Sunday, April 29, 2007

PFC Jeremy Drexler: A Mom Remembers Her Son


After I posted the information on the “They Have Names” website and the coin project of CJ at “A Soldier’s Perpective”, I received an email from Debbie Drexler in Berryton , Kansas, whose son, PFC Jeremy Drexler, was killed in action in Iraq in 2004. She was asking for information about the coin project.

I forwarded the email to CJ and received a follow-up from Mrs. Drexler. Her son is featured in numerous articles and a “Google” of Jeremy will tell a lot about this extraordinary young American.

Please read the following email excerpt from an American Mom who is still grieving for her son:

“..I wish that you could have known my wonderful son. He was so good – too good at times for his own good. Several times when he was living here, I would go to his home and see that the fridge and cabinets were bare a few days after I gave him food. He would feed everyone else. That was a period when our family was not making it ourselves, but I tried to help him.

Jeremy would help others with odd jobs, never accepting any money for doing them. I tried to teach my son to be a good person. Since times were so tough for him, he joined the Army to better his life and he was hoping to get the education promised by the Army. He never got that chance.

When his life was taken he lost everything: car, home and all his stuff. My other sons are currently serving their second enlistment in the Navy and Marines. They too went to Iraq for a period of time. Thank God they came back in one piece or I would have gone crazy!

I can’t seem to get my life together now with Jeremy gone. I don’t understand why we are at war, but we need to stop. No parent or spouse should have to bury their loved one. My sons are my world and now I have a big gaping hole in my heart that continues to bleed. Not one day goes by or one moment passes that I am not crying for him to come back to me. This coming week will be the third year.

Kansas does not do anything for their fallen soldiers like all the other states. I have begged them to treat my son and the others the same as they do the National Guard. They have given money and statues and passed a bill protecting the National Guard and have done nothing for the other branches. My son’s sacrifice is nothing to them. I have written to every Governor, Senator and state representative that I can think of and they just blow me off.

Here I go again bothering you with my woes. Sorry. Anyway, if anyone else would like paintings and drawings (of lost service members), there are a few artists out there that do it at no cost to the families. These people have blessed me more than you can imagine: Michael Reagan and Richard Budig. I can send you information on them if you want. Having these (drawings and paintings) helps me, so if it will help someone else to have one of their son, let them know.

Please take a few minutes some time and “Google” Jeremy’s name and read about him. I will take the coin and put it in our memorial area that I am creating in our home.”

Debbie Drexler
cocacolagal7@cox.net

* * * *

As I am sure you can imagine, there were no dry eyes at my house. Mrs. Drexler’s email comments remind us once again that the families of our war casualties are also victims. Their feelings and opinions are important and they are also veterans of this war. It is the job of all Americans to do whatever we can to help them heal.

Debbie Drexler is an extraordinary American Mom. She has raised three sons who have stepped forward to serve in the war on terror. These young Americans – and their Mom - are all heroes.

SFC Chuck Grist
www.AmericanRanger.blogspot.com

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Why We Do What We Do


* * * *

I received this photo via email. It speaks for itself, but the caption says:

“Comforting embrace: Air Force Chief Master Sgt. John Gebhardt, of the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group at Balad, Iraq, cradles a young girl as they both sleep in the hospital. The girl’s entire family was executed by the insurgents; the killers shot her in the head as well. The girl received treatment at the U.S. military hospital in Balad, but cries and moans often. According to nurses at the facility, Gebhardt is the only one who can calm the girl, so he has spent the last several nights holding her while they both sleep in a chair.”

This is what the American military is all about.

SFC Chuck Grist
www.AmericanRanger.blogspot.com

Monday, April 23, 2007

VFW Thank You Card



I recently returned my "Thank You" to the VFW for delivery to a group of hospitalized veterans at the Kansas City VA Medical Center. A VFW volunteer will deliver the giant Thank You Card on Memorial Day, May 30, to make sure our veterans know that we have not forgotten them and that we are deeply grateful for their sacrifices.

If you would like to add your “thanks” to these veterans, please go HERE to sign the card and help deliver the biggest Thank You Card ever.

Thanks.

SFC Chuck Grist
www.AmericanRanger.blogspot.com

Saturday, April 21, 2007

"They Have Names" Memorial Project




Earlier this year I recalled one of the soldiers lost during my tour in Iraq (“Remembering Specialist Nichole M. Frye”). At the time I heard from CJ at “A Soldier’s Perspective” and he told me about a new project called “They Have Names”. This is a tremendous effort to make sure that the troops who have given their lives are never forgotten.

Right now CJ is working on Nichole Frye’s story and he is promoting a raffle to raise money for the site. You will see a link on the sidebar of this blog or you can click on “They Have Names” or “A Soldier’s Perspective”.

One of the goals is to provide memorial coins to the families of the fallen troops. You can see an example of what the coins would look like HERE. I’ll let CJ continue:

“I'm trying to raise at least $500, but the more I get the more coins I can obtain. We're raffling off two battle flags. The two battle flags were flown over FOB Warhorse, in Baqubah, Iraq. Each flag comes with a certificate of authenticity signed by Colonel David Sutherland and the Brigade Sergeant Major. Tickets are only $7 or three for $20. Anyone wishing to purchase a ticket(s) is encouraged to use the donation links on They Have Names or A Soldier's Perspective.

Thanks again, Chuck. We gotta remember our brothers and sisters and ensure that America doesn't forget these heroes sacrificing everything they have for them, either.”

CJ Grisham
US Army
www.theyhavenames.com
www.soldiersperspective.us

* * * *

I would encourage everyone to support CJ’s efforts and to add a link to both of these fascinating websites. Thanks.

SFC Chuck Grist
www.AmericanRanger.blogspot.com

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Inspiration from Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Repya

I recently received multiple emails of an item titled “I’m Tired”. It was signed by Joe Repya, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army, 101st Airborne Division.

Some of those who forwarded the email questioned, as we all have a tendency to do, whether or not there really was a “Joe Repya”. Being on active duty, I managed to locate him and he sent me the following response regarding the “I’m Tired” letter. He confirmed that it was indeed his and that he had written it all the way back in 2005.

After his email response to me, read his letter “I’m Tired” and I am sure you will be as impressed as I was:

“Chuck,

I wrote the letter to a friend in November, 2005, upon my return from Baghdad where I served with the Multi National Corps – Iraq (18th Airborne Corps) C-3 Headquarters. I didn’t realize he was going to post it on the internet until my email filled up about a week later. I was a voluntary retiree recall; 12,000 retirees volunteered and only 300 of us were returned to duty. I returned to active duty from 2004 – 2006 after retiring in 1998.

I served as a combat infantry(2/506 Infantry, 101st Airborne Division) and air cav platoon leader in Vietnam (2/17 Cav, 101st Airborne Division 1970-71) and as a combat pilot in Desert Storm (Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, 1990-91).

After my surgery in February, 2006, I never recuperated enough to get back to Iraq. Having turned 60 in March, 2006, my wife convinced me to ‘re-retire’.

I’m very proud of the job our young people have and are doing and I’m convinced that at the end of this century, their generation will be named this century’s ‘Greatest Generation’. Please stay safe and keep up the fight!

Joseph Repya
Lieutenant Colonel, (Retired)"

"I'm Tired"

Two weeks ago, as I was starting my sixth month of duty in Iraq, I was forced to return to the USA for surgery for an injury I sustained prior to my deployment. With luck, I'll return to Iraq to finish my tour.

I left Baghdad and a war that has every indication that we are winning, to return to a demoralized country much like the one I returned to in 1971 after my tour in Vietnam. Maybe it's because I'll turn 60 years old in just four months, but I'm tired:

I'm tired of spineless politicians, both Democrat and Republican who lack the courage, fortitude, and character to see these difficult tasks through.

I'm tired of the hypocrisy of politicians who want to rewrite history when the going gets tough.

I'm tired of the disingenuous clamor from those that claim they 'Support the Troops' by wanting them to 'Cut and Run' before victory is achieved.

I'm tired of a mainstream media that can only focus on car bombs and casualty reports because they are too afraid to leave the safety of their hotels to report on the courage and success our brave men and women are having on the battlefield.

I'm tired that so many Americans think you can rebuild a dictatorship into a democracy over night.

I'm tired that so many ignore the bravery of the Iraqi people to go to the voting booth and freely elect a Constitution and soon a permanent Parliament.

I'm tired of the so called 'Elite Left' that prolongs this war by giving aid and comfort to our enemy, just as they did during the Vietnam War.

I'm tired of antiwar protesters showing up at the funerals of our fallen soldiers. A family who's loved ones gave their life in a just and noble cause, only to be cruelly tormented on the funeral day by cowardly protesters is beyond shameful.

I'm tired that my generation, the Baby Boom -- Vietnam generation, who have such a weak backbone that they can't stomach seeing the difficult tasks through to victory.

I'm tired that some are more concerned about the treatment of captives than they are the slaughter and beheading of our citizens and allies.

I'm tired that when we find mass graves it is seldom reported by the press, but mistreat a prisoner and it is front page news.

Mostly, I'm tired that the people of this great nation didn't learn from history that there is no substitute for Victory.

Sincerely,
Joe Repya,
Lieutenant Colonel, U. S. Army
101st Airborne Division

* * * *

Many thanks to LTC Repya for his service in three wars, his dedication to his country and his testimonial to the courage and fortitude of the generation of warriors that is fighting for us today.

SFC Chuck Grist
www.AmericanRanger.blogspot.com

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Saying Goodbye to PFC Derek Gibson



SFC Michael Harrington serves with me in the Army Reserve. I wrote about his own heroism during a rescue convoy in Iraq (Standing Tall in Duty, Deed).

He walked up to me last week and said he had been assigned one of the most difficult missions of his life. He was to join one of our unit’s officers and together they would drive to Eustis to tell the parents of PFC Derek Gibson that their son had been killed in Iraq.

Harrington completed his mission, but it did not end with notification. He and other soldiers continued to work with the family to prepare for the funeral, ensure that the appropriate military honors were paid and to guide the family through the most horrible period of their lives.

That funeral took place this week and the following article from the Orlando Sentinel’s Stephan Hudak tells what it was like:

700 turn out to celebrate life of Eustis soldier slain in Iraq
Stephen Hudak
Sentinel Staff Writer

April 14, 2007

EUSTIS -- Lynn Broadway never met Army Pfc. Derek Gibson.

But, a military mom herself, Broadway, 48, stood on the shoulder of Bay Street, waving a small American flag Friday in honor of the fallen Eustis soldier.

"We all should be out here, the whole town, thanking him," Broadway said as the funeral procession for Gibson rolled past toward Greenwood Cemetery. "We lost one of our kids."

Gibson, 20, was killed April 4 in Baghdad when an explosive device detonated near his vehicle during combat operations. He is the 133rd Floridian to die in Iraq since the war began.

The soldier's service at Bay Street Baptist Church drew an estimated crowd of 700, including many who did not know him or his parents, Jerry and Janet Gibson of Eustis.

More than 70 members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a flag-bearing group of motorcyclists, lined the entrance to the sanctuary.

"Anything to support one of our troops," said Randy Clark, 58, of Merritt Island, an Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War.

Inside the church where a photo of Gibson in his uniform was projected on a large screen above the altar, ex-Marine Harold Rogers wept in a pew with his son, Rodman.

"It's something he needs to learn and know about," Rogers said, explaining why he brought the 9-year-old to a stranger's funeral. "Freedom's not free."

Army Maj. Gen. Michael J. Diamond, deputy director of the United States Central Command, eulogized Gibson as a "superhero . . . who died for a just cause."

His words drew "amens" from a congregation that included Lake County Sheriff Gary Borders, Eustis police Chief Fred Cobb and a military-honors unit from the 164th Air Defense Artillery Brigade in Orlando.

State Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, praised Gibson's sacrifice, saying the soldier who had dropped out of high school found purpose serving his country.

The Rev. Mark Douglas relayed condolences from Gov. Charlie Crist and spoke for family members and friends too distraught to speak for themselves.

The church's Celebration Choir belted out "Amazing Grace" and a medley of Christian rock songs, which prompted the pastor to say to Gibson's mother, "Janet, you asked for upbeat."

Ron Gibson, an architect and a minister, recalled his nephew's "Cheshire grin" and love for fishing.

He said he believed that, if heaven truly had a River of Life, his nephew would have a line in it.

"But," he told the congregation somberly, "this is not the homecoming that we prayed for."

A mischievous youth who dropped out of school at age 16, Gibson worked for his father's construction company and earned his high-school-equivalency diploma before he went off to boot camp.

He was deployed to Iraq in October and assigned initially to Camp Prosperity in the Green Zone, a secure military compound in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces in Baghdad. He was then transferred to Camp Falcon, a more dangerous area in the Iraqi capital.

"We're awfully proud of him," his older brother, Dustin, 25, said in his eulogy.

At the cemetery, Diamond presented Gibson's parents with an American flag and posthumous honors. The Eustis soldier received the Bronze Star for meritorious service, the Combat Infantry Badge for valorous service and the Purple Heart for wounds received in combat.

His former girlfriend, Jessica Goforth, 18, of Sorrento, with whom he enlisted a year ago, wept and kissed his coffin. She has been serving with the Army in Afghanistan.

She wore Army fatigues.

"He turned into a good man -- no, a great man, a wonderful man," Goforth said.

Stephen Hudak can be reached at shudak@orlandosentinel.com or 352-742-5930.
Copyright © 2007, Orlando Sentinel | Get home delivery - up to 50% off

Americans can be proud that men like Derek Gibson are protecting them. We can also be grateful that there are men like Michael Harrington who are standing by to provide support and assistance to those that are left behind.

SFC Chuck Grist
www.AmericanRanger.blogspot.com

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Desperate Insurgents Attack Parliament


Yesterday’s brutal suicide attack in the Iraqi Convention Center (shown above in one of my 2004 photos) will hopefully turn into a big mistake for the insurgents. An attack against the Parliament affected every major political entity in Iraq. Such a move was extraordinarily stupid.

There are some who will say that this attack is evidence the “surge” is not working. I would say that the opposite is probably true. Such a risky and high profile attack only advertises how desperate the terrorists have become.

Any enemy activity causes an increase in hand-wringing by the liberals back here. They don’t want the Iraqis to pull together because that would validate the strategy of hanging tough. Even the Sunnis have tired of the foreign terrorists who are killing civilians of all religions.

The Green Zone has never been all that “green”. Anyone who has spent much time there knows that attacks inside this protected compound are inevitable. Regardless of how well the searches are done, there are enemy sympathizers in every aspect of Iraqi life. This includes the Iraqi Army, the police, the politicians and the thousands of Iraqi civilians who live or work there. Such is the nature of a guerrilla war.

Hundreds of Iraqis are brought into the Zone every day to do jobs such as janitorial, landscaping or other routine tasks. The contractors who hire them as day labor are the only ones who have I.D. cards. They drive to an intersection in Baghdad and load up whoever wants to work for a day. Then they drive to one of the several gates which lead into the heart of the Green Zone.

When they reach the gates, they are all searched, but it doesn’t take much to conceal small amounts of explosives or other weapons. There are Iraqi civilians inside the Zone who can make suicide vests or explosive devices and there are Iraqi soldiers who have access to explosives, ammunition and weapons. Only a fool would believe that there are not insurgents inside the Green Zone every single day.

During my tour in 2004, two of our favorite places to “hang out” were the Green Zone CafĂ© and the Iraqi bazaar next to the hospital. Only days after we left Iraq, both were destroyed by enemy bombs that had been smuggled into the Green Zone.

The unpleasant reality is that there is no completely safe place anywhere in Iraq. Maybe someday that will change, but it won’t ever change if we withdraw with our tails between our legs.

SFC Chuck Grist
www.AmericanRanger.blogspot.com

Monday, April 9, 2007

Baghdad: Four Years After Liberation


"We regard Iraq’s success to be our success.
And, God forbid, Iraq’s failure will also be ours.”

Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq on February 20, 2005

This is the fourth anniversary of the liberation of Baghdad by America and the Coalition. When Saddam’s statue was brought to the ground (above photo from Reuters), we were greeted as liberators and welcomed by most of the citizens of Iraq. Then we dropped the ball.

Ignoring the advice of experienced military leaders, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George Bush believed we could invade a country of 25 million people, remove its entire governmental infrastructure, including all of its police and military personnel, and then fix everything with only 140,000 soldiers. This type of intellectual arrogance has plagued the upper regions of our government for too long. These leaders failed to plan for contingencies, failed to understand the history of the Arab people and failed to recognize the limitations of their own down-sized military.

I was in Baghdad on the first anniversary of its liberation. Even in 2004, most average soldiers could see that the Coalition had a tiger by the tail. The Iraqi people were hungry, jobless and they had no electricity or clean water. Civil affairs soldiers submitted plan after plan for rebuilding Baghdad. The Coalition Provisional Authority took its time in reviewing the plans and rejected too many of them. The clock was ticking and the patience of the Iraqi people would not last long.

The presence of any western military power will eventually be rejected by most Arabs. We choose to forget that the Crusades of the Middle Ages were not enlightening religious experiences to the Arab world. Those who came to the Arabian deserts in the name of Christianity were brutal “terrorists” who murdered and pillaged in the name of God. The Arabs have never forgotten this period in history and they don’t welcome westerners who want to “teach them a better way”. They even convinced the mighty British empire of the last century that it was in their interests to go home.

From the moment of Iraq’s liberation, we have been held in contempt by the same radical Shiite leaders we freed from oppression. While we waffled, backed off and tried to walk a political tightrope with the Shiites and the Sunnis, our indecision encouraged the likes of Muqtada al Sadr. Al Sadr, the founder and spiritual leader of the Shiite Mahdi Army, remains in hiding and he is probably in the land of his generous foreign sponsor, Iran. He called for massive demonstrations today in the holy city of Najaf to protest the “occupation” of Iraq by Coalition troops. Al Sadr and his militia should have been destroyed when they numbered in the hundreds. Now there are tens of thousands of them clamoring for American blood.

Although our post-invasion strategy has been poor, we have been warmly received by most Iraqis. Our brave soldiers have proven they are friends to the average citizens and they have accomplished many great things. The stumbling block continues to be the inability of the Iraqis to get along with each other long enough to build a future of cooperation, brotherhood and prosperity. Even if they can find an Iraqi solution, the radical fundamentalist groups like Al Qaeda will probably always be around in this ancient land.

There is much controversy about whether or not America will stay in Iraq until we “win” the war. The war to liberate Iraq from the clutches of Saddam Hussein was won. The challenge now is an Iraqi struggle to create a strong, self-sustaining nation with the helping hands of the Coalition. Only the Iraqis will decide if the final chapter will be a free and prosperous Iraq or a new tragedy for old Mesopotamia.

While the Iraqi front in the world-wide war on terror has not been managed well, we must not give up and allow the fundamentalists to make Iraq their new sanctuary. We must convince Iraqis on all sides to work together, we must increase our efforts to build a strong Iraqi military and we must destroy any armed force – whether Sunni, Shiite or foreign - that tries to bring down the new Iraq.

We must not forget the words of Mr. Khalilzad.

SFC Chuck Grist
www.AmericanRanger.blogspot.com

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Warrior Dad Dies in Baghdad


I heard from one of my new correspondents in Baghdad, Lt. Matt Belfi (see my post on Matt - "Lieutenant Matt Belfi: Philly Cop & Warrior Pilot", a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard and a helicopter pilot. From his vantage point in Baghdad’s Green Zone at the U.S. Embassy, he wrote me about the tragic loss of a comrade on March 27th. Here is part of his email:

“The embassy has been getting attacked via IDF (indirect fire – mortars or rockets) lately and, unfortunately, last week’s attack resulted in a friend of mine getting killed. Sergeant First Class Sean Thomas (pictured above with his wife and child) was walking along when suddenly an enemy rocket exploded near him. A (civilian) contractor on location was also killed. Several were wounded also.

I was nearby and rendered medical aid to the wounded. Although I am not a medic, I was a civilian EMT for years (and Matt is a Philadelphia police officer now), so the basics are still with me. It’s interesting how quickly things change. It really reminds you that this is, in fact, a war zone - not that I needed that kind of reminder.

I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for soldiers such as you who experienced events such as this with regularity during the Vietnam War. I have thought about that a lot lately. It must have really been rough.

I know Sean’s death has taken a toll on me. It has taken a bigger toll on a friend of mine who was there rendering medical aid to Sean with me. Being a civilian “first responder” has helped me, but I think Jerry, my friend who was with me, is having a harder time dealing with the tragedy. He is also the type of person who keeps things bottled up as opposed to me, who is much more outward about my feelings (for better or worse)…”

I sent an email back to Matt:

“Matt: It never gets easier. When I first stood in front of the Vietnam Memorial and looked at the names of men I knew who had been killed, it was a sobering experience. Having been in Baghdad, I know firsthand about the IDF hazards there as well…

As a cop who has been in the first aid mode as both soldier and civilian, I am glad you were there. If your friend was aware of your presence, it surely comforted him.

Some day you will also stand before a memorial in Washington to the men and women who have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. You will stare at your friend’s name and you will remember all of it. Then you will take your loved ones in your arms and be grateful once again for all of the simple blessings of life.”

Matt’s friend was posthumously promoted to the rank of master sergeant and awarded the Purple Heart and Combat Action Badge. Sean Michael Thomas was from Walker Township in Pennsylvania and he is survived by his wife, Carrie, and daughter Alexa. The couple would have celebrated their anniversary on Easter Sunday. Master Sergeant Thomas previously served in Afghanistan where he was awarded a Bronze Star.

A memorial fund has been established in his daughter’s name. Anyone who would like to contribute to the Alexa Thomas Fund can make donations to the fund in care of Omega Bank, 2 South Main Street, Hughesville, Pennsylvania 17737.

SFC Chuck Grist
www.AmericanRanger.blogspot.com

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

When the Enemy Crosses the Line


When the British sailors and marines searched the suspicious ship off the coast of Iraq, it appears there was no backup standing by. The Iranian vessels that overwhelmed the British boats should have been confronted with the prospect of deadly force long before they ever reached their targets. If backup was available and it was not immediately dispatched, this is unacceptable. If there was no backup available at all, this is unforgivable.

Other British military personnel have been captured before under similar circumstances. Such a risk should have been expected in the contested waters of Iraq. At the very least, helicopter gunships should have been on station over the British boats. Any approach by Iranian ships could have been met with a burst of gunfire across their bows. Such strength would have surely deterred the Iranians. If it did not, then it would have been their misfortune to perish for such a criminal act.

The rules of engagement by Coalition forces are necessary to the degree that our military personnel are not put in mortal danger. When risk to life and limb is imminent due to an attack by anyone, nothing should prevent decisive, forceful action.

The Iranians are Persians with a history that indicates respect for power, but contempt for those who appear weak. While it is true that the British or the Americans could “erase” Iran with their military power, politically timid and indecisive acts will only embolden the Iranians and our other Islamic fundamentalist enemies.

We are waging war against barbarians who only respect strength. If they walk up and stare you in the eye, they must be met with equal intensity. If they decide to reach out and touch you, then they have crossed the line. The only way to deal with such aggressors is to completely and utterly crush them to the point of their surrender or death.

If the British Navy had provided the necessary support to its own military personnel, there would be no hostage crisis. Instead, we would be watching as wreckage from the Iranian boats and the bodies from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard continued to wash ashore.

SFC Chuck Grist
www.AmericanRanger.blogspot.com