit with the 181st Transportation Battalion in 2006. The Humvee's rebuild, conducted by James and the soldiers, was documented on a video titled Iraq Confidential and later broadcast on the Military channel.

When West Coast Choppers closed its California facility, James mentioned to a friend and Soldiers' Angels staff member that he was looking for a way to use the Iraq Confidential Humvee to help the troops. When presented with the idea of donating it to Soldiers' Angels, he welcomed the opportunity.

"Going to Iraq to do that build with the troops, being able to shake their hands and to tell them 'thank you,' was one of the most rewarding and humbling experiences in my life," James says. "With all of their different programs providing support to the troops, veterans and their families, donating the Humvee to Soldiers' Angels brings it full circle, allowing it to continue to benefit those guys and gals and let them know how much I appreciate their service."

In addition to the Humvee, James donated a semi-truck full of new copies of Garage magazine and West Coast Choppers window stickers, which will be included in care packages for deployed troops. Donors to Soldiers' Angels can also receive one copy of the magazine and sticker set as a gift with each online $10 donation at www.soldiersangels.org when they enter "JJ" in the comments line.

Interested parties and potential buyers of the Humvee may contact the Executive Director of Soldiers' Angels at tobynunn@soldiersangels.org.

Soldiers' Angels is an award-winning 501(c)(3) with hundreds of thousands of volunteers providing aid and comfort to members of the U.S. Armed Forces, veterans and military families through a wide variety of hands-on projects and volunteerism. For more information, visit www.soldiersangels.org or call 615-676-0239.

SOURCE Soldiers' Angels

13 February 2011

Photo of the Day

Marine Jeff Grosky embraces his father, Joe, as his mom, Kathy, looks on Saturday at Sioux Falls Regional Airport. Photo: Jay Pickthorn / Argus Leader.

3/5 Marine home on leave for the first time since being hurt back in October:

Near the statue of South Dakota's great World War II hero, Joe Foss, in the lobby of the Sioux Falls Regional Airport on Saturday, Lance Cpl. Jeff Grosky stood awkwardly. He was surrounded by U.S. flags with applause washing over him.

He wore an embarrassed grin and leaned on a cane.

The injury resulted in the loss of part of his right leg, and Saturday was Grosky's first time back in South Dakota since being hurt. He said he is looking forward to a 30-day leave. After that, he will continue rehabilitation in the U.S. to improve his gait before being released from the Marine Corps and returning to South Dakota to pursue higher education.

Wearing a pair of blue jeans, a green sweatshirt and toting a backpack, he barely stood out from the other passengers.

"He's got friends who came back who were wounded, too," said Grosky's mother, Kathy Grosky. "The common thread among these guys is how humble, how unassuming they are. They are very stoic. Their attitude is, 'It is what it is, let's go on from here.' "

Welcome home, Marine.

10 February 2011

Wounded Marine: "I wasn't going to let my guys go to Afghanistan without me."


When the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Reconnaissance Battalion received orders to deploy to Afghanistan, Sgt. Jonathon Blank could have stayed home. He was close to finishing his active duty. But to make sure he could deploy with his buddies, he extended his service and went with his Marine battalion to Helmand province.

"They were like, 'we really need you.' I didn't really have to think much of it. I said, 'yeah I'll go.' I wasn't going to let my guys go without me. Because if something happened to one of them, I'd always think, 'could I hve been there to change something? Could I have been there to help them?' And besides, this is the chance to serve."

In the video above, Sgt. Blank talks about the events of October 26, 2010, the day a blast resulted in the loss of both of his legs and caused serious internal injuries.

"I was like ok, something bad just happened, but I didn't know what. Then eventually, I started to regain consciousness, it was like waking up from a dream. There's all this smoke and dust covered everything. I started crawling because I knew my legs were gone instantly before I even looked at them, I knew. Then the pain just washed over me, I knew that was it."

Since then, he's been recovering at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.


"I always liked my hometown, like I always knew there were a lot of great people there. There's a couple of people that love me there, but I didn't know that the whole town would come together like they have."

Along with the fundraisers, he also receives get well cards and letters from people all over the country.

"When I have my days that I'm down, it lifts me up, makes me feel better." He explains that it reminds him of what his well-being means to people. "You gotta do this, not for yourself, but for them too."

Jonathon is expected to be in the hospital for at least one more year. But he's happy that he has the support and love from his hometown, which he can't wait to see again.

Photo: Sgt. Jonathon Blank, courtesy of Wichita Eagle.

Sgt. Blank got that wish this week. He was granted a month's leave and is back home in Augusta, Kansas.

Recovering Marine updates supporters back home via Skype

Thanks to KSCW-TV for their ongoing coverage of Sgt. Blank's recovery. Kansas must be a great place. No wonder Jonathon couldn't wait to get back!

09 February 2011

A Very Distinguished Visitor

When VIPs such as Generals or Congressional Delegations visit Landstuhl they are known as "DVs" or Distinguished Visitors. For some reason I couldn't help but think of that term when looking at this photo I shot as we were working and joking around in one of the SA storage rooms ;-)

Ah, there she is - a much better photo of someone I admire greatly and whom I'm proud to call friend. I was thrilled that she was able to spend a few days with us during her recent trip to Europe and as you can see, she got right to work unpacking a new shipment of sweat clothing from another amazing person, Mark Dolfini.

Thank you for taking the time to visit, Leta, and for all you do. It was wonderful to be able to share some special moments in a very special place.

Video Interview with GEN Petraeus on the War in Afghanistan

In an exclusive interview with NATO TV, ISAF Commander General David Petraeus updates us - in the clear and understandable way only he can - on the war in Afghanistan. He says he expects violence to increase again this year as he continues his counter-insurgency campaign across Afghanistan but he is seeing signs of discord appear within the Taliban.

Here's a couple of excerpts from an AP story about GEN Petraeus interview, but it's well worth reading the whole thing.

BRUSSELS — The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warned that combat will likely escalate during the spring thaw as Taliban insurgents try to return to areas cleared by the international forces during the past several months.

“There’s been considerable progress in taking away from the Taliban safe havens,” Gen. David Petraeus said in an interview with NATO TV aired on Wednesday.

“They have to fight back, they’re losing momentum that’s quite clear,” he said. “They know they need to regain that momentum.”

Last year’s surge boosted the international force to about 150,000 troops. NATO and President Hamid Karzai hope to have more than 300,000 Afghan army and police in action by next autumn facing a much smaller organized insurgent force.

The Obama administration and NATO plan to begin reducing their troop contingent in July, and to end its combat role by the end of 2014.

The conflict usually dies down during the winter, as the guerrillas retreat to their safe havens to rest and recuperate.

Petraeus said intelligence reports indicate that Taliban leaders are worried by the situation and that there is “friction and discord” between the guerrillas in the field and their leadership in Pakistan.

But analysts caution that the Taliban — in keeping with classic guerrilla strategy — have simply fallen back in the face of an overwhelming forces, dispersing into other, safer parts of the country. They are likely to remain on the defensive until NATO forces begin withdrawing in significant numbers.

08 February 2011

The Unsung Heroes of the War in Afghanistan: Military Working Dogs

Eli, a bomb-sniffing Labrador, licks Brady Rusk, 12, the brother of Eli's handler. U.S. Marine Pfc. Colton W. Rusk was killed in Afghanistan. His family is adopting Eli. Photo: Jerry Lara, Associated Press / February 8, 2011.

Afghanistan's most loyal troops

Dogs play an increasing role in ferreting out roadside bombs in key provinces. As with their masters, not all of them get to come home.
By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times
February 8, 2011

When Pfc. Colton Rusk was shot in Afghanistan by a Taliban sniper, a Marine dog named Eli immediately ran to him, guarding the downed Marine against further attack.

Even Marines who rushed to Rusk's side were initially kept at bay by the snarling Labrador, who had been Rusk's inseparable companion through training and then deployment to a dangerous place called the Sangin Valley.

Rusk, 20, a machine gunner and dog handler from the Camp Pendleton-based 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, died from his wounds that brutal day in early December.

Out of gratitude for Eli's loyalty to their son, Darrell and Kathy Rusk, with the support of Marine brass, arranged to adopt Eli and take him to their ranch in Orange Grove, Texas, near Corpus Christi.

Such adoptions are unusual, though not unprecedented. Last week, Rusk's family took possession of Eli at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, a major training site for military dogs.

Trainers at Lackland and other sites are busy these days. Dogs are playing an increasing role in the U.S.-led fight in Sangin and neighboring Kandahar province — particularly in ferreting out the buried roadside bombs that are the Taliban's weapon of choice.

"They're Afghanistan's forgotten heroes," said Sgt. ShainNickerson, 24, of Rayland, Ohio, whose German shepherd, Aja, accompanies him on patrol in Sangin. "They're out there every day risking their lives to keep Marines safe."

During a visit with wounded Marines at the military hospital in Bethesda, Md., Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos asked how many had a bomb-sniffing dog with them when they were injured. Half did not.

The Marine Corps is now on a crash program to increase the number of its dogs in Afghanistan. "I'd like a dog with every patrol," Amos said.

The director of the Marine program to provide guard dogs and bomb-sniffing dogs says that despite all the money spent on high-tech methods to find buried roadside bombs — estimated at upwards of $20 billion — well-trained dogs are still the most effective.

One of the dogs killed by a roadside blast was a German shepherd named Grief. His handler, Cpl. Al Brenner, 22, of Jackson, N.J., suffered a broken arm, a severed finger and injuries to his legs and groin.

Once he's finished with surgeries and rehabilitation, Brenner wants to reenlist and train dogs for work in Afghanistan. "Without dogs, you're just poking around with a stick, just waiting to get blown up," he said.

Make sure to read the whole article at the link.

06 February 2011

In Honor of President Ronald Reagan's 100th Birthday

"There's something going on in time and space, and beyond time and space, which - whether we like it or not - spells duty."

Our generation's 'Rendezvous with Destiny'.

04 February 2011

Stars Over Musa Qala

Marines from 1st Battalion 8th, Bravo sit near a fire as they rest after a patrol in Musa Qala district of Helmand province on January 23, 2011.