Tuesday, May 29, 2012

SGT Andrew E. Okemwa 172d ABLE Co 3-66 Soldier of the Week 27 May 2012

SGT Andrew E. Okemwa

SGT Okemwa, a native of Nirobi, Kenya, has demonstrated a commitment to the 172D Brigade which distinguished him from his peers.

SGT Okemwa, the son of David and Salone Okemwa, joined the Army in July 2007.  He joined the Army to make a better life for his family.  He has taken advantage of the opportunity to continue his college education and earn his American citizenship while do his part in the Global War on Terrorism.

SGT Okemwa deployed to Afghanistan with Alpha Company, 3-66 Armor, Task Force 1-2 Infantry as the company supply sergeant.  He has been instrumental in the success of the company through the thorough accountability of all property.  He is the only supply sergeant in the Battalion that has not had to conduct a Financial Liability Investigation for Property Loss (FLIPL) throughout the year long deployment.

The company displaced to three provinces which resulted in company-level property book transfers of Theater Provided Equipment.  Additionally, he managed the issue, accountability, and turn-in of 100% of the company’s plate carriers.  His attention to detail while processing documentation was flawless; SGT Okemwa has proven that he a competent combat proven logistician.

SGT Okemwa is also an outstanding leader of Soldiers.  During temporary assignment to Bagram Airfield (BAF), he helped to process 173 Soldiers through the passenger terminal as they departed for, and returned, from Environmental Morale Leave.  He kept 100% accountability of their sensitive items on BAF during their absence.  Additionally, he led physical fitness training for the headquarters Soldiers; his morale and sincere desire to improve the overall fitness of the Soldiers he works with is exceptional.  His performance during the deployment has resulted in the recommendation for him to be presented to the Staff Sergeant promotion board in July 2012.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Rolling Thunder's 25 Anniversary & Annual Ride to the Wall

Over the past few days, and in the days to come, an estimated one million Americans will ride their motorcycles to Washington, DC to participate in Rolling Thunder's Ride to the Wall.  Wednesday (2 days ago) some dear friends of mine, Frank and Nancy Rouse, Steve Monaghan and Robert (oops, don't know last name), pulled out of Memphis on their way to DC for this great event.  I wish them, and all of the bikers, a safe journey.  Frank and Steve are Vietnam Veterans.  Both were decorated with the Bronze Star with Valor for their actions in Vietnam.  Frank was also awarded a Purple Heart for wounds he sustained in Vietnam.  Frank was also one of the Soldiers who made the jump into Vietnam as a member of the 173d, 2-503d during

Rolling Thunder, Inc. was founded twenty five years ago to bring full accountability for Prisoners Of War (POW) and Missing In Action (MIA) of all wars, reminding the government, the media and the public by our watchwords: “We Will Not Forget.”  Since Rolling Thunder started, our government has recovered the following numbers of remains: WWI-6, WWII-240, Korean War-73, Vietnam War-697, Gulf War-14 and Iraq War-3 with seven live POW's returned from this war.

The Winston Salem News dot com has a great write up about this year's event at this link.

I wish all of the riders a safe journey to DC and back to their homes.  And I pray for the day that all of our POW/MIAs are reunited with their families.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Memorial Day

I was doing some research about Memorial Day and ran across this link which provides a plethora of information about Memorial Day.

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and dates back to Civil War times when ladies in the south would decorate the graves of the fallen.  Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service.

General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, first proclaimed Memorial Day on May 5, 1868 in Washington, DC by his General Order No. 11.  It was first observed on May 30, 1868 when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war).

General Logan's General Order No 11 reads:

General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868
  1. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit. We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.
    If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.
    Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from hishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

  2. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
  3. Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective. By order of

    Adjutant General

    WM. T. COLLINS, A.A.G."
Nothing in General Logan's General Order talks about a three day weekend, hot dogs, retail store sales.  He talks about honoring and remembering our deceased war heroes.  Where did we get so lost about this day?  Throughout the history of our nation, men and women have answered the call to take up arms to defend us, our liberty and safety.  Yet these days way too many Americans don't even know the true meaning of Memorial Day.  It's just another three day weekend for fun.  Granted, I daresay those who have died in service to our nation would encourage us to take advantage of our freedom and to enjoy time with our families and friends.  However, how many Americans can name (or even care about) one, just one of our fallen heroes? 

Back to the article about Memorial Day -

Memorial Day is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May (passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 - 363) to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays), though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis' birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.

Gee whiz, thank you Congress for making sure that all Federal employees get a three day weekend and for taking away the emphasis of Memorial Day.  Well done!

Back to the article -

Traditional observance of Memorial day has diminished over the years. Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored, neglected. Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day. While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades. Some people think the day is for honoring any and all dead, and not just those fallen in service to our country.

There are a few notable exceptions. Since the late 50's on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing. In 1951, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of St. Louis began placing flags on the 150,000 graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery as an annual Good Turn, a practice that continues to this day. More recently, beginning in 1998, on the Saturday before the observed day for Memorial Day, the Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts place a candle at each of approximately 15,300 grave sites of soldiers buried at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park on Marye's Heights (the Luminaria Program). And in 2004, Washington D.C. held its first Memorial Day parade in over 60 years.

To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the "National Moment of Remembrance" resolution was passed on Dec 2000 which asks that at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans "To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to 'Taps."

On January 19, 1999 Senator Inouye introduced bill S 189 to the Senate which proposes to restore the traditional day of observance of Memorial Day back to May 30th instead of "the last Monday in May". On April 19, 1999 Representative Gibbons introduced the bill to the House (H.R. 1474). The bills were referred the Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Government Reform. 

To date there have been no further developments on the bill although it was reintroduced by Senator Inouye in each sesson of Congress.

I hope that you will join me this Memorial Day by taking time out of your day to research and read about one or more of our Fallen Heroes.  It is the least we can do for them and their families.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A 173d, 2-503d Legacy Continues

Legacy - Something handed down from an ancestor or a predecessor or from the past.

A few months ago I was visiting Fort Benning, GA as guest at the home of SFC Kevin Rice (Battle Co ROCK Paratrooper from OEF VIII) and his family.  Kevin told me that he had something he wanted to give to me.   Unfortunately both of us forgot about it and I left Fort Benning without it.

Three weeks ago I saw SFC Rice again.  This time he had the item with him and gave it to me.  Yeah, I got all emotional.  I don't think I'd be human if I didn't.

He gave me this:

Now some of you may be thinking, "hmmm, so he gave you a 173d flag."  And you would be right, of course.  BUT when he gave me the flag he told me its story.  I'm not sure if the photo is of good enough quality for you to see the dirt and dust stains on it but they are there.

This flag was physically with one of the 2-503d Soldiers on the jump into Iraq in OIF 1 and has been taken on every deployment to Afghanistan by a ROCK Paratrooper as well.  Those dirt stains are a testiment to the fact that this flag has been in Iraq and in more than one place in Afghanistan.

SFC Rice is one of a fairly small group of Paratroopers who know that, in 2011, I was made an Honorary Member of the Regiment.  He told me that he wanted me to have the flag because he knew that I would ensure it continues to go on any deployment with the ROCK in the future.  I wish there were words more powerful than humbled, honored and privileged because none of those even come close to how I feel that SFC Rice and the ROCK Paratroopers have entrusted me with this flag and its continued legacy.  I cannot even begin to image all of the memories this flag holds for them.

The 2-503d (and the entire 173d Brigade) are about to deploy to Afghanistan again.  This will be the unit's fourth deployment to Afghanistan.  Knowing that this flag MUST go on that deployment I set about to make that happen.

I'm a member of several facebook pages related to the 173d and the 2-503d.  I remembered reading that Dawn Paola-Galante was planning a trip to Italy to visit her son, PFC Matthew Galante, in the near future.  So I reached out to Dawn and her husband Bryan (former Paratrooper with the 82nd) to ask if Dawn would mind hand carrying the flag to Italy with her.  I didn't want to run the risk of mailing the flag to Italy.

Dawn graciously (and I might add, excitedly) agreed that she would absolutely hand carry the flag with her and deliver it personally to SFC Bobby King who will take the flag when he deploys to Afghanistan later this year.  She and her husband repeatedly told me it is an honor to be a part of continuing this legacy.

I am grateful to SFC Rice for entrusting me with this incredible part of the history and legacy of the ROCK.  I am also grateful to Dawn for assisting in getting the flag to Italy.  I am so thankful to SFC King for agreeing to be the keeper of the flag on the upcoming deployment.  Such teamwork.

I am currently working on writing the history of the flag so that one day, God willing, when there are no more wars, it can be displayed in an appropriate place and manner.

Such a legacy.  Such an honor.  AIRBORNE!!!  The ROCK!!!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Defenders of Freedom Tee It Up Fore The Troops 2012 - Relaxing after a great day of golf

After a fantastic day of golf, meeting new friends, reacquainting with old friends, lots of laughts and several amazing feats by the Wounded and Veteran Soldiers, we gathered in the bar at the Westin to relive the day over a few adult beverages.

Mike "Mongo" Denton, Jodi Sorenson, Jon Hill, Jamie Averitt, Adam Delaney & Kevin Rice.  What a dangerous group!  Jamie and Jodi are volunteers at the DFW USO and have been for MANY years.  I love those ladies!

Jamie and me showing some love to Jody Thompson - one of our awesome Veteran golfers.

Jamie, Brandon & Jodi

Jamie, please don't fee the animals (with Mike Denton) 

Anthony and Brandon hammin' it up for the camera

Adam Delaney, one of the awesome guys from US Bank, Mike Denton and Jamie (mugging for the camera)

Donna being held for ransom.  She wanted/needed to go home but the guys love her so much they didn't want her to leave.  This photo was emailed to Donna's husband.

When Donna's husband (who was sound asleep given the hour of the night these were taken) didn't respond with ransom money, things got serious!

Note the hands around Donna's neck

They finally released Donna to go home but not before lots of hugs and "thank yous"

Kevin Rice thanking Donna Cranston for the opportunity to be at the golf outing this year.

The last of us finally crawled into bed around 03:00.  Long day.  Short night.  TOTALLY worth it!

One more event to write about - our VIP tour of the Dallas Cowboys Stadium.

Defenders of Freedom Tee It Up Fore The Troops 2012 - Let's Play Golf!

On Monday morning May 7, 2012 after breakfast we rounded up the Veteran golfers and spouses/attendants/service doggies, for those who require them, who were staying at the Westin Hotel DFW and loaded them into a bus donated by Dan Dipert Tours & Motorcoaches to head to the Dallas Cowboys Golf Club.  A couple of Veterans who lived close enough to drive, fell in behind the bus as we made the short drive from the hotel to the golf course.

Although the weatherman had predicted a 40% chance of rain, the day could not have turned out better; blue skies and puffy white clouds.  It was a little warm during the afternoon but cooled off significantly around 5:00 PM when the clouds and a nice breeze rolled in.

Our golfers this year:

The bus rolled up to the entrance of the Club House where, as they stepped from the bus, the Veterans were met by a large contingent of volunteers.

On their way into the Club House the golfers walked underneath the Defenders of Freedom banner as well as banners noting all of the wonderful businesses and individuals who donated so generously in order for the event to take place.

The first stop, once inside the Club House, was registration where each golfer signed in and received what would be the first of many awesome items donated just for them


After registration those who needed golf shoes were directed to the Pro Shop were the staff made sure to fit them with just the right pair of shoes.  The staff at the Dallas Cowboys Golf Club is beyond phenomenal.  All of them -  the office personnel, Pro Shop staff, golf cart staff, golf course staff, food service staff and, of course, the beverage cart ladies.  We can never thank them enough for the respect they always show towards our Veterans.  I've never once heard any member of the staff (this is my third year to volunteer for this event) say, "no" when asked for assistance.

Following registration we connected most of the Veteran golfers to their civilian teammates.  Not all of the civilians had arrived so we introduced the remainder either on the driving range or at lunch.

Next stop - golf clubs also provided by the Dallas Cowboys Golf Club.  Yep, they are just the BEST!!!

Need golf clubs?  We've got 'em

Then it was out to the driving range where those who have played golf before (a few of the Veterans had) could warm up and those who had never picked up a golf club in their lives reduced me to tears - like they do every single year - with their tenacity and will to "do this". 

Donna Cranston, Steve Blackman & volunteer golf Pro

Steve Blackman, pictured above, has had multiple concussions during deployments.  Steve cannot bend over because he gets dizzy and is unable to steady himself well without his walker.  He also suffers from intense and constant shaking.  Steve was concerned he would not be able to play golf.  HOWEVER, with the help of one of the many AMAZING Pro golfers who volunteered their time to work with the Veteran golfers, Steve WAS able to play golf.  It was a very emotional experience for many of us and a HUGE milestone for Steve.  I am a huge fan of Steve's and cannot tell you how damn proud I am of him for persevering.

Steve Blackman's fiance and his CCI Service Dog, Gottlieb, aka "Gotti", watch at the driving range while dad learns how to golf

Chris Fierro - Iraq War Veteran amputee and my dear friend - getting tips at the driving range from one of the volunteer golf Pros

Lunch was served then it was time to head for the links.

Veterans and civilian golfers loaded up and ready to roll

Sunday, May 13, 2012

2012 Milbloggies Awards

From Milblogging dot com

The winners of the 2012 Milbloggies were announced on Friday, May 11.

Milblogging is the world’s largest index of military blogs.  Currently there are 3,335 military blogs listed from 47 countries.  There are 19,422 registered members.

This blog, which won Best U.S. Military Supporter Blog in 2011, (thanks to all of you who support the blog) was nominated again this year and was a finalist.  We may not have won the award this year but always feel as if we are a winner due to those who come together on this blog to support our military and their families whether they are Gold Star families, Veterans or active duty.

So, again I say, congratulations to this year's winners and I encourage you to check out and support their blogs as well as all of the others listed at Milblogging dot com

Best U.S. Army Blog – The Rhino Den (Ranger Up's Blog)
Best U.S. Military Spouse Blog – Wife (Widow) of a Wounded Marine 
Best U.S. Military Parent Blog – Semper Fi Parents
Best U.S. Military Supporter Blog – Character Does Matter
Best U.S. Marine Corps Blog – One Marine's View
Best U.S. Navy Blog – USNI Blog
Best U.S. Coast Guard Blog – ryan erickson
Best U.S. Air Force Blog – Aim High Erin
Best U.S. Military Veteran Blog – You Served 
Best U.S. Reporter Blog – The Unknown Soldiers

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Defenders of Freedom's 2012 Tee It Up Fore The Troops Man Cave Night

UPDATED in red below with information I just received and wanted to have in this post.

Sunday night, May 6, 2012 was "opening night" for Defenders of Freedom's annual Tee It Up Fore The Troops event.  For the past three years Joe and Teresa Losole have hosted a welcome party at Joe's "Man Cave" for the Wounded and Active Duty Veterans attending the golf event held the following day.

The Veteran golfers arrive on Sunday each year.  Around 3:30 the Veteran golfers board a luxury coach provided free of charge by Dan Dipert for the ride to Losole's house.  Thank you Dan Dipert!

Dan Dipert bus parked in front of the Losole's house

Each year for the past three years Joe and Teresa, along with several of their neighbors, have outdone themselves for the "Man Cave" event.

Teresa and Joe (from 2011)

Teresa, Joe, some of their neighbors and friends are always eagerly awaiting the arrival of the bus each year.  Their welcome is always so genuine and warm.  Teresa and Joe completely open their home and "Man Cave" to all of us.

Teresa waiting to greet the troops

The whole neighborhood gets involved and (although I didn't get a photo) the entire street has American flags lining the street on both sides leading up to Teresa and Joe's house.  The flags also line Joe and Teresa's driveway.  Very festive and so patriotic!

Joe and Teresa's flag lined driveway

As the Veteran golfers exit the bus they are always met with hand shakes, hugs and gratitude.

Joe greeting Chris Fierro

Teresa Greeting Brandon Bunten

Joe and Teresa greeting more of their guests.

The evening starts off with getting to know each other over cocktails.  This year Joe and Teresa really out did themselves with a bartender, micro brewed beer (donated by Humperdinks and brewed by Coty Bell), margaritas and concoctions such as a Sangria swirl (my favorite) which is a margarita with a, duh, swirl of Sangria.  YUMMY!


Everyone (The Losoles, their friends and neighbors, Donna Cranston - founder of Defenders of Freedom, her board members, volunteers and, of course the Veterans) spend an hour or two relaxing and getting to know each other better.  All of this is done around the pool, in the back yard and in the two story "Man Cave".  The upstairs of the "Man Cave" has a pool table, shuffleboard and Foosball.  It's pretty darn amazing and TONS of fun!

Veterans and loved ones chilling in the pool

Steve Howard, a friend of Teresa and Joe's provided energy drinks and cigars for the Veterans.  Both were a huge hit as was everything else these great Americans did for the Veteran's that night.

Veterans and supporters relaxing in the back yard

Linda Robinson (Board Member of Defenders of Freedom & USO Volunteer Coordinator at DFW) and Donna Cranston (Founder of Defenders of Freedom) upstairs at the "Man Cave" with two of the Veterans

Jamie (Defenders of Freedom volunteer and 6 year USO Volunteer at DFW) playing Foosball with Brandon upstairs at the "Man Cave"

Jody Thompson - Veteran - shooting pool upstairs at the "Man Cave"

After "happy hour" a delicious meal of beef brisket, pulled pork, smoked sausage, smoked chicken (all prepared by the Losole's friends John and Jeannie Stricklin), potato salad (provided by Bob and Evelyn Hays) and beans was served.  If anyone went away hungry it was their own fault. 

Dinner is served!

Then there is desert.  Whether you have room or not it is a must!  The Losole's have a sweet eighty three year old neighbor, Ms Pat Barber, who makes Banana Pudding each year - from scratch.  Some years she makes other deserts, too.  The Banana Pudding is to die for.  Along with the pudding this year we also had Texas Sheet Cake made by Lori and cookies decorated and assembled in the shape of the US flag made by Kate Roberson.  I hate that I didn't get photos of any of those items.  They were all enjoyed immensely.  Kate's husband, Allen, was a key player in helping the Losole's pull this incredible event together.  We are so grateful for everyone who pulls together to make this event so memorable for everyone who attends.

Photo of flag made by Kate Roberson from individual cookies

Each year Joe and Teresa invite at least one "special guest" to the event.  This year they out did themselves on that aspect, too.  Ninety one year old WWII Veteran Ernest J Deeds and his wife Lois joined us.  Mr. Deeds landed on and fought for Omaha Beach during WWII.  I never tire of watching the "youngsters" when they are around our older Veterans.  Mr. Doug Grogan (retired WWII Army Veteran and his wife Barbara also took the time to come visit with us.  It is so touching from the perspective of both sides.

We were also blessed to have Viet Nam Veterans Robert Jorgensen and his wife Sharon as well as Robert Howard with us.

SFC Kevin Rice (right) meeting one of the "older" Veterans

"Young Guns" shaking the hand of and thanking Mr. Deeds for his service and example

Mr. Deeds and five of the "Young Guns".  SO much respect!

I have so many other great photos from this event that I didn't share here simply due to this post already being so long.  Each year this event is always so relaxing, entertaining, enjoyable and inspiring.  The faces of the Veterans may change from year to year but the atmosphere and camaraderie are always the same.  It is beyond a privilege and a pleasure to be allowed to be a part of this.  I am grateful to Joe, Teresa and their friends for making this such a special time.  I am equally grateful to Donna Cranston for allowing me to be a part of this.  And this is just the beginning.  We have two more posts to go.  One of the golf outing and one of the VIP tour of Cowboys Stadium.  Stand by for those in the coming days.

Special thanks, again, to our hosts Joe and Teresa Losole as well as to Mr. Deeds, Ms. Barber, Steve Howard, Humperdinks, Coty Bell, Kate and Allen Robinson, Bob & Evelyn Hays, John & Jeannie Strickland and Dan Dipert Coaches for making this event so darn special and fun.