Monday, December 29, 2008

Twelve-Year-Old Boy Buried With Military Honors

This inspiring story comes from and Knight Ridder:

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Boy, 12, Given Military Burial

December 23, 2008
Knight Ridder

MILLERSPORT, Ohio -- The Soldiers flanked the casket, solemn and precise, and folded the American flag with a yank-and-flip motion. On one knee, a sergeant presented the flag to a grieving mother.

Around them, mourners with red eyes and heaving shoulders testified, silently, to the mark Dennis Channel Jr. left on each of them.

Seven Soldiers from the Ohio Army National Guard raised their rifles and fired three rounds. A lone bugler sounded taps, a haunting call that wafted over the nearby graves of veterans.

Dennis, known to all as "Bubba," was buried Monday with full military honors.

He was 12 years old.

The Millersport boy was too young to be a Soldier or a veteran, for whom such an honor is generally reserved.

Sgt. Maj. Rebecca Herzog had never led an honor guard at a funeral for anyone out of uniform, except a member of Congress, in 10 years on the job. But Dennis deserved it, the Guard decided.

He was his own kind of warrior. He waged a battle with brain cancer, diagnosed when he was just 5 years old. He was a brave Soldier, all agreed, one who changed the world for the better.

Dennis died, holding his parents' hands, shortly after 3 a.m. Friday, Dec. 19.
Those at his funeral -- relatives, teachers, classmates -- spoke about the way the little boy with the big brown eyes changed them in the short time he had.

In one way, he was an ordinary boy who loved dinosaurs and BMX, and his mom and dad most of all.

But friends and family members also remembered the extraordinary spirit and peace that Dennis possessed, always positive, polite and faithful despite his suffering.

He never complained, even though he had to leave school in second grade and endure several rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, said his father, Dennis.

He talked to anyone who would listen about God's goodness, said Paula Clark, his former teacher.

"His No. 1 concern was how everybody else was," she said. "I've taught school for 26 years, and never have I encountered anybody who had a soul like he had."

He loved his country and developed a passion for the military from a young age, thanks to his father, a veteran, and relatives of his mother, Shawna.

It was his dream to be an Army chaplain.

"He said he used to talk to God," said his father, who wore a dog tag adorned with a photo of his son. "And God wanted him to help people."

An Army battalion based in Fort Campbell, Ky., adopted Dennis, who visited the Soldiers. They gave him a uniform and beret.

He made fast friends with Soldiers based in central Ohio, too. He earned honorary status as a member of the U.S. Army and as a chaplain for the Ohio National Guard.

His dreams didn't go unfulfilled, said the Rev. Steve Bush, who officiated at Dennis' funeral at Lighthouse Memorial Church in Millersport.

"Look at this room. He filled it," Bush said during the service, before an estimated crowd of more than 400. "Most chaplains, most pastors I know, would long for the influence Dennis had over those he loved, and even those he didn't."

Dennis was buried in his uniform and beret, in a casket painted with tanks and helicopters. A pair of combat boots sat nearby. Classmates at Millersport Elementary School signed a picture of an American flag, which sat inside the casket.

Dennis had a profound effect on his peers, Clark said. He taught them how to be strong, and they learned compassion by organizing fundraisers for him.

"That class will be extra-special because of that," Clark said. "They know what it is to help people."

Dennis inspired grown-ups, too. A group of veterans from Buckeye Lake saluted his casket at his gravesite.

Col. Andrew Aquino, a military chaplain, presented the boy's parents with a medal for meritorious service from the state of Ohio.

"God has really given us a special blessing," he said, "in knowing Bubba."

* * * *

We send our condolences to the family of this young American patriot.

Charles M. Grist

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Remember the Troops at Christmas

During the Christmas season of 1970 in Vietnam, I managed to get to the Bien Hoa Army Base for the Bob Hope Christmas show. I remember that the stars who appeared with him included the Golddiggers, Miss World, and Johnny Bench. I was only twenty-one years old.

After the show, I returned to our brigade headquarters at Firebase Mace where I spent Christmas Eve. I later wrote about that night:

* * * *

“We were playing cards on this particular holiday night, drinking a lot of beer and feeling somewhat melancholy when we heard mortar rounds begin to hit the firebase. We were reminded that another soldier was recently wounded by a mortar only a few feet from our tent and the hole was still in the ground.

We looked at each other and someone said “Should we take shelter?” Almost in unison we said “Nah…” and continued to play cards. The explosions from the mortars stopped shortly thereafter.

I decided to take a break, so I walked to the bunker line along the perimeter. It was dark and I looked up at the moon and the stars as I thought about my family back in Orlando and how they must be enjoying the holidays.

Suddenly, I heard the sound of weapons firing near a village in the valley below. When I looked into the darkness of the valley, I saw tracer rounds arching into the sky. I recognized the red tracers of the friendly troops, but then I saw the green tracers of the enemy being fired in the opposite direction.

I don’t know why it struck me as funny (sick, war-time G.I. humor, I guess), but I realized that the tracers being fired by each side were the Christmas colors of red and green. All that could be seen in the darkness of the valley were the colored tracers as they crossed each other’s path.

For no particular reason, I softly sang, ‘Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…’”

* * * *

Please remember our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in your Christmas prayers. We can all feel very safe this year because they are taking care of us in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places throughout the world.

I especially wish a safe Christmas to Aaron Self, Kristi Self, and Chad Higginbotham, the members of the C.O.B.R.A. Team family who are once again at war.

I miss you guys…

Charles M. Grist

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Reservists Can Now Qualify for Early Retirement Pay

For those of you who are retirement-eligible reservists, this is good information from the Air Force News.

Wish they’d done this a few years ago.

* * * *

Reservists May Qualify For Early Retired Pay

December 11, 2008
Air Force News

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- The Department of Defense has issued new guidelines for early receipt of retired pay for members of the reserve components. Instead of having to wait until age 60 to receive Reserve retired pay, eligible members may receive retired pay prior to age 60 but not before age 50.

Under interim changes to Department of Defense Instruction 1215.07, Service Credit for Reserve Retirement, issued under a law passed by Congress effective Jan. 28, 2008, reserve component members are able to reduce the age at which they are eligible to receive retirement pay by three months for each cumulative period of 90 days served on active duty in any fiscal year.

Under the new law, members eligible to receive retired pay earlier than age 60 must still wait until age 60 to receive health-care benefits.

Involuntary mobilization and voluntary active duty in support of a contingency qualify, but there is no requirement to be involuntarily mobilized, to support a contingency or to serve on active duty outside the continental United States to receive credit under the law. Most active-duty time qualifies, including training, operational support duties and school tours. It does not matter whether active-duty time is paid for under military or reserve personnel appropriation accounts, provided such active duty is performed under the authority of 10 U.S. Code § 12301 (d).

Also included is full-time National Guard duty served under a call to active service by a governor and authorized by the president or the secretary of defense under 32 U.S.C. § 502(f) for purposes of responding to either a national emergency declared by the president or a national emergency supported by federal funds.

The following time served on active duty is not creditable service for purposes of reducing retired pay age: as a member of the active Guard and Reserve (10 U.S.C. § 12310); on annual tour (10 U.S.C. § 12301(b)); while in captive status (10 U.S.C. § 12301(g)); for medical treatment, medical evaluation for disability purposes or medical study (10 U.S.C. §12301(h)); as a member not assigned to, or participating satisfactorily in, units (10 U.S.C. § 12303); under active-duty agreements (10 U.S.C. § 12311); for disciplinary/courts-martial (10 U.S.C. § 12315); or for muster duty (10 U.S.C. §12319).

Qualifying active-duty service performed after Jan. 28, 2008, the date on which the fiscal 2008 National Defense Authorization Act was enacted, is creditable. The law does not provide credit for time served on or before that date.

Here's an example of how these new guidelines work. A Reservist performed five days of active-duty service on MPA orders in February 2008. He then volunteered for active duty beginning June 1 and ending Nov 30 (leave, reconstitution and post-deployment/mobilization respite absence included, as applicable). The Reservist performed a total of 127 days of active-duty service in fiscal year 2008 and 61 days in fiscal 2009.

Under this scenario, all of the active-duty time the Reservist performed could be credited toward reduced retirement age eligibility because it was active-duty time performed under circumstances permitted under the new law (i.e., orders for voluntary service, 10 U.S.C. § 12301(d)). However, because time credited must total 90 days or must be in multiples of 90 days in the aggregate during a fiscal year in order to correspondingly reduce his retirement age by three months, or multiples of three months, the Reservist will be able to reduce his retirement age by three months for fiscal 2008. Had he performed 53 more days of active-duty service after Jan. 28 and before going on active duty June 1, he would have accumulated 180 total days for fiscal 2008 and thus would be able to reduce his retirement age by six months.

Similarly, because the Reservist has so far served on active duty 61 days in fiscal 2009, he must perform an additional 29 days of active-duty service some time during the year in order to reduce his retirement age by an additional three months.

All Airmen are encouraged to ensure their orders specify the statutory provision under which their active-duty service is performed. Airman are also encouraged to keep track of their active-duty service and orders to ensure they receive proper credit and they meet the cumulative 90-day thresholds to reduce retirement age.

* * * *

If you know some old soldier like me who is nearing retirement and has recent active duty service, you may want to pass this information on to them. (This includes, of course, any old sailors, airmen or Marines, as well.)

Charles M. Grist

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Death Takes Heroic South Vietnamese General

My military historian friend forwarded the following article about the death of a courageous South Vietnamese general who not only served his fellow citizens, but who worked closely with his American counter-parts:

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Pham Van Dong; Army General In Vietnam Praised for Bravery

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 8, 2008; B07

Pham Van Dong, 89, a major general in the South Vietnamese army and the military governor of Saigon when the city fell to North Vietnamese forces in 1975, died Nov. 26 of congestive heart failure at his home in Philadelphia. He was a former Arlington County resident.

Gen. Dong fought with the French against Japan during World War II and later served as a lieutenant colonel in the French army. He was one of the few soldiers in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam who had been a French officer.

"He was a very brave and capable man," said Neil Sheehan, a reporter for United Press International during the Vietnam War and the author of "A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam" (1988). "American advisers regarded him as the most professional officer in the ARVN."

Sheehan said that he and fellow reporter David Halberstam of the New York Times relied on Gen. Dong as a valuable source of information, not only about military strategy and why the Viet Cong were winning but also about the internecine maneuverings within the ARVN itself. He was willing to talk to reporters, discreetly, even though it put him at risk of arrest, or worse.

Gen. Dong "was one of our most helpful informants," Sheehan wrote in "A Bright Shining Lie." "He obtained statistics we needed and details of how the Viet Cong were creating their new big battalions through a general at Joint General Staff headquarters who had been one of his subordinates in the North during the French war. I spent an evening at his house transcribing the information."

Pham Van Dong, who bore the same name as the prime minister of North Vietnam, was born in Son Tay, Vietnam, and grew up in Hanoi. Family members going back several generations had been teachers in the imperial court, and Gen. Dong also planned to be a teacher. He enrolled in the Ecole Normale d'Instituteurs but dropped out in 1938 and enlisted in the French colonial army. He became the first Vietnamese officer to command French troops.

A member of Vietnam's Nung ethnic minority, a group with a Gurkha-like reputation as fierce fighters, he later commanded the 3rd Field Division, made up entirely of Nung soldiers.

From 1950 to 1952, he served in various field commanding-officer positions and participated in a number of major battles and campaigns against communist forces in northern Vietnam. In 1952, as a lieutenant colonel, he commanded the 2nd Mobile Group. A year later, he was appointed commanding officer of the Bui Chu subzone and commander of light infantry and artillery forces of northern Vietnam.

As the war in Indochina peaked, he was appointed commander of the Quang Yen Military Academy and in 1954 redeployed the academy and all its personnel to southern Vietnam. After the Geneva Convention partitioned Vietnam, he moved south with his family.

In 1959, then-Col. Dong -- who as a young man had taught himself English -- attended the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Returning to Vietnam, he was appointed deputy commander of South Vietnam's III Corps.

After the 1963 coup d'etat that toppled the government of Ngo Dinh Diem, he was appointed commander of the 7th Division. He then served briefly as military attache to the Republic of China (Taiwan). When he returned, he was made brigadier general and then major general, and served as military governor of Saigon-Gia Dinh and commander of the Special Capital Zone.

"He was regarded by American advisers as an equal. That was very unusual," said Sheehan, who also recalled that Gen. Dong would put the American advisers to work when they were with him in the field.

When Saigon fell, Gen. Dong and his family were able to leave the country on a C-130 military transport that took them to Guam.

"He was devastated," said his son, Hiep Pham. "He felt he betrayed his men. I think it was a sensation he carried through his whole life."

With Sheehan as their sponsor, the Dong family eventually settled in Arlington County, where Gen. Dong bought a secondhand car, insisted that family members eat American food and worked to get them acclimated to their new life. He occasionally served as a translator for the Defense Department before retiring in the early 1980s. He moved to Philadelphia in 1998 after the death of his first wife, Le Thi Li, in 1992.

Survivors include his wife of 10 years, My-Lan Trinh, of Philadelphia; five children from his first marriage, his son, of Montgomery Village, and Misha Hung Pham of Falls Church, Mickey Bich-Ha Pham of Fairfax County and Pam Bich-Hang and Bic Bich-Hai Pham, both of San Diego; three stepdaughters from his second marriage; a brother and sister; nine grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

* * * *

We extend our sympathies to the general's family.

Charles M. Grist

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ten Green Berets Awarded the Silver Star

The following article needs no explanation. After all, these are Green Berets. The motto of these warriors is expressed in Latin on their unit crest above: "To Liberate the Oppressed".

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Washington Post
December 12, 2008
Pg. 1

10 Green Berets To Receive Silver Star For Afghan Battle

By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post Staff Writer

After jumping out of helicopters at daybreak onto jagged, ice-covered rocks and into water from an altitude of 10,000 feet, the 12-man Special Forces team scrambled up the steep mountainside toward its target -- an insurgent stronghold in northeast Afghanistan.

"Our plan," Capt. Kyle M. Walton recalled in an interview, "was to fight downhill."

But as the soldiers maneuvered toward a cluster of thick-walled mud buildings constructed layer upon layer about 1,000 feet farther up the mountain, insurgents quickly manned fighting positions, readying a barrage of fire for the exposed Green Berets.

A harrowing, nearly seven-hour battle unfolded on that mountainside in Afghanistan's Nuristan province on April 6, as Walton, his team and a few dozen Afghan commandos they had trained took fire from all directions. Outnumbered, the Green Berets fought on even after half of them were wounded -- four critically -- and managed to subdue an estimated 150 to 200 insurgents, according to interviews with several team members and official citations.

Today, Walton and nine of his teammates from Operational Detachment Alpha 3336 of the 3rd Special Forces Group will receive the Silver Star for their heroism in that battle -- the highest number of such awards given to the elite troops for a single engagement since the Vietnam War.

That chilly morning, Walton's mind was on his team's mission: to capture or kill several members of the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) militant group in their stronghold, a village perched in Nuristan's Shok Valley that was accessible only by pack mule and so remote that Walton said he believed that no U.S. troops, or Soviet ones before them, had ever been there.

But as the soldiers, each carrying 60 to 80 pounds of gear, scaled the mountain, they could already spot insurgents running to and fro, they said. As the soldiers drew closer, they saw that many of the mud buildings had holes in the foot-thick walls for snipers. The U.S. troops had maintained an element of surprise until their helicopters turned into the valley, but by now the insurgent leaders entrenched above knew they were the targets, and had alerted their fighters to rally.

Staff Sgt. Luis Morales of Fredericksburg was the first to see an armed insurgent and opened fire, killing him. But at that moment, the insurgents began blasting away at the American and Afghan troops with machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled-grenades -- shooting down on each of the U.S. positions from virtually all sides.

"All elements were pinned down from extremely heavy fire from the get-go," Walton said. "It was a coordinated attack." The insurgent Afghan fighters knew there was only one route up the valley and "were able to wait until we were in the most vulnerable position to initiate the ambush," said Staff Sgt. Seth E. Howard, the team weapons sergeant.

Almost immediately, exposed U.S. and Afghan troops were hit. An Afghan interpreter was killed, and Sgt. Dillon Behr was shot in the hip.

"We were pretty much in the open, there were no trees to hide behind," said Morales, who with Walton pulled Behr back to their position. Morales cut open Behr's fatigues and applied pressure to his bleeding hip, even though Morales himself had been shot in the right thigh. A minute later, Morales was hit again, in the ankle, leaving him struggling to treat himself and his comrade, he said. Absent any cover, Walton moved the body of the dead Afghan interpreter to shield the wounded.

Farther down the hill in the streambed, Master Sgt. Scott Ford, the team sergeant, was firing an M203 grenade launcher at the fighting positions, he recalled. An Afghan commando fired rocket-propelled grenades at the windows from which they were taking fire, while Howard shot rounds from a rocket launcher and recoilless rifle.

Ford, of Athens, Ohio, then moved up the mountain amid withering fire to aid Walton at his command position. The ferocity of the attack surprised him, as rounds ricocheted nearby every time he stuck his head out from behind a rock. "Typically they run out of ammo or start to manage their ammo, but . . . they held a sustained rate of fire for about six hours," he said.

As Ford and Staff Sgt. John Wayne Walding returned fire, Walding was hit below his right knee. Ford turned and saw that the bullet "basically amputated his right leg right there on the battlefield."

Walding, of Groesbeck, Tex., recalled: "I literally grabbed my boot and put it in my crotch, then got the boot laces and tied it to my thigh, so it would not flop around. There was about two inches of meat holding my leg on." He put on a tourniquet, watching the blood flow out the stump to see when it was tight enough.

Then Walding tried to inject himself with morphine but accidentally used the wrong tip of the syringe and put the needle in this thumb, he later recalled. "My thumb felt great," he said wryly, noting that throughout the incident he never lost consciousness. "My name is John Wayne," he said.

Soon afterward, a round hit Ford in the chest, knocking him back but not penetrating his body armor. A minute later, another bullet went through his left arm and shoulder, hitting the helmet of the medic, Staff Sgt. Ronald J. Shurer, who was behind him treating Behr. An insurgent sniper was zeroing in on them.

Bleeding heavily from the arm, Ford put together a plan to begin removing the wounded, knowing they could hold out only for so long without being overrun. By this time, Air Force jets had begun dropping dozens of munitions on enemy positions precariously close to the Green Berets, including 2,000-pound bombs that fell within 350 yards.

"I was completely covered in a cloud of black smoke from the explosion," said Howard, and Behr was wounded in the intestine by a piece of shrapnel.

The evacuation plan, Ford said, was that "every time they dropped another bomb, we would move down another terrace until we basically leapfrogged down the mountain." Ford was able to move to lower ground after one bomb hit, but insurgent fire rained down again, pinning the soldiers left behind.

"If we went that way, we would have all died," said Howard, who was hiding behind 12-inch-high rocks with bullets bouncing off about every 10 seconds. Insurgents again nearly overran the U.S. position, firing down from 25 yards away -- so near that the Americans said they could hear their voices. Another 2,000-pound bomb dropped "danger close," he said, allowing the soldiers to get away.

Finally, after hours of fighting, the troops made their way down to the streambed, with those who could still walk carrying the wounded. A first medical evacuation helicopter flew in, but the rotors were immediately hit by bullets, so the pilot hovered just long enough to allow the in-flight medic to jump off, then flew away.

A second helicopter came in but had to land in the middle of the icy, fast-moving stream. "It took two to three guys to carry each casualty through the river," Ford said. "It was a mad dash to the Medevac." As they sat on the helicopter, it sustained several rounds of fire, and the pilot was grazed by a bullet.

By the time the battle ended, the Green Berets and the commandos had suffered 15 wounded and two killed, both Afghans, while an estimated 150 to 200 insurgents were dead, according to an official Army account of the battle. The Special Forces soldiers had nearly run out of ammunition, with each having one to two magazines left, Ford said.

"We should not have lived," said Walding, reflecting on the battle in a phone interview from Fort Bragg, N.C., where he and the nine others are to receive the Silver Stars today. Nine more Green Berets from the 3rd Special Forces Group will also receive Silver Stars for other battles. About 200 U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have received the Silver Star, the U.S. military's third-highest combat award.

* * * *

Our brave Green Berets continue to serve with courage and sacrifice as they endeavor to free the oppressed people of the world.

Charles M. Grist

British Troops Have Made A Difference in Iraq

It was my great pleasure to serve with members of the British military during my tour in Iraq. I met very professional British naval officers, infantry officers and even a commando from the unit that was “Roger’s Rangers” during the French and Indian war.

As the protective service detail for our general, my team had the chance to meet troops from all the nations in the Coalition. As expected, we found the British to be highly disciplined warriors and we were proud to have them with us.

During one of our convoys along Baghdad's Route Irish, we were short-handed and couldn’t man the turret in one of our vehicles. As I casually mentioned this fact to my driver, a senior British officer offered to stand in the turret with his rifle. I said that such an offer was appreciated, but it wasn’t necessary that he put himself at risk. The officer stood up with his rifle anyway and added his potential firepower to our convoy.

As the following article discusses, our British friends will leave Iraq next year. On behalf of all of my fellow American troops, I thank them for their comradeship, their courage and their sacrifice. We will always value the extraordinary friendship between our two nations.

* * * *

Washington Post
December 11, 2008
Pg. 17

British To Begin Iraq Withdrawal In March

Reports Say U.S. Troops Will Take Over Positions in Basra

By Mary Jordan, Washington Post Foreign Service

LONDON, Dec. 10 -- Britain will withdraw nearly all of its troops from Iraq beginning in March and U.S. troops will take over their positions in Basra, according to several British newspapers citing military sources.

Britain currently has 4,100 troops in the country and is expected by June to have only about 400 remaining to help train the Iraqi army, the reports said.

The leaked timetable appeared to have been orchestrated by the Defense Ministry to cheer troops ahead of Christmas and to make good on a promise by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to end the nation's involvement in the unpopular war. Brown is expected to make an official announcement in the new year, but is widely seen as waiting to coordinate with the new administration of President-elect Barack Obama.

During the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Britain moved 46,000 troops into Iraq. In July, Brown, well aware of the political damage the war had caused his predecessor, Tony Blair, said most of Britain's troops would be withdrawn by early 2009.

The British drawdown signals an end for the second-largest force and America's strongest ally in the coalition in Iraq. The United States has about 150,000 troops in Iraq; Obama promised during the campaign to withdraw most combat troops within 16 months of taking office.

"Our whole country will breath a sigh of relief that an end to this illegal war is now in sight," said Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, referring to the British reports.

A Defense Ministry statement Wednesday, while not explicitly confirming the reports, said the ministry was "expecting to see a fundamental change of mission in early 2009."

"Final decisions on the timing of the drawdown will depend on the circumstances at the time," said a ministry spokesman who spoke on the customary rules of anonymity.

U.S. and British commanders have been in close contact on the timing of the long-expected British withdrawal. The British presence has been key in protecting main supply routes across southern Iraq.

The Guardian and other British newspapers said several thousand U.S. troops would move in to take over Basra airport, where British forces are now based, to protect convoys from Kuwait and support Iraqi forces in keeping the peace.

"This is far more significant for the British than it is for Iraq or the U.S.," said Gareth Stansfield, a professor of Middle East politics at the University of Exeter. He said the British troops were "at such a low level, they were barely able to protect themselves, never mind enforce Basra." Still, he said, the pullout will boost Brown, who is expected to call an election next year, and "may make a difference in how many forces can be sent to Afghanistan."

Jock Stirrup, chief of the Defense Staff, said last month that British troops departing Iraq cannot be transferred "one for one" to Afghanistan, where there has been growing U.S. pressure on Britain to add troops.

Stirrup and other defense officials have said the two wars have put enormous strain on the army.

Britain already has a considerable presence in Afghanistan, with 7,800 troops, and the media reports said it would be moving some aerial surveillance drones and Merlin helicopters from Iraq to Afghanistan.

Stirrup indicated last week that any growing British presence in Afghanistan would include manpower and aid to rebuild the economy. "I and others have been saying for over two years now we have to get a grip on the civilian effort," he said.

Special correspondent Karla Adam contributed to this report.

* * * *

Our British friends will continue to stand by our side in the War on Terror and, for this, we are eternally grateful.

Charles M. Grist

Saturday, December 6, 2008

War Veterans! Check Your VA Benefits!

As I have prepared to retire from the Army, my wife, Debbie, has watched me deal with the various issues of soon-to-be retired war veterans. She has relatives and friends who are veterans of conflicts from World War II through the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When I brought the VA benefit book home, she read it from cover to cover.

Lo and behold, she learned about pensions that are often available to veterans who served during wartime. While all veterans don’t qualify for various reasons, a lot of them can qualify for monthly pensions because of that wartime service.

Debbie has a friend and former co-worker who lost her job and whose husband is dealing with an illness that made him unable to work. He served multiple tours of duty in Vietnam, but he was unaware that he might qualify for such a benefit. They have little in the way of assets or income, so Debbie got them to go the VA to see if he could qualify.

Sure enough, he did qualify and his new monthly pension is keeping their heads above water. My little wife and her big heart have encouraged others to seek the VA benefits they were unaware of, including her step-father and brother.

While I’m not qualified to go into all the details of such benefits, go to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs website and learn whether or not you, or someone you know, may qualify for these pensions. You should also consider going to your local VA representative and have any possible benefits explained to you by a qualified counselor.

Sometimes our relatives and friends need our help when life has kicked them in the ass. Right now, almost all of us know someone who is hurting because of the current economic crisis. Often these valuable citizens are war-time veterans who have earned benefits they don’t even know about.

If you are such a war veteran or if you know any veteran of ANY war, let them know there may be benefits available to them. Not only will you be doing them a favor, you will be helping to repay them for their sacrifices on behalf of all of us.

I am so very proud of my wife for her efforts to help my fellow warriors and their families.

Charles M. Grist

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

French Infantryman in Afghanistan Admires His American Comrades

A friend of mine who retired from both the police department and the Air Force sent me the following article. :

* * * *

American troops in Afghanistan through the eyes of a French OMLT infantryman

By Jean-Marc Liotier
Serendipitous Altruism
September 28, 2008

The US often hears echoes of worldwide hostility against the application of its foreign policy, but seldom are they reached by the voices of those who experience first hand how close we are to the USA. In spite of contextual political differences and conflicting interests that generate friction, we do share the same fundamental values - and when push comes to shove that is what really counts.

Through the eyes of that French OMLT (Operational Mentoring Liaison Teams) infantryman you can see how strong the bond is on the ground. In contrast with the Americans, the French soldiers don't seem to write much online - or maybe the proportion is the same but we just have less people deployed. Whatever the reason, this is a rare and moving testimony which is why I decided to translate it into English, so that American people can catch a glimpse of the way European soldiers see them. Not much high philosophy here, just the first hand impressions of a soldier in contact - but that only makes it more authentic.

Here is the original French article , and here is my translation:

"We have shared our daily life with two U.S. units for quite a while - they are the first and fourth companies of a prestigious infantry battalion whose name I will withhold for the sake of military secrecy. To the common man it is a unit just like any other. But we live with them and got to know them, and we henceforth know that we have the honor to live with one of the most renowned units of the US Army - one that the movies brought to the public as series showing 'ordinary soldiers thrust into extraordinary events'. Who are they, those soldiers from abroad, how is their daily life, and what support do they bring to the men of our OMLT every day? Few of them belong to the Easy Company, the one the TV series focuses on. This one nowadays is named Echo Company, and it has become the support company.

They have a terribly strong American accent - from our point of view the language they speak is not even English. How many times did I have to write down what I wanted to say rather than waste precious minutes trying various pronunciations of a seemingly common word? Whatever state they are from, no two accents are alike and they even admit that in some crisis situations they have difficulties understanding each other.

Heavily built, fed at the earliest age with Gatorade, proteins and creatine - they are all heads and shoulders taller than us and their muscles remind us of Rambo. Our frames are amusingly skinny to them - we are wimps, even the strongest of us - and because of that they often mistake us for Afghans.

Here we discover America as it is often depicted: their values are taken to their paroxysm, often amplified by promiscuity lack of privacy and the loneliness of this outpost in the middle of that Afghan valley. Honor, motherland - everything here reminds of that : the American flag floating in the wind above the outpost, just like the one on the post parcels. Even if recruits often originate from the hearth of American cities and gang territory, no one here has any goal other than to hold high and proud the star spangled banner. Each man knows he can count on the support of a whole people who provides them through the mail all that an American could miss in such a remote front-line location : books, chewing gums, razorblades, Gatorade, toothpaste etc. in such way that every man is aware of how much the American people backs him in his difficult mission. And that is a first shock to our preconceptions: the American soldier is no individualist. The team, the group, the combat team are the focus of all his attention.

And they are impressive warriors! We have not come across bad ones, as strange at it may seem to you when you know how critical French people can be. Even if some of them are a bit on the heavy side, all of them provide us everyday with lessons in infantry know-how. Beyond the wearing of a combat kit that never seem to discomfort them (helmet strap, helmet, combat goggles, rifles etc.) the long hours of watch at the outpost never seem to annoy them in the slightest. On the one square meter wooden tower above the perimeter wall they stand the five consecutive hours in full battle rattle and night vision goggles on top, their sight unmoving in the directions of likely danger. No distractions, no pauses, they are like statues nights and days. At night, all movements are performed in the dark - only a handful of subdued red lights indicate the occasional presence of a soldier on the move. Same with the vehicles whose lights are covered - everything happens in pitch dark even filling the fuel tanks with the Japy pump.

And combat? If you have seen Rambo you have seen it all - always coming to the rescue when one of our teams gets in trouble, and always in the shortest delay. That is one of their tricks: they switch from T-shirt and sandals to combat ready in three minutes. Arriving in contact with the enemy, the way they fight is simple and disconcerting: they just charge ! They disembark and assault in stride, they bomb first and ask questions later - which cuts any pussyfooting short.

We seldom hear any harsh word, and from 5 AM onwards the camp chores are performed in beautiful order and always with excellent spirit. A passing American helicopter stops near a stranded vehicle just to check that everything is alright; an American combat team will rush to support ours before even knowing how dangerous the mission is - from what we have been given to witness, the American soldier is a beautiful and worthy heir to those who liberated France and Europe.

To those who bestow us with the honor of sharing their combat outposts and who everyday give proof of their military excellence, to those who pay the daily tribute of America's army's deployment on Afghan soil, to those we owed this article, ourselves hoping that we will always remain worthy of them and to always continue hearing them say that we are all the same band of brothers."

* * * *

Sometimes, we have a tendency to focus on our differences with other nations around the world. In our joint defense of freedom and with a friendship borne of sacrifice in wars of the last century and, now, of this century, we should remember that we have much in common with our French friends.

Thanks to the soldiers in the French army for their own sacrifices and for their courage in the War on Terror. Vive la France!

Charles M. Grist

Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Last Few Days in Uniform

When I was a young soldier in Officer Candidate School back in 1969, the oldest man in our class was a guy named Callahan. The “old” man was a thirty-two-year-old sergeant first class, but he was also a combat veteran with multiple awards for valor, several Purple Hearts and a variety of other awards.

Naturally, since he was the oldest officer candidate in the class, all of us youngsters gave Callahan a mighty hard time. He was a tough guy and he would stare us down and tell us, “Don’t worry, kids; you’ll be where I am some day.”

Well, I not only reached his age, but I have almost doubled it. Since I will turn sixty in February, my somewhat disjointed, off-and-on Army “career” is finally coming to an end. There is a bittersweet quality about it, but I know it’s almost time to take the uniform off for the last time.

I am blessed to have met and/or served with veterans who fought in America’s wars from World War II to Iraq and Afghanistan. I have lost count of the number of uniform changes over the years, but I have a few examples of each one. The duffle bags in my attic are filled with old “fatigues” from basic training, jungle fatigues from Vietnam and all the other versions up to the Army Combat Uniform (ACU) of today. In over thirty years of total service, I have shared both good and bad times with the men and women of the active Army, the Army Reserve or the Florida Army National Guard.

It’s only natural that I always carry the memories of American soldiers I knew who died in combat. I’ve touched names on the Vietnam wall in Washington, D.C. of kids who died as teenagers or older soldiers who left wives and children waiting at home. I’ve known young men and women who entered the deserts of Iraq with determination and courage whose futures were ended before they began. I will forever feel the empty spaces inside my soul for the shortened lives of my comrades, for the parents who never saw their “babies” alive again and for the children who never knew the heroic souls that were their moms or dads.

There are many soldiers who have seen more wars than me or who have experienced worse episodes of combat. Retired Lieutenant General Hal Moore (We Were Soldiers Once and Young) and his First Cav troopers at LZ X-ray come to mind as an example of warriors who ventured far deeper into the pit than I.

Still, I have managed to evade Death in two separate wars. The bullets, mortars, rockets and even the crash landing of an airplane failed to take me out. I’m extraordinarily fortunate to have survived my two tours without so much as a scratch. Unlike others, I don’t carry the external scars of war, but I guess all of us have a few of the internal scars. Regardless, we remain members of America’s warrior class and we consider our service a source of pride that we will carry with us to our graves.

Next week is my last week in uniform. On December 3 (the fortieth anniversary of my enlistment in the Army in 1968), I have one last medical exam. The next day I will out-process and begin my terminal leave which will last until January 31, 2009. I will return to police work on February 1 and my Army retirement is effective a month later when I - it’s still hard to say – turn SIXTY.

A handful of Vietnam veterans continue to serve in the military and some of them are at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wish them well, but I also wish I could be with them. I’m the last Vietnam veteran in my Army Reserve unit and I don’t mind saying that there’s a bit of pride in being the last old guy in my battalion. (The above picture is what the young lieutenant looked like just before he left for the ‘Nam.)

As my ancestors did before me, I leave the military to a younger, capable force of dedicated men and women. Our nation is in good hands and one day these youngsters will also hand off the defense of America to their own children and grandchildren. “Old soldiers never die,” said General Douglas MacArthur, “they just fade away.”

The “American Ranger” blog will continue, although it will probably become more of an “old retired soldier’s” blog. I will still write about the heroic men and women of our military services and I will vigorously defend our liberties with the pen (or the computer keyboard). However, the day will never come when I am unwilling to pick up the sword once again in the defense of my beloved America.

Thanks to all of you who have supported me in my military service over several decades. I honor each of you as well as the families of our warriors. I will continue to support all that you do for our veterans in whatever way I can.

May God bless America’s warriors, their families and all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

“This is Cobra One, out…”

Charles M. Grist

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Islamic Terrorists Murder More Innocents in Mumbai

We extend our sympathies to the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai (Bombay), India. This brutal assault is just more evidence that the War on Terror is a world-wide struggle – the first world war of the twenty-first century. (The above photo is from the Associated Press.)

Islamic fundamentalist terrorists are cowardly thugs who slither around like snakes on behalf of a new and vicious type of fascism. Sadly, this threat against innocent men, women and children will surely continue throughout the world for many years to come.

Although tensions have increased between India and Pakistan because of these attacks, it makes no sense to believe that the government of Pakistan had anything to do with it. The Pakistanis have enough problems with terrorists in their own country. Although we may discover that these killers were based or trained in Pakistan, I can’t believe the Islamabad government is complicit in any way.

This is an interesting article from the Associated Press on who the bad guys in this incident may be:

* * * *

Clues point to domestic terrorists in India

Associated Press

LONDON -The attack on India's financial capital bears all the trademarks of al-Qaida — simultaneous assaults meant to kill scores of Westerners in iconic buildings — but clues so far point to homegrown Indian terrorists, global intelligence officials said Thursday.

Spy agencies around the world were caught off guard by the deadly attack, in which gunmen sprayed crowds with bullets, torched landmark hotels and took dozens of hostages.

"We have been actively monitoring plots in Britain and abroad and there was nothing to indicate something like this was about to happen," a British security official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his work.

Britain is the former colonial power in India and Pakistan and closely monitors terrorist suspects in those countries.

In some ways, the attack illustrated just how fluid terror tactics have become since Sept. 11 — and how the threat has become more global. Al-Qaida's leaders on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border still provide inspiration but groups are becoming increasingly local.

The group that claimed responsibility, Deccan Mujahideen, was unknown to global security officials. The name suggested the group was Indian.

One of the suspects reportedly called an Indian television station, speaking the main Pakistani language of Urdu, to demand the return of Muslim lands. That was a reference to Kashmir, territory claimed by both India and Pakistan.

But Ajai Sahni, head of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management who has close ties to India's police and intelligence, said the attack was a departure from past assaults waged over Kashmir. Other such attacks had targeted Indian legislators, not Westerners.

Security officials said it was too soon to make a connection to Pakistan.

"It would be premature ... to reach any hard-and-fast conclusions on who may be responsible for the attacks, but some of what we're seeing is reminiscent of past terrorist operations undertaken by groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed," a U.S. counterterrorism official said on condition of anonymity, referring to Pakistani militant groups linked to al-Qaida who have fought Indian troops in Kashmir.

Another British security official told the AP on condition of anonymity that the attack doesn't look to have been directed by al-Qaida's core leadership, which has been weakened by the deaths of several leaders and key operatives in recent months.

Al-Qaida's core leadership is believed to be fewer than 100 people now, said Rohan Gunaratna, author of "Inside Al-Qaida" and a terrorism expert at the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore.

The British security official said it appeared the attack was inspired by Islamic extremist ideology and al-Qaida propaganda popular among radicalized youths. Many of the attackers in the Mumbai assault were young. Gunaratna said he believed the group that carried out Wednesday's attack was the Indian Mujahideen, responsible for past attacks in Mumbai.

The word "Deccan" refers to a plateau in southern India. "Mujahideen" refers to holy warriors.

"The earlier generation of terrorist groups in India were mostly linked to Pakistan," Gunaratna told the AP. "But today we are seeing a dramatic change. They are almost all homegrown groups. ... They are very angry and firmly believe that India is killing Muslims and attacking Islam."

British-based Jane's Information Group said it thought the attackers could be Indian but that taking hostages suggested a wider anti-Western agenda.

"Until now, terrorist attacks in India have targeted civilians, often in busy market or commercial areas, and in communally sensitive areas with the intention to foment unrest between Hindu and Muslim communities," said Urmila Venugopalan, Jane's South Asia analyst.

"This stands in contrast to the national issues that appeared to motivate Indian Mujahideen," Venugopalan said.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed "external forces" but stopped short of blaming Pakistan. Both are nuclear-armed countries.

In September, a massive suicide truck bomb devastated the Marriott Hotel in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, killing at least 54 people, including three Americans and the Czech ambassador.

"This type of terrorism is spreading, through Pakistan and now India, but we were all surprised by such a large-scale attack like this," said Wajid Hassan, Pakistan's High Commissioner in London. "This is no coincidence that this type of attack happened so soon after the bombing of the Marriott Hotel. People from all countries are being paid to fight this al-Qaida war. This is a war that goes beyond any nationality."

Sahni, however, said "very preliminary investigations and intelligence information would suggest that some groups based in Pakistan are the most likely.

"If there is Indian participation, it's most likely to be Students' Islamic Movement of India," he said, referring to a radical student group banned in India in 2001.
Indian intelligence officials were also investigating whether Mumbai's criminal underworld could be involved.

"It's a possibility," Sahni said. "When we say Mumbai underworld we're talking of Dawood Ibrahim."

Ibrahim is one of India's most wanted men and also the alleged mastermind behind bombings in Mumbai in 1993 that killed 257 people. He has reportedly fled Mumbai, and police now believe he lives in Pakistan. Pakistani officials have denied this.

Associated Press writers Pamela Hess in Washington, Gregory Katz and David Stringer in London, Lee Keath in Cairo and Muneeza Naqvi in New Delhi contributed to this report.

* * * *

President Bush has indicated his support for India in the investigation of these attacks. Hopefully, we can act as a bridge to get India and Pakistan to work together.

Charles M. Grist

Friday, November 28, 2008

Marine Vietnam Vet Awarded Silver Star After 40 Years

It’s always nice to see a fellow Vietnam veteran (and fellow cop) honored, even if it’s long past due:

* * * *

Orlando-area man receives Silver Star for Vietnam heroics 40 years later

Gary Taylor
Staff Writer
Orlando Sentinel
November 28, 2008

For decades, Frank Ambrose never questioned why he didn't receive a medal for a firefight in Vietnam that killed or wounded everyone in his 15-man patrol.

After all, a medal wouldn't bring back the friends he lost that day outside Da Nang when his group of Marines stumbled upon two battalions of the North Vietnamese Army.

"We didn't care about medals back then," Ambrose said. "That was the last thing on our minds."

The enemy soldiers were just as surprised as the outnumbered Americans that day -- Feb. 7, 1968 -- which might be the reason Ambrose lived to talk about the ordeal and to hold the Silver Star he was recently awarded 40 years late.

About half his patrol was killed that day, including the Marines on either side of Ambrose when a rocket-propelled grenade hit as they took cover in a roadside ditch. "It blew all three of us out of the ditch."

He was hit above the eye by shrapnel that is still there. "My face was covered with blood," he said.

"I was the only one left conscious in the front group," he said, recalling how he stood his ground with a machine gun until another group of Marines arrived, alerted by a call from the patrol's radio man just as the attack began.

Although Da Nang was attacked by the North Vietnamese Army, it was the only major city in South Vietnam that didn't suffer a major attack, and Ambrose thinks it was because his patrol interrupted the enemy as they were preparing to launch it.

"If they had known we were coming, they would have set up a better ambush for us," he said.

But neither side was ready for the battle. "My flak vest was open," Ambrose said.

"I just opened up," he said, firing "every place I saw a muzzle flash."

At one point, so many bullets were hitting the ground in front of Ambrose that it felt as though his face was being sandblasted.

Gathering ammo from fallen Marines, Ambrose fired for 30 to 40 minutes before the first medevac helicopter arrived. "I was told to get on it," he recalled.

Instead, he got more ammunition and continued firing. He watched as more than 20 enemy soldiers ran across a dike in a rice paddy, and he shot as many of them as he could.

A somber expression crossed Ambrose's face as he talked about that.

"Every one of them had mothers, dads, sisters, brothers. That's something to think about."

When a second helicopter arrived, Ambrose climbed aboard. He could see enemy soldiers running, so he got ammunition from the helicopter's gunner and continued shooting.

"I just opened up on them," he said. "I don't know whether I hit anybody or not. I shot till I got out of range."

Soon after Ambrose arrived at a hospital, a one-star general and a gunnery sergeant showed up with a tape recorder to ask him about the firefight and told him he had been recommended for a medal. The award never came, and Ambrose never asked about it. At the time, he was a private first class, but Ambrose left the military a lance corporal.

After his discharge, Ambrose returned to Central Florida and spent more than 20 years in law enforcement, most of it with the Seminole County Sheriff's Office. He and his wife of 28 years, Barbara, live in Longwood. They have two sons, both in the Air Force.

About four years ago, Ambrose attended a military reunion and ran into one of the Marines he helped save during the firefight. The man asked what medal Ambrose received, and Ambrose told him he didn't get one.

"The next thing I know, the colonel was talking to me," Ambrose said.

That was Col. William K. Rockey, his retired battalion commander, who never knew that Ambrose didn't receive the Silver Star for his actions that day.

Earlier this year, Ambrose, 60, received a phone call telling him the president had given him the award.

"They asked me where I wanted to receive it," said Ambrose, who asked if it could just be mailed to him.

Not hardly, he was told. "They told me I could pick any military base in the world."

Ambrose had never been back to Parris Island, S.C., where he reported as a recruit, so that was his choice.

In September, with a 40-member Marine Corps band playing, and with all the pomp and pageantry he likes to avoid, Ambrose received his medal.

A lot had changed in 40 years. The first time Ambrose was at Parris Island, he walked around with a drill sergeant's nose stuck to the back of his head, Ambrose said.

"This time I was the guest of the commanding general for four days."

Gary Taylor can be reached at or 386-851-7910.

* * * *

Congratulations to former lance corporal and retired law enforcement officer Frank Ambrose.

Charles M. Grist

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Message from Afghanistan - From Aaron Self of the C.O.B.R.A. Team

As a follow-up to my earlier post on Thanksgiving, I wanted all of my readers to see the following email I received from Aaron Self (Cobra Two from my Iraq tour). He gave me permission to post it, but it is one of the most heart-felt messages I have received from a war zone. (Aaron is pictured above in a recent photo.)

I must tell you that Aaron is a proud Texan and dedicated American who is also one of the finest men I have ever known. He and his wife, Kristi (who is deployed to another war zone with the Army Reserve), exemplify everything I know about what makes American warriors do what they do for all of us.

Say a prayer for Aaron’s and Kristi's safety and for the safety of “Higg”, Chad Higginbotham (Cobra Three of the C.O.B.R.A. Team), who is serving with the U.S. Army not far from Aaron.

* * * *

Aaron Self
Kabul, Afghanistan
November 27, 2008

"I woke up this morning thinking that I would feel even further from home than usual. In the past few days, I had casually asked some of the local Afghan staff if they knew anything about the American tradition of Thanksgiving. Each time, I would have to explain, as no one had heard of it. In a few instances, I did my best to explain that a turkey was a bird, and it had nothing to do with the country Turkey. The best I could do was 'Big Chicken' followed by a 'gobble' noise. I still don't know if they nodded in recognition, or just to placate the crazy American.

I received a phone call from an old war buddy, affectionately known as 'Higg'. Higg was on my four-man team in Iraq in 2004. It is a small world, as he is also deployed in the area. Higg called to invite me to his base for a Thanksgiving. He went on about ham and velvet cake and cobbler. I could smell the food as he talked about it, and I imagined my belt feeling tight after a traditional feast. Part of me knew to not get too excited, as plans change in the blink of an eye.

Countless times, I have had to cancel travel plans due to attacks and intelligence reports of threats specifically against western ex-patriots and soldiers. The plan was to head down to his location with my boss in tow. My boss was especially excited because this was the first opportunity for him to get his hair cut in two months. That kind of thing is hard on a military man, even after he hangs up the uniform.

To my surprise, our cook, Javid, had somehow secured 5 turkeys! He asked me how to make mashed potatoes, and I was amazed that I actually remembered how. Javid's gesture was incredible, but I still did not let myself get too excited. What passes as American food here is not even close to the real thing. I once had a 'hamburger' made of SPAM, cucumbers, Tabasco and potato bread. The attempt of a local cook to cook a bird he had only just heard of....well, my taste buds were in a holding pattern.

Soon, the familiar smell of Thanksgiving filled the air. I went to the kitchen to find Javid smiling ear to ear. His friend was pushing boiled potatoes through a meat grinder, because there was no other way to mash them. A pot of green beans was on the stove top, and one of the turkeys was being pulled from the oven. Javid asked me to try the mashed potatoes, and I was excited to find that they tasted almost as good as Mom's (sorry Mom, you have to factor in that there is a sentimental element that effects the taste buds).

I called Higg and confirmed that Doug and I were going to meet him at the base at 2:00 PM. I was reminded of every holiday since I was 18, eating with Mom, then after, repeating the ritual with Dad. I guess the tradition would be continued between two new families. As I was walking down the stairs, I heard the rumbling 'boom' of an explosion. I hear them frequently, so it was nothing out of the ordinary.

Within five minutes, Bahir, a trusted Afghan friend, told me that there had just been a suicide attack at the U.S. Embassy. I went to the roof (better cellular reception) and called an Australian friend who lives close to the Embassy. He answered, and immediately said, 'This thing is still going on, I need to call you back.'

Lunch was served, and I was surprised how eagerly the locals devoured the food. Doug said a few words about the history and meaning of the day, and I followed by sharing what I was thankful for. I spoke of new friends, and freedom, and family that was safe at home (all but one). A young man, Ali, then stood up, and shared what he was thankful for; friends and a chance to be included in our holiday. The spirit of Thanksgiving took root, and without coaching or provocation, the locals took turns standing and sharing what made them grateful. It was just like I had done every Thanksgiving, and I felt a little closer to home.

I called my Aussie friend to see if there were any developments regarding the attack. I needed to know the conditions if I was going to venture into that area. The news was grim. A coalition convoy was hit and there was intel suggesting more would occur. What’s more, four soldiers were killed. I informed Doug and called Higg to break the news that I was not coming. I don't think Mom would like me taking such a risk for a piece of velvet cake.

I was disappointed at the thought of missing out on my plans to catch up with an old friend. And then I thought of the four soldiers and four empty chairs in four different homes. I thought of the time difference in the States, and how four families would get the news right about the time the turkey hit the table.

This is not one of those sappy patriotic emails that your republican friend forwards to you. I just wanted to share my feelings with those that matter to me. I am thankful for so many things, and it took being so far away from friends and family to truly feel that way.

Mom and Ernie: I picture myself there in Dallas, coming over way too early and long talks in the kitchen, weighing my options on how much Mississippi mud to eat, versus how much room to leave in my stomach for Amy's green bean casserole.

I see Amy, Courtney and Mom, trying not to giggle as I ask the traditional Thanksgiving/Christmas question, 'Do you know the best thing about eating corn?' For those that are not familiar, the answer is not appropriate for the table.

I picture Dad and I sneaking out to go shooting, or begging Mary Jo to stop messing around in the kitchen and let us share her company.

I have counted my blessings today, and I came up with a few that I can only enjoy at home on Thanksgiving. I am thankful for triptafan-induced comas and Dr. Pepper burps. I am thankful for the only day I can stand to watch sports on TV. I am thankful for Kristi squeezing my hand the second everyone says 'Amen'. I am grateful for that third piece of cake that no one saw me eat, the sound of my giggling nieces and nephews as Elisabeth asks Uncle Aaron to come play, and the smell of turkey on my fingers.

I am also thankful for Matt, Julie, Myriam, Pancho and Lefty for making me and Kristi a part of their family. I am grateful for my friends at Evans (teachers and students, alike) for your letters and concern. I am grateful for the largest family ever, from Austin, Dallas, Stillwater, Houston, Apache and Washington. In my travels over the years, I have never felt forgotten or left out, and I have felt your prayers cover me like a warm blanket. I am grateful to be married to the most resilient and wonderful woman in the world. Kristi, this is not our first Thanksgiving spent in different countries. I know George Bush is not there this time to serve you turkey, so I hope you don't feel let down.

I just want to tell my wife, family and friends 'Happy Thanksgiving', and I am thinking of all of you."


* * * *

Aaron, we are grateful for you, for Kristi, for Higg and for all of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are risking your lives for all of us. It is only because of your efforts that we can sit at home today in freedom and safety.

Be safe and know we are all here for you.

Charles M. Grist

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving to America's Warriors & Their Families

Please take time on Thanksgiving to pray for the safety of America's warriors who are fighting the good fight on our behalf. We must also remember their families, the loved ones who provide the daily inspiration to their relatives in uniform.

No Thanksgiving could ever be complete without expressing our gratitude to the multiple generations of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines whose sacrifices have made it possible for us to enjoy our holiday in freedom and safety.

Thanks also to all of you who have supported me and my fellow service members during our most difficult times. Your cards, letters, packages, prayers and good wishes mean more than you could ever know.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Charles M. Grist

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Marines Teach Afghan Insurgents a Painful Lesson

I shall always be grateful to the Marines for signing out an M79 grenade launcher to me in Iraq. All Americans should be proud of these great warriors.

The following article proves that some insurgents just have to learn the hard way that bad guys should never mess with the Marines:

* * * *

Marine Makes Insurgents Pay the Price

November 18, 2008
Marine Corps News by Cpl. James M. Mercure

FARAH PROVINCE, Afghanistan — In the city of Shewan, approximately 250 insurgents ambushed 30 Marines and paid a heavy price for it.

Shewan has historically been a safe haven for insurgents, who used to plan and stage attacks against Coalition Forces in the Bala Baluk district.

The city is home to several major insurgent leaders. Reports indicate that more than 250 full time fighters reside in the city and in the surrounding villages.

Shewan had been a thorn in the side of Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan throughout the Marines’ deployment here in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, because it controls an important supply route into the Bala Baluk district. Opening the route was key to continuing combat operations in the area.

“The day started out with a 10-kilometer patrol with elements mounted and dismounted, so by the time we got to Shewan, we were pretty beat,” said a designated marksman who requested to remain unidentified. “Our vehicles came under a barrage of enemy RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) and machine gun fire. One of our ‘humvees’ was disabled from RPG fire, and the Marines inside dismounted and laid down suppression fire so they could evacuate a Marine who was knocked unconscious from the blast.”

The vicious attack that left the humvee destroyed and several of the Marines pinned down in the kill zone sparked an intense eight-hour battle as the platoon desperately fought to recover their comrades. After recovering the Marines trapped in the kill zone, another platoon sergeant personally led numerous attacks on enemy fortified positions while the platoon fought house to house and trench to trench in order to clear through the enemy ambush site.

“The biggest thing to take from that day is what Marines can accomplish when they’re given the opportunity to fight,” the sniper said. “A small group of Marines met a numerically superior force and embarrassed them in their own backyard. The insurgents told the townspeople that they were stronger than the Americans, and that day we showed them they were wrong.”

During the battle, the designated marksman single handedly thwarted a company-sized enemy RPG and machinegun ambush by reportedly killing 20 enemy fighters with his devastatingly accurate precision fire. He selflessly exposed himself time and again to intense enemy fire during a critical point in the eight-hour battle for Shewan in order to kill any enemy combatants who attempted to engage or maneuver on the Marines in the kill zone. What made his actions even more impressive was the fact that he didn’t miss any shots, despite the enemies’ rounds impacting within a foot of his fighting position.

“I was in my own little world,” the young corporal said. “I wasn’t even aware of a lot of the rounds impacting near my position, because I was concentrating so hard on making sure my rounds were on target.”

After calling for close-air support, the small group of Marines pushed forward and broke the enemies’ spirit as many of them dropped their weapons and fled the battlefield. At the end of the battle, the Marines had reduced an enemy stronghold, killed more than 50 insurgents and wounded several more.

“I didn’t realize how many bad guys there were until we had broken through the enemies’ lines and forced them to retreat. It was roughly 250 insurgents against 30 of us,” the corporal said. “It was a good day for the Marine Corps. We killed a lot of bad guys, and none of our guys were seriously injured.”

* * * *

Sounds like some officer better get off his ass and make some award recommendations....

Charles M. Grist

Monday, November 24, 2008

Operation Iraqi Freedom is a Success - Now Its Up to The Iraqis

The following assessment of the current situation in Iraq is one of the best I’ve seen:

* * * *

A Framework for Success in Iraq

By Michael Gerson
Roger Hertog Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations

Friday, November 21, 2008;
Op-ed, Washington Post, A23

A war that once seemed likely to end in a panic of helicopters fleeing the American Embassy now seems destined to conclude as the result of a parliamentary process. A landmark status-of-forces agreement (SOFA) -- requiring the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraqi cities by the end of June and from Iraq itself by the end of 2011 -- is headed for a final reading in the Iraqi parliament next week.

The approval of the SOFA would leave a chapter of history decorated with paradoxes. President Bush -- who once called withdrawal timelines "arbitrary" and "unacceptable" -- ends his term accepting them. President-elect Barack Obama will inherit a more peaceful Iraq because of policies he strongly opposed. And the Iraqi government -- so often criticized by Americans as weak and ineffectual -- is now asserting its sovereignty in a decisive manner, for good or ill.

The withdrawal deadlines contained in the SOFA seem like concessions from the Bush administration -- and they are. Officials are careful to point out that the June withdrawal from Iraqi cities merely codifies the current process of transferring provincial control to Iraqi forces -- and that both sides are free to renegotiate the agreement when it expires in three years. But the deadlines in the SOFA do limit the tactical flexibility of the next president in ways the current president would not have preferred.

Yet President Bush can take comfort from the fact that these deadlines are conceivable only because of the success of his surge strategy -- because al-Qaeda in Iraq has been decimated and the Sunni revolt has died down. Put another way: The more successful the surge has been, the less dangerous the deadlines for withdrawal have become. And this, after all, was the whole purpose of the surge -- it was intended to be a "bridge strategy" from the failures of 2005 and 2006 to a situation where an orderly withdrawal would be possible.

The SOFA also may seem to be a vindication of the Obama approach to Iraq, but it isn't. Candidate Obama proposed the withdrawal of all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008 -- a policy that would have left chaos and perhaps genocide in its wake. He stuck with a strategy of precipitate withdrawal even after the successes of the surge became evident. The new, more responsible timetables of the SOFA became possible not because of Obama's views but in spite of them.

Yet both leaders are likely to see benefit from the agreement. If a broadly based Iraqi government emerges as American troops withdraw, Bush's Iraq policy will demand and deserve a major historical reassessment. And the SOFA should allow President Obama to reinterpret his campaign pledges on Iraq in a more responsible manner – giving deference to the best military advice during the next three years and avoiding destabilizing actions.

The success of the surge has achieved some extraordinary things – not only the possibility of peace in Iraq but also a convergence in American politics. Bush's and Obama's modified positions on Iraq are quite close. Both leaders have accepted a responsible, gradual withdrawal and the possibility of leaving behind success instead of failure.

Much of that success, of course, will depend on the Iraqis themselves - particularly on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his leadership. If he acts the part of a benign nationalist, he could father a stable and unified nation. If he uses the military we have built, in the vacuum left by U.S. withdrawal, to attack his enemies and consolidate his personal power, he could provoke another civil war with the Sunnis.

Administration officials believe they have taken precautions that will encourage Iraqi nationalism over a destructive pan-Shiism. Iraqi security forces and police have been carefully integrated. Provincial elections in January will give greater influence to disenfranchised Sunnis (who foolishly boycotted the last elections). And national elections set for December of next year could act as a check on Maliki's ambitions and abuses.

Dealing with the new Iraq will not be easy. It has become a prickly nation, jealous of its sovereignty and determined to avoid even the appearance of American imperialism. But this also means it is becoming a "normal," self-governing country, in the midst of a national debate on its security just six years after the end of a vicious tyranny.

The cost of this success has been high for America, and some may argue that it has not been worth the price. But it is still a success.

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Our efforts to build this nation have been successful. The Iraqis want to be completely on their own and that is their right as a sovereign nation. However, they must continue the path of peace and cooperation between their various factions. To do otherwise will turn our joint victory into ashes.

Let us hope that their own history will record the sacrifices by the warriors of the United States and other Coalition countries that made their freedom a reality.

Charles M. Grist

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Remembering John F. Kennedy

On November 22, 1963, I was in a ninth grade English class at Robert E. Lee Junior High School in Orlando, Florida. Suddenly, the principal came over the loudspeaker to announce that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. The school broadcast live news reports over the intercom until the fateful words were announced that our president had died.

Students and teachers cried while some of us wondered if this had been a Soviet conspiracy and whether or not war was in the offing. We left our classrooms and gathered by the old Civil War cannon next to the school flagpole while the principal tried to calm a bunch of distraught kids. I can’t remember what he said, only that he was re-assuring to a generation of children who had become enchanted by JFK and his family.

We all became part of the Camelot legacy. Kennedy asked us to serve our country, he led our nation with courage and he taught us to think about more in life than just pleasing ourselves. He also inspired us to reach for the stars.

None of us was ever the same, but I always remembered this young hero of World War II and his vision of freedom. When I joined the Army five years later, I still recalled his words:

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Rest in peace, young prince…

Charles M. Grist

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Iraqi Civilians Want the New Agreement

The following article was posted on While the Iraqis will certainly be glad to run their own country, it is still annoying that the Shiites have not thanked us in a large-scale official way for pulling them out from under Saddam’s Sunni thumb.

The new agreement, which will end our involvement in Iraq by the end of 2011, still has to be approved by the Iraqi Parliament, but it will likely go through since it has the blessing of Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, the most powerful Shiite religious leader in Iraq.

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Iraqis Demonstrate in Favor of US Pact

November 19, 2008
Deutsche Presse-Agentur

BAGHDAD - More than 5,000 Iraqis demonstrated in the Iraqi city of Hillah on Nov. 18 to support the security agreement between the United States and Iraq that would require U.S. troops to withdraw from the country.

The deal sets the legal basis for the future presence of US troops in Iraq after a United Nations Security Council mandate expires at the end of the year.

Under the agreement, the deadline for the complete withdrawal of US troops is Dec. 31, 2011. More than 140,000 U.S. troops are currently stationed in Iraq.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker signed the deal in Baghdad on Monday. However, it still needs parliamentary approval before it can be signed by the US and Iraqi presidents.

The demonstration in support of the security pact broke out in the centre of Hillah, 100 kilometres south of Baghdad. Clan chiefs and students were among the demonstrators, witnesses told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

The demonstrators carried flags and signs that said "Together for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq" and "With heart, with blood, we save you, Iraq." They also chanted slogans that urged the Iraqi government to sign the security agreement with the U.S.

Hundreds of Iraqi police and soldiers surrounded the demonstrators who walked to the city council.

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The war in Iraq may end for us by 2011, but watch the Shiite militias and the Iranians closely. The breeze of "fundamentalism" is blowing gently across the desert...

Charles M. Grist

Friday, November 14, 2008

The WW II Heroine Who Lost the Nobel Prize for Peace to Al Gore

I received this today from a military historian:

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Reflections - In Memoriam to a World War II Heroine - Irena Sendlerowa (1910-2008)

There recently was a death of a 98-year-old lady named Irena.

During WWII, Irena got permission to work in the Warsaw Ghetto as a Plumbing/Sewer specialist. She had an ulterior motive. She knew what the Nazi's plans were for the Jews.

Irena smuggled infants out in the bottom of the tool box she carried. She also carried a burlap sack in the back of her truck for larger kids. She had a dog in the back that she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto. The soldiers, of course, wanted nothing to do with the dog and the barking covered the kids/infants noises.

During her time, and in the course of doing this, she managed to smuggle out and save 2500 kids and infants.

She was caught and the Nazis broke her legs and arms and beat her severely. Irena kept a record of the names of all the kids she smuggled out and kept them in a glass jar, buried under a tree in her back yard.

After the war, she tried to locate any parents that may have survived and reunite the families. Most, of course, had been gassed. The kids she helped were placed into foster family homes or adopted.

When Irena was up for the Nobel Peace Prize . . . She lost. Al Gore won instead, for a film on Global Warming (while owning a huge carbon footprint mansion).

* * * *

Here is a link for more information on Irena Sendlerowa:

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Al Gore must have known about his fellow nominee for the Nobel Prize for Peace. It says a lot about his character that he would not willingly and eagerly step aside for such a heroine.

Charles M. Grist

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Medal of Honor Recipient Finally Buried in Arlington

Here is an inspiring story about one of America's heroes:

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Washington Post
November 13, 2008
Pg. B1

A Hero's Long Journey To Arlington

For Family, Burial Ends an 'Injustice'

By Mark Berman, Washington Post Staff Writer

Army Sgt. Cornelius H. Charlton was two months shy of his 22nd birthday when his platoon tried to take a hill near Chipo-Ri, South Korea. The platoon leader was wounded, so Charlton took command.

He rallied his men, who had suffered heavy casualties, and led the next assault, only to be pushed back again. Despite a severe chest wound, he refused medical attention and led another charge. He alone eliminated the remaining enemy emplacement, though he had been hit again by a grenade. His wounds led to his death June 2, 1951.

The next year, Charlton was awarded the Medal of Honor, reserved for the "bravest of the brave," and he was supposed to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. But it didn't happen.

Until yesterday.

No one knows exactly why it took 57 years for Charlton to receive his hero's burial in the nation's cemetery. But yesterday, all that mattered was that more than 150 friends, relatives and others gathered for the long-awaited ceremony.

Charlton is the only black Medal of Honor recipient from the Korean War buried at Arlington; there are 15 other black Medal of Honor recipients buried there. Medal of Honor winners automatically qualify for burial at Arlington.

"This was a historical moment, not only for the family but also for myself," said Bob Gumbs, a veteran and one of the many people who worked to get Charlton buried at Arlington. "It's really a culmination of a series of events. . . . It's the culmination of a long effort."

Charlton's niece, Zenobia Penn, said she grew up hearing stories about her uncle "Connie," the good guy, the nice guy. But the conversation would inevitably shift to "the injustice of him not being buried in Arlington Cemetery," said Penn, 57, of New London, Conn.

According to family history, relatives had received Charlton's medal and were in a caravan, on their way to Arlington Cemetery, with a horse-drawn buggy carrying the flag-covered coffin, Penn said.

"As they were approaching Arlington Cemetery, they were stopped by some folks in pickup trucks with shotguns, pointing at them and telling them he wasn't going to be buried there," Penn said. "They were just racists. They weren't military. They weren't Arlington representatives. They were just racists. They didn't want to celebrate -- it wasn't time yet for the South to celebrate a black military hero."

Penn's grandparents buried Charlton in Pocahontas, Va., just across the border from West Virginia. In 1989, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and the American Legion made arrangements for him to be buried at the American Legion cemetery in Beckley, W.Va., where he remained until this week.

Charlton was honored in other ways. The Navy christened the USNS Charlton in 1999. There is a Charlton Memorial Bridge in West Virginia and a Charlton Gardens in New York.

Charlton Gardens is in the Bronx, where Charlton lived before enlisting. New York City named the property in his honor the year after he died. The city Department of Parks and Recreation Web site says Charlton "was barred from burial in Arlington National Cemetery because he was African-American."

Arlington Superintendent John Metzler said credentials, not skin color, are what matter at Arlington. He said no soldier has been barred because of race. "We have always buried soldiers and race was never a question," Metzler said.

Arlington historian Tom Sherlock said African Americans were buried at the cemetery within days of its opening May 13, 1864. Members of what were then called the "United States Colored Troops" were buried in Section 27, right over the hill from Section 40, where Charlton was buried yesterday.

The separate-sections policy ended after President Harry S. Truman desegregated the armed forces with Executive Order 9981 on July 25, 1948.

Sherlock said he doesn't doubt that the family might have encountered hostility on the way to the cemetery in the 1950s. But yesterday's burial was a "victory over whatever nonsense they heard," he said. "This brave soldier is here in Arlington, where he belonged all along, and we're honored to have his remains here."

Cemetery officials said they had not heard of any similar incidents.

The family's decision to resume the push for an Arlington burial stemmed from a racist incident Penn's 6-year-old granddaughter suffered at school this year.

"I made a conscious decision to research Uncle Connie, to do the best I could and compile everything the best I could," Penn said, "so she was aware of her history, of black history -- to be proud of being a black female, despite the shade of her skin."

Penn learned for the first time about the Bronx park named after her uncle. She discovered that a group of primarily black veterans had formed the Friends of Charlton Gardens and had raised $1.5 million to renovate the park and rededicated it in 2005. Unbeknown to her, they had been looking for Charlton's family for years. She reached out to them and met them on Memorial Day.

Penn contacted her congressman, Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), for help.

It wound up being remarkably simple. Ed Burke, Courtney's military and veterans affairs field representative, said that he helped the family obtain certification that Charlton had been awarded the Medal of Honor and that Arlington accepted it. In September, the family was given the date when Charlton would be buried for the third and final time.

"It was bigger than anything I ever expected," Penn said. "We only just wanted to right the wrong. We had no idea this was going to keep going into something as monumental as this."

* * * *

In combat, all men are brothers. I have seen white men cry over their dead black comrades and black soldiers weep for their lost white buddies.

This honor was long overdue and all soldiers should be grateful it finally happened.

Charles M. Grist