29 September 2011

Air Force combat controller who saved lives while injured to receive Air Force Cross

Air Force combat controller Staff Sgt. Robert Gutierrez describes how he saved lives by continuing to return small arms fire and call in air strikes even after being seriously injured. (“I don’t get paid to sit there and fall down. I get paid to fight and do my job.”) His actions have earned him a nomination for the Air Force Cross for valor, to be awarded this Fall.

The Air Force Times:

Staff Sgt. Robert Gutierrez felt the pressure building in his chest. He couldn’t breathe. When he tried to talk, blood gushed from his mouth and nose. Gunfire popped and rocket-propelled grenades exploded nearby.

Gutierrez had seen an injury like this before. He figured he had about three minutes before he bled out.

“At that point, I decided I’m not going to be a burden to the rest of my team,” he said. “I’m not going to be dead weight to them. I’m going to do as much as I can, as long as I can, until it’s over.”

Oct. 5, 2009, is the day Gutierrez is convinced he would have died if a medic hadn’t jabbed a syringe into his collapsed lung.

Minutes later, Gutierrez himself saved the lives of a dozen U.S. soldiers in the Army Special Forces unit he was assigned to as a combat controller.

Read the rest of the story about Gutierrez’s extraordinary bravery and unwavering dedication that night nearly two years ago which have earned him a nomination for an Air Force Cross. Gutierrez will be the fourth recipient of the Air Force Cross for actions in Afghanistan, and the first since then-Senior Airman Zachary Rhyner received the honor in 2009.

27 September 2011

The "Blanket Ladies" of SoCal

Wilmington, CA VFW “Blanket Ladies”

West Point Parents‘ Club „Blanket Ladies“

Gold Star Mother „Blanket Ladies“

Torrance, CA „Blanket Ladies“

Linda and Corinne. All photos courtesy Linda Ferrara.

In September, Soldiers‘ Angel and Gold Star Mother Linda Ferrara held one of her regular appreciation luncheons at her home in Torrance, CA for about 40 of the „Blanket Ladies“ she’s recruited over the years. The various groups include women from the Wilmington, CA VFW, local members of the West Point Parents‘ Club, local residents of Torrance, CA, and local Gold Star Mothers.

Linda does most of the fundraising, then she and Corinne head out to make bulk purchases of fleece. The bolts of fleece are kept at Corinne's in a shed while she and fellow Blanket Lady Carole work on the pre-cutting. The pre-cut fabric is brought to the separate groups of “Blanket Ladies”, who meet regularly to assemble “no-sew” blankets. The completed blankets are then collected and boxed up by Linda and her daughter Simone, assisted by granddaughter Kaitlyn. Finally, Corinne and Carole take care of bringing the large boxes for shipment to Germany.

Their combined efforts generate about 100 blankets each month. The blankets are distributed by Soldiers’ Angels at Landstuhl hospital to patients aeromedically evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Linda began making blankets for the wounded at Landstuhl hospital in Germany in memory of her son CPT Matthew Ferrara, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2007. Linda’s other three sons are also in the Army, and one is currently deployed to Afghanistan.

Thank you, "Blanket Ladies" for showing our wounded warriors the love! You make a difference - one blanket at a time.

21 September 2011

Wounded Warrior's License Plate Says It All

The "IEDED" specialty plate leaves little doubt as to how the Wisconsin driver of this vehicle earned a Purple Heart, denoted by the decal on the left side of the plate. Photo: Abe Sauer of the Atlantic.

16 September 2011

Critical Caring

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

NBC's Andy Eckardt filed this great report called "Critical Caring" about a unique and innovative trauma center - Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer Medal of Honor Ceremony

In case you missed it live or, like me, would like to watch again.

Like many heroes, Dakota Meyer didn't want attention himself, so he insisted that there be simultaneous ceremonies around the country to honor those he saved and especially those he could not. Yesterday, at one of those ceremonies, Gunnery Sergeant Aaron Kenefick's friends and family gathered at his grave in Pendleton, NY. "Bringing Aaron back was Dakota's gift to our family."

Fallen WNY Marine is honored today: wivb.com

10 September 2011

Sorrow and Resolve

Like all Americans, my memories of that day are vivid: The unbelievable sight of the burning towers, the horror and despair of the jumpers, the shock of realization when the Pentagon was hit: America is under attack.

And as the towers fell – first one, then the other – time seemed to stop as I slumped forward and felt the cries of thousands of souls from a black void.

Then something else swelled up: Fury. They finally got what they wanted; what they’ve wanted since 1993.

Over time, it became clear to me that until then I’d been living in what now seems like my own little world, concerned with my own petty little problems. I’d taken so much for granted. In particular, I realized I’d never fully understood what it meant to be an American. I had no personal experience with the concept that our country was something worth living – and dying – for. It was a kind of Pinocchio moment: "Now I know I'm a real boy, because I can feel my heart breaking."

What I didn't know then is that a heart can break a thousand times.

Although 9/11 is often called ‘the day the world changed’, the fact is that for most Americans, our lives since then have changed in what are essentially inconsequential ways. But for almost 3,000 families – killed in an act of terror simply because they went to work that day, or because they responded to help their fellow citizens – every minute of every day for the past 10 years has been lived with the painful loss of a loved one.

And as the global war on terror that began as a result of 9/11 started, brave men and women stepped up to risk their lives to protect America and prevent future acts of terrorism. Their families stepped up with them, enduring long, multiple deployments filled with challenges, loneliness, and worry.

Over 40,000 warriors sustained life-altering physical injuries, and many more suffer from invisible wounds. Another 6,000 made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, and 6,000 more families joined the original 3,000 in suffering every day from their indescribable loss.

For all of them, the world truly did change after 9/11.

It is said there is no greater love than that of someone who is willing to lay down his life for another. As a volunteer at Landstuhl, I have had the privilege to be in the company of Heroes, for whom the words Duty, Honor, Country are a way of life.

Ten years later, each and every time I see a Wounded Warrior, my heart still breaks with sorrow - and swells with pride and resolve.

“Today is a day to be proud to be American!” cried a warrior from the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

September 11, 2011 is a an even prouder day to be American.

"Those who say that we're in a time when there are no heroes, they just don't know where to look."
- Ronald Reagan

08 September 2011

Teddy Bears

September, 2001.

We finally summon the courage and do what we’ve come here to do. We ask the taxi driver to take us to Ground Zero.

It's well after midnight, and quiet in lower Manhattan. But as we approach the area the sky is filled with the foreboding glow of floodlights.

The night is also filled with sound of wrecking machines.

The wrecking ball slams against the broken structure, then a fire hose sprays down the dust.

Over and over and over.

We are strangely and horribly hypnotized by the endless repetition.

Watch where you walk! Wait, there’s a plank leading over there...

We pick our way along the makeshift, wooden sidewalk with a railing. On it is spray painted: WATER -->

People, lots of people, speaking in hushed voices, walking the perimeter. A policeman. He points and tells people which building used to stand where.

I am shaken by the fact that I can’t remember which building used to stand where, exactly.

. . .

The smell.

Like jet fuel and burning and burnt hair. But all wet, from the millions and millions of gallons of water they poured on it.

. . .

We keep walking. Soon, there are no more people and it’s dark, and quiet. On the south side, we again walk on wooden planks placed over the exposed guts of lower Manhattan.

Then more bright lights, and we hear the trucks. Trucks driving in and out. They rumble past us. Huge, flatbed trucks driving out chunks of concrete and twisted metal; trucks going back empty.

All night. Which means all day, too.

They recede behind us. Dark and quiet again. We are on the Hudson River side of Manhattan now, and it’s the deepest, darkest, loneliest hour of the night. A policeman comes over and asks us where we’re from.

“From here”, we say.

“You seen the teddy beahs?”, he asks.

Teddy bears?

“Wait a minute”, he says. He goes and talks to the other cops and then comes back, opens the barricade and says, “C’mon. I’m taking you in.”

Moonscape. Like those pictures from the moon. Blindingly bright white-grey landscape and a black sky.

Machines, dwarfed by the scale of the whole thing, working everywhere like toys.

Far, far in the distance the wrecking ball slams against the broken structure, then a fire hose sprays down the dust...

. . .

We go back out. He points us towards the teddy bears.

A plaza. A walkway with a low wall. It’s long. New York City long. And there are bears on this wall, thousands and thousands of teddy bears. They are 2, 3, 10 deep.

They’re all holding pictures. Pictures of weddings, of graduations.

Pictures of the people who went to work that day.

“To my dearest wife Debbie, I will love you always... “

“Son, your Mom and I miss you with all our hearts... “

In the Firefighters’ section, a poster with photos of a man and a young boy. Fishing. A birthday party. Playing ball. At the top, in a child’s best handwriting:

“To My Dad – Fireman and Hero”

. . .

Hours later, I stand at the bathroom sink with the water running.

I can’t get the smell out of my nose.

I never will.

[Originally posted September, 2008]

Wounded Warrior: "What happened to me... it doesn't compare to all the civilians who were killed that day"

On 9/11, I remember sitting in art class at Kofa High School, watching the attack on TV. I was going to graduate in a few months, already planning on the military. But that solidified things. I was really angry, and I just wanted to take the fight to the enemy overseas. Friends in the room were saying, "Hey, Gabriel, it looks like you'll be going to war."

Yuma is a Marine Corps town, but I was always drawn to the Army. I looked up to guys like Gen. Patton and Gen. MacArthur. For me, fighting for your country is the greatest honor, and combat is the ultimate test. ...

I have no regrets. I got to do what I always wanted, which is more than a lot of people can say. Sure, I'd like my arm back, and my friends. But I always think how much worse it could have been. And this is what happens in war. I still feel like I could give my life for my country.

There's a lot more in the written interview at the link.

Soldier recalls serving as New York firefighter on 9/11

Staff Sgt. Peter Rosie, 1st Battalion, 4th Cavalry, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, kneels at Ground Zero following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of more than 3,000 Americans. Rosie was serving as a paramedic with the New York Fire Department when the attacks occurred. Courtesy photo.

September 11, 2001 was supposed to be Peter Rosie's day off.

Rosie was currently in his eighth year of service as a paramedic with the New York Fire Department where his station served the residents of New York's Harlem community. A sudden phone call from his girlfriend instructing him to turn on the TV; and his life, as well as that of millions of others from the around the world, would be changed forever.

"I saw the first plane hit (the North Tower) on the TV. We had a small TV so you couldn't make out the magnitude of it," Rosie recalled of the terrorists attacks that struck New York's World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, and took more than 3,000 lives. "All I had to do was walk one flight to the roof and then I saw the second (plane) hit in front of me. My first thought was 'I better go to work.'"

The Scotland native who had previously served in the U.S. Army and later the British Army before joining the fire department then hopped on his son's bicycle to report to Bellevue Hospital Center. Throughout the following weeks the facility would be one of New York's busiest centers to treat the wounded and later assist with identifying the deceased.

Within 10 minutes Rosie was handed a two-way radio and assigned to a partner and an ambulance for assistance at the World Trade Center.

"They threw a radio at me and said 'Here's your partner' and we started going down (to the WTC),"he recalled. "All I knew was it was bad."

He would soon be a first-hand witness to the sheer magnitude and danger of the day's tragic events when his ambulance began to arrive on the scene just as the South Tower (the first of the two towers to collapse) began to fall and nearly struck his ambulance.

"We were driving into it as it was coming down. We're talking seconds. If we had been a little bit earlier -- goner. Then, it just went black."

Rosie recalled that the closer they traveled to what is now respectably known as "Ground Zero" the harder it became for one to keep their bearings and a clear eye sight due to the amount of smoke and falling debris. The first patients he would assist included a police officer suffering from a heart attack and victim who had lost a limb. The sight of them emerging from the smoke and ashes remain engrained in his memory.

"It was that first transport that was the worse," he said. "We backed up into Bellevue and there's just a sea of scrubs, just people waiting because there really wasn't that many units bringing anything significant in (yet)."

When he returned to the site, the second tower had also collapsed and he recalled how first responders were still attempting to establish a command post and a successful means of communications between emergency personnel.

"By that point, no one knew what was going on. We were hearing and getting all kinds of information. At one point we thought the Holland Tunnel was blown up."

Rosie recalls the rest of the day and ensuing night as operating on "auto-pilot" with numerous patient transports to the hospital and the treatment of an immense amount of respiratory distress and eye injuries.

He recalled that smoke would continue to rise from the site for nearly the next month and by then emergency crews had switched from rescue missions, designed to locate survivors, to recovery missions intended to retrieve the deceased from the debris.

For the following year when Rosie wasn't on his scheduled shift at the fire department, he (along with an uncounted number of additional emergency personnel) would be found volunteering for recovery missions at Ground Zero.

"For the next year if I wasn't working at Harlem, then I was working down at Ground Zero," he said. "If anything was found, we'd drive the (all-terrain vehicle) down into the hole, we'd drape the flag over it and drive it out. Up and down. Up and down.

"There was a lot of camaraderie (among the volunteers and emergency personnel). It was good but tiring. I was tired because if we weren't working or at Ground Zero, we were going to funerals. There were 343 funerals," Rosie said in reference to the number of NYFD firefighters who lost their lives on Sept. 11.

Staff Sgt. Peter Rosie, 1st Battalion, 4th Cavalry, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, pulls security duty during his unit's deployment to Iraq in 2009. Rosie was serving as a paramedic with the New York Fire Department on Sept. 11, 2001. Courtesy photo.

One chief decision that Rosie recalls making on that fateful day would take him nearly six years to come to fruition. He was re-enlisting in the U.S. Army.

"The fire department is a noble profession and a great job, very rewarding but I knew on that day (Sept. 11) that I couldn't stay in that capacity anymore," he said. "With the prior service and all that, I knew that everything had changed and I wanted to go back into the Army."

Unfortunately his age at the time was fighting against him. He was over the Army's maximum enlistment age. However, as though fate granted his wish, the policy was temporarily changed and Rosie jumped on his self-titled "small window of opportunity." After a near 26-year absence from when he first was discharged from the U.S. Army, he found himself once again donning the uniform.

"I guess they were getting hard up and taking old men," he chuckled. Four years later, he finds himself assigned to the historic 'Big Red One' at Fort Riley, Kan., and preparing to embark on his third deployment with the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

"I joined the Army to go and be deployed. I was there for payback. Let's face it. One month after joining the Army, I was in the desert; never even been in a humvee before. It was all (on the job training). I had no refresher, no train-up, nothing. It was quite stressful but it was good," he recalled of that first deployment in 2007.

"I thought I had bit off a little more than I could chew initially. But I persisted and I ended up doing real well," he said of his success in rapidly achieving the rank of staff sergeant after returning to the Army as a specialist.

This past July, Rosie returned to New York. The trip marked the first time he returned to the city since re-enlisting in the Army.

"I don't think about Sept. 11 too much. I'm not sure if it's some sort of coping mechanism, but I think it's why I never went back to New York," Rosie said.

He's currently gearing up for his third deployment with the "Dragon" brigade and hopes to remain in the Army and retire by the time he's 60.

"My goal is to reach retirement before I get so old that I die of natural causes," he said with a chuckle.

07 September 2011

Wounded in Iraq: A Marine's Story

Five years after a gunshot changed his life, Major Justin Constantine reflects on what a decade of war has cost Americans.

‎"As September 11, 2011 approaches, take a few minutes to think of us wounded warriors and our families. We are in your community, sprinkled throughout small towns and big cities. Do not let our sacrifices go unknown or forgotten. ... And remind yourself that far too many service members have not made it back from Iraq and Afghanistan."

Read the whole thing.

06 September 2011

Finally, an American

The incredible story of a Vietnam Vet who becomes an American citizen 45 years after his service in Vietnam, when it was discovered that his dishonorable discharge had been changed to honorable 45 years ago but he was never told. Two years ago, after some investigation, his family received his military papers only to discover the change in his discharge status took place on August 14, 1964.

For the first time John Green tells his story: A story of honor, brotherhood, and love of country.

Recently, fellow Soldiers' Angel volunteer Robin Bateman was having some work done on her home. As she was talking to the painting contractor, the subject moved to her volunteer work with Soldiers' Angels. The contractor told her that he would like to deduct a large sum from his invoice for the work, provided Robin used the funds to purchase needed items for our wounded warriors at Landstuhl.

That contractor is John Green.

When I wrote to John to thank him for his generosity and to congratulate him on his citizenship, he replied that he wants everyone to know that, "The video was not just about me, it was to let those who are discouraged and think no one cares, I hope this video lets everyone know that there is hope and life after the horrors of war. Please do not hesitate on sending it on to fellow service people."

John, all of us at Soldiers' Angels salute you for your service, and thank you for your compassion for today's warfighters. And CONGRATULATIONS to a true patriot and fellow American!!

02 September 2011

For those I love...

U.S. Army Pfc. Kyle Hockenberry is tended to by medics after being wounded in a blast from an improvised explosive device on June 15 in Afghanistan in this picture taken by a Stars and Stripes photographer. Photo courtesy of the Hockenberry family to the Marietta Times.

On August 10, PFC Kyle Hockenberry was awarded the Purple Heart at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas.

[Hockenberry's uncle Jim] Hall and his wife were by their nephew's side for the ceremony, along with Hockenberry's parents, brother, three of his cousins and more than 20 soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division's headquarters in Fort Riley, Kan. Everyone in the room wore protective coverings to prevent infection and Hall said 20 to 30 more Army members were outside the room.

Afterward, Hall said, the family was approached by a photographer with the U.S. military newspaper Stars and Stripes, who shared with them a picture taken shortly after the explosion that wounded Hockenberry.

"It was just as emotional as the ceremony itself," Hall said of seeing the picture.

Hockenberry has been recovering at BAMC since being critically wounded in an improvised explosive device blast on June 15 in Afghanistan. Both legs above the knee and his left arm above the elbow have been amputated.

More at the Marietta Times.

Thanks to Matt at Blackfive for the link.

Update, December 30, 2011: "I'd do it all over again." He looks great!