Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

I hope everyone is having a wonderful day. While we are relieved to have our son home from Iraq for Christmas, we are mindful of those who are overseas and our prayers are with them.

Mark was home last year but a pending deployment to Baghdad was in the room with us. Everyone is much more relaxed today. No talk of a redeployment.

A good friend of ours who had a story published in USA Today Friday was the focus of The Florida Times-Union Christmas edition. I've attached a link on the sidebar.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

War memorial is full

This is from Kevin Maurer from the Fayetteville Observer:

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Wolf Amacker can tell a story about almost every paratrooper whose name is etched into the 82nd Airborne Division’s memorial to the war on terror.

He can tell you about a woman helicopter pilot shot down over Fallujah. He knows how a rifleman died in the mountains of Afghanistan, how a soldier jumped into a canal in Iraq to save his buddies trapped in a Humvee and never surfaced.

When Amacker dedicated the memorial in 2005, three of the sides were blank. Today, the monument is full.

“We’re out of room,” Amacker said. “I really thought it would be big enough.”

Some of the division’s former and retired sergeant majors and officers, led by Amacker, are trying to raise money to expand the monument.

Eighty-nine Fort Bragg soldiers —more than 60 in Iraq alone — have been killed in 2007. Three times in 2007, seven or more 82nd soldiers died in Iraq in a single incident. The division has lost more soldiers this year than in any year since the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq began, according to 82nd officials.

The memorial — a 26,000-pound granite column — is located behind the 82nd Airborne museum on Fort Bragg. “In memory of the Paratroopers who gave their lives in support of the Global War on Terrorism” is written across the front.

USA Today

A good friend of ours, Madeleine Tavares, had a piece published in yesterday's USA Today called "As my kids serve, I feel pride and panic." Her son is in Army in Iraq and her daughter is in the Peace Corps in Kenya. I've posted the link in the sidebar on the right side of the blog.

Madeleine organized our Military Support Network here. It is made up of mostly parents of Marines and soldiers. We meet occasionally for coffee or drinks and swap stories. It has been a big morale booster for all of us....and her story yesterday kind of sums it up.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A request from the "other war"

Letter from Jesse Koehler, FOB Hades, 82nd Airborne

As you may know, one of our missions in Afghanistan is to win the hearts and minds of the people. The United States being in the Middle East gives us the chance to show the Islamic community what Americans are all about. It opens their eyes to see the compassion that we have as a society, not just for our own people but, for ALL people regardless of religious, political, or cultural views.

They see something more than what MTV or soap operas show them. We are asking for your assistance to help accomplish this mission.

If you would like to make a huge difference with something so small, here’s how. Our local elementary school needs 1st grade level reading material. Anything you can come up with would be greatly appreciated. Remember, the Afghani people are amazed by the simple things that we take for granted. So, sky’s the limit.

Our district sponsors a local soccer adult soccer team. These guys are extremely talented. It’s only a matter of time before they are in the World Cup. However, they could use some equipment to help make them elite amongst the districts in the province. Some of these guys have so much love for the game and play without shoes because they are so poor. Even used uniforms would be welcomed with great admiration.

Again, anything you can think of would be more than what they have now. We just had an new orphanage open up. Many children become homeless either to illnesses, unsafe living conditions, or the Taliban killing their parents for taking pro-government jobs. The very people who risk their lives to help make Afghanistan a better place are targeted for not allowing the Taliban to suppress them or their children.

Before International intervention, these orphans would go homeless. They would either be recruited by the Taliban or starve to death. Now, we can offer a community for these young boys. However, we need to get them clothed this winter. As I mentioned in the newsletter, Afghanistan can get down to 30 below in some places.

Obviously, most of Afghanistan does not have central heating. At best, families can hover around an old small pot belly stove. That is if they can afford any type of wood. Unfortunately, wood is considered a luxury. I understand that the cost for shipping such items can be unforgiving. If I could recommend a group participation. That way, no one person will have to take the blunt of the cost. I really do appreciate anything you all can do.

GOD bless you all.

Jesse Koehler , HHC 508th STB 82nd FOB


Jesse Koehler

HHC 508th STB 82nd


APO AE 09354

Monday, December 17, 2007

Off topic: Hopeless romantic

My oldest son Mike beat the cold front and headed to Key West for his birthday with his girl friend Tara and his brother Mark. On Saturday, at sunset on Mallory Square, he got down on one knee and proposed to Tara. The crowd around him was chanting "Say, yes. Say, yes." She started crying and, of course, said yes. Soon we will have another Mrs. Middlebrook in the family.

He called his mother later and summed up the weekend:

Great birthday;
Getting married;
Jaguars beat the Steelers.

All-in-all, a memorable weekend. What a romantic.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Time flies

Dec. 15 is always a big day for us. My oldest son Mike was born on a snowy day in Williamsburg, Virginia 26 years ago.

Last year, as we prepared to celebrate his birthday, we received a call from his brother Mark. We had just returned from the Green Ramp at Ft. Bragg seeing Mark arrive home from Iraq with the rest of his battalion. He had arrived six days earlier.

The phone call? At formation, they were given a pre-deployment notice. They were going back in less than three weeks, this time to Baghdad.

So today, we celebrate Mike's birthday but we are not answering any phone calls from Ft. Bragg.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Moon over Iraq

SPC Mark weighs in with another post:

The guy next to me leaned to my ear and said, "One

I turned to my left and repeated it to the
man next me.

Sat forward and strained to untangle
myself from the cargo net on which I was sitting. Reached
down and opened the feed cover tray on my M-249 SAW.
Ran my hand across the feed tray and grabbed the charging
handle. With a little force, I locked the bolt the
rear. Fumbled in the darkness and finally grabbed the
belt of ammo hanging from its pouch. It was so dark
my eyes may as well have been closed. Blind and
alone surrounded by my fellow paratroopers, I loaded my
light machine gun. Slapped the cover shut and placed
the weapon on safe.

The bird banked hard and shuddered back and forth. I
could feel the rapid descent in my stomach and then
through the noise someone yelled "THIRTY SECONDS!''

Adrenaline shot through my body. I took a deep
breath, looked up and asked God to spare me. The
bird seemingly crash landed and hit with a solid

"GO! GO! GO!''

Guys are falling over each other. Blind and
confused, I stood and turned toward the ramp. On my
feet, my body strained from the heavy load. I began to
run off the helicopter.- everything in slow

I couldn't tell whether the loud thump was the
chop of the bird or the heavy beat of my own heart.
When I got to the the ramp, I was stopped dead in my
tracks from what I saw.

In that short hour on the helicopter, I had been
teleported to another world. I was no longer in the
desert but in a lush jungle. Ten-foot tall grass
being fanned out in every direction from the massive
rotor blades. A brilliantly lit full moon
illuminated everything from the clear sky, giving it a sort of silver lining.

I stepped off the ramp and dropped straight to my knees.
The ramp, which I totally misjudged, was at least two feet off the ground.

Under several layers of thick grass were a couple inches of water and, in a half second,
my boots and knees were already soaked.

"AHH!" I thought.

For a second, I thought I was in Vietnam in a rice paddy. Picking myself
up, It started to run off at a 45-degree angle from the ramp. All the men were falling into a half moon around the tail of the aircraft. Found my spot and crashed in the mud. Extended the tripod on my weapon and flipped my night vision down over my eyes.

The bird throttled hard and the wind and grass and
dust whipped violently. In an instant
the bird was gone. All was quiet. The grass stood
back up and I disappearred. Breathing heavily and nervously. Time slowed as a bead of
sweat rolled down my forehead.

With a blink, I look down at the beer I'm holding in hand as a drop of condensation rolls over my fingers. The wind starts to blow and the cold moisture a chills my face. With a deep
breath, I look skyward at the full moon looking back at
me. I peer into the clear starlight sky over Ft.
Bragg, N.C., blinking slowly.

With another deep breath, I lower my head and turn back to the barracks, beer in hand.

I can still smell the grass.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Off topic: The one percenters go to Washington

On Wednesday, Gayle attended a reception for artists who had decorated ornaments for one of the many trees in the White House. It was our first - and probably only - invitation to a White House function. First Lady Laura Bush chose National Parks as the theme this year and we have two here in Jacksonville. The superintendent asked Gayle to do the ornament for Fort Caroline National Memorial.

Mark was the first choice as the guest but he had to jump out of a perfectly good airplane at Ft. Bragg Wednesday and couldn't make it. I was the guest of last resort.

With all of its history, the White House can be a very intimidating place. Wolf Blitzer from CNN was interviewing the President upstairs in the Map Room while we were there and the leaders from Israel and Palestine had been in the Rose Garden earlier. Yikes.

The picture below was taken by acclaimed wildlife artist Michael Glenn Monroe who happened to be walking by with his family. He did the Holiday in the National Parks booklet artwork for the White House. His work can be found at www.mikemonroeart.com

At the north entrance to the White House.

Looking out from the State Dining Room

It's up there somewhere.

The Fort Caroline National Memorial ornament

First Lady Laura Bush welcomes the artists, decorators and their guests.