22 November 2014

Wounded Marine retires the same way he was sworn in - standing on his own two feet

Capt. Derek Herrera, paralyzed in an Afghanistan ambush, is the first American to own a special robotic exoskeleton that allows mobility. (Source: CNN)

From WISTV.com:

A MARSOC Marine who was left paralyzed by a sniper's bullet in Afghanistan fulfilled a promise to himself on Friday and walked using robotic leg braces in a ceremony at Camp Pendleton, where he was awarded a Bronze Star with Valor.

The crowd of 300 Marines was silent as Capt. Derek Herrera walked. All that was heard was the faint whirring of electric motors from the device.

Herrera then stood, holding onto one crutch. With his other hand, he saluted his commanding officer, who presented him the award.

In another WISTV story, Herrera talks about the day that changed his life.

"We were on the rooftop observing some suspicious activity in the valley to our north," Herrera of 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion said.

Just after sunrise on June 14, 2012, he was leading a patrol in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

"Then all of a sudden, I felt kind of a pulsing sensation on my back," he said.

It was an ambush. A bullet from an AK-47 had lodged in his spine.

"As I was lying there, I immediately knew I had some pain, almost electrical stimulation, pulsing through my back," he said. "... In an instant, an inch one way, it would have missed me completely. An inch the other way, it would have gone straight to my heart and killed me."

Months of rehabilitation would follow, a new battle for the officer adjusting to being completely paralyzed from the chest down.

"Over time, I came to realize that of the many friends that I've had who've made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, any one of those guys would be happy to be in my position, continue to live a life," Herrera said.

11 November 2014

Veterans Day

To our Veterans past and present - you have served at home, and in far away lands. You have kept your fellow Americans safe and free at home, and you have freed millions throughout the world from tyranny. You represent the legacy of those throughout our nation's history who know the ugly of war, but who believe there are things even uglier than war. For you, the words DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY are a way of life. Thank you for your courage and for your sacrifices. Thank you for your service. God bless you all, and God bless America.

This 2012 "Veterans Day Note To Self" by Iraq War Veteran Alex Horton is a must-see.

10 November 2014

Happy Birthday, Marines!

Here's health to you and to our Corps
Which we are proud to serve;
In many a strife we've fought for life
And have never lost our nerve.
If the Army and the Navy
Ever look on Heaven's scenes,
They will find the streets are guarded
By United States Marines.

Happy birthday to the United States Marine Corps!

09 November 2014

In Loving Memory of Captain Matthew Ferrara

Captain Matthew Charles Ferrara
14 October 1983 - 9 November 2007

Today we honor and remember Matt Ferrara and six other Heroes killed 9 November 2007 while conducting combat operations near OP Bella in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan. Eight more Sky Soldiers and 11 Afghan Soldiers were wounded.

Then-1LT Matthew C. Ferrara, SGT Jeffery S. Mersman, SPC Sean K.A. Langevin, SPC Lester G. Roque and PFC Joseph M. Lancour of Chosen Company, 2-503rd PIR, 173rd ABCT and Marine Sgt. Phillip A. Bocks of the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center were killed in the attack which took place as they returned to their outpost from a meeting with elders in a nearby village.

In 2008, Linda Ferrara wrote an article about her son Matt for New Zealand's The Listener titled "Our Matty is Gone". Linda is a native New Zealander, and as a dual US-New Zealand citizen, and Matt was the first New Zealander to be killed while serving in Afghanistan.

In the article she shares memories about Matt's life, as only a proud and loving mother can.

He sent us all into a panic when he was barely two, leaving the house on his own and walking over to the tennis courts at the local high school.

He could disappear in a store in a flash, leaving me at first angry, then frantic when I could not find him, and no amount of reasoning or threats could dissuade him from this practice. He felt safe and completely at ease and could not understand my anxiety.

I never cured him of this habit; the only thing that changed was that it was not as bad to lose a 10-year-old as a two-year-old.

He was smart, very smart, and I often felt he knew more than the rest of us, and along with his strong will, he was also brave.

Evidence of his bravery and his intelligence continued later when he followed in his older brother's footsteps and was accepted at West Point.

Just a few months after he entered West Point, the future of the United States was violently changed by the events of September 11, 2001. Matt was not intimidated by the thought of what this meant.

He graduated from West Point in May 2005, near the top of his class, with a major in Chinese and economics. He joined the infantry, and after graduation became a Ranger, and was assigned to the 173rd Airborne in Vicenza, Italy, a choice post.

Matt lived life to the fullest, and in the year before going to Afghanistan he travelled all over Europe "running with the bulls, jumping off cliffs in Croatia, scuba diving wrecks in the Mediterranean, skiing the Alps, spending weekends in Paris, and touring Ireland with a friend."

Today, Matt's legacy lives on in many ways, from the military service of his three brothers to Linda's devotion to supporting deployed and wounded troops. She's recruited over 40 "Blanket Ladies" over the years whose combined efforts generate about 100 blankets each month. Thousands of these blankets have been distributed by Soldiers’ Angels at Landstuhl hospital to patients aeromedically evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Wilmington, CA VFW “Blanket Ladies”

West Point Parents‘ Club „Blanket Ladies“

Gold Star Mother „Blanket Ladies“

Torrance, CA „Blanket Ladies“

Linda helps a patient select a blanket during her visit to Landstuhl hospital in early 2009.

Here, in an AFN interview carried out during that visit, Linda discusses an initial setback to her plans and how she ultimately succeeded in her goal to make a difference - one blanket at a time - in loving memory of her son.

Our love and prayers are with Matt's family and the families of his brothers-in-arms who gave their lives for each other, their loved ones, and their country on 9 November 2007. We will remember them always.

CJTF-82 Heroes of the Week
Why we fight: Because "all of humanity is our tribe", by Linda Ferrara

08 November 2014

Remembering Fallujah 10 Years Later

In this iconic photo taken during Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah, Iraq on November 13, 2004, then-First Sergeant Bradley Kasal is carried out of a house by LCpl Chris Marquez and LCpl Dane Shaffer. In the house, Kasal sustained seven gunshot wounds and over 43 pieces of hot fragmentation from a grenade while using his body to shield an injured fellow Marine. Although he is estimated to have lost approximately 60 percent of his blood at this point, he is still holding his M9 pistol and KA-Bar fighting knife. Kasal was later awarded the Navy Cross for his actions. Photo: Lucien Read.

Marine Corps Times:

It has been a decade since Marines fought for their lives — and their brothers-in-arms — in Iraq's bloodiest battles, which would spark a turning point in the eight-year war.

Nearly 100 Americans, mostly Marines, would die in the battles of Fallujah during some of the toughest fights in the campaign. Fallujah secured its place in Marine Corps heritage, alongside battles fought during the same era, like that in Sangin, Afghanistan, as well as those of past wars, like Iwo Jima and Tarawa.

On Sept. 14, 2004, Maj. Gen. Larry Nicholson, then a colonel, was medevaced from the city that had become an al-Qaida stronghold after he was wounded in a rocket attack the day after taking command of 1st Marine Regiment. Back stateside, Nicholson recovered at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, as Operation Al-Fajr, a door-to-door fight in Fallujah, kicked off on Nov. 7.

Within months, Nicholson was back in Iraq, seeing the last moments of the operation and how the city would change for years to come.

"I think Fallujah will always be remembered as that gritty, hard fought, room by room, house-by-house battle where our Marines and soldiers prevailed," Nicholson told Marine Corps Times. "It will always be synonymous with an urban fight where small unit leaders won the fight."

It was Marines and soldiers fighting block-by-block, street-by-street, kicking in doors during the most intense urban warfare the Corps waged since the battle of Hue City in Vietnam in 1968.

"After the city was cleared, it really began the awakening. Giving that city back to the Iraqi people was critically important. It facilitated elections in Fallujah, and also in Ramadi and all over Anbar province.

"When we came back with the 5th Marine Regiment in 2006, we started to see a lot of dramatic change in terms of Iraqis taking responsibility for their own security. We started to see Iraqi tribal leaders turning against al-Qaida.

"That really hit full throttle in late 2007. The Sons of Iraq was exploding all over Anbar, all over Iraq. By 2009, it was relatively quiet, and we left and turned Fallujah over to the armed forces of Iraq. None of that would have been possible without taking Fallujah away from the enemy."

From Fallujah: The commander US Marines followed without question at the Christian Science Monitor, then-Capt. Gil Juarez recalls telling his men after the deployment,

"Life now is about not taking a step back. You’ve been through a tremendous event, part of our history now ... but life is hard, and that doesn’t get you much. The world may not know or care to know what happened here. That’s tough, especially for young guys that have been through that.”

05 November 2014

From Home, With Love

These blankets for our patients from long-time donor Carol Ziemendorf always bring a tear to my eye. Thank you to all of our wonderful donors!