June 2, 2008
Anytime you turn on the television nowdays, we’re deluged with various game shows and reality shows. The producers of ABC’s newest game show is looking for military families to become contestants on the pilot episode of their show, which according to reports, will offer a huge cash prize. Families who wish to apply must submit their requests by July 3rd.
There hasn’t been a lot of information released about the show, such as the name of the show, the amount of the prizes and what kind of game show it will be, due to proprietary reasons, according to Victor Hurtado, who is the head of Martenvee Media which specializes in military casting. He did say however, that the show will be family friendly and it will involve general knowledge questions. The contestants that the shows’ producers are looking for are families who are “outgoing and fun” and who have children between the ages of 7 and 21. The idea is to have the entire family participate in the show, where the show will come to the family’s home.
According to Hurtado, the show is produced by the same producers of “Extreme Makeover, Home Edition” and “Oprah’s Big Give.” Hurtado said that the producers understand the sacrifices made by military families and that they would like to reach out to this community. Because it’s difficult for them to get onto military bases, they’ve decided to reach out publicly to military families who would like to apply to be contestants.
The following information is required of families who want to be contestants on the show. They need to email the information to .
Pictures of your family and your home
Brief biography of each family member and their ages
Any challenge you’d like to include
Wish list of home improvements
A statement of why you want to be on the show
Families are invited to send as much or as little information, as they’re comfortable with. If their entry sparks the producers interest, they will contact the family to get more information through their local military installation’s PAO office.
This sounds like it could be fun for military families and definately a way to highlight to the world, what our military families sometimes have to deal with, especially during deployments. I’ll be checking into this further and will update the information as I get it.
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.
May 31, 2008
On Thursday afternoon, I had the pleasure of participating in the Bloggers Roundtable discussion on Behavioral Health & Suicide Prevention. Speakers for the discussion were Lt. Co. Thomas E. Languirand, Chief of Command Policies and Programs Division, Chaplain (Col) Charles D. Reese, Office of the Chief of Chaplains and Col. Elspeth Ritchie, Psychiatric consultant to the Army Surgeon General.
LTC Languirand opened the discussion by saying that the Army values the well-being of it’s Soldiers and their Families. He emphasized that the Army is committed to them by ensuring that they can learn to increase their coping skills. The Army is committed to addressing the risk factors and to remove the stigma that is associated with seeking mental health care for problems. LTC Languirand stressed that the Army feels that even one suicide is one suicide too many and the Army is actively pursuing educational means and interventions that they hope will decrease the number of suicides in the military. Things that are being used, such as the Army’s Battlemind Training, are being utilized prior to and following deployments. That training as well is being offered to family members. The training is designed to teach Soldiers and their family members to recognize signs of problems, so that they can encourage each other and their family members to seek help when necessary. I’ve reviewed the Battlemind Training for Soldiers as well as the training for Family members and it’s definately a step in the right direction. The hope is that by teaching Soldiers what to look out for in each other and teaching Family members what to look for with their Soldiers returning from downrange, they can help in the prevention of suicides and other mental health problems. It’s great training and I encourage anyone who has contact with Soldiers to go to the Army Battlemind Training Website and utilize the information that is provided there.
Chaplain (Col) Reese then explained the role of Chaplains in suicide prevention and mental health care, saying that they offer religious and spiritual support for Soldiers and their Families. Chaplains also provide Soldiers and their Family members assistance with learning coping skills both during and after deployments. When units deploy downrange, Chaplains deploy with them, to offer their support with the myriad of difficulties that can arise during the deployment. Chaplains are also an essential piece in dealing with routine and crisis situations and they are the primary trainers in the Army for suicide prevention.
The last speaker, Col. Ritchie spoke in length about the ways in which the Army is working to expand their intensive out-patient programs, in order to ensure that Soldiers and their Family members have the assistance available to them that is necessary. She went on to mention the Holistic approaches that are beginning to be utilized in the treatment of PTSD, in suicide prevention and the treatment of TBI’s. There are several pilot programs in place, such as the Restoration and Resilience Center in Fort Bliss that I’ve reported about in the past. As you may recall, the program at Fort Bliss, utilizes alternative medicine, such as yoga, meditation, martial arts, qigong, reiki and accupuncture, to name a few. A similar program is in place at Walter Reed. Col. Ritchie stated that at this time, the programs are in the research stages and that they’re watching closely to monitor their results in the programs. Col. Ritchie also mentioned programs being conducted utilizing Virtual Reality in Fort Sill, Ok., Ft. Lewis, Wash. and at Walter Reed. Having read extensively about these programs and the successes they’ve had so far, I’m pretty impressed and feel that both of the programs bear watching, as programs that may prove extremely successful in treating Soldiers suffering from PTSD and TBI’s.
Col. Ritchie stressed that the Army is actively looking to expand the number of mental health providers. They are also looking at increasing the number of Tricare providers and are working to help educate civilian providers and expand their knowledge base to better treat Soldiers suffering from PTSD. Efforts are also underway to educate primary care providers on how to treat PTSD.
The floor was open for discussion and many great questions were asked and answered. One participant had concerns about a Soldier seeking mental health help and staff at emergency rooms not picking up on signs of depression. Col. Ritchie responded by saying that Soldiers who are exhibiting signs of mental health problems are seen in the military emergency rooms by mental health workers and those problems are being addressed in the emergency rooms. She did admit that no system is perfect and that occasionally someone who may not vocalize that they’re experiencing depression or looking to harm themselves, may not be recognized, that they are working hard to ensure that no one needing mental health care falls through the cracks.
Mental Health care in Iraq and Afghanistan were addressed as well, with the participant asking if Soldiers were being prescribed anti-depressants downrange without being fully diagnosed with depression. Col. Ritchie assurred that mental health providers are in theater and are thoroughly evaluating patients to ensure that they receive the appropriate care. Evaluations used in theater are the same as evaluations utilized in the states. She stressed that providers understand the importance of correct diagnosis prior to prescribing medication.
The last question addressed the stigma of a Soldier seeking mental health help and how the Army was addressing that to ensure that Soldiers aren’t stigmatized when asking for help. Col. Ritchie stated that the military as a whole is dedicated to ensuring that the stigma is removed and the DoD has taken the lead to ensure that by revising the questionnaire for national security positions, patrticulary question 21. The revised question, she said, now excludes non-court-ordered counseling related to marital, family or grief issues, or counseling for issues related to military service in a combat zone. Another step is educating Soldiers and leadership on the importance of seeking help that the Army is actively pursuing. They are also working to ensure that leadership encourages Soldiers who need help with mental health issues, such as PTSD or depression, to seek that help and not stigmatize the Soldier when they do seek help.
This roundtable discussion was very informative and highlighted the many avenues the Army is actively taking to ensure that our Soldiers and their Family members receive the best care possible as quickly as possible.
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 â€” and reduce e-waste â€” 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 â€” valued at more than $500,000 â€” 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.
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.
NATIONAL MOMENT OF REMEMBRANCE ON MEMORIAL DAY
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.
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 donâ€™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 dadâ€™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 didnâ€™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. Theyâ€™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 countryâ€™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. Iâ€™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 nationâ€™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 â€œDecoration Dayâ€, 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. Itâ€™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 youâ€™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.
May 23, 2008
Last year, we highlighted a partnership between Best Buy and Fisher House to benefit our Troops and their families. Once again, theyâ€™re joining forces to equip Fisher Houseâ€™s national network of â€œhomes away from homeâ€ 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 theyâ€™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 youâ€™d like to take part in this worthwhile campaign, please visit the Best Buy website. If youâ€™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!
May 23, 2008
Until recently, a feed mill in Sayafiyah, Iraq had to be shut down, due to insurgent activity in the community. It was unsafe for him and his employees to come to work. Recently though, the owner of the feed mill received a US State Department micro-grant to get his business back up and going.
“We always had to stay in our house,” Thamer Hussain Kashkool said, adding that the insurgents had stolen the mill’s motor.
Because most of the insurgents and extremists have been driven out of the area, the community is much safer, allowing Troops to concentrate on aiding the residents in the area to begin focusing on rebuilding. The economy in the area is mostly agricultural based, thus making it important to have the feed mill operational. One of the main purposes of the feed mill is to provide feed for area chicken farmers.
“We have a chicken coop ready to be stocked with 30,000 chicks,” Mike Stevens, Baghdad 7 Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team agricultural advisor said. “We need this mill so we can stock the coops. The farmers need the mill to feed their chicks.”
When the mill wasn’t operational, farmers had to travel to Baghdad to buy feed for their animals. Insurgents are still implanting roadside bombs on some roads, and Stevens felt it was important to avoid making the farmers travel so far to obtain feed for their chickens. With the State Department’s micro-grant, Kashkool is able to get his business operational and provide the local farmers with feed, thus doing away with the need to travel the roads to Baghdad to obtain the feed. With the local mill operational, jobs will also be created.
“We give them money to start, and then encourage them to get loans from the Ministry of Agriculture to cover the rest, so we have Iraqis using Iraqi money,” Stevens explained.
Kashkool plans to use the grant money to repair damages to the mill’s roof caused by the insurgents, purchase a new generator, motor and different types of seeds. Besides producing feed for chickens, the mill also will produce feed for other livestock and eventually for fish as well. According to Kashkool, once the mill is fully operational, he will be able to employ at least 14 people in his business.
I’m sure it’s great to watch as communities in Iraq start becoming revilatlized and businesses either reopen or new ones are started. These types of things, though they may seems small and inconsequential to us, mean a lot to the Iraqi people and send them a clear message that our country isn’t going to just walk away and leave their communities in shambles, with no viable businesses or means of support.
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. â€œThere wasnâ€™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.â€
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. â€œItâ€™s attacking my nerves, and it doesnâ€™t allow good conduction for the signals that tell the muscles to move. But thereâ€™s treatment for it.â€
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.
â€œWithin 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,â€ he said. â€œI 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.â€
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 youâ€™re stuck at home,â€ he added. â€œItâ€™s not a good feeling.â€
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.
â€œArmy doctrine is to train in times of peace and to win at war,â€ Smith said. â€œI see a lot of value in what I did as a rear detachment soldier, but if the Armyâ€™s at war, I want to go.â€
â€œI know it motivates me,â€ Sgt. Nelson Dawson, a soldier in Smithâ€™s troop, said. â€œEven 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, â€˜You know what? â€¦ I can still do my job. Why canâ€™t I go?â€™â€
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.
â€œI said, â€˜Well yeah, if I can do all those other things, of course I want to stay in the military,â€™â€ he went on. â€œIf I wanted to get out, I would have done it a long time ago, but thatâ€™s just not me.â€
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!
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.
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