Judge Stays Execution Of Soldier Held On Death Row

In July, I wrote a post about a Soldier who had been convicted of multiple rapes and murders at Fort Bragg, NC in the 1980s. That Soldier, Sgt Ronald Gray was convicted by a Court Martial panel at Fort Bragg. At that time, he was and continues to be held on death row. His execution was scheduled to be held on December 10th at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.

In an order from Judge Richard Rogers, a US District Court Judge, that was dated November 26th, the order for the execution to be stayed until further order from the court. Since his conviction in 1988, Gray had been held on death row and on July 28, 2008, President Bush approved the order for him to be put to death. Gray is the longest serving inmate to be held at the US Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.1

When President Bush signed the order to execute Gray, it was the first time since 1957 that a President has approved a military death sentence. Bush didn’t sign the order until the Supreme Court upheld Gray’s conviction and death sentence. During the appeals process, there were two petitions to the Supreme Court, which were denied by the court. Currently, there are four other military members on death row at Fort Leavenworth, with another who is under a death sentence, moved to Camp Lejeune, NC pending ongoing litigation.2

Having worked in law enforcement, and seeing the horrible crimes that some people commit against others, I agreed with President Bush’s signing of Gray’s death warrant. When he brutally raped and murdered the people that he did, Gray gave no thought to their rights as human beings, no thoughts to the friends and family that were left behind to mourn their loss. I wholeheartedly disagree with Judge Rogers’s decision to stay his execution and hope that his decision will be overturned. The streets of our cities would be a much safer place without predators like this lurking and preying on innocent people.

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A Special Kind Of Bond

Currently a military working dog team in Stuttgart, Germany is waiting to see if the canine warrior will be awarded the Combat Action Badge. That team, Army SSG Cully Parr, a dog handler with the 554th Military Police Company, Military Working Dog Section and his dog Rex, were deployed to Afghanistan and were attacked by insurgents.

“We were caught up in a two-hour firefight – where we were engaged by the enemy with indirect fire and small arms fire – during a town hall meeting for the local Afghan community,” Parr said. “For over a week we went out to villages and informed the people about the meeting. We had humanitarian aid, such as rice and other supplies, for them at the meeting to take back to their villages.”

But during the meeting, enemy fighters attacked. “The first thing I did was get Rex behind a pillar, and I took up a position next to him,” Parr said. Despite the ensuing chaos, Rex, a patrol and explosive detection dog, never budged. “That’s where obedience training comes into play,” Parr said. “He’s got to stay there, so he doesn’t risk getting injured.”1

They’re back in Germany now and settling into a much less exciting and less stressful routine. Their day begins every morning at 0530, with feeding and then training. The handlers are responsible for training their dog, as well as responsible for their care and the care of at least one other dog. Currently at the kennels in Stuggart, there are 11 dogs and two Soldiers and their dogs are currently deployed.

For the dogs, they don’t consider their training work. Instead to them, it’s fun and time that they’re able to spend with their handler. Each dog has a toy they’re working for, while they’re training. They’re not only obedience trained, but trained on a particular odor. Handlers set up difficult scenarios for their dogs. Some are trained to detect narcotics, others explosives or cadavers. Regardless of their specialty, their constantly training to go downrange. Currently, the MP Company in Stuttgart has handler and dog teams going downrange about every six months.2

Regardless of what’s going on with the dogs, dental appointments, veterinary appointments, their handlers are right beside them, continuing to build the bond that makes them a strong working team. The handler knows how his or her dog will react and the dog knows how their handler will react. That emotional bond between the Soldier and their dog is a strong one. Often after the dog retires, the handler will attempt to adopt them.

Military Working Dog teams do great work during deployments, work that saves the lives of many Soldiers. It’s only fitting that Rex should be awarded a Combat Action Badge, just like any other Soldier would. Military working dogs do their jobs without question and will fight to the death to save the life of their handler and other Soldiers. They’re right there on the frontlines just like their human counterparts.

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A Veteran Speaking Out

Lately we’ve all had politics overload this past year, with the Democratic and Republican primaries and now the two candidates having been chosen by their respective parties, to represent them in the Presidential bid. I’ve said all along, that I don’t hold a whole lot of faith in politicians and often feel that our country would be much better off, if “we the people” were more able to be in control of the inner workings of our government. However, I do know, that I will chose to vote for the person who most closely reflects my beliefs. I feel that it’s extremely important that we really listen and research each of the candidates, their past actions and words, before we decide who we’re going to vote for. I also believe, because the war in Iraq is such a crucial issue in this year’s Presidential race, that we also listen to the men and women who are or have fought in Iraq. Listen to their assessment of what has and is occurring there and think about which candidate you feel will do what’s best for our Troops, the Iraqi people and ultimately our Country. For many years, I’ve not voted based on which political party a candidate represents, but instead based on that person, what they promise they will accomplish if they are elected and based on their past history. I’d like to provide our readers with the opportunity to listen to one young veteran, listen to what he has to say about the war in Iraq, his thoughts and beliefs. After watching this video, really think about what he has said. If you have the opportunity, talk to veterans of the war in Iraq and ask them their opinions, before you make your final decision. Be informed, be aware and be an educated voter, one who doesn’t take the candidates words on face value, but instead a voter who is willing to do some digging before you make your decision.


Iraqi & American Children Make New Friends

Many of the children, who live and attend school in the communities surrounding Fort Hood, have parents who serve in the military. Many of them have seen their mothers or fathers or both head to war in Iraq or Afghanistan. Often they’ve heard their parents speak about the children they encounter in those countries and many of them are curious about the different culture that these children live in. Students at Nolanville Elementary School in Nolanville, Texas, grades 4 and 5 were able to learn more about their Iraqi counterparts on November 12 and in the process, were able to make new friends. All thanks to a video teleconference between the Iraqi and American school children. The program that day, began with opening remarks from Maj. General Jeffery Hammond, commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division and Multi-National Division-Baghdad.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. David Hodge, 1st BCT PAO, 4th Inf. Div., MND-B)

“The school partnership program continues to build and grow in all directions,” said Hammond.1

Right now, there are approximately 31 Iraqi and American schools who are participating in the program. The schools here in the United States are in 11 different states. As part of the program, the students are able to exchange letters and emails with each other, as well as participate in video teleconferences. This enables students in Iraq and the US to learn about different cultures and develop more awareness of the differences as well as the similarities. The Iraqi students participating in the November 12th VTC were from the al Khartoum Primary School in the Shurta community of southern Baghdad. They gathered at FOB Falcon to participate in the VTC which allowed them to participate in a question and answer session with their American peers in Nolanville.

“My experience is that the young school-aged children in Iraq are no different than the children in America,” said Hammond, who explained that the program is designed to foster communications between Iraqi and American youths and develop a better understanding of the different cultures.2

Children from both countries were able to ask questions and make remarks about a vast number of subjects, such as school, life and culture in their respective countries. The children found that even though they were thousands of miles apart, that there were many similarities. Both children in America and Iraq have homework and chores. Both like hanging out with their friends and they both like chocolate ice cream.

“They’re not much different than us. They just dress a little different,” Essie Hubert, age 10 said. “They don’t care about the war. They still like us.”3

While the war in Iraq, touches both sets of children, it does so in very different ways. For the children in Nolanville, the war touches them because of parents, family members or friends being deployed. For the Iraqi children, they live in a combat zone and are impacted in a much different way.

“Do you hear sounds of gunfire all the time like we do, where you live?” one Iraqi boy asked the American students.4

The children were surprised to learn just how much they really knew about each other’s culture, as the VTC progressed. They found that they had many things in common and that despite the war, their daily lives were very similar as well.

“I was very pleased to talk to the American students, and I was well educated on how their educational system works,” said Aseel Mazin, a 12 year old girl. “I got to learn what their daily schedule is like too.”5

One difference that the American students learned, is that their Iraqi counterparts attended school from Sunday through Thursday for half days, while they of course, attend school for full days Monday through Friday. I’m sure that will get several of them asking their teachers if they can switch to half days of school. One American student asked their Iraqi counterpart about the Arabic language. After that question, an Iraqi student asked why American children do not learn the Arabic language in their school.

“It’s not really in our curriculum,” said Jordan Reed, daughter of Maj. T.J. Reed, Civil Affairs officer assigned to HHD 1st BCT, 4th ID. Her response brought laughter from those in attendance.6

These children are the future of Iraq and the United States. By participating in such events, I would hope that these children can bridge the gap of cultural difference that often cause older generations to embrace hate against the unknown. Our hope and the hope of Iraq, like in the hands of children like these. My hope is that this type of cultural exchange will foster long lasting friendships, which can someday change the world and make it a better place for future generations.

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Radio Station Brings News To Villages

Imagine living in a remote village in Afghanistan, where obtaining news from the outside world was almost impossible. In many of the villages, they are so remote, that conditions are primitive at best. People are often isolated and cut-off from the rest of the world.
For we Americans, who are used to having the luxury of our radios, televisions, newpapers and telephones just a fingertip away, it’s hard to imagine what life must be like for the people living in those villages. I know for myself, I would feel very isolated and out of touch with the world.

Sarwar and Islamuddin, the Bermel Radio station jockeys, located on Forward Operating Base Boris, Paktika province, broadcast religious services, play music, educational programs and spread news 13 hours a day to the local area.


In Afghanistan, citizens are now able to have more of an idea what’s occurring in the world, with the opening of a new radio station, “The People’s Radio, located at 92 FM on their radio dial. The creation of the radio station was done with the idea of providing news, advice and education to the villagers. Currently the station, located at Forward Operating Base Boris operates 13 hours per day, throughout the district of Bermel, which is located in eastern Paktika province.

Currently the station is providing over 11 different types of programs. They cover almost every aspect of life for the people in the local villages. The programs range from work and agriculture to health and education. The station also features programs that are specific to women, as well as religious service programs.2

Operating the station are Sarwar, who is a former agricultural professor at Khowst University and Islamuddin, who is an advisor that has over 10 years of agricultural experience. The operate the station as well as host most of the broadcasts.

“We try to do as much as we can for the people here,” Sawar said. “We even meet with them and teach them as much as we can about agriculture. It’s a big part of life for them and we want to make it better for them.”3

So far, the local villagers have responded favorably to the new radio station and the information that it provides to them. The radio station has been in operation for 5 months and thus far have received over 7,000 letters from citizens. Most of the feedback has been positive. Letters run the gamut from offering praise, to making suggestions, asking questions or requesting other programming. The response from the citizens has been so good, that plans are in the works to expand the station. Currently it is operating on a 50 watt system, which has a listening range of 15000-17000sq km. Plans are to upgrade that to a 500 watt system, which will increase the listening range over 10 times to what it is currently, or closer to 170,000 sq. km.

Funding and support for the radio station are provided by Internatinal Security Assistance Forces, which also assists the operations of 9 other radio stations in the Paktika province. It’s great to see these positive steps being taken in Afghanistan. Just knowing what has been accomplished in Iraq and the improvements that have been made, gives me hope that we’ll begin seeing many similar changes in Afghanistan as well, including more radio and television stations, to ensure that those in isolated regions of the country can have contact with the rest of the world, if that is their choice.

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