Friday, November 27, 2009

Remembering

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."

Thanksgiving


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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 | Jacksonville.com

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

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 | Jacksonville.com

Mandarin High graduate dies in helicopter crash in Iraq | Jacksonville.com

Paying tribute to fallen Vietnam vets | Jacksonville.com

Paying tribute to fallen Vietnam vets | Jacksonville.com

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

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

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.

Disbelief.
Stunned silence.
Grief.

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.

Unbelievable.
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.