Sunday, December 27, 2009

In the spirit of the season

A friend of ours and his wife just returned from Massachusetts on Christmas Day. He had been up to visit his brother but it wasn't for a family reunion.

His brother was very ill and struggling with failed kidneys and constant dialysis. Our friend went to donate one of his healthy kidneys to his brother. The procedure went well. The doctor said the transplanted kidney started working within minutes. Days later, his brother's pallor pinked right up after being a pasty white.

Our friend's son said "I hope my brother will be there for me if I get sick."

In that family, I suspect he will.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas from the Grand pup

The grand pup's first Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Preparing for Christmas

One of the vestiges having three grown sons (two have moved on) is the tons of stuff they have left behind: rock collections, baseballs, and the like. For example, today I decided to charge the digital and video cameras in preparation for the weekend and pulled out a box of AC adapters/chargers. There were 26.

I spent about six hours trying to reunite the chargers with their devices, which can be tricky because they all have different power outputs.

Eleven were united to the proper cameras, hurricane lanterns and radios, etc. Nine are still orphans, including one car charger. One device, a remote controlled boat, has no charger. Six, all from deceased cell phones, are heading for hazardous was day.

I also found a Sony Walkman CD player that no one wants, three sets of ear buds and two sets of head phones.

But the cameras are charged and ready to go.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

This week in summary

Saturday: News our first grandchild. Yippee!!
Sunday: Jaguars disastrous loss to Miami, putting playoff bid in jeopardy. Yikes!!!!
Monday: Found out that I have prostate cancer. Double yikes!!!!
But caught it early. Whew!
Tuesday: Army recruiter shows up at the door looking for SGT. Mark. Sigh.

I wonder what Wednesday will bring.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Soon to be's

From left to right: Soon-to-be grandpa, two soon-to-be uncles, soon-to-be dad.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

11-30-09 Aussie Puppies

11-30-09 Aussie Puppies

Where SGT Mark's pup was born. FYI, we have two rescue dogs and three rescue cats.....but these guys are too cute.

Pearl Harbor Day - honoring my neighbor

Mr. Ellis has been our neighbor for the last 26 years. See the video here

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Individual ready reserves and the Afghanistan surge

Predictably, the mainstream media has been focused on the politics surrounding President Obama's Afghanistan speech at West Point Tuesday night. But there are many questions about which military families want to know:

  • What impact will sending an additional 30,000 troops to have on the Army National Guard and Reserves?
  • Will units currently deployed to Afghanistan be extended an additional three months as they were in Iraq?
  • Will this surge increase the number of individual ready reserves who have already been mobilized after returning to civilian life?
  • Will the surge have an impact on the dwell time that units receive once it has completed a deployment?
Currently, there are 104,659 National Guard and Reserves that have been activated, of which 4,379 are mobilized individual ready reserves, according to a recent Department of Defense press release. And that's just the Army.

Trying to find current information on IRR mobilizations is next to impossible. From what's out there on the web, there was a mobilization in October and another Nov. 17. About 14,000 former soldiers were called to a one-day muster this year to assess mental health and physical condition. No word on what will happen in 2010.

Friday, November 27, 2009


This excerpt is from SGT Mark's keynote speech at the Veteran's Memorial Wall on Memorial Day 2008. Still seems appropriate today:

"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. . a 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 loved 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."


Posted by Picasa

This photo was taken when SGT Mark returned from his second deployment in Iraq in Dec. 2007. The banner in the back of Green Ramp, the cavernous warehouse on Pope AFB where paratroopers deploy and return home, says it all:

"Sleep well tonight....The 82nd Airborne is on point."

Two brigades are currently deployed, one is returning home and the fourth is standing by on QRF - quick reaction force - meaning it is prepared to deploy to any where in the world in 18 hours.

The service and sacrifice that our military and their families are making in these "long wars" is hard to imagine. So for this holiday season - and every day for that matter - please keep them in your prayers. There are nearly 200,000 now deployed and another 35,000 about ready to join their ranks.

So today, I thank the 82nd, the 10th Mountain and all those others who stand in harm's way. Godspeed.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Former addict gives homeless veterans a second chance

From CNN:

Roy Foster

PALM BEACH, Florida (CNN) -- Following a faint trail through a dense patch of woods in Florida's Palm Beach County, Roy Foster is a man on a mission.
Roy Foster's facility, Stand Down House, has helped about 900 male veterans since 2000.

Foster, 53, is searching for homeless veterans -- and he knows where to look.

Whether in a vacant lot behind a supermarket or a small clearing off the highway, homeless vets aren't that hard to find: One in three homeless adults has served in the military, and more than 150,000 veterans nationwide are homeless on any given night, according to the Veterans Administration.

Working with the sheriff's homeless outreach unit, Foster finds vets camped in tents or makeshift lean-tos, where he delivers a message: There's help for you if you want it.

"For our heroes to be living in [these] conditions, it's totally unacceptable," said Foster.

Since 2000, approximately 900 veterans have found life-changing help at Foster's facility, Stand Down House. Named for the military command that gives troops time to rest after arduous duty, the program provides homeless male vets food, shelter and a safe place to recover, as well as the tools to conquer their personal problems. (Foster was a finalist for CNN Hero of the Year.)

The rest of the story can be found here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday news and notes

Birthday: Our Iraq war veteran celebrates his 25th birthday tomorrow. His brother took him, his girl friend and his parental units out for dinner at a Thai restaurant at the Beach. Good company, great food, great time. We had planned to tailgate today before the Jaguar game but mom and dad wussed out when the rain started. We traded our tickets for an afternoon of puppy sitting with grand dog Glider. BTW, turning 25 is a big deal these days for male drivers - auto insurance rates drop dramatically.

Starbucks: We are back to sending supplies to one of Mark's friends who is in the early stages of another deployment to Iraq. He is living in a pretty spartan combat outpost in Anbar.

We were delighted to find out that customers of the Ponte Vedra Beach Starbucks are still willing to buy a pound of coffee for the troops overseas. We have 10 pounds ready to go this week. Mark's friend was with him through basic, AIT and airborne school and is in the 82nd Airborne. He received a bronze star with a "V" clasp for valor for giving critical medical assistance to a comrade while under fire in Sadr City during the surge in Baghdad in his first deployment.

Media: The mainstream media have migrated to Afghanistan once known as the "forgotten war." Occasionally there will be a story out Iraq but usually about a bombing that highlights sectarian strife. But there are some good stories about there about U.S. efforts to help Iraqis and you can find them here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fort Hood casualties: from President Obama's remarks

Chief Warrant Officer Michael Cahill had served in the National Guard and worked as a physician's assistant for decades. A husband and father of three, he was so committed to his patients that on the day he died, he was back at work just weeks after having a heart attack.

“Major Libardo Eduardo Caraveo spoke little English when he came to America as a teenager. But he put himself through college, earned a Ph.D., and was helping combat units cope with the stress of deployment. He is survived by his wife, sons and step-daughters.

“Staff Sergeant Justin DeCrow joined the Army right after high school, married his high school sweetheart, and had served as a light wheeled mechanic and Satellite Communications Operator. He was known as an optimist, a mentor, and a loving husband and father.

“After retiring from the Army as a Major, John Gaffaney cared for society's most vulnerable during two decades as a psychiatric nurse. He spent three years trying to return to active duty in this time of war, and he was preparing to deploy to Iraq as a Captain. He leaves behind a wife and son.

“Specialist Frederick Greene was a Tennessean who wanted to join the Army for a long time, and did so in 2008 with the support of his family. As a combat engineer he was a natural leader, and he is survived by his wife and two daughters.

“Specialist Jason Hunt was also recently married, with three children to care for. He joined the Army after high school. He did a tour in Iraq , and it was there that he re-enlisted for six more years on his 21st birthday so that he could continue to serve.

“Staff Sergeant Amy Krueger was an athlete in high school, joined the Army shortly after 9-11, and had since returned home to speak to students about her experience. When her mother told her she couldn't take on Osama bin Laden by herself, Amy replied: ‘Watch me.'

“Private First Class Aaron Nemelka was an Eagle Scout who just recently signed up to do one of the most dangerous jobs in the service — diffuse bombs — so that he could help save lives. He was proudly carrying on a tradition of military service that runs deep within his family.

“Private First Class Michael Pearson loved his family and loved his music, and his goal was to be a music teacher. He excelled at playing the guitar, and could create songs on the spot and show others how to play. He joined the military a year ago, and was preparing for his first deployment.

“Captain Russell Seager worked as a nurse for the VA, helping veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress. He had great respect for the military, and signed up to serve so that he could help soldiers cope with the stress of combat and return to civilian life. He leaves behind a wife and son.

“Private Francheska Velez, the daughter of a father from Colombia and a Puerto Rican mother, had recently served in Korea and in Iraq , and was pursuing a career in the Army. When she was killed, she was pregnant with her first child, and was excited about becoming a mother.

“Lieutenant Colonel Juanita Warman was the daughter and granddaughter of Army veterans. She was a single mother who put herself through college and graduate school, and served as a nurse practitioner while raising her two daughters. She also left behind a loving husband.

“Private First Class Kham Xiong came to America from Thailand as a small child. He was a husband and father who followed his brother into the military because his family had a strong history of service. He was preparing for his first deployment to Afghanistan.

Guest column: Veterans earn our respect; honor them properly today |

Guest column: Veterans earn our respect; honor them properly today |

Fort Hood remembers victims of attack

By Rick Jervis, USA TODAY
FORT HOOD, Texas — President Obama and his generals told a crowd of 3,000 soldiers Tuesday that the Fort Hood massacre stands as an incomprehensible military tragedy — one that happened "in the comfort of home."

"These Americans did not die on a foreign field of battle. They were killed here, on American soil, in the heart of this great state, in the heart of this great American community," Obama said during an outdoor memorial service for the 12 soldiers and one civilian killed in Thursday's shooting rampage.

"It is this fact that makes the tragedy even more painful and even more incomprehensible," he said.

The president, flanked by other dignitaries, spoke on a stage in the sprawling front lawn of the 3rd Corps Headquarters building. It was at this post that an Army major was alleged to have opened fire inside a soldiers' processing center.

At the foot of the stage, 13 pairs of boots of the slain soldiers were laid next to 13 combat helmets perched on M-16 assault rifles. Portraits of those killed sat next to each rifle.

"Here, at Fort Hood, we pay tribute to 13 men and women who were not able to escape the horror of war, even in the comfort of home," Obama said.

The suspect, Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, continued to recover from multiple gunshot wounds at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, the post's commander, told the crowd that victims ranged in age from 19 to 62 and came from 11 different states. Between them, they left 19 children behind. One was pregnant.

Cone said Fort Hood, the largest military base in the U.S., had lost 545 soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but losing them at home was especially painful: "We never get accustomed to losing one of our own. But we can more easily accept it when it happens on foreign soil against a known enemy."

The rest of the story can be found here.

Biden calls 7 Fort Lewis soldiers 'fallen angels' | TOP STORY - The News Tribune | Seattle-Tacoma News, Weather, Sports, Jobs, Homes and Cars | South Puget Sound's Destination

Biden calls 7 Fort Lewis soldiers 'fallen angels'

Mandarin High graduate dies in helicopter crash in Iraq |

Mandarin High graduate dies in helicopter crash in Iraq |

Paying tribute to fallen Vietnam vets |

Paying tribute to fallen Vietnam vets |

Jacksonville veteran's story is different from all the others |

Jacksonville veteran's story is different from all the others |

Monday, November 9, 2009

Week of Valor: Military Appreciation Day

Military Appreciation Day at the Jaguars game yesterday included a ceremony where 150 young men and women enlisted in all branches of the armed services, a family was treated to a surprise reunion with their soldier who had been in Iraq, and standing ovations for more than a dozen wounded warriors and vets from past wars, including a Pearl Harbor survivor and an escapee from a Nazi prison of war camp.

And day two of the Sea and Sky Spectacular at the Beach:

Blue Angel photos by SGT Mark.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Something's happening here

I had been on the road most of Thursday visiting board members of the St. Johns River Alliance. No radio. Just quiet and an occasional phone call.

Arrived home and flipped on the news. Something was terribly wrong. A major general at Ft. Hood, Texas was describing a mass casualty event. A gunman - a soldier - had opened fire at the readiness center killing a dozen or so people, mostly soldiers who were preparing for deployment overseas and wounded scores more. Soldiers - all volunteers - killed at a military installation not in a war zone.

Details emerged. The shooter was an Army psychiatrist, an officer recently promoted to major.

Stunned silence.

Gayle and I sorted through our military family friends - if any had been at Ft. Hood, they were now gone. Some are heading there in December for training before deploying.

The details now are widely known now and some are still emerging. I won't rehash them here but in all tragedies there were heroes: a brave police officer, a PFC taking wounded to the hospital in his pickup truck, a soldier with PTSD unloading stretchers at the hospital.

The next day, I came home for lunch. A friend - an extraordinary reporter for the San Antonio Express News - was supposed to be on CNN to talk about the Ft. Hood tragedy.

Flipped on the news. Again, something was terribly wrong.

A gunman - a disgruntled ex-employee - opened fire on former colleagues in an Orlando, Fl. office building. One dead, five wounded. Gunman on the loose.

Interstate 4, the main artery from Florida's east coast to its west, shut down. Much of the business district shut down.

Another mass casualty event.

The firm under attack was Reynold, Smith & Hills, which is headquartered here in Jacksonville. Two of its senior executives, one of whom I've met, were in the Orlando office Friday. The gunman eventually surrendered and the authorities have not released the names of the wounded.

Meanwhile, it's Week of Valor here in Jacksonville. The Blue Angels are screaming up and down the beach this weekend. Parachute demonstrations, a mock amphibious landing, and air show displays and a gaggle of recruiters.

Tomorrow, it's Military Appreciation Day at the Jacksonville Jaguars v. Kansas City Chiefs game. Special half-time activities. A B-1 bomber flyover.

Wednesday, 11:01 a.m., it's the Annual Veterans Day parade downtown.

Given the last two days, there will be much to think about as we attend these events:
The unpredictability and fragility of life. The gratefulness we feel for our military who protect our freedoms and the bravery of the first responders who protect our lives.

Prayers are lifted for all the families.

Something's happening here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Golfer rarely talks about one experience in Iraq

From the San Antonio Express News

By Sig Christenson

GA Tour golfer Frank R. Lickliter II told a crowd of about 400 Monday of pulling 9.4 Gs with the Thunderbirds and doing a 15-base tour of Iraq, but the thing he didn't — and wouldn't — talk about was flying out of the war zone.

It's a deeply personal story, one that still haunts. As Lickliter and a band of golfers prepared to board a C-130J Hercules at a U.S. air base in Balad, north of Baghdad, they watched an honor guard escort a flag-draped metal transfer case to the plane's cargo bay.

More than 30 U.S. troops from the Army and Air Force formed two lines as the case containing the remains passed, their arms raised in a stiff salute. The golfers stood at the end of the line, behind the troops, hands over their hearts.

There was no music.

“I've got to tell you,” he said in an interview after the speech, which kicked off San Antonio's Celebrate America's Military week, an event that runs through Veterans Day, “everyone was crying.”

The rest of the story can be found here.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday notes

Off topic: Florida-Georgia game

Every year, Jacksonville hosts the annual Florida-Georgia football game, a legendary rivalry that takes on a life of its own when the teams face off with each other. And every year, tens of thousands of crazed football fans descend on the city. It's a tradition that goes back 77 years and it's been very good to the city. For Beaches residents, it means sirens, motorcades and the occasional crazy driver.

To that end and to the driver who nearly rear-ended me on A1A yesterday, I was in the left lane because I was making LEFT turn into my neighborhood. That's what turn signals are for. And thank you for the single finger salute, Florida is number one.

Afghanistan coverage

With the increasing violence in Afghanistan, the mainstream media have ramped up its coverage. NBC's Brian Williams was in Kabul last week and while there was a lot of predictable coverage of the intense fighting and election maneuvering, not all was gloom.

Here's a story about the Special Forces helping Afghans obtain essential medical help.

Close to home

Some of the most recent incidents have involved soldiers and Marines with parents here at the Beaches. Too close to home. We worry mightily for all of them.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Iraq War Vet Suffers Constant Seizures

From WJXT-TV, News4Jax:

Brain Injury Caused By Explosion; Family Seeking Right Health Care

Video link
(editor's note: the story is worth watching)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Anthony Rogers suffered a brain injury while serving in Iraq, and his life hasn't been the same since.

Rogers has constant seizures, up to several times an hour.

"It's pretty horrible, and the two that you've seen in the last five minutes are very small compared to what I see on a daily basis," Rogers' mom Liza Catron said.

Catron said her son's seizures have practically ruined his life.

"A good day can be 40 seizures," Catron said. "A bad day can be as many as 130."

Catron said it all started during Rogers' third tour in Iraq almost three years ago.

There he suffered a bad brain injury from an explosion that caused his Humvee to flip.

Video: Brain Injury Caused By Explosion

That injury changed his life.

"Very, very smart kid," Catron said. "And now he sometimes can't tell me what he is trying to say."

Since then, Catron says her son hasn't been fighting the country's enemies, he's been fighting to get the right care.

"His neurologist and his seizure expert are phenomenal doctors," Catron said. "Until we got them, we were accomplishing more by bashing our head against the wall."

Catron said after years of looking for the right doctors, her son is now being forced to fight for something else -- his full disability payment.

Even with a letter from his doctor that says he can't work, Catron said the Veterans Administration will only give her son a 40 percent payment.

But she wants more than the money. She just wants her son's life to get better.

"Three weeks ago Monday he had a seizure so bad that he ended up in a pool of blood," Catron said. "He busted his mouth, busted his nose."

Catron said the family is now close to being broke because her son can't work.

She said she just started working with Sen. Bill Nelson's office, and they told her they will look into what's going on.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

SSG Michael Murphrey - heroic action

SSG Murphrey was SGT Mark's team leader on two tours in Iraq. SSG Murphrey was killed in action in Afghanistan Sept. 6. Earlier in the year, SSG Murphrey was awarded the Unit V clasp and the Bronze Star. His father has sent over a narrative of the award this morning and asked that I post it. I am honored and salute Michael's heroism and service.

On 4 APR 09, SSG Murphrey performed above and beyond his duties during the broad spectrum of combat operations his squad endured. Securing a defensive position, SSG Murphrey’s squad came under heavy direct enemy fire that impacted in his immediate vicinity causing his Squad to drop behind cover in shallow ditch.

SSG Murphrey, with no regard to his personal safety, moved through the hail of enemy fire, positioned himself where he could provide an effective support by fire, for his Squad to follow. SSG Murphrey screened the enemy with smoke, and laid down accurate fires, simultaneously emplacing his squad behind cover, and then assigned sectors of fire to be covered by his multiple weapon systems.

SSG Murphrey then provided Support by fire so his Platoon Leader could move through open terrain to conduct link up with the other element of his platoon. SSG Murphrey then courageously led the assault forward to clear the enemy’s strong point that his
platoon was pinned down from, drawing enemy fire himself.

He coordinated the entry on the movement forward and secured the foothold to the house the insurgents were occupying. SSG Murphrey was the key element that allowed the platoon to clear the first objective without flaw, with very little support by fire do to the open terrain.

After clearing the first objective nearly single-handedly, he continued to lead his element towards a tree line that more suspected insurgents were occupying. After bounding around the base of a hill, SSG Murphrey’s squad came under direct enemy heavy machine gun fire, later identified as a NSV. Once again, without regard to personal safety, SSG Murphrey bounded forward, through the imminent danger ensuing to his front, placing effective small arms fire upon the enemy, enabling his Squad to take cover in the open field.

SSG Murphrey then valiantly maneuvered his element through the enemy’s wall of fire, returning fire leaving him in exposed, and in jeopardy for the safety of his Soldiers. Once behind cover, he marked obscured enemy targets with precise accuracy exposing their position. This enabled A-10 aircraft to fix, and finish the insurgent forces with their heavy volume of multiple weapon systems.

SSG Murphrey’s actions on this day allowed the safe exfiltration of all members of his platoon, simultaneously weakening the insurgency network in this Global War on Terror and strengthened the political future of the Nation of Afghanistan. SSG Murphrey’s actions on this day reflect great credit upon himself, the Army, The Geronimo Battalion, and The Spartan Brigade.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

President Obama visits Jacksonville Naval Air Station

An excerpt from his speech to 3,000 military, mostly sailors and Marines:

"We're reminded of this again with today's helicopter crashes in Afghanistan. Fourteen Americans gave their lives. And our prayers are with these service members, their civilian colleagues, and the families who loved them.

And while no words can ease the ache in their hearts today, may they find some comfort in knowing this: Like all those who give their lives in service to America, they were doing their duty and they were doing this nation proud.

They were willing to risk their lives, in this case, to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for al Qaeda and its extremist allies. And today, they gave their lives, that last full measure of devotion, to protect ours.

Now, it is our duty as a nation to keep their memory alive in our hearts and to carry on their work. To take care of their families. To keep our country safe. To stand up for the values we hold dear and the freedom they defended. That's what they dedicated their lives to. And that is what we must do as well.

So I say to you and all who serve: Of all the privileges I have as President, I have no greater honor than serving as your Commander-in-Chief. You inspire me. And I'm here today to deliver a simple message -- a message of thanks to you and your families.

Being here, you join a long, unbroken line of service at Jacksonville -- from the naval aviators from World War II to Korea to Vietnam, among them a great patriot named John McCain. You embody that sailor's creed, the "spirit of the Navy and all who have gone before" -- Honor, Courage, Commitment.

In recent years, you've been tested like never before. We're a country of more than 300 million Americans, but less than 1 percent wears the uniform. And that 1 percent -- you and those in uniform -- bear the overwhelming burden of our security.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Individual Ready Reserve muster

According to a friend of mine who is a military writer, the Army is mustering 13,500 Individual Ready Reserves this year in 18 different locations and will do a similar amount in 2010 in 19 musters. A muster is a one-day screening that includes a physical and health assessment.

I still have not been able to determine how many, if any, are being mobilized back into the Army for two-year tours.

Two inquiries are still pending.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A worthy cause

This is from Lola, one of our friends from the blogosphere. Her husband is with the 10th Mountain Division and is currently deployed to Afghanistan:

I was wondering if you would mind helping me raise money for No Greater Sacrifice. NGS is a DC-based non-profit that raises money to fund the education of the kids of fallen service members. They donate proceeds to organizations like the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, etc.

I ran the Army 10-Miler for them and I'm running the Marine Corps Marathon 10K Sunday morning for them as well. As a whole, the NGS Endurance team is trying to raise $100,000 for SSG Jackson's kids.

Individually, I'm trying to raise $2500 for them and I'm at $1675 now. My donation page is here:

There is more information about No Greater Sacrifice here:

I've attached a picture of SSG Jackson and his family from before his youngest child, Hannah, was born. He's with his wife/widow Katie, and their three boys, Zach, Levi and Sam.

He was killed in action by an IED in November 2006 in Ramadi, Iraq. He was a member of the 16th Engineering Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division out of Giessen, Germany.

If you're willing to post about this, I'd appreciate it. Just trying to raise awareness (and $!) for a great cause.



Wednesday, October 21, 2009

USC going camo for game against Florida

This could be a problem. We've become big Florida fans since Tim Tebow arrived. Gayle and her sister both attended Virginia Tech.

Thanks to Lola for pointing this out.

USC going camo for game against Florida | GoGamecocks

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Small world

The genesis of this blog came from a an October 2007 op-ed piece in the New York Times entitled Party here, sacrifice there by Will Bardenwerper, a former Army infantry officer. He said:

"Serious problems with the war in Iraq are well chronicled, but I am struck by one that does not seem to trouble the country’s leadership, even though it is profoundly corrosive to our common good: the disparity between the lives of the few who are fighting and being killed, and the many who have been asked for nothing more than to continue shopping."

I named the blog The One Percenters for the small percentage of Americans who have been carrying the burdens of these wars for six years. I didn't realize how small that world was until recently.

A few weeks back, SGT Mark's team leader in Iraq, SSG Michael C. Murphrey, was killed in Afghanistan. SSG Murphrey had moved from the 82nd Airborne to the 25th Infantry, 4th Brigade (Airborne)and was deployed overseas. As soldiers SGT Mark and SSG Michael were brothers (a tribute is posted below).

It turns out, based on a cruise around Facebook, that a member of our local Military Support Group here in Florida likely has a son in the same unit as SSG Murphrey's. Our friend's name is Mike Ammiano and his son's name is Chris. Mike has been to a couple of our meetings and we have heard about how terribly difficult this deployment has been. I've never met Chris but have his name on my computer so I can remember him in silent prayer.

So there it is - a small world, one that Gayle and I never expected to be in, but are greatly honored to be part of. We have in the last four years met some of the most extraordinary men and women you could ever know. It is a privilege to know them.

To the family of SSG Murphrey: There isn't a day we don't think about you and Michael. We owe Michael a debt we can never repay: He brought our son home alive....twice. I wish I could have told him thank you.

To the Ammianos: Prayers that this deployment ends soon. Godspeed to the 25th and a safe return home.

A small world indeed.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Mobilizing the IRRs

I spent a lot of time on the Internet and the phone yesterday trying to determine if the Army is mobilizing the Individual Ready Reserves to active duty. Here's what I have found so far:

*The Marines have stopped mobilizing IRRs because it has exceeded its recruiting goal.
*A number of Congressional staff don't understand the difference between being in the active reserves or being an IRR.
*The Army's Human Resources Command is mustering 14,000 IRRs for one-day evaluations of health, fitness and other criteria. This is a departure from past practices.
*There are numerous websites dedicated to helping service men and women avoid an IRR mobilization.
*The Army is not pursuing soldiers under the Uniform Code of Military Justice if an IRR doesn't show up as ordered. But that could change.
*There is a cottage industry of attorneys who will help, for a fee, soldiers file for a mobilization exemption, mostly for health or hardship reasons.
*At least one Congressional staffer speculated that the Army is mobilizing the IRRs because of the expected ramp up in Afghanistan. But it was just speculation.

What we have not been able to determine is whether or not the Army is in fact mobilizing IRRs and whether or not the reserve career counselor is telling us the truth or trying to make his October recruiting/retention goals.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Army daze

SGT. Mark has been told by an Army Reserve career counselor to join the Reserves in two weeks or face an Individual Ready Reserve mobilization the first week in November. According to the counselor, his orders are pending for a another two-year stint on active duty that would likely include another deployment.

So maybe our Army saga isn't over yet.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Good Soldiers by David Finkel

This may be the first book about the war I will read. I think I can handle it now.

From the NY Times
Published: October 8, 2009

“The front-line soldier I knew lived for months like an animal, and was a veteran in the cruel, fierce world of death. . . . The front-line soldier has to harden his inside as well as his outside or he would crack under the strain.”

That was the war correspondent Ernie Pyle, writing about the soldiers he lived alongside and chronicled in his World War II dispatches.

Fast-forward 64 years to 2007, the year the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter David Finkel brings to astonishing life in his chronicle of modern combat, “The Good Soldiers.” Like Pyle, Finkel brilliantly captures the terrors of ordinary men enduring extraordinary circumstances.

Between January 2007 and June 2008, Finkel spent eight months with a battalion of 800 United States Army soldiers from Fort Riley, Kan., known for short as the 2-16 (Second Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment of the Fourth Infantry Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division).

From a cramped, lousy office — big enough for just three folding chairs and a desk — the young men were led by a gung-ho yet thoroughly likable 40-year-old lieutenant colonel named Ralph Kauzlarich. We learn that Kauzlarich, when he first met his wife-to-be, told her, “You can call me The Kauz” (to her credit, she never granted this wish). A sign on the head-quarters wall read, “Mission: to create a balanced, secure and self-sufficient environment for the Iraqi people.”

The rest of the review can be found here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Glider, the Airborne dog

Glider, with our youngest son Jon.

With our rescue cat Isabeau.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

No kidding

courtesy of the Denver Post

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday news and notes

Support group:Our military support group meets Saturday evening and I'm afraid the news isn't great. Two of our families have sons deployed to Afghanistan in two different Army units. Each of the units have lost eight men so far...and these are small units(maybe company level). Thankfully, our families soldier's are OK, under the circumstances. We have another Marine leave in December. This will be his first deployment to Afghanistan after two in Iraq.

Other notes:

*I will be posting pictures of Mark's seven month old pup soon. I had hoped to catch him running around the yard with a flower pot on his head, but he destroyed the pot before I could grab a photo. The pup knows he just seven months old so he believes he is still a lap dog, despite his 65 lbs.

*What a difference a year makes. For a long time, Afghanistan was considered the forgotten war. Now it's Iraq. Pardon me for being a bit cynical but my take on this is twofold:

There is better video (from a TV producers perspective) coming out of Afghanistan;
and the media now has a chance to hype a potential conflict between the President and his generals.

Nothing like that going on in Iraq right now.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Eight U.S. Soldiers Dead in Bold Attack in Afghanistan

From The New York Times:

Published: October 4, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan — Insurgents besieged two American outposts in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, American and Afghan officials said, killing eight Americans and two Afghan policemen in a bold daylight strike that was the deadliest for American soldiers in more than a year.
Skip to next paragraph
Week in Review: The Distance Between ‘We Must’ and ‘We Can’ (October 4, 2009)
Report Cites Firefight as Lesson on Afghan War (October 3, 2009)
Times Topics: Afghanistan

The attack took place in the Nuristan province, a remote area on the border with Pakistan. It began Saturday morning, when insurgents stormed the area, pounding the two American base camps with guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Americans fought back, striking their attackers with helicopters, heavy guns and airstrikes, but the insurgents were persistent and the battled lasted into the afternoon, said Col. Wayne Shanks, a spokesman for NATO forces in Afghanistan.

It was unclear whether insurgents made it inside either of the two compounds, but Colonel Shanks said that by the end of the battle, American forces still controlled the outposts. The Americans shared the compounds with Afghan security forces.

“The militants put on a very aggressive attack,” Col. Shanks said. “Our forces had to use a considerable amount of firepower to counter it.”

The governor of Nuristan province, Jamaluddin Badar, reached by telephone on Sunday, said that 11 Afghan police officers, including the district police chief, had been kidnapped in the strike. He said the attackers did breach the compounds briefly. The American military did not confirm the report.

Much about the attack was still unclear on Sunday, but its broad outlines were eerily familiar. Nine American soldiers were killed in July 2008 in the same province, when 200 insurgents stormed their small outpost in the village of Wanat.

That attack, which has been described as the “Black Hawk Down” of Afghanistan, with the 48 American soldiers and 24 Afghan soldiers outnumbered three to one in a four-hour firefight, is now seen as a cautionary tale for the war here, which commanders say should focus more on protecting civilians.

Locals in the area were furious with Americans for the killing of local medical staff in an airstrike the week before, and commanders believe that for that reason, they were more hospitable to insurgents.

Outrage was so intense that President Hamid Karzai called for an investigation into the airstrike, which local officials at the time said had killed 22 innocent Afghans.

Mr. Badar said Saturday’s attack took place in the Kamdysh district, about 10 miles from the border with Pakistan, and less than 20 miles southwest of the attack last year.

Attackers gathered in a mosque and a nearby village, before staging the attack. Mr. Badar said the attackers were Taliban fighters who had come from Pakistan, after military operations in that country pushed them out of their bases there. He said the strike was led by a Taliban commander named Dost Muhammed, whom he described as the shadow commander for the Taliban in Nuristan.

The Americans identified the attackers as “tribal militia,” a departure from their typical usage of the word Taliban. Col. Shanks said the description was more specific. Some military planners argue applying the word Taliban to all insurgents oversimplifies the fight Americans face here and gives the appearance, sometimes falsely, of a coordinated, hierarchical fighting force.

More can be found here.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Local news makes the national news

And it was good news too. The 146th Signal Battalion of the Florida National Guard returned Thursday night to Jacksonville to a wonderful homecoming after a year in Iraq. No fatalities or serious injuries. The video is 32 seconds long and can be found here.

Having been to two homecomings at Green Ramp at Fort Bragg, it brought back wonderful memories and a few tears as well. Nice to see NBC was paying attention.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Friday news and notes

As I write:

*SGT Mark's Australian shepherd is running around the yard with a flower pot on his head. He does this quite often. Pictures to follow this weekend.

*I am having very minor surgery this morning that should produce a major change in our lives. By sticking a permanent tube in my right ear, I should be able to hear everything that Gayle says to me...for the first time in 25 years. Not sure that's a good thing :)

*Weather has broken here. Windows are open and dogs are coming and going as they please into the back yard. Hope it holds for a while.

*From today's Washington Post:

Soldiers' Data Still Being Downloaded Overseas, Firm Says
Sensitive Information Found by Using 'Peer to Peer' File-Sharing Software

Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 2, 2009

The personal data of tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers -- including those in the Special Forces -- continue to be downloaded by unauthorized computer users in countries such as China and Pakistan, despite Army assurances that it would try to fix the problem, according to a private firm that monitors cybersecurity.

Tiversa, which scours the Internet for sensitive data, discovered the data breaches while conducting research for private clients. The company found, as recently as this week, documents containing Social Security numbers, blood types, cellphone numbers, e-mail addresses, and the names of soldiers' spouses and children.

The availability of such data, security experts say, exacerbates the threat of identity theft and retaliation against troops on sensitive missions. In addition to using the information to drain financial accounts, hackers could pose as soldiers in an effort to ferret out sensitive data, including passwords to government systems.

Such disclosures represent a "major security risk" to the service members and the military, said Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which was informed of the data breach by Tiversa.

The rest of the story can be found here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tuesday news and notes

I took a two week break from blogging. Didn't feel like I had much to say but with more friends and acquaintances heading to Afghanistan. I had better get back on the stick.

I had been complaining about the lack of inaction by the VA in processing Mark's GI Bill benefits. I shouldn't have. He's been one of the lucky ones. See story and link below:

Veterans Get Some Relief With Tuition
$3,000 Advances to Bridge GI Bill Backlog

By Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 26, 2009

Thousands of veterans who returned to school this semester under the Post-9/11 GI Bill and have yet to receive tuition, housing and textbook payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs will each be eligible for $3,000 in emergency aid, agency officials announced Friday.

"Students should be focusing on their studies, not worrying about financial difficulties," Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said in a statement.

The agency has been overwhelmed by a flood of applications. Of the 251,000 students who have submitted claims this year, 24,186 -- less than 10 percent -- have received checks, according to Veterans Affairs officials. They point out, however, that not all of those students intend to use the benefits this year. Although many universities are deferring tuition payments, the delays have forced students to take out loans, rack up credit card debt and consider dropping out of school in order to meet living expenses, according to veterans and groups that advocate on their behalf.

The rest of the story can be found here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

SSG Michael C. Murphrey: A tribute

A letter to my brother.

By SGT Mark M. Middlebrook, formerly of the 82nd Airborne.

- I met you when you transferred to my platoon from another unit.

- I became your SAW gunner and you became my team leader.

- You taught me what I needed to know because I had a lot to learn.

- You straightened me out when I needed to be.

- We served together through two tours and you kept me alive.

- I followed you like a shadow because you were fearless.

- I promised you that I would always watch your back.

- You had a family so I prayed to catch your bullet.

- You kept me in front with you because I had better vision.

- We went our separate ways after Iraq, you to a new unit and I out of the army.

- I told myself the war was over but you kept fighting.

- I was on the 2nd floor of the UNF library when I learned you had been killed.

- Somewhere in Texas they played taps for you, I heard it in a bar in Florida.

- I took a shot in your honor but it didn’t wash away the guilt.

- Your passing reminded me of -and added to- the weight my body and heart still carries.

- I knew you as only one can once they have been in combat together.

- You were my brother and I loved you as such.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

An excerpt from "The Good Soldiers"

One Day at War

While Washington argued, the 2-16 Rangers fought a different battle.

By David Finkel
Sunday, September 13, 2009

BAGHDAD -- The general was coming. His helicopter was landing. The great David Petraeus was nearly here.

"Ooh, that's nice!" Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich said, surveying the top floor of a decrepit two-story building that his soldiers had spent the morning cleaning up. They were in eastern Baghdad, on a remote base called Rustamiyah.

There were muffins, cookies and fresh fruit, all arranged on a table that had been covered with a green hospital bedsheet. "It's brand new," a soldier assured Kauzlarich, who had never briefed a four-star general before and was feeling nervous.

There was an urn of fresh coffee and a bowl of iced drinks. Kauzlarich noticed there was no Diet Coke. "That's all he drinks," he said.

Finally, everything, including the Diet Coke, was ready for Petraeus, who was here for a briefing on what Kauzlarich's infantry battalion, known as the 2-16 Rangers, had accomplished as part of the Iraq strategy called the surge. Marking the spot where Petraeus would sit were a new nameplate, a new pen, a new notebook, a jug of water, a jug of juice and a coffee mug filled with ceremonial American flags.

"There's only so many ways to polish a turd," said Maj. Brent Cummings, the battalion's executive officer.

Every once in a while, a day would feel good in Iraq, and Sept. 22, 2007, seemed one of those days. The temperature was under 100 degrees. The sky was a dustless blue. The air stunk of neither sewage nor burning trash. The only smell was the chemical bouquet wafting from some portable latrines near where Petraeus paused to shake hands with a few soldiers before he walked into the little building, climbed a stairway cracked from explosions and sat in a high-backed chair that had been wiped to a shine.

Kauzlarich took the chair next to him and watched as Petraeus ignored the muffins, cookies, coffee, Diet Cokes, pen and notebook and simply reached for a grape.

He popped it into his mouth.

"Okay," he said, swallowing. "Fire away, Ralph."

The story continues here:

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mark and Murph near Tikrit

Band of brothers: Mark's squad in Iraq. Mark is second from the right. SGT Michael Murphrey is third from the right.

When Mark returned from Iraq the second time, he started writing about some of his experiences there. This is one story about a raid near Tikrit in which his team leader SGT Murphrey is mentioned. Murphrey was killed in action Sept. 6 in Afghanistan. A cautionary note: the language of war is fairly explicit.

By Mark M. Middlebrook

We had somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 Humvees.
At first, I really had no idea why. Normally, Our mission was to
go in by helicopter where ever we thought the bad guys
were hiding. Not Humvees.

They were rather sad looking Humvees.
Reminded me of old pack mules, broken down by years of
hard labor. It took a crew of about 20 mechanics
working around the clock for two and half months to get
them all mission capable, which wasn't saying much
considering mechanics were adjusting them and
replacing parts when I was mounting the machine gun on
the roof.

So many of the casualties in Iraq after the invasion
were roadside bombs or IEDs. If you were there and
weren't scared of them you were probably a moron or
someone who was blessed with a job that kept you off
the dangerous Iraqi roads.

Until then I had thought I was one of the lucky ones. I had told my family that
I was much safer cause I didn't have to drive anywhere. Helicopters took me where the brass wanted me to be and picked me up when the job was done. I
walked everywhere in between. Later I realized
that telling my family not to worry about IEDs was as
much for my benefit as it was for theirs.

That night when I was given the warning order of the
mission to come, all I could think was, “Crap.” We
were to "ground assault convoy" or GAC to a small
village just outside Tikirt, the city of Sadaam’s
birth. It's been about a year and half since then and
I'm not sure who exactly we were going after or if we
we had caught him.

I can only remember what happened that first night.
I should have known I was in for something interesting
when I was told that I wouldn't be traveling with my
company. Not only that, I was to be separated from my
squad leader and half my squad. You really only can
trust those you know out there.

My team leader and I were attached to Delta company for the initial
movement. Delta company was to stop at a specific
intersection within the village and let us out. We
were then to wait there for the rest of my squad to
link up and hit the house on the intersection . . . hit
and hold that house to control the intersection and
provide watch for our buddies as they went ahead
with the task at hand.

Not only that, I was to be riding in the very first truck in the first of two
convoys. . .the bomb finder.

Before I went to Iraq I had been a smoker for several
years. When I got to Iraq, I decided to quit.
It went pretty well for the most part and it had
been almost a month without a single cigarette. As
the sun set that afternoon, I chain smoked, one after
another. We got the word sometime around midnight to,
“mount up” and so I strapped on all my combat gear and
climbed into the Humvee.

It was about a 45-minute ride from Camp Speicher to that little village. I
breathed low, hunched forward, muscles tensed and ready as
I peered through my night vision goggles, watching and studying
every foot of the dusty road. After a very tense hour
we turned off MSR (main supply route) Tampa and into the village.

I had studied the maps ahead of time and memorized every
turn that would take us to our intersection. We
hadn't gone into the village but ten feet when we
had to turn around because of a road block. From that
point on I had no idea where I was going but I prayed
that Delta company did.

It's not a good feeling being away from your guys and that feeling was growing worse by
the minute. Twenty minutes and six turn-arounds
later, I was sure that we were all completely lost.
Just then and without warning, the Humvee skidded
to a halt and the sergeant in the front passenger seat
said, “This is you, get out.”

I went through the open Humvee door with a little help from the adrenaline
flowing through my veins. Ran over to a wall and picked up
security with my machine gun. My team leader, Murph,
ran over throwing his back into mine and picking up
security the other way down the road. The final member of our team, Jenkins, came up throwing himself between the two of us.

The humvees dropped into drive and drove off kicking up the dusty road and leaving us
in a cloud. Then, quiet. Nothing. No sound, only
helicopters criss-crossing overhead. Jenkins broke
the silence and said exactly what all three of us were
thinking, “Well, this isn't where we’re supposed to

It was totally obvious seeing as how there wasn't even an intersection in sight.

“Yeah I know, where the hell are we?” Murph said in a
yelled whisper.

“Fuck man, I don't know,”I said in between breaths.

“Middlebrook, did you see our intersection?”

“Fuck me man, I don't know. Everything looks the same.”

“Shit uh... shit.”

“Well we cant just sit here man. We’ve got to mo. . .”

“Goddamit, I know.... Middlebrook, which way do you
think our intersection is?”

“Uhmm. . . . fuck man. . . uhmm. That way I think, man . . . fuck man, I
don't know.”

“All right. All right. Well then, that's the way were going.
We're going to keep bounding (bounding is a movement
where one moves while the other covers you then
covers the other while he moves) until we find where
we’re supposed to be. . .All right... Go Middlebrook,

I picked up my gun and hoisted myself and took off at
a dead sprint. Wheeling left and right I got about a
hundred meters and dove on the ground just like in
training. Seconds later, the heavy foot steps of an
over-loaded paratrooper came up behind me and gave a
“hughhh” as he hit the ground, lying there huffing and
puffing, sweat pouring and pulling security until the
final member of our little party ran up.

When he did, I instinctively jumped up and took off again. This
continued for nearly a click (1000 meters). It broke down to this: the further we went, the more nervous we became. Towards the end, we were just running . . . running for our lives.
In my mind - I think in all of our minds - we were beginning to panic. But in that situation, fear and panic is what will get you killed. We kept to our training. We stayed together and we kept moving.

By ourselves, it wouldn't have taken much for us to be overrun or even captured. Huffing along those dusty roads and alleys, all that could be heard was heavy
breathing , footsteps, barking dogs and distant helicopters.

I was running low on gas. Picking up and running, dropping then picking up again with a full combat load of an M249 machine gunner is not an easy task. Plus food and water, I was carrying somewhere in the neighborhood of 110 pounds of gear. When we set out, I was in the front. Now, nearly a mile down the road, I was in the rear and trailing. Everyone always
gets angry with SAW gunners for slowing them down. But when things start happening and you let that thing loose, everyone loves you.

When we got to the very end of the road, we turned a
corner and spotted three Americans running across the
street under some sort of make shift street light. A
hundred meters away and through distorted night vision,
I instantly recognized one of them as American.
Not only American but my squad leader.

“It's Sergeant Medina!”

We took off again at a dead sprint giving it everything we had left. Without even saying a word we stacked on the courtyard door and SGT Medina kicked
it in. Within seconds the house was clear and I was on the roof training my gun across the village.

Through my night vision, I could see paratroopers hitting houses and clearing to the roofs. Flash bangs, popping tactical lights searching houses, infrared
strobe lights blinking while Apache helicopters flew lazy figure eights overhead.

A year and half later, I think back to that night and how lucky I was that nothing happened. At the time, I didn't think about it. I just did what I was trained to do. When I thought about it later, it dawned on me just how bad it could have gone.

Just hearing the name Tikrit today . . . my veins open and adrenaline begins to flow.
Remembering that night is a conscious re-occurring nightmare.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

SSG Michael Murphrey, rest in peace

SGT Mark's former team leader for two tours in Iraq:

From the Snyder (Texas) Daily News

A Snyder High School graduate has been killed while on active duty in Afghanistan.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Michael Chance Murphrey was a member of the graduating class of 2003 and reportedly died in combat Sunday. He was an all-district defensive end for the Tiger football team and competed in hurdles for the track team. He served as the escort for the boys track
team queen and helped the football team earn a playoff berth his senior
year. He began attending Snyder schools while in junior high.

Tiger head coach Chad Rogers remembers Murphrey as a good student.
“He was an outstanding young man. He worked hard and looked out for others,”
Rogers said. “He always had a smile on his face, a good kid. This is a tragic loss.”
After graduation in May, Murphrey left for boot camp in September. He and
his wife, Ashley, were married in April 2005 and have two children, a
four-year-old boy and a 10-month-old daughter. Ashley and the children are
with her parents in Colorado.

Murphrey was on his third tour of a war zone, according to his sister Jeanie
Rutherford. The first two were in Iraq. He was assigned to 501st Airborne in
Fort Richardson, Alaska. He had earned six medals of valor during his tours.
His parents moved from Snyder and now live in Clyde.

His parents were leaving their home this morning to meet with Army officials
and were unavailable for comment. Richardson said the family was told
that the sergeant was on patrol and stepped on a pressurized plate that set off an improvised explosive device.

The military said it would release information as soon as word of notification
of next-of-kin is received through military channels. His body will first be
flown to Dover Air Base in Delaware and then to Dyess Air Force Base in

Services for Murphrey are pending at Bailey Funeral Home in Clyde.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Afghanistan fatality

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Staff Sgt. Michael C. Murphrey, 25, of Snyder, Texas, died Sept. 6 in Paktika province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, Fort Richardson, Alaska.

SSG Murphrey, formerly of Bravo Company, 1-325 AIR, 82nd Division, was Mark's team leader in Iraq for two tours. More to come.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Off topic: Glider v. Isabeau

Mark's dog, who turned six months yesterday, takes on the new kitty. They are best friends.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

VA program only places two dogs with vets in eight years

Vietnam veteran William Callahan, a paraplegic, began seeking an assistance dog in 2004. He credits his service dog, Taylor, with enabling him to stay in his Baytown home and calming him when he experiences flashbacks from the war.

By ARELIS HERNANDEZ (AP) – 21 hours ago

HOUSTON — The drone of helicopters still haunts William Callahan decades after Vietnam combat left him paralyzed, but he said government bureaucracy stood in the way of getting the one thing that made the echoes stop and kept him independent: a service dog.

It took four years and giving up on a Veteran's Affairs canine program for Callahan to find Taylor, a specially trained Labrador retriever.

Although the canine program's Web site touts that it "routinely" gives veterans service dogs, the program's director Neil Eckrich said only two dogs have been paired with veterans since Congress authorized the program in 2001. Eckrich acknowledged there were difficulties with the program, including the time it took to conduct studies on the dogs' benefits and problems promoting the service.

Finally, about eight years after the program began, many hope it will start finding homes for the four-legged companions that can help disabled veterans be more independent, better deal with post traumatic stress syndrome and to just be a friend. The VA is now working on improving the program and in Washington, increasing funding for such programs is getting bipartisan support.

Callahan, 63, began trying to find a service dog in 2004, and his local VA office said the program didn't exist — even though that wasn't true. He eventually turned to one of the more than two dozen nonprofit groups in the U.S. that train dogs for injured veterans.

The full story can be read here.

Staff Sgt. returns home

Hundreds honor Jacksonville soldier killed in Afghanistan
The graduate of Mandarin High was killed in Afghanistan.

By Adam Aasen
The Florida Times-Union

Staff Sgt. Jason Sean Dahlke was a warrior who was never afraid of anything.

Dahlke went on six deployments for the Army during wartime - three in Iraq and three in Afghanistan - and earned the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

Friends and family said he never shied away from anything difficult. Whether in the Army or enjoying outdoor activities like scuba diving or mountain biking, he took on every challenge.

"We thought he was invincible," said his wife, Nikole. "We all thought that.

"He lived his life like he could die tomorrow."

Hundreds of friends, family and soldiers gathered Saturday at Jacksonville Naval Air Station to pay tribute to a man who died while serving his country in Afghanistan. Dahlke, 29, was killed by enemy gunfire on Aug. 28 in the vicinity of the Paktika province.

Dahlke attended Mandarin High School and the University of Central Florida. After graduation, he enlisted in the Army in 2004 and became a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment in 2005. He served as a rifleman, grenadier, machine gunner, fire-team leader, section leader and squad leader.

Dahlke leaves behind his wife, Nikole; father, Roger Dahlke; mother, Deborah DeLaney; stepmother, Tessa Dahlke; and sisters Talia Dahlke, Taryn Funcheon, Donielle Graham and Kelsea Evans.

The full story can be found here.

Off topic: Chasing butterflies

Gayle and I spent the day chasing butterflies at Master Gardener's garden at the St. Augustine Agricultural Center. She found bees....and lots of them.... instead. Her handiwork can be found at La Florida today.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Facts I have learned about the VA

Those of you who are ETSing out of the service and expect the Veteran's Administration to hop right on your benefits applications, don't.

Last year in the Southeast Region, 7,000 former service men and women filed for GI Bill benefits. This year, 50,000 applied. The regional office in Atlanta has hired 400 temporary workers to process the applications. Somewhere in that pile of applications is Mark's.

Calling your Congressional rep. helps but only in finding out information. The VA will not expedite an application at the request of a Congressional rep.

VA resources, such as hospitals, are not spread across the nation based on where the vets are. Florida, the third most populous state, has four VA hospitals. Chicago has six. During the winter, the Chicago hospitals ramp down because their veterans have headed south to - guess where - Florida.

Florida has the second largest veteran population in the nation.

No wonder things are slow here.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Veterans Day Parade, II

August 28, 2009
(12:30 PM)

Once again, the people of this great city have humbled me with their generosity.
After recognizing the difficult decisions being made by the City Council in these trying times – including having to cut funding for the Veterans Day Parade – many citizens of Jacksonville and a number of private sector companies have stepped forward.
They didn’t rise in opposition to the cuts; rather, they stepped up saying that they wanted to further galvanize their support for this great military town by privately funding this year’s parade! As the grandson of two of our military heroes, I am overwhelmed and deeply appreciative and as a Jacksonville native, I am as proud as ever to call this city home. This is another example of how a great city responds to adversity. We band together and make good things happen. Here’s to you, Jacksonville! Let’s make this year’s parade bigger and better than ever!


Richard A. Clark
Council President

Friday, August 28, 2009

Veterans' Day Parade

Tight budget times has driven a Jacksonville City Council committee to ax the annual Veterans' Day Parade and the Memorial Day Observance at the Veteran's Memorial Wall. One councilman called these "feel good" events and were not necessary in these times of economic crisis. Mark was the keynote speaker at the Memorial Day event in 2008.

I used to take great pride that Jacksonville was a military town and went to great length to honor its veterans. I'm not sure what to think now.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday news and notes

Sons report: Mark starts his second semester at the University of North Florida today. Jon has new job at a veterinary clinic taking care of the animals and starts at Florida State College and Jacksonville next Monday. Mike and Tara completed their move Saturday and are now permanent residents of Port St. Lucie.

VA: No news. Congressional Rep. has been called.

Herding the herder: Life is never dull here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday news and notes

The weather here has been extraordinary. My youngest, Jon, is out taking advantage of the remnants of Hurricane Bill.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Mark resumed his place in the stands Saturday night for the preseason game against the Tampa Bay Bucs. This is the first true sign that we are settling in from four years with the Army.

Friday, August 21, 2009

That was then, this is now

I arrived in Washington D.C. in 1972 as a shiny new private E-2 newly minted from boot camp at Ft. Jackson, S.C. I had been caught in the last draft call in the Vietnam War and 50,000 of us were sent off to basic training around the country. While we were in double-timing out to the ranges every day, the Nixon Administration announced that an agreement had been reached on the Paris Peace Accords effectively ending the war.

So here were 50,000 newly trained draftees with no place to go (home was not an option). During the first week of training, all of us new guys were given skill proficiency tests. On the typing test, I scored 19 words per minute (I could do 45 but didn't want to blow the test). I would have qualified as a clerk typist at 12. At 19 wpm, I was a typing superstar and a couple drill sergeants glommed on to me to do their paperwork. So it was only logical that when I finished basic the Army would send me to it's world wide center for typists...D.C.

I was given temporary quarters at the in some World War II area barracks at South Post at Fort Myers, near the Pentagon and next to Arlington National Cemetery. (In fact, they tore down South Post and it's now part of the cemetery...very near where the Iraq and Afghanistan casualties are buried.) I was eventually assigned to the Military Awards Branch in The Adjutant General's Office in a sprawling complex of glass and steel at L'Enfant Plaza. In the meantime, I ran errands for NCOs, which often meant trips to the Pentagon.

On one such trip, I was sent to deliver some papers to an office in the Pentagon basement.

At the time, my brother was career Army, an SFC stationed at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo. He had been due to transfer to Germany but he had been waiting for his orders for more than 90 days. He asked if I could help. I told him that I was just an E-2 and what could I do?

But on that last trip to the Pentagon, I saw a brown Army issue desk with a sign hanging from the ceiling that said "Enlisted Personnel Transfers." Behind the desk, was a very pleasant, middle-aged woman (civilian). I asked her if this is where the orders are cut for overseas transfers. Lo and behold, it was. I gave her my brother's name. She rifled through a pile of brown folders a about 18 inches tall. Near the bottom was my brother's folder. She pulled it out and put it on top. He had his orders a week later.

That was then, this is now.

We are rolling up on 90 days on Mark's GI Bill benefits. I suspect his name is at the bottom of some computer queue in D.C. Our task now is finding that person at the VA who could wander over to some clerk's desk and move Mark's name to the top of the list. Regrettably, it will probably take a call from my Congressional representative to do that.

Some things don't change much. Even in 30 years.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tuesday news and notes

Bug attack: I was on the phone this morning when screams started emanating from the kitchen. It seems a cicada and found its way into the sink and startled Gayle. Mark came in and rescued the bug and it started screaming. I guess if you have spent 17 years in the ground and your big moment is about to end, you would start screaming too. Mark turned it loose. The yard is full of them this year. They actually drown out the noise from A1A.

News from Afghanistan and Iraq:Couple of long pieces in The New York Times Magazine the last two weeks. The first dealt with the Karzai government and the difficulties of ruling an unruly country. The second story...a quite shocking with a woman from Baquba who wants to be a suicide bomber.

VA: No change. School starts next week.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thursday's news and notes


Aug. 13: My bride of 35 years celebrates her birthday today. She was born on a Friday the 13th, my lucky days. We are going round up as many as sons as we can and go to dinner.

Ideas: I have talked to the local paper here about linking to this site so I am probably going to revamp it a bit...especially because we have transitioned out of active duty and harm's way. Any suggestions?

Honor roll: The News Hour with Jim Lehrer is still running names and photographs of the fallen. Hard to predict when it runs because the put it together as photographs are made available. The photographs are heartbreaking.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tuesday news and notes

The blahs: After blowing out my back before Memorial Day and injuring my rotator cuff...get this...playing has been reaallly boring summer. I was hoping to break the sedentary cycle of being glued to the computer or TV during Mark's tour of duty. Hasn't happened yet and may not until after Labor Day when I hope all of the physical therapy is over. The only interesting thing about PT was the first day I was in traction, the traction contraption pulled my pants's an all-female staff.

The VA:Not much happening so not much to report.

CPT Speicher: Returns home Thursday night. His remains were found west of Ramadi a while back. He will lie in state in the Jax NAS chapel and then Friday there will be a public procession through the city. CPT Speicher was the first American casualty of the first Gulf War. He grew up here and attended Forrest High School.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Friday, August 7, 2009

Friday news and notes

MSM: The mainstream media are at the numbers game again but this time it is Afghanistan.

Isabeau: Our new kitty was caught typing on the computer this morning. So if anyone received an e-mail that said "qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq,"
that was the cat and not me. My apologies.

No news is bad news: Still nothing from the VA. It's been nearly two months now and the new semester starts in 10 days.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Today's post

accidentally was posted on La Florida. Sorry about the inconvenience. I will try to fix it later.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Coming home

Marine PFC Donald Wayne Vincent arrives at Jacksonville Naval Air Station yesterday en route to his hometown Gainesville. He died in Afghanistan July 22. He was 26.

His story and a photo gallery can be found in the Gainesville Sun here.

Monday, August 3, 2009

CPT Speicher: the family reacts

From The Florida Times-Union:

By Timothy Gibbons

After an 18-year saga, the remains of downed F/A-18 pilot Michael Scott Speicher have been found in Iraq, the Pentagon announced Sunday, buried in a grave near where his plane crashed on the first day of Operation Desert Storm.

“We thank the active duty men and women whose diligence has made this happen,” the family said in a statement about the search released by their lawyer, Cindy Laquidara.

The family, which declined to comment, is digesting the news but still has questions, Laquidara said, particularly relating to exactly when Speicher died.

“We’re discrediting the rumor that he died in the crash,” Laquidara said in an interview. “That’s just not accurate.”

That information does not fit with data the family has collected over the years, she said, an issue it will bring up during an expected meeting with the Defense Department.

The rest of the story can be found here:

Sunday, August 2, 2009

CPT Speicher

CPT Scott Speicher

CPT Speicher was stationed in Jacksonville. I was running the news coverage of Desert Storm for The Florida Times-Union the night he was shot down. Mark was stationed at Camp Speicher on his first tour to Iraq.

The Associated Press
Sunday, August 2, 2009; 9:27 AM

WASHINGTON -- The remains of the first American lost in the Persian Gulf War have been found in Iraq, the military said Sunday, after struggling for nearly two decades with the question of whether he was dead or alive.

The Pentagon said the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology on Saturday had positively identified the remains of Navy Capt. Michael "Scott" Speicher, whose disappearance has bedeviled investigators since his fighter jet was shot down over the Iraq desert on the first night of the 1991 war.

The top Navy officer said the discovery illustrates the military's commitment to bring its troops home.

"Our Navy will never give up looking for a shipmate, regardless of how long or how difficult that search may be," said Adm. Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations.

The rest of the story can be found here.