Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Rare & Privileged Event - The 173rd ABCT St. Michael's Jump at Aviano, Italy

A prayer to Michael the Archangel, Patron Saint of Paratroopers by Lew Poorman:

Angelic Michael, hear my call
As through the sky I now will fall.
Satan you once cast from here.
Aid me now to conquer fear.
My static line have hooked to hold.
And then my chute it to make unfold.

Suspension lines untangled be
And open up my canopy.
From other jumpers float me clear
As safely down I persevere.
On angel wings I hit the ground.
My father's favor I have found.
In thanks, St Michael, I do pray
For God has helped me - all the way.

Last Monday, November 28, 2011, I had the privilege of witnessing the St. Michael's jump by the 173rd ABCT from Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy.  This was the first time in seven years that the 173rd has held the St. Michael's jump.  The event was coordinated by the 173rd Brigade Chaplain, MAJ Edward Cook. 

I rolled out of bed at 04:30 - a feat in itself for me but, as the day unfolded, a feat that was beyond worth it.  A couple of the men from the 2-503d (Steven Van Esch and Fabe Sesma) had made arrangements for me to join family members and attend the jump.  I will never be able to thank those men enough for arranging this.

I walked across post to the 2-503rd Battalion HQ where I had been told to be by 06:30 in order to board a bus for Aviano where the jump would take place.   There was a bit of confusion about where the buses were - they were not at the 2-503d HQ.  Around 06:20 I made my way into the building and inquired at the staff duty desk as to where I should be.  The Soldiers asked around and directed me to the soccer field.

As I walked from the 2-503d BN building to the soccer field (retracing my steps from the hotel) I ran into SGT Remmel who is a very cherished friend and who was participating in the jump that day.  SGT Remmel and I walked together to the soccer field where Soldiers from 2-503d, 1-503d and HHC were meeting to be taken to Aviano for the jump.

SGT Remmel went onto the field to join the 2-503d Soldiers while I waited on the edge of the field.  As I was waiting I met Jenn Cook, the Brigade Chaplain's wife, and their son Edward.  Jenn took me under her wing all day.  I am grateful to her for her guidance and support.  I am so thankful our paths crossed.

A little after 07:00 they called for the Soldiers and the few family members who were there to board the buses.  I had no idea where SGT Remmel was or what bus to board.  About that time CPT Andy Oliver came walking by and recognized me.  I was still half asleep so I was thrilled to see a familiar face.  CPT Oliver called out to someone to make sure I was on the bus with 2-503d Chosen Company.  The next thing I knew I was not only on the bus with SGT Remmel but we were seated next to each other.  PERFECT!

We arrived at Aviano around 09:30 and a bit of the "hurry up and wait" began.  The jump was scheduled for 15:00 (3:00 PM).  As we were waiting MAJ Cook gave a devotion to include the history of St. Michael and the St. Michael's jump.

MAJ Cook telling us about St. Michael then saying a prayer for a safe jump

After MAJ Cook finished each of the Battalion Chaplains presented the Soldiers who were jumping with a St. Michael medallion to commemorate the jump.

SGT Remmel receiving his St. Michael medallion

The three C-130s that would take the paratroopers up arrived.

The paratroopers were briefed on the LZ (Landing Zone).  It was a little unnerving for me to listen to the person conducting the briefing discus what to do if 1) you land in a tree or 2) you land on a power line, etc.  But good to know all bases are covered! 

Briefing on the LZ

Then the paratroopers, by Battalion, were called out to "rehearse" the elements of the jump.  Following are a few of the elements they rehearse:

Rehearsing #1

Rehearsing #2 (that's SGT Remmel 2nd in line)

Rehearsing #3 (I couldn't help but think of bunny hops.  LOL)

A little while later they lined up to get their chutes from the conex,

Getting their chutes

Then they completed some basic preparation before rigging up in the chutes.

Not long after that it was time to "buddy up" and "rig up" in the chutes.

Rigging up #1

Rigging up #2

Rigging up #3

Me and SGT Remmel

After they were all rigged up a Jump Master checked each paratrooper to make sure everything was in order and, I think, prepares the static line.  For once I didn't ask a million questions - I tried to stay out of the way since I knew it was essential that this all be done properly to ensure the safety of each paratrooper.

Jump Master checking SGT Remmel

Jump Master continuing to check everything on SGT Remmel

Uh oh, some one's really tall!

Jump Master had to get up on the bench to finish inspecting and preparing SGT Remmel for the jump

All rigged up and inspected.  Now time for a nap before the jump.

GO TIME!  Time to load up on the birds.

Heading out to the C-130s #1

Heading out to the C-130s #2

After we watched the paratroopers file out to the planes we hopped on a bus to go to the LZ (Landing Zone).  We weren't there too long before we saw the planes approaching.

C-130s carrying precious cargo - the Paratroopers

First chutes popped

As the first chutes popped it was both breathtaking and an emotional moment for me.  Not a "boo hoo" type of emotion but I couldn't stop the tears from streaming down my face.  Jenn Cook came over and saw my tears.  Before I even had the chance to explain myself she assured me she understood.  Then I told her about one of those men who was jumping out of the third aircraft. 

He was shot during an ambush back in OEF VIII.  He wasn't medevaced for about 3 hours due to the intensity of the fight and the helos not being able to land.  Once he got to Asadabad he "died" 2 or 3 times but the incredible medical staff kept reviving him.  By the time he got to Landstuhl he was on life support.  His family was called and told that they (Landstuhl) would try to keep him alive until the family got there.  Another miracle happened and he stabilized enough to be sent to WRAMC (Walter Reed Army Medical Center).

Once at WRAMC his was in a comma and declared brain dead.  As his family stood vigil for 10 days there was no change.  Then, one more miracle, on the 10th day he woke up.  He fought for 22 months at WRAMC to get healthy - to get well.  His only goal was to return to the 2-503d.  And he did.  He did so by determination.  He endured numerous surgeries and procedures; months of waiting; mountains of paperwork.  He could have been medically retired from the Army but not this Paratrooper.  It was all about getting back to his unit.

Not only did he return to the ROCK but he deployed with them in OEF X.  What a stud!

So there I was standing at the Landing Zone in Aviano, Italy knowing that one of those Paratroopers beneath one of those canopies was this young man.  Yep, I got emotional and I'll never apologize for that.

To be honest the emotion wasn't just about that one Paratrooper, though.  It was about how damn fortunate I am to be allowed to love and to be so loved by so many of the ROCK Paratroopers and their families.  Not one day passes in my life that I don't know how fortunate and blessed I am.

Just breathtaking!

Those are "my" guys!

Paratroopers against the back drop of the mountains near Aviano as the C-130 circles for another pass.

I hope you all had soft landings!

SGT Remmel tucked this away in one of the pockets of his ACUs and jumped with it.  Just minutes after his jump he handed it to me.  There are no words for how special this is.

As we were standing around waiting for all of the Paratroopers to make their way across the road from the LZ to where we were at the buses I noticed a gentleman with the name tape "Rohling".  What a bonus!  COL Andy Rohling who is now the 173rd ABCT Commander.  I introduced myself and thanked him for the opportunity to be at the jump.  COL Rohling was previously the S-3 and XO for 2-503d.  COL Rohling was kind enough to chat with me for a few minutes.  As we were chatting he handed me the St. Michael medallion that he had been given that day.  I was beyond honored.

Some Italian Jump Masters had participated in the jump.  After everyone was safely back on the ground, the chutes were stored away and everyone assembled near the buses both MAJ Cook and an Italian Commander had Soldiers from each country exchange jump wings.  Then each Commander said a few words about what a special day it was.  And it was SO special in every possible way.

When we boarded the buses to return to the airfield at Aviano MAJ Cook came to my seat.  He told me that Jenn had filled him in a little on why I was there.  Then he reached in his pocket and pulled out one of the St. Michael medallions and told me that he would like for me to have it.  I was honored and speechless.  I told him that COL Rohling had already given me his.  MAJ Cook asked that I accept the one from him, too.  Another blessing to my already more than perfect day.

The St. Michael medallions given to me by MAJ Cook and COL Rohling - showing the front and back.

Honored, humbled, privileged, grateful...there really just aren't words to fully describe my feelings for being allowed to experience the St. Michael jump.  I am forever thankful.  This day is absolutely one of the most cherished days of my life.

Jump week continued for the Paratroopers in Vicenza.  On Tuesday I know some of the ROCK Paratroopers were at Aviano for day jumps from Chinooks and night jumps from the C-130s.  Wednesday and Thursday there were more jumps.  I hope all of the jumps on Tuesday - Thursday were as safe as the ones on Monday.  I'm sure there were many pairs of wings buried on the landing zone last week.  I'm told that tradition is that when a Paratrooper makes his/her last jump on an LZ they bury a pair of their wings.  I know a couple of men who made their last jump as a member of the ROCK.  I wish them well as they move on with their military careers and lives.  They will always be ROCK Paratroopers to me.  Once ROCK, always ROCK.  Right?

Again, my thanks to Steven Van Esch, Fabe Sesma, Bob Remmel, Jenn Cook, MAJ Cook, COL Rohling, LTC Larsen and all of the ROCK Paratroopers for allowing me this once in a lifetime experience as well as for your support to me.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Remembering 1LT Ferrara, SGT Mersman, CPL Langevin, CPL Roque, SPC Lancour and SGT Bocks, KIA, Afghanistan 9 November 2007

Four years ago tomorrow (9 November 2007) six American Warriors were killed in an ambush in eastern Afghanistan.  Six family's lives were changed forever.  Their battle buddies lives were changed forever.  Legions of friends learned the news that these men had become American Heroes - Heroes to whom we owe so much we can never repay them.

Please take a few minutes to read about these men.  Honor them.  Remember them.  Be grateful for them.  It is the very least we can do.
Rest in peace brave warriors.  We will never forget you.

Memorial Service in Afghanistan 2007

1st Lt. Matthew C. Ferrara, 24, of Torrance, Calif.

14 October 1983 – 9 November 2007

Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment

1LT Matthew C. Ferrara was born on 14 October 1983 in Torrance, California, and he graduated and was commissioned from the United States Military Academy at West Point on 28 May 2005 as an Infantry officer.

1LT Ferrara completed the Infantry Officer Basic Course, Airborne School, and Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia and reported to Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy for his first duty assignment. Matt was assigned to Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry as the Platoon Leader of First Platoon.

In May 2007, 1LT Ferrara deployed with the company to Afghanistan in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VIII. On 22 August 2007, 1LT Ferrara led his men to thwart a deliberate enemy attack on the Aranas Combat Outpost (Ranch House) by a numerically superior force. For his valorous and heroic actions that day he was awarded the Silver Star.

1LT Ferrara’s awards include: Bronze Star Medal (Posthumous), Purple Heart (Posthumous), National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Infantryman Badge, Ranger Tab, and Basic Parachutist Badge.

Sgt. Jeffery S. Mersman, 23, of Parker, KS

11 May 1984 – 9 November 2007

Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment

SGT Jeffery S. Mersman was born on 11 May 1984 in Paola, Kansas. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on 15 January 2002.

SGT Mersman served in C Company, 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division as a Grenadier and Rifle Team Leader. While in this unit, SGT Mersman deployed three times in support of OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM before reporting for duty at Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy.

SGT Mersman was assigned to Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team as a Rifle Team Leader in August 2006. He deployed to Afghanistan in support of OPERATION ENDUING FREEDOM VIII in May 2007. During this deployment, SGT Mersman participated in numerous combat patrols and manned a critical observation point at Bella Combat Outpost in Nuristan Province providing surveillance and early warning of enemy activity.

SGT Mersman’s awards include: Bronze Star Medal (Posthumous), Purple Heart (Posthumous), Army Commendation Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters), Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terror Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal, Valorous Unit Award, Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Infantryman Badge, and Basic Parachutist Badge.

CPL Sean K.A. Langevin, 23, of Walnut Creek, CA

17 August 1984 – 9 November 2007

Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment

CPL Sean K. Langevin was born on 17 August 1984 in Walnut Creek, California. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on 14 February 2006.

After completing Infantry One Station Unit Training (OSUT) and Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georiga, CPL Langevin reported to his first duty station at Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy. He was assigned to Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team as an Automatic Rifleman. CPL Langevin deployed to Afghanistan in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VIII in May 2007.

During his time in Afghanistan, CPL Langevin went on numerous combat patrols. He was also involved in a violent firefight with enemy forces at the Aranas Combat Outpost (Ranch House) on 22 August 2007. For his heroic actions during the Ranch House attack, CPL Langevin was submitted for the Bronze Star Medal with Valor.

Cpl Langevin’s awards include: Bronze Star Medal (Posthumous), Purple Heart (Posthumous), Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terror Service Medal, Army Service Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Basic Parachutist Badge.

CPL Lester G. Roque, 23, of Torrance, CA

4 December 1983 – 9 November 2007

Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2dn Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment

CPL Lester G. Roque was born on 4 December 1983 in Obando, Bulacan, Philippines where he spent most of his childhood. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on 2 February 2005.

During his time in service, CPL Roque completed One Station Unit Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Medical Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia. On 10 October 2005, CPL Roque reported to his first duty station at Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. After his arrival, he immediately joined Headquarters and Headquarters Company in Afghanistan in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VI where he was assigned as a trauma medic. Due to his maturity and leadership, he was assigned as the Chosen Company Senior Medic where he served with distinction. During OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VIII, CPL Roque established two aid stations at Combat Outposts Bella and Aranas (Ranch House), conducted numerous combat patrols, and established a local national clinic to increase the healthcare for the surrounding populace.

CPL Roque’s awards include: Bronze Star Medal (Posthumous), Purple Heart (Posthumous), Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal, Combat Medical Badge, Expert Field Medical Badge, and Basic Parachutist Badge.

SPC Joseph M. Lancour, 21, of Swartz Creek, MI

26 June 1986 – 9 November 2007

Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment

SPC Joseph M. Lancour was born on 26 June 1986 in Cadillac, Michigan. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on 8 February 2006.

After completing Infantry One Station Unit Training (OSUT) and attending Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia, SPC Lancour arrived at Caserma, Ederle in Vicenza, Italy for his first duty assignment. SPC Lancour was immediately assigned as a Rifleman in Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.

SPC Lancour conducted his first deployment to Afghanistan in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VIII in May 2007. During his service, SPC Lancour participated in numerous combat patrols and manned a critical observation post at Bella Combat Outpost providing security and observation of the surrounding mountainous terrain.

SPC Lancour’s awards include: Bronze Star Medal (Posthumous), Purple Heart (Posthumous), Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terror Service Medal, Army Service Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Basic Parachutist Badge.

Marine Sgt. Phillip A. Bocks, 28, of Troy, Mich.

From Marines dot mil Bocks’ journey to MWTC began when he enlisted in the Marine Corps May 9, 2000. That same year, he graduated from basic training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C. He then reported to the School of Infantry East at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he graduated and became a Marine Corps rifleman. He later served with Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, where he deployed in support of Operation Southern Watch from Sept. 1, 2001 to Feb. 3, 2002. Sgt. Bocks then deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from May 5 to Aug. 15, 2003, according to his service record book.

In his short life, Sgt. Bocks contributed more to his fellow man, fellow comrades-at-arms, and to the units he served in, said Cooling. “He touched more people in more ways than many of us could in a lifetime,” he said. “The evidence of that is why we are all here today.”

Please go to the link above to read more about Sgt Bocks. 


Monday, November 7, 2011

Honorary COL Evan Pertile Named One of The US Army Faces Of Strength 2011

If you've read this blog for the past couple of years you may remember Evan Pertile.  Evan was diagnosed with a rare childhood cancer just after Thanksgiving in 2008.  Depending on how you look at it that was three LONG or three short years ago.  I'm sure his parents would say it was three LONG years ago.  But the good news is that Evan is in remission and doing well thanks to the amazing care he received at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, TN.

Evan's mother announced on their caringbridge site that Evan has been selected as on the U S Army's 2011 Faces of Strength.  Evan is the only civilian to ever be selected for this honor.

From The United States Army Faces of Strength:

At the age of eight, Evan Pertile has achieved more than most men. He retains the honorary rank of colonel in the U.S. Army, has received multiple medals and survived a vicious battle. In 2008, Evan was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer. Shortly after his diagnosis, Evan was brought to St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, for operations and radiation therapy. While treatment was tough, Evan was even tougher.

After spending many sleepless nights by Evan’s side at St. Jude’s, his mother, Rachel, was heading home to Columbia, South Carolina, when she met someone who would change the Pertiles’ lives. Brenda Bowen worked at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, and when she learned of Evan’s affinity for “Army guys,” she knew she could help. Brenda used her network to rally support for Evan. A message board that Rachel had set up began to flood with words of encouragement from the Soldiers he admired so much.

That support came just in time. Evan had lost his appetite as a result of his rigorous chemotherapy treatment when he started receiving messages of support from all over the world. One after another, Soldiers told Evan that he had to eat to be Army Strong. These words of encouragement sparked an incredible willpower in Evan to eat again, allowing doctors to remove his feeding tube. Since then, Evan has proudly touted that he is Army Strong, someone who “can fight anything and win,” and he is now two years in remission.

Over the past three years, Evan has befriended many of the Soldiers who encouraged him throughout his recovery. By taking time to contact Evan, the Soldiers helped save a life off the battlefield. And while Evan’s story began as one of Soldiers inspiring a young boy, it has turned into a source of inspiration for other Soldiers. Now, instead of words of encouragement, Evan receives messages of thanks.

“The whole time Evan was a force within himself of strength, courage and perseverance,” says Rachel. But she recalls that Soldiers told her “as much as we help Evan, Evan helps us. Evan shows us what we fight for and what we believe in, and he gives meaning to what we do.”

Evan faced much adversity in his bout with brain cancer, but his drive to be Army Strong helped him win the battle. Evan defines strength as “courage” and the will to “keep fighting.” The Soldiers who know him define strength as “Evan Pertile.”

Matt Burden of Blackfive first introduced us to Evan in early May 2009.

Later that month SSG Ryan Pitts and I visited Evan at the Target House near St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

The night after SSG Pitts and I visited with Evan and his mother he became critically ill.  It was touch and go as to whether he would make it or not.  But he did.  Today he is thriving and enjoying being an 8 year old boy.  God answered so many prayers.  And, thanks to so many Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen around the world (literally), Evan drew strength to fight his toughest battles. 

It seems that now Evan is learning that he has given much back. 
In July 2009 Jim Hanson aka Uncle Jimbo and I visited Evan.

Evan has been an inspiration to so many.  He is an incredible young man.  Now that he is in remission he is swimming, playing soccer, doing well in school, playing with his older brothers and his new baby sister and conitnuing to raise money for St Jude so that other children can be treated for devastating childhood cancers.  It has been such a privilege getting to know Evan and his family. 

Congratulations Evan! 

More links:

Evan Pertile Follow Up posted on Blackfive July 2009 (excellent video)
Evan Pertile Update posted on Blackfive Sept 2009
Evan Pertile return to duty with a great video Uncle Jimbo filmed the day before Evan left for home.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Remembering SGT Joshua Brennan Four Years After He Gave His Life For This Nation

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.

Last year, Josh's mother, Janice Gates, 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.

Remembering SPC Hugo "DOC" Mendoza Who Was Killed In Action in Afghanistan on Oct 25, 2007

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.

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.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Remembering SSG Larry Rougle KIA 23 October 2007 in Afghanistan

SSG Larry Rougle
06 May 1982 – 23 October 2007

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 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.

I was at Arlington National Cemetery last weekend.  It was an honor to visit 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.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

When Will The Disrespect End?

A few weeks ago I had the honor of attending the funeral of an American Hero at Arlington National Cemetery.  We all gathered in one of the family rooms until it was time to drive or walk to the staging area where the Old Guard so reverently and honorably transferred the remains of the fallen Hero from the hearse to the caisson. 

The Color Guard began to move down the street in Arlington National Cemetery followed by the band.  The horse drawn caisson fell in behind the band with the Hero's widow and her parents following closely accompanied by representatives of the Old Guard.  The rest of us fell behind them.

We walked a short distance and topped a hill.  At the bottom of that hill I saw 4 or 5 tour buses.  People began spilling out of them and running to the corner of the street we were on and one that intersected it.  These people were in cut off shorts, tank tops, baseball caps, etc.  They couldn't get their cameras up and clicking fast enough.  All of this in direct sight of the Hero's family, battle buddies and friends.

One of the representatives of the Old Guard, while continuing to walk along side the family, moved out to the side and motioned SEVERAL times for those wearing caps to remove them.  They finally did.  Then the father of the widow, himself a retired Army officer, yelled to the gawkers, "NO PICTURES".  Most put their cameras away.  A couple of others just had to get "one more shot". 

How dare they disrespect a fallen Hero and his family like that?

Last weekend I went to Arlington National Cemetery to pay my respects to several of our fallen Heroes.  I made my way to the Columbarium first.  On the way I encountered a tour group.  The tour group leader was holding up a piece of paper and yelling in Spanish.  I can only assume he yelling for the group to come closer as that is what they did.  He then began to, VERY LOUDLY, talk to them.  They were ahead of me so as I approached I asked him if he would mind speaking a bit softer out of respect for those laid to rest.  He ignored me.

I continued on to the Columbarium more than a little annoyed.  After paying my respects there I moved to Section 60 to pay my respects.  It was a beautiful day and a bald eagle was circling over Section 60.  So honorable. There were a lot of people in Section 60.  Everyone was quiet and respectful as they laid flowers, touched their hands to tombstones, hugged one another, softly weeped, tied balloons, etc. 

I then decided to walk to the Tomb of the Unknowns for the Changing of the Guard.  I've seen the Changing of the Guard several times but wanted to go again.  I had a very peaceful walk.  Along the way I "met' two ladies who were at Arlington to visit their husbands.  I expressed my condolences, gave them a hug and continue on through the tree lined street to the Tomb.

As I approached the Tomb I saw that the crowd was immense.  I've never seen a crowd so large at the Tomb. I got to thinking that I've never been to Arlington on a weekend.  Then I saw people pushing and shoving to get closer.  I heard people, who apparently got separated in the crowd, YELLING for each other.  Seriously?  Can you (who are speaking English) not read English?  There are signs as you enter the area that CLEARLY state that you are to be quiet and reverent.

As the Changing of the Guard ceremony began I knew I was not going to be able to see it so I decided to take a seat on a bench nearby.  I would pay my respects afterwards.  As I walked over to the amphitheater I encounter high school aged boys joking and carrying on in a loud manner - jumping up on the railings to take photos, etc.  I quietly reminded them that they were on hallowed ground and should be respectful.  They dismissed me but left.

I made my way to a bench.  As I was sitting there I looked up and saw a bald Eagle circling overhead.  WOW!  Twice in one day.  Soon after that the ceremony was over and the crowd began to disburse.  A group of high school boys came walking down the sidewalk and past the bench I was on.  One was spouting profanities right and left.  I quietly reminded them that they were on hallowed ground and not at an amusement park.  They glared at me and continued on their way.

I paid my respects at the Tomb and began to make my way back to the visitor's center.  From behind I heard a young man "rapping".  Again, with language that was not so clean.  I turned around to see a group of 4 or 5 young men.  I stopped and reminded them that they were on hallowed ground and should be respectful of where they were.  One of them decided he was going to "set me straight" about me having no authority to ask them to be quiet.  BAD IDEA!  I very calmly (because I KNEW WHERE WE WERE) explained that I was not asking them to be quiet all together - that I was asking them to be respectful.  Then I shared a story with them about one of the Heroes I had visited earlier.  They walked away a bit quieter.  I was so angry.

As I continued on to the visitor's center I heard a young man behind me say, "Dude!  Take a picture of that.  Look at all of those dead people."  I took a very deep breath and turned around to explain that each of those "dead people" was someone who had honorably served this nation.  I explained that many of those "dead people" had given their lives in service to this nation.  I continued on with how each of those "dead people" had a name, a family and friends who love them and miss them.

And then I dropped the bomb by asking them if they would like to go with me to visit a few "dead people" who I knew personally and that I had come to visit and pay my respects to that day.  Yep, the proverbial pin drop moment.  One of the young men did apologize as they scurried away.

I realize that Arlington National Cemetery is a public place.  I realize that anyone who wishes to visit may do so for whatever reason they have.  But dang it, how would YOU feel if I visited a cemetery where your loved ones were buried and acted like that?  And how would you feel if you were at a cemetery laying to rest someone you love and I showed up in cut off shorts, a tank top and a baseball cap snapping photos of you as you grieve? 

I know we have lost respect in this nation but I will not stop hoping that one day we will have it back especially on such hallowed ground.

A Post Office Encounter With A Pathetic American

I went to the post office yesterday to mail some boxes to Afghanistan. The trunk of my car was full of boxes. As I began to take them out (knowing I would have to make a couple of trips) a lady approached and asked if she could help. She appeared to be in her mid 60's or so. Here's how the conversation went (down hill) after that:

Me: Oh, thank you so much but I can get them. They aren't heavy - just bulky. I'll just need to make a couple of trips. If you want to get the door for me that would be very helpful.
Lady: (As she is picking up one of the boxes) Oh, I don't mind helping.

Me: I appreciate it. These are all going to Soldiers serving in Afghanistan right now. (My way of "getting the word out in hopes MORE people will support our troops).
Lady: Oh, isn't it great news that the President says they will all be home by the end of this year?

Me: (Struggling to remain composed) The President's announcement was about our troops in Iraq - not the ones in Afghanistan. (I didn't even want to go into my thoughts about pulling all of our troops out of Iraq)
Lady: It's all the same

Me: NO! It's not ALL THE SAME. I can get these. Go home and educate yourself.

So she picks up the box anyway. I pick up three boxes. We get into the post office and:

Me: Would you like to pay the postage for one of these boxes to help support our troops?
Lady: Oh? Well, ah, no, I guess not

Me: Thanks. I'll be sure to tell our troops in harms way and their families how much they matter to you.

I just left the boxes and her and went out to get more boxes totally disgusted with her. I know I shouldn't be surprised but it just flat pisses me off. I know that many of you who read this blog have run up against the same type of people but, really? When will all of this ignorance and apathy end?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Remembering the Fallen Heroes of COP Keating - KIA 3 October 2009

Two 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.

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.