Friday, December 24, 2010

Family Traditions & Special Gifts From Special Friends

We have a few Christmas traditions in our family. Who doesn't?

Christmas Eve dinner - dungeoness crab, boiled shrimp, homemade cocktail sauce, melted butter, corn on the cob, ceasar salad and french baguettes

That would be my niece, Laura, (former Navy Corpsman) and her husband, Jared (Navy Corpsman). They are PCSing to a new duty station. He started that beard about 2 days ago. LOL! Anyway...not sure whether he's giving Laura encouragement on that crab or hoping she's picking out the meat for him.

Some of the remains of the crabs.  Poor babies.  :)

The stockings were hung from the chandelier with care. AWESOME, huh?

I think my sister-in-law is pretty darn clever!  Not enough room on the mantle - find a better option.

And in the mail today two very special gifts from some very special people:

Thank you Stephen.  I will treasure this forever!  You Sky Soldiers & ROCK Paratroopers mean more than the world to me.  I'm eternally grateful for your love and love you always.

From LTC & Mrs "Ranger" John and Connor.  Ranger John's one of my favorite scotch drinking buddies.  Oh heck, he's just one hell of a guy all the way around.  He'll be home from another deployment soon.  I see a trip south in my near future.  Gotta catch up on some drinking, tales and get some tips on using this flask.  I love you Ranger John.  Be safe and hurry home.  We've missed you!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wanat Veterans are Honored with Truth not Unfounded Accusations - It is time for knowledgable people to counter the agenda driven vocal minority

Below is a post (comment) that was sent to me by someone who knows the "Ground Truth" and has one objective, which is to ensure the public is exposed to the information that was available to the Combat Studies Institute (CSI), Lieutenant General Natonski, and the families of the fallen to better allow individuals to understand and formulate informed opinions in lieu of following the fictitious narratives purported by some. The CSI is a reputable Institution that has rigorous academic review protocols that were violated by Doug Cubbison. Remember, the original Cubbison draft asserted Task Force Rock failed to conduct counter-insurgency operations along with a host of other unsubstantiated assertions.

I know scores of people that say Task Force Rock was the model for counter-insurgency in their tough environment. A few have published their informed opinions. Cubbison’s violation served as a catalyst ostensibly for an objective CENTCOM Investigation. It is unclear to even casual readers, amateur academics, and aspiring military historians how a Lieutenant General could extrapolate what he did and convey what he did to senior military officials and Gold Star families. The statements and exhibits he collected do not remotely support his conclusions (see the example statements referenced below). Sadly, his team collected only a fraction of the information that was available to their team. Obviously, they understood even less. General Campbell not only read what was offered, he understood it, and had the intestinal fortitude to articulately convey his findings and understandings to the military’s top brass knowing he would face relentless scrutiny but confident telling the truth was the only option.

Multiple reviews since have understood the information presented. Despite Cubbison’s purposefully leaked draft, CSI was not to be rushed. They began collecting their information in 2008, steadfastly continued to gather information, organized the information, created virtual terrain to better understand the information, cross-referenced and footnoted the information, and published an objective historical analysis some two-and-a-half years after the battle. This is the same CSI Mr. Brostrom lent boundless credibility when he was controlling the narrative.

I am told the narrative below (in italics) was twice attempted to be posted in comments on the Honolulu Star Advertiser’s web page but the “objective” moderator apparently did not see fit to allow the “comment” onto their pages associated with recent articles on this subject. Readers and Rock supporters may want to attempt to comment on the Star’s page  here and here and on this blog as you share the real story of Task Force Rock and the Battle of Wanat.

"Mr. Brostrom lobbied his friend Chip Preysler, then the commander of 173rd Airborne Brigade in Italy, to allow his son to serve in that plum assignment. When his Airborne Ranger Infantry son was killed leading paratroopers in combat, he didn't seek to honor his son, the men his son led, or the unit in which his son served. Instead he immediately tried to influence the investigation, awards process, and the insurance disbursement. He elicited well connected family friends to support his quest not for truth but for revision of ground truth; a truth that would make his son, and more to the point him, a victim of a great conspiracy. Mr. Brostrom further sought and successfully influenced his long time acquaintance, MPRI contractor Doug Cubbison, who was the second-stringer charged with drafting the Combat Studies Institute's 'objective' history of the Battle at Wanat. Instead of an objective history, Cubbison wrote a grossly inaccurate tribute to 1LT John Brostrom. Knowing it would not stand up to rigorous academic scrutiny, Cubbison circumvented CSI review protocols and with malice and forethought, distributed his draft to Mr. Brostrom who immediately pointed to the unsanctioned draft as the 'leaked official history'. Now that the written, referenced, cross-referenced, and professionally reviewed academic study is published, Mr. Brostrom no longer touts but disparages the credibility of CSI.

Mr. Brostrom brought intense scrutiny on the Wanat chain of command. A chain of command that did everything possible to properly mission and resource all of their forces in an incredibly undeveloped and extremely resource constrained theater. Mr. Brostrom's queries that started with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Commander of International Security Forces Afghanistan stalled over the brigade, battalion, and company commanders then for a time attempted to go back to the general officers. It should not be a surprise to Mr. Brostrom that the chain of command he so adamantly attacked started with his son, 1LT Brostrom; one he now describes as a hapless victim. As the platoon action was scrutinized, many objectively questioned and reviewed the decisions and actions of the commanding general to the platoon leader. Note it was not the chain of command that brought scrutiny on or questioned the platoon leader, it was those that Mr. Brostrom so ardently energized for a closer look.

Mr. Brostrom's antics were the catalyst for two very experienced combat commanders to retire, to include his friend Chip, not under scrutiny but exhausted from attempting to justify, re-justify, and re-justify again how and why they made the [very best] decisions they did to a father with a hundred hours of combat experience in over-resourced Desert Storm and an insatiable appetite for pity. Other commanders and leaders have spent hundreds of hours answering the unrelenting investigations initiated by Mr. Brostrom.

Few errors were made before or during the battle at Wanat. Many errors have been made handling the post battle investigations and queries. It should not surprise any that those querying and investigating furthest from the battle served to cause the most confusion. The CENTCOM Wanat investigation, conducted from the United States and Italy, is posted at this link. The following statements will provide an objective reader context: 9B (Commanding General); 10B (Deputy Commanding General); 30A (Deputy Brigade Commander); 41A (Marine Lieutenant Colonel); 14C (Battalion Executive Officer); 33A (Platoon Sergeant); 43B (Mortar Section leader); 37A (Squad Leader); 40A (Platoon Radio Operator). Readers will be challenged to justify the conclusions Marine Corps Lieutenant General Natonski conveyed to the families. The CSI Wanat Study is at in PDF form at this link. Readers will note over 500 footnotes and have a greater appreciation for the context of the battle that occurred at Wanat. Readers are unlikely to draw the same conclusions conveyed by Cubbison's, 'leaked official history' that further hurt families seeking truth and closure.

1LT Brostrom’s unit was a great unit that had consistently amazing results with minimal resources in a very arduous environment. History will be kind to the unit and unit leaders as truth tends to win out at the end of the day. It is unfortunate that Mr. Brostrom will not revel in the glory as he has systematically disparaged the unit and leaders at every turn. Tarnishing his son’s service and the service of his son’s fallen and wounded paratroopers."


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Welcome Home A Hero at DFW Airport 18 December 2010

My very dear friend, Donna Cranston of Defenders of Freedom posted the following video on her facebook page earlier today.  It is a video that Bruce, who along with Donna and many others organize the Welcome Home a Hero welcome EACH day at the Dallas-Forth Worth airport for the inbound R&R flights from Iraq and Afghanistan.

I've had the privilege of being at the DFW airport for a morning welcome.  Words cannot possibly describe what an experience it is.  If you can get inside security you get to wave and hollar as they leave the jetway and pass down a long glass enclosed walk way to immigration and customs.  Once the last person has come though the jetway you scurry back out through security to await the line exiting the secured area (which is what you see in this video).  The family reunions, smiles and tears are something to witness. 

Local citizens, Veterans of all wars, fire department and police department personnel from around the area girl scout and brownie scout troops, boy scout and cub scout groups and every other possible other group you can imagine come out EACH day to welcome home our troops.  Recently Mary Kay representatives were there giving out goodie bags with their products for the female troops to have or the men to take home.  Yep...a real cross section of America.

Volunteers like Donna and Bruce are there to direct the troops to their connecting flights, the USO or to answer ANY questions they may have.  It's not uncommon for Donna to snag a Soldier who has a long delay and take him to her house for a nice long shower and a meal before returning him to his flight.

God Bless you Welcome Home a Hero! 

Well done Bruce!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Some Photos from the White House Reception Following SSG Giunta's Medal of Honor Presentation

These photos were taken by Ed Kearney at the reception held at the White House following the Medal of Honor ceremony for SSG Giunta.  Ed is a 173rd, 2-503rd Viet Nam era Bravo Bull (B Company) Veteran. Thank you for taking and sharing the photos Ed.

I've had the privilige of meeting and getting to know many of the Bravo Bulls and their lovely wives over the past couple of years.  I cherish the time I get to spend with them. 

LTC (RET) Roy Lombardo, Jr with Chief of Staff of the Army GEN George Casey
SGM LaMonta Caldwell, former Battle Company 1st SGT, with the Joint Chief of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.
SGM Caldwell and former Battle Company Commander, Dan Kearney

Admiral Mullen and LTC Roy Lombardo

Four former commanders of Bravo/Battle Company spanning nearly fifty years.

L-R LTC Roy S. Lombardo, Jr., Bravo Bulls. MAJ Michael Kloepper, MAJ Josh McGary and MAJ Dan Kearney - all from Battle Company

MAJ Dan Kearney with Bravo Bulls Jim Robinson, Joe Logan and Mike Broderick

MAJ Kloepper, MAJ McGary and Bravo Bull Ed Kearney

Bravo Bull Mike Broderick shakes hands with Command Chief Master Sergeant of the U.S. Air Force, James S. Roy.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Different Christmas Poem

Written by LCDR Jeff Giles, SC, USN while with 30th Naval Construction Regiment, OIC, Logistic Cell One, Al Taqqadum, Iraq

Multi hankie alert!

When I read the following, while watching the video, I could NOT stop the tears. If ANY of you men or women I know who wear our nation's uniform EVER question that I love you (and how much I love you) and that you matter, then we need to talk.

This is such an incredible and powerful poem and video presentation of the poem.  I hope you will all spread it far and wide.  Many thanks to LTC (RET) Lombardo for sharing this with me. 

"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 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 and you mattered to us."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

It's Thanksgiving - Who Wants to Blog or Even Read a Blog?

November 2010 has been a pretty darn good month.

The 173rd ABCT all redployed from Afghanistan to their respective basis in Italy and German. That's pretty darn awesome. Will will never forget their fallen brothers from this deployment. Rest in peace men.

SSG Giunta received the Medal of Honor. He and his platoon who were in that fateful ambush on 25 October 2007 were all able to reunite in DC/VA along with many other members of Battle Company from OEF VI and OEF VIII. They were joined by a contingent of "B" (Bravo) Company men from the 2-503 who parachuted into Vietnam and fought there. It was inspiring and heartwarming to see all of these Paratroopers together. The families of SPC Hugo "Doc" Mendoza and SGT Josh Brennan were also in attendance. Very touching to see the men surround those families with love and respect. From all accounts it was not only an incredibly honorable time but a huge healing process for many. SSG Giunta and his wife, Jenny, are incredible Ambassadors for the United States, the Army and the 173rd, 2-503rd. They both exude such dignity, grace and poise.

Thanksgiving was a peaceful and restful day around my house, No big meal.  No shower. In pjs all day. Wonderful!  And, it was my birthday.  I am grateful for the multitude of birthday wishes I received from around the world.  I am also thankful to those who donated over $600.00 to Defenders of Freedom for my birthday wish.  THANK YOU ALL!  But I must say the greatest "gift" of the day was when 15 or so of the 2-503 CHOSEN FEW, who have only been back in Italy for a few day,s sang "Happy Birthday" to me via phone.  They sang so loud I almost didn't need the phone to hear them.  THANK YOU guys! 

So one holiday is practically in the books.  Christmas is around the corner.  Then we begin a new year.  We continue to have so many men and women in harms way.  Parents, spouses, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, etc who are separated from their families.  Oh how I yearn for a holiday season and a new year when we are not at war.  Keep them all in your prayers and thoughts each day.  And never forget those who have given all of their tomorrows while serving our nation.

Monday, November 22, 2010

In The Company Of Heroes

Many have been calling, emailing and texting asking when I will post about being in Washington, DC for the Medal of Honor events. This is about the best I will be able to offer you and it isn't much.

I was privileged to be in DC and Virginia during the time of SSG Giunta's Medal of Honor presentation and other events. I wasn't invited to the White House and there was no reason for me to be included in that ceremony. I was, however, invited to other events associated with the Medal of Honor and the awesome men, wives, parents and girl friends of The Rock.

The Medal of Honor ceremony and all of the events tied to it were for and about SSG Giunta, his platoon members, Battle Co and the ROCK – not about having the privilege of sharing in the events. I will say that I have NEVER been more proud of or to know these men (and their lovely wives and girlfriends). And I have never felt so loved in my life. Beyond that it's impossible to put the experience and the emotions into words so I won't even try.

SSG Giunta, his wife Jenny and the men of Battle Co., 1st Platoon made this nation proud. Not just in the actions they all took that fateful day on October 2007 but during all of the days they were in the Korengal Valley and all the days they were in DC. They were all professional and humble. They represented this nation, the Army and The ROCK with such dignity.

If you haven't watched at least one video or interview with SSG Giunta then you've missed out on hearing one of the greatest friends the men of 1st Platoon could ever have. He has been emphatic about sharing his Medal of Honor with all of those men who were there that day and any man or woman who has ever served in our nation's military. A true American. A true Paratrooper. A true Warrior. An incredible role model. The real deal.

It was beyond a privilege and an honor to be in Washington, DC last week.


My Wife is my Rock




The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Salvatore Giunta
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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

SSG Sal Giunta Will Receive The Medal Of Honor Today

Today, 16 November 2010, SSG Sal Giunta will receive the Medal of Honor at the White House.  He will do so surrounded by his brothers in arms, his wife, parents and other family members, friends and Vietnam era "B" (Bravo Bulls) Company Soldiers who traveled to DC to support and honor him.

Most of America will go through their "normal" daily routines today oblivious to what is happening at the White House at 2:00 :PM eastern time when the ceremony begins for SSG Giunta to receive the Medal of Honor.  Most of America has no idea what the Medal of Honor is and the circumstances under which it is presented.

The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. Generally presented to its recipient by the President of the United States of America in the name of Congress.  It is not "won" as many often say.  It is EARNED.  My friend Jo wrote the following today.  She is spot on, "The Medal of Honor is NOT awarded, it is EARNED. Earned by spilling blood, sweat & tears on the battlefield; for VALOR, for conspicuous GALLANTRY, for service above and BEYOND the call of DUTY. The Medal of Honor is PRESENTED to its recipient by the President IN THE NAME of Congress. And i would bet that most recipient...s of any Medal for VALOR would gladly trade it for the lives of their fallen brothers."

One of the Soldiers who served in the ROCK (173rd, 2-503) with SSG Giunta posted this on facebook:

"Giunta you may never be comfortable with the path that has been given to you. But know that you have given a voice to all of us who were there in those damn valleys who thought no one would ever know what sacrifices we made and the ultimate sacrifice that some of our brothers made. Carry the torch brother. The Rock is proud of you."  David Camarillo

There have been many interviews aired and published with SSG Giunta. 

Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, who spent months in eastern Afghanistan with Battle Company during OEF VIII traveled to Italy for the following interview with SSG Giunta.  Of all of the interviews I have watched this was the most difficult one due to SSG Giunta learning new things about that day that he had never heard before.  Understandably so since there was so much going on in such a short amount of time.  Also understandable so since men who are entrenched in battles such as the ambush on 25 October 2007 don't often talk about the most horrific parts.

The Sal Giunta Story from Sebastian Junger on Vimeo.

Interview after interview SSG Giunta has repeatedly said that he feels uncomfortable accepting this award for himself - that he is accepting it for all who were with him that day; those who survived and those who gave their lives for this nation, SGT Josh Brennan and SPC Hugo "Doc" Mendoza".  He speaks about the fact that he has never gone into battle alone; that he always has his buddies on his right and on his left.  I whole heartedly respect SSG Giunta for choosing to accept the Medal of Honor on behalf of all of those men.  It is yet another testament to the Soldier and man that he is.

It seems apparent to me, from the interviews, that SSG Giunta and his wife, Jenny, would much rather not have the spotlight on them yet through this entire process they have both risen above the accolades, media attention, people coming out of nowhere claiming to be their "best friends" and a  plethora of other demands on their time and lives.  They are two great Americans that make me proud and to whom I look up to.  I am grateful that our nation has them as an example of humility, dignity and grace under immense pressure.  I pray that one day soon they will find peace and normalcy in their lives.  They more than deserve that.

The official narrative for SSG Giunta's Medal of Honor reads:

On Oct. 25, 2007, Spc. Giunta’s platoon was conducting a movement to contact to interdict enemy forces on the Gatigal Spur, in order to provide over watch for 2nd and 3rd platoon’s exfil back to Combat Outpost Vimot, and the Korengal Outpost. While conducting their exfil from the platoon’s blocking position, Spc. Giunta’s platoon was ambushed by 10 to 15 enemy personnel who utilized an “L” shaped, near ambush that was within 10 meters of the platoon’s main body. The enemy fired 10 Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) and three PKMs (machine guns) from the apex of the ambush and additional AK-47s from throughout the ambush line.

The enemy initiated the contact with an RPG and a burst of PKM (fire), which immediately hit and wounded two members of the lead team, Sgt. Brennan and Spc. Eckrode. Another RPG in the initial volley hit extremely close to Spc. Giunta’s position. While Staff Sgt. Gallardo moved back to his Bravo Team to get situation reports, Spc. Giunta provided covering fire by leading his team in suppressing enemy positions, assigning sectors of fire and commanding his M-203 gunner to engage close targets. While advancing toward Spc. Giunta’s team, Staff Sgt. Gallardo was struck in the helmet by an AK-47 round, which caused him to fall to the ground. Despite being under heavy fire by PKM, RPG, and small arms, Spc. Giunta immediately left his covered position in order to render aid to his squad leader. As he moved to provide assistance, Spc. Giunta was struck by two bullets; one of which impacted his chest area but was stopped by his Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert (E-SAPI) plate, and one round which impacted the Shoulder-Launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon-D (SMAW-D) rocket he was carrying across his back. Without hesitation, Spc. Giunta recovered from the impacts and ensured his squad leader was not injured. He then began bounding his team forward in an attempt to maneuver on the enemy.

Spc. Giunta and his fire team were quickly pinned down by effective enemy machine gun and small arms fire from multiple positions at close range. Spc. Giunta, along with Pfc. Clary and Staff Sgt. Gallardo, quickly prepared fragmentation grenades and continued the assault by throwing two volleys of them at enemy positions that were approximately 15 meters to their west. They then assaulted forward through those positions, secured Spc. Eckrode, and began treating his wounds. Realizing that Sgt. Brennan was missing, Pfc. Clary and Spc. Giunta continued to push forward along the enemy’s ex-filtration route, despite taking small arms fire from enemy personnel who were attempting to cover their withdrawal. Moving in the lead and rapidly closing with the enemy, despite receiving effective fire, Spc. Giunta overtook two enemy combatants attempting to drag off Sgt. Brennan, who had been incapacitated by his wounds. Spc. Giunta engaged one enemy combatant at close range and killed him, which cause the other enemy combatant to drop Sgt. Brennan and flee. Spc. Giunta then began immediate first aid on Sgt. Brennan, and also helped his squad leader to adjust security, further consolidate casualties, and prepare for Medical Evacuation operations.

Spc. Giunta’s selfless actions and personal courage were the decisive factors in changing the tide of the battle, ensuring that Sgt. Brennan was not captured by the enemy, and preventing the lead fire team from being destroyed by the enemy’s near ambush. Despite bullets impacting on and around himself, Spc. Giunta fearlessly advanced on the enemy and provided aid to his fallen comrades. His actions saved the lives of multiple paratroopers and changed the course of the battle in his platoon’s favor.

For exceptionally valorous actions during Operation Enduring Freedom VIII while assigned as a rifle team leader in Battle Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry. Spc. Giunta’s unwavering courage, aggressiveness, selfless service, and leadership while under extreme enemy fire were decisive in his platoon achieving fire superiority, defeating an enemy near ambush, and preventing the capture of a fellow paratrooper by the enemy. His actions reflect great credit upon himself, the Rock Battalion, the Bayonet Brigade Combat Team, Combined Joint Task Force-82, and the United States Army.

CBS 60 Minutes has an interview here with additional links to footage that didn't make the show.

USA Today has an article at this link with stories of people from SSG Giunta's hometown.

CNN has an interview here that also includes interviews in Afghanistan with SGT Frank Eckrode, Jr and SSG Erick Gallardo

There are many more interviews both in print and video.  MANY MORE.  Please take the time to find them via google or your preferred method.  The men of Battle Company deserve for you to know who they are.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth Has Published Their Final Report on Wanat

I found the follow quote on line regarding the release of the report:

"In July 2008, a contractor at Fort Leavenworth, KS disseminated an inaccurate draft accounting of the Battle of Wanat. A select group of agenda driven individuals pointed to the draft that disparaged the ROCK and the Chain of Command as a “leaked official Army history” – the only correct word there was “leaked”. The Combat Studies Institute (CSI) has diligently researched, cross-referenced, written, and through rigorous official protocols posted “Wanat: Combat Action in Afghanistan, 2008” Those closest to this battle were not allowed to review this work prior to publishing/posting – no doubt discrepancies remain but I trust the effort through release was done with rigor and integrity."

The document can be found here.  It is over 250 pages.  The conclusions begin on page 195.  If you read the "leaked draft" I imagine you will find more than a few discrpancies between it and this one.

I hope and pray this nightmare is over and that the men who gave their lives that day can finally rest in peace.  Shame on those who allowed this circus to play out in the media for no good reason.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Remembering The Five Fallen Sky Soldiers & One Marine Who Died 9 November 2007 near Aranus,Afghanistan

The dsys and years may pass in a "normal" fashion for the majority of us but to those families and friends of the fallen each day can bring back a flood of memories, anguish, pain and sorrow.  Please take a few minutes and remember these men who gave their lives on 9 November 2007.  Say a prayer for them, their families and their friends left behind who miss them every moment of every day.

Rest in peace brave warriors.  We will never forget you.

1st Lt. Matthew C. Ferrara, 24, of Torrance, Calif.

14 October 1983 – 9 November 2007

Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment

1LT Matthew C. Ferrara was born on 14 October 1983 in Torrance, California, and he graduated and was commissioned from the United States Military Academy at West Point on 28 May 2005 as an Infantry officer.

1LT Ferrara completed the Infantry Officer Basic Course, Airborne School, and Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia and reported to Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy for his first duty assignment. Matt was assigned to Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry as the Platoon Leader of First Platoon.

In May 2007, 1LT Ferrara deployed with the company to Afghanistan in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VIII. On 22 August 2007, 1LT Ferrara led his men to thwart a deliberate enemy attack on the Aranas Combat Outpost (Ranch House) by a numerically superior force. For his valorous and heroic actions that day he was submitted for the Silver Star.

1LT Ferrara’s awards include: Bronze Star Medal (Posthumous), Purple Heart (Posthumous), National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Infantryman Badge, Ranger Tab, and Basic Parachutist Badge.

Sgt. Jeffery S. Mersman, 23, of Parker, KS

11 May 1984 – 9 November 2007

Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment

SGT Jeffery S. Mersman was born on 11 May 1984 in Paola, Kansas. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on 15 January 2002.

SGT Mersman served in C Company, 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division as a Grenadier and Rifle Team Leader. While in this unit, SGT Mersman deployed three times in support of OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM before reporting for duty at Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy.

SGT Mersman was assigned to Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team as a Rifle Team Leader in August 2006. He deployed to Afghanistan in support of OPERATION ENDUING FREEDOM VIII in May 2007. During this deployment, SGT Mersman participated in numerous combat patrols and manned a critical observation point at Bella Combat Outpost in Nuristan Province providing surveillance and early warning of enemy activity.

SGT Mersman’s awards include: Bronze Star Medal (Posthumous), Purple Heart (Posthumous), Army Commendation Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters), Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terror Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal, Valorous Unit Award, Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Infantryman Badge, and Basic Parachutist Badge.

Cpl. Sean K.A. Langevin, 23, of Walnut Creek, CA

17 August 1984 – 9 November 2007

Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment

CPL Sean K. Langevin was born on 17 August 1984 in Walnut Creek, California. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on 14 February 2006.

After completing Infantry One Station Unit Training (OSUT) and Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georiga, CPL Langevin reported to his first duty station at Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy. He was assigned to Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team as an Automatic Rifleman. CPL Langevin deployed to Afghanistan in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VIII in May 2007.

During his time in Afghanistan, CPL Langevin went on numerous combat patrols. He was also involved in a violent firefight with enemy forces at the Aranas Combat Outpost (Ranch House) on 22 August 2007. For his heroic actions during the Ranch House attack, CPL Langevin was submitted for the Bronze Star Medal with Valor.

Cpl Langevin’s awards include: Bronze Star Medal (Posthumous), Purple Heart (Posthumous), Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terror Service Medal, Army Service Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Basic Parachutist Badge.

Cpl. Lester G. Roque, 23, of Torrance, CA

4 December 1983 – 9 November 2007

Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2dn Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment

CPL Lester G. Roque was born on 4 December 1983 in Obando, Bulacan, Philippines where he spent most of his childhood. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on 2 February 2005.

During his time in service, CPL Roque completed One Station Unit Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Medical Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia. On 10 October 2005, CPL Roque reported to his first duty station at Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. After his arrival, he immediately joined Headquarters and Headquarters Company in Afghanistan in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VI where he was assigned as a trauma medic. Due to his maturity and leadership, he was assigned as the Chosen Company Senior Medic where he served with distinction. During OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VIII, CPL Roque established two aid stations at Combat Outposts Bella and Aranas (Ranch House), conducted numerous combat patrols, and established a local national clinic to increase the healthcare for the surrounding populace.

CPL Roque’s awards include: Bronze Star Medal (Posthumous), Purple Heart (Posthumous), Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal, Combat Medical Badge, Expert Field Medical Badge, and Basic Parachutist Badge.

Spc. Joseph M. Lancour, 21, of Swartz Creek, MI

26 June 1986 – 9 November 2007

Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment

SPC Joseph M. Lancour was born on 26 June 1986 in Cadillac, Michigan. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on 8 February 2006.

After completing Infantry One Station Unit Training (OSUT) and attending Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia, SPC Lancour arrived at Caserma, Ederle in Vicenza, Italy for his first duty assignment. SPC Lancour was immediately assigned as a Rifleman in Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.

SPC Lancour conducted his first deployment to Afghanistan in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VIII in May 2007. During his service, SPC Lancour participated in numerous combat patrols and manned a critical observation post at Bella Combat Outpost providing security and observation of the surrounding mountainous terrain.

SPC Lancour’s awards include: Bronze Star Medal (Posthumous), Purple Heart (Posthumous), Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terror Service Medal, Army Service Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Basic Parachutist Badge.

Marine Sgt. Phillip A. Bocks, 28, of Troy, Mich.

From Marines dot mil Bocks’ journey to MWTC began when he enlisted in the Marine Corps May 9, 2000. That same year, he graduated from basic training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C. He then reported to the School of Infantry East at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he graduated and became a Marine Corps rifleman. He later served with Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, where he deployed in support of Operation Southern Watch from Sept. 1, 2001 to Feb. 3, 2002. Sgt. Bocks then deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from May 5 to Aug. 15, 2003, according to his service record book.

In his short life, Sgt. Bocks contributed more to his fellow man, fellow comrades-at-arms, and to the units he served in, said Cooling. “He touched more people in more ways than many of us could in a lifetime,” he said. “The evidence of that is why we are all here today.”

Please go to the link above to read more about Sgt Bocks. 


Monday, October 25, 2010

Remembering SGT Joshua Brennan, KIA 26 October 2007 During Operation Rock Avalance - Afghanistan

Mike Brennan, Gold Star father of SGT Josh Brennan, has become a treasured friend of mine.  Actually Mike, his wife, Michelle, their daughters, his sister and brothers and all of their family members are very special friends.  They are all so amazing, caring, thoughful and positive.  I am so fortunate to have them in my life.  Sadly the circumstances surrounding why they are in my life aren't so "happy."  I came to know Mike, and his family, after Josh died of wounds sustained on 25 October 2007.

I've been struggling the past few days trying to write a memorial post about Josh on this, the third anniversary of his death in Afghanistan.  No matter what I wrote it just didn't seem to be enough or right.

This morning I opened my email and found the following email from Mike:


I was just thinking about Josh on this anniversary date of when he was shot and Hugo was killed. I had to watch this video again of Janice singing "When Heaven Was Needing A Hero". Although hard to watch she did such a wonderful job and that song has gone through my head almost every day since Josh was killed. I don't know if you know the story but Janice sent that song to Josh to comfort him when Matthew Blaskowski was killed and he was feeling down. Than a month later it was the theme song for his own funeral. If you post anything tomorrow would you please attach this video for people to watch as a tribute to Josh's life. Thanks again for always being there as such a great friend.


I am honored to post this video Mike.  I have had Josh, you all and Janice on my mind so much the past few days.  You inspire me EVERY day with your strength and positive committment to keep Josh's memory alive. I love you dearly and wish like hell Josh was here.  THANK YOU for raising such an amazing young man.  He made a difference in so many lives and was loved by more than most ever hope to be.

Rest in Peace Josh always knowing how much you are missed, loved and honored by your family, battle buddies and friends.

I wrote this post last year on the anniversary of Josh's death.  There are some wonderful photos of Josh over there along with a video tribute to him set to the same song as his mother sang in the video above.  The video at the link above was done for Josh's funeral service.  Please take the time to go to last year's post and read it.  Most of all please keep Josh, his family, battle buddies and friends in your prayers.

Remembering SPC Hugo "Doc" Mendoza, KIA 25 October 2007, Kunar Province, Afghanistan

Battle Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment

SPC Hugo Victor Mendoza was born on 23 March 1978 in California and spent most of his childhood in El Paso, Texas. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on 31 May 2005.

During his time in service, SPC Hugo Victor Mendoza completed Basic Infantry Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Medical Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia.

On 6 March 2006, SPC Mendoza reported to his first duty station at Caserma, Ederle, Vicenza, Italy. He was assigned to the 173d Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry – The ROCK. SPC Mendoza was then assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company with duty as a combat medic in Battle Company. He immediately found his home among the combat warriors of 1st Platoon – The Celts.

SPC Mendoza trained, deployed and fought side by side with his band of brothers in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VIII. SPC Mendoza distinguished himself in The ROCK as a heroic medic, charismatic Paratrooper, and an overall altruistic human being.

SPC Mendoza’s awards include: The Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Combat Medical Badge, and Basic Parachutist Badge. SPC Mendoza has been submitted for the Bronze Star Medal for Service in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VIII.

SPC Hugo "DOC" Mendoza died of wounds sustained when he came in contact with enemy forces using RPG, machine gun and small arms fire during Operation Rock Avalanche combat operations on Oct 25, 2007 in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan.

SPC Mendoza's family recalls him as a very giving person; a man who treated everyone the way he wanted to be treated. SPC Mendoza planned to become a firefighter once he left the Army.

He was laid to rest at Fort Bliss, TX.

We will NEVER forget you "DOC". Rest in Peace brave warrior

"Honor the Fallen" has an article here that you should read.  His family and friends tell more about the incredible man he was.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

SSG Sal Guinta Recounts the Events of the Day For Which He Will Be Awarded The Medal Of Honor On 16 November 2010

SSG Guinta tells the events of 25 October 2007 in this two part video series.

I continue to have such great respect for SSG Giunta. He is a humble man in every way and continues to bring such honor to his unit, fellow Soldiers, family and friends.

You're going to need tissues to watch these videos.

May God Bless SSG Guinta, his wife, parents, family and friends.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

kev, Uncle Jimbo's Birthday, Great Reader and the Arkansas Heritage& Blues Festival BBQ Contest

Work has kept me from getting this written sooner.  I know most of you can relate.

Last weekend my home was invaded by kev, Uncle Jimbo and Great Reader, Jihad Gene.  When we planned this soirĂ©e a year ago it never occurred to me it would be on Jimbo's birthday weekend.  Alas, we all muddled through that part.  Let me assure you he MADE IT his birthday WEEKEND.

The morning of the day they were all set to arrive i joined the Patriot Guard Riders and Rolling Thunder to honor and welcome home Fallen Hero PFC Brandon Dawson made his final journey home. 

Early in the afternoon kev rolled in.  It was wonderful to get to spend a few quiet hours with kev before hurricane Jimbo blasted through the front door in the late afternoon.   As the grill was burning down to the perfect temperature for the steaks Jimbo insisted on for his birthday dinner the three of us sat down for a Birthday BBQ Freefly.  kev and Jimbo hadn't done a freefly together in over 2 years so it took a few starts to get it rolling.  After we finished that freefly the "boyz" sat down to film one of their own.  Classic kev and Jimbo.  The Hillary 2012 is a must view freefly if you are a freefly fan.

Once the steaks were done Jimbo insisted on making our plates as if kev and I were in pre-school. Easier to let him than to fight it.  I know, scary picture, huh?

After Jimbo completed the "plating" of his birthday dinner he, kev and I went out to the deck and ate in the moonlight.  I'd love to say it was romantic but then I'd be lying.  It was, without a doubt, entertaining.

After dinner the three of us dashed off to the airport to fetch Jihad Gene.  As we rolled onto airport property JG called to ask where we were.  His flight landed early.  I gave him instructions on where to meet us.   As I parked the car I saw JG and pointed to him as kev and Jimbo exited the car.  kev went straight to JG.  Jimbo veered off in the opposite direction.  Sadly he came back before we could drive away.

Next stop - Beale Street.  I am happy to report that no humans or animals were injured during our time on Beale Street.

Back to the Hacienda.  I decided it was nap time and told the boys to wake me up when it was time for Jihad Gene to go to his hotel.  Yeah, I think I scared the bejeesus our of JG when I told him he could stay at my house but he might have to cuddle with Jimbo.  Or, as JG calls him, Jimblow.  Around 01:20 kev came to wake me up to take JG "home".  Jimbo's car was blocking in all of the others and we couldn't find the friggin' keys.  Finally around 01:45 I found them in Jimbo's hat - don't ask - and delivered JG to his motel.

Saturday 06:30 - alarm goes off.  Time to get everyone up and going to the Arkansas Heritage and Blues Festival BBQ Competition.  All three of the boys are judges.  Up the stairs to wake kev - from the doorway of his bedroom.  Yep, like many of you I learned that lesson the hard way.  NEVER walk up to the bed of a sleeping formerly deployed Veteran and reach down to shake him awake.  NO!  NEVER!  Back downstairs to hurricane Jimbo.  That's when I discovered my living room in shambles.  Waking Jimbo up is like attempting to crack open a coconut with a Q-tip.  Finally got him up, showered and dressed (kev and I were ready) then out the door for JG.  Stopped for gas.  Stopped for Burger King.  Late to pick up JG.  Off to Arkansas.

Jimbo and kev listening to instructions on judging the BBQ per Memphis in May rules and NOT Kansas City rules. 

Those bloody marys you see in front of them?  Well, they both got selected as judges in the bloody mary competition, too.  Not a bad way to start the day?  Of course at this point they haven't seen the HUGE container of beer iced down for the judges.  They did, however, find that soon. 

So the way this works is that judges for the preliminary round are selected to go on site to each team and other judges are selected to "blind" taste test each team's entry.  No team names are listed.  All entries have a number.  At the end of the preliminary round the top three in each category go through on site and blind judging again to determine the winner of each category.  The team with the highest total points wins Grand Champion and is eligible for entry in Memphis in May's International BBQ Contest.

kev was selected to judge whole hog on site. Gotta say, he got screwed. The team he was assigned to judge was new and didn't know they were supposed to have things all fancied up, etc. Bummer. The team members were VERY nice. Just didn't put on the show kev should have gotten to experience. Jimbo has video footage of kev judging the whole hog but there are no photos.

Next Jihad Gene was selected to judge pork shoulders on site. He was assigned to judge team "Voodoo Que"

Who says we are heathen in the south?  Cloth table clothes, napkins and water glasses.  Now that's what I'm talkin' about.

JG was on a judging team with the lady in the photo as well as one of the premier Memphis in May judges.  Great experience for him he reports!  I think he's a professional now.

Jimbo was a blind taste test judge for the pork shoulders.

Yep...someone had found the palet cleansing massive cooler of free beer for the judges and it wasn't even noon yet.

And doesn't he look so dainty?

The rib competition was next.  kev was selected as a judge in the blind portion and Jimbo was selected as an on site judge.
Bless kev.  He told me that none of the ribs were as good as mine.  I love kev!  OK, even Uncle Jimbo said my pork butt and ribs were better than any he tasted on Saturday.  Awww.  Now they both want to have a team in next year's competition.  Oh, I don't think so but thanks for the vote of confidence guys!
I don't have photos of Jim at the on site judging but he has the video.
kev was then selected to judge the BBQ sauce competition.  I couldn't find one photo where he looked too pleased with any of the sauces.  Ha ha ha
The guys weren't slated for any of the finals judging teams so we loaded up and headed back across the river.  I had one more stop on the schedule that none of the guys knew about.  Uncle Jimbo and kev racked out in the back and snored their way home while Jihad Gene and I enjoyed a lovely UNINTERRUPTED conversation.  About half way back we passed by the funeral of PFC Brandon Dawson.  Gene and I both fell silent for a few minutes.  I feel the need to do that even now.  Rest in Peace Brave Warrior.
I've never been to Jihad Gene's house but had heard he had an Elvis bathroom.  I didn't ask questions.  Too afraid.  But here the boys are at the famous gates of Graceland!
Finally to the house.  I had invited a Vietnam Veteran, Frank, and his more than lovely wife, Nancy, over.  So we sat on the deck and drank beer, scotch, whisky and, of course, Irish Car Bombs into the night.  Jimbo and Frank more than entertained us with stories from their active duty days.  It was a fantastic time!  We packed a lot into a little bit of time.
Next day I dropped Jihad Gene at the airport way too early.  Returned home and Bert and Ernie were still sawing logs.  Eventually we all loaded up our cars and hit the road.
Looking forward to next year.  Rumor has it that Mr. Blackfive himself will join in the fun.  YAY!

Oklahoma Turnpike Authority Denies Free Access to Funeral Procession of Fallen Soldier, PFC Cody Board

UPDATE #2 - from USFallen dot org - "UPDATE: The Governor of OK is working on having this matter resolved.  In the meantime, the Director of the Turnpike has agreed to pay the toll himself. It is important they understand it is not about the price, it is about dignity and honor owed to an American warrior and his family, who has paid the ultimate price."

UPDATED with a letter to the OK Turnpike Authority from a Gold Star Mother (below the original post).

PFC Cody Board died 4 October 2010 from wounds sustained by an IED.  PFC Board grew up in McKinney, TX but was originally from Oklahoma.  His family plans to lay him to rest in his native Oklahoma at Fort Sill National Cemetary.

I am DEEPLY disturbed by this article from USFallen dot org that states the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority has denied the funeral procession free access to take PFC Board's body home for his interment.  DEEPLY disturbed. The following is posted in an article on their site: "Considering this young warrior has paid the ultimate price you would think his funeral procession would be allowed access free of charge.  To our shock and horror, the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, after repeated requests for an exception, has informed the family they must pay the toll fees."

When I read the article I figured it just could not be true so I called the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority this morning.  Everyone I spoke with was nice.  HOWEVER, the story is true and that, quite honestly, makes me about as angry as I've been in a long time.

I finally spoke directly with Mr. Jim Hazeldine, Assistant to Director of Turnpike Authority who, well into the conversation, told me he is a Veteran of the Navy.  When I said, "Happy Birthday yesterday" he asked if yesterday was the Navy's birthday.  I told him it was, in fact, the Navy's 235th birthday.  He had no clue.

Mr. Hazeldine said that their hands are tied on this issue.  He said that the law states that the only vehicles that are allowed free access are emergency vehicles that are "running hot."  He went on to explain that the toll road is not a publically funded road.  That it was built with bond funds therefore it is not a public entity and they cannot grant free access.

Cry me a river!

I told Mr. Hazeldine it was a sad day in our nation when the family of a fallen Soldier had to deal with this along with their grief.  I added that toll costs should be the LAST thing any family of a fallen HERO should have to worry about or pay PERIOD.  He told me there is a non-toll highway that runs near the toll road that the family had been made aware of.  Seriously?  He also told me that they have been working with the funeral home so that the funeral procession will not have to stop to pay the toll but that the funeral home will be billed for the tolls.  SERIOUSLY?  I replied that I'd write a check myself before I'd stand by for the funeral home to add in the cost of tolls for PFC Board's family.

Then Mr. Hazeldine went into a speech about how IF there was a law passed that allowed free access to funeral processions of the fallen that would create a need to raise the toll for other cars.  REALLY?  And even if it did - SO WHAT?  Then he compared the Turnpike to a utilitiy.  I reminded him that our utility rates increase often because low income and welfare recipients cannot often aford their high utility rates in the winter and summer.  I also reminded him this is about a young man who GAVE HIS LIFE for our nation.  I told him you CANNOT and SHOULD NOT put a price on that.

I think you get the picture.

From USFallen dot org:

Office of Governor
Brad Henry, Governor
Telephone: (405) 521-2342
Hours: Monday – Friday 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. CST

Oklahoma Turnpike Authority
Tim Stewart, Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer
Hours: Monday – Friday 7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. CST

Letter from a Gold Star Mother to the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority - God Bless you Cheryl

To the Director of the Authority,Tim Stewart, Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer,

I received mail stating that recently a family wanting to use the toll to take their son, PFC Cody Board , to his final resting place....wait... no... their SOLDIER SON... were expected to pay the toll charge for the procession to utilize a "pay for use" highway. I AM SOOOOOO ASHAMED to say that your company is American... so disgusted with your disregard for the price of your freedom... the freedom to have something that produces revenue for so many people, mainly our government... who hired this soldier to defend OUR freedoms! GIVE ME A FREAKING BREAK!

We lost our Hero Son 3 years ago on September 23, 2010, thank God we live in a place that did not charge us for use of the airport authority who ensured a protected runway that our son was flown to. Thank God we have people who are not afraid to STAND UP for what they believe is RIGHT AND TRUE. Thank God that ALL our active public safety members didn't charge us for use of their time and vehicles those multiple days to honor our son traversing from the airport to the funeral home, to the church, to the school gymnasium, to the cemetary. Thank God the State or school didn't charge us for a day of closing the school because over 2000 people attended SFC Matthew Blaskowski's funeral and there was no other place large enough for his funeral. Thank God people in our community UNDERSTAND SACRIFICE AND THAT IT AFFECTS ALL OF US DEEPLY. Well those of us who understand the true cost of freedom.

I swear that if I ever come your way, that I will NOT use your SELFISH Toll road to traverse across that part of our FREE COUNTRY... what is free about that?!!!! Seriously. How many soldiers have lost their lives from your area? I would think the majority of people traveling that toll on that day would have gladly pay extra to allow that family and that HERO to make the journey to his final resting place an undisturbed one.

Another thing... I find it funny how the Authority were making it "easier" for the family to not have to pay the toll on the day of procession... SERIOUSLY... maybe it would make the authority LOOK BAD when a funeral procession had to individually stop and pay toll for each car involved.. or that it would SLOW the entire process for the authority to have all those vehicles waiting for each other after the toll to reform the procession.

I AM SO DISGUSTED and SORRY that there are people in OUR FREE country who CARE THAT LITTLE for our freedoms to not RESPECT and HONOR those families and those HEROES who sacrificed so you could be TOTAL IDIOTS about this issue. Just remember sirs, CARMA. What you give is what you get...I pray that God will forgive you for your blatant disrespect of another human beings most tragic time. Truly, think about your purpose here on this earth, money will get you nowhere in the end.

We've paid enough of a toll and so did PFC Cody Board and his family.


Cheryl Blaskowski
Gold Star Mother (this means we lost a loved one in the military, didn't think you would know that either
SFC Matthew Blaskowski
KIA 23 Sep 2007


Monday, October 11, 2010

PFC Brandon Dawson, American Hero, Makes His Final Journey Home to Tunica, MS

Army PFC William Brandon Dawson made his final journey home to Tunica, MS last Friday morning.  He came home to a Heroe's welcome. 

It was a beautful morning.  Clear blue skies.  Warmer than normal temperatures.  The Mississippi delta in full harvest mode.  As I drove through the countryside on my way to the airport I though about so many things I had read about PFC Dawson.  This was a young American, a Patriot, that was the epitome of a role model.  Gone way too soon.  Way too soon.

There was a large crowd at the airport.  Family, close friends, former classmates, local dignitaries, civilans and police & fire department representatives from several counties.  The airport personnel could not have been more respectful or honorable to PFC Dawson and his family. 

The crowd who came to pay their respects was equally as thoughtful and considerate.  Not a word was spoken once the plane landed and the flight crew began preparations for the casket to be removed from the jet.  After PFC Dawson was on the tarmac the family gathered to say prayers over him as we all stood with our hands over our hearts and, in many cases, tears filling our eyes.  It was one of the most gut wrenching yet touching moments I have ever experienced.

From MyEyeWitnessNews - " Brandon Dawson's family had hoped he would go to college and become a paramedic or a firefighter.  Instead, after graduating from Rosa Fort High School in Tunica in 2009, Brandon decided to join the military, just as his mother, father, grandfather, uncle and brother had done" 

His mother goes on to say in the article, "He was such a good child," she tells ABC24 about Brandon. "I never had any problems with him. He always did what he had to do. Always."

And when Private Dawson was told to drive the lead truck in his convoy while on patrol in Kabul, his mother says her son did what he had to do, following an order that would turn out to be his last. A shoulder-fired rocket hit Brandon's truck, killing him and another soldier.

His Uncle, Larry Williams, an Army man as well said helped raise Brandon and his three younger brothers and would like Mid-Southerners to remember his nephew as a true American patriot.  "He was a man who did what he had to do for this country," he says with pride in his voice. "Because like I told him, there isn't any country like the United States."

Patriot Guard Riders and Rolling Thunder came from MS, TN and AR to honor PFC Dawson

There were police and fire department representatives from local and surrounding counties.

Flag Line

Sheriff's Deputies

The line of motorcycles, police cars, fire deptartment vehicles and aother cars was a couple of miles long.  When the motorcade left the Tunica, MS airport it made it's way past PFC Dawson's high school and down the main highway before turning into town for the funeral home.  The high school allowed the students to line the roadway to pay their respects.

Citizens standing in respect for PFC Dawson

I found a facebook page by Military Wall of Honor that you should read.  PFC Dawson's family members and community members tell about an incredible young man.  INCREDIBLE.  You can also read more about PFC Dawson in this article by the DeSoto Times Tribune.

Rest in Peace Brave Warrior.  This American is grateful for your service and sacrifice and for the amazing family who miss you, love you and honor you so.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Navy Veteran Marvin Hume of Sunset Beach, NJ Honors the Fallen Every Summer Night

Jim Axelrod CBS News reported this amazing story in July:  A friend of mine emailed me the link and I wanted to share it with anyone reading this blog.  PLEASE watch the video.  It's about 2 minutes long.

Every night from Memorial Day to mid October on Sunset Beach in southern New Jersey, eighty nine year old Marvin Hume, a Navy Veteran, raises a flag that has draped the casket of a Fallen Hero.  He does this to honor his or her service and sacrifice.  He was "booked" every night through this summer (2010) and is already "booked" every night next summer.

This all started when Mr. Hume bought property from a man who had been raising and lowering his own flag each night.  When Mr. Hume bought the property the former owner asked him to continue the tradition of raising the flag each day and lowering the flag each night. 

For the past THIRTY EIGHT years Mr. Hume has held this sunset ceremony.  Every night the crowd is so large that, as Mr. Hume says, "you can't even see the ocean."  He has held over 6000 ceremonies to date.

June, the daughter in law of WWII Navy Veteran, George McKenna, attends every night.  "It's always emotional.  Sometimes the flags have bullet holes in them.  We're all here because of their sacrifice."

When asked how long he intends to do this Mr. Hume said, "Until I drop."

Sunday, October 3, 2010

COP Keating - Remembering the Fallen One Year After They Gave Their Lives For Our Nation

One year ago today eight American Heroes gave their lives and 22 more were wounded when OP Fritsche and COP Keating were attacked by the enemy in Kamdesh, Afghanistan.

Many of you came together here on this blog and at The Burn Pit (blog of the American Legion).  The American Legion Burn Pit Blog has updates here and here telling about what so many great Americans stepped up to do for the survivors and their families in an unprecedented short amount of time.

Today is an incredibly gorgeous day across our land.  Football season is in full swing. The season is changing from Summer to Fall.   But I ask that you please take some time to read about the Fallen Heroes of COP Keating.  Click on each link below to read more about what their families, friends, Brothers-in-Arms and community members have said about these men.  It is the VERY least we can do to REMEMBER them and HONOR their sacrifice.

Last night I was chatting with one of the survivors who told me that those who are still at Fort Carson will gather at the Post Memorial today to pay their respects to these eight Heroes.  While I'm not at Fort Carson I will continue today, and every day, to keep these men, their Brothers-In-Arms and their Commanders in my thoughts and prayers.

May God rest the souls of these men and continue to providew comfort to their families and friends.

SSG Vernon Martin was known as a giving husband and a loving father to his three children ages 2, 4 and 6 at the time of his death.  He was also known as a great brother. SSG Martin married his high school sweetheart and aspired to work with children in a youth development program when he left the Army.

SSG Martin was known for his laugh, his loving and giving spirit and his love of children and their causes.

He was a native of Savannah, GA.  He entered the Army in August 2004 and had served one tour in Iraq prior to his deployment to Afghanistan.  You can read more about the man and and Soldier he was in this article from KKTV.  There are so me very touching comments at the end of the article.

SSG Justin T. Gallegos, a native of Tuscon, Arizona, was on his third deployment.  He had previously served two deployments to Iraq and had been awarded, among other awards, three Purple Hearts.

SSG Gallegos was the father of a five year old son. 

Retired Army CSM Don Becker told a story about one of the times when SSG Gallegos was wounded in Iraq and earned his first Purple Heart.  Becker says Gallegos' vehicle was in a convoy when it was bombarded with grenades and machine gun fire and Gallegos took a chunk of shrapnel in his arm.  "But he continued to fight," Becker says, until one final grenade was thrown.  Becker says Gallegos told him, "I saw the guy that threw it. But I didn't shoot at him. So I started to open my mouth of course to ask why. He looked at me and said he was standing behind a bunch of kids."

You can read more about this SSG Gallegos in this article from KKTV.

SGT Joshua J Kirk was a husband and father of a three year old daughter

At the Memorial service at Fort Carson in October 2009 it is reported by Military Times that chuckles rippled through the nearly full chapel as letters were read from soldiers still in Afghanistan recounting the fallen troops’ lives and praising their bravery and friendship.  “I would have followed that man straight to hell if he thought it was a good idea,” one letter said of Sgt. Joshua T. Kirk, 30, of South Portland, Maine.

In this article from the Portland Press Herald Sgt Kirk's cousin, Ben Dinsmore of Killeen, Texas, said "Kirk had dreams of joining the Army when he was a kid. He said they played Army when they were growing up.

''We were thick and thin,'' Dinsmore said. ''We would grab any stick that looked like a gun and run around in the woods playing Army. I joined the Coast Guard and he joined the Army right around the same time.''

There's much more about SGT Kirk at this link

SGT Joshua M Hardt entered the Army in June 2006.  This was his second deployment.  His first was to Iraq.  A Soldier who served with SGT Hardt said, "He was an amazing person and a great teacher."  Another commented that he always knew how to light up a room with his smile.

In an article in the LA times I found this about SGT Hardt:

"While he was still in high school, Joshua Hardt took one look at his future wife, Olivia, and told friends that some day he would be with her. That first date was low-key: a movie and Chinese food. He gave Olivia a piggyback ride into the cafe.  Later that night, he asked if he could give her a good-night kiss. She declined, but he touched his lips to her forehead. She reciprocated with a kiss on the cheek.  He ran down the driveway, kicked his heels in the air and exclaimed "Yes!" his wife remembers. "He was animated like that," she said"

You can learn more about SGT Hardt from this article and the touching comments published by KKTV

SGT Michael Scusa left behind his wife, Alyssa, and their 1 year old son Connor who was named for one of SGT Scusa's fallen comrades. He joined the Army in 2005 and had served one tour in Iraq.  He re-enlisted in the Army not long before deploying to Afghanistan.

 The Press of Atlantic City notes that "As a teenager, Michael Scusa used to jog down Kentucky Avenue in the Villas with a backpack filled with bricks to simulate Army training." 

The article also states, "Scusa left an impression on his Lower Cape May Regional High School teachers, who remembered him fondly as a sometimes-quiet student who blossomed over the years. He was enthusiastic about joining the military, they said. He enlisted while still in high school and shipped out shortly after graduation.  He visited his (high school) alma mater several times, but the first time he walked the halls in uniform and chatted with teachers was the most memorable.  He had changed, said his freshman English teacher Chris Rosenberg, who became friends with Scusa.  "He was a man," Rosenberg said.

From KKTV:  "Alyssa says she will remember her husband Michael as a goofy, fun loving person, who made everyone smile."  And  "Michael's father-in-law tells 11 News that Michael was proud to be a soldier. He believed in his mission and his family."

SPC Stephan Mace joined the Army in early 2008 and was on his first deployment.  He was from Lovettsville, VA, the second eldest of four brothers.  SPC Mace was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.  He is survived by his mother, father, three brothers and grandparents.

There is a moving video here of SPC Mace's final journey home.

SPC Mace is described as a Moto Cross champion, football player, hunter and all around fun-loving, loyal friend.  I urge you to take some time to read this story published by CNN of an interview done with SPC Mace's mother Vanessa Adelson.  I was moved to tears on more than one occassion.

In this article from the Colorado Springs Gazette his mother said, “There was a peace about him,” she said. “He told me many times: ‘I trust everybody in my unit to cover my back.’ He loved those boys he fought with like brothers.”

She said he showed no fear as he returned to the remote outpost where he later died

KKTV has more about SPC Mace.
SGT Christopher T Griffin of Kincheloe, MI was 24 and known for his infectious smile.

From the Colorado Springs Gazette:

Tom McKee, a classmate who is now a student teacher at Rudyard High, said the whole town knew that Griffin would someday don his nation’s uniform.

“He always wanted to join the service,” McKee said. “Any time we played, we were Army men.”

At Rudyard, Griffin played football and wrestled. He was known as a generous kid with an easy laugh.

“He was a quiet person who had a great sense of humor and always smiled,” McKee said. “In the 15 years I knew him, I never heard him say a negative word.”

A rabid Green Bay Packers fan, he showed versatility on the high school gridiron. “If he had to learn a new position in a day, he would do it,” McKee said.

Griffin visited his home town after he’d joined the Army. McKee said he appeared content with the decision.

“He said he was doing what he loved to do.”

PFC Kevin C Thomson was born in California but raised in Reno, NV by his mother.  He enlisted in the Army in 2008.  This was his first deployment. 

From Freedom Remembered - PFC Thomson was known as a young man full of spirit and was very close to his mother - it was just the two of them.  He was also known as a consumate prankster and for embracing his love of country.  Kevin lost 100 pounds so that he could join the Army.  He was always known for being there for anyone who needed him.

KKTV has more about PFC Thomson at their link.