Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Deployed for Christmas

A dear friend is currently in Afghanistan. She wrote on Christmas Day, "It's just another day here, but everyone is running around with Santa Hats and Antlers and Christmas Trees on their heads." Of course, despite her attempt at humor, it is not just another day. The troops were out delivering supplies to orphanages, schools and hospitals. They were have runs and swims to donate to charity. They were having worship and meals together and longing for children and spouses and parents.

This year, while so many Americans had their plans for the season interrupted by the weather, I wonder how many stopped to remember those who were truly far away and in harm's way? I wonder how many realized how truly good they had it at home?

Capt. David Peyok with the 1-158th Field Artillery Battalion does not let a lack of snow dampen his spirits as he makes a "Sand Angel" in the dirt while celebrating Christmas at Camp Ramadi, Iraq.

Airmen and Soldiers stand around the Joint Base Balad, Iraq, holiday tree during a tree-lighting ceremony inside Sapper Circle, Dec. 16. During the ceremony, commanders from the Air Force and Army judged large plywood holiday greeting cards, with the theme 'Sounds of the Season,' that various units across Balad had built. The winner of the competition will be announced on Christmas Day.

Soldiers of the 20th Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division pose in front of the battalions motor pool Christmas tree, built from scrap metal and cement blocks, after a tree-lighting ceremony at Forward Operating Base Patriot in eastern Baghdad Dec. 8. Leaders from the 20th Engineers delivered unscripted speeches to the troops present and a dedicational prayer for the tree was given emphasizing the brotherhood of Soldiers during the holidays, serving so far from home. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jan Critchfield, 122nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

Airmen and Soldiers from Sather Air Base in Baghdad come together for a Christmas Eve candlelight service at the Lighthouse Chapel. The service included fellowship, scripture reading, Christmas hymns and prayer for peace and prosperity in Iraq.

Chaplain Maj. Eddie Jones lights the center candle of an Advent Wreath during a Christmas Eve worship and candlelight service at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, Dec. 24. Jones is deployed from Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

Capt. Andrew Cohen stands behind a lit menorah during the eighth day of Hanukkah at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a celebration of the victory over Greek oppression, the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple and the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days. Cohen, a rabbi with the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Chapel, is deployed from Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

Wednesday Hero ~ 2LT Christopher E Loudon

This Weeks Post Was Suggested By Kathi

2nd Lt. Christopher E. Loudon
2nd Lt. Christopher E. Loudon
22 years old from Brockport, Pennsylvania
1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division
October 17, 2006
U.S. Army

2nd Lt. Christopher Loudon graduated from Slippery Rock University with a Baccalaureate Degree in Environmental Health in 2005. Upon graduation, he entered the United States Army on September 9, 2005. He received his commission as an Infantry officer and was assigned to 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry, 4th Infantry Division at Ft. Hood, Texas. He deployed to Iraq in July 2006 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

2nd Lt. Loudon’s awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Ranger Tab.

He was KIA in Baghdad, Iraq when an IED detonated near his vehicle. Also killed with him were; Corporal David M. Unger, 21, of Leavenworth, Kansas ;Corporal Russell G. Culbertson III, 22, of Amity, Pennsylvania and Specialist Joseph C. Dumas Jr., 25, of New Orleans, Louisiana.

He leaves behind his parents, Randy and Susan Loudon ; his wife, Jacey Loudon ; a daughter, Isabel Loudon ; two brothers, First Lieutenant Nicholas Loudon ,and Jonathan Loudon ; his paternal grandmother, Florence Loudon and his maternal grandfather, Everett William Campbell.

These brave men and women sacrifice so much in their lives
so that others may enjoy the freedoms we get to enjoy everyday.
For that, I am proud to call them Hero.

This post is part of the Wednesday Hero Blogroll. For more information about Wednesday Hero, or if you would like to post it on your site, you can go here.
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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wednesday Hero ~ Merry Christmas

To the Men and Women of the United States military, and all the armed forces around the world, thank you for everything that you do. And to those who are laying their heads down tonight in a foreign land, away from your loved ones, thank you so very much. Stay safe, you're in our thoughts and our hearts. Merry Christmas.

These brave men and women sacrifice so much in their lives
so that others may enjoy the freedoms we get to enjoy everyday
For that, I am proud to call them Hero.

This post is part of the Wednesday Hero Blogroll. For more information about Wednesday Hero, or if you would like to post it on your site, you can go here.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wednesday Hero ~ CWO2 Christian P Humphreys

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christian P. Humphreys
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christian P. Humphreys
28 years old from Fallon, Nevada
6th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force 49
November 15, 2008
U.S. Army

A funny, nice guy who loved to fly. That's how Christian P. Humphreys is remembered by his friends. "He was a great guy, always happy and had a joke," said Sean Whitney, a flight medic. "We used to play with our paintball guns in the cornfields behind his house."

Humphreys flew with the Fallon Naval Air Station Search and Rescue Longhorns from June 6, 2004, to May 5, 2006. He left the Navy and joined the Army as part of the "Blue to Green" program to become a helicopter pilot.

Humphreys, along with Chief Warrant Officer 3 Donald V. Clark, 37 years old from Tennessee, was killed when their OH-58 Kiowa helicopter crashed while on a mission over Mosul, Iraq. As a rescue crew chief, Humphreys was in charge of the operation behind the pilots. He made the decisions when to deploy rescue crews out of the helicopter to assist injured people, and he also took care of the equipment.

"He was a funny guy, a nice guy, a lot of character," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Schmidt. "The guy was always entertaining, always had something to say, but like everyone here, he displayed the professionalism in saving lives."

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christian P. Humphreys leaves behind a wife and parents.


These brave men and women sacrifice so much in their lives
so that others may enjoy the freedoms we get to enjoy everyday.
For that, I am proud to call them Hero.

This post is part of the Wednesday Hero Blogroll. For more information about Wednesday Hero, or if you would like to post it on your site, you can go here.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Tradition for Soldier in Afghanistan

Army Col. Roger Nell, command judge advocate with Task Force Warrior, stands in his office at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, beside an artificial Christmas tree that has served alongside father or son on three wartime missions and six Christmas deployments. U.S. Army photo

Deployed Soldier Shares Holiday Heirloom in Afghanistan

By Army 1st Lt. Lory Stevens
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Dec. 10, 2008 - A deployed soldier here is getting a taste of home for the holidays, just as his father did 40 years earlier.

The small, artificial Christmas tree on Army Col. Roger Nell's desk is the same one his father displayed on his desk in 1967. Since then, the tree has served alongside father or son on three wartime missions and six Christmas deployments.

"My wife has sent me the tree this year, as is tradition," Nell, command judge advocate with Task Force Warrior, said.

Nell's mother, Ramona, bought the tree in 1967 at the Panama Canal Zone post exchange for her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Robert Nell, who was serving in the Vietnam War. In early November, Ramona sent the tree, decorated with hard candies, to her husband at the public information office in Saigon, where the sergeant handled the credentialing of news media.

"Our little tree has been a source of joy for our family and a way to be together when [we're] so many miles apart," Robert Nell said.

In 1969, Ramona sent the tree on its second deployment to a hostile zone; her husband was assigned to the Military Assistance Advisory Group Thailand in Bangkok. Robert Nell worked in the protocol office, coordinating visits with elected officials, including then-President Richard M. Nixon.

"At the time, I never knew how many lives would be touched by the joy this little tree radiated over the next few decades," Robert said.

The tree stayed stateside until 1992, when Ramona sent it to her son, who was deployed to South Camp, Sinai, Egypt. The next year, Nell's mother again sent her son the tree, this time to Camp Howze, South Korea, while he served with the U.S. Army Trial Defense Service and the 2nd Infantry Division.

The tree deployed for its second wartime mission in 2003. Nell's wife, Rhonda, sent the tree to Qayarah Airfield, Iraq, where Nell was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Brigade in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

This year marks the third wartime deployment for the tree. A pair of scissors sits beneath the tree in Nell's office. He welcomes all visitors to his office to cut off a piece of the tree as a holiday souvenir and a symbol of a shared experience with the Nell family.

"My prayer for the tree is for it to be allowed permanent retirement after this Christmas mission so that neither of my children will receive this tree in a foreign land from their mother," Nell said.

(Army 1st Lt. Lory Stevens serves in the Task Force Warrior public affairs office.

Wednesday Hero ~ SPC Jonnie L Stiles

Spc. Jonnie L. Stiles
Spc. Jonnie L Stiles
38 years old from Highlands Ranch, Colorado
769th Engineer Battalion, Louisiana Army National Guard
November 13, 2008
U.S. Army

Louisiana National Guard spokesman Maj. Michael Kazmierzak said Spc. Jonnie L. Stiles had been serving as a gunner on a Humvee doing route clearance when and IED detonated near his vehicle in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. He said the job typically involves checking roads for bombs and insurgents.

Stiles' wife, Launa, said that he was nearly killed last month when a suicide bomber blew up a military vehicle in front of his. She said he was still able to rescue three other soldiers and returned to duty before his 30-day recovery period was finished.

"He was strong and really cared for his men," she said.

Stiles was born in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and graduated from Littleton High School in Colorado. He served in the military for 17 years, first joining the Marines and then switching to the Army in 1999. He served three years at Fort Carson, left the Army and then returned as a member of the Colorado Air National Guard in the Summer of 2007.


These brave men and women sacrifice so much in their lives
so that others may enjoy the freedoms we get to enjoy everyday.
For that, I am proud to call them Hero.

This post is part of the Wednesday Hero Blogroll. For more information about Wednesday Hero, or if you would like to post it on your site, you can go here.

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

December 7 ~ Pearl Harbor Day

December Seventh, 1941

Sixty-six years ago, December 7, 1941, the United States was rocked by the radio announcements that told of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. Many historical and remembrance pieces will be written today: stories of history, stories of personal experience - though those will be fewer each year, stories of the reaction in the United States, Japan, the world, even a conspiracy theory or two. I am re-posting my rememberances.

Pearl Harbor Day. A Day That Will Live in Infamy.

What I always will remember is growing up in the shadow of Pearl Harbor - the ever present reminder of how ugly war was. There was nothing noble or gleeful about the awful day. I grew up with the stories of those who were there, stories of people I knew, stories of people who lived through it. As I get older, I can 'see' and 'hear' the stories come alive.

Each Sunday before Pearl Harbor Day, Puna would take us to the Arizona Memorial. It used to be rather low-key to visit there, and once you got there, quite unusual to have anyone else at the Memorial. There wasn't a Visitor's Center yet. There was no evidence of the Park Service then. Just a guy at the dock that grabbed the little shuttle boat, tied it up and helped you off.

We would walk through the Memorial - our steps echoing in the cavern of the Memorial. Halfway through, we would stop and look at the ship resting beneath us, still leaking oil into the lapping sea, and carrying it ever away, like the spirit was still escaping the doomed craft. Eventually, we would end at the Memorial wall, carved with all of the names of the men who died on the Arizona, most of whom were still entombed within.

Puna, this large mountain of a man, would clasp his hands behind him, dip his head in prayer, then focus on the wall and in a hauntingly beautiful, tenor voice would chant the names of the fallen. His voice would echo in the chamber. A more beautiful prayer I have never heard. Once, I looked at his face and saw the tears streaming down, but his voice never wavered. His eyes seemed to be closed, yet he never missed a name.

When the chanting was finished, we would walk back to the overlook on the ship and Puna would tell us about that Sunday morning. He spoke of the noise and the fear and the chaos. He spoke of curfews and rationing. He spoke of the increased military presence on the island. He spoke of the sorrow. And, he spoke of the fear of another attack. Then, he would talk about the uniting and the supporting and the belief in America.

Always, he finished with a warning. America will never be safe from people wanting to take away what we have. They will always want to destroy us, to conquer us, to marginalize us. If you don't believe me, come here and look - open your eyes and look - at what can happen, and will again.

I believe I only saw Puna serious twice a year - Pearl Harbor Day and Memorial Day. On those days, he spoke of bravery and heroism and patriotism. The rest of the year you could depend upon those laughing eyes and the aroma of his pipe. The parents are gone now, but the stories and the emotions remain. I am so grateful for what they shared and what they taught.

I'd like to say that I absorbed it all then, but I didn't. When we used to hike into the mountains and came across some of the crashed Japanese planes, mostly pirated shells, I still didn't get it. When December Seventh was marked at school by people telling their personal experiences, I didn't get it. Oh, I heard it all. I believed it all. I just didn't get it.

It wasn't until I was older and watched the world and global politics that I saw it, that I truly understood the lesson he was trying to teach all those years ago. On September Eleventh, one of the first thoughts I had was of standing in the Arizona Memorial with Puna and hearing his words.

I hope Americans have the resolve to fight for our country as we did in 1941, but I fear for us, now, more than ever.

This is my annual post on Pearl Harbor.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Bill Bennett on the Lessons from Mumbai


Moshe Holtzberg, the 2-year-old orphan of the rabbi and his wife slain in the Mumbai Jewish center, cries during a memorial service at a synagogue in Mumbai, India, Monday, Dec. 1, 2008. Holtzberg will fly to Israel Monday on an Israeli Air Force jet with his parents' remains and the Indian woman who rescued him, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said. (AP Photo)

Bill Bennett on the Lessons from Mumbai

The world, I hope, is still reeling from what true religious fanatics are and do, like we saw in India last week. Yesterday, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, were buried in Israel. We are focusing on these two victims not only because they were Americans and Israelis but because their assassinations give to terrorism (which has been so far off the public conscience) a local habitation and a name, they reveal its true horridness.

The NYT reports on what Shimon Peres, Israel's president, said at the funeral yesterday:

"'For several days now, the whole world has had to answer the question of a small child, Moshe, who is asking, Where is my mother?" Mr. Peres said in his eulogy. "The world must answer why a wonderful woman like Rivka was killed, why a holy man like Gavriel was killed and why Moshe is left an orphan. We will not rest and we will not relax until an answer is found."

"In his eulogy, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, the chairman of Chabad's education arm, said of the orphaned boy: 'You will be the child of the entire nation of Israel. You are an emissary, and an emissary you shall remain.'"

In a sense, we do know the answer already. It had nothing to do with Kashmir. It had nothing to do with India-Pakistan relations. It had nothing to do with troops in Iraq or anything the Pope might have said. It had, instead, everything to do with a noxious ideology instilled in too many Muslim youth. It had everything to do with a teaching system that offers lies about the world and the west and the rest of the religions that exist in the world other than Islam. It had to do with a philosophy that elevates death and denigrates life. It had to do with hatred and not love; and with war and not peace as an organizing principle of human affairs. And, I cannot help to think it also has to do with a hatred of happiness and success in other faiths and political principles (like Judaism, Christianity and Democracy) that does not exist, that simply does not exist in, say, a worldview frozen in centuries past and unadopted to the modern age. The distinction between a rational worldview and an irrational one could not be more stark.

And finally, as Dennis Prager put it so well in a recent column: "For the Islamists, as for the Nazis, the destruction of the Jews — and since 1948, the Jewish state — is central to their worldview. If anyone has a better explanation for why Pakistani terrorists, preoccupied with destabilizing India, would expend so much effort at finding the one Jewish center in a country that is essentially devoid of Jews, I would like to hear it. With all the Pakistani Islamists hatred of Hindus, they did not attack one Hindu temple in Indias major city."

Adolf Hitler may have been one of the modern world's first martyrs, eating his own gun as he realized he could not scorch the earth any longer. But his ideology lives on in too many places in the Middle East and in the Madrassahs of Pakistan. Anyone wanting to know why we sometimes refer to this ideology of Islamo-fascism now knows why.

Face of Freedom ~ SSG Matthew Sims

Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Sims

Medic Earns Three Purple Hearts During One Deployment to Iraq

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 1, 2008 - If Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Sims was a cat, he'd have only six lives left after his yearlong deployment to Iraq with the 1st Armored Division's Company B, 270th Armor Battalion, out of Fort Riley, Kan.

"I was wounded three times in Iraq the last time I was there," Sims said of the deployment that began in January 2005.

Sims, a medic, was riding in a tracked ambulance between two M1-A1 Abrams tanks when a roadside bomb detonated.

Shrapnel pierced the vehicle and penetrated his flak vest, puncturing his left lung. He was evacuated to the hospital in Balad. He spent about three weeks recovering before returning to his unit, but it was only the first of three stays at the hospital.

"They know me there," he said with a chuckle.

Three months after he'd returned to duty, his unit was on a foot patrol when it started taking enemy mortar fire. One mortar landed near Sims.

"Shrapnel hit near my lower left leg, penetrating through the front lower part and coming out the back," he said. "[I] almost, almost lost that limb in that incident, but everything's fine now."

Again, Sims was transported to Balad, where he spent another four weeks recovering from his injuries before rejoining his unit to finish his tour.

Unfortunately, he would endure one more interruption before rotating back home.

It was about 4 a.m., and Company B was patrolling Main Supply Route Tampa, one of the main roads in Iraq, when Sims, who was riding in an Abrams tank, started seeing flashes in the distance. He doesn't remember anything after calling in the attack, however.

"I took a sniper bullet - 7.62 mm - to the front of the helmet -- straight in front, almost right between the eyes," Sims said.

The bullet fractured his neck and skull and knocked him unconscious.

"I fell into the turret of the tank," he said, "and when ... [it] turned to fire at the enemy, it broke my right femur."

That earned him a two-month stay in the Balad hospital. He said the care he received there was excellent, and he gave the men in his unit kudos for their part in his survival and recovery.

"I attribute a lot of my speedy recovery ... [to] the care that I received actually on site at the point of injury -- quick response from all the people that were there," he said, referring to the soldiers he'd trained in the new Combat Life Saver program. "The people that were actually treating me were people that I had trained. By the time I got to Balad, I was pretty much good to go. They just had to kind of patch me up."

Sims' last tour in Iraq may have resulted in three Purple Hearts, but he said he's not hesitant about returning.

"No, not at all," he said. "I think that it's a lot safer than when I was there. I think the time that I was there, it was right around the national election time, [and] it was really the peak of all the main [bomb] attacks.

"I think now, it's almost 100 percent turnaround," he added.

It's good he's not timid about returning. His current unit, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 15th Engineer Battalion based out of Schweinfurt, Germany, is certain to deploy at some time.

"We're trying to get all the equipment in and get this unit stood up, because it's the only construction battalion in Europe right now," Sims said. "So, we don't know exactly where we're going yet, but we know we're going to go somewhere."

Sims, who has served 10 years since enlisting right out of high school, recently re-enlisted indefinitely. He hopes to become a doctor or a physician assistant, he said, but he has his sights on one of the Army's top spots if he remains in the Army as an enlisted soldier. He said he'd like to be the first medic to serve as sergeant major of the Army.

"As a medic, you get a broad spectrum of everything that's in the Army," he added. "You can go to any type of unit, so you're more well-rounded, I think."

Sims and his wife call St. Charles, Mo., home.

The helmet of Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Sims, a medic then assigned to the 1st Armored Division's Company B, 270th Armor Battalion, bears the scars it incurred one of three times he was wounded during a 2005 tour of duty in Iraq.

Wednesday Hero ~ SPC Matthew T Morris

Spc. Matthew T. Morris
Spc. Matthew T. Morris
23 years old from Cedar Park, Texas
2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment
April 06, 2008
U.S. Army

"He was a very creative kid, and when he wasn't in a challenging environment, he tried to make life interesting," Glenn Morris, father of Spc. Morris, said. "He excelled in a military school structure and in a team environment."

Before enlisting in the Army in 2005, Morris attended the Fishburne Military School in Waynesboro, Virginia where he met a history teacher who inspired him to want to become an educator. "After his service, he wanted to go back to school and get a four-year degree to become a teacher," said his mother, Lisa. "He wanted to make a difference and give back to the community."

Spc. Morris was killed when his vehicle encountered an IED in Balad, Iraq. Also killed in the attack was Cpt. Ulises Burgos-Cruz.

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These brave men and women sacrifice so much in their lives
so that others may enjoy the freedoms we get to enjoy everyday.
For that, I am proud to call them Hero.

This post is part of the Wednesday Hero Blogroll. For more information about Wednesday Hero, or if you would like to post it on your site, you can go here.

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