Monday, August 22, 2011

Help Me Raise $5000 for a Retreat For Wounded Veterans & Their Battle Buddies

A few of you may remember a few weeks ago that some co-workers and I, on a dare I might add, entered a pig wrestling event. I only agreed to do so if all of our co-workers collectively made donations to Defenders of Freedom. It was a huge success.

The goal is to put the pig up on the tire.
That's me in the red t-shirt behind the lady in yellow.  Yeah, I had the back end.  :)

I'm coming out of retirement to jump into a mud pit and wrestle one more pig on September 10th. This time I'm doing it in order to raise $5,000 for airfare to fly a group of Wounded Veterans and some of their battle buddies to Texas for a 4 day retreat. The Ranch, food, etc are being donated by a husband and wife who are incredible American Patriots and huge supporters of our active duty military personnel, Wounded, Veterans and their families.

The retreat is scheduled for mid October 2011 so we only have a few weeks to get this done.

I know times are financially tough right now for many of us and there are many requests for donations but please "sponsor" my pig wrestling event by donating what you can. $5.00, $10.00, $25,00, $100.00, etc.

If you've ever been around a Wounded Veteran or any Veteran you know that a few days together with battles buddies is about the best "medicine" there is.

Thank you for your consideration and please "share" this on facebook and/or your blog. For those who have friends, family, co-workers, etc who may want to donate please "share" on facebook or share this link direct to Defenders of Freedom.   If donating via the Defenders of Freedom website (versus facebook) once you 1) select an amount, 2) Add to cart, 3) click on "check out" please remember to 4) type Retreat towards the bottom of the page in the "How did you find out about Defenders of Freedom" line.  By typing Retreat there you will ensure that 100% of your donation goes towards this project.

If you prefer to donate by check you may do so via the following address:

Defenders of Freedom
706 Stratford Lane
Coppell, TX 75019

Please be sure to note "Retreat" on the memo line of your check.  All donations are tax deductible.

This fund raising event is endorsed by:

Ranger Up - (best darn t-shirts on the planet)
Blackfive -  (love my B5 guys!)
This Ain't Hell (Jonn's got a crush on me and I LOVE IT!  Plus he and TSO are more than awesome!)

Friday, August 19, 2011

SSG James Christen - Celebrating a Life Taken Way Too Soon

SSG James Christen, a former 173rd, 2-503 Battle Co and HHC Co Paratrooper who was currently serving with 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii was killed in action on July 19, 2011 in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.  SSG Christen's vehicle was hit by an IED.

Throughout the day and well into the night of Thursday August 18th former battle buddies and friends of James and Lauren made their way to Arlington, VA.  Most were on flights that were delayed.  Some arrived without luggage.  Others were delayed in cities on their way to Virginia.  But no one complained. 

Lauren talking with Jesse Murphree

Well into the night and Friday morning the group remembered James with one story after another.  Lauren, who is one of the strongest women I have ever met, added in a few stories of her own.  The laughs were endless as everyone recalled what an incredible wit and gift for sarcasm James possessed.

Lauren was enveloped in love but gave back as much as she got.

Towards the end of the evening (actually into Friday morning) Lauren's father, Bruce, told the story of the first time he met James.    

Bruce telling about his first meeting with James

We laughed and laughed.  I guess James really didn't make such a stellar impression that first meeting.  But Bruce gave him another shot.  Within months they were married.  Lauren and James were married for 8 years before his most untimely death in Afghanistan.  They were truly best friends.

Everyone I know who knew James has a huge hole in their heart right now.  Please keep Lauren, her family, James' family and all of the extended family, friends and his battle buddies in your prayers.  Above all please ALWAYS remember James for the Hero he is.  He gave everything he had for the nation.  The least we can do is remember him.

So today we will all gather at Arlington National Cemetery to lay James to rest and say our final good byes.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I Met Them - A Guest Post by Colin E. Kimball

I Met Them

The trip began with a wake up at 0300. A few last minute details of signing a condolence card, pressing a shirt, making a pot of coffee and gathering my wife and son for a wheels up departure at 0500. My Brother-in-Law arrived at the house on time and we departed in the midst of a soaking rain shower the likes of which we had not seen in several months of drought that has encumbered the State of Texas. To me it was if the Lord above was sharing his tears with us for the loss of so many brave young men and in my heart I know that to be true.

Along the route from Dallas to Shreveport, we encountered many Harley riders, replete with either American Legion, VFW or Patriot Guard emblems on display. We knew where they were headed. Like us, they also rose early in the O dark thirty hours to honor one of so many who fell from the sky in a far away land. We arrived at the home of the Gold Star Father still in my shorts and tee shirt, to extend our family condolences and present him with a special memento that could be used to honor his son in the hours ahead and hopefully one day restore his pride that is currently masked by the pain of his loss. A young Master Chief Petty Officer, whose distinct shoulder rank insignias did not fit his boyish appearance opened the door to greet us. I was taken aback by his youthful appearance that masked any pretence of an experienced elite warrior. Initially, I thought he was a Junior ROTC Cadet whose hair was a little past the Navy Grooming Standards, but when I shook his hand, I knew what he did for a living. Immediately after we arrived, a contingent of Navy Officers drove up in a mini-van as I stood by the Master Chief who held the door and granted all access. Due to the assemblage of honored guests who had travelled from far away places, my wife and I quickly concluded our greetings and departed so that men of honor could express their sympathy to a Gold Star Father and a sole surviving sibling.

After changing into a suit and tie, we travelled over to the Church to pay our respects to Chief Petty Officer Robert Reeves. The roads around the church were blocked by Police who came from as far as Baton Rouge. Additionally, hundreds of motorcycles lined the street as a secondary blockade for the Police. Patriots every one of them, came to protect the family from seeing vile protesters that sometimes show up, and to also pay their personal respects to a fallen warrior. The protesters never showed their face. Thank the Lord and the many patriots assembled for that! Large American Flags were posted on every fence post around the church, and small flags, planted the night before, lined the street from the church to the street of the Gold Star Father. Scores of Patriots stood at attention holding flags and lined the walkway from the parking lot and on both sides of the steps that lead to the Cathedral like church up on the top of the hill.

In the past, I have attended weddings and funerals in this prominent church that on this day was being used to honor and remember a very courageous Man and a local fallen son. Inside the church, it was standing room only. To say that the assemblage of sailors was impressive is an understatement, and I will leave it at that. Hollywood could not have scripted such a scene. One Officer delivered the first eulogy. The rank and collection of medals on his uniform were of the type rarely seen and they denoted that this was a man of considerable responsibility, travels and valor. But more than that, the intellect that he conveyed in a few words, far exceeded anything I have ever seen from a CEO of a Fortune 500 Company. The grace and compassion he exhibited to the grieving family was so touching that if I had not seen him do it, I would have thought he was a Chaplain and not a leader of elite warriors. This valiant Officer reminded us all of the following “There is no Happiness without Freedom, and there is no Freedom without Courage” a quote from the ancient Greek philosopher Thucydides.

When the ceremony concluded, along with my wife, son, and Brother-in-Law we walked to the reception area to meet the men who knew Rob well. There is something about the subtle yet profound confidence that each of these men display by way they greet others, shake your hand, and hold themselves. They are Gentlemen in the truest sense of the word. Simply put, they do not call attention to themselves or wear their profession on their sleeve for the world to see, unless you see them in uniform. If you met one on the street you would never know what they do, but when you see them in a group, the subtle clues of their understated confidence become obvious. They have nothing to prove to anyone because they have already proven it to themselves. We should all take a lesson from these men and the level of commitment they have to us and each other.

I never knew Rob personally. His mother, God rest her soul, was a close friend of my Mother-in-Law. I did not know until we began our long journey that my Brother-in-Law knew Rob, and he took him on his first plane ride in his Cessna when Rob was 13. When telling this story to several of Robs team mates, more than one stated, “so you’re the one.” Obviously, there is a story here in the life of a man of many untold stories. A special man, who is one of many special men, that are greatly missed by many people. Rob went on to earn to his pilot’s license in his spare time which I am sure was a great skill for a man of his profession to have. My Brother-in-Law learned a powerful lesson on how the little things we do can sometimes impact another person’s life in meaningful ways.

I will never forget Rob and Jonas, his close friend from childhood, who with Rob and more than a score of other valiant warriors fell from the Sky in Wardak Province, Afghanistan. Nor will I forget the many valiant men I met on that day, especially the young Master Chief who greeted me at the door and schooled me on the intricacies’ of Military Heraldry as practiced by the United States Navy. Chief if you read this, I am grateful for what you do and for your help with my freshman sized questions on Navy protocol. I will endeavor to use the information you shared to honor your fellow sailors in the most meaningful way I can. Master Chief, I purposefully never asked your name, not to be rude, but out of respect for what you do. Please know that I pray that your endeavors are greeted with victorious results. I am always and forever grateful for the work that you, your team mates, and all the men and women who wear the uniforms of the United States do for us.

There is a Navy recruiting poster that featured a prominent portrayal of Rob when he was in the challenging training it takes to earn the privilege of wearing the Trident of Navy Special Operations. The title of the Poster is “Courage.” Thucydides wrote about men like Chief Petty Officer Robert Reeves and Lieutenant Commander Jonas Kelsall and I take great comfort knowing that the courage Rob and Jonas demonstrated enriched their life with happiness and gave freedom to all of us. There were many other courageous folks present, including patriots outside and Robs “coworkers.” I was fortunate to have met them.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

When the Wounded Warriors from Down Range Arrive at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center

There won't be any photos in this post out of respect for the Wounded Warriors and their families.  I didn't take any photos.  As you read this post I hope you will understand why I didn't.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of being at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) for a few days.  One morning I  witnessed the arrival of the Wounded Warriors from down range - Afghanistan and Iraq.  I won't lie, I had a lot of trepidation about this.  As it turned out it was one of the most difficult and poignant, yet heart warming events I've experienced.

The night before, while MaryAnn and I made her normal rounds in the hospital to visit the Wounded Warriors who were going out to the states the following day, word was that there weren't many casualties scheduled to arrive from down range the next day.  I knew that was great news!

The following morning was about as beautiful a day as one could ask for.  Blue skies.  Crisp temperatures.  Even for Germany that was a blessing in early July.  MaryAnn and I were up at the crack of dawn, literally, in order to get to the hospital to meet some of the outpatient Wounded Warriors for breakfast.  They ended up over sleeping but I got to spend a few minutes with them and say my good byes which was the point of breakfast anyway.

After leaving the Wounded men MaryAnn and I casually walked over towards the emergency room entrance and took a seat on a bench within eye shot of the emergency room but far away from where the ambulance buses, or ambuses for short, would come in and the staff would receive the wounded.  MaryAnn began to explain to me what I could expect to see; who would be dressed in what way (staff from ICU, man power staff, etc).  The man power staff are those who, in groups of eight, take the litters from the ambus and place them on the gurneys so the Wounded Warriors can be wheeled into the hospital.  MaryAnn explained that they are required to have eight people from man power because the litters can weight up to 750 pounds with the Wounded Warrior and the medical equipment he/she has with them.  I'm sure my jaw dropped open when she told me that.

We waited and waited and waited.  MaryAnn commented that the flight seemed to be unusually late that day but that you never really know when the flight(s) will arrive.  We noticed that several gurneys were rolled out from the emergency room exit and were placed under the awning where the ambulance(s) would arrive.  They kept bringing more gurneys.  Ugh!  I began to realize that the "word" there weren't many casualties from down range may have changed.

Finally the LNOs, hospital medical staff, PAO staff, chaplains, etc began to gather; Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force, men in uniform from other nations.  They were all talking but no one was talking in a loud voice.  Many were comparing "notes" on clipboards.  My assumption was that they were comparing names, degree of injury and where that patient would be taken, branch of the military, etc. 

Long after we arrived an ambus (a bus sized ambulance) pulled up and everyone went into action.  There was so much going on I couldn't keep up with it.  A gurney was pulled to the ambulance.  Four people from man power stood on each side of the gurney.  The medical staff member who had attended the Wounded Warrior on the flight from Afghanistan or Iraq exited the ambus and came around to be with his patient.  He'd been up for HOURS caring for his patient in flight but had no hesitation in quickly getting to his patient.

I made a very wide walk around the perimeter to watch as they removed the patient from the ambus - being extremely careful not to be in any one's way.  The patient was moved to the door of the ambus.  I realized what MaryAnn meant about the "up to 750 pounds" with all of the medical equipment.  This Soldier was surrounded by and covered with so many machines I could barely see him/her.  With great precision and extreme care the man power team began to pull the litter from the ambus and pass it gently down the line to the next person on the team.  Once each of the eight member team had the litter in hand a muffled command was heard then the littler was placed on the gurney.  Immediately those "dressed" as identifiable from the ICU moved to the gurney and they, along with the medical flight person, raced into the hospital.

The ambus door was closed and the vehicle drove off but the staff remained in place indicating more incoming.  *sigh*

Sometime later a van pulled up at the emergency room.  About 6 or so "ambulatory" military personnel exited the van and moved around to the back to retrieve back packs and/or small duffel bags.  They were taken into the hospital by the LNOs via a different door than the emergency room.  These troops may have any myriad of reasons for being sent to LRMC from down range.  For example I met a Soldier a day or two before who was sent to LRMC for a biopsy on a suspicious growth.  I'm thrilled to report that the day after I returned from my trip I learned that his biopsy came back negative.  He was sent back down range.

The medical and other staff remained so we did, too.  A little while later another ambus pulled up and the staff all timed and synchronized movements.  It seemed so effortless.  My emotions bounced between thinking how incredibly professional and intensely careful they were (and they WERE) to thinking about how often they have done this and why.  The latter caused a huge knot in my stomach.

A gurney was moved in to place.  A litter appeared at the door of the ambus. The man power team passed the litter down the line without so much as a bump or jerk.  The litter was placed on the gurney. Someone with a clip board quickly moved forward but was finished with their task in mere seconds and the gurney was quickly rolled into the hospital via the emergency room door.  Repeat, Repeat. Repeat. 

On about the third repeat I noticed that once the litter was on the gurney the Chaplain would step forward, lean down and say something to the Wounded Warrior.  Even the Chaplain didn't dawdle.  As quickly as he stood up the gurney was whisked away into the hospital.

While I stood there waiting for the next ambus to pull up I reminded myself that on the other side of the hospital the same type of movement was taking place but in reverse.  The only difference was that those Wounded Warriors were being loaded into ambuses to be taken to the airfield at Ramstein Air Base to begin their journey back to the USA where they would be reunited with their loved ones and friends. In way too many cases, they would begin the long journey, not only of healing but, of learning to live so differently.  It was sobering.

The door was closed on the ambus but the remaining staff stayed in place.  There were still more gurneys lined up.  It's impossible to express in words what my emotions were at the sight of those remaining gurneys.  I kept purposely distracting myself by looking at the unit patches of the LNOs still standing by - attempting to identify the units.  Anything to keep my mind off of the fact that there were MORE Wounded Warriors coming.

I found myself feeling guilty that there were so many family members and friends thousands of miles away who would give most anything for the opportunity to lay their eyes on these men if only for a few seconds.  But I had asked to be there and I wasn't going to run away.  I wanted to be there to watch the staff.  Not to "look at" the Wounded Warriors.  As a matter of fact I made it a point NOT to look into the face of any of them.  I just felt it would be disrespectful to do so.

In time the final ambus (or so we thought) pulled up.  The same orchestrated movements began again with the same precision and ease.  As the second patient was lowered to the gurney the Chaplain approached along with a Soldier from another nation.  My guess is that he was there to translate for the Chaplain.  What a huge confirmation that we are not in these wars alone.

It was well after lunch at this point.  We had expected the first ambus to arrive around 8:30 AM but it didn't arrive until much later.  We were hungry so we decided to grab some lunch in the hospital before heading back to the outpatient barracks to unpack boxes, inventory, re-stock the shelves, etc.  After we finished lunch, and as we were walking down one of the long hallways in the hospital, we heard the public address system ask for all man power to make their way to the emergency room.    That only means one thing - more inconming wounded.  I felt my shoulders sink as we continued to walk to the outpatient barracks and I said a silent prayer for the Wounded Warriors and their families.

Here are some links that relate to this post.  None of the photos were taken during the time I was in Landstuhl.

MaryAnn writes about what it is like inside the ambus upon arrival at Landstuhl

A photo taken during arrival one day during the past few years

A photo taken of Wounded Warriors departing LRMC for the USA

Monday, August 8, 2011

I'm Still Here

Projects at work have me buried but love my job and will find a way to the rainbow.

Spending my evenings canning.  Haven't done that in years and am loving it.

I do have a couple of posts in the works.  Sorry for the delay but will be "back" soon.