31 May 2008

Soldiers Join Forces With Kansas City Runners to Help Brain Injury Victims

On opposite sides of the globe, two groups of people in very different environments worked together to raise money for individuals suffering from brain injuries.

This Memorial Day, Army soldiers deployed here were joined by an army of volunteer citizens in Kansas City, Kan., and the two fought as one for their causes.

Soldiers with 10th Mountain Division's 3rd Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment, joined the 21st Annual Amy Thompson Run to Daylight. The charity event consists of 2-mile and 8-kilometer events in Kansas City.

Amy Thompson was a 23-year-old college graduate enjoying her life as a third-grade teacher in Kansas City when she was shot twice in the head during an attempted robbery at a neighborhood party on Halloween night 1986. After awakening from a six-week coma, Thompson survived against terrible odds, struggling to resume life after a brain injury.

Although she fought valiantly for three years, Thompson died unexpectedly Christmas night 1989. On Memorial Day the previous year, a group of Thompson's closest friends and family began the Run to Daylight in her name.

"When run officials in the states contacted us with their desire for us to participate in their charity event, we immediately discovered that our struggles were very much related," said Army Capt. Peter Hofman, a chaplain with 3rd Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment. "We were very excited to participate in such a noble cause. And with Memorial Day upon us and the fact that servicemembers are suffering brain injuries in explosions, it just all fit. It made sense for us to join their cause."

Hofman coordinated with Kansas City officials to help make the run possible for servicemembers in Iraq.

Run officials in Kansas City were clearly excited about the troop involvement, as well. Newspaper articles and a special on the nightly news segment announced the runners would be joined by servicemembers in Iraq this year.

"The original plan was to have the soldiers conduct the run at the same time as the Kansas City runners. But ... that would be between 5 and 6 in the evening, which would make it somewhere around 110 degrees or higher in the desert," Mary Thompson O'Connor, Amy's sister and a run official, said on a special segment of Kansas City's KMBC-TV news show.

To show their support for the soldiers on their Memorial Day run, the Kansas City runners wore T-shirts honoring those serving in combat. Run officials also sent flyers, official city run bibs and T-shirts to those who would be running in Iraq.

O'Connor also insisted on providing the battalion with $1,200 in Amazon.com gift cards to be awarded to the top three male and female runners in both the 2-mile and 8-kilometer events.

Airmen and civilian contractors serving with 3rd Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment, soldiers ran along side the regiment.

"There was no shortage of volunteers willing to participate in such a good cause," Hofman said. "The average maximum participation has been 100 people in past events on the base. We were delighted to inform those in Kansas City that 147 people showed up in the early morning hours to participate in the Amy Thompson run."

"What better cause could you find for which to volunteer your time?" said 10th Brigade Support Battalion's Spc. David Andrade, 1st place runner of the 2-mile event. "You are benefiting your body with exercise while participating in a good cause and honoring America's servicemembers. And everyone could use an Amazon gift card."

Both groups of runners on each side of the world held a moment of silence before their run, honoring servicemembers. The 3rd Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment soldiers spoke aloud the names of 11 members of 1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, who were killed since their deployment began in September. A moment of silence followed each name.

By By Army Spc. Jason Jordan
Special to American Forces Press Service

Army Spc. Jason Jordan serves with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.

30 May 2008

Students Lay Wreath At Tomb of Unknown Soldiers


Three Bennett’s Mill Middle students recently had the privilege of honoring the country’s men and women who gave their lives for freedom.

Seventh graders Devon Killoran, Trevor Mercer and Annie Wright participated in the wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery. They earned the distinction of serving as wreath layers after winning a grade level essay contest.

“We were amazed at the impact of the Wreath Laying Ceremony. The seriousness and honor that was shown for our country’s men who had given their lives was felt by all,” says math teacher Joy Lamb.

A total of 28 seventh graders took part in the trip to Washington, D.C. They toured numerous museums, historical sites and memorials. They also met with the president of the Martin Luther King Memorial and presented him with a check from Bennett’s Mill to help with the funding of the memorial.

“When the memorial is completed in 2010, we can say we were part of the plan,” says Lamb.

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27 May 2008

Remarks by the President at Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Day Commemoration

BUSINESS WIRE--

Arlington National Cemetery

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, thank you for the kind introduction. Members of my Cabinet, members of the administration, Admiral Mullen, members of the United States Congress, Senator Warner and Congressman Skelton, members of the military, our veterans, honored guests, families of the fallen: Laura and I are honored to be with you on Memorial Day and thank you for coming.

A few moments ago, I placed a wreath upon the tomb of three brave American[s] who gave their lives in service to our nation. The names of these honored are known only to the Creator who delivered them home from the anguish of war -- but their valor is known to us all. It's the same valor that endured the stinging cold of Valley Forge. It is the same valor that planted the proud colors of a great nation on a mountaintop on Iwo Jima. It is the same valor that charged fearlessly through the assault of enemy fire from the mountains of Afghanistan to the deserts of Iraq. It is the valor that has defined the armed forces of the United States of America throughout our history.

Today, we gather to honor those who gave everything to preserve our way of life. The men and women we honor here served for liberty. They sacrificed for liberty. And in countless acts of courage, they died for liberty. From faraway lands, they were returned to cemeteries like this one, where broken hearts received their broken bodies -- they found peace beneath the white headstones in the land they fought to defend.

It is a solemn reminder of the cost of freedom that the number of headstones in a place such as this grows with every new Memorial Day. In a world where freedom is constantly under attack and in a world where our security is challenged, the joys of liberty are often purchased by the sacrifices of those who serve a cause greater than themselves. Today we mourn and remember all who have given their lives in the line of duty. Today we lift up our hearts especially those who've fallen in the past year.

We remember Army Specialist Ronald Tucker of Fountain, Colorado. As a young man, Ronnie was known for having an infectious smile and a prankster's sense of humor. And then he joined the United States Army, which brought out a more mature side in him. Ronnie transformed from a lighthearted teenager into a devoted soldier and a dutiful son who called his mother every day from his post in Iraq. In his final act of duty, less than a month ago, he worked with other members of his unit to build a soccer field for Iraqi children. As he drove back to his base, an enemy bomb robbed him of his life. And today our nation grieves for the loss of Ronnie Tucker.

We remember two Navy SEALS -- Nathan Hardy of Durham, New Hampshire, and Michael Koch of State College, Pennsylvania. Nate and Mike were partners in the field and they were close friends in the barracks. Through several missions together, they had developed the unique bond of brotherhood that comes from trusting another with your life. They even shared a battlefield tradition: They would often head into battle with American flags clutched to their chests underneath their uniform. Nate and Mike performed this ritual for the last time on February the 4th -- they both laid down their lives in Iraq after being ambushed by terrorists. These two friends spent their last few moments on earth together, doing what they loved most -- defending the United States of America. Today, Nathan Hardy and Mike Koch lay at rest next to each other right here on the grounds of Arlington.

The men and women of American armed forces perform extraordinary acts of heroism every single day. Like the nation they serve, they do not glory in the devastation of war. They also do not flinch from combat when liberty and justice are embattled. Ronald Tucker, Nathan Hardy and Mike Koch make clear, they do not waver -- even in the face of danger.

And so today, here in Washington and across our country, we pay tribute to all who have fallen -- a tribute never equal to the debt they are owed. We will forever honor their memories. We will forever search for their comrades, the POWs and MIAs. And we pledge -- we offer a solemn pledge to persevere and to provide the security for our citizens and secure the peace for which they fought.

The soil of Arlington and other sites is filled with liberty's defenders. It is nourished by their heroism. It is watered by the silent tears of the mothers and fathers, and husbands and wives, and sons and daughters they left behind. Today we pray for God's blessing on all who grieve and ask the Almighty to strengthen and comfort them today and everyday.

On this Memorial Day, I stand before you as the Commander-in-Chief and try to tell you how proud I am at the sacrifice and service of the men and women who wear our uniform. They're an awesome bunch of people and the United States is blessed to have such citizens. (Applause.)

I am humbled by those who have made the ultimate sacrifice that allow a free civilization to endure and flourish. It only remains for us, the heirs of their legacy, to have the courage and the character to follow their lead -- and to preserve America as the greatest nation on earth and the last best hope for mankind.

May God bless you and may God bless America. (Applause.)

26 May 2008

Honor Flight Offers World War II Veterans Chance to Reflect

MM Note: We thought those of you who traveled to D.C. with the inaugural Honor Flight Fayette group might be interested in reading about the experiences of another group who recently made a similar trip! Remember, Honor Flight Fayette is working on the next trip and help is needed!

They last donned their uniforms nearly 70 years ago, but the veterans appeared as proud as if they were still wearing them as they set out for their visit to the nation's capital to see the memorial in their honor.

To thunderous applause and cheers, 40 World War II veterans arrived from Detroit at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport's "A" Terminal on May 17. The group was ready to fulfill their dream of visiting the World War II Memorial, something none of them had done since its dedication in 2004.

"I like to think of my old buddies, which are mostly all gone by now," said John DeNardo, an Army veteran who served from April 1943 to January 1946. "Most of them never got to see it, so I feel like I'm representing them here in a way."

The resident of Clinton Township, Mich., said he was glad for the chance to see the memorial built in part by his contributions. But to make the trip, he had to draw on his experiences from the war: early reveille and a full day.

"I started at 4 o'clock this morning," DeNardo said. "We're going go to [Arlington National Cemetery], [and] they said if time allows, they're going to drive us around."

DeNardo said he didn't think the visit would be too emotional, but he had a few tissues just in case. And that probably was a good thing.

"It makes us cry. It makes them cry," said Rick Sage, who works with Honor Flight Michigan, the organization that made the trip possible. "You can't go through this day and not be emotional."

Honor Flight Michigan brought 414 World War II veterans to visit the memorial in 2007. Sage said the organization's goal is 600 this year, and with 120 already having made the trip and an average of two flights a month, it seems attainable.

It all depends on funding, he said. All funds raised and donations received go into getting veterans to Washington.

"We're all volunteers. We don't get paid anything," Sage said. "We're just doing this because it's the right thing to do for these guys."

Even the right thing can come with challenges, though. Many World War II veterans are no longer mobile and require a wheelchair to get around. That means more of what the Honor Flight Network refers to as "guardians" to help move those who need wheelchairs. But that doesn't discourage the volunteers.

"Logistically, it's a nightmare," Sage said. "But guess what? We're going to devote one [future] flight all to wheelchair guys."

In the end, the veterans' reactions make it easy to forget any challenges, however.

"They think it's just one of the best things they've ever seen," Sage said. "Some of them get a little misty, [and] some of them don't want to talk. It's a very emotional time for them."

Sadly, the national Honor Flight Network program, which began in Ohio in December 2004 and has chapters in 31 states, eventually will come to an end, Sage said.

"We have what they call a 'sunset clause' in this program," he said. "Whether you like it or not, it will come to an end, because the guys are going to be passing away or get too sick to travel."

Some 1,500 to 2,000 World War II veterans die each day. The staggering numbers, and his work with World War II veterans who saw their dream of visiting the memorial slipping away, are what prompted Earl Morse, a physician's assistant and retired Air Force captain, to start Honor Flight Network.

But until takes its final toll on "The Greatest Generation," he said, Honor Flight Network will make sure as many World War II veterans as possible get to appreciate the memorial built to honor their sacrifices.

24 May 2008

Arlington 'Flags In' Tribute Begins Memorial Day Commemoration

More than 3,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines officially kicked off the Memorial Day commemoration last evening as they placed 265,000 miniature flags at every grave at Arlington National Cemetery.

The tradition, known as "Flags In," dates back to 1948, when soldiers of 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as "The Old Guard," began the annual Memorial Day tribute.

This year marked the fifth year company-size elements of sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen joined about 3,000 soldiers in placing a U.S. flag at the base of the gravestone and columbarium niche of every single servicemember buried or inurned at Arlington.

Yesterday afternoon, the troops fanned out across the cemetery's hills and valleys, carrying rucksacks bulging with bundles of flags. They approached each headstone, centering a miniature flag exactly one boot length from the base before sinking it into the rain-softened ground.

"It's hard to put all this into words," said Army Sgt. Maj. Russell McCray, The Old Guard's top noncommissioned officer. "We're here every day honoring our fallen heroes, and everyone buried here is a hero. But being here for this is something particularly special.

"It's an honor for everyone who is part of this. If you look at their faces, you can see that," McCray continued. "This experience out here will humble you, beyond a doubt."

Even Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Andres Yanez, who regularly supervises funeral details at the cemetery, called it an honor to participate in the Flags In tribute.

"We come here every day, but today is special for us," he said. "When I look out there and see all those flags, I know that I've been a part of it. I'm rendering honors to our fallen, and I hope that someday someone renders those same honors to me."

Almost five hours after emplacing his first flag of the day -- and admitting he "couldn't count" how many more he'd positioned -- Navy Seaman Shawn Palaszewski still hadn't lost his enthusiasm for the mission.

"We're here rending honors to all our fallen shipmates, and showing them that we care," said Palaszewski, a U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard member just 10 weeks out of boot camp. "These sailors and all our armed forces [members] have fallen for our freedoms, and we're here to pay tribute to that."

"This is such a privilege and an honor for me," said Army Sgt. Mary Jackson, of The Old Guard's Headquarters and Headquarters Regiment. "These people gave the ultimate sacrifice. I can only imagine doing that for my country."

Positioned at the columbarium, Marine Sgt. David Gray from Marine Barracks Washington directed his troops as they moved among the rows of niches. After returning from a deployment to Iraq, Gray called his first time participating in the Flags In tribute particularly meaningful.

"It's a privilege to be alive and able to support those Marines who made the ultimate sacrifice for the country," he said. "We can't bring them back. The only thing we can do is honor them and pay tribute to them."

Like Gray, Army Staff Sgt. John Diggles, platoon sergeant for The Old Guard's H Company, said he considers the mission a special calling.

"Friends of mine are here, quite a few, so this is very personal," Diggles said, looking out over the rows of headstones. "This is a way of showing the remembrance of our fallen soldiers on such a special day."

As she looked out at the sea of flags fluttering in the wind, Army Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Bailey from The Old Guard's Fife and Drum Corps declared the landscape nothing short of "breathtaking."

"The impact is huge. It's very dramatic," said Bailey, who was participating in the Flags In ceremony for the sixth year. "It's uniform, and it's simple. And I think it's the uniformity and the simplicity that makes this so beautiful and so unique."

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Retiree Helps Heal Soldiers with Fly-Fishing

MMF Note: We've always found fishing to have restorative powers. So many Americans are finding ways to help our troops. We salute you all.

Two of retired Chief Warrant Officer Ken Griffin's favorite pastimes are
fishing and helping Soldiers. He has developed a way to do both at the
same time. In January, Griffin founded Fly Fishing for Vets, a nonprofit
organization designed to give wounded warriors an opportunity to learn the
sport of fly-fishing....

For more of this story, click here.

Gingrey Helps Assemble Operation USO Care Packages

Rep. Gingrey was honored this week to help assemble USO care packages for the brave men and women serving our nation overseas. May is National Military Appreciation Month.

“These care packages provide our men and women in uniform with just a couple of the little comforts of home – no matter where they may be serving,” said Phil. “Sometimes, just receiving small things like a shaving kit or a calling card can make a big difference to our soldiers overseas. The selfless sacrifice demonstrated by these brave men and women in defense of our nation are an inspiration, and I am proud to have joined the USO in this effort to thank these soldiers for their service.”

Operation USO Care Package was initiated by the USO in 2001 to provide our troops deployed overseas with needed items such as shaving kits, wet wipes, playing cards, sun screen, and calling cards. Since the program’s inception, the USO has distributed more than 1 million care packages to our troops. Operation USO Care Package is the only program of its kind endorsed by both the Department of Defense and the White House.

23 May 2008

Prayer for Peace, Memorial Day, 2008

On Memorial Day, we honor the heroes who have laid down their lives in the cause of freedom, resolve that they will forever be remembered by a grateful Nation, and pray that our country may always prove worthy of the sacrifices they have made.

Throughout our Nation's history, our course has been secured by brave Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen. These courageous and selfless warriors have stepped forward to protect the Nation they love, fight for America's highest ideals, and show millions that a future of liberty is possible. Freedoms come at great costs, yet the world has been transformed in unimaginable ways because of the noble service and devotion to duty of these brave individuals. Our country honors the sacrifice made by those who have given their lives to spread the blessings of liberty and lay the foundations of peace, and we mourn their loss.

Today, our service men and women continue to inspire and strengthen our Nation, going above and beyond the call of duty as part of the greatest military the world has ever known. Americans are grateful to all those who have put on our Nation's uniform and to their families, and we will always remember their service and sacrifice for our freedoms.

On this solemn day our country unites to pay tribute to the fallen, who demonstrated the strength of their convictions and paid the cost of freedom. We pray for the members of our Armed Forces and their families, and we ask for God's continued guidance of our country.

In respect for their devotion to America, the Congress, by a joint resolution approved on May 11, 1950, as amended (64 Stat. 158), has requested the President to issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe each Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace and designating a period on that day when the people of the United States might unite in prayer. The Congress, by Public Law 106-579, has also designated the minute beginning at 3:00 p.m. local time on that day as a time for all Americans to observe the National Moment of Remembrance.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Memorial Day, May 26, 2008, as a day of prayer for permanent peace, and I designate the hour beginning in each locality at 11:00 a.m. of that day as a time to unite in prayer. I also ask all Americans to observe the National Moment of Remembrance beginning at 3:00 p.m., local time, on Memorial Day. I encourage the media to participate in these observances. I also request the Governors of the United States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the appropriate officials of all units of government, to direct that the flag be flown at half staff until noon on this Memorial Day on all buildings, grounds, and naval vessels throughout the United States, and in all areas under its jurisdiction and control. I also request the people of the United States to display the flag at half staff from their homes for the customary forenoon period.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-second day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand eight, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-second.

GEORGE W. BUSH

Isakson, Chambliss Praise Passage of Iraq Spending Bill Without Timeline for Withdrawal of Troops

U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., today praised the Senate’s passage of legislation to provide funds for American troops without setting timelines for U.S. troop withdrawals in Iraq.

“It is absolutely wrong to tie the money to support our troops to arbitrary timetables that have nothing to do with success or failure on the ground,” Isakson said. “I’m pleased this bill supports our men and women in uniform, who are deployed in defense of freedom, and gives them everything they deserve and everything they need to accomplish their mission.”

“Our nation has an obligation to our servicemen and women who make tremendous sacrifices every day for freedom and democracy,” said Chambliss. “They deserve our fullest support and we must give them the resources they need to carry out their duties. Passing this bill with a surrender date would have simply emboldened the enemy and I’m pleased that the final version of the bill does not include restrictions that would have hampered our military’s ability to do their job.”

The legislation also included language to increase educational benefits to all members of the military who have served on active duty since September 11, 2001, including activated reservists and National Guard. To qualify, veterans must have served at least three to 36 months of qualified active duty, with at least 30 days being served after September 11, 2001.

“The Montgomery G.I. Bill can change lives. It has given countless members of our military access to the college education they otherwise would not have been able to afford,” said Isakson, a member of the Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee. “Our nation’s military and their families have sacrificed tremendously so that our nation can live in freedom. It is important we modernize education benefits for our military to ensure that our servicemembers, veterans and members of the National Guard and Reserve receive the education benefits they deserve.”

“This legislation will greatly expand educational benefits available to servicemembers," said Chambliss. “Many servicemen and women would not be able to go to college without the G.I. bill and I’m pleased this legislation modernizes the bill to reflect today’s costs of education.”
Today Governor Sonny Perdue hosted a Memorial Day service on behalf of the State of Georgia honoring the members of the armed forces who have given their lives in service to the nation. The service was held at Mount Paran Church of God in Atlanta.

“As a grateful state and nation, we shall never forget the price they paid so that we may call ourselves free,” said Governor Sonny Perdue. “Let us rejoice that there are still men and women of honor who will fight for a cause greater than themselves. And let us be thankful that there are families who understand that their loved one was truly a hero to us all.”

Lt. General Russel Honoré, United States Army (Retired) delivered the keynote address at the service. Lt. General Honoré urged Americans to remember and observe the true meaning of Memorial Day. He also called for better benefits for veterans and the families of fallen soldiers in recognition of the sacrifices they have made for the United States.

“We fight because we believe, not that war is good, but that sometimes it is necessary,” said Lt. General HonorĂ©. “Our soldiers fight and die, not for the glory of war, but for the prize of freedom.”

A solemn tribute was offered for the 137 Georgia service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice and fallen on the field of battle in Iraq and Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. A representative from each branch of the military read the names of Georgia’s fallen service members and a photographic tribute was shown.
The ceremony was open to the public and will be televised on Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) on Sunday, May 25, 2008 at 7:30 p.m. The program is titled “A Tribute to Georgia’s Heroes,” and Michael Britt served as the executive producer.

In recognition of the sacrifice made by fallen service members throughout Georgia’s history and their families, Governor Perdue ordered that flags on all state buildings and grounds be lowered on Saturday, May 24, 2008, and remain at half-staff until Noon on Monday, May 26, 2008. The text of Governor Perdue’s executive order is below:

Executive Order

Flags on State Buildings and Grounds Order Lowered to Half Staff


Whereas: On Memorial Day, Monday, May 26, 2008, the citizens of this great nation will once again join together in celebrating the courageous and dedicated servicemen and women who have answered the call to defend America’s freedom; and

Whereas: We, a nation of proud Americans, pay tribute to the bravery and dedication of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in their efforts to protect, preserve, and defend the lives and rights of all the people of the United States of America; and

Whereas: In addition to honoring the heroes of the past, this year we also pay special tribute to some of our fellow Georgians -- the soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen -- who have fallen in Afghanistan and Iraq during operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom; and

Whereas: As a thankful nation, we will forever be indebted to those who faithfully and honorably served, and unselfishly laid down their lives, to protect our unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Now, therefore, in honor and as a mark of respect for the memory of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation, pursuant to the authority vested in me as Governor of the State of Georgia, it is hereby

Ordered: That during the weekend immediately preceding Memorial Day, (May 24 and 25) the flag of the United States and the flag of this state shall be flown at half-staff on all state buildings and grounds.

It is further

Ordered: That on Memorial Day, Monday, May 26, 2008, in conjunction with the Proclamation of the President of the United States of America, the flag of the United States and the flag of this state shall be flown at half-staff on all state buildings and grounds until noon.

This 22nd day of May, 2008.

22 May 2008

Wounded U.S. Soldiers, Marines Participate in Ice Hockey Clinic


Marine Cpl. Ray Hennagir goes after the puck at the wounded warrior ice hockey clinic at Gardens Ice House, in Laurel, Md., May 17, 2008. Hennagir lost both his legs and four fingers on his left hand on June 16, 2007, near Fallujah, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated. Defense Department photo by Gerry J. Gilmore


A group of wounded U.S. military veterans gathered at a Maryland ice rink for some fun, camaraderie and exercise May 17.

Armed Forces Day is an ideal time to start a free ice hockey clinic for wounded warriors, John Coleman, president of the Potomac Valley Amateur Hockey Association, said as he watched sled-mounted and upright disabled veterans skate across the slick, glistening surface at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel, Md.

"It is appropriate that today is Armed Forces Day," Coleman said. "There is not enough that we can do for these guys."

Most of the injured soldiers and Marines on the ice were undergoing rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, Coleman noted.

"The Gardens Ice House has been very helpful," Coleman said, noting the rink provided free ice time for the veterans' hockey clinic. Claiborn Carr III, one of the rink's owners, and manager Thomas Hendrix are military veterans themselves, he observed.

The clinic dovetails with other USA Hockey-sponsored events for disabled players, Coleman said. USA Hockey promotes and governs amateur ice hockey events across the United States. It provided jerseys and equipment for the clinic, as well as the specially constructed sleds that were used by veterans who lost legs or suffered other severe injuries during their overseas service.

USA Hockey sponsors four categories for disabled players: sled, amputee, hearing impaired, and special hockey for developmentally disabled children and adults, said Bob Banach, USA Disabled Hockey's southeastern district representative. The clinic, he said, featured sled players and standing amputees.

Some veterans at the clinic employed prosthetic legs to skate upright, while others who'd lost one or both lower limbs opted for the sleds. The sled-borne players employed two shortened hockey sticks with metal picks at the ends that are used to dig into the ice for propulsion, Banach, a Coast Guard veteran, explained.

Offering a cost-free ice hockey clinic for wounded veterans is a way to show appreciation for their military service, he said.

"These guys have really sacrificed themselves for our country," he said. "We need to show them that we're here for them. We'll help them transition back to anything they want to do; we will help them do that -- such as playing hockey."

Marine Cpl. Ray Hennagir, 21, a combat engineer who hails from Deptford, N.J., took to his sled with apparent ease as he zipped across the slick ice and used his truncated hockey stick to shoot hard rubber pucks into the goal netting. Hennagir lost both of his legs and four fingers of his left hand when an improvised explosive device detonated during a mission near Fallujah, Iraq, on June 16, 2007.

Hennagir thinks he is lucky to have survived the blast, which he said hurled him into the air.

"Someone upstairs likes me," Hennagir said with a grin during a pause in the action at the rink. Military surgeons were able to save his left arm, which also was damaged in the explosion. Hennagir spent about four months at the National Naval Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md.

Hennagir has been undergoing rehabilitation treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here since early August. He said he has prosthetic legs that attach to his residual limbs so he can walk upright, but he's still mastering the process.

"They're doing a great job," Hennagir said of the medical care he is receiving at Walter Reed.

"I'm a big hockey fan," he said, noting he plans to continue attending the weekly ice hockey clinics and perhaps compete in sled hockey or mono-skiing in the Paralympics

"Of all the things I've lost, I miss my fingers the most," he said.

Hennagir said he always wanted to be in the military and that he appreciates how people routinely thank him for his service to the country. "It's good that there are people out there that are supportive" of America's veterans, Hennagir said.

Another sled-borne veteran, Army Spc. Mike Williams, 22, severely injured his right knee during a battle with insurgents in Taji, Iraq, on Dec. 28, 2007.

"We started to get into a firefight, and I jumped out of a truck with all my gear on. I went down. My knee collapsed; I tore all of the ligaments," recalled Williams, a Baltimore native who arrived at Walter Reed in January and expects to undergo another eight months of rehabilitation there.

The care provided at Walter Reed is "outstanding," Williams, a field artilleryman, said. "I'm taken care of with every need that I have; I've never had a problem with anybody there," he said.

Williams, who has played ice hockey before, immediately took to playing the game in a sled. "I'm learning how to play a different sport, but it's a lot of fun, though, once you get the hang of it," he said.

Williams and his brother, Josh, both joined the Army on Nov. 19, 2003. Williams said his brother is a light-wheeled-vehicle mechanic now stationed in South Korea. "We wanted to join the service to do our fair share," he said.

Williams observed that "tons of people just show their appreciation" for recovering servicemembers at Walter Reed. "They take us out to dinners, ball games, football games," he noted. "I couldn't thank everybody enough. It's great what they do for us."

Wounded warriors at Walter Reed enjoy a tight camaraderie, Williams said. "I've made a lot of friends," he said. "We make a lot of jokes and have a lot of good fun."

Williams said he's proud of his and other veterans' military service. "The more people we can get to volunteer (for military service), the safer we can keep our country," he said.

Joe Bowser, a 48-year-old retired Army Reserve noncommissioned officer who lost his lower right leg during an enemy rocket attack in Balad, Iraq, on April 12, 2004, was stickhandling and passing the puck along with other military veterans at the hockey clinic. Bowser, who lives near Baltimore, now wears a prosthetic leg and plays with a local USA Hockey-affiliated hockey team.

Other veterans participating in the clinic had suffered gunshot wounds, nerve damage and other injuries, explained Bowser, who was medically retired from the Army as a sergeant first class.

The ice hockey clinic gets the wounded veterans "out of the hospital," Bowser said, noting the veterans can get some exercise while having fun.

Army Spc. Jeff Lynch, 23, from Fayetteville, N.C., is at Walter Reed receiving care for complications that developed from injuries he suffered two years ago when an improvised explosive device detonated in Mosul, Iraq. Lynch was on his second Iraq tour when he was medically evacuated back to the United States in March 2007. He'd experienced an adverse reaction to his medication, developed blood clots in his lungs, and had problems with his stomach, pancreas and gall bladder.

"It's like three steps up, four steps back, but you can only take one day at a time, I guess," Lynch said of his recovery process.

"I think the best thing Walter Reed and the Army can do is to get the soldiers out of Walter Reed as much as they can," he said as he watched his fellow veterans enjoy themselves on the ice.

Lynch said he plans "to stay busy, get my stuff done and get back to my unit so that I can serve my country."

Retired Army Staff Sgt. Michael Cain, 28, a Berlin, Wis., native, said he was driving a truck in Iraq on Aug. 7, 2003, when a pair of buried landmines detonated underneath his vehicle. He lost his right leg in the explosion and suffered other severe injuries to his left leg, hip, jaw and thumb. He also was shot in the back of the head and in the back, he said.

Cain was medically retired from the Army on Dec. 7, 2004. He's now in the process of moving to Laurel from Wisconsin. He heard about the wounded warrior ice hockey clinic from a friend. "I'm glad I'm here; this is fun," he said as he prepared to chase the puck in his sled.

Cain said he played ice hockey in Wisconsin during his younger days. "I'm going to try to get into the sled-hockey league," he said.

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

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21 May 2008

The Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum Celebrates Memorial Day Weekend

On Memorial Day weekend May 24th and 25th , the Atlanta Cyclorama will commemorate and recognize our Military from the Revolutionary War to the Present. Participating are members of the Military and re-enactors with displays from Revolutionary, Spanish American, Civil War, WWI, WWII and Current Military equipment. Included in the displays are a WWII Jeep and today’s HumVee.

A special guest Kenneth Powell will be signing the recently published book “Four Stars In The Window.” Mr. Powell was a B-17 pilot in WWII. He and his three brothers who served in WWII is the subject of the book. Mrs. Powell, Kathleen, dressed as “Rosie the Riveter” will be telling this important part of our colorful history.

The Atlanta Cyclorama is home of the Locomotive TEXAS, of The Great Locomotive Chase. The museum also features numerous civil war displays, videos and an excellent bookstore and gift shop.

Take your place in history and enjoy our colorful heritage at the Cyclorama. Located in Historic Grant Park, there are guided tours 9:00AM to 4:30 PM Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is $7.00 for adults; $6.00 for seniors and Zoo members; $5.00 for children 6-12; and, FREE for children under 6 years old.

For this special Memorial Day Weekend Military and their families are FREE. If you have questions call (404) 624-1071, (404) 658-7625 or visit our web site www.ocaatlanta.com.
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State Department, Coalition Troops Help Owner of Iraqi Feed Mill


Thamer Hussain Kashkool, a Sayafiyah, Iraq, feed mill owner, shows Mike Stevens, right, Baghdad 7 Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team agriculture advisor, and Basil Razzak, embedded PRT economic bilingual bicultural advisor, the layout of his feed mill. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jason Stadel, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division A Sayafiyah, Iraq, feed mill owner received a U.S. State Department micro-grant May 16 to get his business going.

The mill was inoperable due to insurgent activities in the area.

"We always had to stay in our house," Thamer Hussain Kashkool said, adding that insurgents had stolen the mill's motor.

With most of the extremists driven out, the community is safer, and the focus has changed to rebuilding the agricultural-based economy.

Mike Stevens, Baghdad 7 Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team agricultural advisor, said the mill's main purpose is to help area chicken farmers.

"We have a chicken coop ready to be stocked with 30,000 chicks," Stevens said. "We need this mill so we can stock the coops. The farmers need the mill to feed their chicks." Without a mill in the area, Sayafiyah farmers have to travel to Baghdad to buy feed, something Stevens wants to avoid.

The State Department grant gets Kashkool back on his feet to provide farmers with feed, Stevens said.

"We give them money to start, and then we encourage them to get loans from the Ministry of Agriculture to cover the rest, so we have Iraqis using Iraqi money," he explained.

Kashkool said he would use the start-up money to repair the mill's roof and to buy a generator, motor and various seeds.

In addition to chicken feed, the mill will produce feed for livestock and, eventually, for fish.

Kashool told Army Capt. Shawn Carbone, Baghdad 7 embedded PRT economic chief, that when the mill becomes fully operational he will be able to employ at least 14 people.

By Army Sgt. Jason Stadel
Special to American Forces Press Service

Army Sgt. Jason Stadel serves with the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.

20 May 2008

Chambliss, Isakson Urge Democratic Leader to Strip Agricultural Worker Provisions from Emergency War Supplemental Bill

U.S. Senators Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., today, along with eight other Republican senators, sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urging the removal of language that would grant legal status to over 1 million illegal agriculture workers and their families in the emergency war supplemental spending bill.

“A bill to provide funding for our servicemen and women should not be bogged down by a debate over immigration policy,” said Chambliss. “I strongly disagree that this amendment would serve to provide stability in the agricultural industry and would in fact harm U.S. farmers and ranchers and U.S. workers. Nobody is more interested in the well-being of American agriculture than me, and this proposal is simply the wrong policy at the wrong time.”

“There’s no greater domestic issue in this country than illegal immigration, and the American people will not stand for this attempt to grant amnesty on a bill designed to give our soldiers the resources they need in the War on Terror,” Isakson said. “The war supplemental is not only the wrong vehicle to deal with this issue but I firmly believe this is absolutely the wrong approach in regards to agricultural workers.”

On May 15, the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment to the emergency war supplemental spending bill that would give a five-year visa to 1.35 million workers plus their spouses and dependent children to live and work in the United States. For almost all legal purposes, the amendment requires that the illegal aliens who qualify for the proposed visa be treated as lawful permanent residents. Illegal aliens would qualify for the proposed five-year visa by proving they have performed agricultural employment for 863 hours or 150 work days or earned $7,000 from agricultural employment over the course of a four-year period. Once granted the proposed five-year visa, the illegal aliens would be authorized to work in any job other than agriculture-related jobs for the rest of the year and would be treated as U.S. workers for hiring purposes.

Adding the amendment to the appropriations bill also violates Senate rules because it legislates on an appropriations bill. As such, it will be subject to a point of order on the floor and 60 votes will be needed to keep this language in the bill. Chambliss and Isakson strongly oppose the amendment and will vote against it.

The text of the letter to Senator Reid is below. The letter was also signed by Senators Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, David Vitter, R-Louisiana, Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, Elizabeth Dole, R-North Carolina, and Jim Bunning, R-Kentucky.

May 20, 2008

The Honorable Harry Reid
Majority Leader
United States Senate
Washington D.C. 20510

Dear Majority Leader Reid:

We write to express disappointment that the Senate Appropriations Committee chose to include in the War Supplemental more than 100 pages of immigration language that would grant legal status to more than one million illegal alien agriculture workers and their families. We urge you to remove these controversial provisions from the bill so we can enact essential funding for our troops without delay. If these provisions remain in the bill, you can expect a vigorous debate on immigration policy.

19 May 2008

Face of Defense: Airman Runs in Memory of Bombing Victims

Blurred asphalt and burning lungs remained the constant companions of the runner on a lonely Oklahoma back road as he struggled against a 35 mph headwind.

Halfway into his third day of running 35.5 miles a day, the sound of slapping soles on his running shoes set the cadence that kept him going through rain, heat and wind.

Air Force Senior Airman Brendan Brustad left Altus Air Force Base on April 23 on a personal quest to run 168 miles in memory of the 168 people killed in the 1995 Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building bombing. His course followed a route to the Oklahoma City Memorial that would cover 141.8 miles over four days. He would then finish the distance in the 26.2-mile Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon on April 27.

His running jersey has the logo "168-4-168" to symbolize why he is going the extra mile.

"I was running the memorial marathon in 2006, my fifth marathon at the time, when I realized that Altus Air Force Base was about 140 miles from Oklahoma City," Brustad, a medical material journeyman, said. "Adding the marathon, the distance was roughly 168 miles."

He mapped a route that would give him the exact distance needed.

"I saw a way that I could honor the lives that were lost in bombing," he said.

He began the long run to a chorus of cheering airmen lining the route to the base's main gate, followed by a number of runners who ran with him to the gate for the send-off.

Mother Nature's contribution to the send-off was two hours of steady rain.

A support crew of four friends followed Brustad, providing sports drinks, water and carbohydrate-rich foods. A medical technician weighed him and checked his temperature.

"We made sure he ate a lot of pasta each evening for carbohydrates. That kept his energy high," said Airman 1st Class Joel Boyd, a medical technician. "During the run, we fed him pretzels and jelly beans, and lava salt pills to maintain hydration. We weighed him every five or six miles to make sure his weight was good. It was the best way to see if he was dehydrating."

"(I ate) lots of pasta, but I still lost some weight, dropping six pounds to 132 pounds," Brustad said. "What surprised me was that each day I ran faster, so my friends kept me healthy. I couldn't have done this without their support."

A member of his crew, Airman 1st Class Stuart Farris, from 97th Operations Support Squadron at Altus, is a nephew of one of the bombing victims.

Brustad arrived in Oklahoma City on schedule and got a good night's rest in preparation for the next day's marathon.

"There were thousands of runners for the event, including a fellow runner from Altus Air Force Base, Master Sergeant Roque Urena," Brustad said. "I got a good start and set a pace that I thought I could maintain to go the distance. At the finish line, I was shocked when I saw the big clock. Despite the long 'warm-up,' I had set my third-fastest marathon time at 4 hours, 12 minutes and 45 seconds."

He finished 776th out of more than 16,000 runners.

While far behind the winning time of 2 hours, 36 minutes, Brustad achieved his goal: renewed focus for the victims of the Murrah Building bombing. Over the five days of running, his tribute was covered by several newspapers and four television networks. At the finish line, he was asked to autograph 168-4-168 jerseys for admiring spectators.

Brustad ran his first marathon two years ago. Then he started looking at ways he could push the envelope even further.

"Running that first marathon was great, but it only benefited me," he said. "I wanted to do more, so for the second marathon I ran, all proceeds went to the Oklahoma Cancer Centers. I started thinking about what I could do next to challenge myself more."

Since then, Brustad has run ultra-marathons to raise money for charities, including St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

Running is his way of changing the world, one mile at a time.

By Michael Fletcher
Special to American Forces Press Service

Michael Fletcher works at 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs.

USS Columbus CA-74/CG-12/SSN-762 Reunion & Request for Contact

Navy and Marine Corps shipmates who served on the USS Columbus CA-74/CG-12 from 1944 through 1976 and the USS Columbus SSN-762 past and present, if you would like to share memories and camaraderie with old friends and make new ones.

USS Columbus CA-74/CG-12/SSN-762 Reunion October 1-4, 2008 Holiday Inn North, Dayton, OH. Please contact Allen R. Hope, President, 3828 Hobson Road, Fort Wayne, IN 46815-4505. (260) 486-2221 (8 a.m. - 5 p.m.), Fax (260) 492-9771, email hope4391@comcast.net

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18 May 2008

Mullen Lauds U.S. Troops in Armed Forces Day Message

It is right for Americans to pause and honor the country's military on Armed Forces Day tomorrow (May 17, 2008), Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a message to the troops marking the event.

His full message follows:

"Today, American citizens will pause to honor those of you who accept the grave and honorable responsibility of defending our country. It is right we do so.

"The world remains a dangerous place. The hundreds of thousands of you who have deployed since September 11th -- many of you more than once -- already know that. You've stood up to those dangers. You've lost friends to them. You may even have lost a bit of yourself to them.

"You and your families have sacrificed greatly, and we appreciate it.

"The enemies we face, from radical extremists to regional powers with nuclear ambitions, directly and irrefutably threaten our vital national interests. They threaten our very way of life.

"You stand between these dangers and the American people. You accepted a grave and honorable responsibility. You signed up, took an oath, made a promise to defend something larger than yourselves. And then you went out and did it.

"Whether you serve in Baghdad or Bagram, Kabul or Kuwait -- whether you find yourself at sea in the Pacific, flying support missions over Europe, on the ground in Africa or working every day at stateside bases -- you are making a difference and so is every person in your family. Your service matters.

"Thank you and God bless."

American Forces Press Service

Air Force Hosts Anti-IED Conference in Southwest Asia

The battle against improvised explosive devices takes place on the streets of Iraq and Afghanistan every day, but this week coalition members took the fight into a conference room, tucked away on an air base in Southwest Asia.

Arranged by the Combined Air and Space Operations Center's Combined Theater Electronic Warfare Coordination Cell, the conference put IED experts from Iraq and Afghanistan together with William Hughes, director of the Joint IED Defeat Organization's test board and test board members to exchange information during the two-day conference.

"We're here to see if we're meeting the warfighters' needs," Hughes said. "Is the information we're providing helping them, is it in the right format? Meetings like this are critical to that."

Hughes' group decided to make the trip to Southwest Asia to make it easier on the warfighters. "We don't want them to have to come to us; our group came to them to make it as easy as possible for them."

The test board coordinates and synchronizes all counter-IED testing and provides information on results to the combat theater. Hughes said the effort is cyclical, as whenever coalition forces use new countermeasures against the deadly devices, enemy forces respond by changing technology.

Hughes, at 58 and wearing a pacemaker, has personally logged nearly 600 miles on convoys in Iraq, gathering information to help stop terrorists' deadliest weapon. IEDs are one of the primary threats in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We take what we collect here and go back and try to refine what we're doing, to give our guys the best possible defense against IEDs," Hughes said.

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joel Langton
Special to American Forces Press Service

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joel Langton serves with U.S. Air Forces Central Public Affairs.

Gates Calls for Faster Application of Warfighting Assets

The Defense Department needs to worry more about what warfighters need right now than what they may need down the road, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said last night (May 15, 2008).

In a speech to the Business Executives for National Security group, Gates said he will work for the remainder of his time in office to ensure the department fulfills its "sacred obligation" to support U.S. servicemembers now fighting on the front lines.

This means doing all that is needed to "see that they are successful on the battlefield and properly cared for at home," Gates said.

The secretary received the group's Dwight D. Eisenhower Award during a dinner here and spoke of the challenges he has faced since assuming the Pentagon's top position in December 2006.

Troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan need more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, the best possible vehicles, and proper outpatient care and support when they're wounded, Gates told the group. "These are issues I take seriously -- and very personally," he said.

"These needs require the department to focus on the reality that we are in the midst of two wars and that what we can provide our soldiers and commanders three or four years hence isn't nearly as important as what we can provide them today or next month," he said.

The secretary said providing what the nation's warfighters need requires leadership, vision and a sense of urgency. He stressed the importance of overcoming obstacles within the services such as "an unwillingness or hesitancy to upend assumptions and practices that have accumulated in a largely peacetime military establishment and an assumption that the war would soon be over, and therefore, we shouldn't impinge on programs that produce the kinds of equipment and capabilities that probably would not be needed in today's combat."

Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets -- particularly unmanned aerial vehicles -- illustrate part of the problem, the secretary said. Though UAV technology has been around for some time, he noted, the United States military was loathe to invest in the technology.

"The defense establishment didn't see the potential value or anticipate the need for this capability," he said. "Put bluntly, we suffered from a lack of vision and have struggled to catch up."

Commanders throughout the world -- but especially in Iraq and Afghanistan -- need more of these assets, the secretary said.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, he said, can give ground commanders instantaneous information about what they're facing -- such as a live look at someone planting an improvised explosive device miles down the road a convoy is using -- without putting pilots or ground-based scouts at risk.

"I've taken a special interest in UAVs, because they are ideal for many of today's tasks in today's wars," Gates said. "They give troops the tremendous advantage of seeing full-motion, real-time, streaming video over a target, such as an insurgent planting an IED on a street corner."

Since 2001, the total number of UAVs has increased 25-fold to more than 5,000, and over the past few months, the Air Force has doubled the number of Predator UAVs supporting combat operations.

"But that's still not enough to meet the demand from commanders in the field," Gates said.

The capability requires innovative thinking and tearing down a bureaucratic culture "within all the services and within the Pentagon" that does not encourage innovation. The idea should be that every employee comes to work asking how he or she can help those in combat, the secretary said.

Gates cited the fielding of mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles as another example of something that should have happened faster. The vast majority of U.S. combat deaths and wounds are the result of roadside bombs, and enemy fighters increasingly turned to armor-piercing devices as troops' Humvees were fortified.

"As with UAVs, the department didn't recognize or act on the need for large numbers of these systems early enough," Gates said.

The MRAPs have a distinctive, V-shaped hull that deflects the blast from buried explosives. It has proven invaluable in a conflict where these types of attacks have been the No. 1 killer. This capability, too, has been around for years, but the vehicles were not sent to Iraq in large quantities until last year.

"I believe that one factor that delayed fielding was the pervasive assumption ... that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would not last long -- that regimes could be toppled, major combat completed, the insurgency crushed, and most U.S. troops withdrawn fairly soon," Gates said. "The fact that these vehicles -- which cost over a million dollars each -- could potentially compete with other longer-term procurement priorities geared toward future wars probably was also a factor."

A year ago, the secretary made MRAPs the department's top procurement priority.

"In under a year, production has soared from 10 vehicles per month to over 1,200," he said. "I was particularly impressed by how quickly industry responded once the Pentagon made MRAPs a priority."

Today, more than 4,500 MRAPs are in Iraq and Afghanistan, and thousands more are on the way. "There have been 151 attacks so far on MRAPs, and all but seven soldiers have survived," Gates said. "These vehicles are saving lives and limbs."

Finally, Gates discussed the obligation the country has to ensure that those wounded receive the best possible care and get the help they need set them up for their changed lives.

"The wounded warrior program -- our highest priority apart from winning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- involved two different kinds of leadership challenges: accountability, and reforming a lumbering outpatient health care system," Gates said.

The initiative grew out of a Washington Post series on inadequate outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here.

"I was disappointed by the initially dismissive response of some in the Army's leadership, who went into damage-control mode against the press and, in one case, blamed a couple of sergeants," Gates said. "Wrong move."

The secretary said he concluded responsibility lay much higher, and acted accordingly. Gates asked for and received the resignations of the Army secretary, the Army surgeon general and the Walter Reed commander. Since then, the Veterans Affairs Department and DoD have made significant progress on providing the type of care veterans deserve, Gates said.

"We are on track to complete more than 400 recommendations resulting from the new National Defense Authorization Act and five major studies and commissions," Gates said.

But the most important change has been one of attitude and the establishment of a new way for injured personnel to receive medical treatment: warrior transition units.

"These units are responsible for shepherding injured servicemembers back to their units or helping them transition to veteran status," he said. "Thus far, the Army has created 35 new warrior transition units, caring for over 10,000 soldiers."

Each wounded soldier is assigned a case manager, squad leader and primary care provider. The units also offer a full range of support for military families, including personnel benefits, financial counseling, employment support, education counseling, child care, and other needs.

Another change has been to streamline the disability evaluation system, Gates told the business leaders. Servicemembers have complained bitterly about the time and hassles of the old system, rooted as it was in the peacetime military, he said. For example, servicemembers received two separate disability ratings from DoD and VA.

"We are now converting the disability evaluation system into a single and transparent process in which one disability rating would be legally binding by both organizations," Gates said. "One servicemember; one exam; one rating."

A pilot program for the new system began at Washington-area hospitals in November, and the results have been encouraging, Gates said.

"Thus far, over 300 wounded, ill or injured troops have been treated and evaluated," he said. "Early findings suggest that a better handshake between the VA and DoD could cut in half the time required to transition a veteran to full VA compensation."

DoD also is increasing the resources it applies toward one of the signature injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: post-traumatic stress disorder.

"We are actively working to eliminate any stigma associated with PTSD," Gates said. "Over 900,000 soldiers have been trained in recent months about symptoms of PTSD and the need to seek assistance."

Gates cited the recent change to a question on mental health on the security clearance application as part of that effort.

"Too often, troops have avoided seeking help because they were worried it would affect their security clearance and perhaps their career," he said. "I announced at Fort Bliss two weeks ago that the question about mental health, as a general matter, will now exclude counseling related to service in combat, post-traumatic stress in particular. We hope this will encourage more men and women in uniform to seek help."

Gates said the men and women of the department want to do right by the men and women on the front lines.

"It's up to their leaders to clearly articulate the department's priorities and spell out, as they say in the military, 'commander's intent,'" he said. "When we do so, the bureaucracy responds, industry responds, and the nation responds."

Gates noted he is responsible for the war strategy and for signing the deployment orders to carry it out.

"Every day, my signature on a piece of paper sends our brave men and women in harm's way," the secretary said. "At the end of the day, I must be able to look them in the eye -- be they in Kandahar or Ramadi or Walter Reed -- and tell them, truthfully, that this wealthy and generous country has done everything possible for them."

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Chiefs Testify to Historic Impact of Guard, Reserves

The nation's top National Guard and reserve officers testified yesterday (May 14, 2008) to the monumental and historic response by their forces in the nation's defense since the terrorism attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

The seven were called before the defense subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee to answer questions about the National Guard and reserves' 2009 budget. The senators thanked the chiefs for their service and that of their troops and asked what more Congress could do to help better prepare the services for future needs.

Each chief laid before the committee pages-long opening statements detailing their services' efforts in the war on terror. The chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air and Marine Corps reserves led the first hour-long panel, with the Army and Air National Guard and National Guard Bureau chiefs following for about the same amount of time. Questions to the group ranged from equipment shortfalls to post-deployment health concerns and family readiness.

Army Reserve Chief Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz said his service was transformed "overnight" from a strategic force in reserve to an operational force that is constantly deployed.

"Between 25(,000) and 30,000 Army Reserve soldiers are mobilized at any given time in the United States and in 18 other nations around the globe," Stultz said.

Almost 194,000 Army reservists have mobilized since 9/11. Still, despite the mission increase, Stultz said, their funding levels have not increased much above what they were during the Cold War.

The service's fiscal 2008 request of $7.1 billion is only about four percent of the Army base budget, he said.

For 2009, he has asked for more money for recruiting and retention, military education, more full-time positions and additional training days. The request also includes more money for construction of reserve centers, family programs, and post-deployment health assessments.

Marine Corps Reserve Chief Lt. Gen. Jack W. Bergman said that nearly one-third of his force has deployed outside the United States. In the past year, the component has activated and deployed 6,600 Marines in two rotations to operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom and is activating about 2,400 this year.

"While we continue to support the long war, it is not without a cost," he said. "Continuing activations and high reserve operational tempo highlights the fact that we have personnel challenges in some areas and we are putting additional strain on reserve equipment."

Bergman said the Marine Corps Reserve faces two main equipping challenges of supporting those deployed while at the same time resetting and modernizing the force.

Still, the chief said he believes that this level of operational tempo will continue and that his force is prepared to sustain the pace for the "foreseeable future."

"Every member of Marine Forces Reserve deployed in support of the long war is fully equipped with the most current authorized individual combat clothing and equipment," he said.

Deployed Marine Corps Reserve unit equipment readiness rates are above 90 percent. Ground equipment readiness rates for non-deployed Marine Reserve units average 88 percent

Air Force Reserve Chief Lt. Gen. John A. Bradley said that, for the last 17 years, his force has maintained a persistent presence in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. It started with Operation Desert Storm, and "we have been continually engaged, never leaving the Persian Gulf," he said.

The Air Force Reserve now has 74 C-17 Globemaster III and C-5 Galaxy airlift crews on long-term active-duty orders in support of the war on terror. Ten reserve KC-10 Extender crews are on active-duty supporting the air bridge, aerial refueling and other airlift requirements. Reserve F-16 Fighting Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs support operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom with regularly scheduled rotations. Eighteen crews and 12 fighter aircraft are sent to U.S. CentCom annually for close-air-support missions, Bradley said.

Also, Bradley said, 60 percent of aeromedical-evacuation sorties have been flown by Air Force Reserve crews. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the force has flown nearly 5,000 aeromedical-evacuation sorties, delivering 26,769 patients.

These missions, the chief said, have strained the component's maintenance budget.

"While we maintain sufficient combat readiness to meet our current missions, we are accepting risk in a number of critical areas. For example, depot purchased equipment maintenance is budgeted at 79 percent. This reduces aircraft availability for training and operations," he said.

Navy Reserve Chief Vice Admiral John G. Cotton said nearly 70,000 Navy reservists are deployed or in a strategic reserve ready to deploy with little notice.

Since 9/11, more than 50,000 Navy reservists have been mobilized in support of the war on terror, and on any given day, more than 21,000 sailors, or 30 percent of the Navy Reserve, are on some type of orders as part of the total naval workforce. This includes, he said, about 6,000 sailors mobilized in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.

Cotton cited recent successes in the readiness of his force. Four years ago, the Navy Reserve was deemed 63 percent medically ready to deploy. Today, the force is more than 84 percent medically ready, which leads all military components.

However, he cited a non-flexible orders-processing system as a constraint to the component's readiness initiatives "Our current system has roughly 30 types of duty, including inactive duty for training, inactive duty for training-travel, annual training, active duty for training, and active duty for operational support. Numerous funding categories of orders are inefficient, wasteful and inhibit Navy's ability to access reservists and quickly respond to fleet and [combatant command] requirements," Cotton said.

Chief of the National Guard Bureau Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum called 2007 a year of "historic proportions" for the National Guard.

At one point in the war on terror, National Guard members made up almost half of the ground forces in Iraq. He called the numbers of Guardsmen supporting the war overseas "staggering." Since 9/11, more than 400,000 Guardsmen have been mobilized in support of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

This is in addition to the Guard's response to state emergencies. "Each day, an average of 17 governors call on their National Guard for everything from weather-related assistance to suspected anthrax contamination," Blum said in his submitted opening remarks.

Blum said that readiness for his force boils down to three things: people, equipment and training.

He said there needs to be an increase in the number of full-time personnel to help ready part-time units for deployment.

Regarding equipping the National Guard, Blum said recent commitments by Congress and DoD have boosted the Guard's readiness. "Equipment status is much better today than it was a year ago and will get better this year," he said.

Blum said the objective is to modernize the Guard force equal to that of its active-duty counterparts. Even now, though, Guard units deploy with the same equipment as active-duty units. It is the non-deployed units that still suffer from equipment shortages.

In 2006, the Army National Guard had about 40 percent of its equipment available domestically. As of Sept. 30, 2007, that rose to about 61 percent. By the end of 2009, it will be close to 70 percent, and by 2013, it will be 77 percent, Blum said.

The Air National Guard has most of its required equipment, but its challenge will be modernizing its aging fleet of aircraft.

More resources also are needed to train Guard members, Blum said.

"We must have the resources to train the force so that we don't have to waste time when these forces are separated from their families and their business to get training they should receive before they are called up for the service of this nation," he told the panel.

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

16 May 2008

Gaddo to Speak at Peachtree City's 10th Annual Memorial Day Celebration

The guest speaker at Peachtree City’s 10th Annual Memorial Day Celebration on Monday, May 26th, will connect the dots between today’s Global War on Terror and the 1983 bombing of the U.S. military barracks in Beirut, Lebanon.

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, will talk about the connection between the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut with the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and the current Global War on Terror. As national president of the Beirut Veterans of America (BVA), Gaddo represents more than 1,000 service members and surviving families of the 220 Marines, 18 Sailors and 3 Soldiers killed in that bombing and the other 29 servicemen killed in Lebanon during a multi-national peacekeeping mission between 1982-84.

“There is a direct connection between the terrorists responsible for the Beirut bombing and the murderers responsible for September 11th, 2001,” said Gaddo, who was founding vice president of the BVA in 1992. “We have come to realize that the Beirut Bombing was the first major shot fired in the Global War on Terror. We made it our life’s mission to never let America forget that 270 good men died in Lebanon in the name of peace and freedom.”

Gaddo was a Marine Corps staff sergeant serving in Beirut with the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit at the time of the bombing. But for a cup of coffee, he would have been in the barracks when it was leveled by the truck bomb containing 12,000 pounds of gas-enhanced military grade explosives.

As a Marine Corps combat correspondent and photojournalist, he had a makeshift photo lab set up on the third floor of the doomed barracks, which was living quarters for more than 400 servicemen. At 6 a.m. on Sunday, October 23, 1983, Gaddo was walking from his tent to the barracks to work on several rolls of film he and his fellow Marines had shot.

“It was a quiet morning, quieter than usual,” he recalls, realizing later why that was. “The birds were singing, there was no gunfire in the hills around us. I was halfway into the one-minute walk to the barracks when I decided it was too nice a morning to start working before I had a cup of coffee.”

He turned around and went back to the Combat Operations Center (COC), grabbed a cup of coffee and sat at his field desk to plan his work. At 6:20 he began to rise out of his chair to head back to the barracks.

“I heard M-16 (service rifle) fire inside our compound,” he recalls. “Before I could comprehend why, I heard the loudest explosion I’d ever heard in my life. A second later I felt a rush of warm air on my face and I was lifted up like a rag doll and thrown back several feet. It felt like someone had hit me in the chest with a baseball bat.”

Fortunately, Gaddo had on his helmet and flak jacket, which absorbed a good deal of the blast concussion that had hit him. Dazed, he saw that the other Marines in his tent, who had still been sleeping, had been thrown on the floor and were thrashing in their sleeping bags. Thinking they’d taken a direct artillery or rocket hit, he scrambled them into their nearby sandbagged bunker while he investigated.

“I went out of the tent expecting to see a smoldering hole of a rocket or artillery round,” he said. What he saw was something he could never have imagined.

“I stepped out of the tent and saw a giant mushroom cloud rising several hundred feet in the air in the direction of the barracks,” he says. “I was still dazed but ran in that direction and noticed that the leaves on all the trees and bushes were on the ground.”

As he rounded a corner that led to the barracks seconds after the blast, the surreal scene is one he will never forget. “The dust and smoke was still rising but grey dust suspended in the air gave the scene almost a dreamlike appearance. Things seemed to go into slow motion. Where I should have seen the barracks I could see the air terminal of the Beirut International Airport. Then I focused closer and realized that the barracks was gone. A four story concrete and rebar reinforced building was simply gone and a 20-foot pile of smoldering rubble was left in its place.”
Gaddo recalls that between him and the rubble was a sea of debris, steel rods and chunks of concrete. Then he began to focus closer in.

“I saw a boot on the ground nearby. Everything was covered with thick grey concrete powder. I went to the boot and realized there was a leg in it. As I tried to uncover the leg, I found that it was connected to a torso, and nothing else.”

He ran back to the COC, where other Marines were beginning to emerge from rubble of other buildings that had been shattered by the blast. He reported what he’d seen to his boss, Major Bob Jordan.

“I told him the battalion barracks was gone,” he said. “Those words just weren’t comprehendible. It was like saying “The Twin Towers are gone” on Sept. 11, 2001. Those just aren’t concepts we were prepared to deal with at that time.”

Gaddo and his fellow Beirut Veterans understood all too well when they viewed the initial pictures of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. “The rebar and concrete, the grey dust, the carnage, the smells, the shock, it was all the same,” he reflects. He says that for servicemen who experienced the Beirut bombing and for families who had sons, husbands, fathers, brothers or relatives killed in Beirut, 9-11 was not as great a shock as it was for most other Americans.”

“We saw the face of the new threat to world peace and freedom in the face of the driver of the terrorist truck bomb that killed our servicemen,” he says. “The Marine sentry who managed to get some shots off at the truck saw the driver’s face as he drove the truck into the building. The driver was smiling. He smiled as he murdered 241 good men who were in Beirut for no other reason than to try and help bring peace to that land. This is the level of fanaticism we face in today’s War on Terror.”

Marines were first sent into Beirut in early 1982 as part of a multinational force to help evacuate 15,000 Palestinian fighters. That mission successfully completed, they left but were sent back within 10 days when the Lebanese president was assassinated by a car bomb. They were then assigned along with French, Italian and British troops as “Peacekeepers,” a new and undefined role for the U.S. military.

Their rules of engagement, devised and managed by civilian leadership and the National Command Authority, prevented them from taking any actions that made them appear aggressive. As such, they could not carry loaded weapons but had to keep ammunition magazines in their pouches on equipment harnesses they carried. And if fired upon, they could not fire back unless they cleared it through higher headquarters, which could take several minutes or more.

“The Marine sentry didn’t wait for orders on the morning of the 23rd,” said Gaddo. “When he saw the truck bearing down on his position, which was about 100 feet from the building, he locked and loaded and did manage to get a couple of rounds off, which is what I heard.” But the truck had momentum by then and the weight carried it into an atrium, where it detonated, bringing the building down upon itself.

On Memorial Day, Gaddo will reveal direct connections between terrorists who planned and carried out the Beirut bombing and those who conducted the September 11th homicides and who continue to carry on the terrorist tactics today.

“Terrorism is not something that started in Beirut and it’s not something that stopped after September 11th,” Gaddo says. “Terrorists call it an Islamic holy war. There’s nothing holy about it and to call it that is an affront to peaceful, law abiding people of the Islamic faith. They have chosen to interpret their holy book in such a way as to justify their criminal activity. Terrorism is a crime against humanity on a global scale, pure and simple. It is homicide, murder of innocent men, women and children.”

The Memorial Day Celebration unofficially begins at 8:30 a.m. with the traditional patriotic golf cart procession from the Gathering Place around Lake Peachtree to City Hall Plaza, the site of the official celebration. The public is invited to join the procession. More than 200 golf carts, many patriotically decorated, are normally involved and will leave the Gathering Place parking lot about 8:30 a.m. heading for City Hall.

Singing groups will begin performing introductory music at City Hall/Library plaza at 8:30 a.m. At 9 a.m. when the golf cart procession arrives, honors to the flag will commence, followed by a memorial wreath presentation by the local VFW Post 9949 and American Legion Post 50.

The top winner of the Kiwanis-sponsored Memorial Day student essay contest will read his or her winning entry and all top finishers will receive awards. This year’s theme is “The First Duty Is To Remember,” the motto of the BVA.

“The BVA exists to ensure that America does not forget that, in total, 270 of her finest died in Lebanon in the name of peace between 1982 and 1984,” said Gaddo. “For us, every day is Memorial Day.”

The 2007 co-winners of Peachtree City’s VFW Post 9949’s annual essay contest, the “Patriots Pen,” will read their winning entries as well.

The event is held outdoors at the VFW Memorial in City Hall/Library Plaza unless weather turns inclement, when it is moved across the street to the First Presbyterian Church. People are encouraged to come out, rain or shine.

“It’s a fitting way to honor the true meaning of Memorial Day before spending leisure time with family and friends,” Gaddo said.

The Kiwanis Club of Peachtree City, VFW Post 9949, American Legion post 50 and the City’s Leisure Services Division jointly sponsor this event. Call 770-631-2542 for more information.

15 May 2008

Honor Flight Fayette Veterans Get Ready to Take Off Into the Wild Blue Yonder...



Two members of our intrepid staff dragged themselves out of bed early Wednesday morning in order to see the World War II veterans off on their trip to see the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. In thinking about all that our brave soldiers faced as they fought for our country, it was hard to complain about having to get out of bed a bit earlier. Seeing the enthusiasm and thankfulness of those who were able to go on this first inaugural trip to Washington made any minor loss of sleep more than worth the effort.

We're doing a series of videos, the next will be the veterans as they head outside and leave with the police escort. It was an experience we won't forget, and one I'm sure the World War II veterans will cherish. Many thanks to Gail Sparrow and Mark Buckner for the vision and perseverance to make this happen for those who gave so much to us! If you'd like to learn more and consider donating or volunteering to help the next group of veterans, click here to visit our Honor Flight Fayette section.

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American Legion Post 105 to Host Memorial Day Ceremony

Memorial Day is Monday, May 26 and will be observed at 11:00 a.m. at the Fayetteville city cemetery with the American Legion Post 105 traditional ceremony to honor America's veterans, several of which are interred there. All citizens in the Fayette County area are invited.

Speakers will include Fayetteville Historian John Lynch, who will share information about many of the veterans resting at the historic cemetery and State Representative Matt Ramsey, who's legislative district includes the Fayetteville city cemetery. A Memorial Day theme message will be delivered by Knox Herndon, retired US Army Chaplain.

Special music will be provided by members of the Fayette County High School Band and well-known bagpiper, Brian Forsyth.

The ceremony will end at Noon with the playing of "Taps" and the always popular musket volley by the Sons of the American Revolution in continental uniforms. In case of inclement weather, the ceremony will take place at the nearby Log Cabin of the American Legion, 180 Glynn Street South, on Ga. Highway 85 South just across the street from the Fayette County administration complex.

13 May 2008

SBA’s Patriot Express Loan Offers Significant Small Business Ownership Opportunities for Nation’s Military Spouses

As the nation celebrates National Military Spouse Day, the U.S. Small Business Administration reminds military families that the Patriot Express loan initiative is up and running and available to help them start or build a small business.

In the ten months since its launch, Patriot Express has produced 1,304 guaranteed loans amounting to more than $135 million, with an average loan amount of nearly $104,000. Nearly 15 percent of those loans have gone to military spouses.

Patriot Express is available to military community members including veterans, service-disabled veterans, service members leaving active duty, Reservists and National Guard members, current spouses of any of the above, spouses of active duty members, and the widowed spouse of a service member who died during service, or of a service-connected disability.

Every year since Ronald Reagan first proclaimed Military Spouse Day in 1984, we pay special tribute to the husbands and wives who support their spouses in America’s Armed Forces,” said SBA Deputy Administrator Jovita Carranza. “Patriot Express is helping America’s military spouses, and many others in our military community, start or expand their small business. We are proud to be able to serve those who have given so much to our country.”

The Patriot Express initiative builds on the more than $1 billion in loans SBA guarantees annually for veteran-owned businesses, and the counseling assistance and procurement support it provides each year to more than 100,000 veterans, service-disabled veterans and Reserve members.

Patriot Express is a streamlined loan product based on the agency’s highly successful SBA Express Program, but with enhanced guaranty and interest rate characteristics.

Loans are available up to $500,000 and qualify for SBA’s maximum guaranty of up to 85 percent for loans of $150,000 or less and up to 75 percent for loans over $150,000 up to $500,000. For loans above $350,000, lenders are required to secure all available collateral to back the loan and may obtain collateral for smaller loans depending upon individual bank requirements.

Interest rate maximums for Patriot Express loans are the same as those for regular 7(a) loans: a maximum of Prime + 2.25 percent for maturities under seven years; Prime + 2.75 percent for seven years or more. Interest rates can be higher by two percent for loans of $25,000 or less; and one percent for loans between $25,000 and $50,000.

The Patriot Express Pilot Loan Initiative can be used for most business purposes. Details on the initiative can be found at www.sba.gov/patriotexpress.

Patriot Express loans have been approved in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam and currently range from $5,000 to $375,000 in individual loan amounts. After loan applications are approved by the bank, they are submitted to SBA for approval. Most applications are approved by SBA within 24 hours.

12 May 2008

Bush Salutes Mothers' Sacrifices in War on Terror

President Bush praised America's mothers, especially those who've lost sons or daughters during the war on terror and those who gave their lives in service to their country, during his weekly radio address Saturday. An excerpt from the president's remarks follows:

"On this Mother's Day weekend, we think of the many mothers who raised the brave men and women serving our country in uniform. And to those mothers, I offer the thanks of a grateful nation.

"Your sons and daughters are defending our freedom with dignity and honor, and America appreciates the sacrifices that your families make in the name of duty.

"On this Mother's Day weekend, we remember the mothers grieving a son or daughter lost in the service to their country, as well as the children who lost a mother in uniform.

"We share their pride in these wonderful Americans who have given everything to protect our people from harm. Nothing we say can ever make up for their loss.

"But, on this special day, we hold them in our hearts, and we lift them in our prayers.

"I wish every mother listening this morning a blessed Mother's Day, including my own. And I have a message for every son and daughter listening this morning: Remember to tell Mom the first thing tomorrow how much you love her."
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Defense Department Reviews Process for Handling Remains of Fallen Warriors

The Defense Department is taking steps to ensure that remains of fallen servicemembers are always treated with the utmost respect, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters late last week.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates learned of problems with the military's cremation process today, and he took immediate action, Morrell said. The department is launching an investigation into processes for handling remains of fallen warriors at the military's sole mortuary on Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

"The families of the fallen have the secretary's deepest apology," Morrell said. "Those still serving have his commitment that all members of the armed forces will be treated with the dignity and respect that their sacrifice demands."

Morrell made the announcement at a Pentagon press conference held after senior leaders became aware of a complaint by a servicemember who works in the Pentagon about the cremation process. The servicemember complained after witnessing the cremation of a soldier's body which was returned this week from Iraq.

Because there is no cremation facility at the base, the Dover Port Mortuary contracted two local funeral homes to perform cremations. One of the mortuaries is not co-located with the funeral home and is in an industrial park in Kent County, Del. It has three incinerators, one marked for human remains, the other for pets, Morrell said.

While the facility is fully licensed, Gates believes the site and signs "are insensitive and entirely inappropriate for the dignified treatment of our fallen," Morrell said.

"There is no mission more important than the dignified return of our fallen heroes to their families and the Dover Air Force Base team has performed this mission with great care for a number of years," Morrell said.

With Gates' approval, Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne has directed the mortuary to stop contracting the off-site crematorium and use only those crematoriums that are co-located with licensed funeral homes, Morrell said. Also, there must now be a military presence during off-base processes of funeral home facilities, he said.

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Duncan McNabb will follow up on all actions and coordinate with Army staff. David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, will review DoD policies on handling the remains of service members. They will determine how many soldiers' bodies were handled by the crematorium, Morrell said. He noted that while "probably more often than not" servicemembers' remains are sent to their hometowns for cremations.

It is not unusual for crematoriums to serve both humans and pets, Morrell said. "My understanding is that it's common practice."

Morrell stressed that "we have absolutely no evidence whatsoever that any human remains were ever mistreated." While it is permissible to cremate fallen soldiers in a facility that also cremates pets, Gates believes it is inappropriate, he said.

The servicemember who complained "did what he should have done, which was to report it to us," said Lt. Gen. David Huntoon, director of Army staff.

"The senior leadership of all the services holds the mission of returning our fallen comrades of the highest order of importance," Huntoon said.

Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, director of Air Force staff, said the mortuary began contracting the facilities in 2001. Klotz said he will travel to Dover tomorrow to look into the matter. Because Dover is "a relatively small city," the mortuary is limited in its ability to contract cremation services, he said.

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

08 May 2008

National Endowment of the Arts Announces New Series Of Operation Homecoming Writing Workshops

U.S. Armed Forces active duty troops and veterans of both current and past conflicts will have an in-depth opportunity to reflect on their service through the National Endowment for the Arts’ groundbreaking initiative Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience. For the first time, Operation Homecoming will invite veterans as well as active duty troops to participate in progressive, four-to-six-week writing workshops at 25 sites around the country. The new phase of Operation Homecoming is the first instance in which the NEA will hold writing workshops at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers, military hospitals, and affiliated centers in communities around the country. St. Louis VA Medical Center in Missouri and Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, served as pilot sites for the new phase of the program, and both facilities will host workshops this summer.

Nationally acclaimed writers, such as Andrew Carroll, Tobias Wolff, Jeff Shaara, and Marilyn Nelson, will lead sessions. In an extraordinary opportunity to build closer ties between local and military communities, local literary organizations and writers will partner with many of the workshop sites. The NEA collaborated with the Department of Veterans Affairs as well as the Department of Defense to develop current Operation Homecoming activities. Operation Homecoming is made possible with support from The Boeing Company.

“Operation Homecoming is an important program in both human and historical terms,” said NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. “In human terms, it brings the transformative power of writing to men and women who have undergone enormously challenging experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. In historical terms, it gives voice to the troops who have served in this war.”

“I commend the NEA for providing a positive outlet for our service members to share their experiences,” said Dr. James Peake, Secretary of Veterans Affairs. “These workshops serve to highlight and improve veterans’ writing talents by putting on paper reminders to all of us of their heroism.”

As evidence of the literary achievement of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, the Arts Endowment has added three new faculty members who served in the conflicts: playwright Ryan Kelly, poet Brian Turner, and journalist Nathaniel Fick. Matthew Eck, author of the novel The Farther Shore and an Army veteran who served in Somalia and Bosnia; Vietnam War veteran Robert Timberg, editor of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine and author of The Nightingale’s Song; and Kristin Henderson, a military spouse and author of While They’re at War, are other new faculty members.

To facilitate the multi-week workshops, the NEA has partnered with the Southern Arts Federation to offer each participant free materials to aid the writing process, including a guide for writers. The guide was edited by project consultant Andrew Carroll, a noted expert on wartime correspondence and editor of the Operation Homecoming anthology. The guide offers advice on writing and samples of notable wartime writing by veterans, civilians, and Operation Homecoming contributors. Participants also will receive a CD of audio recordings of war literature from the Civil War to the Vietnam War. Each participant also will receive a copy of the documentary film Muse of Fire, which chronicles the Operation Homecoming writing process with participants and their writing instructors. Workshop host sites will receive copies of the Operation Homecoming anthology for use as reference materials during the workshops.

Since 2004, the NEA Operation Homecoming writing program has preserved the stories of U.S. military personnel and their families. With support from The Boeing Company, Operation Homecoming has brought 59 writing workshops to troops at 27 domestic and overseas military installations from Camp Pendleton in California to USS Carl Vinson in the Persian Gulf and Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. Among the original workshop teachers are distinguished writers Wolff, Shaara, Nelson, Richard Bausch, Bobbie Ann Mason, Joe Haldeman, and Mark Bowden. In tandem with the workshops, the Arts Endowment offered an open call for writing submissions to active military personnel and their families. This ongoing call has resulted in more than 1,200 submissions and 12,000 pages of writings. Almost 100 of the submissions to the NEA were featured in the anthology Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families (Random House, 2006). Operation Homecoming was named one of the “Best of 2006” in nonfiction by The Washington Post Book World. The University of Chicago Press will release an expanded paperback version on Memorial Day 2008. The Operation Homecoming archives will be preserved in both the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project.

Workshop sites and participation

The 2008 Operation Homecoming writing workshops are free and open to active duty troops and veterans, with a focus on those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military families may participate as allowed by host facilities. The initial workshops will be held in the following cities, with more workshops to be announced:

VA Palo Alto Health Care System, Palo Alto, CA
Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, DC
Miami VA Healthcare System, Miami, FL
St. Louis VA Medical Center, St. Louis, MO
U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College, Marine Corps University, Quantico, VA
For more information on registration, dates and locations, visit www.operationhomecoming.org. The website contains other educational resources on writing, from essays on the craft of writing to sample audio clips from the Operation Homecoming CD.

NEA partnerships with military communities

Operation Homecoming is the largest of several landmark partnerships between the NEA and the Department of Defense. The projects include the NEA’s national reading program The Big Read in communities with military bases; the Great American Voices Military Base Tour, which brought professional performances of opera and musical theater to 39 military bases nationwide; and Shakespeare in American Communities Military Base Tour, professional theater performances at 18 military bases. The Boeing Company sponsored The Big Read and Great American Voices military community projects. For more information on these and other NEA programs, visit www.arts.gov.

Operation Homecoming is administered by the Southern Arts Federation and is made possible with support from The Boeing Company.

About the National Endowment for the Arts
The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established; bringing the arts to all Americans; and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Arts Endowment is the largest annual national funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases.

About the Southern Arts Federation
The Southern Arts Federation (SAF) is a nonprofit regional arts organization that has been making a positive difference in the arts throughout the South since 1975. SAF creates partnerships and collaborations; assists in the professional development of artists, arts organizations and arts professionals; presents, promotes and produces Southern arts and cultural programming; and advocates for the arts and art education. The organization works in partnership with the nine state arts agencies of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

About The Boeing Company
Boeing is the world's leading aerospace company and the largest manufacturer of commercial jetliners and military aircraft combined. Additionally, Boeing designs and manufactures rotorcraft, electronic and defense systems, missiles, satellites, launch vehicles and advanced information and communication systems. The company also provides numerous military and commercial airline support services. Boeing has customers in more than 90 countries around the world and is one of the largest U.S. exporters in terms of sales. Headquartered in Chicago, it employs more than 160,000 people across the United States and in 70 countries.