Friday, March 30, 2012

Happy Birthday LTC (r) Roy Lombardo, Jr.

It's no secret to LTC Lombardo, his lovely wife Carol or anyone else who knows me that I absolutely adore this man.  Please join with me today to send mountains of birthday wishes to Roy as he celebrates another milestone birthday.

LTC Lombard mixing the punch for the punch bowl ceremony in memory of all of the fallen 173rd, 2-503d Bravo (now Battle) Co from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan

I met Roy in Vicenza, Italy in September of 2008 at the Welcome Home party that was held for the 2-503d.  Roy had traveled to Vicenza at the request of Major General Ellis Williamson's daughter Nan to present the "Butch" bowl to the 2-503d.  Little did I know when I met Roy what an American treasure he was.  I am beyond honored and blessed to have him in my life and to call he and Carol my friends.

LTC Lombardo at the 2-503d Welcome Home party in Vicenza, Italy after OEF VIII

On May 5, 1965 then CPT Lombardo lead the 2-503d Bravo Bulls as they jumped from C-130s into the jungles of Vietnam.  It was the first (and as I understand) the only combat jump into Vietnam.  From the stories I have been privileged to hear at various Bravo Bulls reunions, the Bulls definitely took it to the enemy once they hit the ground.

In 1967 LTC Lombardo returned to Vietnam.  This time he was a senior advisor for the 41st Ranger Battalion and then for the 4th Ranger Group.  Under his advisorship the Rangers were responsible for destroying at least four VC battalions during the TET offensive which helped to regain government control in the south at that time.

After his tours in Vietnam Roy continued his Army career in command of various units until his retirement.  His gracious and lovely wife, Carol, always by his side.

Carol and Roy near the Airborne Memorial at Fort Benning, GA

In 1996 LTC Lombardo was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame.  The web page says, "Lieutenant Colonel Roy Lombardo is inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame for his outstanding service as a Ranger throughout his career in airborne and infantry assignments. His service includes Vietnam as one of the first Rifle Company Commanders in the 173d Airborne Brigade (1965), the Senior Advisor to the 41st Ranger Battalion (1967), and, subsequently, the 4th Ranger Group (1968). His tactical advice, fire support coordination, and courageous presence is responsible for the 41st Ranger Battalion defeating a multi-battalion Viet Cong force and earning the U.S. Valorous Unit Citation. During the Viet Cong Tet Lunar Offensive, his tactical advice and personal efforts to rescue threatened personnel contributed to the defeat of the attacking enemy forces in Can Tho and Kien Giang Province, a key infiltration route from Cambodia. He was selected to command the model for the Light Infantry Battalion, to develop organization and tactics, and to deploy that unit for evaluation to the swamps of Florida, the jungles of Panama, and the mountains of Alaska. Throughout his entire career this Ranger has always "Led the Way"

Over the past few years I've had the privilege of spending time with Roy, Carol and many other Vietnam Bravo Bulls and their wives at various events.  There are MANY attributes of Roy that endear me to him.  One is that he will NEVER allow our fallen to be forgotten.  Each time the Bravo Bulls are together he hosts the punch bowl ceremony.  The name of every Bravo Bull (now Battle Co) hero who has given his life in service to our nation is engraved on a silver cup.  Each paratrooper's name is read as his cup is turned over in memory.  After all of the names have been read the surviving Bulls fill their cups with the specially made punch and toast to the memory of the fallen from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Roy also spends endless hours via phone, email or hand written note, ensuring that each surviving Bull and/or their wife is doing OK. 

He also works tirelessly to make sure the legacy of the Bravo Bulls/Battle Company stays intact.  He does so by organizing regular trips to Vicenza, Italy where he and any other Bravo Bull who can attend hosts a dinner for the current Battle Company paratroopers.  At that dinner the Bravo Bulls award Soldier of the Year and NCO of the year to current 2-503d Battle Company Soldiers.  The Bravo Bulls make these trips and provide the awards at their own expense.  I've often told Roy how grateful I am that he and the Bulls keep in touch with and support our current day Warriors and how I wish that the other Companies within the 2-503d had the same relationship with their Vietnam counter parts.  It is beyond moving to see the bond between these Warriors.

In May 2010 LTC Lombardo and the Bravo Bulls descended on Fort Benning, GA en mass to 1) attend the dedication of the 173d Memorial, 2) honor and remember the fallen Rangers from their unit and 3) honor and remember the fallen Paratroopers from their unit.  You can read about those events herehere, here and here.  None of those events are unique to LTC Lombardo and the Bravo Bulls.  They gather once or twice each year (usually Memorial Day and Veterans Day) at Arlington National Cemetery to lay wreaths and read the names of the fallen Bravo Bulls/Battle Company men and to pay their respects to MG Williamson and his wife.  It is beyond moving to witness these moments.  I was privileged to be there with them in November 2008.

In November of 2011 LTC LombardoLas Vegas, NV Veteran's Day parade.

Bravo Bulls in Las Vegas Veteran's Day parade 2011 lead by LTC Lombardo

After the parade the Bravo Bulls had a special visitor stop by to share a few beers and talk about Army life.  I cannot tell you how special it was for me to watch as Sal (2-503d Battle CO) entered the room and the Bulls all stood up to salute him.  This was followed by many hand shakes, hugs, beers and sharing of war stories that occured decades apart.  It's that bond I referred to earlier in this post. 

SSG Sal Giunta receiving his own Bravo Bulls jacket presented on behalf of the Bulls by LTC Lombardo

Recently Roy was selected by the Bravo Bulls as their Sky Soldier of the Year for 2011 (scroll down to page 10).  A more than fitting tribute.

So on this special day - Roy's birthday - I ask you to join with me in wishing him the best birthday ever along with many years of continued good health, more happiness than he can stand and the knowledge that he is loved, admired and respected by anyone who knows him.  He absolutely is a national treasure and I love him dearly.

♫ Happy Birthday Roy! ♫

Monday, March 26, 2012

9 Years Ago Today the 173rd ABCT Jumped Into Northern Iraq During Operation Northern Delay

On March 26, 2003, as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, almost 1000 Paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team jumped into Bashure Airfield in northern Iraq. The operation forced the Iraqi Army to maintain approximately six divisions in the area to protect its northern flank, providing strategic relief for Coalition Forces advancing on Baghdad from the south.  The 173rd Airborne Brigade  continued to move south onto the town of Kirkuk, Iraq and established freedom. The Brigade’s battle space reached as far south as the Jamal Hamrin, mountains, east to the Iranian border and west to the city of Al Hawejah. A number of battalion and company missions were executed, with major engagements occurring initially in Irbil, combat operations in Kirkuk and in villages and towns surrounding Tuz. The Brigade swept back through Al Hawejah in late December of 2003 to retake the area from pro-Saddam insurgents.

UPDATE:  Just found the following on facebook:

The 173rd Brigade parachutes into Northern Iraq on 26 March 2003.

In March of 2003, the Turkish government refused to allow American ground forces, which were positioned at their ports, to move through Turkey in order to establish a northern front in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. America needed another option and the Sky Soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade provided that option. On the of March at 2000 hours, fifteen C-17 aircraft delivered 20 heavy platforms and 959 paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade onto Bashur Drop Zone vicinity Bashur, Iraq. This combat parachute assault was the initiation of Operation Northern Delay and established the Coalition's northern front.

The parachute assault force consisted of HHC, 173rd Airborne Brigade, 1st-508th Infantry (Airborne), 2nd-503rd Infantry (Airborne), 74th Long Range Surveillance Detachment, D Battery 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 173rd Combat Support Company, 501st Forward Support Company, 250th Forward Surgical Team, ODA (-), 2nd Battalion 10th SFG, 4th ASOS (USAF), and the 86th Expeditionary Contingency Response Group (-) (USAF). The paratroopers were under the command of Colonel William C. Mayville Jr., commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. The chariots from which the Sky Soldiers were delivered into battle were the C-17s of the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings from McChord AFB, Washington and the 437th Airlift Wing and 315th Reserve Airlift Wing from Charleston AFB, South Carolina. The C-17s were under the command of Colonel Robert "Dice" R. Allardice, commander of the 62d Airlift Wing. This airborne operation was not only the largest since the 1990 invasion of Panama, but was the first airborne personnel insertion ever conducted with the C-17. The professionalism and courage of both the paratroopers and the aircrews were beyond reproach.
The successful establishment of a northern front was essential to the coalition battle plan. Without a northern front six Iraqi divisions arrayed in northern Iraq remained free to move south to reinforce Baghdad. Fast moving coalition forces were closing on Baghdad with the expectation of having to capture the Iraqi capitol from three defensively arrayed divisions. Six additional Iraqi divisions streaming from the north could dramatically affect the balance of power around Baghdad.

Another critical factor was the oil rich area of Kirkuk. The oil wealth of the Kirkuk area would be crucial to rebuilding Iraq but the Iraqi army had shown a willingness to destroy their countries own future simply to spite the Coalition. Securing the oil fields and airbases of Kirkuk was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
The success of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in its securing of Bashur and Kirkuk and its subsequent control and rebuilding of Kirkuk Province and later the As Sulaymaniyah Province was unmatched in theater. The Sky Soldiers integrated forces from fifteen other units, to include five Army divisions, to accomplish every mission. The Sky Soldiers added to the reputation of the Herd, so hard won in Vietnam.

This print is dedicated to the team members who served with and supported the Herd, past and present. The sacrifices they've made and the blood they've shed in the service of their country demonstrate the true cost of freedom. The print's name is derived from the last words spoken by Colonel Mayville prior to loading the aircraft - "Commanders, it's time to move the Herd."

The above text is written in reference to the following print created by Mr. James Dietz.

I found a brief video of some of the paratroopers exiting one of the planes here.

The paratroopers jumped from C-17s flown by the 437th Airlift Wing and 315th Reserve Airlift Wing from Charleston Air Force Base as well as the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings from McChord AFB.

The manifest of those who made the jump and the chalk they were assigned to can be seen here.   Those making the jump were awarded the Bronze Star Parachutist Combat Badge and the Arrow head device.

I'm proud to say I know some of the Sky Soldiers who made this jump.  I'm even more proud of the men they are. 

Jump history of the 173rd:

The 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment jumped into the Markham Valley, New Guinea, on 5 September 1943 as part of Operation Alamo; this operation was the first successful airborne combat jump in the Pacific.

16 February 1945 is a date that will remain the historical cornerstone of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, as they jumped onto the Island of Corregidor. The Regiment was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its actions.

Deployed to Vietnam in May 1965, the Brigade was the first major ground combat unit of the United States Army to serve there. They were the first to go into War Zone D to destroy enemy base camps, introduced the use of small long-range patrols, and conducted the only combat parachute jump in the Vietnam conflict on 22 February 1967 (Operation Junction City). They fought in the Iron Triangle and blocked NVA incursions at Dak To during some of the bloodiest fighting of the war in the summer and fall of 1967, culminating in the capture of Hill 875.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Remembering PFC Nicholas Cook -KIA 7 March 2010, Kunar Province, Afghanistan

PFC Nicholas Cook
5 October 1990 - 7 March 2010
KIA Kunar Province, Afghanistan

PFC Nicholas Cook was laid to rest with full military honors at Woodlawn Cemetery in Columbia Falls, MT on Saturday 20 March 2010.

PFC Cook was killed by enemy small arms fire on 7 March 2010. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Camp Ederle, Italy.

Nick was raised in Hungry Horse, MT by his grandparents Kathy and Charles Taylor. His grandmother, Kathy, said, ""He loved jumping out of airplanes. He said the best feeling was the three seconds before you jump." 

On his MySpace page Nick wrote, "Bein' up on a mountain with that (snow) board strapped on is home to me. Shakin' beyond the point of functioning then just goin' for it. Amazing feeling. The best feeling possible is that moment when the butterflies in your stomach carry you into that adrenaline rush. Its freedom, its when you can feel most alive." 

As a child Nick enjoyed playing with and showing his goats at the Flathead County Fair. He won several times in the pack goats and harness goats competition. Raising and showing goats was something that he enjoyed doing with his grandfather.

Soldiers with PFC Cook that fateful day had this to say about him:

173rd ABCT Commander, COL Jim Johnson had the following to say about PFC Cook:

"PFC Nicholas Cook selflessly enlisted in an Army at war and volunteered for one of the most demanding assignments; Airborne Infantryman." "PFC Cook answered his Nation's call and gave everything he had to a mission to bring security to the people of Afghanistan." "His service was with distinction and represented everything that the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team stands for."

PFC Cook's military awards and decorations include the Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Parachutist Badge, and the Combat Infantry Badge. PFC Cook was posthumous awarded the Purple Heart Medal and the Silver Star Medal.

Nick is survived by his grandparents Chuck and Kathy Taylor of Hungry Horse; brother Christopher Taylor of Hungry Horse; sister Melody Cook-Sotelo of Fresno; his little sister Jacklynn Sisney of Squaw Valley, Calif.; his mother Charlotte Martin and stepfather Robert Martin of Little Egg Harbor, N.J.; his father Jeffery Cook of Fresno; uncle and aunt Chuck and Beth Taylor of Minot, N.D.; aunt and uncle Nancy and Joe Davis of Marion; a great grandmother, many aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins as well as legions of friends and fellow Soldiers.

Rest in Peace brave warrior. We will NEVER forget you or the sacrifice you made for our nation.

You can read more about PFC Cook here, here, here, here and here.