Monday, December 31, 2007

General David Petraeus ~ Letter to His Troops

Gen. David Petraeus poses proudly for a photo after promoting Staff Sgt. Adam Gray, of the 2nd Stryker Brigade, from the rank of sergeant, Dec. 13, at the 2nd Stryker Calvary Regiment headquarters. Petraeus paid a special visit to the brigade to award 10 Soldiers with coins, re-enlist four Soldiers and promote Gray.
(U.S. Army photo/Pfc. Samantha Schutz)

(On December 28, General David Petraeus, commander of Multi-National Force Iraq, sent the following letter to his troops.)

Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and Civilians of Multi-National Force-Iraq:

As 2007 draws to a close, you should look back with pride on what you, your fellow troopers, our Iraqi partners, and Iraqi Coalition civilians have achieved in 2007. A year ago, Iraq was racked by horrific violence and on the brink of civil war. Now, levels of violence and civilians and military casualties are significantly reduced and hope has been rekindled in many Iraqi communities. To be sure, the progress is reversible and there is much more to be done. Nonetheless, the hard-fought accomplishments of 2007 have been substantial, and I want to thank each of you for the contributions you made to them.

In response to the challenges that faced Iraq a year ago, we and our Iraqi partners adopted a new approach. We increased our focus on securing the Iraqi people and, in some cases, delayed transition of tasks to Iraqi forces. Additional U.S. and Georgian forces were deployed to theater, the tours of U.S. unites were extended, and Iraqi forces conducted a surge of their own, generating well over 100,000 more Iraqi police and soldiers during the year so that they, too, had additional forces to execute the new approach. In places like Ramadi, Baqubah, Arab Jabour, and Baghdad, you and our Iraqi brothers fought--often house by house, block by block, and neighborhood by neighborhood--to wrest sanctuaries away from Al Qaeda-Iraq, to disrupt extremist militia elements, and to rid the streets of mafia-like criminals. Having cleared areas, you worked with Iraqis to retain them--establishing outposts in the areas we were securing, developing Iraqi Security Forces, and empowering locals to help our efforts. This approach has not been easy. It has required steadfastness in the conduct of tough offensive operations, creative solutions to the myriad problems on the ground, and persistence over the course of many months and during countless trying situations. Through it all, you have proven equal to every task, continually demonstrating an impressive ability to conduct combat and stability operations in an exceedingly complex environment.

Your accomplishments have given the Iraqi people new confidence and prompted many citizens to reject terror and confront those who practice it. As the months passed in 2007, in fact, the tribal awakening that began in Al Anbar Province spread to other parts of the country. Emboldened by improving security and tired of indiscriminate violence, extremist ideology, oppressive practices, and criminal activity, Iraqis increasingly rejected Al Qaeda-Iraq and rogue militia elements. Over time, the desire of Iraqis to contribute to their own security has manifested itself in citizens volunteering for the police, the Army, and concerned local citizen programs. It has been reflected in citizens providing information that has helped us find far more than double the number of arms and weapons caches we found last year. And it has been apparent in Iraqi communities now supporting their local security forces.

As a result of your hard work and that of our Iraqi comrades-in-arms--and with the support of the local populace in many areas--we have seen significant improvements in the security situation. The number of attacks per week is down some 60 percent from a peak in June of this year to a level last seen consistently in the early summer of 2005. With fewer attacks, we are also seeing significantly reduced loss of life. The number of civilian deaths is down by some 75 percent since its height a year ago, dropping to a level not seen since the beginning of 2006. And the number of Coalition losses is down substantially as well. We remain mindful that the past year's progress has been purchased through the sacrifice and selfless service of all those involved and that the new Iraq must still contend with innumerable enemies and obstacles. Al Qaeda-Iraq has been significantly degraded, but it remains capable of horrific bombings. Militia extremists have been disrupted, but they retain influence in many areas. Criminals have been apprehended, but far too many still roam Iraqi streets and intimidate local citizens and Iraqi officials. We and our Iraqi partners will have to deal with each of these challenges in the New Year to keep the situation headed in the right direction.

While the progress in a number of areas is fragile, the security improvements have significantly changed the situation in many parts of Iraq. It is now imperative that we take advantage of these improvements by looking beyond the security arena and helping Iraqi military and political leaders as they develop solutions in other areas as well, solutions they can sustain over time. At the tactical level, this means an increasing focus on helping not just Iraqi Security Forces--with whom we must partner in all that we do--but also helping Iraqi governmental organizations as they endeavor to restore basic services, to create employment opportunities, to revitalize local markets, to refurbish schools, to spur local economic activity, and to keep locals involved in contributing to local security. We will have to do all of this, of course, while continuing to draw down our forces, thinning our presence, and gradually handing over responsibilities to our Iraqi partners. Meanwhile, at the national level, we will focus on helping the Iraqi Government integrate local volunteers into the Iraqi Security Forces and other employment, develop greater ministerial capacity and capability, aid displaced persons as they return, and, most importantly, take the all-important political and economic actions needed to exploit the opportunity provided by the gains in the security arena.

The pace of progress on important political actions to this point has been slower than Iraqi leaders had hoped. Still, there have been some important steps taken in recent months. Iraq's leaders reached agreement on the Declaration of Principles for Friendship and Cooperation with the United States, which lays the groundwork for an enduring relationship between our nations. The United Nations Security Council approved Iraq's request for a final renewal of the resolution that authorizes the Coalition to operate in Iraq. Iraq's leaders passed an important Pension Law that not only extends retirement benefits to Iraqis previously left out but also represents the first of what we hope will be additional measures fostering national reconciliation. And Iraq's leaders have debated at length a second reconciliation-related measure, the Accountability and Justice Bill (the de-Ba'athification Reform Law), as well as the 2008 National Budget, both which likely will be brought up for a vote in early 2008. Even so, all Iraqi participants recognize that much more must be done politically to put their country on an irreversible trajectory to national reconciliation and sustainable economic development. We will, needless to say, work closely with our Embassy teammates to support the Iraq Government as it strives to take advantage of the improved security environment by pursing political and economic progress.

The New Year will bring many changes. Substantial force rotations and adjustments already underway will continue. One Army brigade combat team and a Marine Expeditionary Unit have already redeployed without replacement. In the coming months, four additional brigades and two Marine battalions will follow suit. Throughout that time, we will continue to adapt to the security situation as it evolves. And in the midst of all the changes, we and our Iraqi partners will strive to maintain the momentum, to press the fight, and to pursue Iraq's enemies relentlessly. Solutions to many of the tough problems will continue to be found at your level, together with local Iraqi leaders and with your Iraqi Security Force partners, in company and battalion areas of operation and in individual neighborhoods an towns. As you and your Iraqi partners turn concepts into reality, additional progress will emerge slowly and fitfully. Over time, we will gradually see fewer bad days and accumulate more good days, good weeks, and good months.

The way ahead will not be easy. Inevitably, there will be more tough days and tough weeks. Unforeseen challenges will emerge. And success will require continued hard work, commitment, and initiative from all involved. As we look to the future, however, we should remember how far we have come in the past year. Thanks to the tireless efforts and courageous actions of the Iraqi people, Iraq's political and military leaders, the Iraqi Security Forces, and each of you, a great deal has been achieved in 2007. Thus, as we enter a new year, we and our Iraqi partners will have important accomplishments and a newfound sense of hope on which we can build.
As always, all or your leaders, our fellow citizens back home, and I deeply appreciate the dedication, professionalism, commitment, and courage you display on a daily basis. It remains the greatest of honors to serve with each of you in this critical endeavor.

David H. Petraeus

Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Face of Freedom ~ Air Force SSG Eric Eberhard

Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Eberhard, a Salt Lake City native deployed from 419th Civil Engineer Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, kneels in front of a joint explosive ordnance disposal rapid-response vehicle at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, Dec. 17, 2007. Eberhard's quick reactions allowed him to save the life of the leader of his three-person EOD team after an improvised explosive device detonated near them Dec. 7.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Josh Jasper, USAF

Face of Defense: Airman Reflects on Saving Team Leaders' Life

By Capt. Michael Meridith, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE GARDEZ, Afghanistan, Dec. 21, 2007 - As he sat eating breakfast Dec. 7, Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Eberhard had no idea that he was just hours away from a struggle to save the life of the airman sitting next to him.

The Salt Lake City, Utah, native and former Marine was enjoying a brief pause before another demanding day as a member of a three-person explosive ordnance disposal team based here.

"We were out with a route-clearance team for a medical engagement and had spent the night at a local village," Eberhard said. "We ate breakfast and were waiting for the medical engagement to end so we could do the route clearance back."

Although they weren't scheduled to leave the village until later that day, they were surprised by word that an improvised explosive device had been spotted a short distance away by Afghan National Police.

"We got to the scene and talked to the policeman who found it; he had been on patrol and saw something suspicious in a culvert under a bridge and reported it. The bystanders were being kept at a distance, so we dressed out our team leader in a bomb suit, and he went down into the culvert," he said.

While their team leader examined the IED, Eberhard and his fellow teammate kept a constant watch from their armored joint EOD rapid-response vehicle.

"I was sitting in the front seat when I saw the blast. I still see that flash in my mind," Eberhard said.

Moments after the IED exploded, he leapt from the vehicle and raced to the scene, waving medics forward to follow him.

"I didn't know what to expect; I just knew that I needed to get down there and assess the situation. When I got there, I saw him laying on the ground and saw that his leg and arm were severely injured, but his bomb suit was pretty much intact."

After ensuring no further threat from IEDs, Eberhard finally gave the medics the go-ahead to approach the wounded airman. At the same time, he began to act.

"When I got to him he was trying to sit up, but I made him lay back down. At first, all he could say is, 'It hurts bad. ' But we were glad that he was coherent, and we wanted him to stay that way."

To keep the wounded airman conscious, Eberhard elevated the uninjured leg to force blood back to the core of the body. With that accomplished, he started a tourniquet for the wounded arm while the medic tended to the leg.

"In my mind I knew his arm needed a tourniquet, so I just reached over and grabbed it. I didn't ask anyone, I just did it. He was coherent enough that he was actually helping us by telling us what to do. He told me, 'My arm needs to be tighter,' and I tightened the tourniquet."

With the bleeding controlled and an IV started, Eberhard reported the incident and then helped move his wounded team leader to a field to await helicopter medical evacuation.

"I just talked to him and tried to keep him awake," he said. "We talked about football and video games; we're both pretty competitive about it. Not long after that, I ran back and got him a satellite phone and let him talk to his wife. She was extremely grateful, and he was too. It was one of the things that kept him alert. He was talking to his wife, and because of that he knew he couldn't pass out."

Soon afterward, Eberhard said goodbye as his wounded comrade was taken away to medical care. Eberhard later learned that his team leader lost part of his leg, but was expected to recover.

Over the past few weeks, Eberhard has had time to reflect on that day. At the time, he said, he was mostly driven by instinct, which he credits to the combat-skills training he received before deploying. But he makes it clear that he does not consider himself a hero.

"Everyone is calling me a hero, but it is a weird position to be in," he said. "My definition of a hero is someone who does something they don't have to do in a situation they don't have to be in. No one forced me to be here. I'm a reservist. There was nothing saying I had to deploy; I wanted to. I wanted to let someone on active duty take an extra six-month break and be home with their family."

Despite the events of the day, Eberhard said he has no regrets about volunteering to deploy. In fact, he said the deployment experience has left him with some valuable insights he will carry with him to his home unit, 419th Civil Engineer Squadron, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

"The biggest thing I learned is that if we focus on being the servants, not the masters, and look at deployments as a way to serve our fellow man, it changes the outlook we have on deployments, and it makes a big difference in the lives of the Afghan people," he said.

(Air Force Capt. Michael Meridith is assigned to 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Face of Freedom ~ Marine SSG Robert Sanders

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Robert Sanders and his fellow Marines prepare to greet some of the local people in Sin Adh Dhibban, Iraq. Sanders spent much of his upbringing in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, learning the language and ways of the Arabic people. He now uses that knowledge while on missions with Battery K, 1st Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment.
Photo by Cpl. Thomas J. Griffith, USMC

Marine Bridges Gap Between Arabic, American Cultures

By Cpl. Andrew Kalwitz, USMC Special to American Forces Press Service

TAQADDUM, Iraq, Dec. 28, 2007 - They have their differences. In fact, they often don't even speak the same language. But U.S. servicemembers and the Iraqi people here have the same goal: security and stability for Iraq's Anbar province.

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Robert Sanders, operations chief for Battery K, 1st Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, helps to bridge the cultural gap.

Sanders developed an understanding of Arab culture during his upbringing in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. He was born at Fort Benning, Ga., but his father's discharge from the Army after the Vietnam War led to a job as an oil field worker, which kept the family on the move.

Now Sanders' own travels have taken him back to a familiar culture, but with his new extended family -- his fellow Marines.

"Staff Sergeant Sanders is our bid for success in the villages," said Marine Corps 1st Lt. Matthew Thompson, executive officer for the battery. "He has found his niche in working with the Iraqis. He can communicate with the Iraqis without an interpreter, and they can communicate with him."

Thompson, a Presho, S.D., native, credits Sanders with helping to gain rapport between Marines and the people in the nearby village of Kabani. In addition to the battery's plans to build a new water treatment plant, a rebuilt school now stands as a testament to the coordination between the Marines and the villagers.

Sanders has put his cultural and linguistic skills to use for the military before. He lived among the Iraqi people for seven months at the East Fallujah Iraqi Compound during his 2004 deployment.

He supervised civilian contractors there and grew comfortable with the Iraqi people and their lifestyle, even getting used to the food and water to the point where returning to his old eating habits upset his stomach when he returned to the United States, he said.

Things were different then, the staff sergeant said. This was before thousands in Anbar province turned against the insurgency to cooperate with coalition forces in what came to be known as the "Anbar Awakening."

"I remember sitting at Fallujah, and you could sit up on a Hesco barrier and you could watch car bombs exploding in the distance," said Sanders. "Every night, we'd sit out there on the Hescos and smoke cigars, and you could watch tracers shoot across the sky. You don't hear that anymore."

Bonding with the people, he said, was a major part of the solution. Sanders has held classes to further his Marines' understanding of the Arabic language and culture.

"It definitely makes our job a lot easier," said Lance Cpl. Hunter Leger, a fire team leader with the battery. "We've been able to handle things without having to call someone up."

Leger, a Lake Charles, La., native, said he and his colleagues are knowledgeable enough to work the entry control points without the help of an interpreter. As one of Sanders' Marines at their home station of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., he said he's developed a respect for the staff sergeant's professionalism. It seems many of the local Iraqis have done the same.

When the battery sends Marines to Kabani to coordinate with the muqtar, or mayor, he first asks them 'Where is Abu Iskander?' in reference to Sanders, the father of Alexander.

As Sanders has with many of the village's people, he has developed a friendship with the muqtar, who jokes that the Marine could win over enough popularity in the town to beat him out for his position in the next election.

"The people like him too much," Muqtar Ismail Mohmood Hamad said. "They come in from time to time to see what's going on, and he always likes to help the people."

(Marine Corps Cpl. Andrew Kalwitz serves with the 2nd Marine Logistics Group.)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Army Opens Roads in Mosul

A bomb disposal robot prepares to plant a charge on an improvised explosive device found at an intersection, Dec. 13, Mosul, Iraq.

Smoke and debris fill the air at an intersection in Mosul, Iraq, Dec. 13, after an explosive ordnance disposal team detonated an improvised explosive device discovered by a route clearance team from the 43rd Combat Engineer Company, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment during an operation to clean and reopen a four-lane highway in the city. Soldiers providing security for the operation cleared civilians from the crowded intersection, which was surrounded by Iraqi shops.

Two Iraqis relax with tea and smoke while they watch Soldiers form the 43rd Combat Engineer Company, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment work to clear the highway in front of their house Dec. 13 in Mosul, Iraq. In an area plagued with attacks, civilians came out to watch the operation which reopened a four-lane highway to traffic.

Three Armored Combat Excavators clear debris and obstacles from a four-lane highway while a Bradley Fighting Vehicle provides security in Mosul, Iraq

An M1 Abrams tank and Bradley Fighting Vehicle provide security during an operation to clear a road of obstacles and debris in Mosul, Iraq

Two Armored Combat Excavators clear debris and obstacles from a four-lane highway while an M1 Abrams tank provides security in Mosul, Iraq, Dec. 13. Soldiers from the 43rd Combat Engineer Company, 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment worked for more than 17-hours to clear more than a kilometer of the route which has been closed to civilian traffic.

Engineers Open Road in Mosul: All-day Mission Clears Routes for Traffic

Photos and Story By Spc. Eric A. Rutherford
115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

MOSUL, Iraq – As the sun rose over an area where Soldiers were expecting gunfire and bombs, they were met by locals, who curiously watched as armored earthmovers shoved garbage and barriers off the road to make civilian travel easier. Soldiers of the 43rd Combat Engineer Company, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, worked to clear one of the many impassible roads in Mosul as part of Operation Thunder Reaper IV.

The 17-hour mission incorporated construction assets from the 43rd CEC, as well as several other elements from 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment’s Thunder Squadron.

Soldiers set out to open a section of Route Tampa, one of the city’s main roads that has been closed to traffic.

“When we got here, a lot of these routes were blocked,” said Sgt. 1st Class Rodney Larue, the Assault and Obstacle platoon sergeant with the 43rd. “Now our mission is to go in and make a lot of them open again for regular traffic.”

Larue of Coppers Cove, Texas, said route clearance will be a major role for the 43rd, which recently arrived in the battle space. The mission, which started at sunrise and ran well into the night, opened more of the route than was expected, said Larue.

The operation consisted of several phases. The first was route reconnaissance searching for roadside bombs and other hazards. After the route clearance phase, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M1A2 Abrams tanks provided overwatch and security in the area so the engineers could work with relative safety to clear the roads. During the operation, there were no casualties, and no notable enemy contact.

“We expected it to be quiet because there were so many moving pieces,” said Larue. “We had units to the north, south, west and east. We had units patrolling and we knew it was going to be quiet today. It is normally a really busy area.”

The next phase of the operation was to use Armored Combat Excavators to clear trash and other debris and obstacles from the road. The engineers then placed concrete barriers to better control traffic on the four-lane highway.

“Today we set out to do a large scale route improvement in our sector,” said Sgt. Daniel Preston, a gun system operator with the A&O platoon, 43rd CEC. “We used our dig assets to improve what was a trash filled, dirt filled, improvised explosive device magnet into a four-lane highway with serpentines.”

Larue and Preston provided command and control of the operation from their Buffalo mine resistant ambush protected vehicle (MRAP), using video cameras and a hydraulic arm to search areas for potential explosive threats to. The buffalo crew exposed an IED in a crowded intersection, which an explosive ordnance disposal team destroyed.

After the road was cleared of obstacles, the ACE vehicles moved into the route sanitation phase. This was accomplished by using the ACE vehicles to clear rubble from buildings and large piles of dirt on the roadsides that were used to hide bombs. They also cleared large areas of trash to be burned later to improve sanitation issues.

At the end of the mission, the Thunder Squadron Soldiers returned to base down more than a kilometer of the newly cleaned stretch of four-lane highway.

'My guys did a kick-butt job today,” said Larue. “Morale was good and high. Even though we are putting in these 18-hour plus days, I just can’t ask any more of my guys.”

Thank you, Eric, for another wonderful story!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Our Troops Celebrate Christmas~~~

Some of our favorite Christmas pictures from our troops.
Our troops are in our thoughts and prayers
on Christmas, and always.

Oh, Christmas Tree ~

The Capitol Christmas Tree

Merry Christmas!!!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Santa is Leaving Iraq

To follow Santa on his trip

Thank You and Merry Christmas!!!!

The Twelve Days of Christmas.......

The 2007 PNC Christmas Price Index

One Partridge in a Pear Tree

Two Turtle Doves

Three French Hens
Four Calling Birds

Five Gold Rings

Six Geese A-Laying

Seven Swans A-Swimming

Eight Maids A-Milking

Nine Ladies Dancing
Ten Lords A-Leaping

Eleven Pipers Piping

Twelve Drummers Drumming

Total for 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Soldier's Christmas

A Soldier's Christmas

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
my daughter beside me, angelic in rest.

Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.
The sparkling lights in the tree, I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.

My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep
in perfect contentment, or so it would seem.
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eye when it tickled my ear.
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know,
Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.

My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
and I crept to the door just to see who was near.
Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.

A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.

"What are you doing?" I asked without fear
"Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!"

For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts,
to the window that danced with a warm fire's light
then he sighed and he said "It's really all right,
I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night"

"Its my duty to stand at the front of the line,
that separates you from the darkest of times.
No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me.

My Gramps died at 'Pearl on a day in December,"
then he sighed, "That's a Christmas 'Gram always remembers."
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of 'Nam
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.

I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile.
Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red white and blue... an American flag.

"I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home,
I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat,
I can carry the weight of killing another
or lay down my life with my sisters and brothers
who stand at the front against any and all,
to insure for all time that this flag will not fall."

"So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right."
"But isn't there something I can do, at the least,
"Give you money," I asked, "or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son."

Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
"Just tell us you love us, and never forget
To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone.
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.

For when we come home, either standing or dead,
to know you remember we fought and we bled
is payment enough, and with that we will trust.
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us."

-Michael Marks,
December 7, 2000

Author's Note: A Soldier's Christmas was the first in this series of patriotic writings, drafted on Pearl Harbor Day 2000 when in the wake of the 2000 Presidential Election our nation saw the right of US Armed Forces personnel openly questioned and debated. I felt it unconscionable that at the onset of the Christmas season, those serving to defend our nation would hear anything but our love and support. It is our challenge to stand for their rights at home while they stand for our lives and safety overseas. This poem went out and quickly spread around the world in emails, letters, magazines. I received letters from Marines in Bosnia, soldiers in Okinawa, from a submariner who xeroxed a copy for everyone on his sub. Moms wrote, dads, brothers and sisters. I have saved and cherish every letter and set out to continue writing throughout the year.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas, My Friend

"Merry Christmas, My Friend"
By Lance Corporal James M. Schmidt

Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,
In a one bedroom house made of plaster & stone.
I had come down the chimney, with presents to give,
And to see just who in this home did live.

As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see,
No tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand,
On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land.

With medals and badges, awards of all kind,
A sobering thought soon came to my mind.
For this house was different, unlike any I'd seen,
This was the home of a U.S. Marine.

I'd heard stories about them, I had to see more,
So I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone,
Curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home.

He seemed so gentle, his face so serene,
Not how I pictured a U.S. Marine.
Was this the hero, of whom I'd just read,
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?

His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan,
I soon understood, this was more than a man.
For I realized the families that I saw that night,
Owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight.

Soon around the Nation, the children would play,
And grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year,
Because of Marines like this one lying here.

I couldn't help wonder how many lay alone,
On a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye,
I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.

He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice,
"Santa, don't cry, this life is my choice.
I fight for freedom, I don't ask for more,
My life is my God, my country, my Corps."

With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep,
I couldn't control it, I continued to weep.
I watched him for hours, so silent and still,
I noticed he shivered from the cold night's chill.

So I took off my jacket, the one made of red,
And covered this Marine from his toes to his head.
Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold,
With eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold.

Although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride,
And for one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside.
I didn't want to leave him so quiet in the night,
This guardian of honor so willing to fight.

But half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure,
Said "Carry on, Santa, it's Christmas Day, all's secure."
One look at my watch and I knew he was right,
Merry Christmas, my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.

James M. Schmidt wrote this poem back in 1986 while a Lance Corporal stationed in Washington, D.C., serving as Battalion Counter Sniper at the Marine Barracks 8th & I under Commandant P.X. Kelly and Battalion Commander D.J. Myers [in 1986].

Schmidt hung this poem on the door of the Gym in the BEQ. When Colonel Myers came upon it, he read it and immediately had copies sent to each department at the Barracks and promptly dismissed the entire Battalion early for Christmas leave. The poem was placed that day in the Marine Corps Gazette, distributed worldwide, and later submitted to Leatherneck Magazine.

Schmidt's original version, entitled "Merry Christmas, My Friend," was published in Leatherneck (Magazine of the Marines) in December 1991, "Gyrene Gyngles," Page 79. As Leatherneck wrote of the poem's author in 2003:

"Merry Christmas, My Friend" has been a holiday favorite among 'leatherneckphiles' for nearly the time it takes to complete a Marine Corps career. Few, however, know who wrote it and when. Former Corporal James M. Schmidt, stationed at Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., pounded it out 17 years ago on a typewriter while awaiting the commanding officer's Christmas holiday decorations inspection . . . while other leathernecks strung lights for the Barracks' annual Christmas decoration contest, Schmidt contributed his poem to his section."

After leaving the Corps, Schmidt earned a law degree and now serves as an entertainment attorney in Los Angeles and is director of operations for a security consulting firm.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Soldiers Bring Christmas to Assyrian Children in Iraq

A 5-year-old Iraqi girl gives a thumbs-up at the Assyrian Christian christmas party attended by the 2nd Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division and coalition forces, Dec. 15, in Kirkuk, Iraq. Soldiers with the 2414 Logistical Transition Team who are training the 2-4 IA logistics at the Iraqi army base, K-1, brought presents donated by employers, friends and family of Pennsylvania national guardsmen, members of the LTT team.
An Iraqi soldier with the 2nd Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division enjoys the holiday festivities with a child dressed up as Father Christmas during a party held at the Assyrian Christian School in Kirkuk, Iraq

Children from the Assyrian Christian School in Kirkuk, Iraq, sing Christmas carols in several different languages including an English rendition of "Jingle Bells" to the audience which included Iraqi and U.S. Soldiers with the 2nd Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division, and the 2414 Logistical Transition Team

U.S. Soldiers with the 2414 Logistical Transition Team dance with Iraqi children during a Christmas party at the Assyrian Christian School in Kirkuk, Iraq, Dec. 15. The 2nd Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division invited the soldiers to help distribute Christmas presents and supplies to the children. Iraqi media were on-hand to capture the event.

Pennsylvania National Guard soldier Lt. Col. Greg Markert, 2414 Logistical Transition Team leader, hands a Christmas present to a student of the Assyrian Christian School of Kirkuk, Iraq, Dec. 15. The U.S. Soldiers were invited by their Iraqi counterparts with the Iraqi Army's 2nd Brigade, 4th Division to attend the event held Dec. 15. The presents were provided by employers, friends, and family of two Pennsylvania National Guardsmen, members of the 2414 LTT, who are attached to the Pennsylvania National Guard�s Headquarters Company, 213th Area Support Group, Allentown, Pa. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Margaret C. Nelson, 115th MPAD)

A student of the Assyrian Christian School of Kirkuk, Iraq, opens her present donated by employers, friends and family of two Pennsylvania National Guard members during a Christmas party, Dec. 15. The U.S. Soldiers were invited by their Iraqi counterparts in the Iraqi Army's 2nd Brigade, 4th Division, who provide supplies and gifts to schools throughout the Kirkuk province.

By Army Staff Sgt. Margaret C. Nelson
115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

KIRKUK, Iraq – The 2nd Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division invited coalition forces to a Christmas party, at an Assyrian Christian School in Kirkuk, Iraq, Dec. 15.

Representing approximately 2 percent of the population here, according to military officials, the underlining theme of this year’s celebration was ethnic and religious diversity. “Kirkuk is a good place to be for Christians…a place where all ethnic groups, Arab, Kurd, Turkman, and Christian, are living in peace,” said the priest of the Christian school. He also ministers to 2-4 IA Soldiers who operate from the Iraqi Army Base K-1 in Kirkuk.

The soldiers, both IA, and CF with the 2414 Logistics Transition Team at K-1, came armed with presents which they passed out to the children who were clothed in various ethnic dress to represent the cultures that are striving to bring back some semblance of normality to this ethnic diverse area of northeastern Iraq. “We want to live and work with our neighbors in harmony…as Iraqis,” Maj. Zyad Junaid Omar, 2-4 IA Civil Affairs Officer said. Zyad, whose father is Arab and mother Turkman, said that he invites CF soldiers along to show Iraqis that, “Americans are good people that want to help.” He also wanted the Iraqi public to see how well the IA and CF work together.

“Maj. Zyad is a patriot in the true sense,” Lt. Col. Greg Markert, 2414 LTT said. “He wants to make a difference. He is not concerned about the ethnic background of these children. He’s concerned about Iraq’s future…which they represent,” Markert said.

The gifts that the soldiers handed out were contributed by employers, friends, and family of Pennsylvania Guardsmen Sgt. 1st Class Ken “Gunny” Ganiszewski, 2414 LTT, and Markert, both of Philadelphia. “What started out as a suggestion, snowballed into 200 packages full of toys, candy, blankets…the response has been tremendous,” said the former Marine.

This was just one of the several on-going civil affairs programs run by the 2-4 IA’s CA team. “We’re honored to be a part of their program,” said Markert. “These children are the future of Iraq, they are the most important equation in our mission here.”

“I fought as a marine in the Gulf War against some of these soldiers that I am now mentoring,” Gunny said. “This brotherhood we’ve formed is making a positive impact on the children of Iraq…its future.” He said that both soldiers agree that what they are doing has a larger impact than “kicking doors down and brandishing weapons.” He underlined the importance of getting involved by saying, “that child that is gifted a pair of shoes may return home and convince a relative not to place an IED out on the road. Or if he sees someone trying to hurt an IA or CF Soldier, he’ll report it.”

The LTT team has 10 members. They hail from the 240th Quartermaster’s Company, 16th Sustainment Brigade from Bamburg, Germany; 13th Combat Service Support Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, Ft. Benning, Ga.; and the National Guard’s Headquarters Company, 213th Area Support Group, Allentown, Pa. All of the U.S. Soldiers are attached to the 213th, currently headquartered at Logistical Support Activity, Anaconda, Iraq.

“We’ve come from all over the U.S. and Germany to form this team. We’ve since become a cohesive family, together with our adoptive family, meaning our fellow Soldiers with the Iraqi Army’s 2nd Brigade, 4th Division.” Markert said.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Wednesday Hero ~ SSgt Mike Mills

This Weeks Hero Was Suggested By Leo

SSgt. Mike Mills

SSgt. Mike Mills

On June 14, 2005 SSgt. Mike Mills's life was forever changed. The HETT(Heavy Equipment Transport System) he was riding in was hit by an IED. The attack resulted a cracked clavicle and scapula bones, dislocate shoulder, broken left hip, 4 out of 5 bones broken in his foot and being set on fire. The driver in the truck behind him ran with a cooler of melted ice which he threw on Sgt. Mills to put him out.

He spent three months in the Brooks Army Medical Center at Ft. Sam Houston, TX with the injuries listed above plus 2nd, 3rd and deep tissue burns to 31% of the left side of his body. The first thing he remembers thinking after the attack was that his soldiers needed him and he needed to get back to them.

"Then the guilt set in about what I did to my family. I've totally screwed that up. Look at me, no don't. I look hideous. How can I face my kids looking like this. They'll be embarrassed to be seen with me. What if they won't love me anymore? Speaking of love, my wife, oh my god. How can I expect her to stay with me. I'm not a man anymore. She's not going to want be intimate with a freak. What if I can't work, how do I support myself, my family.

I had the nightmares and couldn't sleep. I wasn't eating and was loosing weight. I didn't really care. If I didn't start eating, they where going to put the feeding tube back in. Who cares, I've totally screwed up my life anyways."

But he found out just how much is wife loved him, when she stood by his side throughout the entire ordeal. She was there for every wound dressing and even learned how to change the dressings herself.

SSgt. Mike Mills now runs the site For The Veteran... By A Veteran in which he helps veterans, soldiers and their families find information they may not have been given after their medical discharge or retirement.

Some may say that Mike gave his country more than enough when he was severely maimed by an IED on that fateful day of June 14, 2005, but Mike continues to give to his fellow servicemen, as well as to his nation!

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 blog, you can go here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

All I Want for Christmas......

A Christmas Present these girls will never forget....

Big Hat Tip to Josh Allem - Thank you for sharing this story!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

December 25, 1864

The fourth and fifth stanzas are normally omitted.
They refer directly to the ongoing Civil War,
and were written when he received word that his oldest son,
Charles Appleton, had been wounded in battle.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Remember - Honor - Teach

Remember - Honor - Teach

Remember the Fallen

Honor Those Who Serve

Teach Our Children the Value of Freedom

2007 will mark the 16th anniversary of holiday wreaths being sent from the State of Maine to Arlington National Cemetery. Each year the folks at Worcester Wreath Company make and decorate wreaths that will adorn 10,000 headstones at Arlington National Cemetery, 2,500 wreaths to the Maine Veterans Cemetery at Togus, and over 1,800 ceremonial wreaths, representing all brances of the armed forces, will be sent to over 200 other State and National Cemeteries and Veterans monuments across the country. Ceremonial wreaths, for the first time, have been sent to the 24 veterans cemeteries on foreign soil and aboard US ships sailing on all seven seas. Lastly, 51 wreaths will be donated for a special wreath-laying ceremony at each State Capitol and our Nation's Capitol.

All Wreaths will be laid concurrently on December 15 at 12 pm EST by volunteers.

Merrill Worcester explains the Wreaths Across America Project:
"Our goal is to expand the recognition of those who serve our country, both past, present, and future, as well as their families who deserve our support. Without the sacrifices of our veterans, there would be no opportunity to enjoy the freedoms, the life we live today."

The Patriot Guard Riders provided the honor escort from Harrington, Maine to Arlington, Virginia. The touching story of their journey and pictures of the wreath layings can be seen on their site.

To Sponsor a Wreath for next year, click here. or here.

To hear a wonderful interview with Morril Wincester by Andrea Shea King, go here and click Play

Friday, December 14, 2007

Troops Train Veterinarians in Iraq

Flock of Sheep in Iraq

Herd of Goats in Iraq

Goat in a Date Palm - YUM!

Raad Al-Diwan (right), an Iraqi veterinarian, and Palmer, Alaska, native Army Maj. Kevin Wellington, a veterinarian for the 492nd Civil Affairs Battalion, show the contents of veterinarian supply kits to Iraqi veterinarians who received the kits through a veterinarian assistance program at the Taji Modular Governance Center, Dec. 10, 2007.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp, USA

Program Supplies Iraqi Veterinarians

By Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp, USA Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP TAJI, Iraq, Dec. 13, 2007 - Members of Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team Baghdad 5, attached to the 1st "Ironhorse" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, working alongside personnel from 492nd Civil Affairs Battalion, are bringing supplies to Iraqi veterinarians throughout the brigade's area of operations.

As part of a newly established veterinarian assistance program, the EPRT and 492nd CAB gave supply kits to four Iraqi veterinarians at the Taji Modular Governance Center here Dec. 10 during a class that familiarized them with the program.

"One of the problems in this country is that there are a lot of unemployed veterinarians, and what this EPRT has done is identified vets in the area who we can provide equipment to through a short contract and ensure that they get back to work," said Palmer, Alaska, native Army Maj. Kevin Wellington, a veterinarian with the 492nd CAB, attached to Multinational Division Baghdad. "We assist them by giving them veterinarian kits and a knowledge base of the equipment -- how to use it and what it's for."

Each kit contains instrument trays for cold storage, test tube equipment for blood samples, basic microscope accessories, hoof testers to identify animal hoof abscesses, nose leads for livestock, stomach tubes and a speculum, among many other tools of the veterinarian trade. "We want this to be a program that helps you make a good living for the services you provide," said Lt. Col. Harvey Fitzgerald, senior agricultural business advisor for EPRT Baghdad 5, as he spoke to the vets during the class.

"What's important to remember is that some of these supplies will run out, so you must charge a fee for services to buy back more replacements for this kit. This is a one-time gift of this equipment," Fitzgerald, who hails from Hermosa, S.D., added. "Perhaps your practice will be successful, and you will be able to help another veterinarian get started."

In return for the kits, the veterinarians must participate in a one-year program in which they are required to report how they are using the kits every three months.

In each quarterly report, the veterinarians will relate how many farms they visited, how many cattle, poultry or other animals they have treated, and the nature of their visit, such as to vaccinate animals or perform a health check due to a disease problem. They also will annotate in their reports the most serious health problems they have encountered.

Once they have completed the one-year program, the kits are the veterinarians' to keep.

"We would like to have your feedback, which will help others in Iraq who participate in this program in the future," Wellington told the veterinarians. "Techniques and procedures change, so your feedback is very important in helping us make improvements. "Also, if there is a serious outbreak of disease, we need to know about it," Wellington added.

Much of the information garnered through the program will be used to help improve agriculture in Iraq with regard to things such as animal production and reproduction, according to Raad al-

Diwan, an Iraqi veterinarian who works with veterinarian operations for Multinational Division Baghdad. Diwan teaches an animal husbandry course for Iraqi veterinarians, along with other classes designed to aid in improving situations for farmers who raise livestock. "

For the Iraqi farmer, his animals are everything," Diwan said. "When vets give a hand to helping his animals, they are initiating strong, lasting relationships with the farmer. Projects that help rural areas have vets who teach farmers how to take care of their animals are "the kind of thing that will be important in helping us to sustain veterinarian operations in Iraq and reach our target of improving animal production and reproduction in the country," Diwan added.

Fitzgerald said that being able to participate in the program has been a worthwhile experience. "To have the ability to enable these Iraqi veterinarians to travel and deliver their services to farmers who need them is very important," Fitzgerald said. "We're very excited to be able to deliver the kits to them."

(Army Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp is assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Public Affairs.)


The efforts to help the sustainment of the herds of goats, flocks of sheep, herds of cattle and camels in Iraq and Afghanistan is critical to the future of the people in the rural areas. All agricultural endeavors are important. I am proud of the efforts we are making in this respect throughout the middle East. Thank you, once again, to our troops.