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.


Pass on the Message

February 21, 2008

I have a complete post (I promise)

But, right now it is banging around in my head. When I get a couple hours (I type very slowly) I will  air my complete thoughts on the assault of our Troops.


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


Heroes Overcoming Obstacles

November 29, 2007

Limits are placed on us by Science, by Medicine, by our Parents, by our Teachers, and by our Peers. We are told that we can only go so far. Perhaps they are trying to force us to face facts. Perhaps they are trying to help us… Or perhaps they are clueless as to the inner strengths that guide each individual, pushing us to unbelievable feats.

My brother, born with birth defects was told he would never walk. He is now running marathons.

Jim Abbott, who pitched for 9 years in Major League Baseball, was born with only one hand.

… And the two Heroes listed below ~

 

Charlotte (N.C.) News & Observer
Nov. 20, 2007

Injured Marine cited as leader
By Jay Price

Three years ago this week, Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell was discharged from the hospital, wondering how much he was going to recover from a major head injury he suffered when a mortar shell landed on his tent in Iraq.

Now Esquire magazine is honoring the Marine as one of the “Best and Brightest of 2007” in its December issue, which appears on newsstands today.

The accompanying article isn’t just about Maxwell, who has become a legend at Camp Lejeune. It also offers a raw, R-rated glimpse of life inside the Wounded Warrior Barracks on the Marine base near Jacksonville.

Maxwell, 42, helped start the barracks after he was wounded. One day, after being released from the hospital and returning to Lejeune to recuperate, the former triathlete came upon a Marine who had been wounded and sent home.

The young man was alone and crying.That shouldn’t happen, Maxwell said, and he and Master Sgt. Ken Barnes started lobbying Marine leaders for housing so the wounded Marines could live together while they recovered in a supportive environment.

Concept expands
 

After they got the barracks started at Lejeune — it’s called Maxwell Hall– the concept spread to the West Coast, where the Marines at Camp Pendleton set up similar housing. Then this past spring, the Corps decided to start a nationwide wounded-warrior regiment, so that injured Marines would have a supportive unit around them.

The idea even spread to the Army, which has begun its own wounded-troops unit. Maxwell recently took an assignment as an adviser to the Wounded Warrior Regiment at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. 

Among other duties, he’s the officer in charge of the regiment’s new call center, which opens this week. The center will take calls from wounded Marines and try to find solutions to their problems, Maxwell said.  It also will begin an effort to contact every Marine who has been injured since Sept. 11, 2001, in combat or otherwise, to see if he or she needs help of any kind.

The story in Esquire also includes Maxwell’s wife, Shannon, who has dedicated much of her own life to helping wounded troops. She founded a support group at Lejeune for the spouses of wounded Marines and was a co-founder of Hope for the Warriors, a nonprofit organization that raises money for the wounded. Last week, she won an honor for her work from the National Military Family Association. ‘I don’t know why…’

The Esquire story also details the lives of the young Marines living in the barracks.  Maxwell said that he could have done without the sexual references but that the attention would help his cause.“I’ll take credit from anybody to put the word out,” said Maxwell, who still stumbles over his words sometimes.

“There are still guys out there who don’t know anything about this, and they’re just sitting there alone. “Reporters will call and want to do a Maxwell story because I’m the most well-known,” he said. “We get ’em out to the barracks, and they cry when they leave. It really gets them.”

Maxwell said he was a little bewildered that he had been picked by the magazine. “Esquire had this dinner up in New York last week, and I don’t know why I was a part of it,” he said. “They had all these geniuses there, people who had invented important stuff. “I just figured Marines ought to hang out together,” he said. “That’s not genius stuff.”


Well, Lt. Col Maxwell I disagree with you. What you are doing places you above “Genius Stuff.”
Not to take anything away from Lt Col Maxwell, I would like to point out a new friend, Craig J. Phillips.Craig is also a survivor and a hero!  While overcoming great obstacles, he is reaching out and helping others.

Second Chance to Live  <– Please take some time and read about this wonderful man. He has succeeded in a world that decided his disabilty should limit him.  I will share the comments that Craig left for me: I am interested in providing encouragement to our veterans and the soldiers who have been wounded while protecting our great country. Additionally, I am interested in providing practical information and insight to assist their families.

My name is Craig J. Phillips. I am a traumatic brain injury survivor and a master’s level rehabilitation counselor. I sustained an open skull fracture with right frontal lobe damage and remained in a coma for 3 weeks at the age of 10 in August of 1967.

I underwent brain and skull surgery after waking from the coma. Follow-up cognitive and psyche-social testing revealed that I would not be able to succeed beyond high school. In 1967 Neurological Rehabilitation was not available to me, so I had to teach myself how to walk, talk, read, write and speak in complete sentences. I completed high school on time and went on to obtain both my undergraduate and graduate degrees.

For an in depth view of my process please read my post, My Journey Thus Far Through out my lifetime I developed strategies to overcome many obstacles and in so doing I have achieved far beyond all reasonable expectations.

On February 6, 2007 at the encouragement of a friend I created Second Chance to Live.Second Chance to Live, which is located at Second Chance to Live presents topics in such a way to encourage, motivate and empower the reader to live life on life’s terms.

I believe our circumstances are not meant to keep us down, but to build us up. As a traumatic brain injury survivor, I speak from my experience, strength and hope. As a professional, I provide information to encourage, motivate and empower both disabled and non-disabled individuals to not give up on their process. Please read my post, The Power of Identification My interest is to provide encouragement, hope, motivation and empowerment to veterans and their families.

Thank you for your time and kindness.
Have a simply phenomenal day!
Craig J. Phillips MRC, BA
Second Chance to Live

Our circumstances are not meant to keep us down, but to build us up!

I believe peoples paths cross for a reason and that Craig stumbling onto my web site was no accident. Please pass on his links to those who are searching for help with Brain Trama. Having not only survived, but pushing to excel in life gives us a glimpse into the strengths that Craig carries. 

Two more fantastic sites to check out: Wounded Warrior Project and Life Transformed  If you have additional sites for our wounded Heroes, please post them in the comments and I will add them to my side bar.


Rally Behind the Troops

November 26, 2007

Move America Forward is once again asking us to rally behind the troops:

November 26 – December 16


Join Move America Forward for the “Honoring Heroes at the Holidays Tour” this November 26th – December 16th as we cross this nation holding pro-troop events in 40 cities across America to honor and salute the men and women of the U.S. military who will be thousands of miles away from their homes and families during this holiday season. (Help us pay for the cost of this effort by making a donation – HERE).


 

Along the tour we will be collecting more than 100,000 Christmas, Hanukkah and holiday greeting cards for our troops that we will deliver to them in Iraq and Afghanistan. Get your kids involved, and invite local schools to participate! On the outside envelope be sure to write either: “Christmas Card for Our Troops” or “Hanukkah Card for Our Troops” or “Holiday Card for Our Troops.”

Hear what legendary TV personality, Ed McMahon, has to say about the effort – CLICK HERE to LISTEN.

Bring the cards to one of our 40 pro-troop holiday events along the route of the “Honoring Our Heroes at the Holidays Tour” – you can find our tour route and itinerary here:


View the Tentative Route/Itinerary – HERE

 

That will put the rally in Texas December 1st – 4th! I am very excited as this is the first time they have travelled thru Houston. The Houston location is yet to be determined, but they will be in town at 3:00pm on the 4th! If you are not along the route and would like to donate cards for the Troops, please leave me a message.
 

Check www.moveamericaforward.org  Please help to get the word out and turn out a great crowd.

I will be posting updates as they come across.


No Parade

November 14, 2007

Today I would like to share one of the poems written by a wonderful Vietnam Veteran. Please stop in and tell give Gary a hug for me. Nam Tour

No Ticker-Tape Parade
by Gary Jacobson © December 2004

For that little southeast Asian charade
For that fiercest of games we played
They gave no welcome-home parade
Fighting for freedom…far and away in Vietnam
Knee deep in mud, blood and fear
Fear that’s lasted many a bloody year.

There was no ticker-tape parade, or such
No hurrahs…no cookies…no punch
Not so much as a half-hearted cheer
For surviving hell our most excruciating year.
Though we didn’t ask for much…
By a grateful nation we wanted only to be heard
Wanted folks to hear our tales of war’s absurd.

We had so bloody much hurt to get off our chest
For devotion to duty honored with our country’s best
Just wanting to be recognized
For boyish youth in cruel war sacrificed
But America was just too weary of war
To welcome back boyhood soldiers war bore.

Men sorely staggered by war’s bloody insanity
Face now a bleak destiny
Futures beset with demonic fear’s depravity
I guess that’s why folks back here couldn’t see
How young value systems were twisted for eternity
How on young boys was impressed war’s barbarity
Giving rise to upheavals witnessed in war’s inhumanity.

So embarrassed, folks back home gave no parade,
No welcome home accolade
For warriors wounded in body and spirit
Soldiers disillusioned, lied to, desolate…
Men laid low by moral depravity’s greatest hit
Were turned away while countrymen on us spit.

Folks back home called us every conceivable name
For erstwhile young princes held such contemptuous shame
Calling us depraved baby killers, castigated with blame.
We’d so much to talk about of where we did roam
But found the only ones welcoming our arrival home
Were our mothers…and beastly traumatic stress syndrome.

Seeing the war daily on television made
Vietnam a condemned charade
People just too uncomfortable to honor with a parade
Returning warriors with souls burned-out
Who’d seen too much, no doubt
Waving the flag, all hale to their glory shout

Vietnam veterans buried “issues” down extra deep
Deep down in the dank where scary demons yet creep
Regurgitating violence that plumb our soul’s great depths
Forevermore haunted by comrades-in-arms’ deaths
Recurring memories of war’s hot fiery breath
Is it any wonder, vets now walk…so unafraid of death?

Parades are reserved for conquering heroes, glories to flaunt
Not for those whom Nam’s deep, dank jungles still haunt.
Not for those with compounded fears from a foreign land abused
With dread inlaid by vagaries of a non-caring world confused
Our fears earned fighting for home, freedom, beloved land
Great horrors, our people, did not even try to understand.

Beloved countrymen did not, would not, could not hear
Would not try their best to comfort a fellow man’s harrowing fear
By a nation we loved, unceremoniously denied
Promises not kept by a country we with all our hearts loved,
Bled for…died
For honor given, our country gave dishonor…

Yet Vietnam veterans still dream of the ticker-tape parade
Dreams still blow in the wind of a welcome home fusillade
For that war of a surety won by the blade
Lost only by politician’s bumbling charade
Our sacrifice in honor deprecated
Enslaving promises forever subjugated…decimated…trampled

That parade that should have been…
But never was…our nation’s great sin…


 


WWII – The Return

November 12, 2007


Every Day this week I am posting a new video or story about Veterans from various wars returning home.

Today I am spot-lighting Les Newman, a WWII Veteran, who shares  his feelings upon returning to the States from Japan.

God Bless our Veterans.