The Miracle Of A Word

May 8, 2009

He lay unresponsive in a coma for 23 days at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, after being severely injured in a roadside bomb blast in Afghanistan, that left him with severe TBI and missing his legs. His family kept vigil at his bedside, talking with him, trying to coax him out of his coma, to no avail. His worried family continued to hope and pray, though his prognosis looked grim, due to the severity of his brain injury. One day, last June, with the utterance of one word by a visitor to his hospital room, that all changed.

On that day in June 2008, General David Petraeus came to visit 1LT Brian Brennan, who served with the 101st Airborne Division at the time of his injury. General Petraeus once commanded the 101st. When he arrived, General Petraeus tried speaking typical words of encouragement to the young Soldier.

“Hang tough, big guy.” General Petraeus said. “Your troopers need you back out there.” 1

There was no response whatsoever from the hospital bed. It didn’t seem to matter that the Commander of US Central Command was in his room, speaking to him. Lt Brennan lay motionless. Petraeus said he really didn’t think there was any hope. As he turned to leave, something made him decide to turn around and try one more thing.

“I just decided to shout out, ‘Currahee,’” said General Petraeus. “We counted one, two, three Currahee.”2

The word ‘Currahee’ is a Cherokee Indian word that’s also the motto for the Band of Brothers regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. The word translates to English as “We Stand Alone.” The utterance of that single word by General Petraeus somehow broke through the fog and Lt. Brennan responded.

“That’s when he kind of sat up in the bed as best he could,” said Jim Brennan, Brian’s father.

“Like he was saying, ‘I’m in here, I’m in here.”’ Said his mother Joanne Brennan.

“All of a sudden, the lieutenant, his stumps are banging up and down on the sheets. His head is moving around and very clearly responding to his unit’s nickname,” said Petraeus. “For three weeks, he had not responded to the voices of his family, but that Band of Brothers motto brought him back from the living dead.”3

That day in June, marked the beginning of his miraculous recovery. Brian is now out of Walter Reed, receiving out patient rehabilitation on his hand, his prosthetic legs and his speech. His memory is improving and less than a year after his horrific injuries happened, he delivered a speech to a crowd of around 2,000 people. He was also able to meet up with General Petraeus again, when he introduced Brennan as the unsung hero in the New Jersey Hall of Fame.

“I accept this honor on behalf of all service men and women …..” 1LT Brennan began.
“And guess what happened,” said his father.
“One, two, three, Currahee!” said Petraeus.4

His hometown has rallied around him and his family, to make sure that Brennan is able to return home and continue recovering from his injuries, creating a trust to help defray the costs of travel, treatment and ensuring that Brandon would have a wheelchair compatible place to live. A new 1,000 square foot addition has been constructed onto his parents home in Howell, N.J. A team of volunteers in the community donated time, money and labor to construct the addition, so that Lt. Brennan would be able to return home during his recovery, yet be independent. The construction was a complete effort of the community.

“This has been one of the most rewarding experiences, and I have met some of the nicest people,” said Jack McNaboe who took the lead in the volunteer effort.5

According to Brandon’s father, Jim Brennan, the Stands Alone trust fund that was set up, has exceeded Brian’s needs. The family plans to begin helping the families of other wounded veterans with the additional funds received.

“Our mission is to help the family members and the loved ones of wounded soldiers stay (with them) longer through their recovery, so the Soldier’s health can improve,” said Joanne Brennan. “I want to meet with the families of wounded veterans and see their faces when I say, ‘Give me your bills. Don’t worry, stay with your loved one.’”6

It’s amazing how that one word, Currahee, changed the course of Brian Brennan’s recovery and how from that has grown a non-profit organization whose mission is to ease the load on the family members of our Wounded Warriors. I applaud the Brennan’s for taking the time to think of the needs of families in a similar situation as the one they faced, knowing the hardships being away from home can cause, as they care for their loved ones, and doing what it takes to ease that burden for these families. 1LT Brian Brennan is truly an inspiring young man; a Soldier who takes pride in his service and in our country and who demonstrates the tenacity and resilience, which is so evident in our Troops. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least, if 1LT Brian Brennan ends up eventually returning to active duty, once his recovery is complete.

I encourage everyone to visit the Brian Brennan Stands Alone website to find out more about the trust and find out how you can help other wounded warriors and their families by making a donation to the trust.

  1. []
  2. []
  3. []
  4. []
  5. []
  6. []

“We Started This Together, And We’re Going To Finish Together”

April 27, 2009

The Boston Marathon is an annual marathon sporting event hosted by the city of Boston, Massachusetts, on Patriots’ Day, the third Monday of April. Begun in 1897 and inspired by the success of the first modern-day marathon competition in the 1896 Summer Olympics,[1] the Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon and ranks as one of the world’s most well-known road racing events. It is one of five members of the World Marathon Majors.

Today, the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) manages this event. Amateur and professional runners from all over the world compete in the Boston Marathon each year, braving the hilly New England terrain and varying weather to take part in the race.

The event attracts an average of about 20,000 registered participants each year. In the 100th running of the Boston Marathon in 1996, the number of participants reached 38,000. While there are cash prizes awarded to the winners of the marathon, most of the runners participate for the accomplishment of having run the race at all.1

Special Forces soldiers Army Staff Sgt. John Walding and Army Maj. Kent Solheim, both wounded warriors, start the 113th Boston Marathon together, April 20, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Curt Squires

Special Forces soldiers Army Staff Sgt. John Walding and Army Maj. Kent Solheim, both wounded warriors, start the 113th Boston Marathon together, April 20, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Curt Squires

On April 20th, two Special Forces Soldiers who were both wounded in combat, competed in the race. What makes their participation unique, is that both are single leg amputees and both competed in the race on Hand Cycles. Army Major Kent Solheim who is a member of the US Army John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School and Army SSG John Walding from the 3rd Special Forces Group, were injured in different countries. Solheim in Karbala, Iraq and Walding in Afghanistan. Both of these Heroes received the Silver Star for their actions in combat and both Soldiers officially finished the race. Solheim finished with a time of 1hour, 50 minutes and 23 seconds. SSG Walding was right behind him, finishing in 1 hour, 52 minutes and 53 seconds.

Solheim was wounded in Karbala, Iraq, while he was assigned to the 3rd SFG. His team fast-roped onto its target, and in the gun battle that ensued, he was shot four different times. Originally, doctors tried to save his leg, but 20 months later, he made the tough decision to have his right leg amputated. That was seven weeks ago.

Walding was wounded in Afghanistan on April 5, 2008, when a sniper’s round instantly amputated his right leg. From there, Walding folded his leg into his crotch and tied it with his bootlace. With the help of his team, he later made it down the side of the mountain.2

Both Soldiers recuperated from their injuries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. While the rehabilitation process is often a long, tedious and painful one, the team of experienced therapists who work there, provide one of the best places for our wounded warriors to recover from their injuries. Both Soldiers took part in extensive physical therapy, but felt that the support of each other, made their recovery that much better. Their friendship caused them to push themselves harder and further than they may have done alone.

“I really believe God put us together for a reason,” Walding explained. “If Solheim had not been here with me, I would have not pushed as hard as I did. I still would have hit the gym, still have done the cardio. I would have still ran and done what I was supposed to do, but we feed off each other. It really has doubled what my intentions are.”

“It’s huge to have a partner when you are going through something like this,” Solheim said. “John and I are able to work out together. We both support each other and have been close friends here. I push him, he pushes me; it’s a mutual thing. Both of us have achieved high levels of success and our own goals because we have been able to push each other.”

“You have to have that kind of support behind you,” Walding said. “We’re Green Berets; we’re not lazy people. When you take a Green Beret and say you can’t walk any more, it’s not just the physical aspect, it’s the mental aspect of, ‘Man I can’t go run today,’ and it’s a lot to take in. I gave three years of my life to get this hat and join the brotherhood, and now I may not have that job anymore.”3

Not only do both Soldiers have the support and encouragement of each other, but they have the support of their families as well. That’s always important when someone is recovering from an illness or injury and even more so to wounded warriors. The support of their families is essential to their recoveries. Neither Soldier was initially training for the Boston Marathon, but training to enable them to be able to interact and do things with their children, like they always have.

“We were just training so we could play with our kids again,” Walding said. “It’s not our kids’ fault that we got shot and going through this together, it doesn’t matter who finishes first. I couldn’t have done it without Kent and we will finish together.”4

According to SSG Walding, out of 26,385 participants in the Boston Marathon, only 20 of them were using hand cycles. It wasn’t an easy thing for them to be able to compete, but with the assistance of Team Achilles – Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans, it was able to happen. The Freedom Team is a program that is operated at Walter Reed. Achilles makes the hand crank cycles available to the wounded warriors. The goal is to get them out of the hospital and back on their feet and exploring the many opportunities that are available to them.

“Having lost a leg, you can’t swim because you have sutures in your leg,” Walding said. “You can’t ride a bike, because you can’t wear a prosthetic. You obviously can’t run or walk, so any type of cardiovascular activity you want to do is going to come from your upper body.”

“I just got tired of the exercises Walter Reed has in the clinic,” Solheim said, “so I just decided to try the hand cranks. I took one to a local park … and started riding on a daily basis. I was there with SSG Walding and it was just something we started doing together. It’s been a tool for us to get out of the hospital, outdoors everyday,” he said, “and now it has led to the opportunity to do the race.”5

Prior to competing in the Boston Marathon Solheim and Walding had been riding the hand cranks for only about 7 weeks. What they’ve both been able to accomplish in such a short time is amazing! Both Soldiers have much bigger goals in mind than the Boston Marathon and I’m sure that with the drive and determination that they’ve exhibited thus far, that both of them will be able to accomplish anything and everything that they set their minds to.

  1. []
  2. []
  3. []
  4. []
  5. []

Miracle On The Mountainside

April 1, 2009

Our Wounded Warriors never cease to amaze me, with their unflinching determination and grit, as they face a life of uncertainty, as they are recovering from injuries they’ve sustained on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. Each time I hear about their accomplishments, I’m amazed and grateful that they epitomize the men and women that are serving our country in the military today. Their strength of character and tenacity is so inspiring, as they show me each and every day, what can be achieved, despite any roadblock that life puts in your way.

Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bill Roy, a first-time participant in the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colo., is experiencing the “Miracle on the Mountainside” as he experiences skiing and other activities he once thought were forever gone to him after being wounded in Afghanistan. DoD photo by Donna Miles

For one Wounded Warrior who is taking part in the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic at Snowmass Village, Colorado, he discovered a miracle on the mountainside. Army CSM Bill Roy, a Special Forces combat medic who has served 36 total years in the Army, 17 of those years active duty and the rest in the Army Reserve, participated for the first time at the clinic. Yesterday, he experienced something, that for him was completely outside of anything he’d ever seen, and believe me, throughout his career, he’s seen many things. He experienced a phenomenon, that those involved with the clinic call the “Miracle on the Mountainside.”1

Years ago, Roy was a double-black-diamond skiier who was never afraid to tackle any slope, regardless of how treacherous or challenging it was. In fact, he relished the challenge. After a deployment to Afghanistan, that left him severely injured, Roy figured his skiing days were over with.

While deployed to Afghanistan where he was the theater command sergeant major for the Office of Security Cooperation Afghanistan, that is responsible for training Afghan security forces, Roy was injured during a rocket attack. He had visited a FOB in Jalalabad, in March 2005 to check on his Soldiers, when mortar rounds and rockets rained down on them from across the Pakistan border. A 122 mm rocket literally lifted him off of his feet and threw him 25 yards away.2

While he knew he was injured, because he was in pain and was having trouble getting around, Roy, being the crusty CSM that he was, soldiered on. He really had no idea how extensive his injuries were. He only had 90 days left in his deployment, so he returned to Kabul and worked through the pain.

Upon redeploying to Fort Benning, Georgia, the post-deployment medical examination showed that his injuries were very severe. The blast caused disintegrated vertebrae, that caused major paralysis, two fractured kneecaps, two torn rotator cuffs, shrapnel in his head, TBI and symptoms of PTSD. Injuries, that would have caused a lesser person to immediately seek help.

“I had some pretty major paralysis in the beginning, and they told me I would never walk again, but I did,” Roy said. After 16 surgeries, he now walks with a cane, but his doctors have warned him that a deteriorating back likely will put him back into a wheelchair for good within the next few years. The blast had exacerbated a previous back injury.3

Currently, CSM Roy remains in the Army, but expects that he’ll be medically retired when a medical review board reviews his case. Because he’s a career soldier, a third generation one at that, when he heard the prognosis about his condition, one that pretty much guarantees that he’ll not be able to continue to serve in uniform, he began a downward emotional spiral. His experiences on the mountainside on Tuesday, however, showed him that even with the injuries that he has sustained, he can still lead a full and productive life. He experienced the “Miracle on the Mountainside.” Tuesday, he sat aside his can, put everything aside, as strapped into an adaptive sit-ski. With two ski instructors flanking him, he headed down Snowmass Mountain, leaving in his wake, a cloud of fresh powdered snow.4

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever do something like that again,” Roy said, shaking his head as an ear to ear smile stretched across his face.5

That moment was a very defining and pivitol moment in his recovery. One that changed his mental outlook and gave him hope for his future as a disabled veteran. As well as helping his mental outlook, the clinic is giving him a very clear understanding that life ahead doesn’t have to stop him from doing things that he enjoys. In fact, life ahead is his for the taking and he can accomplish anything he sets his mind to, regardless of any physical limitations.

“This has been a turnaround for me that has changed my mental attitude for the better,” he said. “I’m laughing and having fun - and believe me, I haven’t done that for a very long time. I may be altered, but if I’ve got the right mental attitude, I don’t have to be disabled,” he said. It’s all mind over matter. And if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”6

CSM Roy was quick to praise the winter sports clinic, that’s become an annual event sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Disabled American Veterans. The clinic is currently in it’s 23rd year, as a rehabilitative tool for veterans with disabilities that can range from spinal cord injuries, to amputations to visual impairments or neurological conditions. The winter clinic isn’t the only one that is sponsored by the VA and DAV. They also have the opportunity to learn rock climbing, scuba diving, trapshooting, wheelchair fencing, sled hockey, snowmobiling, during a 6 day program. During these activities, veterans eyes are opened to a whole new range of opportunities that are available to them, if they’re willing to put forth the effort to try. For most of those who have participated in the past or currently, the experience can be a life changing one.

“I’d recommend this clinic to anybody,” Roy said. “This has really rejuvenated my soul.”7

As in the past, I’m always happy to feature the programs that are available to help our wounded warriors, as they recover from their injuries and sometimes challenges in life that they never expected to have to face. I can’t say enough about how wonderful these programs are, how lifechanging they are for these men and women. The groups that provide these opportunities to our wounded heroes are indeed helping to create “miracles,” and showing these heroes that despite their injuries, that anything is possible.

  1. []
  2. []
  3. []
  4. []
  5. []
  6. []
  7. []

In His Vocabulary, The Word ‘Quit’ Does Not Exist

January 15, 2009

July 2005 is a month that will be forever etched into the mind of 2LT Richard Ingram. During that month, an event occurred that would forever change his life. Ingram lost him left arm in a roadside bombing, while serving in Iraq. That devastating injury didn’t stop him from following his dream to be the very best warrior that he could be.

Lt. Richard Ingram watches his dog Cooper jump into the bed of his pickup truck at a local pet groomer in LaGrange on Wednesday. Ingram lost an arm in a roadside bombing in Iraq.

Lt. Richard Ingram watches his dog Cooper jump into the bed of his pickup truck at a local pet groomer in LaGrange on Wednesday. Ingram lost an arm in a roadside bombing in Iraq.

This past December, Ingram made another milestone in his quest in being the finest warrior possible, when he became the first Soldier severely wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan, to become an officer following their injury. When he was injured, he was an enlisted National Guard Soldier. Now a newly pinned 2LT, Ingram left for Fort Benning, Georgia on January 11th for officer training. Training that will prepare him to lead Soldiers into battle. That may be sooner, rather than later, considering that US Troops are still serving in Iraq and more and more Soldiers are being deployed to Afghanistan.

“I might have to try a little bit harder than everyone else, but I get the same results,” he said. “I’m in better shape now than when I had two arms.”1

Ingram is a role model. Someone that other Soldiers can look up to. Someone who other wounded warriors, approximately 3,722 of them who are classified as severely wounded can look up to. Something that young children look up to. Evidence of that is seen in his parents home, where a letter from a young second grade child is framed. That letter reads:

“I think Richard is very courageous for being in the war in Iraq. His mother works at my school. He lost his arm in an explosion. He went to a hospital in the United States. He had to have an artificial arm and use it. I want to be like him when I grow up.”2

What Richard has accomplished since his injury, gives hope to the thousands of other wounded warriors, that they too can succeed, whether that be in the military or in life outside the military. According to Lt. Col. Richard McNorton, about 113 Soldiers in the Wounded Warriors Program have continued their careers in the military, after being injured. Of that 113, Ingram is the only one who continued or restarted his career by completing Officer Candidate School.

According to Col. Michael Pyott, a military science professor at North Georgia College and State University, where Ingram completed the ROTC program to become an officer, Ingram was trailblazer. Col. Pyott said that it took some work to figure out how they could allow Ingram, who at the time was a disabled Army Specialist, earn his commission. Pyott said that the extra effort and red tape was well worth it. To be able to complete the training and rejoin the Army as an officer, Ingram had to prove that his disability would not make him physically unable to perform his duties. He did just that.3

“There’s no point in living, if you’re not living your life,” Ingram said. “I’m just glad to be alive.”4

Though it took him seven years to complete his degree, between being deployed and then recuperating from a severe injury, Ingram persevered. Although he wasn’t sure that he’d be able to be a frontline Soldier again, he knew that he didn’t want to spend the rest of his military career behind a desk. Initially after his injury, he took a medical retirement from the Army and returned to school. During that time, he realized that he was meant to be a Soldier and began working to return to the Army. On December 13th, Richard Ingram took his oath of office as a 2LT. He’s once again in the Army, this time as a leader. He will eventually be in charge of an engineer platoon with the 10th Mountain Division. More than likely, he’ll see combat once again in Afghanistan. Before he deploys again, he has a few things he’d like to accomplish, such as Airborne and Ranger School. Both of those courses are extremely difficult ones and many with both limbs aren’t able to complete both of them. According to a spokeswoman at Fort Benning, for an amputee to master either of the courses, is an almost insurmountable challenge.5

2LT Ingram’s friends and family all have complete confidence that he’ll succeed at both challenges. They know his strength of character and perseverance when times are tough and they know that if anyone is up to the task of beating almost impossible odds, that 2LT Richard Ingram will be the one to do so.

As I read this article about 2LT Ingram, I was amazed and inspired by the things this young man has accomplished, faced with the type of adversity that he’s had to face. He’s already accomplished so much and I have no doubt, that if given the opportunity, he’ll be able to accomplish anything and everything that he sets his mind to. I’m proud to say that he is just one example of the incredible men and women we having serving in this country’s Armed Forces. Men and women like 2LT Richard Ingram are what makes our military the best in the world. Thank you 2LT Ingram for your inspirational service to our country.

  1. []
  2. []
  3. []
  4. []
  5. []

A True Hero On The Battlefield

November 6, 2008

Our military men and women live by certain standards, a code of conduct or code of ethics if you will. In the Army, it’s the Warrior Ethos. Our Troops exemplify this in their professional lives, with how they deal with Soldiers who may be their superiors or those whom they lead. They exemplify this in the way they conduct their personal lives as well. When they go to combat, their actions under fire are what can really define them as a Soldier. Will they freeze under fire, or will they do whatever is necessary, to ensure the safety of themselves and their fellow soldiers.

Vice Chief of Staff of the Army General Peter W. Chiarelli presents the Distinguished Service Cross to Staff Sgt. Christopher B. Waiters Oct. 23 during a ceremony at Soldiers Field House. Photo by Phil Sussman

On October 23rd, the former commander for 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division returned to Fort Lewis, Washington for a very special occasion. He was there to pin the nation’s second highest award for valor on the chest of one of the Soldiers he led, one of the brigade’s medics.1

Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, General Peter Chiarelli, presented the Distinguished Service Cross to SSG Christopher B. Waiters. The award was on the 17th such award since the Vietnam War. Currently Waiters is stationed at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. He returned to Fort Lewis on October 23 to receive the award that was earned by him on April 5, 2007. At the time he was assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment as a combat medic. The ceremony was held that day at Soldiers Field House. His entire former brigade was present to witness the award.

According to General Chiarelli, Waiters set an example of the “very best of military values; loyalty, selfless service, and personal courage.’ His sense of duty to his fellow Soldiers led him to pull wounded comrades out of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle without regard for his personal safety. His sense of duty to his fellow Soldiers, is the embodiment of what most every Soldier strives for. On the date of the incident, Waiters was then a specialist. His response to a vehicle borne IED that was catastropic saved lives.

According to accounts, Waiters fought his way to the scene, killing two insurgents. He exposed himself to enemy fire, when he ran across 80 meters of open ground between his vehicle and the disabled Bradley to pull two crewmen out of the Bradley, which was in flames. Waiters said that he had never seen a Distinguished Service Cross when he heard that he’d been recommended for the award.

“I had to go look up the picture of a DSC on the internet,” he said.

“It’s an honor to receive it,” Waiters said. “I was doing what I was trained to do. That’s what I was there for.”


We are lucky in this country to have men and women like SSG Waiters, who are willing to risk their own safety, to ensure the lives of their fellow Soldiers. Men and women like him, are people we should look up to and they are the type of people that we should teach our children to look up to. Not the celebrities, the musicians and athletes that our children often look up to and hope to emulate.

  1. []
  2. []

Update: SPC Ross McGinnis

May 29, 2008

I haven’t written in a very long time and I do appologize.  I will soon be connected again and will be able to get back to the work at hand.  However, I did come across a story that both myself and Terri publish back a few months ago. 

SPC Ross McGinnis gave the ultimate sacrifice for his Country and his fellow Soldiers.  He smothered a grenade that had entered his HMWVV while on patrol, thus saving the lives of his fellow convoy members.  You can read more at our previous stories.  Archive

On 2 June 2008, SPC McGinnis’ will receive the Medal of Honor, the highest award and honor that any Soldier may receive.  The Medal of Honor will be presented at a White House ceremony to his parents, Tom and Romayne McGinnis.  You can read more at the US Army Medal of Honor website.

Honoring Matt Maupin

April 29, 2008

Sunday, thousands of people descended upon the Cincinatti, Ohio area to pay their respects and to honor an American Hero …. SSG Matt Maupin, as a memorial service was held at the Great American Ball Park. Military members and supporters from all across the United States attended the services honoring Matt.

As our readers know, on April 9, 2004 the convoy then PFC Maupin was in near Baghdad was attacked and Matt was captured. A short time later, Al-Jazeera aired a tape showing Matt being held captive, surrounded by masked men holding automatic rifles. Matt’s family never gave up hope that he would be found and Matt’s hometown rallied around Matt’s parents, Keith and Carolyn Maupin and turned their community into a sea of yellow ribbons. After his capture, Matt’s parents started the Yellow Ribbon Support Center, in support of deployed US Troops. They’ve vowed that their work will continue, in Matt’s honor.

Sunday, Matt’s flag-draped coffin was on a platform in the area of the pitcher’s mound at the stadium. On the field were members of the 338th Army band and about 100 family members, military representatives and other dignitaries. The crowd of supporters occupied the lower portion of the baseball staduim, behind home plate and stretching from first base to third base.

SSG Maupin is a Hero and one who deserves to be honored and remembered. My heart goes out to his family, who never gave up hope over the past 4 years, that somehow Matt would be found alive. While that hope wasn’t realized, his family can finally have closure in knowing that their son, their Hero is finally home and being honored in the way that he deserves. Rest in Peace Matt, Welcome Home and thank you, brave warrior for your service and sacrifice.


Miracles On The Mountain

April 3, 2008

Less than 6 months after losing a leg to an IED in Afghanistan, Army PFC Michael DInkel is on the slopes ad exploring new possibilities at the 22nd National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic at Snowmass Village.

Snowmass Mountain in Colorado was the site of miracles, as disabled veterans took part in the 22nd annual National Disabled Veterans Sports Clinic. For Army PFC Michael Dinkel, participating in the events only 6 short months after losing his leg to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, taking part in the event is therapeutic for him. Dinkle is currently a patient at Walter ReedArmy Medical Center, but right now, he’s enjoying himself, shimmying down the slopes of Snomass Mountain and vowing that he won’t let his disability stand his way, now or in the future. He’s determined to lead a full and productive life.

“I’m having a blast!” Dinkel exclaimed as he took a break after a run down the mountainside. “This is somethig I dreamed about.”

Dinkel isn’t the only active duty wounded warrior who is taking part alongside almost 400 disabled veterans at Snowmass for the clinic. They’re experience what the organizers of the event term, “Miracles on the Mountainside,” as they try Alpine and Nordic skiing, rock climbing, scuba diving, trapshooting, snowmobiling, hockey, curling, fencing as well as many other events.

By taking part in the Winter Sports Clinic, they’re demonstrating, not only to the world, but most importantly to themselves that a severe injuiry doesn’t have to prevent them from having a full, productive and fulfilling life. For Dinkel, it didn’t take much convincing that his amputation didn’t have to limit his life. He’s always loved skiing, so he was anxious to take part.

“Three months after I got blown up, went skiing,” Dinkel said, recalling a trip to Windham Mountain, NY, an event that was organized through Walter Reed.

Dinkel’s next ski trip was to Liberty Mountain in Pennsylvania. There he continued to fine-tune his technique with his new adaptive skis. At Snowmass Mountain, Dinkel can concentrate on enjoying himself and participating in something that he loves, instead of the numerous surgeries he faces at Walter Reed, before he’ll be able to return home to Cincinnati, Ohio.

Even though taking part in the events at Snowmass Mountain, are a chance to get away for a few days, it’s also a huge part of the rehabilitation for Dinkel and the other wounded warriors, according to Lisette Mondello, the assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs for public and intergovernmental affairs.

“This is a rehabilitative event. It’snot about a week of camaraderie and ski lessons,” Mondello said. “It’s about taking someone who’s had a catastrophic injury and saying, ‘ Your life isn’t over. It’s time to start again.’”

For many of the warriors, they encounter moments of self-doubt and the feeling that their lives are going to be limited. Events such as this, are often the catalyst that they need to approach their rehabilitation and their lives with renewed vigor and determination. Events such as this make them realize that their lives don’t have to end because of their injuries. Being able to meet and work with military members who have overcome devastating injuries, such as
Major David Rozelle and others, gives them the inspiration to continue to strive to achieve their dreams.

Miracles on the Mountain DO happen, as disabled veterans take part in the 6 days of the 22nd National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.

Many of the participants were first-timers, such as Vietnam-era veteran Harry Williamson, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. He admitted that he had some trepidation and doubts about his first time going down the slops inn an adaptive sit-ski.

“I’m nervous,” he said. “But I’m going to give it a try. I’m going to see if I can do it, to see if I can master it. And if I do, that’s another challenge I tried and I conqured.”

Conquering challenges is something these men and women do every day. They conquer the challenges of their rehabilitation, of learning to live their lives in a different way then they had in the past, and the conquer the challenge of the limitations that they sometimes place on themselves, because of their injuries. Overcoming those challenges, is one more step on the road to recovery for them.

Many of the volunteers helping at the clinic, are disabled veterans themselves, such as Darol Kubacz. Kubacz is a 33 year old Army veteran who was rendered a paraplegic during a training accident 15 years ago at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He remembered his own doubts as he attended his first winter sports clinic, only a year after his injury. The first time he ever skiied was after his injury, at his first winter sports clinic at Snowmass. He fell in love with it, so much so, that he moved to Vail, Colorado and is now an adaptive ski-instructor. He said that the clinic gave him something much more than just a new activity to pursue. It gave him the chance at a new life and it’s kept him coming back year after year. He’s now attending for the 13th time since his injury.

“It changed my life,” he said. “There’s so much that goes on here, on many levels. It’s about brotherhood. It’s about great people. It’s about great physical and emotional experiences. But most of all, it’s about positive mental attitude,” he said. “That’s why they’re teaching people here. Because when it comes down to it, the only way we are going to succeed and have fun in life is to have a positive mental attitude.”

It’s so inspirational to see the ways in which these wounded warriors are rebuilding their lives and the fact that they’re so willing to share their positive experiences with other wounded warriors. What better example, of their potential to achieve, then wounded warriors who are dealing with the same types of life changing injuries that they are.


Bad Voodoo’s War

March 30, 2008

They’re a group of National Guard Infantrymen from California and many of them are well-known milbloggers. In June of 2007, these men, who call themselves the “Bad Voodoo Platoon” deployed to Iraq. Their mission was to provide convoy security - a mission quite different from what they done in the past - taking the fight to the bad guys. Prio to their departure for Iraq, the director for FRONTLINE and ITVS, Deborah Scranton decided to create a “virtual embed” with the members of Bad Voodoo Platoon, by supplying them with video cameras, so that they were able to record what they experienced in Iraq and tell their story first-hand. On April 1st, FRONTLINE will air the results of this “virtual embed” when they air Bad Voodoo’s War.

Many of our readers are very familiar with some of the members of Bad Voodoo Platoon. It’s members include Sgt. J.P. Borda of, SFC Toby Nunn and as well as other members of the Bad Voodoo Platoon, who are consumate milbloggers. For those familiar with J.P. from several years ago, he operated a Milblog during his last deployment in Afghanistan called the National Guard Experience. Many of us took part in the Beef Jerky Wars that got started after J.P. made his infamous post outlining the Golden Rules of Care Packages.

This film is sure to be an intimate and frank look at the reality of what our Troops encounter each day in Iraq, as they dodge IEDs and snipers, deal with the Rules of Engagement, encounter the political side of their jobs when dealing with Iraqi security forces; all the while, operating on less sleep than those of us at home and dealing with their own humanity, as they face their fears. I’m looking forward to the film and encourage all of our readers to watch it as well.

FRONTLINE presents
Tuesday, April 1, 2008, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS

“Here we are. It’s about 2:30 in the morning on the 2nd of October. We have been on the road for a while. … Wasn’t too excited to get this change of mission. The stretch of road between Anaconda and Speicher, known as IED Alley, it’s probably one of the worst stretches of road in theater.”
-Sfc. Toby Nunn, during his second Iraq deployment, to his personal mini-DV camera

FRONTLINE goes to war in Iraq with a band of California-based National Guard soldiers who call themselves the “Bad Voodoo Platoon” to tell their very personal story in Bad Voodoo’s War, airing Tuesday, April 1, 2008, at 9 P.M. ET (check local listings). To record their war, from private reflections to real-time footage of improvised explosive device (IED) attacks on the ground, director Deborah Scranton (The War Tapes) creates a “virtual embed,” supplying cameras to the soldiers of the Bad Voodoo Platoon and working with them to shape an intimate portrait that reveals the hard grind of their war. Says Scranton: “What compels me is telling a story from the inside out, to crawl inside their world with them to see what it looks like, feels like and smells like. It’s really important to give soldiers the chance to press their own record button on this war.”

Through their daily experiences, acting platoon leader Sgt. 1st Class Toby Nunn, originally from British Columbia and the father of three, and Spc. Jason Shaw, a 23-year-old from Texas, give us a firsthand look at the impact of the U.S. military’s policy of multiple deployments to Iraq and how the Army’s role has changed on the ground.

Spc. Shaw is on his third deployment to Iraq. After the invasion in 2003, he was awarded the Silver Star for valor during the battle for the Baghdad airport. Shaw volunteered for his third tour in Iraq, but is haunted by the loss of so many comrades during his earlier deployments. “I’ve had six of my good friends die,” he explains. “When I lost all of my buddies, I just kind of lost hope. I used to be religious. My last deployment totally made me think otherwise. You know, you pray all the time to keep everybody safe, and then something happens.”

Sfc. Nunn, responsible for the safety of the 30 men in his platoon, worries endlessly about their welfare. “I’m worried about my guys,” he confides to the camera one night. “Right now I’m out here talking to you while they’re inside sleeping because I can’t sleep. Can’t rest, you know.”

Many of his men, highly trained veteran combat infantrymen, are deeply frustrated by their primary mission: providing security for convoys transporting supplies throughout Iraq to fuel President Bush’s surge. “A lot of our guys don’t like this mission,” says Nunn. “We’re used to kicking in doors, taking the fight to the enemy. Now you’re driving on the road for hours and hours and hours and days, waiting to get blown up and not allowed to fight back.”

The platoon is also struggling with a new relationship with the Iraqi security forces, whom the Americans depend on for their own safety. Nunn reflects: “I told myself last time I wanted to train the Iraqis the best I possibly could, because it was my ticket home. … But here I am, three years later, saying, ‘Will the Iraqi security forces enforce anything out there?’ Every time I talk to these guys, you know, my trust meter isn’t reading in the green all the time.” This constant second-guessing, combined with the relentless monotony of the desert highway, the fear of deadly IEDs and the memories of lost friends, keep the soldiers in an unending state of anxiety. This is Bad Voodoo’s war.

Bad Voodoo’s War is a Clover & A Bee Films production for FRONTLINE and Independent Television Service (ITVS). The writer, producer and director is Deborah Scranton. FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation. ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people. FRONTLINE is closed-captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers and described for people who are blind or visually impaired by the Media Access Group at WGBH. FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation. The executive producer for ITVS is Sally Jo Fifer. The FRONTLINE executive producer for special projects is Michael Sullivan. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is David Fanning.

Please visit the FRONTLINE: Bad Voodoo’s War site, to view additional footage, as well as check for the time that it will be playing in your area.

Earning His Stripes

March 28, 2008

Recently, in a demonstration, dangerous “mock” terrorists infiltrated a heavily guarded Central Texas base. But one Soldier, was able to save the day and get the job done. That Soldier, SSG Gaven Cox, recently took a break from his fight with leukemia, to “Soldier up” with his 1st Cavalry Division teammates, to participate in the top-secret search and destroy mission. Through Make-A-Wish Foundation of America, Gaven was able to join Troop C, 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, based at Fort Hood, to defeat the bad guys.

Alongside his fellow comrades with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, he saddled up with the division’s horse detachment, flew a virtual Apache helicopter combat flight over the Iraqi capital, and maneuvered on a Black Hawk – all before lunch time. Gaven and his personal flight crew with Company C, 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, took flight in search of the make-believed insurgents, which was the first half of his mission.

“The pilot actually did some pretty hard banks,” Sgt. David Raines, a cavalry scout, said, who rode with the soon to be 6-year-old. “I’ve done about 20 different rides in combat and none of them were ever like that.”

Gaven’s mom, Melissa Heminger said that Gaven was diagnosed with leukemia in December 2007. She said that since he was three years old, he’s always been a Soldier, but has proven it even more in the past few months, since his diagnosis.

“I look at him everyday and he’s fighting it,” Melissa said. “I know that there are days it’s hard for him to just walk to the bathroom, but he just keeps going strong and keeps smiling. The things that children can overcome are amazing.”

Gaven’s courageous fight with leukemia and his warrior spirit definitely impressed his fellow 1st Cavalry Division Soldiers as well. His determination, courage and guts are what being a Soldier is all about. He proved that not once, but many times over, during his time at Fort Hood.

“Gaven’s courageous story pretty much mirrors what were fighting for,” 1st Lt. Christopher Hall, the officer in charge the Make-A-Wish project, said. “We go through a lot, but Gaven also has been through a lot. It shows what we’re doing overseas, what we do everyday is worth while when you see the kind of strength in a kid like that - five years old and fighting as hard as we are.”

After thwarting the enemy and riding in the Apache, Gaven’s day wasn’t quite complete. Later in the afternoon, he spent time at the Engagement Skills Trainer, where he was able to use a variety of military weapons to take out an antimated enemy. According to his fellow Soldiers, he got 6 confirmed kills. Gaven said that his favorite part of the day was being able to ride in a Humvee.

Once his mission was complete, Gaven proudly stood to receive his promotion to SSG and his official Cav Stetson. His stripes and stetson, he more than earned, as a handful of his fellow Soldiers stood at attention. You can see, from the look on his face in the photo that he was excited about his accomplishment, one that only took him about a week.

Fort Hood Sentinel

Next Page »