Beyond the Battlefield

June 13, 2008

The Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization that helps wounded soldiers, has announced their inaugural leadership summit.  The four-day conference has been named “Beyond the Battlefield”.  The focus of the conference is to maximize the leadership skills, financial success, and quality of life for men and women wounded serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Planners expect sixty wounded warriors to attend the summit.  The conference is being offered through a partnership with The Hartford and will be held June 18-21 at TPC Sawgrass in Jacksonville, FL.

The Hartford is a Fortune 100 company and one of the nation’s largest financial services companies.  The Hartford has committed $250,000 to the conference.  This has enabled all of the veterans to attend free of charge. 

Read more

Revitalizing Baghdad

February 1, 2008

In the United States, we’re used to having everything we want or need, virtually at our fingertips. If we decide that we need something from the grocery store, it’s just a matter of hopping in our car and driving to the nearest grocery store. Convenience stores are on almost every block and many cities have Walmarts and malls. When visiting these places of business, we rarely think about safety and convenience of parking, as most of these places have well lit, large parking lots with security cameras. Convenient shopping is something that we’re accustomed to here in the United States. We have the convenience of safe parking, clean supermarkets with pretty much anything we’d want at our fingertips. In Baghdad, shoppers haven’t had that convenient for many years, even before the war started in 2003. They often risked their lives to purchase groceries. They didn’t have the convenience of electricity to keep produce cold and thus preserved.

Soon though, shoppers in Baghdad will have these convenience, when the New Baghdad Market opens. Thanks to the “Baghdad 2″ provincial reconstruction team and the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2-69th Armor Battalion, who have been working with the Baghdad Provincial Council, local district and neighborhoods and the US Agency for International Development’s Inma agribusiness program. The plans are for a modern community-based retail food market. In Arabic, the word “Inma” means growth, and growth is just what’s happening.

(Army Capt. Alexis Perez-Croz and Lt. Col. Khalid, executive officer of the 319 Iraq Army Tank Battalion, survey the New Baghdad Market. The “Baghdad 2″ embedded provincial reconstruction team and the US Army 2-69th Armor Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, have been working with local leaders to revitalize the market. US Army Photo by Spc. Nicholas Hernandez)

The new market is located near a highway and next to a bus station. It’s also surrounded by a large residential community. The design of the market was done with the idea of secure shopping, sanitary food handling and safe food storage in mind. The market was build with USAID funding in 2004 and remained unoccupied due to violence and ethnic tension in the area, which drove many of the residents away.

Local police were kept busy running squatters out of the stalls. Coalition forces often had to clear the area of weapons caches. As things began to stabilize in the community, vendors returned to the neighborhood and took over nearby streets, building makeshift stalls from scrap materials to sell their products, mainly vegetables, chicken and other meats.

“The area developed so fast economically that it attracted people even from outside the area,” said Army Capt. Alexis Perez-Cruz. “Neighborhood council meetings have now shifted focus from security to economic issues.”

The council observed that the New Baghdad Market remained unoccupied and saw an opportunity ripe to be developed. For the Iraqi police, opening the market, allowed them to clear the roadways and coalition forces saw yet another chance to work with the locals people and the Iraqi government, in order to improve the community and make life easier for the residents.

“A clean safe market, offers Iraqi shoppers one small semblance of normalcy in their lives,” said Inma Chief of Party Herschel Weeks. “The facility will ultimately impact farmers by becoming an introductory step toward modern marketing and packaging.”

The next step was for Inma engineers to visit the New Baghdad Market. They found street lights in place, but no electricity, sewers and toilets were needing cleaning and repair, but had no running water. Correcting these problems was tantamount to being able to strengthen Iraq’s agribusiness value chain.

Soldiers from 2-69th Armor designed security for the market to ensure the safety of shoppers and business owners alike. The security includes the placement of T-wall barriers, drop arm vehicle entry gates and pedestrian checkpoints. The battalion is also coordinating with crews to clean the streets and parking lots and cleaning the sewer system. The Iraqi government and local councils have documented land ownership at the market and will secure an agreement that will allow vendors to hold official leases for their stalls.

Display stands will be completed by USAID contractors, as well as the installation of roller shutters. Any construction repairs and upgrades that are needed, will be managed by USAID contractors as well. These upgrades and repairs could include things such as electrical, plumbing, flooring, roofing, doors and shutters, for the booths located in the market.

Inma will take the lead in the market completion and will install security elements, as well as provide generators and cold storage units. The facility will be managed by the 9 Nissan Market Agricultural Association. They will register as a legal nongovernmental organization and will conduct training for association members, in facility operations and food safety management.

When opened, the market will have 730 new stalls. Vendors who are now selling on the street, say that they would prefer to rent one of the booths, in order to improve their safety and comfort. New tenants will also be candidates for micro loans and grants, which could help them purchase items such as coolers and other fixtures they may need in their stores.

Not only will the market provide work for the vendors, but it will also create job opportunities for transporters, cleaning personnel, as well as other service providers. By sticking to a high standard of cleanliness and safety, it will enable restaurants and cafes to grow up around the market. This will also provide more job opportunities for women.

As more and more improvements are occurring in Iraq, the people of the country are beginning to lead more normalized lives. As hospitals are built or improved, core services such as water and electricity and updated and modernized, schools are reconstructed or built, life is beginning to return to normal across the country. Many of these seemingly ordinary things, we allowed to become run-down or didn’t exist during the reign of Saddam Hussein. By helping Iraq to rebuild their cities and communities, the US Government is demonstrating to the Iraqi people that they are committed to ensuring their security, economic and political stability, by working hand in hand with the Iraqi government on all levels. As times goes by, we’ll see more and more examples of success and revitalization in the country of Iraq.


Baghdad Book Market Endures

January 10, 2008

One of the signs that things are becoming safer in Iraq, are the number of marketplaces that are beginning to flourish. Initially, after the invasion of Iraq, the Iraqi citizens were afraid to leave their homes, for fear of being caught in the middle of a firefight. Once the insurgents moved into their neighborhoods, shop owners were afraid to open their shops, due to the constant threat from the insurgents, who often demanded high fees from the shop owners in order for them to continue to keep their businesses open. There was also the threat from the insurgents, if they were seen talking with American and Coalition Troops.

The book market located on Mutanabi Street in Baghdad has seen a revival. Books lie on flattened cardboard boxes on sidewalks. The shopowners, who are a mixture of Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish work side by side in harmony. On March 5th, many wondered if the book market would continue to exist. That was the day that a car bomb, which was linked to al-Qaeda ripped apart the market, killing at least 38 people and injuring over 100 people. Dozens of the bookstores, stationery shops and presses that lined Mutanabi Street were destroyed.

“The bomb did not change the way we feel about each other in the market,” said Atta Zeidan, who runs a secondhand bookstore. “What it did was make us all afraid for our lives.”

After that fateful day in March, response of the authorities was to ban all motor vehicle traffic from Mutanabi Street and to install blast barriers and checkpoints. US Troops were sent in to help restore calm and assure the shop owners of reconstruction funding. Initially, shoppers stayed away, but they’re beginning to return, though the numbers remain lower than prior to the bomb.

“People must eat, so they will still shop at food markets that have repeatedly been hit by attacks,” said Zein al-Naqshabandi, a bookseller in the market and author of a “History of Coffeehouses in Old Baghdad.” “But people postpone buying books or go without altogether if they sense danger or are generally uncomfortable with security,” he said.

Because of the increased security, sales have been improving according to one vendor, Mohammed Hanash Abbas. His main income comes from lending textbooks to students for a fee. One shop owner, Hazem al-Sheikhli, who is the owner of a stationery shop, is an example of the resilient spirit of the vendors on Mutanabi Street. He lost 4 of his brothers, as well as a nephew in the bombing on March 5th. His father, who owned and operated the Shahbandar coffeehouse for 45 years, was dragged alive from the rubble, in the aftermath of the bombing.

According to the vendors on Mutanabi Street, at least 10 booksellers were killed in sectarian violence during a burst of Sunni-Shiite vengeance killings that occurred during 2006. According to the vendors, the interfaith relations among the vendors on Mutanabi Street remains good, because the killers were considered outsiders and not market workers and also because those who were killed were known extremists.

With the fall of Saddam in 2003, books that were once banned, such as Shiite book, poured into the area from Iran. Those books went on sale at discount prices next to books about Sunni Muslims. Bookstores selling religious books generally concentrate on one or the other sect. The market for book that have titles, such as “Saddam the Criminal” continue to sell well on both sides of the religious divide.

“Some have 90 percent of their books on the Shiite faith, while others have 90 percent of their books about Sunni Islam,” said Bookseller Shaalan Zeidan, with a chuckle.

Despite their differences in faith, the booksellers still manage to work side by side in harmony. Perhaps some of their fellow Iraqi’s should look at them as an example of what a unified Iraq could look like. It’s great to hear this type of news coming out of Iraq, as it shows that with perseverence, determination and by working together, the citizens of Iraq can and will rebuild their country into something that can be beneficial for all members of the Iraqi society.

San Diego Union-Tribune

How To Honor An American Hero Every Day

September 22, 2007

On Wednesday, I received an email from a gentleman who ran across A Soldier’s Mind. This gentleman, Chris Greta was impressed with the stories we feature here and asked if he could reprint some of them on his website. Being curious about who wanted to do so, I went to his website, Hero Bracelets and browsed around. I was VERY impressed with what I saw and gave him permission to reprint and link back to our articles.

I’d like to share with you all, a little about Chris Greta and what he’s making happen, through his website. Actually, I’ll let Chris tell you in his own words.

I grew up in the 60’s in LA as a hippy surf rat watching Vietnam on TV every night. The war ended while I was in high school spending my days dreading my turn at the draft. It was a very different time then. I saw the military, as all my hippy surf rat friends did, as something to be avoided at any cost. It took a lot of years to change my attitude, but my attitude did change. As I got to know ex-military people, I grew to really respect the qualities they learned in the military. I realized that these people had something I didn’t. Then when the war in Iraq started, I saw the political sides using the military for their own purposes. I didn’t like the fact that one side ranted about the losses to support their party while the other side tried to hide the losses for their own purposes.

Remember the ban on showing the flag draped coffins?

And then I found out the death benefit for young families was only $12K.

That all pissed me off. So since I own an ad agency and I knew how to build company concepts and Web sites, I decided to make bracelets to honor the memories of those killed and raise money for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which DOUBLED what the government did for families, all through private donations.

I came up with the name, HeroBracelets and found a small family-owned company that could manufacture the bracelets. I put up a basic Web site and got five orders the second day. Within a week, an AP reporter found the site and mentioned it in a story, which bombarded me with 75 orders the next day. Then 150, then 200. I was trying to keep my little agency going, but the orders kept coming in and I started to panic. I hadn’t planned on this. I didn’t have time or people enough to manage this.

Then, over the next few months, every major network and newspaper did stories on the project. We had reporters and camera crews out to the office several days a week. A story on FOX News hammered us with 1600 orders in a single day.

I was able to get friends, neighborhood kids and people who saw the story on the news to come help stuff envelopes and keep track of everything. It killed my agency business. We lost several clients because I couldn’t get to their work.

The problem was, it was the most amazing thing I’d ever been involved with, so everything else came in second (including my business).

At one point, we were getting fifteen pounds of mail a day.

We were all in a bit of a panic, but I found a couple programmers that could help us with the ordering system on the Web site. We made a lot of improvements, added the ability to do custom bracelets, deployed bracelets, Purple Heart bracelets and more. We put up a blog to reprint some of the thousands of letters and email we’ve received and we’ve worked to help promote other projects.

To date, we think we’ve sent out around 50,000 bracelets and raised around $100,000.00 for the Fallen Heroes Fund.

There are several things I’ve learned from this whole project.

1. Anyone can and should do something for the greater good. We all have a talent that we owe it to the rest of the world to use to do something that helps people who need help. Families who have just lost a son or daughter are devastated. Giving them something personal that they can have with them every day to memorialize that person is a wonderful thing to be a part of.

2. You can create a self-sustaining business that can actually do a good thing. We priced everything at HeroBracelets to cover the basic costs of operations and make the donation to the fund, AND we did all that while producing a better quality bracelet than anyone else for LESS money. We kept everything extremely efficient while constantly improving the service and the bracelets. We worked with our manufacturer to create a new method of making the bracelets that eliminate sharp, unfinished edges and make the bracelets strong, tough and very durable. And we can do all this while keeping the price lower than anyone we’ve found. Once we started the project, a ton of other online “organizations” cropped up. Some were total scams. Some ripped off everything we had created, even down to the name. One claims to be making donations to the Intrepid fund which isn’t true.

3. I’ve talked to literally thousands of people from all over the world. People really do care about our men and women in uniform. And it’s obvious they care for each other. I’ve heard from many commanders wanting, sometimes hundreds of bracelets for their unit, bearing the names of those they’ve lost. I’ve cried many times with parents who have lost their son’s and daughters. I’ve learned to appreciate every waking moment I have with my children.

4. Anyone can, and should do something like this. I’m no genius and I don’t have a lot of time to spare (work, kids etc), but I figured out a way to do it.

Hero Bracelets was started in December 2004, to raise money for the Intrepid Fallen Hero’s Fund and as Chris stated above, they’ve been able to donate near $100,000 to the fund. They’ve gotten tons of positive feedback about their project and hear from Troops in Iraq on almost a weekly basis, sometimes by phone and sometimes by email.

Chris does most of the work for Hero Bracelets in the evenings, as he’s the owner of a small two person ad agency in Austin called Ad Ranch. He tries to balance things between Hero Bracelets and the Ad Ranch as much as possible. Chris does his work with Hero Bracelets, not because he has to, but because he feels very passionate about honoring our Heroes as well as ensuring that the families of the fallen warriors are assisted financially.

Hero Bracelets makes several different types of bracelets as well as a dog tag. The original design was a Memorial Hero Bracelet to our our Fallen Warriors or a Memorial Hero Tag. The order page also includes a searchable database of Troops who have fallen in Iraq or Afghanistan.

They also offer a Deployed Hero Bracelet to enable loved ones of Troops currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan to honor their Hero.

For those who prefer a necklace to a bracelet, they offer a Deployed Hero Tag on a similar design to the dog tags our Troops wear.

Wishing to honor our Vietnam Veterans as well, they offer a Vietnam Hero Bracelet. As with the memorial bracelet, their site offers a searchable database of the 58,231 Americans whose lives were lost in the Vietnam War.

Do you want to honor a Wounded Warrior that you know? The next item they offer is the Purple Heart Hero Bracelet, in honor and support of those who were wounded in action. Each bracelet or tag can be customed to your liking, with the additional benefit on the Memorial and Vietnam Hero Bracelets of being able to have a randomly chosen name on your bracelet.

Last but not least, a different type of Hero Bracelet, a Leather Version of the Hero Bracelets. The bracelets and tags are all very reasonably priced and $2.00 from the sale of each bracelet is donated to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. $2.00 from the sale of each Purple Heart Hero Bracelet, is donated to the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Chris said that they’re in the process of adding a sterling silver bracelet to the list of bracelets that are available. He’s been in touch with a silversmith who will hand make each and every sterling silver bracelet that is ordered and hand stamp in the copy. From what Chris says, they’re beautiful and completely hand made. I’m looking forward to seeing them.

Chris also has a blog at the site, which features stories from different people who have one of their bracelets and of course our Warriors themselves. Chris also regularly features stories about different military health care issues and other pertinent information relating to our country’s Armed Forces. Take some time to visit the Hero Bracelets website, read the blog and order yourself a bracelet. That way you’ll not only be honoring an American Hero each and everytime you wear your bracelet, but you’ll be helping out the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and military families. I can’t think of a better way to honor our Heroes in the military and support military charities as well.

Tax Season Ends Soon

March 16, 2007

For those of you who haven’t filed your Federal and State Income Taxes yet, the deadline approaches. On April 17th your income taxes are due. Don’t worry if you haven’t completed them yet, there are plenty of free services.

Military OneSource is providing free tax services to Active Duty, Guard, and Reserve service members through H&R Block TaxCut. Head over to Military OneSource today and sign-up. Military OneSource is also offering free tax assistance 24/7 by phone and email.

Military OneSource

You can also go the IRS website for a list of other free tax services. H&R Block TaxCut is not the only option, there about 20 other companies offering the same free services for both military and civilians. The other free services that the IRS lists each have there own set of restrictions, so make sure to check them out carefully and pick the service that best fits you.

Program Helps Veterans To Own Franchises

February 14, 2007

The Veterans Transition Franchise Initiative or VetFran, is a program that offers incentives to veterans who are interested in owning their own business by making it easier for them to own a franchise. By purchasing a franchise through VetFran, a veteran can realize savings of approximately 10%. To date more than 600 veterans have taken advantage of the program through VetFran to buy a franchised small business, since the group was founded by The Gwyer Group in 1991. At this time, there are approximately 200 companies from the International Franchise Association that take part in the program.

The President of International Franchise Association, Matthew Shay stated, “VetFran was created to honor America’s veterans for their service to the nation. We do it in a way that helps them to contribute to the nation’s well-being by becoming small-business owners and operators.”

Shay stated that while the program at VetFran honors veterans for their service, it also attracts top-notch candidates as potential franchise owners. The program feels that veterans are highly desirable as franchise owners, because their military training instills in them a strong sense of discipline and the ability to lead within a structured system and an unwavering belief in the core values which carry well into a franchise business.

VetFran is one of many programs and services that are offered through corporations, organizations and private citizens in support of the brave men and women serving in the military and the nation’s veterans. To find out more about VetFran and other such programs, visit America Supports You

Free tax services…

January 23, 2007

Are you one of those who likes to file their own taxes? I personnally enjoy doing my taxes, mostly because I don’t trust someone else. Whatever your reason may be, Military OneSource is providing free tax services to Active Duty, Guard, and Reserve service members through H&R Block TaxCut. Head over to Military OneSource today and sign-up. Military OneSource is also offering free tax assistance 24/7 by phone and email.

Military OneSource

You can also go the IRS website for a list of other free tax services.  H&R Block TaxCut is not the only option, there about 20 other companies offering the same free services for both military and civilians.


January 21, 2007

The customer service at this place is definately second to none. Discount Mats in Wisconsin definately does not support the troops. Seems like a business owners would love Soldiers who protect his freedom to keep his business open. Head over to ASP for the rest of the story. Maybe you could give the company a call or an email, let them know how you feel.

Update (23 January 2006): The story has made it’s way to Fox News now. Apparently the company claims to have fired the individual who wrote the email. SGT Hess has also been able to aquire the mats for his Soldiers elsewhere.