Saturday, December 31, 2011

This is a piece I did with the hopes of getting published but I was told that it was not a piece that was "original" I guess with so many other stories coming out about Navy Seals and Green Berets the Infantry Soldier who walks the streets every day and does not wait for "high" priced targets is not that interesting. Well I leave it up to you my friends to tell me what you think. 
My name is Eugene Hicks and I am a platoon sergeant of 1st Platoon, A Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division from the Stryker Brigade Combat Team of Fort Lewis, Washington. My battalion has been deployed in Mosul, Iraq, since October 2004. 

My story contains some of the trying times that my platoon has experienced while here in Iraq. To be a soldier is to have one of the most demanding and strenuous jobs in the world because everyday you step outside you are unsure of what will happen but with the knowledge that what may happen could change everything that you ever knew or maybe even be the end of it.
As the level of violence in Iraq escalated, I began to think about the reasons why we soldiers trudge on day to day into the uncertainty of war. Recently, I also completed my sixteenth year of military service and the answer became more apparent. Even though there is so much uncertainty in what will happen to a soldier in his day, there is one thing that he can be certain in. Any soldier can trust that his fellow soldiers will be at his side every step of the way, ready for anything.
I have been in this job for so long and have made it through so many challenges because I have found soldiers that I can trust my life with, and these same soldiers can trust their life with me.

Thank you for the providing an opportunity to give a soldier the chance to tell his story.


Eugene J. Hicks

I am a platoon sergeant in A Company 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, part of the Army’s newest battlefield concept the Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT). Each Stryker platoon consists of four Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicles (ICV) and 45 soldiers. The platoon subsequently breaks down into three line squads and one weapons squad. Each Stryker has a driver and a vehicle commander, who controls the Remote Weapon System and manages the maintenance of the vehicle.

The Stryker has taken much criticism over the last few months. When responding to the criticism, our battalion commander LTC Eric Kurilla, stated in a press release that between October 2004 and January 2005 his unit's Strykers sustained 16 direct hits from roadside bombs and 36 direct hits from rocket-propelled grenades. "I've not lost a soldier’s life, limb or eyesight from any of those attacks,” Kurilla said. "We have a lot of soldiers alive today because of these vehicles." I agree with LTC Kurilla and can honestly say that it has saved my soldiers lives countless times. In the last six months my platoon alone has been hit by eight Improvised Explosive Devices, one Suicide Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device, a direct hit by Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG), and a lot of small arms fire. Having had all this happen how has it affected the soldiers in my platoon and myself and what helps us continue on? Well, I hope to tell you in one soldier’s story.

People say they join the Army for patriotism: the love of their country driving them to fight for freedom and democracy. I do not disagree with this reason, but it is much like the token “beauty pageant answer.” It is the one that sounds great and the one a civilian accepts and understands. Yet I venture to say that we fight for simpler reasons; the soldiers to the left and right. I know that this proverb has been used repeatedly by reporters in news broadcasts and in newspapers the world over, but I feel it goes to show that it is a strong driving force for soldiers.

This being the case, one may ask, “Does hardship and loss bring people closer together?” The answer to this question may vary as one’s reasons for joining the Army but, because we are soldiers, we know that the person we are talking to now may not be there tomorrow; we are left with two options: grow close (which in the long run makes the loss even harder) or keep a distance. How do you choose? I believe the chaotic scenes that many of us have had to endure, have taught us that life is fleeting so stay close, watch each other’s back, and leave no one behind. 

On November 11, 2004 my company and platoon would participate in our first Operation in Mosul. The platoon would be the main effort for the company, essentially this means we will be the first ones on the objective to establish a foothold for the rest of the company to maneuver from and bring the fight to the enemy. As we moved down a main street we immediately came under small arms and Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) fire. As soon as the ramp dropped the rounds could be seen impacting around and on the vehicle. The platoon dismounted the Strykers and moved to breach points. Small arms fire continued to impact around us, as we cut through locks and opened rolling aluminum doors to get inside both to search and to get cover. We attempted to get into several rooms but they were bolted and locked from the inside; to get in we used the ‘Wally Bomb” aptly named by one of my squad leaders SSG Nova Johnson for a large water impulse charge after one of my soldiers SGT Wallace. This breach charge will open any door or gate. As we began to clear the individual rooms, we would receive fire through the windows. A round impacted the wall a foot away from my body in one of the rooms I entered. Nevertheless, SSG Harmer, SGT Wallace, and I ended up clearing several rooms as a team. 

The intensity of the firefight had yet to climax. I attempted to move from the building my first squad occupied, to another building right next door occupied by my third squad. PFC Ayres and I exited the doorway as a RPG slammed into the side of the building about ten feet away, throwing us to the ground. I looked at PFC Ayres making sure he was all right and then brushed it off with “Shit! That was a close one.”

We bounded to the next building and then got orders to link up with the platoon leader (PL) and reinforce another platoon that was in contact with the enemy. When I got this call I was sitting down behind a wall looking at SSG Lenny Diaz and SSG Nova Johnson as aerial burst RPGs exploded over our heads and bullets cracked hitting the walls around us. I called the PL back and let him know we would be down shortly as we were receiving heavy small arms fire. After about ten minutes, we were able to move and head toward the PL’s position. Once we got there, the fighting began to slow down, it all seemed to go so fast, but in reality it had been four and a half hours since we had first dismounted. We got the order to mount up and head back to the Forward Operating Base (FOB). We arrived with no casualties and no dead. It was a glorious day. We had been baptized by fire, fostering the bond between all the soldiers. From here on, the respect and confidence in the leaders would grow. Our platoon would grow. Indeed it had been a glorious day.

On December 21, 2004 at 12:04pm the realities of this unconventional war would become apparent. I had just sat down to eat lunch with officers from my company when I looked up and saw the explosion. When I saw it, it moved in slow motion.

 The image I have fixed in my mind is a lucid moment from the madness, one of condiment packages. The little ones, the ones you get from fast food restaurants filled with ketchup, for your fries. I saw them flying as if they were confetti, no longer condiments packages, but mere pieces of plastic caught up in a hurricane. That is when the force of the blast hit me.

  I followed everyone else out of the dining facility and out to the bunkers that were provided in case the dining facility was mortared (which it had happened already before). Once I was out there I could hear people crying for help, I told my friend Lieutenant Kyle Dewald that we had to go back in and help, so back into the dining facility we ran.

What I saw was what only evil men can do; it was a chaotic and utterly ghastly scene. Immediately seeing one of my soldiers grabbed my attention and shifted my focus; my soldiers where in here, and I had to find them to make sure they were unharmed. PFC Ayres was the first one I saw and he immediately assured me that everyone he was with was all right. I sent him to collect the first aid boxes that were placed around the dining facility (these were ammo cans painted white with a red cross, containing first responder items.) Next I saw Sergeant Pense, a member of my company sniper team, had blood lacerationceration on his scalp. I helped bandag him up and happened to look to my right where I saw Sergeant Pena and Sergeant Montoya doing CPR on our Company Commander. They had it under control, and I knew that I would not be able to help them I knew I would probably only get in the way. I began to move around the blast area to see where else I could be of help.

 I came across a woman who had suffered terrible burns and had blood on her face and in her hair. She was crying. I stopped to help and reassure her, while she attempted to grab her friend who lay next to her, she was dead. She was quickly evacuated on a table that had been turned into a make shift litter. I began to walk around again to see what else I could do. I felt useless, like there was something more that I needed to do and yet could not. 

I saw a kid laying face first in his plate of food with a hole in the back of his head about the size of a silver dollar. There were bodies and body parts strewn everywhere. The blood on the floor mixed with the condiments and made a sticky mess, which all those heroes that day would trudge through as they saved numerous lives. This day, one of which I will never forget, my company commander died and a close friend SPC Clint Gertson, who would later die in a sniper attack, was also wounded. The reality of fleeting time became apparent.

Here in Mosul, while the platoons are out on patrol, explosions are commonplace. One can hear these audible reminders and then hear the reports start coming over the radio about locations, followed by a Battle Damage Assessments (BDA) if the explosion was near coalition forces. These explosions are heard at night on the Forward Operating Base when you are trying to sleep, or when you are sitting on your Strykers getting ready to roll out on patrol. The echoing sounds and damages of these explosions are a constant reminder to us soldiers that we are surrounded by war.

My platoon was out on patrol conducting cordon and searches and Tactical Control Points, when we heard a huge explosion loud enough to be heard eight kilometers away. We found out over the radio that a vehicle bomb had hit Combat Outpost Tampa. We were directed to come and assist in the casualty evacuation and the defense of the COP. When we arrived, the platoon was immediately met with mortars and small arms fire. My platoon leader directed the weapon squad and I to dismount and assist in casualty evacuation. My Stryker pulled up close to the outer barricades and we dropped the ramp. As we exited the vehicle we were met by two burning Strykers. Everything on top of them was smoking; the driver’s hatch and the rear troop door were open. As I looked in I saw the vehicle commander still inside, debris and dust swirling everywhere. He was still manning the Remote Weapon System firing on insurgents that were moving on the west side of the COP. As I looked at the carnage, small arms fire continued to impacted around us. 

We then ran to where we thought was the entrance only to find a dead end room. We ran out and found stairs leading to the second floor. As we got to the second floor we took defensive positions on the east side of the building. I set up two M240B Machinegun positions, as rounds impacted the walls outside the building and inside the rooms we now occupied. The two gun positions started to return fire on the enemy, who were attempting to swarm the COP. CPL Mikael Medina and PFC Robert Ayres were firing down a street at insurgents moving between buildings as SPC Roehrig and SPC Slaughter fired at a window that was being used as a hide for insurgents to fire from. The PL called for a situation report. “We are receiving heavy small arms fire and are returning fire.” I then got directions to displace back to my vehicle for new orders. At this point I responded that we had good cover and “we are good here, for now.” There was a lull in incoming fire so we displaced and headed for the stairs to get back into our Stryker. As we loaded up, all of our hatches were closed to prevent mortars from falling inside and to prevent the boys from taking shrapnel, if we happened to get hit on the top. I got in the Stryker and got on the radio and let the PL know where we had loaded up and had no casualties. The next order would take a few minutes to register and made me stop to take a breath. “I need you to go back in and get a generator that is either inside or on the roof,” was the order that came over the radio. I took my Combat Communications helmet off and put my helmet back on, took a breath and looked at my boys in the vehicle. “Grab more ammunition, we are going back in.” I received a few puzzled looks but everyone was ready to go. “Okay, on three the ramp is going to drop and we are going.” The ramp dropped and again we made our way through the carnage and back into the building. As we got up there 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company was collecting their gear, getting ready to exit the COP and we would help re-enforce their withdrawal. We helped them pack up their gear, but we could not find the generator.

Again we were given the order to load up and ran down the exposed stairwell (the face of the building had been badly damaged by the Suicide Vehicle Bomb) and loaded into our Stryker. With the smoke still lingering in the air and the F-18’s flying low over our heads, the explosions, as always, could be heard while we regrouped and headed back to our Forward Operating Base. I was later awarded an Army Commendation Medal with “Valor” Device for this.

So why do we as soldiers do this every day? I am sure people are left asking this question after reading about the life of a soldier at war. I answer the question by saying “We have too much invested in this not too.” The lives of our fellow soldier’s, our lives, and the job we have been sent to do. How do we handle this day-to-day reality? Well the only answer I can give is the American soldier is a lot more resilient than I think people give us credit for. We trudge through this every day, but we are able to get up every morning, not knowing what fate may have in store for us this day and we still go out into the city of Mosul, again to do our job. The best analogy I can give is one used by our Battalion Chaplain one of a marathon. Ask a novice marathon runner how he is doing at mile one and he may say, “This is great, not as bad as I thought.” Ask the same question at mile 13 and you may get a different perspective of it. “This is really bad” or “What on earth possessed me to do this?” But too much has been invested to quit, so he continues on until it is completed. This is why we do it, for each other. We are that novice runner combined as a platoon. We all have to help each other out to make it to the finish line.

 I do this for 45 extraordinary soldiers who have forever changed my life and taught me the meaning of brotherhood, camaraderie, and are a true band of brothers, soldiers who stand together through adversity and complete the mission no matter how hard it may be. These are only a few events in a yearlong tour, but again it is only one soldier’s story. 
Enough Said!!!!

LT Raub Nash my PL and SGT Paul Farmer
SGT Wallace doing what he did best tearing stuff up!

Me, SPC Ayers (he would be killed in Iraq in 2007) and SPC Heit

Friday, December 30, 2011

The dog of war: Sgt. 1st Class Zeke helps Fairbanks-based soldiers deal with stress

Therapy dogs are a great service to Soldiers suffering from some of the associated symptoms of PTSD. We have these dogs at my work and they are so great and lovable. They also have more credentials than some of the counselors, haha.  If you know anybody that suffers from PTSD and would like a companion visit your local Vet Center they can guide you in the right path.

The dog of war: Sgt. 1st Class Zeke helps Fairbanks-based soldiers deal with stress

 By Cheryl Hatch/For the News-Miner

FORWARD OPERATING BASE MASUM GHAR, Afghanistan — Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry 21st Battalion of Task Force Arctic Wolves hang around talking and smoking cigarettes at the entrance to the dusty brigade headquarters of Forward Operating Base Masum Ghar in Kandahar province in Afghanistan.

Sgt. 1st Class Zeke approaches, and the soldiers flock to him, dropping to their knees.

They want to pet Sgt. Zeke.

Zeke is a black Labrador and therapy dog, part of the 113th Medical Detachment Combat Stress Control, an Army Reserve unit mobilized to support the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division’s “Arctic Wolves” in southern Afghanistan.

“Whenever you see a dog, it makes your day a bit better,” said Spc. James Sroka, 22, from Pinckneyville, Ill., as he ran his hands over Zeke’s back again and again. He misses his dog.

It’s a common reaction, said Sgt. Paul McCollough, 28, Zeke’s primary handler, from Santa Fe, N.M. “Everything stops. The guys come out of nowhere.”

Zeke serves as an icebreaker for the members of Combat Stress Control. He’s approachable when social workers and therapists may not be.

“We’ve had more contacts today than we’ve ever had,” said Maj. Renee Reagan, 45, of Charleston, S.C., a clinical social worker who works at the Veterans Affairs office in Charleston when she’s not on orders with the Army.

There’s no problem visiting with a dog.

“There’s still that stigma — talking with a therapist, behavior health,” McCollough said. “There’s no stigma associated with coming up to talk to a dog. A dog’s non-judgmental.”

The Combat Stress Control team is designed to be both proactive and reactive. Its members visit combat outposts, with or without Zeke, and meet with soldiers to discuss relationship and home-front issues, operational stress and combat stress.

“We treat the wounds that don’t bleed,” McCollough said.

And they’re called in when soldiers are injured or killed. Twenty soldiers from the Fairbanks-based Stryker brigade have been killed since the deployment began in April.

“When there is a traumatic event, we’re out there for one to three days,” Reagan said. “We meet the soldiers typically by squad. We get them to talk about it, the event and their feelings. We try to identify any at-risk soldiers and can meet with them individually. Our role is basically to help the soldiers where they’re at.

“The leadership is very supportive of us,” Reagan said.

And of Zeke.

Zeke has been in the Army five and half years and, like many Fort Wainwright soldiers, is a veteran of multiple deployments.

“This is his third deployment,” McCollough said. “Been there. Done that.”

“It’s pretty bad when a dog outranks you,” said Staff Sgt. Adam Dye, 30, from Chattanoga, Tenn., laughing as he bent to pet Zeke. “I love dogs. He’s the mellowest dog ever.”

“I think dogs raise the morale for everyone around,” said Pfc. Tanner Neal, 21, from Sweet Home, Ore. “I’ve got five sitting at home waiting on me.”

Like other soldiers, Pfc. Christopher Sauber, 24, misses his dogs. He has five at home in Athens, Ohio. He said he appreciated Zeke’s visit.

“It helps you get away from this place,” Sauber said. “It’s relaxing, like a piece of home.”

Cheryl Hatch was a recent Snedden chair in the University of Alaska Fairbanks journalism department. She and photographer JR Ancheta, a UAF student, are embedded with a Stryker brigade unit in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Plan to Help Vets Find Work After War

I find it amazing that 11.5% of Soldiers age 18-24 are unemployed. If companies would look beyond the stigma that is associated with serving in combat and those associated with serving in the military they would find some of the most disciplined, honest and responsible employees around.
I find it very disheartening that a law has to be passed to help those who served the nation get jobs. Corporate America should be doing their part to help our veterans and Soldiers. Creating a new foundation would be fine ONLY if you hire veterans to staff or run. A vet is often a better advocate for another vet.  

New Plan to Help Vets Find Work After War
By Kelly David Burke

Thousands of American troops are returning home from overseas. Those whose military service is ending will be entering the civilian job market at a time when employment is tough for anyone to find.

"Our troops are coming home and we need to be ready," Sen. Michael Bennet says. He has proposed legislation to create a National Veterans Foundation that would operate much like the National Parks Foundation already does.

"Rather than creating a new bureaucracy or entity to take the place of existing organizations supporting veterans, the foundation would better utilize the public and private resources that already exist at no cost to the taxpayer," according to the Colo. Democrat.

Bennet says the need was great even before the decision to end U.S. involvement in Iraq and reduce the number of troops serving in Afghanistan.

"The unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans in 2010 was 11.5 percent and for young veterans, 18 to 24 years old, it even spiked to 21.1 percent." And he adds, "Recent estimates indicate that veterans comprise about one quarter of the total adult homeless population."

A new foundation would not replace the many existing organizations that already offer help to veterans. Rather, it would create a kind of clearinghouse of information to make it easier for veterans to find help that already exists.

"Without this type of collaboration," Bennet says, "in some communities, veterans can fall through the cracks in the systems that support them."

Bennet says a working model for the foundation already exists in Colorado Springs, a city home to five major military installations. Retired Air Force Major Gen. G. Wesley Clark (not to be confused with retired U.S. Army General Wesley K. Clark who ran for President in 2004) says the Colorado Springs region is a community that understands the needs of America's veterans.

"Well I think it's important to understand up front that in the United States approximately only 1 percent (of the population) have served in the military. This community we have probably 25 percent who have served or are still serving in the military."

The Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments recently created a web-based Network of Care.

Sallie Clark, who chairs the PPACG, says the Network of Care gives veterans and their families in the area the ability, "To look in one place to get whatever service they need. Whether that's employment, whether that's dealing with mental health issues, whether that's working through family challenges when they come back from overseas."

Charlotte Nal, whose husband David is a 1st Sgt. in the Army, says the site is invaluable for the area's veterans as well as the families of those still serving.

"I think a national foundation would be excellent, especially for someone who can't have access to the site that's accessible here. It could be very important for them."

Bennet's office says several Republicans are considering whether to cosponsor his bill to create the foundation, which would also work to educate the public about the need to provide service to those who have already served us.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sunday Mass on a makeshift altar

Christopher Torchia, Associated Press Writer

This is one of several articles written by journalist Christopher Torchia whom CPT Michael Kovalsky and I became good friends with while in Helmand. Chris and Paolo stayed with us, patrolled with us and ate with us for the 38  days we were fighting along side the Marines. I have several other stories written by him that I will include in later posts.
Me, Christopher Torchia and CPT Michael Kovalsky Helmand, Afghanistan
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CPT Kovalsky and the Soldiers of A Company 1-17th.
At the bottom right of the picture you can see 3 boxes that was dinner. Even while you give thanks you still need security.

CPT Michael Kovalsky

The U.S. Army brigade's Catholic priest spits, smokes, cracks jokes and has come under fire like so many other American soldiers. He keeps altar bread in an empty grenade canister. On Sunday, he donned purple and white vestments over his uniform and celebrated Mass on a makeshift altar of four stacked boxes of MREs.

Capt. Carl Subler stood in the dust at an earthen-walled compound and prayed for the safety of those assembled, half a dozen soldiers who are fighting the Taliban near the contested town of Marjah in southern Afghanistan. He also prayed for peace in a country that has known war for decades. The men kneeled in their faded uniforms and some took communion, a reflective moment in a time of war.

"I find that my prayer life kind of suffers when I'm back home. I can pop a top on a cold one and watch TV," said Subler of Versailles, Ohio. "I find the more creature comforts are taken away from us, in many ways, we look to God with even more hope."

A busy Subler gave Mass on Sunday in three patrol bases — "Keep it rolling, baby," he said —in the Badula Qulp region of Helmand province, where the Army is supporting a Marine offensive against an insurgent stronghold. He is the only Catholic chaplain in the 5th Stryker Brigade, which has lent 400 soldiers to a mission that has waged daily firefights as forces push the Taliban out of villages.

"When you're separate from your families, sometimes you feel powerless to do anything when they're in trouble," Subler said during the service. "When you're over here, you kind of feel helpless."

On the roof above, a soldier in helmet and flak vest scanned surrounding fields for any threats. A man moving in a treeline, or a distant motorcycle rumbling down a track, or a tractor rolling too close to the base could all mean trouble.

Explosions and gunfire are routine in the area, though just one loud boom was heard during the Mass.

Subler noted that the passing of Ash Wednesday last week and the beginning of Lent, and he drew a parallel between the suffering of Jesus Christ and the emotional and physical pain of soldiers who miss home, fight and witness the death and wounding of comrades.

"You are in good company when you suffer," the priest said. The men recited the Lord's Prayer, voices murmuring in unison.

Subler, who carries a small chalice and a little bottle of wine in his assault pack, said he visits units by hopping rides on military helicopters or on Stryker infantry vehicles, a frequent target of insurgents who plant roadside bombs.

Sometimes, war intrudes.

"There's been sporadic shooting while I was celebrating Mass," said Subler, 34, who started his military career as a radar operator in the Navy. There was a time, he said, when the Taliban hit a unit he was traveling with, firing machine guns and grenades.

"We ran like hell," Subler said. "I never did well in track in high school but I wish there had been someone out there with a stop watch."

Subler has spent time with soldiers who were gravely injured by explosives, an unnerving experience because he would then go back out on the Strykers with troops in the field. After a while, he said, he accepted the constant danger:

"You know, 'Lord, I'm in your hands.' Whatever happens, happens."

Subler went to seminary in Columbus, Ohio, later went to parachute school and was based at Fort Lewis, Washington. He worked as an army chaplain in Iraq for four months and celebrated Mass at St. Peter's in Rome last month. The hushed atmosphere there contrasted with the noise surrounding many of his services in Afghanistan: men shouting, vehicle engines grinding.

The chaplain talks privately to troops about marriage and other problems that are sometimes exacerbated by instant computer messaging and other communication they enjoy on bases. Often, a soldier will argue with a loved one back home, then take his dark mood out on a mission.

As a chaplain, Subler does not carry a weapon, even though soldiers have offered him pistols when he is on the road with them.

"If it gets to the point where the chaplain has to start shooting, then...," Subler said.

There followed an expletive.

© 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Military Christmas Poem

During this time of joy and festivities let us not forget our veterans who may be going through hard times these holidays. Here is a poem I found:

'Twas The Night Before Christmas,
He Lived All Alone,
In A One Bedroom House
Made Of Plaster And Stone.

I Had Come Down The Chimney
With Presents To Give,
And To See Just Who
In This Home Did Live.

I Looked All About,
A Strange Sight I Did See,
No Tinsel, No Presents,
Not Even A Tree.

 No Stocking By Mantle,
Just Boots Filled With Sand,
On The Wall Hung Pictures
Of Far Distant Lands.
With Medals And Badges,
Awards Of All Kinds,
A Sober Thought
Came Through My Mind.

For This House Was Different,
It Was Dark And Dreary,
I Found The Home Of A Soldier,
Once I Could See Clearly.

 The Soldier Lay Sleeping,
Silent, Alone,
Curled Up On The Floor
In This One Bedroom Home.

The Face Was So Gentle,
The Room In Such Disorder,
Not How I Pictured
A United States Soldier.

 Was This The Hero
Of Whom I'd Just Read?
Curled Up On A Poncho,
The Floor For A Bed?

 I Realized The Families
That I Saw This Night,
Owed Their Lives To These Soldiers
Who Were Willing To Fight.

Soon Round The World,
The Children Would Play,
And Grownups Would Celebrate
A Bright Christmas Day.

They All Enjoyed Freedom
Each Month Of The Year,
Because Of The Soldiers,
Like The One Lying Here.

 I Couldn't Help Wonder
How Many Lay Alone,
On A Cold Christmas Eve
In A Land Far From Home.

 The Very Thought
Brought A Tear To My Eye,
I Dropped To My Knees
And Started To Cry.

 The Soldier Awakened
And 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."

 The Soldier Rolled Over
And Drifted To Sleep,
I Couldn't Control It,
I Continued To Weep.

I Kept Watch For Hours,
So Silent And Still
And We Both Shivered
From The Cold Night's Chill.

 I Didn't Want To Leave
On That Cold, Dark, Night,
This Guardian Of Honor
So Willing To Fight.

 Then The Soldier Rolled Over,
With A Voice Soft And Pure,
Whispered, "Carry On Santa,
It's Christmas Day, All Is Secure."

One Look At My Watch,
And I Knew He Was Right.
"Merry Christmas My Friend,
And To All A Good Night."

 Written by Lance Corporal James M. Schmidt in 1986. Printed in Leatherneck (The Magazines for the Marines) in December 1991.

Friday, December 23, 2011

So you think you had a bad day?

The 1st Platoon "Punishers" Squad Leaders SSG Diaz (1st Squad), SSG Johnson (3rd Squad), SGT Kreilaus (Stryker and my Vehicle Commander), and SSG Collier (Weapons)
Here is another piece I wrote from Iraq 2004 - 2005.

The day had started off as usual. Wake up and get ready for a 0900 patrol. But it is funny how things can change so fast. We drove into “old town” the section of Mosul that runs parallel to the Tigris River. A dilapidated section of closely sectioned houses, I don’t think you can fart without the rest of the neighborhood hearing you. We had been their conducting dismounted patrols. Patrolling the streets and talking to various people the usual things, “How is the neighborhood?” “Are there any bad people around?” The usual. About an hour into the patrol I heard an explosion relatively close to where we were but far enough away that the residents did not seemed to be alarmed. Much like the responses they give when you ask them questions, if it does not directly affect them they don’t care about it.

I called my Platoon Leader and told him about the explosion, told him we were pretty close and were going to try and move to check it out. Not even two minuets later I got the call to mount up. “We are going to assist a platoon that that has just been hit by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). Was the reply I got to my message. I quickly moved back to my Stryker and loaded up the weapons squad and myself.

We moved to the site, as we arrived I could see six cars on an off ramp stopped and black smoke rising from them. “I am dismounting with the medic.” I told the PL and quickly got off my vehicle with three of my soldiers. We were on a four-lane highway with guardrails running through the center as a medium. As I jump the guardrails I saw the platoon that had been hit scrambling to evacuate their casualties and immediately met up with the Platoon Sergeant on the ground.

 “Hey man I have my platoon here and my medic we are here to help casevac.” I told him. He looked at me.” Okay man but I can’t hear shit, because the fucking thing blew up right next to me, we are getting out of here. My casualties are gone and we are all that is left.”

“Ok get your guy’s and we will lock it down and I will take care of the civilian casualties.” I told him as his Stryker pulled up and dropped the ramp for him to load up and leave.

I looked around it was now only us four were on the ground. SPC Farmer, SPC Manley (my medic), SGT Feliciano, and myself. The rest of the platoon still on Strykers were moving into blocking positions to prevent us from being attacked again. The AIF are known for attacking the initial responders by direct fire, mortars, or subsequent IED’s. I honestly didn’t think about this. But now that I do it scares the crap out of me. I had injured people and had to help and they had priority over my safety.

A woman runs up to me with her daughter and crying she said something in Arabic that I could not understand. “Calm down.” I told her.” Sit down over there.” I tried to get her away from the cars that were leaking gas and the various other injured people and body parts laying all over the road. My medic was running around treating people with injuries ranging from blown off hands to shrapnel imbedded in there legs, arms, face, and chest. “SFC Hicks, this guy has no hand come here quick.” SGT Feliciano yelled at me I ran over and saw the nub of his right hand blood gushing from it. There was only a piece of a shirt wrapped around his wrist that was very badly trying to stop the constant flow of blood. “Oh shit, Doc get over and help this guy.” I yelled as my medic ran up with a tourniquet. Blood ran everywhere and body parts lay strewn over the road. My squads were now dismounting so I pushed them into security positions to over watch the scene. I saw a man crying and I walked up to him to make sure he was okay. He was again he was yelling in Arabic and I could not understand what he was trying to say. “Red 6 this is Red 7, I need the interpreter now.” I said into my handset. “Roger he is enroute, now.” I grabbed the interpreter and led him too the lady and man. I later found out that she was trying to tell me a man had ran up to her car grabbed her 3 year old and ran off. The PL told her to check the hospital, because the guy may have been trying to help. We found out later that that was in fact what had happened and the child had died on the way to the hospital. I moved to assess the rest of the casualties and see if I had missed anyone. The IED had been place on the side of the road in a medium, in the attempt to kill or at least blow up a convoy. Unfortunately I found the car that took the brunt of the blast was a civilian family. I looked in the back and the slumped down in the back seat lay a nine or ten-year-old boy he had been totally decapitated. I knew he was dead so I went ahead and left him there for now and concentrated on the wounded still alive. I saw a SUV parked on the opposite side of the road, the side we had just come from and saw an old lady bleeding and stumbling over to the SUV, which turned out to be a taxi. I ran over there to see if she was all right. I grabbed the medic and he fixed shrapnel wound in her thigh. I told the driver (through my interpreter, who was also running around with me) to cross over the highway and help take the rest of the wounded to the hospital. I ran back to the other side of the street. The taxi pulled up and we loaded the rest of the wounded up in it.

 I now knew that I had to get the boy out of the vehicle. I attempted to open the door, but the blast had pushed the door out so it would not budge. I grabbed a hooligan tool my squad leader brought over with a body bag and we both attempted to pry the door open, nothing. I grabbed the window railing and in a feat I did not know I was capable of I bent the window frame almost all the way down to the door. Still nothing, I can not explain why I felt the need to get this child out of there I knew he was dead, I was staring at his headless corpse. But I had to get him out of there. I opened the passenger side door and pushed the seat forward and reached in and grabbed the child’s knee. Why? Again I cannot explain, maybe I was wanting him to be alive or awake, maybe to even hearing him cry, would have relieved me. But again I knew he was dead. I reached in and grabbed the boy by the leg and pulled him out a little his shoe came off. Then grabbed under his arms and picked him up. I was holding this child in my hands his lower jaw and ear hung there inches from my face as my soldiers laid out the body bag for me to put him in. I put him in and zipped up the bag. An ambulance had arrived while I was getting the boy out of the vehicle and I told one of my soldiers to help pick up the body bag and we headed to the ambulance and placed him inside. I walked over to take a knee beside the highway and a foot away from me lay a part of a hand, just the index and the middle finger, I got up and linked up the PL to brief him on what was going on.

We stayed there for about 45 minuets to talk to the people in the neighborhood. “Did you see anything?” “Have you seen anyone suspicious?” But the same answers from everyone. No. We loaded up and headed back to the Forward Operating Base. The day was not starting out good.

At 1500 we headed out for our second patrol, nothing hard go talk to some people coordinate a community meeting. Show our presence through the neighborhoods in our company area of operation (AO). We had just started when the patrol passed a suspicious vehicle with about 7 men standing around it talking to the driver I could see three other males in the vehicle. This is the way AIF meetings are held. Quick on the side of the road, meet and take off. As we drove by the PL called back “Red 7 check out that car, that is really suspicious.” I agreed and we slowed down. As we did everyone took off in different directions, and the vehicle drove down the street. We began to follow the car. It took an immediate right, we followed, and then it slowed down. I stood as high as I could in my hatch and yelled, “STOP.” The driver looked at me slowed down and then again attempted to take off. I called the PL “he is evading us”. I fired a warning shot. The driver gunned it. My next shot would hit the driver, shattering the back window immediately the car stopped. The passenger got out and then I saw the driver get out a bloodstain steadily spreading over his right shoulder. I had hit him. We dismounted and my medic began to work on him. He had three wounds where the bullet had broken up and entered his right shoulder and his left trapezoid. Blood poured from the wounds and we loaded him up and took him to the hospital. I learned later that he died later the next day. I looked down to see my uniform and kit covered in blood. I wanted to change so badly. We left and continued our patrol.

Later that evening I attended a memorial service for three soldiers who died from our battalion. They would add to the already growing number (which now total 14) we have taken in the 8 months we have been here.

I write this as a way of letting it go, a way that helps me sleep, and a way to not remember. If you can understand that. I have been shot at so many times that the sound does not really affect me anymore. I have learned that you cannot control fate, accept it and what happens will happen. My men do outstanding work everyday; they can make decisions in a split second. Weighing numerous options and in the fraction of a second and then act. So when you have a bad day or think that things are cannot get any worse, I can one up you.
SGT Feliciano on the C-130

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Day of Hell on FOB Marez by SGT Edward Montoya Jr

Here his a piece from a friend of mine and another hero that served in "Deuce Four" SGT Montoya..thanks brother for the honor of allowing me to share your story with everyone.

21 December 2004-

This day started out as any normal day in Mosul, Iraq on FOB Marez. We were tasked out to provide security for a couple of high profile officers coming to visit our base camp. Our unit had been provided roving mounted security all morning and the guys have now worked up their hunger. We get a call over the radio from Apache 6(CPT Jacobsen-Company Commander) telling us to take it in and grab some lunch before coming back out. As we get into the DFAC(Dining Facility) the smell of wonderful food, the sound of happy soldiers and the look of the holidays. Christmas trees in the corner, lights and garland strung along the walls. Camaraderie was always in high gear. As brothers we sit together, live together, and eat together. On this day, we all sat in the front corner of the dining tent, which sat us directly behind the ING(Iraqi National Guard). Many have asked why we would have allowed Iraqi nationals in an American facility. I think this might still be a very controversial topic. I think it may have been to just gain good relations with the country. As we sat and ate, the dining tent gets louder and louder with more and more people coming in. To tell a little about myself, I personally don’t like sweets nor do I eat them too often. My ex wife use to bake me cakes, make fudge, or even a nice NY cheesecake. All of which would go uneaten. On this day, it was so close to the holidays, I was missing my family. My heart was hurting because it was to be another holiday without my kids. So to take me a little closer to home I decided to grab me a piece of cheesecake. If you remember this DFAC, you would remember that they took pride in making their desserts. These desserts were like you were eating little bits of heaven. Upon my decision to grab some cheesecake, my buddies around the table thought it would be funny to make jokes. We worked out two times a day, every day. One joke I remember specifically was from a few of the guys. SSG Robert Johnson, SGT Ray Khin, SGT Kevin Pena, SGT Jay Pense and my company commander CPT William Jacobsen. I was told repeatedly “you’re gonna get fat Doc” and “I feel sorry for you at the gym tonight”. Regardless of these jokes I got up anyways to get my sugar fix. As I rounded the corner of the table and get to the middle of the tent, I seen a flash from the corner of my eye from approximately 10 meters away. I heard the loudest boom in the history of booms. Immediately, I thought it may have been a rocket or mortar attack. On many occasions, the insurgents would attempt to mortar the base or mortar the tent in which we sat to eat. Normally they would miss, but today it seemed as though they got us. Smoke filled the tent. I was off balance, couldn’t hear, and very disoriented.  I dove under the nearest dining table. I seen many soldiers walking around as if they didn’t know what to do. So I did what I knew how. I grabbed their legs and began to pull them under the table with me. I pulled a crying female under the table. I also pulled another soldier, SGT Dennis Patterson, under the table. He was yelling “Doc! Doc! My fuckin weapon! I can’t find my fucking weapon! I got hit in my ass!” I attempted to calm him down and told him. Right now fuck your weapon. Get your ass outta here! On your way out grab someone and help them out. He insisted I look at his wound. I looked and assessed the wound. Seemed like a scratch, small hole in his pants, and no blood. I had to tend to those with life threatening injuries. I finally stood and found myself still dizzy. My first glance of the situation was chaos! I looked around and everyone was walking around like a zombie, some running out of the tent. I see to my left a portion of a lower intestine hanging from a table, I look to the right and see the upper half of an Iraqi torso. I trip over leg lying there still unknown whose it was. That’s when in my mind it was like a light switch. Now all that I have trained for, all the nights in the rain, all the field exercises was all about to come into play. I look down and the first soldier had a spurting femoral artery. I grabbed his belt, tied it around his leg to try and slow the blood from squirting. I grabbed a napkin holder off a near by table, pulled all the napkins out and stuffed them in his bleeding leg. I grabbed two guys and told them get this guy the hell outta here and I moved on. Prior to our deployment everyone was trained on our CLS(Combat Life Saver) skills. So everyone knew the basic lifesaving techniques. I ran through the tent guiding different soldiers through treatment. I end up back at the table where I was sitting with my brothers. I see the guy that sat behind me, slumped over his table with a piece of shrapnel through the back of his head. Now the thought runs through my head, “was that shrapnel meant for my head”? I then look down and see SGT Pena performing CPR on another soldier. I get down to help him out, trying to find out where this soldiers injuries are. I grab my knife and start cutting off the clothing of this unknown soldier. As I get to the top, I notice Captain rank. Now I think to myself I have to get this officer resuscitated. I’m still cutting and I notice the name tape- JACOBSEN. Now I piece this all together. 1. Sitting where I was 2. CPT rank 3. JACOBSEN. This is my company commander! I feel for bleeding, I feel for wounds, I try to come to some conclusion on why my company commander is lying on the floor needing CPR. I can’t seem to figure it out. We resume CPR as I help SGT Pena get started and tell them to get CPT J to the CSH(Combat Support Hospital). We flip over a table and use it as a make shift litter or gurney. I continue to clear the tent out as all that are left seem to be the deceased and others trying to help. Now was the time for me as the senior company medic to take accountability of all the solders in my company. I make a call to the unit and tell them to get a proper count of all soldiers while I go to CSH to and see if we have any wounded or dead.

                I get to the hospital and start going through exam rooms making a list of my guys. At this time there are several large “booms”. We are now under a mortar attack. A mortar hits the roof right above where I stand. I drop to one knee and start balling like a baby. A nurse seen me on the floor, she picks me up, she sits in a chair and hugs me. You can see her maternal instincts kicking in as she coddled me and assuring me that everything is ok now. I was now feeling reassured that it was going to be ok. This is when I went outside and had to open body bags to get my accountability. I found four different bodies that were familiar to me.

                By this time, we had already got word about the bombing attack. This was found to be a suicide bomber. He was dressed as a soldier with the ING. He strapped a vest with explosives onto himself; he wore a backpack filled with ball bearings. At the end of this attack there were 22 killed and 72 wounded.

 I will never forget this day. This day is what I know as the day of hell. To all my brothers that have lost their lives on this day and to all of my brothers that have lost their lives in this war, you will never be forgotten. To all the families and friends that also lost a loved one, you are in my prayers always. Rest in Peace brothers: CPT William Jacobsen, SSG Robert Johnson, SPC Johnathon Castro, PFC Lionel Ayers.

SGT Edward Montoya Jr

US Army, Medic

~Deuce Four Infantry~

DFAC Bombing Mosul, Iraq 2004

On December 21, 2004 my Platoon Leader (PL) LT Raub Nash our company Fire Support Officer LT Kyle Dewalt and I sat down for lunch at the Forward Operating Base (FOB) Marez Dinning Facility (DFAC) in Mosul, Iraq. I had just sat down after grabbing some salad dressing when a loud explosion went off right where I had just been.  We jumped up as the smoke began to fill the tent that served as our dinning facility and immediately saw a hole in the canvas roof. We moved out to a bunker outside the door and waited for the possibility of another, what we thought at the time was a mortar or a rocket attack. I looked at my PL as we could hear people screaming and yelling for help inside and told him “we have to get back in there and help”. We both ran back inside and the scene we ran into was horrific, there were people laying all over the floor and people slumped in their chair. I saw some of my Soldiers and asked if they were ok, when they said they were I directed them to grab the first aid kits that were placed throughout the DFAC and start helping those that they could. I moved around and began to help those that I could. One Soldier was laying faced down in his plate of food I could see a half dollar sized hole in the back of his head. I knew he was dead but I tried to get him to respond, but no response. I heard someone crying and I looked over to see a female Soldier laying on the floor her hair and her coat were smoking she was crying and asking for help as she crawled toward her friend who minutes before she was sharing lunch with lay dead. Body parts were everywhere a foot under a table, a hand laying on a chair and blood spilled all over the walk way and salad bar.  I then looked over and saw my Company Commander CPT William Jacobsen on the ground and two Soldiers performing CPR on him. I asked if I could help but could see they had everything under control.  I continued to help carry wounded Soldiers out on tables to vehicles that were waiting to take them to the Combat Support Hospital.  Later I learned that 22 Soldiers had been killed and 50 wounded by a suicide bomber that infiltrated the base dressed as a Iraqi Soldier and detonated an explosive vest he was wearing while standing in the middle of the DFAC.
CPT William Jacobsen, KIA 21 Dec 2004
SSG Robert Johnson, KIA 21 Dec 2004
It is protocol to immediately shut down all outside communication to the states so four days before Christmas my brother and mother received news that numerous Soldiers had been killed at a Dining Facility in Mosul but no names were being released. I would not be able to call them for a few days and I remember my mom crying and yelling to everyone in the room “he is ok, thank God”.  To this day my brother Will and I still refer to this as the worst Christmas surprise ever.

A Soldier stands watch over his wounded friend until he can be evacuated.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Is there anybody out there?

I find it amazing that Idaho does not have a Suicide Hotline (that is in state, Idaho currently uses an Oregon crises line) not just for Soldier's in need but for anybody who is really in crisis. At my job I am responsible to maintain the crisis line for one week; often these people just need someone to talk too a case not uncommon from that of our Soldiers. If I had the resources I would establish a crisis line here in Idaho. Here is a piece put out by CNN that affirms how important and helpful this can be.

 Canandaigua, New York (CNN) -- Suicide continues to plague the American military, with an estimated 18 war veterans in the United States ending their lives each day. One of the last resorts for veterans struggling with the return to civilian life is a suicide-prevention hot line based in upstate New York.

The humble offices of the Veterans Crisis Line in Canandaigua, New York, are like any other office space: desks, computers, telephones. But as you walk past each cubicle, you begin to hear extraordinarily disturbing conversations.

"I have a .45 pointed at my head," one caller says.
"Can you put that knife away for a bit while we talk? Can you do that for me? Can you hold off just for a little bit?" a hot line worker asks.

"What sort of weapons do you have?" another calmly responds.

The men and women who answer the Veterans Crisis Line phones are on the front lines of an all-out war on suicide. Each speaks to the caller with a very clear purpose: keep the person on the phone long enough to get help.

"The first thing I say to a caller when they do have the object that they plan on killing themselves with them on their person, whether it's a loaded gun on their lap or the rope already strung, I always say to them, 'Can you agree to not shoot yourself, take your pills, get up on the ladder while we're on the phone?' " explained Maureen McHenry, a crisis line responder.

The responders are part investigator, part therapist and part best friend.

"We never ever give up on a rescue. Whenever a vet needs help, we will do whatever it takes to find him if he can't tell us where he is. Whatever it takes to get them help," said Rob Griffo, a health tech at the Veterans Crisis Line.

In 2011, the U.S. Army recorded 246 cases of confirmed or potential suicides among active-duty and reserve soldiers, according to statistics released in November. That number appears to be below the 2010 level of 305 for the full 12 months but above the second-highest year: 2009, which had 242 suicides.

The U.S. Marines have recorded 28 confirmed suicides and 163 attempted suicides this year through October. Current numbers were not available for the U.S. Navy, Air Force and National Guard. Those three branches reported suicides among service members in 2010 to be 39, 100 and 112, respectively.

The numbers illustrate a small segment of the continuing emotional and physical toll of 10 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq and how it defies a host of efforts by the government to detect and solve the problem of suicide.

The Veterans Administration launched the Veterans Crisis Line in 2007, and close to 20,000 veterans have been rescued, officials say.

"We've taken over half a million calls, and 30,000 chats have come into the system," said Janet Kemp, the national director of the Veterans Crisis Line.

In addition to calling the hot line at 1-800-273-8255, veterans who are thinking about taking their own lives can chat with a responder at Veterans can also reach out for help by sending a text to 838255.

And it's not just about the veterans. Active-duty soldiers also call in.

"We have had several thousand active-duty people who have called, but we suspect many more, because it's anonymous. We think that there are many more active-duty people who call and use our services," Kemp said.

Families and friends can call in to the hot line as well. Kemp says she encourages those who know a veteran who may be struggling with depression to reach out to the crisis line. She says some of the warning signs that someone is contemplating suicide include "talking about death more often, starting to give away their possessions, saying things (like 'I) probably won't be around by Christmas. I won't need to know that next year.' "

"If you hear those and know that they're depressed or trouble with work or families, certainly give us a call," Kemp said.

While the responders handle the incoming calls to the hot line, health techs alert police departments and ambulances across the country to get help to veterans trying to take their own lives.

During a recent visit to the Veterans Crisis Line office, one veteran told responder Valerie Beaman that he planned to kill himself with a large knife to end what he called pain issues.
"When she talked to him further, he said that had taken all of his medication," said Melissa Morellaro, a crisis line health tech.

Beaman spent 45 minutes on the phone with the caller, trying to figure out exactly where the man was and then getting help to his front door. At one point, the veteran was so confused that he didn't know his address, presumably because of all the pills he had taken.

"Where's your wife now? She's at work? Can I send somebody to help you? OK, I think that's what I'm going to do. I think you want help. You called the hot line. And that's the best thing," Beaman told the veteran.

When police arrived, there was problem.

"I could hear the struggle, but I don't think they knew I was there. They did say he's safe, and the officers were safe," Beaman said.

The responders are flying blind most of the time. They ultimately have no idea what is happening on the other end of the phone. The anxiety is excruciating.
A short time later, a Korean War veteran called the hot line, saying he was ready to end his life.

"So you said as soon as we get off the phone, you're going to take some pills? Is that all you plan on doing?" McHenry asked.

The veteran told McHenry his wife died this year.

"He had been married for 20 years. ... He called simply to give me a message to give to his family about funeral arrangements and that he wanted to be buried with a photograph of her," McHenry said.

She began to ask simple questions to deduce a location. In just a few minutes, she knew his race, his age, what he was wearing and that he was at a pay phone on the Staten Island Ferry dock.

In less than 15 minutes, police arrived to help. At least one life was saved that night.