A Living, Healing Monument

June 29, 2008

Over the past 7 years, many families have lost loved ones to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each of those families, have handled their grief in their own way. Some have chosen to become vocally active against the Global War on Terror and others have actively become advocates for our Troops and our Wounded Warriors.

Since the attacks of September 11, 2007, there has been an explosion of volunteer based groups across the country who have dedicated themselves to supporting our Troops and our Wounded Warriors. The recurring theme in all of these groups, is giving back to the warriors who have given so much of themselves, by serving our country in it’s Armed Forces.

(The entrance to Chris Neal Farm, near Farmington, Mo., bears the motto of Camp Hope: “Our thank you for serving.”)

One such group, Camp Hope, is a non-profit 501 C 3 organization that was founded in 2007 by a civilian Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command equipment inspector in North Carolina, named Walter “Mike” White. The organization began in tragedy and formed living legacy to White’s son PFC Christopher Neal White, who was a Marine assigned to the First Marine Expeditionary Force. Christopher was killed in Iraq in 2006, when an IED exploded underneath his vehicle in al-Anbar Province.

White and his family wanted to find a way to keep Chris’s memory alive. Chirs was an avid outdoorsman. Chris grew up on a far in Eastview, Kentucky. He loved the outdoors and had a passion for hunting and fishing. According to his father, Chris got his first deer at the age of 7. As a reminder of Chris and his love for the outdoors, the antlers from the very last deer he shot, are hung at Camp Hope. Mike and his family purchased 180 acres land which they’ve named the Chris Neal Farm. It’s located about 70 miles South of Saint Louis, near Farmington, Mo. Their purpose is to provide a place where disabled veterans can come and outdoor activities, such as hunting, fishing, canoeing, skeet shooting, hiking and camping. A completely handicapped accessible lodge in the process of being built and it was named Camp Hope after the camp of the same name in al-Anbar province Iraq.

Currently the lodge is in the planning stages. When completed, it can accommodate up to six veterans at one time. The plans for the building have already been drawn up, by Frederick W. Hill, an architect and retired Army Lt. Colonel. The planned building will boast 4,000 square feet, handicapped accessibility. Mr. Hill donated his service to the organization.

“People do not realize what these veterans are going through when they come home,” White said. “There is self-esteem involved, and no hospital has a tree stand or gets them outdoors. These returning veterans need to enjoy what they used to do. Being here also gives them the opportunity to talk to other veterans who have experienced the same thing.”

White feels that Camp Hope will be a therapeutic place where there will be no judgments or limits placed on the veterans. This will be a place where they can explore their capabilities and deal with some of their challenges. Camp Hope will provide for them a refuge and allow them to realize that they are still capable of enjoying the outdoor activities that they used to enjoy, without pressure. While White lives and works in North Carolina, he grew up near Farmington and has a network of supporters there, who are eager and willing to help ensure that Camp Hope succeeds.

“Camp Hope is supported by all volunteers,” said White. “At some point in the future, I would like to hire a disabled veteran to manage the facility and have year round access,” He said.

He went on to explain that the property is checked often, between hunting seasons. The camp is stocked regularly with supplies and the trails are worked to ensure they are accessible. They also attend fund raisers and participate in various outdoor activities with the veterans. While the visitors who come to Camp Hope are hoping to enjoy the outdoor activities, perhaps bag a deer, catch a mess of fish, hunting is just a backdrop to the real purpose of Camp Hope … the process of healing.

“If you don’t get anything, who cares?” said Jared Feldman, a former US Army Sergeant. Feldman suffered from shrapnel wounds and hearing loss when he was wounded in Iraq. “It’s about the camaraderie. I am glad Will started this program; it’s an incredible place.”

The therapeutic value of being able to talk with someone who has went through a similar situation is as important as the outdoor activities, according to some of the Soldiers who’ve spent time at Camp Hope. They all agree that spending time at Camp Hope helped them in their healing process. The first veteran invited to Camp Hope, 1st Lt. Joe Bogart, an engineer with 5th Engineer Battalion at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo was an avid hunter prior to being injured by an IED, when he was deployed to Iraq. The IED claimed one eye and left him legally blind. With assistance from friends and volunteers, he participated in the 2007 deer hunting season and the 2008 turkey hunting season.

“It’s hard to put into words why I wanted to come back,” Bogart said. “In November, I was sitting on a rock overlooking an open field, hoping a deer would come, and suddenly I didn’t care if I got a deer. A sense that everything is right in the world came over me, similar to my wedding day or when I first held my son. Some things are different, but I am still the same guy I was before I went to Iraq.”

It’s wonderful that the White family has chosen to keep the legacy of their son Chris alive, through helping Wounded Warriors. To me, it’s a fantastic testimony to the spirit of their son. While some will say that they’re “only giving them vacations,” the therapeutic value of nature and being able to relax in such a setting has been proven many times over. If you’d like to find out more about Camp Home and the work the White family is doing at Chris Neal Far, please visit their website.


Camp Hope Official Website

Meeting The Needs of Iraq’s Children

June 6, 2008

The key to the future of any nation is it’s children. Iraq is no different in that respect. Just like here in the United States, the children of Iraq will be instrumental in ensuring that their nation continues to progress and thrive, making it a better place for their children. That fact isn’t lost on our Troops, as they continue to interact with Iraqis.

On May 31st at the Radwaniyah Palace Complex Civil Military Operations Center at Camp Stryker, Iraq, more than 100 Iraqi families showed up to receive items that will help to ensure that the needs of their children are met. Items such as diapers, formula and cereal were given to the families to meet that need.

“Rakkasan” Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team distributed 2 packages of disposable diapers, 2 cans of powdered formula and 2 cans of cereal mix for each child who was under the age of 3 years old. All told, more than 180 children received assistance that day. The initiative to reach out to Iraqi women and their children began in February, following a series of meetings with professional Iraqi women and from a series of visits to women in different areas. Their needs were revealed and the Troops were more than willing to ensure that their needs were met. Read more

Pentagon Honors Civilian Worker Killed In Afghanistan

June 1, 2008

Geraldine Marquez was a retired Air Force Sergeant and serving in Afghanistan as a civilian contractor with Lockheed Martin Corporation, when she was killed in a suicide bombing attack February 27, 2007. On Friday, Marquez’s family received a posthumous award of the Defense of Freedom Medal from the Department of Defense.

“It doesn’t replace her departure, but it does recognize her commitment,” said her sister Jeanette Marquez at the ceremony. “It’s comforting to know her sacrifice did not go unrecognized.”

Marquez worked as a civilian military-operations analyst for Lockheed Martin and was serving at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. The medal that was awarded to Marquez’s family, is the civilian equilivant of the Purple Heart.

The bombing in which Marquez was killed, was believed to have been targeting Vice President Dick Cheney, who was visiting the base at the time of the bombing. Twenty-three people were killed in the blast. According to information provided about the bombing, Marquez had escorted several Afghan trucks inside the main gate of the base, when the bomb exploded, only 30 feet away from her. According to officials from Lockheed Martin, the death of Marquez was the first for the company in two years overseas.

Prior to the ceremony, the Defense of Freedom Medal was displayed on a table next to the certificate that was signed by Army Secretary Pete Geren. Also displayed was the American Flag that was flown at Bagram Air Base in honor of Marquez. Rev. Jim Parris of Calvary Chapel Golden Valley Church spoke, before the ceremony in honor of Marquez.

“God bless all the Soldiers like Geraldine, who fight so we have the right to have freedom,” Parris said to the crowd of more than 50 family and friends of Geraldine Marquez.

It’s important to recognize the service and sacrifice of the civilian workers, who alongside our Troops, put themselves in harms way, in order to ensure our freedom and the freedoms of those in other countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. It only makes sense to honor Geraldine Marquez and other civilian workers who lose their lives as they provide vital support to our Troops in the warzones.

Daily Bulletin

AT&T Teams With Cell Phones For Soldiers In Support Of Troops

May 30, 2008

When Soldiers are deployed, one thing that helps to make their deployment easier is being able to connect with their families and friends back home. Morale is very important to Troops in the warzone and having that connection with loved ones, helps to improve their morale, making it much easier for them to continue in their mission. A partnership between AT&T and Cell Phones For Soldiers understands that importance and are doing something about it.

Recently, AT&T, The Navy Exchange and Cell Phones For Soldiers celebrated Fleet Week 2008, with members of the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard in New York City. Working together, they donated 7,000 land and sea based prepaid phone cards to the members of the Armed Forces who were in New York City last Thursday for Fleet Week 2008. Other efforts that the partnership have going is the Earth Day Challenge, where AT&T and Cell Phones For Soldiers have pledged to work together and collect more than 1.8 million recycled cell phones by Earth Day 2009.

AT&T and Cell Phones for Soldiers Launch Earth Day Challenge: Double Cell Phone Recycling by Next Earth Day to Support the Environment and Military Families

Recycling Program That Sends Phone Cards to Troops Has Helped Avoid 125 Tons of E-Waste; AT&T’s Support for Program Expands to Add ‘Helping Hands’ From a Network of more than 300,000 AT&T Volunteers

San Antonio, Texas, April 21, 2008

AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) announced today that the company will work with Cell Phones for Soldiers (CPFS) to drive recycling and reduce e-waste through the next year with a goal of doubling the number of cell phones the charity recycles by next Earth Day. CPFS collects and recycles mobile phones and uses the proceeds to buy free phone cards for U.S. military members and their families.

Since Earth Day 2007, CPFS has collected more than 900,000 cell phones for recycling. AT&T and CPFS have pledged to work together to help the charity collect more than 1.8 million devices by Earth Day 2009. AT&T currently supports the charity’s recycling through more than 2,000 AT&T stores in more than 1,100 cities across the U.S. AT&T is expanding that support to include a network of more than 300,000 community volunteers, a national donation drive running through July 2008 and a new online starter kit for donations.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, e-waste is accumulating three times faster than household trash. Since 2004, CPFS has collected more than 1.25 million mobile phones. The charity’s recycling partner, ReCellular, estimates that this has prevented more than 125 tons of e-waste from entering landfills, including the environmental equivalents of:

Saving enough energy to power nearly 4,000 U.S. households for a year. Avoiding the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as removing more than 2,800 passenger cars from the roads for a year. Keeping more than two tons of toxic materials out of landfills. “With Earth Day and Cell Phones for Soldiers, we’re turning up the volume on cell phone recycling,” said Paul Roth, president of Marketing and Sales for AT&T’s wireless unit. “So far this year, our weekly in-store recycling averages are five times what they were in 2007 and 28 times more than the same time in 2006. AT&T is proud to support both of these worthwhile programs.”

AT&T Adds New People Power: The AT&T Pioneers
One way AT&T is supporting the recycling challenge is through the added support of the AT&T Pioneers. Beginning Earth Day on April 22, a network of more than 300,000 volunteers will begin helping expand the charity’s cell phone donation drives into communities across the U.S. Roughly 100 new donation locations will be established, and volunteers will work to collect phones in corporate offices and community locations from the days surrounding Earth Day through July 4 to support the environment and to help keep military families connected with free phone cards.

New Free Online Donation Drive Tool Kit
AT&T and CPFS are also launching a new online tool designed to support community groups and help individuals launch and conduct their own donation drives with a new electronic “starter kit,” available at AT&T Recycle Wireless. The tool is available to anyone who would like to run a donation drive with CPFS, and it includes environmental tips, planning tools, camera-ready artwork for recycling bins and other relevant materials.

“We’re excited to have the support of the AT&T Pioneers and a new free tool to offer our supporters,” said CPFS co-founder Brittany Bergquist. “We run our charity from home, and we rely on volunteer support to collect phones for recycling. Having more helping hands to drive our mission to recycle for the troops — and reduce e-waste — is something that makes a huge impact on our ability to reach people and, in the end, send more free calls to the troops. Having a new free tool that anyone can use is one more way we’re making it simple for people to join us.”

Since AT&T launched its support, the company has also donated more than 60,000 prepaid phone cards — valued at more than $500,000 — to CPFS to help the charity connect more military families. In the past two years, AT&T has donated more than $4 million worth of prepaid phone cards to help support U.S. military members and their families. These donations include direct distributions to troops serving in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, South Korea, Japan and Europe. The company also has built 70 calling centers in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan.

Both of these programs are great initiatives to provide our Troops a way to keep in touch with their families and friends during their deployment and goes a long way towards showing our Troops how much corporations such as AT&T and citizens support them, while they continue their jobs in the Global War on Terror. If you’d like to participate in the programs or perhaps read more about ways that AT&T supports the Troops, please visit their website, via the link provided below.

AT&T Support For The Troops

Cell Phones For Soldiers

National Moment Of Remembrance

May 26, 2008

Today is Memorial Day, a National Holiday, that has been set aside for many years to honor our fallen Warriors for their service and sacrifice for our country. I hope that as you go about your day, you’ll pause often to think about the freedoms that these men and women sacrificed their lives for … freedoms that you and I haven’t earned ourselves, but instead were paid in full for us, with the blood of these brave and honorable men and women. They paid the ultimate sacrifice, so that we might continue to enjoy our way of life here in the United States.

Regardless of what you plan to do today, whether it be attending a ceremony in honor of our fallen Warriors, decorating the graves of fallen Warriors or spending time with your family and friends, I ask that you please take part in the National Moment of Remembrance to be observed at 3pm local time across the nation.


Pause and unite at 3 p.m. in honor of our fallen.

Monday, May 26, at 3 p.m. local time, Major League Baseball games will stop, Amtrak train
whistles will blast across the country and hundreds of other nationwide participants will encourage Americans to pause for the Memorial Day National Moment of Remembrance. The ‘Moment’ was established by an act of Congress, to honor those who died in service
to our country.

All citizens, alone or with family and friends, wherever they may be at 3 p.m., local time, are asked to pause for a moment of reflection and rededication to give something back to our country in memory of our Nation’s fallen. The goal is to put “Memorial” back into Memorial Day.
A Gallup poll revealed that only 28 percent of Americans know the meaning of this noble holiday.

“We want Americans to contemplate those things that bind us together. The legacy of those who died to make this country better - from the Revolutionary War to the present - is something that strengthens and unites us. We want every child to say ‘I know why I am free and I know who died for my freedom.’ ” said Carmella LaSpada, Director of the White House Commission on Remembrance. The White House Commission on Remembrance was established in 2000 by Congress in Public Law 106-579. Its purpose is to promote the ‘Moment’ and the values of Memorial Day by acts of remembrance throughout the year.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has partnered with the Commission to bring recognition to the National Moment of Remembrance and encourages every American to attend Memorial Day events and to participate in the Moment. When we honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, we are honoring those who have served and those still serving.

Other participants in the Moment include, NASCAR, the National Constitution Center, Liberty Bell, Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority, schools, universities, hospitals, United Spinal Association, retirement communities, shopping malls, National Parks, National Grocers’ Association, airports, bus lines, and the International Space Station.

White House Commission on Remembrance

Memorial Day 2008

May 24, 2008

For many people in the United States, Memorial Day signifies the official start of the summer. Many spend that weekend at the lake, hosting barbecues or partying with friends. Schools are either already out for the summer, or will be, soon after the Holiday. Over the years, the meaning of Memorial Day has become bastardized and many people don’t even know or recognize the history or meaning behind this special day.

Memorial Day for me, has always been one of family tradition. Each year, our family gathers in my dad’s hometown of Kiowa, Kansas, to pay our respects to family members who are no longer with us. A large portion of those we honor on Memorial Day served proudly in our country’s Armed Forces. My family has a long and honorable history of serving in our military, many of them serving during times when our country was at war. Many of those relatives are no longer with us. While some didn’t fall during the war, many of them carried scars of their service and some died as a result of the injuries they received during their time of service. They’ve always had my respect and utmost appreciation for the part they played in ensuring that I had the freedoms that I enjoy today.

My Memorial Day weekend this year, will be spent much like it has been for as long as I remember, honoring family members of many generations who have proudly served in our country’s Armed Forces in the different battles that American Soldiers have taken part in. From my great-grandfather who proudly served during the Civil War as part of the 122nd Regiment of the Illinois Infantry. My grandfather who served in the 353rd Infantry Regiment, 89th Division, American Expeditionary Forces, during World War I. Several great-uncles who proudly served during World War II and the Korean War. Uncles and cousins who saw combat in the jungles of Viet Nam. I’ll stop at each of their graves, take a moment to pay my respects and give my thanks for their service and sacrifice.

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day and was set aside as a time to honor the nation’s Civil War dead. The day was first widely observed on May 30, 1868 in order to commemorate the sacrifices that were made by Civil War Soldiers. General John A Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former Soldiers and Sailors declared in General Order No. 11 that:

The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
At the fist celebration of “Decoration Day”, then General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery. Following his speech, around 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of more than 20,000 Soldiers of both the Union and Confederacy, who are buried at the cemetery. This event in 1868 inspired communities in several states of the US to hold observances of their own. Several cities claim that their community is the birthplace of Memorial Day.

By the late 1800s, Memorial Day was being celebrated in many communities across the country. After World War I, observances began to honor not only those who fought in the Civil War, but those who had fought and died in all American Wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day as a National Holiday and that it would be celebrated each year on the last Monday in May.

Currently, our country is involved in two wars, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. This generation of American Soldier has bravely stepped up and willingly given so much in the name of Freedom. Currently over 4,000 American Soldiers have given their lives and countless others have been injured. It’s imperative that we as Americans remember the sacrifices our Soldiers long gone and our Soldiers of today, have and are making for our Country and the freedoms that we enjoy.

I ask that each of our readers, while you’re spending this Memorial Day weekend with your families and friends and hopefully paying respect and honoring Soldiers no longer with us, that you really stop and think about the sacrifices these men and women made for our country and for our freedom. While you’re at it, please take a moment to stop and remember the men and women who are still defending our right to freedom, as well as our wounded warriors, as they face the battle of a lifetime to overcome their injuries.

Fisher House and Best Buy Team Up Again For Troops & Their Families

May 23, 2008

Last year, we highlighted a partnership between Best Buy and Fisher House to benefit our Troops and their families. Once again, they’re joining forces to equip Fisher House’s national network of “homes away from home” for service members receiving medical care and their families. Their goal is to equip the homes with even more technology, to allow them to stay in touch with their families and friends, while they’re away from home during hospital stays.

From May 25th to June 14th, Best Buy is launching a campaign nationwide, in order to generate support from their employees, customers and partners. Best Buy customers are able to donate to Fisher House at any Best Buy location, from the Best Buy website. Partners of Best Buy, including Samsung, Toshiba, Gateway and LG are donating flat screen televisions, lap top computers and appliances to the campaign.

This year, Fisher House has been designated as the Indy 500 charity. Proceeds from branded t-shirts and dog tags that will be sold during race week will benefit the charity. Best Buy employees will be on hand to staff the sales areas throughout the race. Best Buy employees will also be at the Fisher House in Richmond, Virginia in June to install newly donated computers and appliances. The Fisher House logo will also be featured on the Best Buy NASCAR car for the Coca Cola 600 to be run on May 25th.

As many of you are aware, Fisher House is a not for profit organization that builds and donates to the government homes on the grounds of military medical centers to ensure that the families of service members receiving treatment at these facilities can have their families close by during their hospitalization and recovery. Fisher House began that program in 1990 and in 1994 a similar program at VA medical centers began. Currently there are 38 Fisher Houses across the United States with 5 more under construction. Over 110,000 families have been served to date.

If you’d like to take part in this worthwhile campaign, please visit the Best Buy website. If you’re going to be attending the Indy 500, consider purchasing some of the merchandise that will be on sale to benefit the Fisher House Foundation. Everything that you contribute will go to benefit the men and women of our Armed Forces who are patients at a military medical center. You CAN make a difference for our Wounded Warriors and their families!

Best Buy Online Fisher House Donation

Fisher House

He Fought To Deploy

May 20, 2008

Often when we turn on our televisions, we see stories in the media about Soldiers who’ve refused to deploy with their fellow Soldiers to Iraq, saying that they refuse to fight in, what they term is an “illegal war.” We’re constantly reminded that the media is very much against the policies of the current administration and anything that they do. We’re constantly hearing about groups like IVAW and others who “claim” that our Troops are constantly committing horrible acts against the people in Iraq. Yet, we never see in the media, stories about our Troops who want to go to Iraq, because they know the good that’s being accomplished there. The Troops, who wouldn’t have to go, due to medical reasons or situations in their families, yet they make the choice to go, and they serve honorably.

I’m constantly amazed at the courage, dedication and sense of duty that so many of our Troops have. Yet the media never tells us about them. Instead, they chose to focus on the very small percentage of screw ups and do their best to make it look like all of our Troops are that way. They never tell us about the men and women who feel that it’s their duty and obligation to deploy … Soldiers like Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Christian Smith.

CWO3 Smith is a maintenance technician, with Troop R, 4th Squadron, 3rd ACR, who could have stayed home when his unit received orders for Iraq. But that’s not what he wanted to do and he fought long and hard to make sure that he’d be able to deploy with his fellow Soldiers.

CWO3 Smith’s story started in 2003 when he was deployed to Iraq with a military police brigade. He began experiencing times when he would trip and fall for no reason at all. His fellow Soldiers saw this happen and were worried about him. Smith and his fellow Soldiers had no clue what was causing him to fall. Smith noticed that over the course of the deployment, his muscles began growing weaker and weaker.

“It was very humbling, to say the least,” he said. “There wasn’t much I could do about it then, but I knew that once I got back from [Iraq], I was going to have to go see a doctor and find out what was going on.”

After returning home from Iraq, Smith began visiting doctors. In February 2005, he underwent surgery for a herniated disc in his back to relieve pressure on what the doctors at the time thought was a pinched nerve. The surgery didn’t help and by that time, he had lost the ability to move the toes on his left foot. His muscles continued to grow weaker. Finally after even more visits to the doctor, he was sent to a neurologist. In late September 2005, he was finally given the diagnosis of multifocal motor neuropathy.

“It’s a condition where my body thinks there’s something wrong with the nerves,” Smith explained. “It’s attacking my nerves, and it doesn’t allow good conduction for the signals that tell the muscles to move. But there’s treatment for it.”

Once he had a diagnosis, he began the treatment for his condition. Every three weeks, he had to have an intravenous immunoglobulin treatment. By then, Smith’s unit was once again scheduled to be deployed. Smith was ready to deploy, but instead he was slated to stay back home with the rear detachment. His protests, that he was getting better, didn’t help and he ended up staying at Fort Hood while his unit deployed without him.

“Within four or five days, I started noticing a lot more strength, and by 10 days after that, I could wiggle my toes and keep my left foot up,” he said. “I went back to the unit and told them the treatment was working. At that point, it was a matter of how the Army medical system was going to handle this.”

His doctors told him that his condition was a legitimate medical condition that would definitely be enough to keep him from deploying. His doctor couldn’t seem to understand why he would want to deploy, when he had a reason that he didn’t have to.

“It’s one of those things where, having grown up playing sports, you spend all that time practicing with a team; and, all of a sudden, they go to an away game, out of town, and you’re stuck at home,” he added. “It’s not a good feeling.”

A year and a half later, Smith was again faced with his new unit getting ready to deploy and he was determined that he wasn’t about to be left behind again. His treatments were working, he was free of symptoms and he was ready to deploy. So he began and long and very frustrating campaign to ensure that he would be deployable. One again, his doctors told him No. There were a chain of emails from one medical professional to another, all stating that he shouldn’t deploy. Their reasons were risk of contamination, with the secondary possibility of anaphylaxis or renal failure. They felt that Smith didn’t have a good grasp on what his medical condition was. Smith, however had researched his disease and discussed a plan with the squadron surgeon Major (Dr) Sean Hollonbeck and they had come up with a plan for administering his treatments during deployment. Even then, doctors said no. His commander was skeptical that he’d get the clearance necessary to be able to deploy, but they supported him in his efforts.

“The Army is attempting and perfecting new things in theater of operation every day,” Smith wrote. “Why not this?

“I guess I just felt like I’m in the Army to do a job,” he said. “Having been left back once, I told my wife, ‘If I can’t deploy and go do what I’ve trained to do, then I shouldn’t be doing this anymore.’”

This was personal for Smith and he had the support of everyone is Troops R. It finally came down to a month at Fort Irwin, California at the National Training Center. While there, an enlisted combat medic administered his treatment and he had no problems whatsoever. The Army finally gave in and Smith deployed with his unit, as part of Task Force 12, in November 2007.

“Army doctrine is to train in times of peace and to win at war,” Smith said. “I see a lot of value in what I did as a rear detachment soldier, but if the Army’s at war, I want to go.”

“I know it motivates me,” Sgt. Nelson Dawson, a soldier in Smith’s troop, said. “Even though he has this condition and could have stayed home with his family, he chose to come here and be with his soldiers. He said, ‘You know what? … I can still do my job. Why can’t I go?’”

During his struggle to get clearance to deploy, Smith was asked by a Doctor what he hoped to get from the fight to deploy. His only response was that he wanted to be able to run and play basketball and do the things he’s done all his life. The doctor appeared shocked that Smith wanted to stay in the military, especially with a medical condition that would allow him to get out altogether.

“I said, ‘Well yeah, if I can do all those other things, of course I want to stay in the military,’” he went on. “If I wanted to get out, I would have done it a long time ago, but that’s just not me.”

This young man is someone to be admired. There are many other men and women just like him, who despite things that would allow them to get out of the military, continue to fight to stay and serve a country that they love in it’s time of need. What an inspiration!


Seeds For Soldiers

May 19, 2008

I was really impressed when I read about this project. What started out as a Soldier’s sister-in-law collecting a few seeds to teach the Iraqi kids how to grow their own gardens and help to supplant their family’s food supply, grew into quite a large project. Michelle Nielson of Yankton, South Dakota had no clue when she started the project, that she would get the kind of response from the public that she did.

The idea started when Michelle got a call from her sister, whose husband Major John Blankenhorn is serving in Iraq. He was looking for some seeds that he could use to work with the Iraqi children. Michelle’s sister called her and the project blossomed from there. Michelle, who works at WNAX in Yankton talked to her 4H kids and asked if they might consider doing a drive to collect garden seeds and other things for the Iraqi kids. Michelle also asked her boxx if she could publicize the effort on WNAX. Her boss thought it was a great idea.

Nielson and her 4Hers put together donation boxes and posters around the town. According to Michelle, donations have come in from schools, churches, businesses and senior citizen centers as well as individuals in the community. She’s also received seeds from other states. The project began in January and so far Michelle has sent more than a dozen boxes of seeds to Iraq. She has several more waiting to be shipped.

“I’ve probably sent over about 5,000 packs of seeds so far,” she said.

Not only will the gardens help the Iraqi children to add to their family’s food supply, it also gives them the chance to see US Soldiers in a completely different light. Projects such as this, as minor as they might sound to us here at home, mean a great deal to the Iraqis. It also gives the children the opportunity to experience something positive in their lives, something that is helpful to their families and communities as well. According to Nielson, the Soldiers are taking the seeds to the schools to distribute them to the children, who are excited to get them.

There are guidelines on what seeds a person can send. The seed packets must not have been opened, or recycled from plants in the donor’s own garden. Those types of seeds aren’t allowed by Customs, who would then quarentine the entire box. Nielson has a few other guidelines as well. The seeds sent should be for plants that have short growing periods and should be seeds that will grow well in sandy soils that get a small amount of moisture.

“John tells me that they recycle water,” Nielson said. “They use their bath water, they use their dishwater. That’s what they use to water their plants with.”

Some of the best seeds that can be sent, are seeds for radishes, tomatoes, turnips, cucumbers, small melons and even some flowers. According to Nielson, she has no plans to stop the project, as long as she keeps gettings seeds.

“I’m not going to stop unless I don’t get seeds in,” she said. “As long as I keep getting seeds, I’ll keep sending them over and he’ll keep sending them out. His wish is that he’ll have enough seeds to go through most of Iraq.”

This is a great project and one that will only benefit the Iraqi people and help to build better relationships between the citizens and our Troops. If you’d like to find out more about the project, including where you can send seeds, please visit the WNAX website. You’ll find the information about Seeds For Soldiers about halfway down the page. There are links as well, to photos of the Troops handing out the seeds to the schoolchildren.

Army Times


Inspiring Wounded Warriors To Excel

May 12, 2008

I’ve published stories here at A Soldier’s Mind in the past about the great things that have been accomplished by some of our Wounded Warriors. I’ve introduced you to two very special wounded veterans, both in this story and this one. Bob Kunkle and Joe Beimfohr have demonstrated time and time again, that with the desire to excel, even our Wounded Warriors can achieve whatever they set their mind to. Both of them were wounded in different wars, Bob in Viet Nam and Joe in Iraq. Both of them have overcome their injuries to lead full and productive lives and both of them have dedicated themselves to showing fellow wounded warriors, that being disabled, doesn’t mean they can’t protect themselves and it doesn’t mean that they can’t achieve their goals. I can’t say enough about the many lives that these two men have touched, especially the lives of other Wounded Warriors. They’re both inspirational and both have accomplished so much, despite the injuries they have fought to overcome.

When I wrote the first story about Joe and Bob and the self-defense method that they teach at Walter Reed, it didn’t dawn on me that I had met Joe before. After Joe stopped by to comment on the story, only then did I realize that I had met him before. When I lived in Maryland, myself and a friend visited numerous Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. We had stopped in Joe’s room to leave him a blanket and some other gifts and visit with him a bit. I was amazed at his positive , can do attitude, despite the fact that he was a double amputee. He told us about his goals and what he was going to accomplish in his life, and I’m happy to say that he’s accomplished exactly what he told us he was going to. Before I left that day, I got Joe’s email address, which is how I realized that I had had the pleasure of meeting this amazing young man.

Joe and Bob have started, what they call They’ve modified the techniques of Dan Zan Ryu Ju-Jitsu, as well as other forms of martial arts, into a system, designed to allow persons in a wheel chair or with other physical disabilities, to be able to defend themselves. For the past two years, Bob and Joe have been teaching these techniques to Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed and sharing their inspiring stories with the warriors they come into contact with. While Joe lives in the general area of Washington DC, Bob has quite a commute each time he visits Walter Reed, driving from Upstate New York. But distance and time away from his family and his job, don’t stop Bob from his dedication to reaching out to our Wounded Warriors to give them hope and inspiration and show them, from he and Joe’s firsthand experiences, that they CAN accomplish anything and their injuries don’t have to get in the way.

Bob and Joe have recently teamed up with a very gifted artist, Carol Culhane, who creates works of art in honor of our Heroes. Carol’s specialty is one of a kind ornaments. She creates these ornaments and presents them to the Heroes serving our country in our Armed Forces. Carol has created many such works of art and often provides her artwork to raise funds for various military organizations, as well as many other worthwhile charitable organizations. I could go on and on about Carol and her credentials, but if you visit her website, her art will tell you so much more. Carol currently is selling her ornaments to help ensure that Bob’s mission to continue to serve the Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed and other military hospitals can continue. All proceeds from the sale of Carol’s ornaments will go to help fund Bob’s continued service to our Wounded Warriors. Bob and Joe will soon be traveling to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, as well, to share their work with the Warriors being treated there. I’m looking forward to finally being able to meet Bob in person and once again meet up with Joe.

Carol recently was able to accompany Bob on one of his latest trips to Walter Reed and sent me a few pictures that I’d like to share with our readers. She shared her thoughts and feelings after making that trip and how actually being able to visit the Wounded Warriors was humbling and awe-inspiring and made her realize just how important what Bob and Joe do at Walter Reed is.

“I just wanted to touch base with regarding the Walter Reed visit. Bob and I spent four days with the soldiers and I was able to hand out approximately 52 ornaments and stands. What an experience!!!

I would love to continue to help Bob in his endeavors. It is obvious the need is greater than he will ever be able to fulfill.

I felt so humbled around the wounded and the people who care for them, their families and staff. What a remarkable experience.”

Please take some time to visit Carol’s website, as well as the website for Able Warriors Self Defense, read about the great work that Bob, Joe and Carol are doing and purchase an ornament for your favorite Soldier, family member or Gold Star Family. Remember all the proceeds will be used to help Bob and Joe continue their mission of helping other Wounded Warriors. Like Carol, what Bob and Joe are doing, is something that I believe in with all of my heart and I want to do everything possible to ensure that they succeed in their endeavor to help their fellow Wounded Warriors.

Just Me Art, Inc.

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