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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Guitar Heroes

March 10, 2008

Men crept in darkness to plant a bomb. They moved in an area where last year I was helping to collect fallen American soldiers from the battlefield. …

Another excellent post by Michael Yon Guitar Heros


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


Holding our Breath…

January 7, 2008

… the much anticipated arrival is nearing…

(no this is not actually the 4-9… But, I am sure the enthusiasm is much the same!)


Gratitude

December 26, 2007

My favorite Marine sent me the following link:

watch the movie
click here>>>>>   Gratitude Campaign
This is an excellent idea for those of you who feel uncomfortable, running up and hugging our Warriors!

Mr. J seems to think I make our guys a bit uneasy……… when I steal hugs from them.

 Very soon, our 4-9 Cav will be home and we can all say “Thank You” in person!


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.


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.