Thursday, September 30, 2010

Warrant Officer 1 (WO1) William "Billy" McCotter Needs Large Amounts of Spiritual Warfare Folks

I received a call from Fort Rucker today with some news that kicked me in the gut.  I don't know WO1 McCotter but the Soldier who called me does.  Billy is a stand up guy and REALLY needs our prayers right now.  Turn it on and turn it up folks!

From his sister's blog Flying High and Fighting Hard

Billy is my brother. He's 25. A newly-awarded black hawk pilot in the army. He just finished flight school in Alabama, and is on leave until mid-October, when he is supposed to report to Hawaii. He's been visiting friends, and had plans to stop and see several of you. As we all know, sometimes life doesn't go according to plans.

There are many details in this story. I will give the basics now, and share more in future posts.

Billy (or Cooter, as many of you know him), just spent the past weekend in the Florida Keys with friends. He was losing his appetite, and his stomach was hurting more and more.

Tyler and Melissa Haines went with him to the ER on Monday. They found lots of fluid in his abdomen, some sort of mass, and a bunch of "nodules." He had a CAT scan on Monday. They drained 2 liters of fluid from his abdomen on Tuesday, and did another CAT scan. They say a bunch of masses in the CAT scan, but weren't sure what all that meant because of the fluid. On Wednesday, they did an endoscopy. During all this time, he was on pain meds, and the frequency started increasing. But the pain meds are harsh, and they made him throw up. He's been throwing up since Monday night.

Billy was diagnosed with poorly differentiated gastric adenocarcinoma on Thursday morning. In basic terms, that means stomach cancer. It's in stage IV (highly advanced). The doctors say it's incurable and inoperable. It's too big and too far spread to get it out.

There are also two facebook pages set up to encourage and support Billy and his family. 

Praying for Billy

Will's Hope 2010

And, again, his sister's blog.

Mike Brennan Speaks About His Son SGT Josh Brennan & Medal Of Honor Recipient SSG Sal Giunta

I've written about SGT Joshua Brennan on several occasions on my old blog.  Here is one story.  I've mentioned what a wonderful father, Mike, his step mom and sisters in Wisconsin are.  I've never met his mother, Janice, or his step father and siblings in Oregon but Josh's dad, Mike, speaks of them often and fondly.  Mike Brennan is an amazing man.  I am fortunate to call him my friend.

Over the past three years I have gotten to know Mike and his extended family well.  We all traveled to Italy in September 2008 not long after the 173rd returned from their 15 month deployment to Afghanistan in OEF VIII.  It was during that deployment that Josh was mortally wounded by the Taliban in an ambush on 25 October 2007 and succumbed to his wounds hours later on 26 October 2007.  We all had many reasons for traveling to Italy.  One of Mike's reasons was to be able to meet many of Josh's battle buddies who were with him that fateful day and to find out "first hand" what happened.  He just wanted and needed to know everything possible.  I am so grateful to Josh's battle buddies and friends for all they have shared with Mike and his family and for becoming such an integral part of their lives. 

Mike and I talk often.  His is always open, honest and candid.  The sorrow never goes away.  Mike inspires me by the way he (and the whole family) choose to honor Josh's life and memory.  Mike never talks about the day Josh was wounded without reminding anyone that SPC Hugo "Doc" Mendoza also gave his life in service to our nation during that ambush during Operation Rock Avalanche.  

One fact goes without question - Josh's family and friends are grateful to all the men of Josh's platoon for what they did that day to save Josh from the enemy and to keep each other safe.  There are many stories of Valor.  The most poignant story of that day is that of SSG Sal Giunta who ran through enemy fire thinking he was going forward to assist SGT Brennan only to find out that Josh had been shot multiple times and was being dragged away by the enemy.  Among many acts of Valor SSG Giunta killed one of the enemy while the other ran away.  SSG Giunta then pulled Josh to the safety of other men of the Platoon.  If not for the actions of SSG Giunta that day one can only speculate whether Josh's family would have ever had him home so they could say good bye.

I've heard SSG Giunta say he doesn't think he's a hero - that if he's a hero then every man with him that day was, too.  I respect that.  I've heard some specifics of what happened that day from Mike Brennan, parents of another Soldier, SGT Frank Eckrode, Jr. who was there, was shot twice and is deployed to Afghanistan again.  We've also heard stories from that day recounted by other members of Battle Co, 2-503.  As a civilian I don't feel heroic is close enough to what those men did that day.  I am grateful for each of them and for Congress making the right decision in awarding the Medal of Honor to SSG Giunta.

The following article was published today.  Take a few minutes to read it.  I think you will be touched by the positive spirit in Mike Brennan. A spirit Josh's whole family seems to embrace even when they miss him so much.

From JSOnline - Milwaukee

Dead soldier's family ready to honor rescuer who did his best
Medal of Honor recipient saved soldier from enemy, but soldier died later

By Meg Jones of the Journal Sentinel

Sept. 30, 2010

McFarland - Mike Brennan wears his son's dog tags around his neck.

He wears the St. Christopher medal he gave his son to keep him safe in battle. He sometimes wears his son's T-shirts. Every morning he shaves with his son's shaving gear. On his wrist he wears a bracelet inscribed with his son's name.

It's not exactly a conscious effort to keep his son Josh close, it's just something Mike Brennan does.

And, of course, he thinks about his oldest child every day.

Sgt. Josh Brennan, 22, was mortally wounded in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley three years ago in a firefight so fierce some of his fellow paratroopers in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team would earn Silver Stars and one would eventually earn the military's highest honor - the Medal of Honor.

When Josh Brennan's family heard Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, 24, of Iowa was named the first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War, they felt honored and proud. Giunta tried to save Josh Brennan's life, and in fact, rescued him from Taliban fighters who were trying to drag Brennan away.

Under heavy fire, Giunta emptied his M-4 rifle at the enemy and managed to pull Josh Brennan to safety. But Josh had been severely wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade and small-arms fire, and though he was stabilized and medevaced out of the Korengal Valley, he died several hours later. Also killed in the battle - which happened on the last day of what was called Operation Rock Avalanche - was the unit's medic, Spc. Hugo Mendoza.

"I was thrilled to hear he got it," said Mike Brennan, 47, a Madison police officer who lives in McFarland. "It's not just about him running up there to save Josh. But it's such an honor for all of the people who fought with him."

Giunta is stationed in the unit's home base in Vicenza, Italy, while the unit is deployed in Afghanistan until later this fall. Though no date has been set for Giunta to receive the Medal of Honor at the White House, Mike Brennan and his family hope to be there to congratulate Giunta when the ribbon bearing the Medal of Honor is placed around his neck by the president.

Mike Brennan learned of his son's death in a phone call from Josh's mother in Oregon after the military knocked on her door. The next day, soldiers knocked on his.

"I said 'It's all right. I already know.' He said 'no sir, I have to read this.' The guy was just sobbing. I was comforting him," recalled Mike Brennan, who served in an Army military police unit that guarded Iraqi prisoners during the first Gulf War.

Though Josh Brennan grew up in Oregon with his mother, he spent summers with his father in Wisconsin and attended school in McFarland between the ages of 8 and 10. He ran track and played football at Ontario High School in Oregon and enjoyed water skiing, tubing and wake-boarding on Lake Monona. He was seldom without an iPod filled with rock and country music. In his free time he watched DVDs on his laptop. Before he left to join the 82nd Airborne Division, (Blogger's note:  SGT Brennan never served in the 82nd.  He joined the 173rd) he and his dad watched the "Band of Brothers" series about World War II paratroopers.

Josh was five months into his second tour of Afghanistan when he was killed. He earned three Bronze Stars, including one for valor, and two Purple Hearts.

When Josh's possessions were returned to his family after his death in September 2007, they were surprised to see he had kept a journal. Among the words Josh scribbled in the small notebook were these: "I don't think I will be on this earth very long."

"I was shocked to see that and to see that it was something he thought about," said his father. "Things like that, he never really discussed with me."

Members of Josh Brennan's family traveled to Italy in 2008 to visit soldiers in his unit. The Brennans and family members of other soldiers raised money to throw a big party for the unit and even flew some of the unit's injured members undergoing treatment in the United States to Italy for the gathering. When Mike Brennan met his son's comrades, he said, some were initially wary and worried Josh's family might be angry.

"To their surprise, we really accepted Josh's loss. In the biblical sense there's a day to be born and a day to die, and that was Josh's day. It was his destiny," said Mike Brennan.

Also traveling to Italy in 2008 was Mike Brennan's older brother, Terry, and Terry's son Joseph. In a strange twist, Joseph Brennan joined the Army after his cousin's death and was assigned to Josh's unit. Not just the regiment or battalion but the same platoon and squad. He's in Afghanistan now.

Three days before Josh died, a Marine recruiter was in Joseph Brennan's living room in Mequon. Even though he signed up for the Marines, the 2008 Homestead High School graduate changed his mind and joined the Army.

"We didn't want him to do it because we didn't want to go through all of this again in case something happened to him," said his mother, Laurie Brennan. "But eventually he said it was in God's hands."

It wasn't out of a sense of revenge or vengeance, Terry Brennan said of his son's decision. Joseph Brennan joined the military because he was proud of Josh's service and sacrifice. Joseph Brennan, now 19 and recently engaged, flew out of Mitchell International Airport to head to war exactly two years after Josh died. Everyone serving in the company knew he was Josh Brennan's cousin.

Last Christmas in a phone call from Afghanistan, Joseph Brennan mentioned something that shocked his father. 

"Joe said 'Tell Uncle Mike, we got the guy.' I said 'What are you talking about?' " said Terry Brennan.

Though official military sources will not confirm it, Terry Brennan said his son told him the unit had captured a high-value target believed to be the planner of the ambush that killed Josh Brennan and Mendoza.

"If it's true, it's almost full circle for Josh's cousin to get the guy who planned the ambush," Terry Brennan said.

Blog Owner's note:  You can read more about SSG Giunta here at Blackfive, here in Stars and Stripes and here

Take a few minutes, about 30, to watch this video of SSG Giunta and his wife Jenny.  Two incredibly humble Americans.  I can't get the video to embed so click on this link to watch.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Remembering SFC Matthew Blaskowski, KIA 23 September 2007, Firebase Vegas, Kunar Province, Afghanistan

23 September 2010

Dear Matt,

It doesn't seem possible that it has been three years, tomorrow, since I woke up and found this email:


It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that our friend, Matt Blaskowski was killed yesterday during an attack on Firebase Vegas. I truly wish I could have called you with this news, but as you know, communication here is difficult at best.


Every time I think of you those words resonate in my mind and I always wish I could make them go away and that you were still here.  You are thought of and missed by so many every day.

Your mom and dad are doing well. Some days are still difficult to get through. Matt they continue to honor your life and service, as well as those of all of the fallen, in so many ways. They inspire and comfort so many including me. Sometimes when your mom and I talk about you we both get emotional. I try to be strong for her but it's always your mom being there for me. I hope that one day I'll be that strong one. She's amazing Matt. SO strong. So very strong.  There's a little political commotion going on in your hometown over a memorial for the fallen from Afghanistan and Iraq.  Lord help those who are trying to stand in the way.  It's already been approved and everything but now someone has questioned where it is slotted to be built.  I sure as heck wouldn't want to be in your parents "line of fire" over that one.  I've no doubts they'll prevail and it will be built where it should be - right there in the middle of town.

Your mom and dad still hear from a lot of your battle buddies and that means so much to them. I hope they, your battle buddies, never stop calling, visiting and emailing them. You keep watch over that will ya? Send down a big Ranger kick in the ass if they slack off. OK?

Stan and Becky are doing fine. I don't really talk to them much but your mom and dad keep me up to date on them, Keegan and Haley. Ha ha ha. Keegan and Haley really keep everyone on their toes. They are growing up so fast and are SO darn cute. Keegan's quite the pumpkin shooter and Haley is a little fashion diva. They bring such joy to your mom and dad.

Stan and your dad road their bikes down to Fort Benning in late May/early June for the 173rd Memorial dedication. Yes, Stan was on your bike, WAR TORN. It's his now. I'm really glad they spent that time together on the road. The bike was quite a hit at Benning. Your dad, mom and Stan are so proud of the amazing job the artist did on it. Every now and then Stan posts on facebook that he took it out for a ride. Man how I wish you were here to ride along with him. He misses you Matt. We keep telling him to talk to you - that you are listening and for him to listen back. I hope he does.

Daniela flew over from Italy for the 173rd Memorial dedication she is as beautiful as ever inside and out. It was so good to see her and it was an absolute joy to spend time with her.

Well, I'm gonna go now. But before I do I have one favor to ask. Would you just reach down with those angel arms of yours and hold your mom, dad, Stan, Becky and Daniela really really tight for a minute? I know it's a long reach but try.

We love you and miss you. Always.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Happy 40th Birthday kev!!!

Today (15 Sept 2010) is a milestone for kev.  Oh heck who am I kidding?  Every day is a milestone for kev.  I've never had a better friend and am so grateful to have him in my life.  kev puts up with me when I wouldn't even put up with myself.  He never judges me and always supports me in whatever I do.  I just wish like hell he'd stop saying things that make me cry.  Grrrrrrrrrrrr  He just LOVES to make me cry.  TURD!  Oh, they are always sweet things - not mean things.  Still - he needs to stop that!

kev introduced me to Irish Car Bombs (OH THANK YOU kev!) and he made a birthday cake for me 2 years ago.  First birthday cake he ever made (and decorated).  It was delicious and beautiful.  I could go on and on extolling the wonderful things about kev but 1) do you all really want to read more of those things, 2) kev wouldn't really like for me to do that and 3) Uncle Jimbo's gonna get jealous - ok, more jealous.  Bottom line, I'm a lucky woman to have kev in my corner.  I know that every single day.

kev called me on 9/11.  Of course we talked about the significance of the day but kev reminded me that we would never have met if not for 9/11.  I'm not so sure about that but kev believes it.  Since it's his FORTIETH year on earth I'll go with it.  Regardless, I cannot imagine my life without kev in it and I don't ever want to have to.

So in honor of kev's FORTIETH birthday I offer a little photo montage

kev, me and Mike Brennan at a fund raiser for the 173rd OEF VIII Wounded Warriors.  kev is a member of the Wisconsin National Guard.  He has deployed to Iraq twice.  And HE held a fund raiser to help us fly the wounded from the entire 173rd Brigade back to Italy and Germany in September 2008 to be with their battle buddies for Memorial Services and other official events. 

kev "riding bitch" on WAR TORN - the motorcyle Terry and Cheryl Blaskowski were having painted to give to their oldest son, SFC Matthew Blaskowski, until he was KIA at Firebase Vegas, Afghanistan on 23 Sept 2007.  Matt's younger brother, Stan, now owns the bike.  It is amazing to say the least.

kev standing in front of WAR TORN

kev and ma in Italy at the 173rd, 2-503rd Welcome Home party after OEF VIII
P. S.  It rained that night, hence my awesome hair!

kev teaching me to play beer pong in Italy at SFC Kevin Rice's house.  I don't drink beer so we were playing with vodka and scotch.  Oops!

kev, as always, being a good sport for me in the Atlanta airport just before his flight back to Iraq after his R&R leave last year.

And my all time favorite video of kev.  Filmed in Thornton, CO the weekend of July 4, 2008.  One of many great times.  I hope we have more to come kev.  And I miss the Free Fly! (Apologies that Uncle Jimbo is so prevalent in the video).

Happy Birthday kev. I love you - FOREVER!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday Night at the Movies (Restrepo) with 1SG Mark Patterson

Tonight was another one of those nights when I had to ask myself, "how did I ever get so lucky to know these men?"

Mark and me after seeing Restrepo

Several weeks ago 1SG Mark Patterson's mom, Carol, contacted me about the possibility of having Restrepo opened in a local theater when Mark came home for R & R. It seemed like a long shot but definitely worth a try. MANY thanks to National Geographic, Sebastian Junger and Laura Kim for making it happen!

For those of you who have seen Restrepo and may not remember who 1SG Patterson is (well, first of all he was SFC Patterson in the film) he's probably best remembered, God bless him, for being visited by the owner of the cow the just happened to get caught up in the concertina wire and had to be killed. Of course that meant it had to be eaten. 1SG Patterson was actually featured in many more important scenes in the film but even he admitted tonight that he'll forever be remembered for the cow.

You may also remember 1SG Patterson from this post when he declared me a LOSER! (That's for you, Angela)

Carol, Mark and the rest of their immediate and extended family as well as friends were there in force tonight. I counted close to 70 people in the theater not long before the film started. WELL DONE Carol for getting the word out.  It was so nice to finally meet you, your family and friends - especially "the hens."

I even got to meet two more great troop supporters, Mary and Vickie, who want to help out supporting deployed troops from other units when Mark's deployment is over.  BONUS!

Carol (Mark's mom) and Mark at the theater

After the film was over Mark, literally, popped up out of his seat, turned to face the crowd and asked if anyone had any questions.  There were many and he fielded them like a pro.  He was articulate, engaging, very informative and quite entertaining at times.

Mark during the question and answer session

More questions and answers

Questions and answers continued

Late into the night I remembered a discussion that I had with Sebastian Junger when he was in Memphis for a book signing for "WAR". We were talking about how knowing these Paratroopers had impacted our lives. Sebastian told me that after being at OP Restrepo with those men for so long he found himself much more emotional - even getting misty eyed at weddings which is something he'd never experienced before. He said that witnessing and, to some extent, being a part of the bond they had was life changing.  I told him that I had learned the absolute meaning of unconditional love from these men. He thought for a moment and agreed with me.  He actually said, "I've never thought about it but you are right."

Tonight, once again, I felt that unconditional love.  So many Paratroopers and family members of the 173rd, 2-503 have embraced me with that unconditional love over the past few years.  It is impossible to explain it and a treasure to feel it.  I am, without question, one of the luckiest women on this planet and so very grateful to all of them.

I want to thank Carol, Mark and all of the Patterson's for allowing me to share this special night.  Mark, enjoy your R & R.  I hope you get in lots of rounds of golf and that your mom keeps your tummy filled with her great home cooking. 

P. S.  Angela, message delivered!  Oh, and he did ask for more of MY brownies.  Andi, message delivered!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sorry for the lack of posts

Life has just been insanely busy.  I'm sure all of you can relate.

Stand by for posts soon - I hope.  Meanshile have a great Labor Day weekend.