Monday, August 9, 2010

4th BCT, 4th ID Uncasing and Memorial Ceremony

4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division held their uncasing Ceremony and Memorial Ceremony on 6 August 2010 at Kit Carson Park.  It was a picture perfect day at Fort Carson, Colorado.

The ceremonies were held in view of the majestic Colorado Rockies

Kit Carson Park

Preparing for the uncasing of the Brigade and Battalion/Squadron colors

COL George and CSM Sasser uncase the 4-4 Brigade colors

4-4 Brigade Colors uncased

Battalions and Squadrons uncasing

Battalions and Squadrons uncased

After the uncasing was completed we moved solemnly into the Memorial Ceremony for the 40 Fallen Heroes.

Brigade Commander, COL George and CSM Sasser laid a wreath at the Fallen Soldiers Memorial

CSM Sasser and COL George place the wreath

CSM Sasser and COL George saluting the Fallen

COL George made some incredibly heartfelt remarks to the Gold Star families, friends and members of the community who had gathered along with hundreds of the Mountain Warrior Soldiers in attendance.  Then a bag piper began to play

The Honor Guard began to move forward.  One by one the names of each of the 40 Fallen Heroes was called.  As each name was called one of the members of the Honor Guard moved forward to the wreath and gave a slow salute to honor their fallen comrade as the bag piper continued to play

The Honor Guard

The Memorial stone engraved with the names of the 40 Fallen Heroes from 4-4's recent deployment

After each of the fallen had been remembered the three volleys were fired and TAPS was played.

I have never attended a Memorial Ceremony as well done as this one was.  It was honorable, moving and meaningful with just the right "touch" of military tradition.

After the ceremonies were concluded the families of the Fallen were given time to spend at the wall where their loved ones names are etched.  A luncheon was then held for the Gold Star family members.

I was invited to attend the luncheon.  I met several of the 3-61 CAV survivors of COP Keating who were escorts to the Gold Star families.  One of the men I met was "DOC" Cordova.  While there are numerous stories of Valor from that day I had remembered reading one about "DOC" Cordova directly transfusing his own blood into a Wounded Soldier in an attempt to keep him alive until the Wounded Soldier could be medevaced.  Honor doesn't begin to describe how I felt meeting "DOC" Cordova. Very humble, very well spoken, very self effacing.

I'm not sure about the other units but the Gold Star family members of 3-61 CAV were invited back to the unit.  Four of the families of their Fallen were presented with valor awards  they had not yet received for their Soldiers.  Quite an emotional time.  All of the family members were invited to spend as much time as they needed/wanted talking with the Soldiers who served with their loved ones and the officers, too. 

4th BCT, 4th ID OEF IX Welcome Home Picnic

4th BCT, 4th ID recently redeployed from a 12 month deployment to Afghanistan.  Last Thursday, August 5th, they held their welcome home picnic at Iron Horse park at Fort Carson.  I was privileged to be invited to the event.

LTC Brown (3-61 CAV Commander) and I walked over to the park just in time to watch the final pull (best of three) in the Warrior Games Tug of War.  3-61 CAV yanked the "competition" like yard dogs. 

3-61 CAV preparing for the final pull in the 4-4 Warrior Games Tug of War


Getting encouragement from LTC Brown, 1SG Burton and 3-61 CAV members

And in only a matter of seconds the red flag was totally out of site of the midpoint where it began.

The "competition"

After the tug of war victory LTC Brown and I moved to the basketball court for the finals in that event. 

3-61 CAV perhaps discussing competitive "strategy"? with COL George (4-4 Commander)

Rodriguez at the line - look at that form!

3-61 CAV won the game by a huge margin and ended up VICTORS of the Warrior Games!!!

See more photos from the picnic after the jump - click on "read more" below

4th BCT, 4th ID Memorial Window, Fort Carson

Last October when the call went out to replace the personal items for the 56 survivors of COP Keating we received thousands of emails from Americans wanting to help out.  Within hours we had enough donations to replace the items on our list and were asking people to join in the efforts that the American Legion was working on for 3-61 Cavalry.  You can read about the incredible things the American Legion accomplished with the help of hundreds of great Americans here, here, and here

Two weeks after we had collected all of the personal items needed for the 56 survivors of COP Keating we were still receiving emails from people asking what they could do to help.  I had learned that 4th BCT, 4th ID was newly flagged at Fort Carson having been moved there from Fort Hood.  The Chapel on Post at Fort Carson had Memorial stained glass window panels for every unit except 4-4.  Through a series of emails I connected a donor with the Brigade Commander's wife.  Over the past few months they have worked together with a local artist in Colorado to design, create and install the window pane.

Last week the donor (who prefers to be anonymous), his wife, sons and I had the opportunity to view the Memorial pane in the Chapel.  It is beautiful.  I love the fact that the window pane includes the crest of each of the units within the Brigade.  It is, without a doubt, a beautiful addition to the Chapel as well as a timeless memorial to the Fallen Heroes of 4th BCT, 4th ID.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

KUDOS and a Big Thank You to Delta Air Lines & TSA Personnel

If you've read my blog post Honor and Emotion you know about an incredibly special framed flag and certificate presentation I was given at Fort Carson this week.  I chose to hand carry it home.

As I was boarding my first flight on a commuter jet the flight attendant immediately noticed I was caring something that might not fit in the overhead.  I had the front turned in towards me to protect the glass.  She asked what I had and I turned it around to show her.  She instructed me to take my seat and that she would come and help me find a safe place for it.  After everyone had boarded she came back and said she had talked to the pilot and he wanted to know if it would be ok to place it in the cockpit for the flight.  I was grateful and touched.

When we landed I waited until last to deplane knowing that, often, the flight deck crew is busy wrapping up the flight and don't come out of the cockpit right away.  As I approached the front of the aircraft the Captain was holding precious cargo.  They had read the certificate.  He thanked me and I, briefly, told him the story about so many wonderful Americans coming together for the Soldiers.

In Minneapolis I entered the airport via the security check point between concourses F and G.  When I got to the check point I started putting tubs on the conveyor.  I very carefully placed the framed presentation in one of the tubs as I had at security for the first flight.  One of the TSA representatives saw the presentation and came over.  He told me I didn't have to put it through the belt and asked if I minded if he hand carried it around to the other side of the check point.  Again, I was grateful and touched.

When I got through to the other side several of the TSA representatives were looking at the presentation.  I loaded my laptop back in the bag, put my shoes on, got my cell phone and walked to the end of the belt.  One of the men approached me and asked if I minded if they "escorted" me to my gate and carried the flag presentation for me.  I certainly didn't need or deserve an escort but the precious cargo deserved it and I was touched by their offer and kindness.

As we walked to the gate I, once again, had the opportunity to share the story of all of the great Americans who came together so quickly and so selflessly.  And I was also able to remind him about the 8 Heroes who gave their lives that day and to talk about the valor of survivors.

When we got to the gate the TSA representative took me up to the podium and explained what I was carrying.  He asked them to assist me in making sure that the item was stored in a safe place.  I thanked him profusely and we parted ways.  I didn't even think to get his name and regret that tremendously.  I was just so surprised at the kindness being shown that I didn't stop to think.

When we boarded the flight home the flight crew approached me and asked if they could store the presentation for me.  I handed it off to them and watched as two flight attendants VERY carefully stowed it in a forward closet.  I slept most of the flight with no worry of it being safe and secure. 

Once again when we landed I waited for everyone to deplane.  I moved forward to exit the plane and one of the flight attendants came forward to carefully help me retrieve the presentation.  Once more I was able to share the stories behind it.

So now "we" are home.  Quite a journey.  I'm thankful for the opportunities to share the story that so many are a part of.  Not one day goes by that I don't think about the HEROES of COP Keating, the valor of the survivors and the love and kindness of America.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Honor and Emotion

Earlier today 4th BCT, 4th ID, 3-61 CAV, B Troop held a formation and invited me to attend.  I thought it was just an opportunity for me to get to meet many of the Soldiers I hadn't in the past 48 hours.  Very quickly I learned it was more than that.

CPT Stoney Portis and 1SG Ron Burton, along with the men of B Troop, presented me with a gift that is so incredible and touching words can't do it justice (photo below).  Being presented an American flag that has flown over our men and women on foreign soil who are there to protect our freedom is ALWAYS an emotional moment for me.  Today, I confess, I became so overwhelmed with emotion that I couldn't talk.  I had to take a minute to compose myself.  I think when you read the following excerpt from the certificate you will understand why.

The certificate reads, in part:


Commander, B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment

This flag was carried by Cavalry Scounts of B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment during Operation Mountain Overwatch along the Saw River Valley in Kunar Province, Afghanistan from 18 to 19 April 2010.  This flag changed hands from dismounted cavalry scouts to infantrymen, traveled by way of CH-47 Chinook Helicopter over Jalalabad and in a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All Terrain Vehicle (MATV) through the Kunar River Valley.  It moved in formations alongside the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police, as well as with Soldiers from the Army of the Republic of Latvia.  The mission was accomplished and the operation was a success.

May we always remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, allowing us to continue to fly the Star Spangled Banner.  Killed in action on 03 October 2009 at Combat Outpost Keating:

Staff Sergeant Vernon W. Martin
Sergeant Justin T. Gallegos
Sergeant Joshua M. Hardt
Sergeant Joshua J. Kirk
Specialist Christopher T. Griffin
Specialist Stephan L. Mace
Specialist Michael P. Scusa
Private First Class Kevin C. Thomson

It is signed by:

Ronald T. Burton                                                      Stoney L. Portis
First Sergeant                                                          Captain, Armor
U. S. Army                                                              Commanding

The photo in the presentation was taken just after the men at COP Keating were evacuated back to FOB Bostick.  I was told that there are helicopter pilots in the photo as well - pilots whose ships were hit numerous times on their first endeavors into COP Keating.  But the pilots never gave up and finally made it in to both resupply and to evacuate.

The B Troop, 3-61 CAV scouts purposefully carried this flag and at least one other (which was presented to Bob Connolly) along with all of their regular gear throughout this incredible journey.  As CPT Portis read the certificate and I listened to him read where this flag had gone and how it got there I found myself leaning on 1SG Burton.  AND, I found myself remembering the hundreds of Americans who answered the call so quickly to resupply the survivors of COP Keating with personal gear.  I may have the privilege of being in possession of this incredible honor but it belongs to ALL of you who answered that call back in October 2009.  When I finally pulled myself together I told the Troops the story of how, in less than 2 days, all of you flooded my email box wanting to know how you could help.

I was proud to accept this on behalf of all of you who came together for the Black Kights and I have never been more proud to be an Americann and to have the privilege of supporting our troops and their families.  May we ALWAYS remember those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

CPT & Mrs. Portis ROCK! Or....I can be "bought" with Scotch

Having a great time in Colorado Springs with 4th BDE, 4th ID and 3-61 CAV.  Went to dinner tonight with 3-61 CAV Commander & his wife, LTC & Mrs. Brown as well as the CPT & Mrs. Portis.

CPT & Mrs. Portis

CPT Portis is officially in the running for my FAVORITE Soldier of the year cuz they brought me this:

Thank you SO much for your incredibly kind gesture.

Hey Bob Connolly - having a grand time.  Wish you were here!  :)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Look Who I'm Having Lunch With On Thursday

Now don't be too envious!  I've been waiting to meet this little lady for MONTHS!

Ophelia IV

Since she was this little and cute as a button:

Ophelia IV

Awwwwwwwwwwwww!  Isn't she just the sweetest thing EVER?

And she has two of the best big brothers, Zephan and Bannon:

Zephan, Ophelia IV and Bannon

But the boys aren't coming to lunch.  Just wouldn't be as much fun ya know.

We (Ophelia and I) are inviting her dad, Al, to join us since she can't really drive.  Al is a volunteer puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence.  He has his own blog here

Can't wait 'til Thursday.  I'll post pictures.