Sunday, September 23, 2012

Remembering SFC Matthew Blaskowski - KIA COP Vegas, Afghanistan on September 23, 2007

Today is the five year anniversary of the death of SFC Matthew D. Blaskowski who was killed in action at Firebase Vegas in eastern Afghanistan.  Not one day has gone by that I (along with MANY others) haven't thought about and deeply missed Matt aka Sergeant Ski.

I've written many times about Matt.  Today I'd like to remember Matt by sharing an excerpt from a prior blog post, photos and links to some of the many stories written about him.  Most of all I'm sending my love to his widow, Daniela, his parents, Terry and Cheryl, his brother and sister in law, Stan and Becky and to those who served with him as well as the legion of extended family and friends whose lives he touched in such a deep and positive way.

We miss you so much, Matt. 

Matt's Memorial Service in Afghanistan

Matt's final ride home from the airport

Rest in Peace, Matt

The Fallen Heroes Memorial Foundation erected a Memorial in Matt's hometown of Cheboygan, Michigan.  Their story about the dedication of the monument is here

Cheryl and Terry Blaskowski with the motorcycle they had custom painted for Matt.  They were going to give it to him after OEF VIII deployment.  The name of the bike is "War Torn".  Matt's parents gave the bike to their son, Stan, who rides it in honor of  his brother.

Keith Youngs of Youngs Woodcarving carved a beautiful memorial to Matt which sits next to his parent's business in Cheboygan, MI.  Story here and additional story here

From the first post I ever wrote about Matt:

"In an email he wrote to me on 8 August 2007 Matt said, “Sorry I have not been able to send you a thank you. I came to a base with internet for a few days and then back out to the firebase I will go. Thank you so much for all of the packages. The soldiers and I appreciate everything greatly. Everything you send is perfect nothing goes to waste. I will try and write once a month and give you an update on our conditions here. We recently got a generator out there so we have power for a few hours everyday. We get mail about twice a month by air. It's like Christmas every time and most of the packages by far are from you. The name of my platoon's base is called Firebase Vegas. We are slowly but surely making it better. I have a lot of pictures of the Soldiers that I will try and send to you next time I get to the internet. Thank you again for all of your packages. Also thank the people that are in contact with you who also send us things. The Soldiers and I appreciate everything you do for us and we try to write a letter at least every time we get mail, but we only get to send out mail when someone carries all the letters out to mail them and that does not happen very often. Thanks again for all of your support.”

I emailed a response to Matt that it was our honor to provide support to him and his men. I told him that we believe it is our job (an easy one) to provide support because they are doing the difficult job by fighting those who would rather see this nation in chaos and ruin. I told him we knew they were making great progress and to keep up the good fight but to stay safe. Then I told him more boxes were on the way and reminded him of how grateful we were for him and his men. That was my last correspondence with Matt. It has been a long time since I have been as sad as I was when I received the email from the HHC at Camp Blessing telling me of Matt’s death. Even though I had never met him I knew from the correspondence I had with members of the 173rd as well as from reading accounts of his service on the internet that he was a special human being.
Our prayers along with our deepest and most sincere condolences go out to Matt’s wife, parents, brother, extended family and friends and to his comrades left behind. There is no way to adequately express our thoughts at this time. If one takes the time to read about SFC Blaskowski on the internet one finds story after story about the man he was. He lived his 27 years as a shining example of what humanity should be. It is apparent that Matt touched the lives of anyone who met and knew him in any capacity. He was the best of the best. He lived a selfless life in many ways – one of which was his choice to serve this nation as a member of the United States Army – to defend our freedom and continue to ensure our safety and security. Matt gave his all for us. This nation owes more to SFC Matthew Blaskowski than we could ever give. May his family know that we grieve with them in this time of sadness and loss and that we are thankful for the man he was. May they find comfort in remembering all that Matt was, all that he did and all that he gave throughout his life.
Rest in peace Matt. Our prayers are with you. I know the gates of heaven were standing wide open when you passed through and the angels were there to meet you."
Links to stories about Matt:
UpNorthLove dot com (local Michigan newpaper)
Blackfive Someone You Should Know Part 1 (photos and pictures from OEF VI as well as video of Matt in his hospital bed at Landstuhl hospital)
Blackfive Someone You Should Know Part 2 (great stories and photos)
We love you and miss you, Matt.  We will NEVER EVER forget you and the amazing man you were.  Sending extra love to your family and battle buddies today.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sky Angels of OEF XIII - May They All Rest In Peace

I pray two things each day; that I never have to add another name to this post and that the families of these heroes find the way to work through their grief and loss.

Rest in Peace Heroes.  We will NEVER forget your sacrifice nor will we EVER allow your lives to be forgotten.

SSG Orion Sparks, 29, of Tuscon, Arizona, died Sept. 26, in Pul-E Alam, Afghanistan, of injuries suffered when an insurgent wearing a suicide vest detonated the device near his patrol. He was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Schweinfurt, Germany.

His Commander, LTC Whit Wright said about SSG Sparks  "Sparks was “a contagious optimist who was always in good spirits,” Wright wrote.

The non-commissioned officer “could relate to soldiers on a personal level and helped guide them through life,” Wright continued. “Orion was an outstanding trainer of soldiers and a leader who was not afraid to get his hands dirty and lead from the front – a true NCO to the end. He was a cornerstone in Anvil Troop."


SGT Jonathan A. Gollnitz, 28, of Lakehurst, New Jersey, died Sept. 26, in Pul-E Alam, Afghanistan, of injuries suffered when an insurgent wearing a suicide vest detonated the device near his patrol. He was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Schweinfurt, Germany.

His Commander, LTC Whit Wright said of SGT Gollnitz, "Gollnitz, the commander noted, “quickly filled a gap in the platoon's junior leadership. Bringing a quiet professionalism to his work, he was able to build a strong team of soldiers that trusted and respected him.”

“Jonathan,” Wright added, “was also able to communicate with soldiers on a personal level and would often speak of his son and his plans for the future."


SSG Kyle B. Osborn, 26, of Lafayette, Ind., died Sep. 13 in Muqer, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with small arms and rocket propelled grenade fire. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy.

Kyle was promoted posthumously to SSG.

In this story jconline of Lafayette, IN documents the Heroe's welcome home given by his hometown.

SSG Osborn's obituary can be read here.  Kyle is survived by his wife Maggie; his mother, Miriam, of Blackduck, Minn.; his father, Creigh, and his wife, Christa, of Stockwell, and their children, Katlyn and Kade; and his maternal grandmother, Esther Shively, of Lafayette. Kyle is also survived by many aunts, uncles and cousins.
Please go here, here, here and here to read more about and honor SSG Osborn.


PFC Shane Cantu, age 20, of Corunna, MI died August 28, 2012 in Charkh, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when he was hit by shrapnel.  He was  assigned to 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Caserma Ederle, Vicenza, Italy

From Military Times:

"The Corunna High School graduate died Tuesday after insurgents threw an explosive over a base wall, Cantu’s former football coach, Mark Sullivan, told Cantu was a three-year starter at the mid-Michigan high school.

“He’s the hardest working kid I’ve ever coached,” Sullivan told The Argus-Press of Owosso. “He was a winner — in more ways than just winning or losing a game. ... He gave everything his all, and everybody wanted to follow him. That’s just who he was. He had a heart of gold, and his smile lit up the room.”

A family friend, Jake Lumsden said, “I was just shocked. I couldn’t believe it at first,” Lumsden said. “I just sat there a while and thought of all the good times we had together. I’m sorely going to miss him.”

Lumsden said Cantu told him he joined the military because “he loved being part of a team. He tried playing football in college but that didn’t work out so he joined the Army. That’s what he really wanted to do.”

PFC Cantu will be laid to rest today, Monday September 10, 2012.  Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has ordered flags to be flown at half staff in honor of PFC Cantu.


Spc. James A. Justice, 21, of Grover, N.C., died Aug. 17, 2012 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany from injuries suffered on Aug. 14 from enemy small-arms fire in Wardak province, Afghanistan. Justice was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy.

SPC Justice Justice, was taken off of life support at Landstuhl Hosptial the morning of 17 August, 2012 but not before one of his last wishes was granted. His organs were donated.

From Diane Turbyfill of the Shelby Star:

James Justice was 21 – married, father to three stepdaughters, his parents’ youngest son. 

“My son was a brave soldier. He said, ‘Dad I want to help people. If it has to take my life, this is what I want to do. I want to defend my country,’” said Randall.

The young man enlisted three years ago.

He, his wife, Sissy Justice, and their three children deployed to Italy last month.

This editorial in the Shelby Star (SPC Justice's local newspaper) announces that the American Legion World Series will honor SPC Justice and his life. 

"If baseball is America's pastime, then American Legion baseball is the most patriotic sporting event in this great nation.

Even with the shock and horror of his death so painfully fresh, we hope the Justice family somehow gets a small measure of grace out of this year's tournament. We think James would, based on his desire to let his countryman know what he was facing in Afghanistan. His wife's laudable decision to have James' organs donated to a comrade also shows this family is already thinking of others, even in their time of unimaginable grief.

This morning, when them anthem is sung and the code recited, our hope is that the young men will then play baseball -- America's great game -- to the honor of Justice and all the other men and women who have given their lives. We hope they also take a moment to look around at the men and women who survived their service, but surely paid an array of heavy prices in the process."

Yes, today is a day of grief, mourning and sadness. But is also a day of honor, pride and patriotism.

James Justice now joins the fraternity of those for whom this grand world series of baseball is held.

We honor him this week in a uniquely American way.


PFC Andrew Keller, 22, of Tigard, Oregon died Aug. 15, 2012 in Charkh, Afghanistan, of wounds caused by small-arms fire.   PFC Keller was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Caserma Ederle, Vicenza, Italy.

John Canzano from Oregon Live writes this about PFC Keller:

Andrew was an MVP on his high school football team.  He loved hunting and fishing.  He was engaged to his former high school sweetheart, Marissa.  During his second year of college PFC Keller decided to join the Army.  He was fiercely loyal and kind.  Andrew's friends talked about his athleticism and his giant hands and his passion for life.  A classmate who was picked on in high school called Jeff (PFC Keller's father) after hearing the news and said,  "Sir, I want you to know your son was nice ot me when nobody else was."


On the day of his death in Afghanistan, PFC Keller was on a mission to secure an Observation Post when he was hit by a bullet.  After he was hit two of his fellow Soldiers ran to him to protect him from the enemy.  As the helicopter came in to evacuate his body the Soldiers removed their shirts to place over him then shielded him with their bodies to keep the dirt and dust from him.

In this article from the Oregonian Dominique Fong writes, "Connie Jolley, a former Southridge High School health teacher, said she has taught thousands of students, but Keller was one of the few who affected her the most.

"His smile could make anyone's day brighter and he was liked by many," Jolley wrote in an email. "He was hilarious and the kind of kid that people just wanted to be around."

Jolley was impressed by Keller's diligence in his schoolwork, especially his research on dietary supplements, she wrote. She also lived down the street from him and often saw him when she went on a jog, she wrote. When she passed him, he would yell, "Go faster, Jolley." Those words always gave her a burst of energy, even if she was huffing to get up the hill."



PFC Theodore M. Glende, 23, of Rochester, N.Y., died July 27, in Kharwar, Logar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with small-arms fire.

Glende was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Vicenza, Italy.

From Batavia YNN:
Family says PFC Theodore Matthew Glende, often called "Matt", died trying to give medical aid to one of his fellow soldiers.

According to Glende's mother, Matt ended up saving the lives of five men including the fellow soldier he was working on when he was killed.


Army PFC Adam C. Ross, 19, of Lyman, S.C., died July 24, in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds caused by small-arms fire.

He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Vicenza, Italy.  PFC Ross was assigned to Chosen Company.  He was one of the "Chosen Few".


Army SPC Justin L. Horsley, 21, of Palm Bay, Fla., died July 22 in Puli Alam, Afghanistan, of wounds caused by an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Caserma Ederle, Italy.  SPC Horsley had been in country only a few weeks.

You can read more about SPC Horsley here (where his twin brother speaks about him),


Army PFC Brenden N. Salazar, 20, of Chuluota, Fla., died July 22 in Puli Alam, Afghanistan, of wounds caused by an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Caserma Ederle, Italy.  PFC Salazar had only been in country a few weeks.

In this video the principal of Paul Hagerty High School, from which PFC Salazar graduated, talks about what a great man PFC Salazar was and how the school will honor and remember his for his ultimate sacrifice.


1st Lt. Stephen “Chase” Prasnicki, 24, of Lexington, Va., assigned to 4th Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Warner Barracks, Bamberg, Germany; died June 27, in Maidan Shahr, Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds caused by an improvised explosive device.  1LT Prasnicki had been in country only five days.
1LT Prasnicki was a graduate of West Point.  Please click on this link to read more about 1LT Prasnicki and to see photos from his funeral.  Several hundred people lined the streets of his home town to bid him a Hero's farwell.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My American Legion Convention Experience

I recently attended the American Legion's annual convention in Indianapolis.  I was invited to attend as a guest of the American Legion.  I really didn't know what to expect before I went but I sure left there with a new appreciation for the organization.

I thought I knew what the American Legion was but quickly realized that I didn't have a clue about the breadth of their programs.  Over the next weeks or months I will be writing posts about the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary.  Both of these organization are beyond outstanding.  I'm very happy that I was allowed to get a glimpse into what they are all about.

Fair warning!!!  I'm also going to be on a mission to get you younger guys to join the American Legion.

Everyone I met at the convention was warm, genuine and welcoming.  They were all open to my myriad of questions and happy to help me understand all that the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary does.  I was impressed with their professionalism and their camaraderie.  While there certainly were opportunities for socializing there was no question that those in attendance were there to conduct business to benefit Veterans, active duty military personnel and their families.

The American Legion  was chartered by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization. Focusing on service to veterans, servicemembers and communities, the Legion evolved from a group of war-weary veterans of World War I into one of the most influential nonprofit groups in the United States. Membership swiftly grew to over 1 million, and local posts sprang up across the country. Today, membership stands at over 2.4 million in 14,000 posts worldwide. The posts are organized into 55 departments: one each for the 50 states, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, France, Mexico and the Philippines.

The American Legion subscribes to four pillars.  I will focus on each of these pillars separately in coming posts.  The pillars are:

Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation

National Security


Youth and Children

I hope you will enjoy learning about the American Legion with me in the coming weeks and months.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

173rd ABCT Commander Takes the Stars and Stripes to Task

It's such a shame that the Commander of the 173rd ABCT had to write the following letter to the editor of Stars and Stripes but I give HUGE kudos to COL Andy Rohling for doing so.  His letter is absolutely on point.  Why is it so impossible for the staff and editors of the Stars and Stripes to celebrate the accomplishments of the majority of our men in women in uniform as opposed to writing headline grabbing stories of a handful.  Just beyond shameful, deplorable and despicable.

In his letter to the editor dated August 30, 2012 COL Rohling writes:

"I struggle to understand your continuing and overwhelmingly negative coverage of the 173rd Airborne Brigade despite our continued distinguished service.
Over the last year, Stars and Stripes has published 42 articles referencing the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Despite untold successes and accomplishments, only five of those stories were positive. The almost-exclusive focus on two former 173rd officers who failed to adhere to the Army’s standards hardly reflects the integrity and successes of our remaining 3,600 paratroopers.
While I recognize that salacious scandals make for gripping headlines, tabloid-like reading and the potential for profit, your coverage over the last year is misrepresentative, unfair and disturbing to the troops who are currently serving honorably in Afghanistan, our families and the exceptional communities we call home. The best newspapers of our time are known for fair and unbiased reporting, traits that are missing in Stars and Stripes as of late.
As a U.S. Army Europe brigade on its fifth combat deployment in nine years, Sky Soldiers today continue to make significant sacrifices to support Operation Enduring Freedom in the Logar and Wardak provinces of eastern Afghanistan. Daily our paratroopers risk their lives in support of Afghan National Security Forces and the coalition partners with whom they patrol.
The soldiers of the 173rd Airborne, like American servicemembers everywhere, epitomize selfless service through their professionalism, valor and service. Our paratroopers are men and women who instill the pride of our country on the battlefield and in our communities at home.
Our soldiers are proudly maintaining the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s lineage as one of the most decorated brigades in the U.S. Army despite the far-too-publicized actions of a few.
Sky Soldier families understand the daily threat faced by their paratroopers and display equal selflessness and courage in their support from home. Like many military families, they have had to endure the loss and injury of loved ones currently in Afghanistan.
As a news publication that serves American military servicemembers and Families overseas, it would be beneficial to see some positive stories during these trying times. We will do our part to enforce the standards that make our Army and nation strong. It’s time to do yours for the soldiers deployed and their families at home and give a little recognition for a job well done."
Col. Andrew Rohling, Commander, 173rd Airborne Brigade
Vicenza, Italy
THANK YOU COL Rohling.  What a shame that the Stars and Stripes caused you to have to take time away from your current mission and the safety of your Soldiers down range to write this.