Saturday, March 27, 2010

SGT Nicholas Pilat, 173rd, 2-503 Able Co is TF Mountain Warrior's Warrior of the Day

SGT Nicholas Pilat from Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, a TAC mechanic, who for the past four months has driven over 2000 miles accident free in the TF Rock area of operations.  In addition to his duties as a driver and as a Non-Commissioned Officer, SGT Pilat has spent countless hours performing maintenance on four Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.  Due to his constant preparations none of the vehicles he is responsible for have ever been deadlined or failed to perform while on patrol.  As a result of his dedication to duty and steadfast professionalism the TAC vehicles have set the standard across the Battalion.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Bolton (MASS) Brownie Scouts Package 1,151 Boxes of Girl Scout Cookies to send to U S Soldiers

Bolton, OH Brownie Troop #30287 - sign says "Share Your Love (heart) with a Soldier on Valentine's Day.  Donate a box of Girl Scout Cookies.  Thank you!"

A couple of weeks ago I was copied on an email from my friend Sue asking for addresses of deployed Soldiers to send Girl Scout cookies to.  Sue's son, Justin, was wounded in Afghanistan while serving with the 173rd, 2-503rd in OEF VIII.  I met Justin at Walter Reed when he was there for medical treatment and had the pleasure of visiting with him at Walter Reed on several occassions.  Justin's road to recovery hasn't been easy.  When I first met him he was in a wheel chair.  He later hobbled around with the use of a cane.  Today he is able to walk without the use of assistance after many said he would, most likely, always require a cane to assist with his mobility.  Like any mom would, Sue became a huge activist for her son's treatment always feeling as if there was just something more that could be done for him.  She found a doctor in NYC who was able to treat Justin so that his mobility was more back to normal.  Warning folks:  Don't EVER get between a Wounded Warrior and his or her mom.  :)

Sue's email explained that her niece (Justin's cousin) was in a Brownie Troop in Massachusettes that had a history of collecting Girl Scout cookies to send to deployed military personnel.  The troop's goal this year was 1,000 boxes.  WOW!  I sent Sue several addresses for Soldiers in the 173rd, 2-503rd currently deployed to Afghanistan - AGAIN.  A couple of days ago I received the following email (with photos) from Sue.

"The cookies are in the mail! Thank you to all the Bolton Girl Scouts that participated in making our Cookies for the Soldiers FUNdraiser an enormous success! Two years ago the Brownies were honored to send 278 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies to six family soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's amazing to see how the troop has grown into this responsibility.

Brownie Troop #30287 sponsored their 3rd annual Cookies for the Soldiers drive this year. The girls set a goal of 1000 boxes of cookies to be sent to our community soldiers. After two months effort the Brownies with their parents and a few other Bolton Girl Scouts, packaged 1151 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies, during a funfilled Saturday afternoon of cookies and ice cream sundaes. The Girl Scout Cookies were shipped to 34 Soldiers serving overseas and here in the U S. This is a tremendous accomplishment for the Brownies and we know this could only be done with the help of the community we live in.

Thank you for your support helping us reach our goal in numbers and for allowing us the opportunity to teach the girls the importance of working together to serve the community they live in and serve our country, honoring our Girl Scout Promise. Your support has made a tremendous impact on the Brownies as well as the Leaders. A special thank you to Greg Roth from OnSite Therapy Solutions for paying the shipping expense of these cookies. This task would be a challenge without your contribution. We look forward to hearing from "Our Soldiers" and sharing their message with the girls"

Look at all of those boxes ready to ship.  WOW!

A big HOOAH to the Bolton Brownie Scouts, their leaders and community.  Greg Roth from OnSite Therapy Solutions deserves a HOOAH as well.  Shipping is not inexpensive.  Without his generous donation the cookies wouldn't be winging their way around the globe right now.

I have no doubts there will be MANY smiling faces and full tummies within the coming days.  Then, I suppose, the gyms will be hectic as the Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Sailors happily work the calaries off.

This time of year there are Brownie and Girl Scout Troops and communities all over the nation who come together to send boxes of one of the best reminders of America - Girl Scout cookies - to our troops.  I applaude Bolton, Massachusette's Brownie Troop #30287 for an EXCEPTIONAL job.  Well done ladies.  Well done!

Monday, March 1, 2010

SFC Stephen Pointer Retires - Another Military Family Passes the Baton

Ten days ago SFC Stephen Pointer began his final drill weekend.  Twenty nine years of service to our nation came to an end.  I have had, and continue to have, the honor of meeting many of our military personnel.  Without question SFC Pointer is one of the "cream of the crop." 

SFC Pointer served 8 years in the Army at duty stations in Fort Carson, CO, Wurzburg, German, Camp Casey, Korea and Fort Polk, LA.  He also had a brief assignment at the Freno, CA MEPS station before leaving the Army and joining the California ARNG where he has served the remainder of his military career.  During the later part of his carrier with the California ARNG SFC Pointer served in Kosovo with both the 432nd CA and 353rd CACOM (Civil Affairs Reserve units). While SFC Pointer will be one of the first to tell you he was never deployed in a combat situation I will defend him to my last breath that he has done amazing things as a member of our military.  Just the little I know about him would take days to share with you.

I first met SFC Pointer in December 2005 on my second trip to Kosovo.  I had the honor of working with him and the Civil Affairs teams on that trip and a subsequent trip the following year.  I observed him mentoring Soldiers with extreme skill and dignity.  He had the total respect of his superiors as well as those from other nation's Armies that were serving in Kosovo.

On my first trip to Kosovo I had learned a lot about the Kosovar-Albanian issues but very little from the Serbian aspect. SFC Pointer's knowledge of the current issues as well as hundreds of years history of the region was invaluable.  His ability to work with and Albanians, Serbians, Ashkahlis and other minorities in the region was astounding.  He always spoke open and honestly with them.  It was incredible to watch him as he worked through sensitive and, often potentially, explosive issues.  Despite the fact that luck placed him on the Civil Affairs teams he was an invaluable asset having had no Civil Affairs training.  He is an absolute natural at winning hearts and minds.

SFC Pointer teaches middle school in California.  Late last October he posted this note on his Facebook page:

"Several weeks ago a young lady in one of my U.S. History classes came to me and told me, with tears in her eyes, that her father was leaving for Afghanistan. My heart broke or her, and I felt not a little bit of guilt . Two days ago the young lady came to class, sat down, and started working as per instructions; in the middle of the period, she got up out of her seat, came over to me, and quietly handed me a note; here is what it said:

"Mr. Pointer

My dad said to thank you for helping me get through him having to leave. I would also like to thank you. Now I have faith know that he can and will make it through. I know that he will be home soon.

Thank You"

That made my day."

No one I know has a bigger heart nor carries more burden for others on his shoulders than SFC Pointer.  And he does so at, in my opinion, a detriment to his own well being.  But that's the kind of man he is.  I saw that in him in Kosovo over and over again with respect to other Soldiers and the populous.

Both of SFC Pointer's sons have chosen to volunteer for military service.  David is in the CA-ARNG and is currently attending OCS (Officer Candidate School) at Fort Benning, GA.  Lin is assigned to a unit at Fort Carson that will deploy to Iraq soon.  SFC Pointer is, without question, very proud of his sons.

So now the baton has been passed and another military parent stands watch as his sons go off to war; something he, like most if not all military parents, hoped he'd never have to see happen.  Not many people around have taught me so much about myself and about the Balkans.  I hope you know how much I love and respect you and how eternally grateful I am for your service to our nation.

A small photo "essay" of SFC Pointer in Kosovo from my perspective.  I'll begin with a few photos from a project I was a part of (fund raising) in the Serbian village of Klokot.  I'll let SFC Pointer tell you a little about it in his words:

"This project was the end product of a series of events that started with a little girl with an Impetigo infection, followed by a murder that led to the village damned near tearing itself apart, and finally culminated in this. We spent three months raising money to purchase materials, hiring a contractor, and gaining the trust and friendship of villagers who were once hostile to us. Of all the things I have ever done in my life, I am most proud of this. I'm no engineer, but I was a big part of an engineering project that would help to give people clean water, and keep sewage from flowing openly in the streets and in the school's playground."

Jovanna on the day SFC Pointer discovered her Impetigo infection

Treating Jovanna (and teaching her family) for impetigo

Treating another of the village children who had Impetigo

COL I, Jovanna, Gaga and SFC Pointer after the children were treated

One of the village ladies who came to thank us for repairing the sewer and brining them clean water

Some of the Army Engineers SFC Pointer worked with on the project

SFC Pointer, me, Dada (our favorite Serbian intepreter and an amazing lady in every respect) and one of the teachers from the Klokot elementary school

SFC Pointer guarding the goodies for the Christmas party while I pose for a picture with the kids.  Those kids LOVE to pose for pictures.

The children lining up

Some of the children getting their first look at the bounty.  No reaching, pushing or shoving.  Notice SFC Pointer in the doorway.

The Chrismas party mentioned above was sort of a culmination of the sewer project in Klokot.  SFC Pointer and Dada, one of the Serbian interpreters, organized the party.  I was shocked that most of the children had never been to a party.  I was more shocked at how they handled it.  They lined up outside of the school by grade (youngest to oldest).  Each class came in the school together.  As they entered the room where we had piles of cookies, chips and snacks as well as juice and soda their eyes were as big as saucers.  They would take either ONE chip or ONE cookie.  No amount of encouragement would convince them to take more.  They wanted to be sure all of the other students had some.  It made me cry.  I can't tell you how many times each class came back through.  Towards the end we were filling plates for them in an attempt to get rid of all of the food but we still left food and drink at the school for them.  It was one of the most poignant moments of my life.  No pushing or shoving.  No grabbing handfuls.  I can't even begin to tell you how much I miss those children every day.

SFC Pointer when he accompanied me for an interview with Radio Ferizaj. One of our favorite interpreters, Dani is also in the picture. Dani is one of the young men that SFC Pointer was spent an enormous amount of time mentoring. He and an NGO he was a founder of, INPO are doing the most amazing and positive things in Kosovo with respect to issues of Democracy, Transparency, etc.

SFC Pointer & me at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo

SFC Pointer, SSG Van Lanen, COL Hettich, (can't remember other Soldier), Dani (interpreter) me, elected officials and others from Ferizaj, Kosovo at Camp Bondsteel

Sorry Steve.  I didn't mean to hijack your "retirement" post with the children of Klokot but they do mean so much to both of us.  What a wonderful stroll down memory lane.  I can't even begin to tell you how much it means to me that I shared this incredible time and experience with you.

I am a better person for knowing Steve.  To be able to call him friend means more to me that I could ever find words to explain.  In the next few weeks he will marry the love of his life, Melissa.  I wish them more joy and happiness than life can give them and am so happy that they found each other.

THANK YOU  for all you have given on behalf of our nation.  I know it didn't come without great sacrifice on your part (and we'll leave it at that).  I love you.

P. S.  SFC Pointer was the "man behind the camera" for the picture above (and others) that I think many of you have seen around the internet.  The picture was taken after 12 of the most grueling and emotional days of my life.  Grueling because I had to keep up with the Soldiers.  Emotional because of all they showed me in and around war torn Kosovo in those days.  We deserved a fun break.