Quick Withdrawl From Iraq Would Wipe Out Security Gains

February 29, 2008

For quite some time now, we’ve heard the anti-Bush crowd rant, rave and scream that we needed to bring all of our Troops home from Iraq now. We’ve stated all along, as have most milbloggers, how unrealistic that demand is. For just as long, milbloggers have said that to do so, would spell disaster for our Troops as they were leaving the country, as well as disaster for the Iraqi people. Many of our Troops who have or are serving in Iraq, say that there are visible signs of progress and they want to finish the job that they started.

Milbloggers have shared story after story of schools being built, hospitals being renovated, security being improved and essential services being restored. We’ve wittnessed countless Iraqi’s standing up and taking ownership in the well being of their country and it’s people, by joining the Iraqi Security Forces and volunteering for community watch groups. Things that we take for granted here, but were unheard of in Iraq, until a short time ago. Milbloggers and the Troops aren’t the only ones who feel that way. Yesterday, in an address to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and later to reporters, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Admiral Mike Mullen said that the military must be prepared across the board for whatever changes would occur with a new president. He said that he would in no way attempt to predict what a new president might do, once they come into office, or even attempt to predict decisions they might make, but that all branches of the military needed to be prepared for whatever might occur.

“I do worry about what a rapid withdrawl … in a situation that wouldn’t call for that in terms of the conditions on the ground, which would then … basically turn around the gains we have … struggled to achieve and turn them around overnight,” he said.

Mullen went on to say that he would strongly advise against a rapid withdrawl from Iraq, not indicated by conditions in the country. He went on to say, that when the new president comes into office, that he’ll receive his orders and be prepared to carry out those orders.

When asked about US military force levels in Iraq and his recommendations for withdrawals of troops, Mullen said that he is unsure at this time, what kind of pause there would be, after all of the surge brigades were withdrawn in July. He choses to wait and see what commanders in Iraq and at US Central Command recommend, before he makes any recommendations to the Defense Secretary and the President. He went on to say that the length of the pause, would dictate how long it would be before the Defense Department and the Army would reduce tours in Iraq from the current 15 months to 12 months. While he’s aware of the difficulty in shortening the tours, he says it’s something that must occur.

“It’s this very, very delicate balance between continuing to make progress in Iraq, to resource what we need to do in Afghanistan, and to give the Troops a break after a long demanding time at war,” he said. “We’re going to continue to be engaged. I’m hopeful the optempo will go down a bit.”

Addressing the war in Afghanistan, Mullen said that the training mission there is the top priority and that even though the combat mission will remain, trainers are the long-term solution to the security and stability in the country. As things continue to improve in Iraq and troop numbers are reduced, then more trainers will be able to be sent to Afghanistan to meet those mission requirements.

As Admiral Mullen said, the decision to reduce force size in Iraq, is one that requires scrutiny of many delicate issues. While I’d love nothing more than to see our Troops brought safely home, realistically, I know that it’s imperative that our Troops be allowed to continue to do their jobs and complete the mission of bringing peace and stability to the Iraqi people. I have to agree with Admiral Mullen’s assessment of the situation.


Teleconference With Generals In Iraq, Provide Students A Clearer Understanding Of War Effort

February 28, 2008

We’ve often said here that the media is very one-sided when they report news from Iraq, or Afghanistan for that matter. Often, as during the Vietnam War, the media tends to show the bad, ugly side of war, emphasize mistakes that have been made, yet rarely tell the public about the positive things that are happening. Because of this type of coverage, many people in this country have a very jaded attitude about the war, because they’ve only heard the side that the media wants them to hear. Our young people, aren’t any different from their adult counterparts. Many proclaim that they are against the war in Iraq, without knowing anything other than what the media tells them. That’s one of the main reasons that we here at A Soldier’s Mind, and many other milbloggers continue to do what we do. We know how biased the reporting from the media is, as a whole and we also are aware of the progress that is being made, that they fail to report, so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to ensure that the public is better informed.

The students at Naperville Central High School, in Naperville, Illinois had the opportunity last Thursday, to listen to a different side of what is occurring in Iraq. One student, senio Joe Cotton said that when he entered the auditorium, he firmly believed that the US should remove their Troops from Iraq. After an hour of participating in a teleconference with Lt. General James Dubik, US commander of multinational security transition in Iraq and Iraqi Lt. General Nasier Abadi, vice chief of staff of the Iraqi joint forces, Cotton walked out of the auditorium convinced that the Troops should stay in Iraq and finish the job that they started.

Cotton was one of 275 students who had the opportunity to participate in the teleconference and ask questions about the war and listen to what the leaders downrange had to say. One of the questions that Cotton had, was how the Iraqi media portrayed the US forces. Lt. Gen. Abadi answered that question, saying that the image was not portrayed very favorably at the beginning of the war - mostly because of the anti-American propaganda from Iraq’s neighboring countries such as Iran. He said however, that the image has improved vastly as insurgents are removed from power and the people of Iraq are beginning to see tangible results. Abadi said as well that most Iraqis are thankful to the American and Coalition forces for removing Saddam Hussein from power.

“Our people have recognized that America is not the devil,” Abadi said. “It’s Al-Qaeda who is the devil. They have seen what the American forces are doing for them — providing services and building hospitals.”

Lt. General Dubik pointed out that there was still much work to be done in Iraq. He said that there still remain areas of Iraq, including areas in Baghdad, where insurgents remain active and continue to terrorize the citizens. By doing so, he was able to provide a realistic picture of the progress and areas that still needed to be worked on, so that the students were able to get a more rounded picture of conditions in Iraq.

“I don’t want to give the impression things are better everywhere,” he said. “There are parts of the country where progress has not been as robust as we would like, and there are groups that will stop at nothing to undo the security that is already in place.”

Students had numerous questions for the Generals. One student asked how they could measure the progress in the country. The generals shared that several factors had to be taken into consideration, such as the most obvious factor, the decline in civilian deaths. Another factor they said showed progress, was the increasing numbers of Iraqis who are reporting weapons caches and identifying terrorists. According to Lt. Gen. Abadi, he considers that factor critical to achieving long-term success in the country.

“We don’t need guns or tanks. What we need most is information,” Abadi said.

One student, Visraant Iyer said that after listening to the generals’ comments, it just confirmed his opinion that there isn’t any one definitive answer about the war. That there are many factors that define the war in Iraq. Another student, Katie Fricke said that hearing the generals gave her a greater respect for the men and women who are fighting in Iraq and more understanding about what’s going on behind the scenes. The event at Napperville High School was attended by US Representative Judy Biggert from Illinois. She’s also the co-sponsor of the legislation requiring President Bush to provide updates every 30 days on the progress being made in Iraq. Rep. Biggert said that she was extremely impressed with the students who attended the teleconference.

“I think they had very thoughtful questions,” she said. “Some of them even better than what I’ve heard from Congress.”

I think teleconferences like this are a fantastic idea. It’s too bad, that we can’t have public teleconferences such as this on a regular basis, so that the people of this country, aren’t subjected to just what they’re hearing on television and reading in the newspapers, most of which is biased. I feel that it’s time that our citizens are allowed to see both sides of the issue, instead of just what the media wants us to hear.

Chicago Tribune

SPC Kevin Mowl : Rest In Peace, Brave Warrior

February 27, 2008

Yesterday morning, I received news from Tony Neria, father-in-law of Sgt. Sam Nichols, about the death of one of our brave Warriors, who was a patient in the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md, at the same time that Sam was. After fighting the past 6 months to recover from his injuries, this Hero, Kevin Mowl, succumed to his injuries on Monday morning. As always, when I hear the news of the loss of one of our warriors, it cuts deep. Yet another brave warrior has paid the ultimate price for the freedoms that we take for granted.

Spc Mowl was injured on August 2nd when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb, causing it to flip over. Mowl suffered multiple broken bones and a head injury. Three other Soldiers died in that explosion and 11 more Soldiers as well as an interpreter were injured. President Bush personally presented Spc. Mowl with a Purple Heart and a Presidential Medallion at Bethesda, when he visited there in December.

Spc. Mowl was a member of A Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team and had been deployed to Iraq in June 2006. His loss will profoundly affect those who served beside him during that deployment. Since Kevin’s injury, his family has maintained a website to keep friends and family updated on Kevin’s progress. Please, take some time to visit and leave your messages of condolence.

Kevin was a native of Pittsford, N.Y. having attended Pittsford public schools until his 11th grade year. He then transferred to Valley Force Military Academy near Philadelphia, where he graduated in 2003. Shortly afterwards, he joined the Army and served as an infantryman, eventually being sent to Iraq in August 2006. Kevin Mowl is survived by his parents, Harold and Mary Mowl and his sister Carlene. Please keep the Mowl family in your thoughts and prayers.

Kevin Mowl Caringbridge site

Army Times

Sgt. Samuel Nichold, USMC

Giving Back To Those Who Have Given So Much

February 26, 2008

For one gentleman in Frisco, Texas, one way that he can pay homage to at least some of the men and women who have fallen in the Global War on Terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, is to use his talents to ensure that their legacy lives on, through his work. For Phil Taylor, a Frisco portrait artist, what once started as a family tragedy, has turned into a way for him to honor the men and women of Texas, who have fallen on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Taylor vows to paint, free of charge, portraits of all fallen Texas Soldiers involved in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. For Mr. Taylor, it’s all about the eyes. Not just any eyes, but eyes that have seen the horrors, courage, joy, comaraderie and patriotism that goes along with war. The eyes of those who have fallen on the battlefield.

Marine Lance Cpl Louis Qualls, Killed 11-16-2004 Anbar Province, Iraq

“The eyes are the staple,” Mr. Taylor said. “The only color I use - I actually paint in black and white - is the eyes. The blues are there; the brwns are there. I do that because I want to give those hurting, a place of reference when they want to connect with their husband or son.”

Mr. Taylor’s mission started in a much different way, when the young man who had taken his daughter to the prom, was killed in a traffic accident. He wanted to do something special, to honor this young man, so he painted a portrait of him and gave it to his family. According to Taylor, that experience was a profound one.

“When I got there, the hug his father gave me was beyond words,” he said. “That moment, I knew I wanted to do more with my art and my heart. I thought about other accident victims, then attended the service for one of my friends, Capt. Blake Russell. He’s the one who started it all.”

To date, Phil Taylor has completed 15 portraits and has requests for 30 more. He’s received calls from across the country, from grieving families who want portraits of their fallen soldiers, requests from families of those lost in Vietnam and the families of accident and murder victims. The work he’s done on commission in the past, has commanded as much as $5,000.

Army Spc. Sean Langevin, Killed 11-09-2007 Aranus, Afghanistan

Phil Taylor is a self-taught artist and paints an average of 30-40 hours per week, on top of the hours that he puts in at his regular job. With each portrait, Phil includes a personal letter to the fallen soldier’s family. When he’s painting a portrait, he thoughts are only on the Soldier peering back at him from the canvas in front of him.

“I think with intensity - very focused,” he said. “I don’t know I’ve ever tought about anything other than who or what I’m painting at the time.”

While being able to share his gift with the family members of the fallen is rewarding, it also exacts a very heavy emotional toll on Mr. Taylor as well. The journey is an emotional one. Many families include baby pictures of their fallen soldier. He concentrates on only one soldier’s portrait at a time and spends about a week on each one. If he incorporates a baby or childhood image into the portrait, the time to complete the work can double.

“It’s an emotional journey. You’re painting them as innocent children with everything ahead of them and also at their last moments of heroism, bravery. I’m engulfed with accuracy and emotions. There’s a tear shed on every portrait,” said Taylor. “I’m not willing to compromise on the quality. These are extremely rewarding and comforting to those who have suffered the loss. They just want their soldier honored for their service to this country and above all to never be forgotten.”

Since word about the quality of work that Phil Taylor does has gotten around, the responses from families across the country have been overwhelming. While he’d like to honor every request and paint a portrait of each of the fallen warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan, realistically, he knows that it’s a virtually impossible task for him to accomplish.

“I looked at the 4,000 soldiers who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq and felt hopeless. I’m only one man. With the 400 Texans, I could see the end of the race. I couldn’t do that ith 4,000.”

Mr. Taylor credits th support of his wife Lisa and their three daughters with helping him to continue with his mission. He is currently reviewing work by other artists that he hopes to bring on board to help assist with painting the portrait request of fallen soldiers from other states, as well as those of accident and homicide victims.

“As for the 400 fallen Texas Soldiers, they’re mine,” he said. “I won’t trust anyone else with them.”

Mr. Taylor has created what is called The Texas Fallen Soldier’s Project, where you can find more information about supporting the prject, to honor the fallen warriors of Texas. In looking through his website, I was touched by the message he has written there, to the families of the fallen.

To the families and loved ones of our Fallen Heroes,

It is my desire that each portrait translate the deep appreciation I have for your beloved soldier’s service and sacrifice to our nation. Your loss can never be replaced, but I hope this gift can be a place of peace and reflection for you in your time of need. Please know that I approach each portrait with great respect and a broken heart. Thoughts of honor, bravery and valor remain constant in my mind as I paint and look upon your loved one’s face. I want to personally thank you for the opportunity to give something back to those who have given so much. Because it is impossible to meet you all, I promise to never forget your beloved’s name or face. Their impression, appearance and presence will remain forever sketched in my soul.

Phil Taylor

I encourage our readers to visit Mr. Taylor’s page and other examples of his work. Mr. Taylor truly knows of and feels the loss of each of the men and women who are willing to give so much for our country. You may also view a video story about his work, by visiting Dallas/Fort Worth Fox News

Dallas Morning News

The Texas Fallen Soldiers Project

First Sioux To Be Awarded Medal Of Honor

February 25, 2008

The White House announced on Friday, that Master Sgt. Woodrow Wilson Keeble will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in a ceremony that is scheduled to be held on March 3rd at 2:30 pm. The award comes almost 6 decades after he took actions during the Korean War, that put himself own life at risk to save the lives of his fellow Soldiers.

Keeble, a full-blooded Sioux Indian, is a highly decorated Soldier, one of the most highly decorated in North Dakota history. He was a veteran of World War II and the Korean War. Born in 1917 in Waubay, South Dakota, he grew up on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Reservation, which extends into the state of North Dakota. Keeble spent most of his life living in the Wahpeton, North Dakota area and attended an Indian school in the area. Keeble’s Army career began in 1942, when he enlisted in the North Dakota Army National Guard. Shortly after his enlistment, he was deployed to Guadalcanal, where he experienced some of the fiercest hand-to-hand combast of World War II, as part of Company I, 164th Infantry.

Guadalcanal seemed to be on his mind a lot,” said Russell Hawkins, Keeble’s stepson. “His fellow Soldiers said he had to fight a lot of hand-to-hand fights with the Japanese, so he saw their faces. Every now and then, he would get a far away look in his eyes, and I knew he was thinking about those men and the things he had to do. I heard stories from James Fenelon, who served with him there and he would talk about how the men of the 164th rallied around this full-blooded Sioux Indian, whose accuracy with the Browning Automatic Rifle was unparalleled,” Hawkins said. “It was said he would go in front of patrols and kill enemies before his unit would get there.”

According to Hawkins, the Sioux have a word for the kind of bravery in the face of the enemy that Keeble displayed. He said that work, wowaditaka, means ‘don’t be afraid of anything, be braver than that which scares you the most.’ According to his fellow Soldiers, who served with him, Keeble personified that word. His actions at Guadalcanal earned him the first of what would be 4 Purple Hearts and his first Bronze Star.

When the Korean War broke out, Keeble by then was an experienced Master Sergeant, who went above and beyond. While serving as the acting Platoon leader of 1st Platoon in the area of the Kumsong River in North Korea, around October 15, 1951, he voluntarily took on the additional duties of leading the 2nd and 3rd Platoons as well.

In an official statement, 1SG Kosumo “Joe” Sagami of Company G said,” All the officers of the company had received disabling wounds or were killed in action, except for one platoon leader, who assumed command of the company.”

Sagami wrote that Keeble stepped up to the plate and led all 3 platoons in successive assaults upon the Chinese, who held the hill throughout the day. 3 three charges were repulsed and the company suffered extremely heavy casualties. Trenches will full of enemy Soldiers that were fortified by pillboxes that contained machine guns and additional men. After the third assault, along with mortar and artillery support, the enemy sustained casualties in its ranks. After the third attempt, Keeble had the 3rd platoon withdraw and decided that he would attempt a solo assault

“He once told a relative that the fourth attempt, he was either going to take them out or die trying,” Hawkins said. “Woody used to tell people he was more concerned about losing his men than about losing his own life,” he added. “He pushed his own life to the limit. He wasn’t willing to put his fellow Soldiers’ lives on the line.”

Keeble crawled into an area that was 50 yeards from the ridgeline, armed with grenades and his Browning Automatic rifle. He flanked the left pillbox and eliminated it by using grenades and rifle fire. He then returned to where the 1st Platoon was holding the Company’s line of defense and then made his way to the opposite side of the ridgeline and took out the pillbox on the right side, using grenades.

Hawkins recalls wondering how a person of Keeble’s size, over 6 feet tall and 235 plus pounds, was able to sneak up on enemy fighters without being seen. He recalls asking Keeble one day how he was able to do so, and being answered by Keeble shrugging his shoulders.

“One day I was out helping him mow the lawn and I asked how he did it. I joked with him and told him those Soldiers must have been blind or old or something, because he would never be able to sneak up on a young guy like me,” Hawkins said. He then continued to mow the lawn. Suddenly he was startled when Keeble poppoed up from behind some bushes. “He could have reached out and grabbed me by the ankles, and I didn’t even know he was there!”

Keeble’s acts of bravery in Korea, didn’t come without a price. Sagami and other eyewittnesses say he was wounded on at least 5 occasions by fragementation and concussion grenades. Keeble had wounds to his chest, arms, right calf, knee, right thigh and left hip. According to his step-son, 83 grenade fragments were removed from his body, with several more remaining. According to Sagami, Keeble never complained on the battlefield and refused to be evacuated due to his injuries, until after the unit was in defensive positions for the night.

Because of his actions in Korea, every member of Company G who survived signed a letter recommending Keeble for the Medal of Honor on two different occasions. Once in November 1951 and again in December of the same year. The paperwork was lost on both instances. On December 20,1952, Keeble was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Purple Heart(First Oak Leaf Cluster), the Bronze Star (First Oak Leaf Cluster) and the Silver Star because of his herric actions during his tour in Korea. He was honorably discharged from the Army on March 1, 1953.

After his discharge from the Army, Keeble continued to work hard for Soldiers and veterans, championing their causes. He attended many Veteran’s events and was a proud supporter of the Disabled American Veterans. He proudly wore his uniform for parades and was always first in line for fundraisers.

His family battled to ensure that Keeble’s Distinguished Service Cross was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, beginning in 1972, while Keeble and his wife, Dr. Blossom Hawkins-Keeble were still alive. The family initially thought the paperwork had been lost and had no idea that the paperwork never made it off of the battlefield and no longer existed. When they realized this, they went to the Sisseton-Wahpeton tribe for assistance and began gathering statements from the men who had served beside Keeble in Korea.

They soon learned that the award of the Medal of Honor had a statue of limitations of three years from the date of the event. Since it had been much longer than that, they realized that it would literally take an act of congress to reach their goal. In 2002, the tribe involved senators and representatives from North Dakota and South Dakota. With eye wittness accounts and written evidence, as well as letters from 4 senators supporting the effort, the tribal officials then contacted the Army. The Army reviewed the evidence and agreed that Keebles actions were deserving of the Medal of Honor. On March 23, 2007, North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan introduced a bill which was co-sponsored by 3 other senators, authorizing the President to award the Medal of Honor to Keeble for his acts of valor during the Korean war. Congress passed the bill in early December 2007. Because, the award is being made posthumously, Hawkins will represent his step-father and accept the Medal of Honor on his behalf.

“We are just proud to be part of this for Woody,” Hawkins said. “He is deserving of this, for what he did in the Armed Services in defense of this country. If he was alive today, I would tell him there’s no one I respect more, and how he is everything a man should be; brave, kind and generous. I would tell him how proud I am of him and how I never realized that all this time, I was living with such greatness.”

I look forward to viewing the footage of President Bush awarding MSG Keeble’s Medal of Honor to his step-son. MSG Keeble is certainly deserving of this award and it’s great that he’s finally being recognized for his courageous acts during the Korean Conflict. Rest in peace, brave warrior. You deserve this honor, for the lives you saved, in the name of freedom. Yours, is an example that our Soldiers should strive to emulate during their own service.


Open Letter To Vietnam Vets and How It Applies Today

February 23, 2008

During the Vietnam War, I was in Junior High and High School. I remember watching television and seeing people protesting our Troops and thinking how horribly those people were treating them. In the small town I grew up in, you didn’t see the protests happening, but you could watch the cold shoulder that our returning warriors got when they came back home. Even back then, the media, as they do today, made it a point to concentrate on negative things and never once tell about the countless people our Troops went out of their way to help.

When the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq started, one of the first things that came out of my mouth, was that I would do everything in my power to ensure that our newest generation of warriors NEVER had to experience the hatred and degredation, that our Vietnam Veterans did, at the hands of their fellow Americans. I was already involved in Troop Support activities at the time, but got even more involved, because I wanted to make sure that our warriors knew from me that they are appreciated and supported for their sacrifices and for their service. I don’t hesitate to tell our current generation of Soldiers or our Vietnam Vets, that I appreciate their service and I know what they’ve sacrificed for our Country. I won’t stop doing that, not now or ever.

Even now the media goes out of their way to paint a negative spin on events occurring in Afghanistan and Iraq. I can’t stand to watch the news because of this, and it’s rare that I’ll set down in front of the television for more than a couple of minutes because of this. The folks in the media are well aware of the gullibility of the American public. They know that the majority of the American people will believe what they hear on television, consider it gospel and never check into it any further. So, they continue to manipulate the American public, because they know that they can… they’ve been doing it for years. That’s why we as milbloggers do what we do. Because, we want the American public to know that they can’t believe everything they see on television, especially in regards to Afghanistan and Iraq.

This morning, I went to check my email and found one from a member of the Gathering of Eagles in Texas. That email just reinforced my belief about the media and how they manipulated the American public during the Vietnam War and how they continue to do so today. That email is something that I’d like to share here, as I feel that, not only do our Vietnam Vets need to read it, but every citizen in our country should take the time to read it. It reminds us that we, as a nation need to take care to not believe everything we hear on the nightly news. That we as a nation, need to take the time to investigate for ourselves and not form our opinions based on what the evening news anchor decides that we should hear. Just to remind ourselves that we need to take care, that this generation of warriors and the future generations, never have to endure what their Vietnam era bretheren did and to remind us of the huge debt we owe the men and women who served during the Vietnam era.


Dear Hero,

I was in my twenties during the Vietnam era. I was a single mother and, I’m sad to say, I was probably one of the most self-centered people on the planet. To be perfectly honest. I didn’t care one way or the other about the war. All I cared about was me-how I looked, what I wore, and where I was going. I worked and I played. I was never politically involved in anything, but I allowed my opinions to be formed by the media. It happened without my ever being aware. I listened to the protest songs and I watched the six o’clock news and I listened to all the people who were talking. After awhile, I began to repeat their words and, if you were to ask me, I’d have told you I was against the war. It was very popular. Everyone was doing it, and we never saw what it was doing to our men. All we were shown was what they were doing to the people of Vietnam .

My brother joined the Navy and then he was sent to Vietnam . When he came home, I repeated the words to him. It surprised me at how angry he became. I hurt him very deeply and there were years of separation-not only of miles, but also of character. I didn’t understand.

In fact, I didn’t understand anything until one day I opened my newspaper and saw the anguished face of a Vietnam veteran. The picture was taken at the opening of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington , D.C. His countenance revealed the terrible burden of his soul. As I looked at his picture and his tears, I finally understood a tiny portion of what you had given for us and what we had done to you. I understood that I had been manipulated, but I also knew that I had failed to think for myself. It was like waking up out of a nightmare, except that the nightmare was real. I didn’t know what to do.

One day about three years ago, I went to a member of the church I attended at that time, because he had served in Vietnam . I asked him if he had been in Vietnam , and he got a look on his face and said, “Yes.” Then, I took his hand, looked him square in the face, and said, “Thank you for going.” His jaw dropped, he got an amazed look on his face, and then he said, “No one has ever said that to me.” He hugged me and I could see that he was about to get tears in his eyes. It gave me an idea, because there is much more that needs to be said. How do we put into words all the regret of so many years? I don’t know, but when I have an opportunity, I take it so here goes.

Have you been to Vietnam ? If so, I have something I want to say to you-Thank you for going! Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Please forgive me for my insensitivity. I don’t know how I could have been so blind, but I was. When I woke up, you were wounded and the damage was done, and I don’t know how to fix it. I will never stop regretting my actions, and I will never let it happen again.

Please understand that I am speaking for the general public also. We know we blew it and we don’t know how to make it up to you. We wish we had been there for you when you came home from Vietnam because you were a hero and you deserved better. Inside of you there is a pain that will never completely go away and you know what? It’s inside of us, too; because when we let you down, we hurt ourselves, too. We all know it and we suffer guilt and we don’t know what to do so we cheer for our troops and write letters to “any soldier” and we hang out the yellow ribbons and fly the flag and we love America. We love you too, even if it doesn’t feel like it to you. I know in my heart that, when we cheer wildly for our troops, part of the reason is trying to make up for Vietnam. And while it may work for us, it does nothing for you.

We failed you. You didn’t fail us, but we failed you and we lost our only chance to be grateful to you at the time when you needed and deserved it. We have disgraced ourselves and brought shame to our country. We did it and we need your forgiveness. Please say you will forgive us and please take your rightful place as heroes of our country. We have learned a terribly painful lesson at your expense and we don’t know how to fix it.

From the heart,

Julie W.

Wounded Warrior Wants To Return To Iraq

February 22, 2008

We often hear our Troops who are wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, express their desire to return to the battlefield. Some achieve that goal and others don’t. For one Arkansas National Guardsman, who was wounded on June 13, 2004, the desire to return to Iraq is strong. He says that it’s a sense of duty to the deployed men and women that keeps nagging at him and pushing him to go back. He wants them to know that just because a servicemember is injured, that doesn’t mean that he forgets about his buddies who are still in harms way.

Kevin and Danielle Pannell take a break at Ivan’s Local Flavor Stress Free Bar at White Bay Campgrounds on Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands, on Oct. 20, 2007. The couple was part of a small group of wounded veterans and their spouses who participated in Team River Runner’s first adaptive kayaking trip to the Virgin Islands. (Photo by Samantha L. Quigley

On that fateful day in 2004, then Sgt. Kevin Pannell was conducting a routine foot patrol with his unit in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, when they were ambushed by insurgents. The insurgents lobbed two grenades at the group, which landed near Pannel and exploded. The explosion knocked him off his feet and mangled both of his legs.

“I was never knocked out, so my medic wouldn’t let me go to sleep - because when you go to sleep, shock sets in,” Pannell said.

When he arrived at the hospital in Baghdad, that changed, when doctors there put him into a medically induced coma. It was eight days before he woke up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and found out that doctors had to amputate his right leg below the knee and his left leg above the knee.

“It’s kind of surreal, because you don’t remember that. It doesn’t seem like it really happened,” he said. “To me, I went to sleep in Baghdad and woke up two minutes later.”

It’s been almost 4 years since he lost his legs. Almost 4 years that involved 2 prosthetic legs and lots of physical therapy. Pannell is up walking again and wants to return to Iraq, despite the injuries he received there, which changed his world. He won’t be able to return as a Soldier, as he’s since been medically retired. He thinks about the insurgents who’s grenades changed his life, but is realistic enough to know that finding them would be virtually impossible.

“It’s so hard to get those guys. They skip over two streets, change their shirts and they’re not who they were,” he said. “Unless you’ve been studying this guy on the ‘black list,’ you’re not going to recognize him on the street.”

The desire to show his commrades that he’s not been stopped, is what drives him, each and every day. The desire to show them that he’s still the same person and that he cares about them and what happens to them.

“I think it would be vitally important for those dudes to realize that once we get hurt, we don’t forget about them,” Pannell said. “That’s something a lot of people can’t understand, but it’s impossible. It’s impossible to forget your guys.”

Pannell’s attitude about returning is like that of so many others who’ve been injured. The drive and determination to let his fellow Soldiers know that he’s still ‘got their backs.’ He also feels that those who weren’t injured as badly as he was, actually have it worse than he did. As he said, once he recovered from his injuries, he could get on with his life and would be safe doing so. His buddies who returned to the warzone after recovering from their injuries, were still left with the uncertainty of still being in the warzone.

“Once I got hit, I was safe. I was back in the States, and the war was over for me,” he said. “They were going out those gates every day, not knowing if they’re going to come back or not. That’s a hell of a thing to bear, you know?”

Pannell’s wife Danielle, is supportive of his desire to return to Iraq, though her reason for supporting him may be different from his. She feels that he needs to go back to Iraq, for closure, to say goodbye to that part of his life. To prove that the insurgents didn’t defeat him, even though they took his legs from him.

“He went into Iraq a scared little kid and came out the same way, because he never really got to say goodbye, never go to have closure in that part of his life. When he left he was unconscious,” she said. “He wants to go back and say; ‘Look, I’m here. You didn’t defeat me.’”

Pannell is hoping that he’ll get the chance. He’s hoping that perhaps, he’ll be able to go along on a USO tour, perhaps accompanying an entertainer or artist. Perhaps he’ll be able to go back in the capacity of a contract worker. Regardless of what capacity he goes back, it’s something that he feels strongly about.

“If anybody wants me to tag along on a USO trip, I’m down,” he said. “Drew Carey goes over like every six months; I can hop on with him.”

I hope that Sgt. Pannell will have the opportunity to go back to Iraq and bring the closure he needs to that part of his life. I’m sure that his return, will also be beneficial and therapeautic to the Soldiers still serving in Iraq. Sgt. Pannell’s story is one that speaks loudly about the character, conviction, sense of duty and devotion of so many of our brave Warriors.

Defense Link

Vocational Tech School Expands in Al Kut

February 21, 2008

When our children graduate from High School, they have quite a few options available to them, as they move into adulthood. They may chose to attend a Community College, or a 4 year University. They may chose to enter the workforce immediately following High School, perhaps join the military. Another option available to them is a Vocational Technical School.

As rebuilding has taken place in Iraq, different advanced educational options are being made available to them. This allows them to learn a trade and thus help them to find jobs that will enable them to provide for their families. Much like teenagers here in the United States, the young people in Iraq, are weighing the options available to them. One of those options is the vocational technical school in Al Kut. There, they can learn auto mechanics, air conditioning repair or even an electrical trade.

The US Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the expansion and renovation of the vocational technical school in Al Kut. When completed, the facility will help equip the students with marketable trade skills, which will in turn, improve their livelihood and ability to contribute to the local economy, according to Major Clay Morgan, resident engineer of the Wassit Resident Office of the Gulf Region South district. He says that the expansion is critical to the maneuver force.

“It’s also very important for the Al Kut government and especially the headmaster of that particular school,” he said.

Currently, over 100 students are attending the school, studying in 6 different areas. The capacity is expected to increase up to 175 students, as two new workshops are completed. Work on the project was started in October. The project includes construction of two workshops, the erection of a storage building and pads for two back-up generators and fuel tanks. Renovation also will include modernized restrooms for the students and staff, repair to water and sewer lines, installation of fire suppression equipment and the repair and repainting of interior and exterior walls. The renovation will allow the school to provide more courses for young Iraqis and thus provide them with a marketable trade.

“They do everything from air conditioning to metal shop to carpentry; even auto mechanics,” said Morgan. “It’s a very diverse Vo-Tech and a visible part of the Al Kut community.”

The construction and renovation currently employs 20-30 workers from the local area. The school is expected to be ready for occupation over the new buildings in the spring. Final completion of the project is awaiting the delivery of the new generator which is coming from outside the country.

I’m sure the students of the Vo-Tech are really looking forward to the completion of the construction. This is yet another example of the positive things our Troops continue to do in the country of Iraq as well as Afghanistan.


Man Mails Flag To Iraq, After Finding It Lying On Ground

February 20, 2008

Take a look at the picture above. Doesn’t that just piss you off? I does me! Nothing can raise my blood pressure faster than seeing someone desecrate the symbol of our country, the American flag. I proudly fly the flag in front of my house on a daily basis. When I see a flag that is not given the proper respect, it gets me upset. Most of our Troops, who proudly serve our country and wear that flag daily on their right shoulders, feel the same way. One man in Georgia, when seeing a flag lying in the mud, decided that he was going to take action. I applaud him for his actions.

Dan Turner of Conyers, Georgia says that he’s a criminal and he’s darn proud of that fact. The crime that Turner committed, which could be termed as petty theft, occurred over the weekend, when he took a flag that had been lying on the ground in the mud in front of an apartment complex and mailed it to a friend of his, who is currently serving in Iraq with the Georgia National Guard.

“I’m comfortable doing it because it had to be done,” said Turner. “I hope the law will bear with me.”

Once his friend returns from Iraq, Turner plans to return the flag to the owners of the apartment complex. He hopes that, once returned, the flag will have some added meaning to the owners, knowing that it was in Iraq with our Troops. A spokesman for the management company that manages the apartment complex said that his organization would never knowingly desecrate an American Flag.

“None of us would ever knowingly want our flag in the mud or lying on the ground,” said Jeff Stair, who said that the company will be purchasing a new flag for the apartment complex.

According to Turner, the flag had been lying on the ground in the mud, in front of the apartment complex for almost a week. When he saw that apparently no one cared enough to remove it from the ground, he had enough and “confiscated” the flag on Friday and mailed it to his friend, Chief Warrant Officer Tom Golden. Golden is serving in Iraq as a helicoptor pilot at FOB Delta in Wasit Province, which is located southeast of Baghdad. Golden, serving his second tour in Iraq, has promised to treat the flag with the respect it deserves.

“The US flag, for me, is more than just a piece of cloth to be flown or displayed as a matter of convenient patriotism or decoration,” Golden said in an email. “It is the one true symbolic representation of what our nation and her principles stand for.”

Turner is deeply patriotic, coming from a family of military service. Forty years ago, his brother, who was a Marine, was killed om Vietnam. His father was on Guadalcanal as a part of the Navy and his mother, who is now 85 also served as a Marine.

“There are military personnel and civilians here in Iraq who know and understand the importance of our flag,” Golden said. “and we would be proud to restore her glory upon the mast by flying it here in Iraq, where it will be appreciated and treated with the full dignity and respect it deserves.”

I’d like to hear everyone’s opinions about this. Do you think Mr. Turner did the right thing, by taking the flag and sending it to Iraq, where it will be given the respect and honor it deserves?
I sure do.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

VA Announces New Guidelines For PTSD Claims

February 19, 2008

In the past when a Servicemember filed a claim for PTSD, they had to also provide written verification that they witnessed or experienced a traumatic event. That written verification had to be a statement from a commander, doctor or fellow servicemembers, stating that he or she was involved in a traumatic situation leading to PTSD, before the could receive disability compensation for PTSD from the VA. Today, the Veterans Affairs Department announced that combat veterans will no longer have to verify in writing that they have experienced a traumatic event, according to the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

“This change provides a fairer process for veterans with service-connected PTSD,” said Senator Daniel Akaka, in a written statement. “It leaves claim adjudicators more time to devote to reducing the staggering backlog of veterans claims.”

Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have joked about keeping a pen and paper handy to document when they witness a shooting or explosion, or perhaps are injured themselves. That joke isn’t such a joke when they have to prove that that they were involved in a traumatic event, even when they are injured from the event. Or when a servicemember has to prove that they witnessed a friend be injured or die, in order to qualify for benefits. That requirement has slowed the process, as veterans wait for the required documentation before their claims can be processed. Akaka said he spoke with VA Secretary James Peake about this and the delay the rule caused in processing claims. Peake agreed that the rule could be removed.

“I am pleased that the secretary took quick action to reverse this requirement after it was brought to his attendion,” Akaka said.

With the changes in the rule, veterans will be diagnosed with PTSD through a medical examination and won’t have to provide any further proof. According to Akaka, he was told that Peake has already informed VA regional offices of the new rule.

Hopefully, this will help to speed up the process of the diagnosis of PTSD and the compensation to the Servicemember. I’m interested to see if this indeed will help to speed the process up and help to eliminate some of the backlog for VA claims.

Army Times

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