Sunday, June 20, 2010

RESTREPO Special Screenings & General Release Information and Dates


National Geographic Entertainment ACQUIRES AWARD-WINNING 'RESTREPO' FOR U.S. THEATRICAL DISTRIBUTION.  (Excellent information at the link)

From May 2007 to July 2008, Hetherington and Junger dug in with a platoon of men from Battle Company, the Second Platoon of the 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based at Restrepo. Named in honor of the platoon's medic, PFC Juan "Doc" Restrepo, who was killed in action, "Outpost Restrepo" had no running water, no Internet, no phone communication, often no electricity or heat, and it was attacked as many as five or six times a day.

Hetherington and Junger ate what the soldiers ate, slept where they slept, went on every patrol and by the end had been completely accepted into the platoon. Their cameras never left the Korengal Valley as they shot 150 hours of combat, frustration, routine, jokes, terror and bravery during daily life at the outpost until the men themselves were finally shipped out. The two journalists went on to conduct in-depth interviews with the platoon members back at their home base in Italy.

Second Platoon's 15-month tour of duty also serves as the basis for a new book by Junger called "War," which will be published in May 2010 by Twelve, a division of the Hachette Book Group

WINNER of Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival

WINNER of the Golden Rock for Best Documentary Feature Film at the 2010 Little Rock Film Festival

From the 2010 Sundance Film Festival  - Accepting the Grand Jury Prize: Documentary for Restrepo, veteran journalists and first-time filmmakers Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington honored both their immediate subjects – the soldiers they filmed in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley – and others who’ve fought overseas. "I’d like to dedicate the prize to the Restrepo generation," Hetherington said, "and to the hundreds of thousands of men and women who come back after serving this country and are invisible."

REVIEWS - Click on individual links for entire review

The New York Times - “Restrepo” avoids the conventions of documentary film: there is no back story, no drive-bys with experts for context, no underlying ideology or obvious message. The viewer is dropped into war, with a hard jolt, and resides, along with 15 soldiers from Second Platoon of Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, in a remote and raw outpost called Restrepo, so named after one member of the platoon who is killed early in their rotation - The end result of Junger and Hetherington's approach is a film about all wars--a film that transcends Outpost Restrepo as it puts you in the boots of these soldiers who spent every day, for 15 months, trying not to do anything to get one of their brothers killed as they counted the days remaining before they could go home.

Courtney Keating (16 years old) - Restrepo beautifully shows the unbreakable bond that these men form. They behave like a family, love each other like a family. And the bitter reality when a family member dies is not overlooked - remorse and pain is not avoided; emotions are not hidden. This is real, and this is what our soldiers go through. In addition to fighting and mourning with each other, the guys, well....had their moments. They made immature, inappropriate, and ridiculous jokes. They did unbelievably silly things, and it's hilarious. In what's considered the deadliest valley in Afghanistan, the spirit they had is uplifting. The film captures it all. From grief to joy, it captures it all.

Red Bull Rising - About 90 minutes later, even the combat veterans among us called the film "eye-opening."
Said one staff sergeant: "I wish I'd had something like that to show my soldiers before we left for Iraq." An Afghan-theater veteran observed how well the documentary depicted the mountainous terrain as an ever-present enemy. Another commented: "It's a good reminder that this uniform gets dirty ... and sometimes bloody."

The Kitchen Dispatch - From Surgeon's Wife to Army Surgeon's Wife - The movie ended, but I couldn't move. Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington had just taken the mantle from Ken Burns as documentary makers extraordinaire with Restrepo. This war documentary is a gripping chronicle of the lives of a platoon through some of the heaviest fighting in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan.

This is what Restrepo does so very well. Hetherington and Junger aren't afraid of the human condition through tough and dangerous times, through this the viewer witnesses the weaving of bonds between men who are very different from one another. This bond, strengthened by a commitment to survival is everlasting and sacred. It's something outsiders have a difficult time understanding, but Restrepo conveys it with love and honor.

Film Journal International - Shot in and around an Army outpost in the Korengal Valley, Restrepo offers an unprecedented look at soldiers on the front lines in Afghanistan. The battle footage is raw and terrifying in ways rarely seen in documentaries before. By avoiding overt political statements, the filmmakers aim for a broad theatrical audience rather than one that has already chosen sides. Restrepo, which will eventually be broadcast on cable, isn't for or against the war in Afghanistan. But it does make clear that waging this war is difficult, if not futile.

Stewart Nusbaumer for the Huffington Post - This documentary has everything -- fire fights, silence, drag-butt humping up and down mountains, intense camaraderie, crushing boredom, near paralyzing fear, horsing around in the all male environment, anguish, and of course death. All delivered to you right in your face.

If you are against the war in Afghanistan, this film will not make you for the war. If you are for the war, this movie will not turn you against the war. But what it will do is bring you closer to the reality of war in Afghanistan , and closer to those fighting that war.

OP Restrepo - Photo by Tim Hetherington

Information about "Sneak Peaks", general release dates and locations and "how to get Restrepo to your town" below the jump. (Click on Read More)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Feelin' the Love From the 2-503 Chosen Few Down Range

A few weeks ago I asked one of the 2-503 Chosen Co men I am supporting to "put my name on one of those rounds"  A couple of mornings ago I woke up to find the following picture on my Facebook wall:

The Soldier pictured is from the 173rd, 2-503 Chosen Company aka the "Chosen Few" aka the "Punishers" currently deployed in Afghanistan.

Written on the grenade is "LETA sends her regards f**ker"  (The last word is actually spelled out).

For those of you who are serving, have served or have a family member or close friend serving you can probably imagine how touched and honored I was by this incredible photo.  Jim Hanson, retired Special Forces, saw the picture and thought it was so insanely cool he wrote about it on Blackfive.

Several of "the Bella Moms", who are friends of mine, LOVED the picture and wanted to send their "regards" to the enemy, too.  The Bella Moms are a group of moms whose son's served in OEF VIII with the 2-503 Chosen Few.  Several of their sons were Wounded in Action, others, very sadly, were Killed in Action.  At least one of the sons is back in Afghanistan for this deployment.  So the same Soldier who sent me "my" photo arranged for one for them, too:

The caption for this photo is, "Shrapnel- The Bella Mommas want YOU!!!...dedicated to the Wives, Mothers, Sisters and Supporters of the Chosen Few's Fallen..."

I am forever grateful for the men and women of this nation who choose to serve our country and do so in such a difficult circumstances and, sadly, without the support from many back here that they deserve.  I am also grateful for their families who sacrifice so much and to those whose loved ones gave their lives doing what they believed was right - to defend our nation.

It should be no secret to those who know me or who read this blog that I do what I can, along with many great Americans, to let these men and women know we DO care about them and appreciate them so much.  And it should also be no secret that the Paratroopers of the 173rd, 2-503rd are incredibly special to me.

Vega - YOU ROCK!  Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

RESTREPO Screening at the Little Rock Film Festival with SGT Misha Pemble-Belkin & COL Bill Ostlund

...AND THE WINNER OF GOLDEN ROCK (Yes ROCK Paratroopers, that's actually the name of the award) FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY AT THE LITTLE ROCK FILM FESTIVAL IS....

One of the Little Rock Film Festival's Founders, Craig Renaud and COL Bill Ostlund (OEF VIII Commander of 173rd, 2-503 "The ROCK") look on as SGT Misha Pemble-Belkin, who was featured in the film, accepts the Golden Rock award for Best Documentary

When I got an email from my friend Kanani telling me that Restrepo was going to be screened at the Little Rock Film Festival I knew it was my best opportunity to see the film.  So I made plans to drive to Little Rock for the screening.  Kanani had access to a small block of complimentary tickets thanks to Laura and National Geographic's film/documentary division and was kind enough to give me one.  Also attending the screening were COL Bill Ostlund, his wife, mom, brother, sister in law and a handful of family friends.

Prior to the screening it was announced that "a Soldier" was present in the audience and would be available for Q and A immediately following the presentation.  SGT Misha Pemble-Belkin and his wife, Amanda, had traveled to Little Rock for the Friday afternoon screening and SGT Pemble-Belkin had participated in the Q and A after that showing.  He and Amanda were invited to stay the weekend by the festival organizers who treated them like royalty.  I appreciate the organizers for doing that.  It means SO much!  But the "Soldier" they were referring to for the Sunday Q and A was COL Bill Ostlund who was the Battalion Commander of the 173rd, 2-503 which included Battle Co, 2nd Platoon featured in Restrepo.

Ostlund family and friends awaiting the screen of Restrepo

COL Ostlund doing the Q and A following the screening on Sunday. 

We were all invited to attend the Gala hosted on Sunday night (the last night of the Film Festival).  I didn't feel at all properly dressed for the occassion but wouldn't have missed it for ANYTHING.  It was held at the Clinton Presidential Library on the bank of the Arkansas River in Little Rock.  The room was incredibly well decorated and the hors d'oeuvres were scrumptious!  We had a bit of a laugh at one point because during the film there was an interview with Misha (SGT Pemble-Belkin) and he commented that he wasn't allowed to eat sugar until he was a teenager.  When asked "why?" he replied, "because my mom is a hippie."  It was hilarious.  So there we were enjoying the food, drinking wine and beer and Heather noticed Misha had a nice array of mini cheesecakes on his plate.  We figured he was just making up for lost time.  It certainly provided a another laugh.

At the Gala after the screening

Misha and Amanda at the Gala.  They are a lovely couple in every possible way.  It was more than a pleasure to meet them and share this day/night with them.  I'm not sure a better representative of 2nd Platoon, Battle Company, 2-503, the 173rd or the Army could have been selected.  He was poised, professional, engaging and humble.

Members of the Film Festival staff, local and state dignitaries made a few speeches.  I'm absolutely AMAZED this is only the fourth year of this festival.  It ran seamlessly, professionally and as if it had a much longer history than four years.  KUDOS to the founders, volunteers, participants and attendees.

The process of handing out awards began.  I had never attended a film festival so it didn't cross my mind that Restrepo might win an award. They began handing out scholarships to high school students who had films in the festival.  They handed out an award for a film in the category made in Arkansas (again, sorry for not taking notes).  When they began announcing the nominees for Best Documentary "Restrepo" was the first nominee.  NOW they had my attention.  When "Restrepo" was announced as the winner and Misha and COL Ostlund were asked to come forward to accept the Golden Rock award everyone at our table jumped up yelling, screaming, clapping and carrying on like crazy.  WOW!  WOW!  WOW!

COL Ostlund motioned for Misha to go ahead of him.  As they got to the front of the room the festival staff handed the award to Misha.  He was smiling from ear to ear!  It was a great moment.  I'm so glad he and Amanda were there.
SGT Pemble-Belkin with the Golden Rock award for Best Documentary and COL Ostlund receiving congratulations from one of the festival founders

COL Ostlund stepped back to let Misha accept the award. I was so busy trying to take a decent picture (among all of the professional photographers) that I have no idea what he said. Sorry.

SGT Pemble-Belkin accepting the award on behalf of 2nd Platoon, Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington

Then the staff asked COL Ostlund to say a few remarks.  Again I have no idea what he said.  I was too excited and too focused on trying to take a decent photo of the moment with my dime store camera.
UPDATE:  I just received information about what COL Ostlund said during his remarks:

"No one can say it better than a Soldier, an American Paratrooper. As I look out across this eclectic group I'm reminded how many seek to identify a rift between the military and Hollywood-types. But in fact it is men like Misha that readily ensure the freedoms that allow for expression and the ability to tell our collective stories. I can assure you we, in the military, respect those who accept and share risk to tell our story. Thanks for all you do - God Bless America."

COL Ostlund making remarks

Standing ovation as SGT Pemble-Belkin and COL Ostlund return to their seats with the award

As Misha and COL Ostlund returned to our table with the award they received a standing ovation.  A LOUD and LONG one.  People were shaking their hands, thanking them for their service and congratulating them as they worked their way through the crowd.  I cannot tell you how happy I was to be there.  I kept thinking about so many others I wish who could have been there too.  Many who are deployed back to Afghanistan.  Others who we continue to remember and honor - who gave their lives in service to our nation.  So bittersweet.
I hope Sebastian and Tim know where to find Misha because we are convinced he is NOT going to share this with them.  Couldn't pry it out of his hands! Rightly so.

See?  He's still holding it.  (I love this shot!  Wonder who/what he's thinking.  I have a little bit of an idea.)

SGT Pemble-Belkin and COL Ostlund

Film festival founders, SGT Pemble-Beklin and COL Ostlund (sorry about the lighting)

I was fortunate to meet Carol Dysinger the director of Camp Victory Afghanistan.  When I first saw the name of her film I was confused because I thought Camp Victory was in Iraq.  Turns out there is a Camp Victory in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  The one in Afghansitan is an Afghan Army Camp.  Unfortunately her film was screened on Friday and Saturday so I didn't get the opportunity to view it and I regret that.

Finally please go check out the work the Renaud brothers have done with respect to military related films.  They are two of the four founders of the Little Rock Film Festival.

A MILLION thank yous to Sebastian and Tim for the film, to the Little Rock Film Festival for screening it and being so hospitable, to Kanani for the ticket and to all of the ROCK Paratroopers and their families.

Monday, June 7, 2010

173rd Airborne Brigade Dedicates Memorial To Their Fallen at Patriot Park, Fort Benning, GA

1 June 2010 was a typical hot, humid summer day at Fort Benning, GA but it didn't deter hundreds (no idea of actual attendance numbers but estimated at 2,000) of Paratroopers, family and friends from the 173rd ABCT past and present from attending the dedication of the 173rd Airborne Memorial at Patriot Park adjacent to the National Infantry Museum just outside the gates of Fort Benning, GA.

As we walked through the alley of flags towards Patriot Park

It was touching to see the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall on display next to the National Infantry Musuem.  I imagine there were some Vietnam Veterans who had come to the 173rd Memorial dedication who may never had had the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC to visit the permanent Memorial Wall and to pay their respects.

I recalled the first time I visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC.  It was on a very cold and snowy night.  The sky was clear and the moon was full and bright in the night sky.  As I approached the wall in the darkness the moon was reflecting on it and seemed to set it aglow.  It was incredibly moving and took my breath away.  Visiting the Vietnam Memorial in DC or even one of the traveling Memorial Walls is, in itself, moving.  Yet seeing the cans of beer, flowers, flags, unit patches, medals, flags, stuffed animals, combat boots, photos, notes and memorabilia of all sorts left by the living for their fallen brothers in arms is indescribable.  There is, obviously, a personal story behind each item left. I often wonder what many of those stories are.  The Pentagon Channel has a video here that shows momentoes and tells about how they are ALL (except for perishable items) collected each day, cataloged and kept forever.

I was grateful the traveling wall was at the National Infantry Museum to give us the opportunity to pay our respects.

The crowd continued to filter in passed the National Infantry Musuem:

The color guard comprised of Soldiers from the US, Australia and New Zealand marched across the parade field to present the colors.  From the National Infantry Museum website:
"Soil collected from eight wars in Infantry history was sprinkled across the field by heroes of those wars or their descendants, accompanied by present day soldiers in period uniforms. Among the soil spreaders were descendants of Alexander Hamilton, Theodore Roosevelt and Alvin York, as well as Lieutenant General Hal Moore and Command Sergeant Basil Plumley, who led an historic assault on the Viet Cong at Landing Zone X-Ray. Each new soldier passing in review during graduation ceremonies from this date forward will march across the sacred soil, a tangible connection to the legacy they have just joined.

Color Guard

The band played the national anthems of New Zealand, Australia and the United States of America:

Prior to the dedication of the 173rd Memorial MG (R) Jerry White, President of the National Infantry Museum, revealed the plans for the "Walk of Honor".  I didn't take notes (wish I had) and I couldn't find any specific information on the web site but when completed the "Walk of Honor" will allow visitors to the National Infantry Museum and Patriot Park to follow the pathway past over 60 Memorials and exhibits.  A jump tower will be erected in close proximity to the 173rd Memorial.

Plans for the "Walk of Honor"

After MG (R) Jerry White's remarks and unveiling of the plans for the "Walk of Honor" there was a transition into the dedication of the 173rd ABCT Memorial.  Weather, unfortunately, prevented a jump by the "Silver Wings" and a Sky Soldier Flyover.  As hot and humid as it was thankfully the rains stayed away during the ceremonies.

BG James Yarbrough began the remarks dedicating the Memorial.  Almost 10 years ago to the day he was the Brigade Commander who reactivated the 173rd ABCT in Vicenza, Italy.  He told several stories about the events surrounding the reactivation and he invited all of the former paratroopers for "one more jump."    I'm convinced some of the Vietnam Veterans were absolutely ready to line up for that.  His remarks about the history of the Brigade were insightful and uplifting.  His remembrance of those who have given their lives in action was incredibly meaningful and honorable.

Brigadier General James Yarbrough, former Commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade (2000-2002)

After BG Yarbrough's remarks, CSM Nicholas Rolling (CSM of the 173rd ABCT in Afghansitan made remarks).  Sorry I didn't get a photo.

Next to address the crows was MG John G. Caligari of the Australian Army.  (Again, apologies for no photo)  Many aren't aware that the Aussies and Kiwis served side-by-side with the Sky Soldiers in Vietnam.  The names of the KIAs from both of those nations are enscribed on the 173rd Memorial.  The bond between the three Armies is a strong one with friendships that continue even now.

MG John G. Caligari, Head, Modernization & Strategic Plans, Army, representing the Chief of the Army (Australia)

After MG Caliagar's address BG A. D Gawn of the New Zealand Army spoke.  He began and ended his remarks in Maori.  Once again I wish I had been taking notes to be able to tell you all what he said and his translation.  It was very moving though.

COL (R) Ken Smith, 173rd Natioanl Memorial Foundation, closed the remarks.  COL Smith along with dozens of others have spent tireless days, weeks, months and years working with the National Infantry Museaum, Architects, Contractors, etc. to make the Memorial a reality.  I applaud him and all who have done so much.  The Memorial is breathtaking.  The site is perfect.  The ceremony could not have been more honorable and perfect.

Everyone was invited to move to the Memorial for the wreath laying part of the ceremony.  Along with representatives of the 173rd and Gold Star families the Australians and New Zealanders laid a wreath as well.

Crowd moving from bleachers to Memorial Monument

Crowd moving to Monument


Red Poppy Wreath from the Australians and New Zealanders

Awaiting time for the three volleys

Firing of the Three Volleys

The Buglar (very inconspicuous standing under the tree)

Helicopter Fly Over

Helicopter Fly Over

Helicopter Fly Over

Retiring of the Colors

I am thankful for the opportunity to attend the Memorial dedication and to sit with one of the Gold Star families.  It was an emotional day but one that brought so much honor on the fallen. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

173rd, 2-503 Bravo Bulls (Vietnam 1965-66) Memorial Punch Bowl Ceremony

The Memorial Punch Bowl and Cups.  One cup for each "B" Company (Bravo = Vietnam, Battle = Iraq and Afghanistan) Hero who was Killed in Action and one for each surviving member of the Bravo Bulls.

As if the day hadn't been special enough I was invited to attend a dinner and Memorial Punch Bowl Ceremony with the Bravo Bulls.  Earlier in the day I had attended their Memorial wreath laying ceremonies at the Ranger Memorial and Airborne Walk.  After the first two events I dashed back to my hotel room to freshen up.  The wreath laying ceremonies were held in the morning but the hot Georgia sun coupled with the humidity were already pretty fierce.  I swung by to pick up COL Ostlund and off to the National Infantry Museum we went.

The National Infantry Museum

The National Infantry Museum, Patriot Park and the 173rd Memorial are a must see!

Bravo Bulls and wives

Bravo Bulls and wives

Bravo Bulls and wives

Bravo Bulls and wives

Bravo Bulls and wives

Cheryl, Terry, Daniela, Stan and Becky Blaskowski - Gold Star parents, widow, brother and sister in law of SFC Matthew Blaskowski, KIA Afghanistan 23 Sept 2007

Carol and LTC Roy Lombardo (Vietnam) and COL Bill Ostlund (2-503 Commander OEF VIII)

BG James Yarbrough, Former Commander of 173rd Airborne Brigade (2000-2002) and COL Bill Ostlund Deputy Commander 75th Ranger Regiment

As we were eating dinner COL Ostlund, who had been with us earlier but had to leave for the 173rd Memorial dinner, came into the room with a gentlemen.  LTC Lombardo went forward to greet them then introduced to us Brigadier General James Yarbrough.  BG Yarbrough was the Commander of the 173rd ABCT when it was reactivated in Vicenza, Italy in 2000.  He commented that it was almost 10 years to the day that the Brigade was reactivated in Italy.  He shared several stories with us about the events surrounding the day of the official ceremonies.

One story he shared was that on the day they uncased the colors and attached all of the ribbons there was a point when Major General Ellis Williamson (you really should go to that link and read about MG Williamson) was to pass the colors to BG Yarbrough but didn't seem to want to let go of them.  BG Yarbrough said he told MG Williamson that he would make sure that the history and the traditions of the Sky Soldiers were maintained.  It was only then that MG Ellis relinquished his grip on the colors.  (You can read a prior post of mine regarding MG Williamson here.

Another story BG Yarbrough told was about the day they were to jump the colors into Italy at Aviano airfield about an hour or so from Vicenza.  It was a stormy day.  Windy.  Rainy.  Low ceiling.  Everyone was geared up and ready to board the Air Force jets for the jump.  The Air Force personnel kept checking the weather data and it remained sketchy at best.  BG Yarbrough and his Paratroopers were determined to jump those colors in.  They loaded up and took off with the intent of flying out some distance in hopes the storm would pass the field and allow them acceptable weather for the jump.  (I apologize for my lack of specific details.  BG Yarbrough certainly told the story much better than I am).  Anyway, not long after they took off the ground personnel reported and opening in the weather and almost calm winds.  Apparently the Air Force personnel were skeptical that they could turn all of the jets around in such close proximity to the jump zone.  But they did.  The paratroopers jumped the colors in and all hell broke loose with the weather again.

It was quite a treat to have BG Yarbrough stop by to say hello and relate his stories to those of us at the dinner.
BG Yarbrough, COL Ostlund, LTC Lombardo (Former 173rd Brigade Commander, Battalion Commander and "B" Company Commander)

As a "sidebar" the following photo was taken in Vicenza, Italy in September 2008 at a Welcome Home party for the 2-503 after their deployment in OEF VIII.  LTC Lombardo flew to Italy to present the punch bowl shown below to then LTC Ostlund.  The punch bowl was owned by MG Ellis "Butch" Williamson and his wife.  Their daughter Nan asked LTC Lombardo to take it to Italy and present it to the ROCK.  Quite by coincidence the welcome home party and LTC Lombardo's trip were in the same window of time.  Definitely a "meant to be" moment.

After dinner LTC Lombardo approached the Bravo Bull's Memorial punch bowl.  With the assistance of one of the Bravo bulls he began to make the punch:

From each of three vials he added to the punch bowl soil from Landing zone Zulu, Zulu in Vietnam, soil from Iraq (location unknown) and soil from Afghanistan

He then added one bottle of cold beer - the designated beverage of the Paratrooper he said

Next he added a bottle of vodka.   This, he said, was the designated beverage of the NCOs

A bottle of Brandy was added to symbolize the affiliation between our Army and other affiliated Armies such as the Australians, New Zealanders, the Iraqi forces that have been stood up and the ongoing work to stand up the Afghan Army.

Three bottles of champagne were added.  One to symbolize WWII, one for Vietnam and one for the service of the 173rd Paratroopers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.

Finally he added a bottle of red wine to symbolize the blood shed by the Sky Soldiers.

The turning over of the cups of those who were KIA and whose cups will never be used in honor of their memory

After the punch was made LTC Lombardo begain to read the list of names of all "B" Company (Bravo and Battle) who have been Killed in Action.  As each name was read one of the Bravo Bulls would come forward and turn that cup over symbolizing that no one would ever drink from it since the man (whose name is engraved on the cup) will never be there to use the cup.

Incredibly moving.

LTC Lombardo pouring the punch for each Bravo Bull in attendance.

After all of the names were read for those KIA in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistand LTC Lombardo then read the names of all of the Bravo Bulls in attendance and announced that it is the largest group of Bravo Bulls to be together in many years.

LTC Lombardo giving a cup of punch to the Bravo Bull we had accidentally "found" just after the Memorial ceremony at the Airborne Walk earlier today

The toast by the Bravo Bulls to the fallen "B" Company Paratroopers

Once each of the man had their cup of punch they toasted the fallen "B" Company brothers and drank to their memory.

The Blaskowskis

After the formal toasting was complete they graciously (and I think for the first time) invited the wives and the rest of us to join them by bringing our glasses forward for punch.  They proposed a toast to their wives and family members.  The Blaskowskis and I had our own toast for Matt.

Here's to you Matt.  We miss you like hell!

Cheryl Blaskowski and me toasting the fallen including SFC Matthew Blaskowski and SGT Joshua Brennan and well as all Sky Soldiers from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan

I have said it before and I will say it over and over again, I have been blessed and am incredibly fortunate for the opportunities I have had to participate in remembering, honoring and supporting the Sky Soldiers.  I am forever grateful to LTC Lombardo for including me in the events this Memorial Day weekend and on Veterans Day at Arlington in years passed.  I am also indebted to COL Bill Ostlund for allowing me to support his Paratroopers forward as well as the wounded.  Above all I am thankful, grateful and honored beyone words for the Gold Star families such as the Blaskowskis and Brennans for allowing me to be a part of their lives.  I love you all.

In the next few days I will write my final post about the weekend at Fort Benning.  On Tuesday 1 June I was present for the dedication of the 173rd Memorial.  Another exceptional day and memory.