The monthly magazine of the Texas Military Forces August 2011
Home at last! Serving a new country to save his own
Bridging the gap
Missile launcher training
In the Dispatch:
4 Soldier volunteers to help victims of sexual assault
5 Texas Engineers return home at last 6 Mother and son deploy for Operation New Dawn 7 Open house at Hensley Field Air Guard Station 8 Texas Soldiers learn on newest rocket launcher 9 Texas engineers bridge the gap
Bridging the gap
10 Serving a new country to help save his own 12 Preparing to leave Iraq 13 Round Rock Soldier honors fallen high school classmate 14 In pursuit of the positive 15 Band of bloggers- Mudville Gazette 18 News brief 19 Texas Military History 2 THE DISPATCH August 2011
Home at last Cover- Sgt. Erin Miller, 176th Engineer Brigade, holds her daughter Abby in Ft. Hood,Texas, after returning from a year long deployment to Afghanistan. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Griego, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)
The Bulletin Board Correctly Addressing Overseas Mail
Overseas military mail can be delayed if it is not properly addressed. In order to ensure the quickest service, senders should address their letters and packages with only the servicemember’s name, specific military unit, and complete last line of the military address, which is the “city” (“APO,” “DPO,” or “FPO”), the “state” (a two- letter abbreviation -- “AA,” “AE,” or “AP”), and a five-to-nine-digit zip Code. This allows family and friends to send letters and packages at the same manner and rate as domestic service, regardless of where servicemembers are stationed. For more information, visit the Military Service Postal Agency website at http://hqdainet.army.mil/mpsa/.
Court Lifts Stay on DADT
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently lifted the stay on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which prevented the government ending the enforcement of the law that prevents openly gay servicemembers from being in the military. The stay was put in place after 9th Circuit Judge Virginia Phillips ruled the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) law was unconstitutional. The Department of Defense (DoD) will comply and is informing commands worldwide of the court’s order. The DoD and Justice Department lawyers are studying the ruling. Meanwhile, implementation of the DADT repeal voted by the Congress and signed into law by the president last December is proceeding smoothly.
Military Pay Held Hostage - Again
The U.S. is about to hit the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling and it appears Congress and the President are no closer to a deal to raise the spending limit. The impact of hitting the debt ceiling is not fully known, but the Department of Treasury says that “If Congress fails to increase the debt limit, the government would have to stop, limit, or delay payments on a broad range of legal obligations, including Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salaries, interest on the national debt, tax refunds, and many other commitments.”
New Army Regulation on Medicines
Soldiers who take their prescription medications six months after dispensation and turn up positive on a urinalysis test could lose their careers. Changes made to Army Medical Command regulation 40-51, issued by the surgeon general via an All Army Activities message Feb. 23, 2011, announced that controlled substances could only be used up to six months from the prescription issuance date. These medications are easily identifiable when dispensed at your pharmacy because a signature for receipt will be required and a pharmacist will counsel you that the medication is a controlled substance.
Small Business for Veterans
The U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) Patriot Express loan program provides loans to veterans looking to start or expand small businesses. The loans are guaranteed by the SBA and provided at the agency’s lowest rates, usually 2.25 percent to 4.75 percent over prime. They can be used for expenses ranging from equipment purchases to startup costs to business preparations before a deployment. Your local SBA district office can be found at http://www.sba.gov/about-offices-list/2 and will have a listing of Patriot Express lenders in your area. For more information, visit the SBA wesite at http://www.sba.gov/content/express-programs.
Space Camp Scholarships
The Military Child Education Coalition created the space camp scholarship to remember Bernard Curtis Brown II, son of a Navy chief petty officer, who died in the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. Fifteen U.S. military children throughout the world, from sixth to ninth grade, are chosen each year to attend NASA’s space camp, free of charge through the Military Child Education Coalition. For online application forms and more information, visit the Military Child Education Coalition website at http://www.militarychild.org/ child-student/space-camp-scholarship/.
Vol. 6, No. 8 August 2011
Governor Gov. Rick Perry
The Adjutant General Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols
Public Affairs Officer Col. William Meehan Public Affairs NCOIC Staff Sgt. Malcolm McClendon Public Affairs Staff Staff Sgt. Jennifer Atkinson Staff Sgt. Eric Wilson Spc. Maria Moy John Thibodeau Laura Lopez Managing Editor Staff Sgt. Malcolm McClendon Design and Copy Editor Staff Sgt. Jennifer D. Atkinson Contributing Writers and Photographers Maj. Steven Keihl Capt. LaDonna Singleton Capt. Kyle Key 1st Lt. Maria Mengrone Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Griego Staff Sgt. Melissa Bright Sgt. David A Bryant Spc. Praxedis Pineda Spc. Anthony T. Zane Pvt. Andrew C. Slovensky
* The Dispatch is an authorized publication for members of the Texas Military Forces and the Department of Defense. Contents of the Dispatch are not necessarily the official views of, or endorsed by, the U.S. Government, the National Guard Bureau, the State of Texas, the Adjutant General’s Department of Texas, or the Texas Military Forces. * The editorial content of this publication is the responsibility of the Texas Military Forces Public Affairs Officer. * Printed by Kinko’s, a private firm in no way connected with the U.S. Government under exclusive written contract with the Texas Military Forces. * The appearance of advertising in this publication, including inserts or supplements, does not constitute endorsement of the products or services advertised by the U.S. Army or Kinko’s. * Everything advertised in this publication will be made available for purchase, use, or patronage without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, marital status, physical handicap, political affiliation, or any other nonmerit factor of the purchaser, user, or patron. If a violation or rejection of this equal opportunity policy by an advertiser is confirmed, the publisher will refuse to print advertising from that source until the violation is corrected. * Content is edited, prepared and provided by the Texas Joint Military Forces Public Affairs Office, Bldg. 10, 2200 W. 35th Street, Camp Mabry, Austin, Texas. 78703.
Finding a SafePlace: Story and photo by Pvt. Andrew C. Slovensky 362nd MPAD, U.S Division-South Public Affairs
Soldier volunteers to help victims of sexual assault
assault. Born in Bilboa, Spain, RoBASRAH, Iraq — “We were anxious driguez’s parents immigrated to to find justice, but in our ambition, we Frankfurt, Germany in her infancy. In failed to see the signs of the victim 1994 she left home with her husband, who was mentally deteriorating and a U.S. Soldier, to live in Fort Hood, Texwe did not notice,” said Maj. Paula Ro- as. driguez, retelling the story of a female Rodriguez joined the U.S. Army in Soldier who became a victim of sexual 1997 and found herself stationed in assault her first day stationed in Ger- Germany less than two years later as many. a legal specialist with the Victim and “It was a very sad case,” said Ro- Witness Program. It was there she driguez. “That case left a great impact experienced her first interaction with on me.” sexual assault cases. Sexual assault is a problem the The victim, whose story had imU.S. military recognizes all too well. pacted Rodriguez, suffered from thenRodriguez, currently the property undiagnosed post-traumatic stress dismanagement officer-in-charge for the order, and chose to discharge from the 36th Infantry Division, has a passion Army once her attacker was convicted. for volunteering and helping the vic“Victims feel like they must have tims of domestic violence and sexual done something to trigger the crime,” Rodriguez said. “The community might not understand that it affects someone’s life forever.” After returning to Texas, Rodriguez felt motivated to volunteer and try to make a change. “I wanted to make a difference in my community,” Rodriguez said. “I couldn’t give the money, so giving my time was more useful.” In 2007 Rodriguez chose SafePlace in Austin, Texas, a crisis center for the victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse. She said that nonprofit centers like SafePlace are underfunded and are in dire need of volunteers. Now a hospital victim advocate, Rodriguez quickly jumps into action after getting the call that a sexual assault has occurred. She goes Maj. Paula Rodriguez, 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, is a volunteer for SafePlace, to the hospital to console the in Austin, as a hospital victim advocate, where she victim, walk them through the walks victims through the Sexual Assault Forensics Sexual Assault Forensics Exam, Exam and informs them of programs offered by SafePlace.
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and advise them on programs offered by SafePlace. “I tell them that they may be a victim, but they still have rights,” she said. Emergency housing, legal aid, and free counseling are among the programs Rodriguez guides the victims to at SafePlace, and she tries to fight the stigmas given to victims that result in undue shame. When Rodriguez, a mother of four who now makes her home in Austin, transferred from active duty to the Texas Army National Guard in 2008, she brought along her passion for helping victims of sexual assault to her military career. She volunteered as the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator for the Army and Air National Guard in Texas. There, Rodriguez, manages the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program and works with the military and local community to provide the care needed for sexual assault and domestic violence victims by assigning advocates to them. “It’s an amazing program for the servicemembers that are victims,” Rodriguez said, “because it assists in recuperating and making sure it’s addressed accordingly.” Back in Austin, Rodriguez, a University of Texas alumna, does her duty as the SARC during the day, while spending her nights volunteering at SafePlace. “The two jobs do go hand-in-hand in an odd way,” she said. Now deployed with the 36th Inf. Div., she acts as the deputy SARC and brings her volunteer duty and experience with her to southern Iraq. Soldiers are often asked to volunteer for duties, from boring chores to vital missions. Maj. Paula Rodriguez enjoys giving her time to volunteer for a cause she believes in: helping victims find a safe place.
Texas engineers return home at last
Story and photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel A. Griego 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
The unit insignia of the 176th Engineer Brigade proudly proclaims, "Quod Incepimus Conficiemus," latin for "What we have begun, we shall finish." As the accomplished Soldiers of this seasoned brigade rejoin their families after a long year on deployment to Afghanistan, they return confident in their mission success and the achievements of their overseas tour. "The mission was totally and completely a success," said Col. Frank Zuniga, chief of staff for the 176th Engineer Brigade. The flight from Afghanistan routed through Germany and Illinois before finally touching ground at the Robert Gray Army Air Field at 5:10 pm on Thursday, July 7. This deployment was the first official mobilization for the Grand Prarie-based outfit, although many of its Soldiers have deployed previously with other units. Sgt. Erin Miller, the brigade legal non-commisioned officer, last deployed to Iraq in 2005 with the 136th Signal Battalion. "It feels really good to be home, back in Texas," said Miller. While in Afghanistan, the brigade put their skills and training to the test as they supervised and directed all engineer efforts throughout the northern half of the country. "The accomplishments were over 468 construction projects," said Capt. Thomas Loftis, outgoing headquarters commander and brigade assistant operations officer. "That was everything from troop construction, facilities improvements and infrastructure. We also had over 200,000 kilometers of route clearance that we completed." Route clearance refers to clearing roads of improvised explosive devices and other hazards with the use of engineer techniques, tactics and procedures to make it safe for passage for both military and civilian traffic. "It was an excellent mission," said Brig. Gen. Lester Simpson, commander of the 176th. "It gave us an opportunity to work with Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine servicemembers. More importantly, we worked with the Afghan national army engineers, teaching them engineer fundamentals, as well as combat engineering." Through it all, the mission was not without its losses. "Within our task force," said Simpson, "we had 18 fallen heroes. The worst months for us were October, November, December and January. It was the most dramatic period of combat operations in Afghanistan." On hand to receive the incoming outfit were representatives of the Texas Military Forces leadership, including Maj. Gen. John Nichols, adjutant general for Texas, Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Brandt, senior enlisted
Soldiers from the 176th Engineer Brigade step off the plane that brought them home.
advisor for the Texas Military Forces, Brig. Gen. Joyce Stevens, commander for the Texas Army National Guard and Command Sgt. Maj. Jim Broyles, sergeant major for the Texas Army National Guard. "They served well; they made Texas proud and it is good to have them home all safe and sound," said Stevens. At the heart of the brigade's homecoming stand the families, who sacrificed a year without their loved ones. The families have been the ones without us for a long time, " said Zuniga, "so they're the ones that endured all the unknowns. We have to thank all the families for everything they've done while we've been gone. It'll be good to see them and spend time with them." Now that the mission is complete and the unit is home again, the Soldiers of the brigade will begin the process of family re-integration and returning to their home lives. These actions include family assistance gatherings such as yellow ribbon events, which offer focused guidance for Soldiers and families following deployment. "First thing," said Simpson, "is that the Soldiers will go through the demobilization process and take some well-deserved leave. We'll come together for the first yellow ribbon event in August, where we'll bring in the families and talk about some of the issues that normally occur during deployments and provide resources in case they have any issues." Without question, these commendable troops have earned their peace at home, after finishing what they had started more than a year ago.
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Mother and son deploy to Iraq for Operation New Dawn Sgt. David A. Bryant 36th Inf. Div., U.S. Division South Public Affairs Office
BASRAH, Iraq – Mother’s Day has come and gone, and many a deployed Soldier regrets he was unable to be home with his wife or mother. It’s just one of many special days Soldiers give up to serve their nation in a time of need. Spc. Brent Murray, a division human resources specialist from Bravo Company, 36th Division Special Troops Battalion, was unable to spend the day with his wife. But the 23-year-old native of Elgin, Texas was able to make Mother’s Day a very special one for his mom. That’s because Murray’s mother happens to be the 36th DSTB administrative human resources officer. “My first thought was, ‘He’s not going without me.’ The one thing I can do, and I don’t know why I thought this, was that I can protect him,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christy Clements, Headquarters and Support Company, of her oldest son. “That’s really not a reality, because it would actually be the other way around if anything. But it’s just that instinct taking over! I made sure he wasn’t going to go without me.” The 6-foot-2-inch Murray dwarfs his petite mother by almost a foot. And while Clements’ motherly instincts may be to protect her young, her son said it’s a toss-up as to who worries more about whom. “What I worry about the most is when (the indirect fire alarm) goes off,” said Murray. “Most people think, ‘Is it coming for me?’ And I’m thinking, ‘Hopefully she’s not at the mayor’s cell in that wooden box, or hopefully she’s at her (combat housing unit) or somewhere else near a hardened shelter.’ I don’t ever think about myself, I just worry about whether she’s all right.” Regardless, spending time with his mother in the “cradle of civilization” has been a unique experience, he added. “I’ve been in the same unit, I’ve been part of the division, since I came into the National Guard, so we’ve always worked in the same building,” said Murray, who has now been in the Texas Army National Guard for three years. “But the thought of deploying with her was nice; it was reassuring. Because I knew that I’d be taken care of and I could take care of her.” For Clements, who is also from Elgin, the opportunity to deploy with her son has helped her feel like she’s recovered some of the time she lost with him on her last deployment, an 18-month tour in Kosovo that occurred during Murray’s senior year of high school. “For a young man that’s a very important milestone, and it was the first time I’d really left him for a long period of time. It was really devastating for me at first,” she said. “So we have date night every Thursday – we
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Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christy Clements, Headquarters and Support Company, and her son Spc. Brent Murray, Bravo Company, are both human resources specialists with the 36th Division Special Troops Battalion deployed to southern Iraq for Operation New Dawn. Both from Elgin, Texas, Murray works at the division-level taking care of Soldiers’ paperwork and rest and recuperation leave packets, and Clements is the battalion’s administrative human resources officer.
go out and eat at the finest restaurant on (Contingency Operating Base) Basrah, the dining facility, and we watch a movie or just do something. Everybody knows that on Thursday nights I’m off-limits – they don’t touch me – because that’s our dedicated time.” Clements added that she never expected her son to follow along in her shoes – not only by joining the military, but also by serving in the same battalion as her and in the same military occupational specialty. “I try to give him his space, because no one likes to have their mother crowding them, but his work ethic – his professionalism – is above reproach from everyone I come in contact with,” she said. “They tell me what a fine young man I’ve raised, which really swells my head I guess. But I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve had great kids, and I’m very fortunate that I get to spend this time away from family with family.” Strangely enough, Murray said his mother had no influence on his choice of job. In fact, he had originally had no intention of joining the military at all. His mother began her 25-year military career in the Marine Corps as a radio communications operator, where she met and married his father, another Marine. His father passed away of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cancer in 1996, and was promoted to staff sergeant on his deathbed. “I was at my father’s gravesite and I made a promise to him – I told him that there is going to be a Staff Sgt. Murray in the Army, so I joined the Guard,” Murray said. “When I went to the recruiting station and scored high on the (armed services vocational aptitude battery test), See MOTHER, page 13
Open house at Hensley Field Air Guard Station By Capt LaDonna Singleton 221st Combat Communications Squadron
DALLAS Texas- An open house was held here at Hensley Field Air Guard Station, June 11, to introduce military family members, alumni and distinguished guests to the new home of the 254th Combat Communications Group and the 221st Combat Communications Squadron after their relocation from Garland last September. Open house guests arrived at 9 a.m. to a welcome from Col. Kevin Turnbo, commander of the 254th Combat Communications Group. "I am glad to see everyone including family members, our distinguished guests, our elected officials and especially our alumni, without whom we would not be here today," stated Turnbo. Turnbo also provided the mission briefing. “The 254 CCG was created in 1971 in Garland. We have a federal and state mission,” stated Turnbo. “The 254 CCG's federal mission is to provide combat-ready forces for deployment of command, control, and communications-computer (C4) systems for contingency and operational plan taskings. Our mission to our state is to protect the lives and property of citizens of the state and to generally assure public safety within the borders of the state.” The 254 CCG has six aligned squadrons including the 221st CBCS in Dallas, the 232nd CBCS in Montgomery, AL, 236th CBCS in Hammond, LA; 239th CBCS in St. Louis, MO , the 264th CBCS: Peoria, IL, and the 285th CBCS in the Virgin Islands. “The 221st CBCS is co-located with us and was created in 1952 in Garland,” stated Turnbo. “Their mission is to deploy, operate, and sustain C4 and support capabilities for the Air Force and Joint military operations under bare-base/austere conditions; to respond to Home Land Defense events, state and local emer-
gencies and promote public safety for the citizens of the state of Texas; and to provide an effective and efficient training environment to ensure the combat readiness of our Airmen.” Lt. Col. Kenneth Ford, interim commander of the 221st Combat Communications Group was present. “The move to Hensley gives us more space and we are to be able to spread out," stated Ford. "It was good to see all of the alumni and now they know how to get to us. We plan to have more events with them in the future.” Several leaders who played key roles and made significant contributions toward the station's relocation attended the open house. The distinguished guests included Grand Prairie's Mayor Pro Tem Ruthe Jackson, former commander of the Texas Air National Guard, retired Maj. Gen. Allen Dehnert, deputy commander of the 136 Airlift Wing, Col John Conoley, and Command Chief of the 136 Airlift Wing, Chief Master Sgt. Kevin O'Gorman. Several former commanders attended as well. The former 254 CCG Group Commander, retired Col. Will Allen led the final stages of the relocation under his command. “It was extremely pleasing to attend our first Hensley
Field open house. The attendance of so many of our family members and retirees truly solidified the acceptance of the new facility,” said Allen. "To me, it was very satisfying to see the efforts of so many for so long come together with such tremendous success. What a great place to call home,” concluded Allen. Jackson presented the 254 CCG and the 221 CBCS a certificate of appreciation from the city of Grand Prairie signed by herself as the Mayor Pro Tem and Mayor Charles England. Lt. Col. Young led a tour of the facilities which included visits to individual work centers for an overview of combat communications and support functions. Immediately following Open House, all were invited to join in on the festive Family Day activities. “Thanks to all the 254 CCG and 221 CBCS alumni, families and everyone who made the Hensley Field Air Guard Station open house and family day a success,” stated Turnbo. “We look forward to an even better event in November of 2012,” concluded Turnbo.
Visitors arrive at the Open House at Hensley Field Air Guard Station, sponsored by the 254th Combat Communications Group.
August 2011 THE DISPATCH 7
Texas Soldiers train on newest rocket launcher
plane, such as the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, which is more efficient and less expensive for the military. FORT HOOD, Texas - The horizon glistened and waved in The new weapons system is mounted on a five-ton truck the unyielding summer heat. As the countdown progresses and can reach speeds of over 50 miles per hour in transit. to zero, uniformed artillerymen work their duty stations in These increased speeds, combined with a faster reload time, preparation for the imminent explosion. With the call for enhance the overall effectiveness of artillery in modern war“fire,” the rocket launcher’s monstrous boom leaves behind fare. a towering cloud of smoke, followed by a distant impact secThe M-142 uses the same controls, communications and onds later as the weapon reaches it target. crew as the old M-270 launcher, while speeding preparation Soldiers with 4th Battalion, 133rd Field Artillery, Texas time to an impressive 15 minutes for mission-readiness from Army National Guard field-tested the new M-142 High Mobilthe moment it lands. The launcher’s 227mm M-30 guided ity Artillery Rocket System here for this year’s annual training. tactical rocket has a range of about 40 miles, offering top tier, July 17 marked their final day of launches, after which they long-range rocket artillery fire. continued their summer training until the 22nd and returned Now that the battalion has turned in its outdated Howitto their unit headquarters in New Braunfels, Texas. zers, it anxiously awaits the time when it receives the newest "This is the first time for us to launch in seven years," field gear the Army has to offer. said Lt. Col. Steve Metze, the battalion commander. The unit "I think it may be one or two years before we receive is currently in the process of upgrading their equipment to our own HIMARS," said Metze. "Thankfully, the Oklahoma a more easily deployed and versatile weapons system, said National Guard was able to provide support. They didn't have Metze. to help us; they are letting us use their equipment. Without Previous to the HIMARS, the battalion operated the it, we wouldn't be having this training." 155mm SP Howitzers, a much larger device that required The 158th Field Artillery Battalion, 45th Fires Brigade mounting on a track vehicle, such as a tank. The bulky rocket supplied the Texas troops with the much needed equipment launcher further required a large specialty plane to transport for the unit's annual training this year. In addition to providit overseas. Also, many of the 133rd’s soldiers participating in ing the HIMARS, the Oklahoma National Guard supported the the exercise came from 2-131 Field Artillery, where they fired training with a maintenance team to help the 133rd complete the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System. their mission. Both systems hold the same massive firepower, but un"We helped them with anything they need," said Lt. Col. like the M-270, the HIMARS can be transported in a smaller Rodney Davison, 45th Fires Brigade deputy commander. "It is always a good thing when two states work together." "This is an outstanding unit," said Davison. "They are extremely well led, extremely well rounded and extremely competent." The unit began training on the weapon system in March. Soldiers attended three full days of training each month, leading to their 15-day annual training in July. "We began at 40 percent," said Sgt. 1st Class Edward Sean Reeder, the Battalion fire direction chief. "The unit steadily progressed until they reached maximum efficiency. Today we were at 100 percent." The unit would not have met the standard without the invaluable support of the local community. In addition to the interstate support provided by Oklahoma, the battalion enjoys remarkable encouragement Soldiers with 4th Battalion, 133rd Field Artillery, Texas Army National Guard, field-test the Story and photo by Spc. Praxedis Pineda 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
new High Mobility Artillery Rocket System during annual training at Fort Hood, Texas, July 17, 2011.
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See LAUNCHER, page 18
Texas engineers bridge the gap Story and photo by 1st Lt. Maria Mengrone 551st Multi-Role Bridge Company
and technical advisor with AM General Company and native of Mishawaka, Ind. “This is only the second time that we have had to cross train a stand up unit.” The process to train Soldiers on the new equipment ranged from licensing on the M1977 common bridge transporter, licensing emplacement and recovery of the bridge erection boat MK-II. Culminating in a final test in which the unit successfully validated on the proper emplacement, recovery, and connection of the improved ribbon bridge bays. “We hope they gain appreciation for what this equipment does and how they are going to use it having the tools and knowledge and bringing it all together,” said retired Sgt. 1st Class Lewis J. Trivett, military instructor and representative for TACOM Life
Management Command and native of Macomb, Mich. “I’m pretty confident I could put everything together and teach my peers what I have learned,” said Spc. Marquis C. Hammett, bridge crewmember, 551st MRBC of The Woodlands, Texas. Aside from taking their learned skills back to the rest of their unit members, many of the Soldiers understand the overall humanitarian benefits to their vital mission. My family got hit with Hurricane Ike when I was 16 and I felt helpless because I couldn’t do anything,” said Spc. Ryan J. Sherman, a 19 year-old bridge crewman with 551st MRBC and native of Houston, Texas. Sherman added, “I am honored to help and support; now my skills will be able to help others.”
EL CAMPO, Texas – With hurricane season upon us, the mission and critical skills recently obtained by Soldiers assigned to the 551st Multi-Role Bridge Company, 386th Engineer Battalion, 176th Engineer Brigade has taken a much greater importance. The arrival of new equipment consisting of boats, bays, and trucks has been a long time coming, not only for the unit, but for the Texas Army National Guard. This is the first time the Texas guard will have a fully functional bridge unit since the mid-90’s. Although much training is still required and equipment slotted for the unit is still years away, engineers are taking steps forward to become an operational bridge unit able to assist in Defense Support of Civil Authorities missions. With the arrival of the new equipment, some 20 Soldiers embarked on 28 days of Operator New Equipment Training and Field Level Maintenance New Equipment Training in June at Fort Hood, Texas. “We hope the training will allow Soldiers to gain the necessary skills to take equipment and employ their skills whether in combat or disaster relief expeditiously and safely,” said Darryl A. Glanders, Soldiers recover an improved ribbon bridge bay with the M1977 common boat transporter while military instructor conducting IRB operations during Operator New Equipment Training .
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Serving a new nation to save his own Story and photo by Sgt. David A. Bryant U.S. Division South Public Affairs Office
BASRAH, Iraq – Decisions can be painful to make, and sometimes choices can alter the entire course of a person’s life. For one 36th Infantry Division Soldier, the tormenting decisions he was forced to make would lead him to a life fraught with danger, isolation and a journey that he never expected. Sgt. “Ahmed” was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1976, three years before Saddam Hussein officially took control. His father, a pharmacist, was not a big fan of the new regime, although they continued to live and work in the nation’s capital. With all of his siblings either in college or working respectable jobs, silence was the best policy for their survival. It was the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 that, as it did for so many others, forced Ahmed to make the decisions that would lead him down a new and perilous path. “I was a corporal in the Iraqi Army stationed at a place called Taji. I was always paying money to not go anywhere,” he said. “The corruption in the Iraqi Army at the time was very well known – you pay money, you don’t have to go out on patrol: you pay money, and you don’t have to do guard duty. Then when the war started, I couldn’t do that anymore and I had to stay there for a couple of weeks. I almost died three times … I mean I was close to death.” The first incident occurred when two of his friends were attempting to see who could clear his AK-47 assault rifle the fastest. The charging handle on the rifle they were using for the competition had been pulled back so hard that it caused a hairtrigger. One went to pick up the rifle and touched the trigger, setting off the rifle and putting a bullet through the other’s back. “I had to keep my hands on the exit wound for about an hour, because his guts were literally coming out,” Ahmed said. “We took him to the hospital, but he literally died a few minutes before we made it there. I was looking at him the whole time, and he was looking at me. On the way back from the hospital was the first time I almost died.” A government headquarters building was situated between the hospital and his unit’s base; a prime target for the U.S. military. The driver of the van knew this and told Ahmed and his fellow soldiers he would try to drive by it as fast as possible. Less than a mile before getting there, a U.S. rocket hit the building with a blast so powerful it rained clots of mud down on them. “We made it to the gate of that building and three bloody soldiers jumped on the van, hoping we could help them,” he recalled. “But another car from my unit that was behind us came up, pulled over, and said ‘That’s the first missile. Leave.’ Because back when the war started, when (the Americans) were bombing us from the air, wherever they hit they would hit twice. We weren’t even half a mile away when the second rocket came in. When it hit, the vehicle we were in was lifted into the air from the force of the explosion.” Two days later, a second brush with death shook the corporal serving as a physical fitness instructor in Saddam’s army. “We were digging holes for shelters; I was outside the hole and some of my friends were inside it, and we were talking. They stopped talking and started looking at something behind
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me,” Ahmed said. “I was like, ‘What’s going on? Why are [you] guys not saying anything?’ And that’s the only thing I said. The next thing I know I’m flying through the air and dropping onto them. A rocket landed about half a mile behind me. Lucky for me it didn’t blow up, but the shockwave from the hit threw me into the shelter hole.” The third incident occurred at night while Ahmed was doing weapons-guard duty. The weapons were in a large metal shipping container, and the lights were on inside. Officers and enlisted alike were inside a nearby shelter hole. A plane was circling overhead. “When I say ‘shelter,’ I mean a hole dug about five meters by four meters, and maybe four or five feet deep,” he explained. “There were 15 people in there. The only thing I saw was the rocket flying straight for a distance and then dropping right away. When it was dropping, I was looking at it from outside the hole, and I was [thinking] ‘It’s coming close to me. It’s coming at me.’ So I’m walking to the shelter hole, and right before it hit I jumped inside. When the explosion came, it was like being in the middle of an earthquake. We were shaken just like that.” After that he’d had enough, he said, and simply dropped his weapon and walked away. “I figured, I don’t like the government, don’t like anyone in it, so why am I holding a weapon and just waiting to die?” he said. “And when I left, I looked behind and there were about 40 soldiers coming after me. They were leaving too, so I was the motivation for them. I took a bus back to Baghdad, and when I got there I couldn’t find my family. They had run north to Diyala, which was a place the U.S. Army didn’t bomb at that time.” For a time, Ahmed said he just stayed in Baghdad and watched the war. A fight broke out between some Saddam loyalists and two U.S. Army Bradley Fighting Vehicles, the loyalist’s bodies disappearing in a red mist. Soon after, an incident occurred that would land him a new job. “There were two guys walking around my neighborhood, posing as followers of Hussein, a respected Shia Imam,” Ahmed recalled. “Two brothers who were also Shia invited them to lunch. The guys told them to go away. The brothers were like, ‘We just invited you to lunch, why do you have to be so mean about it?’ One of the followers pulled out a 9 mm handgun, and the other a grenade. We found out they were not Shia followers – they were Syrians; not even Iraqi. They were members of Saddam Hussein’s Fedayeen, “The Sacrificers.” “The guy with the 9 mm ran through an alley and was caught by Iraqis and beaten to death. The guy with the grenade, though, got inside the alley but wasn’t fast enough. The people trapped him in the middle of the alley, all armed with AK’s. The guy couldn’t go anywhere, so he swallowed the grenade and blew himself up. We checked the body and saw a letter saying, ‘Kill nine Shia and you will go to heaven. If you kill no one and come back home, you will be killed. If you get captured, kill yourself.’ Which is what he did. At the bottom was the signature of his mom and dad. We checked the body, and his passport was Syrian. The people were outraged and spit on his body. We See TRANSLATOR, next page
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dragged the body to a garden area we had in the middle of our houses and buried him there. That’s how my story with the U.S. Army started.” A platoon of American Soldiers came by and wanted to know what happened. Ahmed explained everything that had happened to the lieutenant in charge. “The L.T. asked, ‘Where are you from?’ I said, ‘I’m from here. That’s my house right there.’ He said, ‘No, you’re not from here; you’re lying. Where in the States are you from?’” Ahmed said. “I told him that I’m not from the States and had never been there. My house was right here. They didn’t believe it because of my accent; I spoke English when I was 15 years old. I learned it by myself, watching movies. Instead of just watching movies with sound, I would mute the sound and read the translations at the bottom and just try to speak it.” The incident ended with an offer to become a translator for the U.S. Army. His father was against it, as Saddam had not yet been caught, and he feared Saddam still had a chance of returning to power. His mother and siblings helped convince his father to allow it, however, and Ahmed soon began working at a forward operating base outside of Tarmiyah, just north of Baghdad. “Tarmiyah is the most dangerous place, not just in Iraq, but also in the world,” Ahmed explained. “Al Qaeda called Tarmiyah the capital of the Islamic Iraq, because all the bad guys, all the Al Qaeda people, went there from other countries such as Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia; from there they would be spread out across the country.” His first week on the job brought home just how dangerous it was. On a trip to visit the local police chief, a meeting known only to the Soldiers and the police chief himself, he had his first experience with an improvised explosive device. The highway leading to Tarmiyah – one he said was normally quite busy – was deserted. A sport utility vehicle was blocking traffic a few miles ahead of the convoy, and a media crew from Al Jazeera was waiting on the side of the road. “The gunner spotted the first IED, and we had to call EOD since there wasn’t really any (quick reaction force)
Sgt. Mahad Ahmed, a 36th Infantry Division translator working as a mayor’s cell noncommissioned officer, Headquarters and Support Company, 36th Division Special Troops Battalion, oversees Iraqi crews clearing out a section of Contingency Operating Base Basra as part of the transition of U.S. Forces out of Iraq.
back then,” he said. “We found out it was a string of seven IEDs linked together. They were waiting for us to get into the middle of the chain to blow it up. The SUV blocking the highway took off and we were unable to find them. Al Jazeera was videotaping and everything. That night in the news, they reported that two Bradleys had been burned and one U.S. Soldier had been killed. They made it look like we lost a lot, and the IED never even went off. At first I thought, ‘Maybe that’s in another place.’ Until they said it occurred in Tarmiyah.” For a while, Ahmed said he got along well with the people of Tarmiyah, helping them relate to the American forces. They still received a constant barrage of mortar and RPG fire, but it didn’t bother him because he was helping his people. One day, while American troops were in the middle of rebuilding the police station after a fire, a mortar round meant for the Americans overshot the police station and landed on a house, killing the entire family within except for one son. The survivor immediately went before the tribal elders for vengeance, and the following morning, came to Ahmed. “He said, ‘My dad’s blood is on you.’ I looked at him and asked, ‘Why?’ He told me I was the only Iraqi there with the U.S. Army, so I was the one bringing them
here,” Ahmed said. “I said, ‘No, sir, you got that totally wrong. I’m here helping rebuild the police station, and the people who killed your family are the bad guys.’ He told me, ‘I don’t know the bad guys. I know you.’” From that moment on, Ahmed said he was marked for death in that city. The unit he was working for took him home to Baghdad and informed him he needed to go straight to the FOB the next day, bypassing Tarmiyah. He could continue going on missions anywhere else, but that would be one city forever closed to him. Not long after that, his unit informed him he could not longer go to his home in Baghdad. They had received an intelligence report of a plot to kill Ahmed, and for his own safety he would be restricted to the FOB. “The bad guys had worked a deal with an Iraqi Army guy to invite me to lunch and kill me. They were waiting for me there and in Tarmiyah, so I could not go back anymore,” he said. “The Iraqi Army guy was going to get paid $100,000 dollars for inviting me to lunch. And the bad guys somehow knew where I was working at. Fortunately, the intel made it to my unit first – they were the ones who told me. The one who was supposed See TRANSLATOR, page 16
August 2011 THE DISPATCH 11
Preparing to exit Iraq: U.S. turns joint security stations over to Iraqis Story and photo by Spc. Anthony T. Zane 362nd MPAD, U.S. Division-South Public Affairs Office
BASRAH, Iraq – Three joint security stations located in southern Iraq were signed over to the Iraqis June 19 through June 22. U.S. military officers met with Iraqi officials at Sifer and Al Sheeb in Maysan Province and Minden located in Basra Province to sign over control of the three stations as the U.S. continues its responsible drawdown. “The significance of these last three sites is that they were done with very little advanced notice,” said Lt. Col. Charles Schoening, division engineer and chief of transition, 36th Infantry Division, Austin, Texas. “We got approval to close Sheeb, Sifer and Minden June 1st, which is right around three weeks, and prior to that no bases had been closed in that short a time period,” he added, emphasizing the efficiency of the drawdown. Preparing each site for the transition includes many steps to ensure that the bases are in proper order once they are returned to the government of Iraq. “There is an exhaustive environmental process in order to ensure that when we return these bases, there is nothing hazardous or harmful to the environment left on the bases,” said Schoening. “We have a very good ongoing environmental program so if there is an incident, say a fuel spill, we have a process for getting that cleaned up immediately,” he added. The official turnover occurred not in a public forum but in the privacy of small meeting rooms located at each station, including Sifer, located on the Iranian border. Today we start our full responsibility in taking care of the security in our area, said Iraqi Army Staff Brig. Gen. Waleed Hussein. The American side has cooperated with the Ministry of Interior and provided the proper training for our troops. We would like to thank the American forces for their cooperation and we wish them success, added Hussein. Possession of Minden, the third station located in Basra Province successfully transferred from U.S. forces to the government of Iraq June 22. “This is another step forward in the transitioning of bases to the nation of Iraq,” said Capt. Steven Moya, division engineer basing officer, 36th Inf. Div. “This event signifies the teamwork and cooperation between the two coalition forces,” he added. “A very important part of our mission here is turning a portion of the Contingency Operating Base
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Basra footprint into the Basra consulate for the Department of State,” said Schoening. “We have worked very closely with our Department of State counterparts… to ensure that they have adequate resources onsite for their security, their life support and their enduring operations as the Basra consulate after we are gone from theater by the end of the year,” he said. The transition of control at the three security stations brings the U.S. one step closer toward the departure of U.S. forces in Iraq, and helps empower the Iraqi government’s stability as Operation New Dawn comes closer to completion. “It’s a good step in the right direction,” said 1st Lt. Daniel Cosentino, executive officer for Company D, 3-8 Cav. Bde., after the Al Sheeb property was transferred to the Iraqi government. “It’s time that we hand it over and we let them take ownership of their country.”
Iraqi Army Staff Brigadier General Waleed Hussein signs papers at Joint Security Station Al Sheeb, located in Maysan Pronvince, Iraq on the Iranian border, transferring control of the station to the Iraqi Army June 19.
Texas Soldier honors fallen high school classmate borne) as a unit supply specialist. On June 21, Macias walked across the stage at the Army National Guard GED Plus program with his diploma in hand. After completing basic training at Fort Benning, he will learn his military occupational skill at the U.S. Army Quartermaster School in Ft. Lee, Va. Macias will continue his training at the U.S. Army Airborne School in Ft. Benning,
Story by Capt. Kyle Key National Guard Bureau Education, Incentives & Employment Division
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Pvt. Jon Michael Macias of Austin, Texas, was a student in good standing at Round Rock High School on April 23, 2010, when tragedy struck his entire campus. Macias and Raven Mayes were cadets in the Marine Corps Junior ROTC program. On their way to an ROTC event, the vehicle Mayes was riding in crossed into oncoming traffic on I-35 and was struck by an 18-wheeler. Mayes was transported to University Medical Hospital at Brackenridge in Austin where she later died. Macias and his classmates were stricken with grief. It wasn't long after the accident that Macias began hanging
out with the wrong crowd and made poor choices including the one he regretted most...dropping out of high school. Macias didn’t fully realize the consequences of his decisions until he remembered Raven’s ambition, motivation and zest for life. She would have wanted him to move on and accomplish great things in his life. "I wasn't going anywhere in life," Macias said. "It was on the anniversary of Raven's death this year that I decided to do something, better my life and make her proud. It was the least I could do for myself and to honor her memory." Macias joined the Texas Army National Guard's 143rd Infantry Regiment (Air-
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I could have done anything. But the recruiter knew my mom and told me about being a ‘forty-two alpha,’ and told me it had a $20,000 sign-on bonus. I was like, sure.” The job fit nicely with the customer service jobs he’d been working as a civilian, which is what he enjoys doing, Murray added. “It is almost a natural thing for me to
Ga., upon successful completion of his advanced individual training. Macias said when he returns home this fall, he plans to attend Texas A&M University and join the famed TAMU Corps of Cadets and later serve as an officer in the Texas Army National Guard. He is the son of Catherine and Carlos Macias of Austin.
GED Plus Comany Commander Chief Warrant Officer John Runyan places a diplom in the hand of Pvt. Jon Michael Macias at a graduation ceremony on Camp Robinson in North Little Rock, June 21.
strike up conversations. I like people, so that’s what kind of turned me to the forty-two alpha arena. Mom actually didn’t have an influence on that one.” Clements still gets a double take from her fellow Soldiers when they find out Murray is her son, though, she said with a laugh. “They ask me how I delivered such a large individual. It wasn’t that difficult,
really – he wasn’t that large at the time!” “He’s grown up to be a young man; he’s not my baby anymore,” she added. “But professionally speaking, he does what he’s supposed to do; we never have to compromise anything, because that’s just the kind of integrity we’ve always established. My heart is just full – I couldn’t be prouder of the man he is today.”
August 2011 THE DISPATCH 13
The pursuit of positive... By Maj. Steven Keihl Texas Military Forces Resilience Team
I am afforded with the opportunity to talk with a lot of people about their lives, their relationships, their hopes and their dreams. More and more frequently I run across people struggling with deep personal regrets than I do individuals celebrating the culmination of a lifelong dream. While many of us are drawn to the visionaries and the dreamers, most of us make our home amongst the practical, the realistic and the secure. We have dreams of what we would like to do… dreams of romantic relationships filled with love and joy, dreams of bold career pursuits, dreams of completing the next higher degree, dreams of travel, leisure, and more. Unfortunately, many if not most of our dreams remain dormant, we simply do not act or take any steps whatsoever to pursue the completion of our dreams. Why do we fail to pursue our dreams and abandon our hopes? Why will so many people look back on their lives, as Mark Twain suggests, and live with the regrets of what they failed to pursue, failed to do, failed to even try? There are probably a million reasons why people run from their dreams, but most of these reasons have a common core… PESSIMISM! That’s right, in many cases our inactivity is due in large part because we allow ourselves to focus on the negative. We engage in self-destructive self-talk and allow negativity to dominate our thought process. This pessimistic thought process dampers our emotional energy, focuses upon potential failure, elevates our fears, and paralyzes our behaviors. For far too many of us, we do not pursue our dreams simply because we choose to focus on the negative… we turn our dreams into a nightmare! So, pursuing our dreams must start with something different than our normal pessimistic thought process. It must start with learning to pursue positive thinking! In order to reverse our tendency to pay more attention to both negative possibilities and events, we need to learn to focus upon the positive. I am not suggesting that we ignore or minimize potential challenges, but I am recommending that we learn to start finding and focusing upon the positive aspects of our lives rather than the negative ones. Learning to become more optimistic WILL change
your perspective, engage positive emotions, and lead to positive behaviors. In his recent book, Flourish, Dr. Martin Seligman focuses upon the power of a positive approach and challenges the reader to discover happiness and wellbeing through optimism. I highly recommend this book and I believe that Dr. Seligman is spot on! When we learn to pursue the positive, we build optimism, create positive emotions, combat our own negativity bias, experience better health (it’s true!), healthier sleep patterns, greater life satisfaction, improved performance and happier relationships! Pursuing optimism is well worth the effort! OK, so how do we get started? Try these three simple activities over the next month and see if this helps: (1) Reflect Positive – Each day, spend FIVE minutes thinking about at least three things that happened within the past 24 hours that are positive. This could include a good workout, a tasty meal, nice conversation with a friend, a nap or a host of other simple blessings of the normal day. I recommend that you start a simple journal and begin to record these positive reflections daily. (2) Share Positive – Each day, spend a few minutes sharing your positive reflections with another human being. You will find that your positive reflections may stimulate positive reflections in others. My four year old daughter and I tend to share our favorite three things of the day as a part of our bedtime routine. (3) Pursue Positive – Make a list of ten things you would really like to do in the next year. Select the item on your list that requires minimal investment and is most likely the easiest to accomplish. Put it on your calendar or things to do list and then make it happen! Go after it! Pursue it! It is my own personal belief that if you learn to focus on the positive by reflection, sharing, and continued pursuit, you will find yourself becoming more and more of an optimist. And optimism works! So “throw off the bowlines”… get rid of the negative thinking and pessimism that holds you down! “Sail away from the safe harbor”… don’t settle for less than the best in your life! “Catch the trade winds in your sails”… there is plenty of positive in our world, go find it! “Explore. Dream. Discover.”… Pursue happiness and well-being!
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t’ do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain
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The mudville gazette
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
www.mudvillegazette.com Today, more than ever, Soldiers rely on technology to bring the fight to the front lines. That technology doesnâ€™t just include high-tech weapons, body armor or Blue Force Tracker. It also included web logs, â€œblogs,â€? that allow a more immediate glimpse into military life and history than ever before. Often funny, sometimes painful and poignant, these snippets of opinion, daily life, and commentary on war, the military, and life in general allow more people to see what our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines are thinking, experiencing and fighting for.
A view from the front line
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to invite me to lunch was killed a week later.” “I had to live on base and be a stranger in my own country; be a foreigner in my own country. To save my family from all of this … if I went back home, they wouldn’t just kill me, they would kill my whole family,” Ahmed added. “So I was safe if I was away from my family, and they had been safe until this moment. We got rid of the bad guys, and then along came the Mehdi Army, and same thing: they wanted me for working with the U.S. Army. Everyone was looking for me.” “I have a saying,” said Ahmed, who was nominally raised a Muslim but does not consider himself one. “God brought me to life, so God can take my life whenever he wants. So whenever I went on a mission outside the wire, I’d put my body armor on but I’d have no plates in it. I got my butt chewed many times by the first sergeant, but I didn’t listen. I did whatever I wanted to do,” said Ahmed. “A lot of Soldiers were afraid to be near me because of possible snipers, but I didn’t care. I kept doing it anyway; because what I was doing I was doing for my people. I can die for my people; I would give everything for my people and my family. I don’t care about anything else.” Time passed, always under the threat of death. Ahmed said his boss finally approached him and asked him how long he intended to stay. “I said, ‘I don’t know. Until everything gets okay, I guess?’ He said, ‘No. Congress signed the Special Immigrant Visa program. You need to go do it,’” Ahmed said. “I asked him what that was. He said, ‘You are a U.S. Army employee, so when you go to the States, you’ll have all the rights of a resident green-card holder. You won’t have to apply for anything; you will automatically have everything a citizen does.’” His family was sad he would be leaving, but also happy he finally had a way out. His unit helped him get all the paperwork together, and the two-star general in charge of northern Iraq Ahmed had been translating for immediately signed it and sent it forward with his recommendation. It was the very beginning of the SIV program, and his paperwork was
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approved within three months. His next step would be the interview to grant his visa. The interview was originally set up at the U.S. Embassy in Jordan, a country he had already been banned from entering at the whim of a border guard who didn’t like his looks. He rescheduled it for Syria, but that would present him with another unique challenge. “I left the FOB with the QRF and went to the Iraqi Army compound. We had a deal with a driver to take me across the river, make a u-turn, and then go to Baghdad, just to bypass Tarmiyah,” he said. “We were to leave at 5 a.m. The driver knew who I was, so at midnight, he took his wife and left, because he didn’t want to die. If the bad guys caught me, they would kill the driver as well. We went to another driver that didn’t know me, and the QRF guys said, ‘This is my friend, he needs to go back to Baghdad, just please cross the river.’ The guy took me, at least. When you cross the river, you have to pass the base at Balad and go through a checkpoint there. We were stopped, and I had to make out like I don’t speak English so I would not give myself away to the driver. They were checking the car and everything, and in one of my bags was my money; almost $6000 dollars. The private checking the bags was like, ‘Whoa, whoa! There’s a lot of American money here, what the hell?’ And he started yelling. Slowly and quietly, I walked over and I literally told him, ‘Don’t kill me – but put the money back in the bag. I’m going to the States and you are not going to stop me!’” He managed to get through the checkpoint but had to lie again to the driver, saying he had used sign-speak to get through to the Americans. If the driver ever suspected he was a translator working for the Americans, the driver would most likely turn him in for a reward. Syria would prove to be nearly as dangerous as Iraq for Ahmed. The political climate was actively hostile to anyone associated with the American military, and those Iraqis who had chosen to work for the U.S. Army were hated the most. The landlord of the apartment Ahmed rented while he went through the interview process for his visa continuously fished for information about his reason
for coming to Syria. So he came up with a believable lie. “I told them that my mom had kidney failure and that I was doing all the tests and interviews in hopes to take my mom to the States, or Canada or Germany, to have the surgery where I could donate one of my kidneys to her,” he said. “They respected that. And, as usual, I was always talking bad about the U.S. Army; it was the only way to stay alive. I was always under interrogation from the landlord, every single day. I had to tell him my story every day, because he wasn’t buying it.” Ahmed finally completed his interviews and was called in to get his visa. The Syrian working for the embassy, who gave him the visa, told him he needed to get a plane ticket to the States immediately and get out of the country as fast as he could. “I asked him what was up, and he told me that there had been four of us to come to the embassy under the SIV program. I was the only one to show up for my visa,” Ahmed said. “I asked him about the three others, but he said they were still looking for them. I heard later that one had been beaten to death, and the two others had been taken by Syrian intelligence. The one who had been beaten to death had been living in a hotel, and he had told a janitor that he was a U.S. Army employee. The janitor was an Iraqi, and he called the Syrian authorities on him. The other two had relatives call the Syrian authorities on them; their own family turned them in.” When he arrived in the States at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Ahmed carried a large sealed envelope with all of his paperwork. The customs officials had been expecting him, but he said they were unsure of what to do with him. He was the very first person to arrive in the U.S. under the SIV program. He was led to the immigrant interview room, told to have a seat, and to hand the paperwork to the person behind the desk. “Not one minute later, a lieutenant came in. He said, ‘You have paperwork for a translator.’ They said ‘Yes, here it is’. He called my name, and I was scared to death, thinking maybe I had done someSee TRANSLATOR, next page
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thing wrong,” Ahmed recalled. “He said, ‘Where’s your bag?’ I grabbed it; he told me to put it on and said, ‘Welcome to the States.’ I said, ‘That’s it?’ He said, ‘Yeah, that’s it. Welcome to the States.’ I asked him what I was supposed to do, and he told me to go sign my name at a desk and put my index fingerprint on the visa… I signed, did my fingerprint, and walked out the door. A lot of people were there waiting for their families. I was the only one on the plane who had no one there. So I just stood there, looking left and right, wondering where I was going to go.” Unsure of his future, he said he wound up calling a girl he’d met online who lived in Tucson, Ariz. She was enthusiastic he’d made it to America and immediately invited him to come out and stay with her. His only problem was that he didn’t know how to go about getting there; the trip from Syria was his first time on a plane, and the process of buying a ticket was still a mystery. “I went to a guy standing outside at the airport and asked him what I should do; I told him I was trying to get to Tucson,” Ahmed said. “He seemed knowledgeable, and he told me that Tucson wasn’t an international airport so I should go try Southwest. I said, ‘Okay, I’ll go. But I need to know where and what Southwest is!’” The gentleman told him how to get to the terminal he needed, and told him to speak to a lady there who’s job was to help people get to where they were going. Ahmed found the lady, who directed him to the counter he needed and told him to just let the person at the counter know he needed a ticket to Tucson. “‘It’s that easy?’ I asked, and she said it was. So I went to the counter, gave them my visa, got my ticket, then waited for a few hours and got on a plane to Tucson,” he said. The trip from Syria to Tucson took him about 72 hours, and the only thing sustaining him throughout was fruit juice and coffee, he said. The novelty of the flight and the nervousness about his new life in the U.S. kept him from being able to sleep, and he avoided the food served on the airplanes because he was unfamiliar with it. The only things Ahmed said he could think of when he arrived were food and sleep. His friend took him to his first fastfood restaurant and then took him home, where he showered and then slept for an entire day. He stayed at his friend’s house for two weeks and then called an Iraqi friend at the FOB where he had worked in Iraq. The friend gave him a number for an uncle who lived in Dallas, Texas. “I called his uncle, who told me he’d been waiting for me to call. I said that I had just gotten the number, but he said he’d told his nephew to give me the number a long time ago,” Ahmed said. “He asked me where I was, and when I told him Tucson, he told me, hang up and wait for 10 minutes. Literally 10 minutes later, I got a call from another person, who asked me what address I was at. I told him, and he said to get my bags ready because he’d be there in 15 minutes. I asked him who he was, but he just told me to get ready.” The man who came and picked him up turned out to be one
of the richest men in Tucson, a native Iraqi who became a U.S. citizen and used his doctorate’s degree in economics to become a real estate mogul. He and the friend’s uncle in Dallas knew each other from when both left Iraq during the rise of Saddam in the 1970s. Both ended up staying in the U.S. after losing family members to Saddam’s brutal reign. Ahmed was fed, put up for the night, and then taken to the airport the next morning for the first flight to Dallas. He stayed with his friend’s uncle for a few weeks before finally getting his own apartment and a job at a fast-food restaurant. His first job didn’t last very long, because his manager was a former Muslim who converted to Christianity after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The manager hated Muslims, and because Ahmed was Arabic he simply assumed that Ahmed was also Muslim. Ahmed soon found another job at a printing company. The pay was only $8 an hour, but it paid the bills. He kept in contact with his former bosses in Iraq, and it was his former commander, a National Guard Soldier, who convinced him to go enlist in the Texas Army National Guard. “He knew that my dad’s dream was for me to finish my education, get a master’s degree or something from the United States. He used that on me; he said, ‘Are you going to let your dad down? Are you going to keep working for $8 an hour? How are you going to study?’” Ahmed said. “I kept telling him that I’d think about it, and he eventually convinced me.” The captain in charge of recruiting at Camp Mabry, the headquarters of all Texas Military Forces, located in Austin, Texas, came out to visit Ahmed with another Soldier in the translator field, an “oh-nine-leema.” After discussing it with them for a while, he decided to join, and not just for the educational benefits. “I did it to prove a point: that all Iraqis are not bad guys,” said Ahmed. Ahmed hates Al Qaeda and the ideology they espouse. Their brutal treatment of the Iraqi people is one of the reasons he decided to fight them as a U.S. Soldier. After completing basic training and advanced individual training as a 09L, Ahmed worked for a time assisting recruiters in finding more translators. He was soon deployed with the 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team to his native country, where he served as a translator a mere 15 miles from his old home. Finding a job after he returned to Texas proved difficult, and he soon had no money to live on and would go days without eating, he said. The opportunity to deploy with the 36th Infantry Division headquarters for Operation New Dawn came as a blessing. He moved to Austin for the unit’s pre-mobilization and is now serving a second tour in his native land as a liaison between U.S. Division-South and local Iraqi contractors, assisting in the transition of U.S. forces out of Iraq. Ahmed’s love for his people led him down a long, dangerous road; a road that is still not safe for him, he said. He’s not always happy with the path his native country takes at times, but he feels he’s done his part to give his fellow Iraqis the freedom they need to become a truly great nation. “Iraqis were victims, trapped in a cage for 35 years under Saddam Hussein,” he said. “But the U.S. Army, we came and opened that cage wide open. The uniform I’m wearing, I wear first for my people.”
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News Brief Special Journal Showcases VA Women’s Health Research WASHINGTON - A special supplement of the journal Women’s Health Issues published July 13 shows the tremendous growth and diversity of VA women’s health research in recent years. Its publication comes as VA recognizes July as Women Veterans Month, which included a National Training Summit on Women Veterans held July 15-17 in Washington, D.C. “VA has had a longstanding commitment to improving women’s health,” said VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, “This supplement shows the tremendous progress we’ve made by making that commitment to women Veterans a top priority across the Department.” Titled “Health and Health Care of Women Veterans and Women in the Military: Research Informing Evidence-based Practice and Policy,” the special journal edition, known as a supplement, features commentaries by VA investigators examining the role, history, and future of women’s health research. For example, in an opening commentary, Elizabeth M. Yano, Ph.D., and Susan M. Frayne, M.D., discuss the heightened focus on health services research, with more articles published between 2004 and 2008—
the first four years after VA Office of Research and Development established its women’s health agenda—“than in the previous 25 years combined.” The supplement also includes 18 peer-reviewed research articles addressing the changing demographics and demands of VA health care presented by the recent surge of women Veterans into the VA system. Among the topics addressed are: gender differences and disparities in care; mental health, including military sexual trauma and substance abuse; post deployment health, including posttraumatic stress disorder; quality and delivery of care; and special populations, including homeless women Veterans and those with traumatic brain injuries. “With women expected to make up 10 percent of the Veteran population by 2018,” said VA Under Secretary for Health Robert A. Petzel, M.D., “our goal of excellence in health care for all of our Nation’s Veterans makes it imperative that we prepare now to meet future demands.” VA Chief Research and Development Officer Joel Kupersmith, M.D. noted “VA Research is making a tremendous differ-
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from its home town. On the last training day, citizens of New Braunfels, including the mayor, attended the live-fire exercise. The mayor also had the distinction of leading the countdown for the first missile launch of the day. "This was such an experience," said Gale Pospisil, the mayor of New Braunfels. "This is my first time out here, and I couldn't believe how much power they had." Her husband Vladimir, a former field artilleryman, and her daughter, a former Guardsman, give Pospisil a great appreciation for the military forces. "It is my job to have the community show their support and help them keep doing what they're doing," said Pospisil.
18 THE DISPATCH August 2011
ence in the lives of women Veterans. The supplement clearly shows the scope and depth of VA’s research portfolio and the many ways we are working to improve the health of women Veterans.” Women’s Health Issues is the bimonthly peer-reviewed journal of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. The journal focuses on applied research in women’s health care and policy issues. The special supplement, focused on research related to the health issues of women Veterans and Military women, was sponsored by the Health Services Research and Development Service, VA Office of Research and Development with support from the Women Veterans Health Strategic Health Care group. Free full-text access to the supplement’s articles can be accessed at www.whijournal. com/supplements. For more information about VA Research, research specifically addressing women’s health, videos, and other women’s health information, visit www. research.va.gov/.
"It was pretty neat to have the mayor here," said Reeder. "It opens us up and gives people a better understanding.” After the 133rd completed their training, the smoke dissipated and the teams prepared to depart. Prior to the return trip home, Metze hosted an informal ceremony recognizing local and regional dignitaries and support personnel for their role in the training. "I think it went real well," said Reeder. "Next year, we hope to let families participate in the countdown," he said. The battalion's unwavering dedication and solid relationship with the community ensures their effectiveness during overseas missions. "This couldn't have gone any better," said Metze.
Texas Military History- August
Medal of Honor Citation for Stephen R. Gregg
Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, 143d Infantry, 36th Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Montelimar, France, 27 August 1944. Entered service at: Bayonne, N.J, Birth: New York, N.Y. G.O. No.: 31, 17 April 1945. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty on 27 August 1944, in the vicinity of Montelimar, France. As his platoon advanced upon the enemy positions , , the leading scout was fired upon and 2d Lt. Gregg (then a Tech. Sgt.) immediately put his machineguns into action to cover the advance of the riflemen. The Germans, who were at close range, threw handgrenades at the riflemen, killing some and wounding 7. Each time a medical aid man attempted to reach the wounded, the Germans fired at him. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, 2d Lt. Gregg took I of the light .30 caliber machineguns, and firing from the hip, started bo Idly up the hill with the medical aid man following him. Although the enemy was throwing handgrenades at him, 2d Lt. Gregg remained and fired into the enemy positions while the medical aid man removed the 7 wounded men to safety. When 2d Lt. Gregg had expended all his ammunition, he was covered by 4 Germans who ordered him to surrender. Since the attention of most of the Germans had been diverted by watching this action, friendly riflemen were able to maneuver into firing positions. One, seeing 2d Lt. Greggâ€™s situation, opened fire on his captors. The 4 Germans hit the ground and thereupon 2d Lt. Gregg recovered a machine pistol from one of the Germans and managed to escape to his other machinegun positions. He manned a gun, firing at his captors, killed I of them and wounded the other. This action so discouraged the Germans that the platoon was able to continue its advance up the hill to achieve its objective. The following morning, just prior to daybreak, the Germans launched a strong attack, supported by tanks, in an attempt to drive Company L from the hill. As these tanks moved along the valley and their foot troops advanced up the hill, 2d Lt. Gregg immediately ordered his mortars into action. During the day, by careful observation, he was able to direct effective fire on the enemy, inflicting heavy casualties. By late afternoon he had directed 600 rounds when his communication to the mortars was knocked out. Without hesitation he started checking his wires, although the area was under heavy enemy small-arms and artillery fire. When he was within 100 yards of his mortar position, I of his men informed him that the section had been captured and the Germans were using the mortars to fire on the company. 2d Lt. Gregg with this man and another nearby rifleman started for the gun position where he could see 5 Germans firing his mortars. He ordered the 2 men to cover him, crawled up, threw a handgrenade into the position, and then charged it. The handgrenade killed 1, injured 2; 2d Lt. Gregg took the other 2 prisoners, and put his mortars back into action.
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Join us for the opening: September 10, 2011, at the Texas Military Forces Museum, Camp Mabry 9 am F16 exhibit opens 11 am Ceremony 12 noon Gallery opens
9-11 AND BEYOND
9-11 and Beyond
The Texas National Guard and the War on Terror
The Texas national Guard and the War on Terror An exhibit recognizing the contributions and sacrifices of Texasâ€™ Military Forces 20 THE DISPATCH August 2011
For more information, please call (512) 782-5659 or visit us at texasmilitaryforcesmuseum.org