Monday, May 26, 2008

Video of Memorial Day speech

Memorial Day photo album

Jacksonville is a military town. It takes great pride in celebrating the accomplishments and sacrifices of the men and women in uniform and their families. Today, four servicemen were enshrined on Jacksonville's Veteran's Memorial Wall, the largest in the nation outside of Washington D.C. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families.

The following photos are not meant to represent the events at the ceremony today, but as an album of our family's remembrance of Memorial Day 2008.

SPC Mark at the Wall at 5 a.m. Memorial Day.

Waiting for a live interview with Channel 12 at 5:30 a.m.

Delivering one of three keynote speeches at the Wall.

Handshake from U.S. Rep Ander Crenshaw (R-Florida) after the speech.

Well-wishers lining up to talk with Mark.

Rear Admiral Mike Vitale commenting on the speech.

Veterans from wars past posing for a photograph.

Interview at the end of the ceremony.

Memorial Day speech

SPC Mark's speech at the Veteran's Wall in Jacksonville:

Good morning

I am deeply honored to be here this morning.

I am a soldier in the United States Army.

I am a paratrooper in the 82nd airborne.

I am a veteran of two combat tours in Iraq.

I have entered and cleared more than five hundred buildings . . .

more than a 150 mounted and dismounted patrols on the streets of
Baghdad. . .

participated in 15 air assault missions into
some of the worst neighborhoods of
Iraq. . . from

Tikrit to Ramadi to a little know place known as Yusafiah.
I am not a hero.

The 13 brothers we left behind . . .

and the men and women whose names are etched in the wall behind me . . .are heroes.

Today is Memorial Day and we remember and honor their
sacrifice. Memorial Day and Veterans Day seem
especially important in this time of war. But they
are no less important in times of peace. Today is not
just a time to remember the four thousand plus who have paid
the ultimate price in
Iraq and Afghanistan. . .
but a time to remember all of
those patriots from all wars who answered a far off
call in the name of their country and never came home.

After I returned from Iraq, a part of my unit stayed
behind to complete their 15-month tour.

Weeks from redeploying and on his last mission . . . a friend of mine
walked into a house and was killed instantly by an IED.

He was as good a man as I have ever met. . .

devoted family man. . .

never one to let the Army get the best of him.

Just like every name on that wall. . . he had a story.

Each left behind love ones and friends.
Each left behind a void that may never be filled.
Despite this. . . let Memorial Day not be a national day of
mourning but a day of celebration. Those of us left
behind must celebrate our cherished memories. . . and what
little time we were fortunate to have with them. We
must celebrate the fact that we are still free thanks
to their sacrifice. We all must celebrate the fact
that through it all . . . despite public opinion or
political climate . . . this country still has sons and
daughters willing to give their most precious
possession in the name of freedom.
As long as this wall stands. . . As long as there are
people still willing to take a day to remember. . .As
long as there are still people willing to put on the
uniform. . .As long as this country remains a beacon of
freedom . . . our fallen shall live on. . . forever

Thank you.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

On patrol

On patrol 150 miles from nowhere in Iraq, LCPL Robert T. George, the son of our good friends Bob and Sharon George.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

All American week

All American week concluded with a fire power display at drop zone Sicily. The Fayetteville Observer posted a video of the activities and you can see it here. Gayle was in Fayetteville but didn't stay to see it.

We had our own version of a drop zone in the kitchen as in dropped shots and beer. As you can tell, some of the 82nd is arriving here for the weekend. Hooah!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Division review, part 2

A couple of photographs from the 82nd Airborne Division review yesterday by President Bush from the News and Observer.

Rumors have it that a number of 1st platoon, B. C0., 1-325th AIR are redeploying to Jacksonville today to hear SPC Mark speak at the city's Memorial Day ceremony. Should be an interesting weekend.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Divsion review

From the Fayetteville Observer
Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division watch
as parachutists jump over Pike Field on Wednesday
during rehearsal for the division review.

SPC Mark is in there somewhere but with 16,000 troops preparing for a division review it would be impossible to find him.

At any rate, President Bush is reviewing the troops this a.m., which will take about 2
1/2 hours and ends at noon. It should be impressive to watch. The three brigades in attendance have all just finished combat tours. Last year, All American weekend and the division review was canceled because all of the troops were deployed.

The President's arrival at Ft. Bragg comes two days after he threatened to veto Sen. Jim Webb's (D-Va.) bill to expand G.I. Bill education benefits. The President claims that enhanced benefits will hurt the retention rates of soldiers and Marines. The Congressional Budget Office projects a 16 percent decline in re-enlistments if the bill becomes law. I have not seen any statistical evidence to back that up. But the CBO also said that new enlistments would increase by 16 percent.

I tend to agree with Veteran of Foreign Wars' national commander George Lisicki who said in the NY Times today: "People are leaving after their first enlistment because they are tired of being shot at, and their families are tired of the frequent deployments. . .Whether they stay in 4 years or 20, we owe this newest greatest generation the gift of education."

As I write this, President Bush has begun the division review. Some of those 16,000 will leave the Army this year and next because they are indeed tired of being shot at.

And the families? We're pretty darn tired too.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

All American week

Monday began a week long celebration of the creation of the 82nd Airborne, the All American division. It started with a division run with all division soldiers and commanders participating. A story and video can be found here.

The story says about 1,200 soldiers participated but it was more like 12,000. The Fayetteville Observer put it at closer to 16,000. Here's the Observer's slideshow.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Memorial Day Observance in Jax

Check out the speakers below:


JACKSONVILLE, Fla., May 16, 2008 – Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton and U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw will join state, city, and military leaders and the Military Affairs, Veterans and Disabled Services Division to observe Memorial Day with a ceremony honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the nation.

WHEN: Monday, May 26

9:30 a.m. Pre-show

10 a.m. Ceremony

WHERE: Veterans Memorial Wall

1145 E. Adams St.

Between Jacksonville Municipal Stadium and the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.

WHO: U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw

Mayor John Peyton

SPC Mark Middlebrook

Other city, state and military leaders

Bereaved families of soldiers


WHAT: Free and open to the public, the event will pay tribute to those who have fought for freedom. Ceremony includes remarks by local and military

leaders, presentation of colors, family tributes, a wreath presentation, a 21-gun salute and "Taps".

The Douglas Anderson School of the Arts Concert Chorale will perform patriotic tributes with the St John’s River City Band.

Free parking is available in the west lots of Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.

The Military Affairs, Veterans and Disabled Services Division also recommends some additional ways to observe Memorial Day and show gratitude to those wounded soldiers and the bereaved families, orphans and widows of the dead soldiers.

- Adorn the graves of soldiers with flags or flowers.

- Visit cemeteries and memorials.

- Fly the American flag at half-mast until noon.

- Fly the POW/MIA flag

- Keep silent for a minute at 3 p.m., '”National Moment of Remembrance”.

- Volunteer to assist disabled veterans, widows, widowers and orphans of the dead.

- Offer thanks to veterans and show appreciation for the ultimate sacrifices of the soldiers to the bereaved families.

For more information about the Military Affairs, Veterans and Disabled Services Division, call (904) 630-CITY or visit key word veterans.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Armed Forces Day

Yesterday was Armed Forces Day, a celebration established in 1949. I only knew about it because my little Peoples First Community Bank calendar reminded me. No mention of it in the local papers or any of the Internet news sites I frequent daily.

I may have my memories garbled - my brother will correct me if I am wrong - but as a youngster growing up in East Aurora, NY, Armed Forces Day meant a parade down Main Street. All the kids would decorate their bikes with streamers and fix baseball cards to the spokes of their bicycles with clothes pins to make faux motorcycle noises.

But not anymore.

I talked with all three sons yesterday. They didn't mention it nor did I. It's easy to blame the media for this one, but I am as much responsible for the demise of the celebration as anyone.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


An Internet friend in San Antonio is celebrating the return of her son after 15 months in Iraq. He arrived at Ft. Benning last night. You can stop by and wish her and her son well wishes here.

Friday, May 16, 2008

82nd Airborne memorial

82nd Airborne museum and memorial

Jon and I visited Mark in May 2006 shortly before his first deployment to Iraq. We toured Ft. Bragg and the 82nd's museum. Off in the corner of this picture is the 82nd's memorial to the fallen in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Each name of the fallen is etched in the granite monument. Jon wanted me to take a picture of the memorial and Mark, being somewhat superstitious, asked me not to.

Today the memorial, thought to be big enough when it was planned, is now full and cannot accommodate any more names. The story about this memorial and others can be found here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Son in Baghdad

A former colleague of mine, Sig Christenson, now at the San Antonio Express News, posted these while reporting from Baghdad in April 2007.

"BAGHDAD, Iraq — Something like 1 percent of our population is in uniform. Even fewer carry the burden of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Army is full of guys like Staff Sgt. Scott Plavney, 36, of Temple.

He was among a team of 1st Cavalry Division soldiers that last week checked on an abandoned clinic in Baghdad. Plavney and Staff Sgt. Sean Clark, 35, of Schenectady, N.Y., spied the neighborhood. The voices of children at play could be heard, but the street appeared deserted.

That's a bad sign, like in the westerns when everyone clears the dusty main drag as the bad guys ride into town.

"This is a perfect example of how well it's going," Plavney said, prompting me to think he was nuts. "There's a boy walking down the street with a bag of food."

My paranoia meter shot up. Maybe that kid was out there to lull the soldiers into complacency. There is danger everywhere in this city and, for that matter, all of Iraq. Earlier Tuesday 16 GIs were wounded and four Iraqi army soldiers killed in a daylong central Baghdad battle.

So when I think of how small the military is, the many sacrifices it makes and how unlikely most Americans are to know anyone on the front lines, I wonder about the wisdom of an all-volunteer service.

I wondered some more after reading a message from an old boss at The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, Mark Middlebrook. He reminded me that he has a big stake in this war.

"I hope you are doing well," he wrote in a message left on my blog. "My son is in Baghdad at the moment with the 82nd."

That would be the 82nd Airborne Division. My heart sank. A longtime friend in Houston has a son in the war zone, too, I think in the 82nd. We grew up in Bellaire, an incorporated city just west of the downtown Medical Center, as Vietnam raged. I have a stepson who has been to Iraq twice.

Now in our middle age, it's our turn to watch the kids get shot at. They call or e-mail to say everything is fine. They make small talk. They don't tell you about the doors they kick down or the roadside bomb that barely missed them. They figure you don't need to know about that, and they're right.

I think about these things more when covering funerals for Iraq and Afghan veterans at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. It's especially difficult when a Pentagon death notice crosses my desk, and we do a story about a San Antonio kid killed in action.

The weight of this war falls as much on the parents, spouses and siblings of those back home as it does here. In some ways, perhaps, it's easier on the soldiers and Marines in the war zone because they bond together so tightly.

It's an amazing thing to watch. These guys are tough, well trained and motivated. And they're great to write about.

This is a brave bunch out here, but my heart goes out to their loved ones back home. It takes a lot of guts to be a soldier's dad.

Just ask Mark Middlebrook."

Baghdaddy Beat factoid

Baghdaddy Beat, the video made by son's platoon while in Baghdad, made Google's most blogged videos in England and Australia on April 26. If you haven't seen it, just scroll down the page.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


SPC Mark will be in a three-week training cycle, which will make it impossible for him to do any posting. Until then, I will be prattling on. Please bear with us.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Days (or daze)

Mother's Day is a traditional celebration recognizing Moms for all of the sacrifice and hard work they do tending to their families. But for a soldier's Mom, Mother's Day doesn't always fall in May:

Heading back to the barracks after the Turning Green ceremony.

Turning Blue ceremony

Somewhere in Iraq

Homecoming at Green Ramp

Downtown Baghdad

Homecoming at Green Ramp

Happy Mother's Day everyone!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Warrior (A Mother's Story of a Son at War)

From Gayle:

I saw this on PBS tonight (about Frances Richey's new book). It was so touching, I thought you all would appreciate
the thoughts. You can watch the piece on the
there is more on

Happy Mothers'Day OnePercenters

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 9, 2008 (From Frances Richey's Blog)
Fort Bragg

Ben and I were at Fort Bragg yesterday. We spoke to an amazing group of women who are in Famliy Readiness Groups at different posts around the country. All had husbands or sons who have served or are serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. I read a few poems, but the best part of the time we spent with them was the question and answer period. Ben and I shared equally in the discussion, and it felt wonderful to be there with my son and with a dedicated and caring community of women who are helping each other through the deployments of their loved ones. Ben and I enjoyed the time we spent there. I'm looking forward to our reading/talk at West Point next week.

I've been reading and enjoying your e-mails. There have been some questions about where I grew up. I grew up and went to public schools in West Virginia. Some of you have asked if I'll be coming to your area on the book tour. If you go back to the home page, you can click on the schedule heading and see all the dates and cities. In general, I'll be in New York, DC, Boston, Raleigh-Durham, Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Colorado Springs, Seattle and San Francisco. I only wish I was going to have a little more time in each city, but this will be a quick trip...a city a day.

Thank you for your heartfelt messages.

Friday, May 9, 2008

A soldier, a CD and a mother's wish

Madeleine Tavares, who is the organizer of our military support network, writes about her son 1LT Matt Tavares in today's USA Today.

In the news

Mold and aging barracks are not just a problem for Ft. Bragg. Many Army bases face the same thing according to USA Today.

Also, USA Today reported that 43,000 troops who deployed to combat zones were medically unfit although the gravity of health issues are unknown. That included 9,140 troops who deployed in 2007. You can read about it here.

Distractions: TPC and promotability

Ernie Els
Photo by Mark M. (the other one)

This time of year, golf becomes an enormous distraction for those of us who live in Jacksonville. The Players Championship, which claims the best field in golf, takes place a short distance from where we live. For us in North Florida, it means two things: The return of hot weather (yesterday it was in the 90s) and unbearable traffic (getting out of our neighborhood is a life threatening experience). Usually we surrender and go to the tournament, if nothing else, to watch the people. It's a zoo.

On Wednesday, the PGA Tour presented Jack Nicklaus with the Lifetime Achievement Award. The Navy band was there to play the National Anthem, but not a peep about the troops overseas. But we shouldn't complain. The Tour gave SPC Mark tickets to a Jacksonville Jaguar game when he came home from his first deployment. It was greatly appreciated.

At Ft. Bragg, the Red Falcon battalion promotion board met. Young Mark appeared and apparently did well although he won't know officially for a couple of weeks how well he did. But he had been very busy preparing, which is why we haven't heard from him recently. He has a little time off this weekend and I am hopeful that he will return to the keyboard.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Day On Patrol

Another video from 1st platoon. Don't see SPC Mark in this one.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


My gmail went crazy today and started sending out messages I archived nearly two years ago. I figured out the problem (0perator error, of course) but it gave me a chance to look at the nearly 2,139 e-mails that I had tagged and archived as "family etal."

The vast majority of them were Iraq- and war-related. I was stunned.

I knew the Iraq deployments had chewed up a big piece of our lives, but I didn't know it was that much of a distraction.

More than 2,000 emails in 22 months. Amazing.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Finding SPC Mark

For those of you who drop by to read SPC Mark's stories, you can now find them on a new blog called "Outside the Wire." It's bookmarked on the sidebar or you can click on

Outside the Wire is an open blog for service members who have literally been outside the wire on their tour through Iraq and Afghanistan. We are hoping other service members will join in the conversation.

SPC Mark will continue to post here as well.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Military Appreciation Day

For the last three years, our neighborhood in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, Dolphin Cove, holds an annual Military Appreciation Day. Out of approximately 300 houses in the subdivision, there are more than 70 members who have or are serving in the military. Today was a celebration of their service.

Guest of honor: Chief Petty Officer Nicholas Patrizio, USN (Ret)
Patrizio, 93, is a veteran of three wars, WWII, Korea and Vietnam.
He enlisted in 1933 and lives in our neighborhood.

SPC Danielle Inama, 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne
SPC Inama returned from Baghdad in October and will redeploy in November.

HSL-44 (Swamp Fox) lands at our neighborhood ball field.

Our neighbor, Chuck Ellis, and friend.
Mr. Ellis served on the USS Pennsylvania on Dec. 7, 1941 in Pearl Harbor.

U.S. Navy helicopter crew shows how this thing flies.

Paratrooper press conference

Four of the friends of Sgt. Sergio Sanchez held a press conference yesterday to add more details of his April 12 murder outside a Fayetteville night club, reports the Fayetteville Observer today.
Sanchez had stepped out of the night club and was talking to his girl friend when he happened upon a robbery in which some other soldiers were beaten and had their wallets stolen. Sanchez was the designated driver for his friends that night. He was approached by several armed men. He put his arms in the air and someone shot him in the back of the neck with a 12-guage shotgun. His girl friend heard everything over his cell phone. He died a week later and police are looking for suspects.

In the U.S., when bad men do bad things for money, we call them criminals.

In Baghdad, when bad men do bad things for money, we call them terrorists.

Some days, to me, it all sounds alike.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Baghdaddy Beat

Back by popular demand

Off topic: Best laid plans

This video has been making the rounds on the Internet. My brother-in-law sent it to us earlier in the week. I don't know anything about it or where it was taken but my paratrooper thought it was pretty funny.

Barracks problems reported earlier

The Fayetteville Observer reports this morning that problems with the Korean War era barracks were reported a month before the YouTube video was released. Also Secretary of Defense Robert Gates weighs in on the subject. See the story here.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Barracks update

The Fayetteville Observer has written a follow-up on the barracks at Ft. Bragg. It can be found here.

The Secretary of the Army visited yesterday and there have been calls for a Congressional investigation. That said, where are the soldiers?