Passing on a good post

March 11, 2008

A Neighborhood Reborn

by Captain Pete Hegseth

Al Doura, Baghdad — As I step out of the humvee into the street, I have two facts in mind: I’ve been here before; and this time, I don’t have a weapon.

Recalling the tension of my first patrol in this neighborhood as a platoon leader, my five senses are sharp. The dusty road below greets my boots, some of the smells are eerily familiar, and the sound of idling humvees is my only comfort. My head swivels to scan the street. My hands are naked without an M-4, so I find the nearest soldier.

Soon — as a young child approaches — the wary familiarity gives way to fascination. I may be in the same geographic location, but I’m not in the same neighborhood. This is not Al Doura, at least not as I knew it. Where did all these people and shops come from? Where is all the trash, and the open sewage? Where is the fear — the deep-seated fear?

Children approach, as they usually do — but today it’s not just children. Young men walk up, initiating conversation. Women cross the street between our humvees, seemingly unaware of the GIs. The people are friendly, but not assertively so. Our presence is natural, almost routine. My inner tension clashes with the calm scene unfolding around me.

I take a few steps into the middle of an intersection with a clear view in all directions. Along the main thoroughfare, my immediate surroundings are replicated: block after block of shops and bustling residents. The side streets that I remember as sewage-clogged gutters are clean and teeming with construction and activity.

This is not Al Doura. The Al Doura I knew was the heart of sectarian violence, with daily body counts in the dozens. As I keep walking, I pass a busy car wash, and then a fitness center where young men pump iron and tear-outs of Muscle Fitness adorn the walls. We pass two new playgrounds, where boys clamber up and down slides and beautiful little girls play with dolls. A cart vendor offers me a bag of freshly popped popcorn — but I decline and have some falafel instead.

Increasingly relaxed and curious, I duck into side streets. One leads me to a buzzing recreation center, where soldiers are challenged to a game of pool. In the next room, teenage boys fight it out in the computer game “Medal of Honor” (which my little brother plays constantly). The World War II battle simulator heats up as we enter: the “German” I’m watching turns a virtual corner and lobs a grenade at an “American.” We all burst out laughing. That’s as much hostility as my patrol would face this day.

The entire time, we have only nominal security. It was disconcerting at first — I would never have come here unarmed two years ago — but the commander I’m walking with eases my concerns: the people are our security. The neighborhood residents trust the Americans, as well as the “Sons of Iraq” (or CLCs, as the Army calls them: Concerned Local Citizens) — local residents who provide security for the neighborhood. In a place where al-Qaeda dominated just eight months ago, today they couldn’t buy a bag of popcorn.

The unit’s commander — Lieutenant Colonel James Crider — clarifies the new situation in Doura, “We made a deliberate attempt to engage the people and soon enough, when they realized we weren’t going anywhere, that’s when they started talking to us.”

Beginning in June, while bullets were still flying, Crider’s squadron held sit-down meetings with every family in Doura, walking house-to-house over the course of several months to forge personal relationships. This approach — combined with a 24/7 presence in the neighborhoods — eventually crippled al-Qaeda. LTC Crider notes, “Al-Qaeda had no idea who was ratting them out, because we went into every house.” The relationships they fostered from these meetings provided intelligence that allowed the unit to detain al-Qaeda members who were thriving on American ignorance and hiding in plain sight. One of Crider’s lieutenants adds, “It was a battle of intel — and we won.”

These gains, however, were costly. In their first 30 days in Doura, the unit was attacked over 50 times. On the very streets we’re walking today, LTC Crider has lost nine good men, with dozens more injured. But the unit persisted — honoring the sacrifices of their brethren — and has not been attacked in their sector since September 27. As compelling testimony to the unit’s dedication to the task, LTC Crider’s squadron had the highest reenlistment rate in all of Baghdad in 2007, exceeding their goal by over 500 percent.

As we walk, we see scars of the neighborhood’s violent recent past — bombed-out homes pepper the area and bullet-sprayed walls are everywhere. Some power wires dangle out of place. All is not perfect — but signs of life keep finding us. As we reach the end of the block, three young males approach, all looking for work and eager to join the “Sons of Iraq.” This is typical, Crider informs me, and the unit jots down their names.

LTC Crider and his soldiers understand that the security gains, though real, are still tenuous — if alternatives to insurgency are not soon in place. The unit has given out hundreds of business micro-loans, many of which were used for street-front stores. They fund only local contractors, who hire local workers to pick up trash, fix sewage pipes, and provide electricity. The people of Doura themselves are rebuilding Doura — with the U.S. Army’s help.

Before going to lunch with a local leader, I stop and talk with Omar, the owner of a small grocery. He’s clean-shaven, well dressed, and roughly my age. He moved to Doura about two years ago (when my unit was here), after being displaced from his town by the Mahdi Army.

I ask him why hadn’t he joined al-Qaeda either to expel Americans or retaliate against the Shia. He replied, “Because al-Qaeda kills civilians, including my aunt and three cousins.” His uncle was a local contractor — an offense to al-Qaeda, punishable by the killing of his wife and daughters. Omar speaks candidly of the U.S. presence here: “Americans have made many mistakes, but now they are fixing them. . . . If Americans leave now, it will be a disaster.”

The most telling aspect of our conversation is where it takes place — on the street, out in the open, and among Omar’s fellow residents. He is not afraid, and vows to fight al-Qaeda if they ever return. I ask him why, of all places, he decided to move to Doura at the height of the violence here. “Because they are good people,” he answers.

It was then that I realized I had never really been to this place — I just thought I had. This is the real Al Doura, a neighborhood and a people reborn — thanks to the bravery and sacrifice of LTC Crider and his men. Today, I saw Al Doura for the first time.

— Captain Pete Hegseth, who served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division from 2005 to 2006, is executive director of Vets for Freedom. He’s back in Iraq for the next week to cover the surge for NRO.

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Supporting the Troops

March 1, 2008

I have been AWOL… (is there such a thing as Official Leave for Civilians?) Perhaps a better term would be AWOB… Absent With Out Blogging. Rather than go into a boring list of reasons, I will attempt to jump back into this.

Today I am sharing a fantastic email from my Favorite Marine: 

Have you ever walk into a room and immediately felt an enormous energy field?  It happened to me about 2 weeks ago. 

I walked into the fitness center in my building and there were 2 people in there; one of the condo owners and the other a petite blond I had never seen before.

The gentleman said, “Speaking of Marines,” as he nodded toward me.  The conversation started going 100 mph from that point on.  One of the first things said was that Dianne was from Berkley, CA – that’s what I thought I heard and we all rolled our eyes because of the protests going on at the campus concerning Marines. 

In reality, she’s from Tampa.  With me asking a few questions I found out a truly amazing thing about Dianne.

The Berkley connection was that she was so outraged over the protests that she got on a plane, by herself, and flew there for the sole purpose to take these people on single-handedly and to tell them to leave “her” Marines alone! 

She even got 2 of them arrested when they spray painted her (followed by her macing them)!! 

What I misunderstood about her living there was that she had just returned from that trip. 

I had an immediate respect and awe for Dianne.  I don’t know of anyone who would do something like this.  I asked her why she had this passion – what was her Marine connection. 

She kept alluding to “her” Marines – the tens of thousands of them in Iraq and Afghanistan; that she doesn’t want anyone “slamming” them, etc. 

Like many of my friends, Dianne started collecting goodies and mailing them to Marines a few years ago when the war started.  One thing led to another and soon all her waking hours were consumed with collecting and mailing packages and she was soon spending well over $2,000 of her own money, per month, to do this.  She didn’t care. 

Oh, and Dianne is a personal fitness trainer who started her own successful business and employs 10 trainers.  Her friends and the local businesses finally convinced her to start a non-profit organization to help her with the financial strain. 

Support our Marines was born on November 10, 2007 – picked because of the birthday of the Marine Corps

What many of you may not know is that more and more Marines are living further away from the main bases so they have less access to buy even the basics than they did 2 years ago.  We have learned that to be successful in this war, we need to get closer to the local population. 

Marines do not complain and we do what is necessary.  We always adapt.  Because of the greater sacrifices expected of the units, packages from home mean all that much more, now. 

“Most of our Marines operate out of very isolated combat outpost and under some of the harshest conditions. No hot water, we use things like WAG bags for our waste, we use plywood built outhouse and sleep in some of the worst buildings and conditions. But on the other hand (some) of our Marines live and operate in conditions that are better than some but worse than most. Overall though, we are determined and committed to accomplishing our missions out here. No matter what the conditions are we will do our jobs as Marines!” Quote from a sergeant with TF 3/2. 

Of course all of these Marines (in AFG and Iraq) are in the U.S. Marine Forces Central Command’s (MARCENT) area of responsibility, (so they are even more near and dear to my heart because I work at MARCENT). 

I wanted you to know about this wonderful woman and what she is doing. 

Please feel free to pass on this email and introduce Dianne to others, too!

Sharon 

Support Our Marines

Sending a wave and a hug to Dianne. We understand why you stands up and fights for “your Marines”… as many of us have also adopted those in the military past and present. The brave men and women, who fight for us, have all become members of our extended family.


Good News Friday

January 18, 2008

One of the blessings of being a civilian is, I have the privilege of walking away from the War for periods of time. Walking back in and reading about what is happening and walking back out at my leisure. I am spoiled.While the Soldiers are never far from my mind, I have the luxury of turning events off and on at will. It seems as if I am slipping further from the issues and into some semblance of normalcy. My hubby thinks I am still too engrossed and worries that I still tend to stalk those in uniform trying to score a hug. (What can I say? I am weak!)

I would like to thank the men and women of the Unites States Armed Forces for helping to ensure that we are free, that we are not forced to face insurgents at our front door, that we can sit home and watch mindless television programs if we are so inclined.  We can go out for walks, drive to the beach, or even hang out at the mall.  

Thanks guys.. Y’all Rock! And a special thanks to the people who hold down the Fort while our heroes are at war. The 1st Cav article below, gives us some excellent examples of the changes in Iraq, that our troops brought about!


Ironhorse Brigade reflects on progress in OIF Rotation 06-08

By Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp
1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs
           CAMP TAJI, Iraq –  When the senior leadership and Soldiers of the 1st “Ironhorse” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division first arrived to Iraq nearly 15 months ago, the security situation here was quite different from the one they now experience as they patrol the streets throughout their area of operations.            According to Maj. Patrick Michaelis, the Ironhorse brigade’s operations officer, the brigade has seen a “phenomenal change” from having 150 enemy attacks per week for the first seven to 10 weeks in theater to having only about 10 significant events per week, now mostly involving the finding of weapons caches and improvised explosive devices with only isolated incidents of coordinated enemy attacks.

            “The shift in atmosphere of our operational environment has moved away from individual security and safety to normalcy which has manifested itself in a concern for governance,” said Michaelis. “Spectacular attacks are now the exception and not the rule.”

            “If you had asked last year if we were fighting a counterinsurgency, it would have been hard to say yes, rather we were in the center of a low-level ethno-centric civil war,” added Michaelis.

            Michaelis credits much of the brigade’s success as a combined result of the troop surge which began in early 2007 and reconciliation efforts along with other underlying factors.

            Early on in the deployment, the brigade began establishing joint security stations and Coalition outposts in the neighborhoods in which it patrols.

            “One of the tactics we implemented as a manifestation of the surge was putting ourselves dead center in contentious areas, going where the extremists sanctuaries were along with targeting Al Qaeda financial assets,” said Michaelis. “These efforts forced a change in the differences between this year and last year.” 

            “Al Qaeda’s tactics of extorting the locals which led to the Awakening in (Al Anbar province) gave rise to the opportunity of formerly irreconcilable forces aligning with the government and Coalition to work toward the definable future that we’re in now.”

            Sunnis and Shias first began coming together in late January and early February in the brigade’s 2nd “Lancer” Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment operating environment in Abu Ghraib as tribal sheiks joined local leaders with more concrete results of Reconciliation efforts manifesting themselves in April and May of 2007, according to Michaelis. Eventually, similar things began happening in areas patrolled by the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment; the 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment which was attached to the Ironhorse Brigade out of Fort Lewis, Wash.; and the 2nd “Stallion” Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment also began to see changes as former AQI members began breaking away from the extremist organizations and aligning themselves with the government.  

            “There was a definite polarization between Sunni and Shia tribes and now they are finding themselves recognizing their differences, yet are working toward a common goal.”

            Despite a significant drop in enemy activity over the past six months, the brigade which operates in two qadas (the Taji qada and Abu Ghraib qadas, which are equivalent to counties or parishes) and a small part of the Al Anbar province, still remains vigilant in its efforts to maintain current security gains while working with its joint partners, stated Michaelis.  

            “Although the tension in the air is gone and a there’s a feeling of opportunity and optimism, there’s no doubt that the bad guys are still out there,” said the operations officer. “We’re prepared to respond to them with lethal force if necessary.”

            During their rotation, the brigade, working alongside its Iraqi counterparts in the Iraqi Police, Iraqi security volunteers and Iraqi Army troops in the 3rd Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division and the 2nd and 3rd Brigades of the 9th Iraqi Army Division (Mechanized), has detained 86 high-ranking senior leaders in various extremist organizations to include Al Qaeda. 

            The brigade found and disposed of 724 improvised explosive devices—many of which 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion troops found while clearing routes.  The brigade also uncovered 180 weapons caches. All of this was done while teaming in joint operations that not only involved partnering with Iraqi military, police and volunteer forces but included the participation of Estonian and Macedonian troops also based on Camp Taji and embedded with 1st BCT Soldiers.

            Over the course of the deployment, the brigade’s 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment fired more than 6,400 rounds from its M109A6 Paladin howitzers in support of counterfire missions to suppressive fire missions as well as hitting pre-planned targets. They have also cleared routes for combat missions along with providing security for the base camp here.

            Nearly 12,000 combined Critical Infrastructure Security volunteers and Iraqi security volunteers have partnered with Iraqi Security Forces and the BCT. They man the 190 checkpoints throughout the Ironhorse Area of Operations. 

            The brigade assisted military transition teams based on Camp Taji by partnering with various Iraqi Army units to train them. In one such partnership, the brigade’s Charlie Medical Company, 115th Brigade Support Battalion trained more than 400 Iraqi soldiers through its combat life saver course. 

            Thousands of recruits in the villages of Abu Ghraib and Taji were vetted by the Iraqi government and local Iraqi Police departments to become potential police officers through recruiting drives. Soldiers in the brigade’s 2nd Bn., 5th Cav. Regt.; 2nd Battalion, 8th Cav. Regt. and the 1st Squadron, 7th Cav. Regt. all aided in these efforts.      

            To date, the combined efforts to build police forces in villages in the Ironhorse AO have resulted in more than 1,500 Iraqi Police graduating from the Iraqi Police Academy in Baghdad and at the training facility on Forward Operating Base India. The brigade’s Soldiers also assisted IPs and government leaders with the standing up of police stations such as the one in Agar Quf which opened in December.

            “As security continues to improve and displaced Iraqi citizens return to their hometowns, there is a need to develop a more sophisticated approach to law enforcement because criminal elements may also be returning into the area,” Michaelis said. “There has to be an investment in the Iraqi Police beyond what is currently required and allocated against the police force.”

            Within towns such as Sab Al Bor, that had a population of 2,600 upon the brigade’s arrival in theater, displaced persons are returning to their homes at a rate of 25 to 30 families per day and the population has increased over the past four months to nearly 25,000 people.  

            In the villages, the brigade has also seen the economy improving in the form of many newly opened businesses. In Taji Market prior to the brigade’s arrival in the area, there were 125 shops but now has the village has 340. Abu Ghraib’s 370 shops have increased to 900 while the city of Fira Shia which had no shops, now has 20. Most of the other villages in Ironhorse areas have seen similar progress.

            New economic opportunities are being seen in the Ironhorse operating environment in the forms of employment. The concerned local citizens, who are currently being paid for providing security under a temporary Coalition program will eventually be employed by the Iraqi government. In another employment initiative, the brigade has worked to assist the Iraqi government in creating programs very similar to Job Corps, established in the 1930s in the U.S., to provide temporary employment for Iraqi citizens through various civil improvement projects such as trash collection and work on roads and other construction-type projects.  

            “When the people have hope in the form of jobs to feed their families and education for their children, this goes much farther toward solidifying security gains than a gun on every street,” said Michaelis. “The people are now worried about electricity and water (along with other essential services) which are all things we as Americans feel is an obligation by government to provide.”

            “These are things the Iraqi government is working slowly towards,” Michaelis added. “The final step towards building a safe, stable and secure environment is a government that takes care of its people.”

            To assist local governments, the brigade’s Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team, ePRT Baghdad-5, has been providing local governance mentorship courses which give the local government officials a better understanding of local government concepts. Along with these efforts, the ePRT has provided advice as local governments began establishing executive and technical branches of government and committees to allow them to become self sustaining. 

            “The ePRT has become critical to sustaining reconciliation gains,” said Michaelis. “Their assistance has been vital in helping the local governments with learning how to provide essential services for their citizens.” 

            In all, the Ironhorse Brigade, utilizing assets in the ePRT and Company A, 492nd Civil Affairs Battalion, has assisted the Iraqi people in completing 179 reconstruction projects in the two qadas in which it operates which have led to the refurbishment of 11 schools, seven roads being repaved, eight clinics reopening, 31 electricity projects and 23 education projects among many other efforts.

            When the brigade first arrived, locals were receiving about four hours of power per day. Now residents in the area of operations have an average of 12 to 18 hours of electricity per day. Other improvements led to the repair of the Taji pump station which was inoperable for over four years and repairs to irrigation canals that are providing farmers with irrigation water for the first time in four years. 

            As the brigade’s Soldiers prepare themselves for their upcoming departure in early 2008, much of their focus will be on getting their replacements in the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division up to speed on the operating environment and lessons the Ironhorse troopers have learned over their time in country. 

            “During our relief in place with the next unit, we must emphasize the inter-connected nature of the environment,” stressed Michaelis. “As far as security, presence is important, however, just as important is a clear understanding of how government works from tribes to businesses and the knowledge that there are still remaining cases of sectarianism interests.”

            “We must pass this knowledge onto them so that they are successful and so they have an understanding of the different layers of social networks which affect aspects of government, business, religion and tribal relationships here,” he added. “We believe the relief in place is important for us to carry our momentum forward.” 

            The main goal for the brigade throughout its time in country involved working together, professionally with the Iraqi people with the goal of building a safe, stable and secure environment for all Iraqis, according to Michaelis. 

            Although there is still much work to be done to fully transition the sovereignty of Iraq to the Iraqi people, the Ironhorse troops feel they have made a difference and remain hopeful for the future of Iraq, stated Michaelis.

            “We’re all cautious in our optimism and we see the fruits of our burden everyday in Iraq,” said Michaelis. “We’ve sacrificed greatly to achieve a level of normalcy and stability to allow Iraqis to step forward. It can be measured in the lives of 53 Soldiers, the countless numbers of injured, and it can be measured in the sacrifices of the other 4,000 Ironhorse troops who currently serve in the brigade.”

CAMP TAJI, Iraq — San Jose, Calif. native Lt. Col. Kurt Pinkerton (right), commander, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division facilitates a meeting between Sunni and Shia tribal sheiks in Aqur Quf, Iraq, a village west of Baghdad in mid-July. Such meetings became common throughout the Ironhorse area of operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom Rotation 06-08 thanks to Reconciliation efforts that led to improved security. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp, 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)

CAMP TAJI, Iraq —  Jonesboro, Ga. native Spc. Ceason Westbrook, a medic with the 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion assigned as a member of a Buffalo Mine Resistant Vehicle crew, scans a route north of Baghdad, searching for improvised explosive devices in January 2007. Over the course of Operation Iraqi Freedom Rotation 06-08, the Ironhorse Brigade found and disposed of more than 700 IEDs.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Cheryl Cox, 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)
CAMP TAJI, Iraq — Keeping his eyes peeled for anything suspicious, Katy, Texas native Spc. Frank Maier, a scout for Troop A, 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st “Ironhorse” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, pulls security in Ath Alba, Iraq, a village North of Baghdad, in mid-March during a joint cordon and search with Iraqi troops from the 2nd Brigade, 9th Iraqi Army Division (Mechanized). This particular mid-March cordon and search was just one among hundreds of joint missions in which Ironhorse Soldiers participated with their Iraqi counterparts during Operation Iraqi Freedom Rotation 06-08. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp, 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)
CAMP TAJI, Iraq — Troopers from Company A of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment and Iraqi soldiers from the 3rd Brigade, 9th Iraqi Army Division (Mechanized) prepare for an air assault June 2 at Camp Taji, Iraq. Through joint operations such as air assaults, Ironhorse Brigade troops contributed to the capture of 86 high-ranking insurgent cell leaders and the finding of 180 weapons caches during Operation Iraqi Freedom Rotation 06-08. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp, 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)
CAMP TAJI, Iraq – Roundup, Mont. native Col. Paul E. Funk II (right), commander, 1st Bridgade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division visits a traffic control point (TCP) near Naif Al Hasan, Iraq in June 2007 with Lt. Col. Scott Efflandt (center), commander, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, who hails from Rock Island, Ill. and Capt. Nels Hanson, commander, Company C, 2nd Bn., 8th Cav. Regt.  Early in their deployment to Iraq, Ironhorse troopers once helped Iraqi Army troops with manning traffic control points, now the TCPs are manned mainly by Iraqi Army troops and Iraqi security volunteers. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp, 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)

CAMP TAJI, Iraq — Hermosa, S.D. native Lt. Col. Harvey Fitzgerald (right), senior agricultural business advisor for the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division’s Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team, ePRT Baghdad-5, talks with members of the Inma Agribusiness Program about improving agriculture in the Taji area of Iraq in late November 2007. Since April, The Ironhorse Brigade’s ePRT has been working with local Iraqi government leaders and tribal leaders to assist them with rebuilding infrastructure and providing essential services for their citizens. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. William Greer, 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Combat Camera)

Wednesday Hero

January 16, 2008

Cpl. Phillip E. Baucus

Cpl. Phillip E. Baucus
28 years old from Wolf Creek, Montana
3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force
July 29, 2006
Marine Cpl. Phillip E. Baucus was the nephew of Montana Senator Max Baucus. He joined the corps in 2002 and was sent to Iraq in March of 2005.

Cpl. Baucus was killed alongside fellow Marines Sgt. Christian Williams, 27 yrs old from Winter Haven, Fla. and Lance Cpl. Anthony E. Butterfield, 19 yrs old from Clovis, Calif. during combat operations in Al Anbar province.

“Phillip was an incredible person, a dedicated Marine, a loving son and husband, and a proud Montanan and American,” Sen. Baucus said. “He heroically served the country he loved and he gave it his all.”

These brave men and women sacrifice so much in their lives so that others may enjoy the freedoms we get to enjoy everyday. For that, I am proud to call them Hero.
We Should Not Only Mourn These Men And Women Who Died, We Should Also Thank God That Such People Lived

This post is part of the Wednesday Hero Blogroll. For more information about Wednesday Hero, or if you would like to post it on your site, you can go here.


Incredible Story from Iraq

January 14, 2008

Debbie Lee and our Troops in Iraq

Iraq’s Progress, Safety and Blessing

Darkness surrounded her as the helicopter lifted, whipping the air around her with a reverberating thump, thump, thump. A tall blonde in a war-torn Middle Eastern land, Debbie Lee felt a familiar ache in her heart.

She stood in a Western Iraqi city where her son, Marc Alan Lee, gave his life. He was the first Navy SEAL to die while fighting terrorists in Iraq.

As she stepped onto the sand where her son was killed, Debbie Lee became the first mother to visit the city where her son died for America in the Iraq War. She walked through Camp Marc Lee and saw where her son slept and ate. “I feel very blessed,” Lee said. “It was a miracle to me to be where Marc was, to see what he saw and walk where he walked.”Please read the rest of the story here:  Human Events


Wednesday Hero

December 19, 2007

This Weeks Hero Was Suggested By Leo

SSgt. Mike Mills

SSgt. Mike Mills


On June 14, 2005 SSgt. Mike Mills’s life was forever changed. The HETT(Heavy Equipment Transport System) he was riding in was hit by an IED. The attack resulted a cracked clavicle and scapula bones, dislocate shoulder, broken left hip, 4 out of 5 bones broken in his foot and being set on fire. The driver in the truck behind him ran with a cooler of melted ice which he threw on Sgt. Mills to put him out. He spent three months in the Brooks Army Medical Center at Ft. Sam Houston, TX with the injuries listed above plus 2nd, 3rd and deep tissue burns to 31% of the left side of his body. The first thing he remembers thinking after the attack was that his soldiers needed him and he needed to get back to them.

“Then the guilt set in about what I did to my family. I’ve totally screwed that up. Look at me, no don’t. I look hideous. How can I face my kids looking like this. They’ll be embarrassed to be seen with me. What if they won’t love me anymore? Speaking of love, my wife, oh my god. How can I expect her to stay with me. I’m not a man anymore. She’s not going to want be intimate with a freak. What if I can’t work, how do I support myself, my family.

I had the nightmares and couldn’t sleep. I wasn’t eating and was loosing weight. I didn’t really care. If I didn’t start eating, they where going to put the feeding tube back in. Who cares, I’ve totally screwed up my life anyways.”

But he found out just how much is wife loved him, when she stood by his side throughout the entire ordeal. She was there for every wound dressing and even learned how to change the dressings herself.

SSgt. Mike Mills now runs the site For The Veteran… By A Veteran in which he helps veterans, soldiers and their families find information they may not have been given after their medical discharge or retirement.

Some may say that Mike gave his country more than enough when he was severely maimed by an IED on that fateful day of June 14, 2005, but Mike continues to give to his fellow servicemen, as well as to his nation!

These brave men and women sacrifice so much in their lives so that others may enjoy the freedoms we get to enjoy everyday. For that, I am proud to call them Hero.
We Should Not Only Mourn These Men And Women Who Died, We Should Also Thank God That Such People Lived

This post is part of the Wednesday Hero Blogroll. For more information about Wednesday Hero, or if you would like to post it on your blog, you can go here.


Preparing for Christmas

December 17, 2007

Prosperity Christmas Tree Lighting

As we prepare for Christmas here in Texas, our hearts and prayers are with our Troops who are serving so far from home. We do not take for granted the comforts of our homes, nor the safety of our families. We are forever grateful for sacrifices that our Warriors make so that we can continue to live in peace.

2nd “Black Jack” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division commander, Col. Bryan Roberts, addresses Soldiers at the Black Jack Bistro before the lighting of the Forward Operating Base Prosperity’s Christmas tree in central Baghdad, Dec. 1. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Robert Yde, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public
Affairs)

2nd “Black Jack” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Soldiers kicked off the Christmas season at Forward Operating Base Prosperity in central Baghdad with the lighting of the Christmas tree inside the Black Jack Bistro, Dec. 1. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Robert Yde, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)

Every year I read the following poem. Every year it warms my heart in much the same manner.

A Different Christmas Poem
The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.

Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.
The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.

My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn’t loud, and it wasn’t too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear.
Perhaps just a cough, I didn’t quite know, Then the
sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.

My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near.
Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.

A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.

‘What are you doing?’ I asked without fear,
‘Come in this moment, it’s freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!’

For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts..
To the window that danced with a warm fire’s light
Then he sighed and he said ‘Its really all right, I’m out here by
choice. I’m here every night.’

‘It’s my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from the darkest of times.
No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I’m proud to stand here like my fathers before me.
My Gramps died at ‘Pearl on a day in December,’
Then he sighed, ‘That’s a Christmas ‘Gram always remembers.’

My dad stood his watch in the jungles of ‘Nam ‘,
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.
I’ve not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he’s sure got her smile.

Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and blue… an American flag.
I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home.

I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.
I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother..

Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall.’
‘So go back inside,’ he said, ‘harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I’ll be all right.’

‘But isn’t there something I can do, at the least,
‘Give you money,’ I asked, ‘or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you’ve done,
For being away from your wife and your son.’

Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
‘Just tell us you love us, and never forget.
To fight for our rights back at home while we’re gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.
Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us.’