Thursday, October 25, 2012

Remembering SGT Josh Brennan - Killed In Action on 26 October 2007 in Kunar Province, Afghanistan

SGT Josh Brennan
30 May 1985 – 26 October 2007
SGT Josh Brennan succumbed to his wounds on October 26, 2007 after being shot multiple times during an ambush on October 25th, 2007. Josh, a member of the 173rd ABCT, 2-503rd, Battle Company, was killed in action during Operation Rock Avalanche. SSG Sal Giunta was awarded the Medal of Honor for his action that day when he, among other things, prevented the enemy from capturing one of his closests friends, Josh.

Rest in Peace Josh always knowing how much you are missed, loved and honored by your family, battle buddies and friends.

In 2010, Josh's mother, Janice Page, sang the following song at her church in memory and honor of Josh.

I wrote this post two years on the anniversary of Josh's death. There are some wonderful photos of Josh over there along with a video tribute to him set to the same song as his mother sang in the video above. The video at the link above was done for Josh's funeral service. Please take the time to go to click on that link and read it. Most of all please keep Josh, his family, battle buddies and friends in your prayers.

SGT Joshua Charles Brennan was born on 30 May 1985 in El Paso, Texas. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on 25 September 2003.

During his time in service SGT Joshua Brennan completed Basic Infantry Training, Advanced Individual Training and Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia. On 15 March 2004, he reported to Vicenza, Italy where he became a Paratrooper in the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Assigned to Battle Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry – The ROCK – SGT Brennan was first a rifleman and then an Assistant M240 Machine Gunner in 1st Platoon. Promoted to Team Leader, SGT Brennan deployed and served with distinction during bothVI and VIII. SGT Brennan was undoubtely one of the finest Noncommissioned Officers in Battle Company. He always led from the front.

SGT Brennan’s awards include: Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart(2), Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Basic Parachutist Badge, and the Combat Infantryman Badge. Prior to his death, SGT Brennan was submitted for the Bronze Star Medal for Valor for his actions on 07 August 2007. For his service during OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VIII, SGT Brennan was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Service.
You can read more about Josh here, here and here.  There is a memorial video of Josh here.
We will NEVER forget you, Josh.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Remembering SPC Hugo "Doc" Mendoza, KIA October 25, 2007 in Kunar Province, Afghanistan

SPC Hugo "DOC" Mendoza died of wounds sustained when he came in contact with enemy forces using RPG, machine gun and small arms fire during Operation Rock Avalanche combat operations on Oct 25, 2007 in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. He was serving with Battle Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment.

SPC Hugo Victor Mendoza was born on 23 March 1978 in California and spent most of his childhood in El Paso, Texas. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on 31 May 2005.

During his time in service, SPC Hugo Victor Mendoza completed Basic Infantry Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Medical Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia.

On 6 March 2006, SPC Mendoza reported to his first duty station at Caserma, Ederle, Vicenza, Italy. He was assigned to the 173d Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry – The ROCK. SPC Mendoza was then assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company with duty as a combat medic in Battle Company. He immediately found his home among the combat warriors of 1st Platoon – The Celts.

SPC Mendoza trained, deployed and fought side by side with his band of brothers in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VIII. SPC Mendoza distinguished himself in The ROCK as a heroic medic, charismatic Paratrooper, and an overall altruistic human being.

On April 12, 2012 the Army named the Fort Bliss Family Care Center in memory and honor of SPC Mendoza.  The 143,000 square foot clinic is the largest free standing clinic in the Army.  Many of SPC Mendoza's Battle Buddies attended the ceremony in honor of him and in support of his family who was there.  The entire story about the renaming can be read at the link above.

SPC Hugo Mendoza Family Care Center at Fort Bliss, TX

SPC Mendoza’s awards include: The Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Combat Medical Badge, and Basic Parachutist Badge. SPC Mendoza has been submitted for the Bronze Star Medal for Service in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VIII.

SPC Mendoza's family recalls him as a very giving person; a man who treated everyone the way he wanted to be treated. SPC Mendoza planned to become a firefighter once he left the Army.

He was laid to rest at Fort Bliss, TX.

We will NEVER forget you "DOC". Rest in Peace brave warrior

"Honor the Fallen" has an article here that you should read. His family and friends tell more about the incredible man he was.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Remembering SSG Larry Rougle - KIA in Kunar Province, Afghanistan 23 October 2007

SSG Larry Rougle
06 May 1982 – 23 October 2007

SSG Larry Rougle was killed in action five years ago.  For those who knew and loved him the loss and pain doessn't seemed to get any easier.  It never will.

SSG Rougle was on his sixth deployment when he was killed in action on 23 October 2007 during Operation ROCK Avalanche. SSG Rougle had deployed to Iraq three times and was on his third deployment to Afghanistan.

SSG Rougle joined the Army in 1999. According to his brother, David Rougle, "It was the best thing for him," David Rougle said. "He was proud to serve. He believed in what he was doing. And he would debate with anyone who said anything differently."

SSG Rougle's father and an uncle both served our nation. His father, Ismael, served in Vietnam. His uncle, Fernando Lopez, served in the first Gulf War. Both knew the cost of war. Both had lost friends in combat. SSG Rougle's father didn't encourage him to join the Army but was proud when he did.

In the documentary Restrepo, SFC Kevin Rice (then SSG Rice) told the film makers, "He was one of the best, if not the best," Staff Sgt. Kevin Rice told Hetherington and Junger in the film. "I think that's what was tough for a lot of people, was kind of knowing in the back of your mind 'well if the best guy we have out here just got killed, where's that put me? What's going to happen to me, you know? What's going to happen to the guys on my left and my right?'"

At the Memorial Service in Afghanistan for SSG Rougle, SGT Joshua Brennan and SPC Hugo "Doc" Mendoza, SSG Michael Gabel said, "I will not be bitter. I will not shed a tear of sorrow. I am proud to have known such a good man and a warrior to the bitter end. Until we see each other again, sky soldiers!"

Only a few weeks later, on 12 December 2007, SSG Gabel died in combat as the result of a roadside bomb.

Arlington National Cemetery's website has a series of reports and photos about SSG Rougle here. I hope you will take the time to go to those links and read more about this American Hero who was loved and respected by so many and who is missed by legions of battle buddies and friends as much today as he has been any day since he gave his life for this nation.

In 2011 I had the honor of visiting SSG Rougle's gravesite to pay my respects, deliver a message from one of his battle buddies and to place a red rose for love and a yellow rose for friendship on behalf of his battle buddy.

SSG Rougle is survived by his daughter, Carmin, his parents Nancy and Ismael Rougle; his brother David Rougle; a godson, cousins, and aunts and uncles, including his Aunt Char and Uncle Joel Rodriguez, members of St. Francis Xavier Parish. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, November 8, 2007.

SSG Larry I Rougle
Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment

SSG Larry Ismael Rougle was born on 6 May 1982 in West Jordan, Utah. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on 14 March 2000.

After SSG Rougle completed Basic Infantry Training, Advanced Individual Training, Airborne School, and the Ranger Indoctrination Program he was assigned to B Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment as a Rifleman. He was later assigned as a Team Leader in the same unit in June of 2003. He deployed numerous times while with the 75th Ranger Regiment, to include OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM. In 2004, he reported to the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vicenza, Italy and was assigned to 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry – The ROCK.

SSG Rougle served in multiple green tab leadership positions in The ROCK – Able Company as a Squad Leader during OPERATION ENDURING FREEOM VI and most recently, HHC as a Scout Team Leader during OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VIII.

SSG Rougle’s awards include: Army Commendation Medal for Valor, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal (2), National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Ranger Tab, Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Infantryman Badge, Pathfinder Badge and the Senior Parachutist Badge. SSG Rougle was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Service and the Purple Heart.


Monday, October 15, 2012

American Legion National Commander 2012-13, James E "Jimmy" Koutz

American Legion National Commander James E Koutz

It was both a privilege and a learning experience to witness the election of Mr. Koutz as the American Legion's Commander for 2012-2013.

I found the election process to be quite interesting.  They began the process by nomination of Mr. Koutz.  Once the nomination was complete they began the election process via an alphabetical "roll call" by state.  Since Commander Koutz is from Indiana the states in alphabetical order prior to Indiana would state their support for Mr. Koutz then cede to another state.  Finally the process was ceded to Indiana.

Once Commander Koutz was elected by acclamation there was a demonstration.  It was really fun to watch.  Folks were circling the convention floor with signs, a bagpiper was playing, cannons were shooting confetti.  It was really fun to watch.

Being sworn in.

I had the privilege of interviewing Commander Koutz for a few minutes despite his very busy schedule. 

ME:  In what Branch did you serve and for how long?
COMMANDER KOUTZ:  I served 42 years in the Army.

ME:  Did you serve overseas?
COMMANDER KOUTZ:  I served from January 1970 to March 1971 in Vietnam with C Company, 169th Engineering Battalion.

ME:  I have learned this week that the American Legion has many programs that I was not at all aware of.  During your year as Commander what particular areas will you focus on?
COMMANDER KOUTZ:  I plan to focus on several areas but one will be Operation Comfort Warriors.  Another area I plan to focus on is our Family Support Network.

ME:  I know you will have almost unlimited opportunities to visit with various Legion Posts around the globe as well as attending a myriad of events related to the focus and goals of the American Legion.  Of all of the opportunities that you are aware of at this point in your schedule is there any one that you are most looking forward to?
COMMANDER KOUTZ:  Yes, there are many opportunities that I am looking forward to and many people I am excited about meeting and working with.  If I had to pick one that stands out right now it would be my scheduled visit to Landstuhl Hospital in Germany.  The American Legion has donated substantial amounts to the hospital on behalf of the wounded who are treated there.  I look forward to meeting the staff and volunteers and to be able to thank them for all they do.

ME:  Is there anything else you would like for folks to know about you or about your plans for the coming year?
COMMANDER KOUTZ:  We're not getting a lot of the younger Veterans to join the American Legion.  I want to try to figure out why so that we can get them to join and work with us on issues for the better of us all.

Commander Koutz's bio from the American Legion website:

James E. Koutz of Boonville, Ind., was elected national commander of The American Legion on Aug. 30, 2012, during the organization's 94th National Convention in Indianapolis.

Koutz entered the United States Army in August 1969. He attended basic training at Ft. Knox, Ky., and Advanced Infantry Training at Ft. Ord, Calif. In January 1970 he reported to Vietnam and served an extended tour of duty with Co. C 169th Engineer Battalion. He was honorably discharged with the rank of Specialist 5 in March 1971 and quickly joined The American Legion. He is a member of Boonville Post 200 where his father, George, was a World War II veteran and a past commander of the post. Jim was honored as a life member of his Post in 1991 and served as its post commander for nine years.

Koutz retired from the Amax Coal Company in 1995 after 21 years of service. He was appointed by the Warrick County Commissioners in January 1995 as service officer for the Warrick County Veterans Affairs office. The governor of Indiana appointed him commissioner of the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2005 where he served as president of that commission in 2007. In January 2009 he was appointed to serve four more years.

Koutz has held elected and appointed offices in The American Legion at the post, county, district, department and national levels. As Indiana State American Legion Commander, he achieved an all-time high membership during his tenure in 1990-1991. At the national level, he served on the Foreign Relations Commission and as chairman of both the Economics and Legislative Commissions. Additionally, he is a member of the Citizens Flag Alliance and also served on the Veterans’ Planning and Coordinating Committee.

He was awarded the State of Indiana Council of the Sagamore of the Wabash in 1991 by former Gov. Evan Bayh and recognized for outstanding community achievement of Vietnam veterans by President Jimmy Carter. He received the Elks Distinguished Citizenship Award from the Grand Lodge of Order of the Elks and Boonville Elks Lodge No. 1180.

Here is the video of Commander Koutz's acceptance speech.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Poignant Story About a WWII Veteran From This Weekend's Honor Flight Out of Texas

On Friday October 12, 2012 the tenth Honor Flight from Texas departed from DFW to Washington, DC.  On board were many of our incredible WWII Veterans and a group of amazing Volunteers.  Several friends of mine were volunteers on that flight.  Donna was a volunteer for a Marine, Mr. S.

There are so many stories about our WWII Veterans that go untold.  There are many WWII Veterans who would never have the opportunity to visit their Memorial and many of the other Memorials and Monuments in Washington, DC if not for the Honor Flight program.  I continue to be touched by stories I hear from my friends who volunteer on these honor flights.  Below is one of those stories that Donna shared and really touched me this weekend.  The italicized text below each photo tells this story.

God Bless these Veterans.

I met this Marine at the breakfast this a.m. at the airport and knew the trip was going to be awesome. I asked him if he had been to the Iwo Jima Monument. He has not but can't wait to get there. And he said, "I want to get a picture of  me lying down in front of it looking at the flag because that's how I saw it when it went up the first time." He paused and went on to say, "I saw it from a fox hole." I literally had chills go over my entire body. I promised him we would make that happen. I told two others who have cameras as well.
These men are incredible!!!

Mr. S wanted so badly to lie down in front of the memorial, looking at the flag because that is how he saw it go up as a young 18 year old.
Here he is attempting to get on the ground. It was to difficult for him so he decided to stand and look at it.  He is not being neglected here, but very respected as he wanted to try and do this on his own. When he realized he couldn't, Joe and the young Marine helped him up.

Here is Mr. S. remembering the day he saw the flag hoisted. He was 18 years old.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Remembering the Fallen of COP Keating/Kamdesh October 3, 2009

Three years ago today eight American Heroes gave their lives and 22 more were wounded when OP Fritsche and COP Keating were attacked by the enemy in Kamdesh, Afghanistan.

Today the pain is still so fresh for the families and the survivors. 

Please take some time to read about the Fallen Heroes of COP Keating. Click on each link below to read more about what their families, friends, Brothers-in-Arms and community members have said about these men. It is the VERY least we can do to REMEMBER them and HONOR their sacrifice.

May God rest the souls of these men and continue to provide comfort to their families and friends.

SSG Vernon Martin was known as a giving husband and a loving father to his three children ages 2, 4 and 6 at the time of his death. He was also known as a great brother. SSG Martin married his high school sweetheart and aspired to work with children in a youth development program when he left the Army.

SSG Martin was known for his laugh, his loving and giving spirit and his love of children and their causes.

He was a native of Savannah, GA. He entered the Army in August 2004 and had served one tour in Iraq prior to his deployment to Afghanistan. You can read more about the man and and Soldier he was in this article from KKTV. There are so me very touching comments at the end of the article.

SSG Justin T. Gallegos, a native of Tuscon, Arizona, was on his third deployment. He had previously served two deployments to Iraq and had been awarded, among other awards, three Purple Hearts.

SSG Gallegos was the father of a five year old son.

Retired Army CSM Don Becker told a story about one of the times when SSG Gallegos was wounded in Iraq and earned his first Purple Heart. Becker says Gallegos' vehicle was in a convoy when it was bombarded with grenades and machine gun fire and Gallegos took a chunk of shrapnel in his arm. "But he continued to fight," Becker says, until one final grenade was thrown. Becker says Gallegos told him, "I saw the guy that threw it. But I didn't shoot at him. So I started to open my mouth of course to ask why. He looked at me and said he was standing behind a bunch of kids."

You can read more about this SSG Gallegos in this article from KKTV.

SGT Joshua J Kirk was a husband and father of a three year old daughter.

At the Memorial service at Fort Carson in October 2009 it is reported by Military Times that chuckles rippled through the nearly full chapel as letters were read from soldiers still in Afghanistan recounting the fallen troops’ lives and praising their bravery and friendship. “I would have followed that man straight to hell if he thought it was a good idea,” one letter said of Sgt. Joshua T. Kirk, 30, of South Portland, Maine.

In this article from the Portland Press Herald Sgt Kirk's cousin, Ben Dinsmore of Killeen, Texas, said "Kirk had dreams of joining the Army when he was a kid. He said they played Army when they were growing up.

''We were thick and thin,'' Dinsmore said. ''We would grab any stick that looked like a gun and run around in the woods playing Army. I joined the Coast Guard and he joined the Army right around the same time.''

There's much more about SGT Kirk at this link

SGT Joshua M Hardt entered the Army in June 2006. This was his second deployment. His first was to Iraq. A Soldier who served with SGT Hardt said, "He was an amazing person and a great teacher." Another commented that he always knew how to light up a room with his smile.

In an article in the LA times I found this about SGT Hardt:

"While he was still in high school, Joshua Hardt took one look at his future wife, Olivia, and told friends that some day he would be with her. That first date was low-key: a movie and Chinese food. He gave Olivia a piggyback ride into the cafe. Later that night, he asked if he could give her a good-night kiss. She declined, but he touched his lips to her forehead. She reciprocated with a kiss on the cheek. He ran down the driveway, kicked his heels in the air and exclaimed "Yes!" his wife remembers. "He was animated like that," she said.

You can learn more about SGT Hardt from this article and the touching comments published by KKTV

SGT Michael Scusa left behind his wife, Alyssa, and their 1 year old son Connor who was named for one of SGT Scusa's fallen comrades. He joined the Army in 2005 and had served one tour in Iraq. He re-enlisted in the Army not long before deploying to Afghanistan.

The Press of Atlantic City notes that "As a teenager, Michael Scusa used to jog down Kentucky Avenue in the Villas with a backpack filled with bricks to simulate Army training."

The article also states, "Scusa left an impression on his Lower Cape May Regional High School teachers, who remembered him fondly as a sometimes-quiet student who blossomed over the years. He was enthusiastic about joining the military, they said. He enlisted while still in high school and shipped out shortly after graduation. He visited his (high school) alma mater several times, but the first time he walked the halls in uniform and chatted with teachers was the most memorable. He had changed, said his freshman English teacher Chris Rosenberg, who became friends with Scusa. "He was a man," Rosenberg said.

From KKTV: "Alyssa says she will remember her husband Michael as a goofy, fun loving person, who made everyone smile." And "Michael's father-in-law tells 11 News that Michael was proud to be a soldier. He believed in his mission and his family."

SPC Stephan Mace joined the Army in early 2008 and was on his first deployment. He was from Lovettsville, VA, the second eldest of four brothers. SPC Mace was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. He is survived by his mother, father, three brothers and grandparents.

There is a moving video here of SPC Mace's final journey home.

SPC Mace is described as a Moto Cross champion, football player, hunter and all around fun-loving, loyal friend. I urge you to take some time to read this story published by CNN of an interview done with SPC Mace's mother Vanessa Adelson. I was moved to tears on more than one occassion.

In this article from the Colorado Springs Gazette his mother said, “There was a peace about him,” she said. “He told me many times: ‘I trust everybody in my unit to cover my back.’ He loved those boys he fought with like brothers.”

She said he showed no fear as he returned to the remote outpost where he later died

KKTV has more about SPC Mace.

SGT Christopher T Griffin of Kincheloe, MI was 24 and known for his infectious smile.

From the Colorado Springs Gazette:

Tom McKee, a classmate who is now a student teacher at Rudyard High, said the whole town knew that Griffin would someday don his nation’s uniform.

“He always wanted to join the service,” McKee said. “Any time we played, we were Army men.”

At Rudyard, Griffin played football and wrestled. He was known as a generous kid with an easy laugh.

“He was a quiet person who had a great sense of humor and always smiled,” McKee said. “In the 15 years I knew him, I never heard him say a negative word.”

An avid Green Bay Packers fan, he showed versatility on the high school gridiron. “If he had to learn a new position in a day, he would do it,” McKee said.

Griffin visited his home town after he’d joined the Army. McKee said he appeared content with the decision.

“He said he was doing what he loved to do.”

PFC Kevin C Thomson was born in California but raised in Reno, NV by his mother. He enlisted in the Army in 2008. This was his first deployment.

From Freedom Remembered - PFC Thomson was known as a young man full of spirit and was very close to his mother - it was just the two of them. He was also known as a consumate prankster and for embracing his love of country. Kevin lost 100 pounds so that he could join the Army. He was always known for being there for anyone who needed him.

KKTV has more about PFC Thomson at their link.

REMEMBER THEM ALWAYS!  And remember those who miss them everyday and continue to deal with the pain of their deaths.