Monday, March 31, 2008

POW/MIA Keith Maupin's Remains Are Identified

I was running convoys along Baghdad’s dangerous roads in 2004 when then-PFC Keith Maupin’s own convoy was ambushed. Insurgents executed a bold daylight attack that resulted in the capture of Maupin and several civilian contractors. Some of those in the Coalition convoy were killed.

Although it was suspected that Maupin had been killed by his captors, the Pentagon announced that his remains had been identified through DNA. The following story is from the Associated Press:

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Ohio Soldier's Remains Found in Iraq

Associated Press

BATAVIA, Ohio (March 31) - Sgt. Keith Matthew Maupin's parents vowed to never let the U.S. Army forget about finding their son.

Their efforts included trips to the Pentagon and even meeting with President Bush, but they ended in disappointment Sunday: An Army general told them the remains of Maupin, a soldier who had been listed as missing-captured in Iraq since 2004, had been found.

"My heart sinks, but I know they can't hurt him anymore," Keith Maupin said after receiving word about the remains of his son, who went by Matt.

The Army didn't say how or where in Iraq his son's remains were discovered, only that the identification was made with DNA testing, Maupin said. A shirt similar to the one his son was wearing at the time of his disappearance was also found.

The Army was continuing its investigation, Maupin said.

Lt. Lee Packnett, an Army public affairs officer in Washington, said an official statement about the identification would be released Monday.

Matt Maupin was a 20-year-old private first class when he was captured April 9, 2004, after his fuel convoy, part of the Bartonville, Ill.-based 724th Transportation Company, was ambushed west of Baghdad.

A week later, the Arab television network Al-Jazeera aired a videotape showing a stunned-looking Maupin wearing camouflage and a floppy desert hat, sitting on the floor surrounded by five masked men holding automatic rifles.

That June, Al-Jazeera aired another tape purporting to show a U.S. soldier being shot. But the dark and grainy tape showed only the back of the victim's head and not the execution.

The Maupins refused to believe their son was dead. They lobbied hard for the Army to continue listing him as missing-captured, fearing that another designation would undermine efforts to find him.

The Pentagon agreed to give the Maupins regular briefings, and Bush met with them when he traveled to Cincinnati.

Keith Maupin said the Army told him soon after his son's capture that there was only a 50 percent chance he would be found alive. He said he doesn't hold the Army responsible for his son's death, but that he did hold the Army responsible for bringing his son home.

"I told them when we'd go up to the Pentagon, whether he walks off a plane or is carried off, you're not going to leave him in Iraq like you did those guys in Vietnam," Maupin said.

Keith Maupin and his ex-wife, Carolyn, held a candlelight vigil Sunday night outside the Yellow Ribbon Support Center in Batavia, an office they used to package thousands of boxes of donated snacks and toiletries for shipment to soldiers in Iraq.

"It hurts," Carolyn Maupin said. "After you go through almost four years of hope, and this is what happens, it's like a letdown, so I'm trying to get through that right now."

The Maupins were told by an Army official on Friday to expect an update on their son over the weekend, Keith Maupin said. The Army broke the news about their son's remains at a somber meeting.

"When you look out there in the parking lot and see a three-star general get out of a car, you know it ain't good news," Keith Maupin said.

Matt Maupin graduated from Glen Este High School, just east of Cincinnati, in 2001 and attended the University of Cincinnati for a year before joining the Army Reserves.

Dan Simmons, the athletic director at Glen Este, remembered him as a quiet but hardworking backup player on the school's football team.

"Matt was a selfless kid on the football field," Simmons said. "He did whatever the coaches told him. He wasn't a starter, but he made the other kids play harder."

A month after his capture, Maupin was promoted to the rank of specialist. In April 2005, he was promoted to sergeant.

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There is never an easy way to bid farewell to a fellow warrior. At least we now know that Keith Maupin will finally come home.

SFC Chuck Grist

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Special Ops General Retires

The following article was sent to me via friends at Fort Benning. It was published on in North Carolina. It tells the story of one helluva warrior, Major General Gary Harrell:

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A Recruiting Pitch Leads to Army Career That Includes Delta Force

Gary L. Harrell was headed for a high school algebra class when an announcement offered an attractive alternative: A pitch on Army ROTC.

Harrell was not sure how he would pay for college and had some interest in the military. He filled out the ROTC paperwork.

On March 6 at Fort Bragg, the former Delta Force commander retired as a major general from the Army at age 57, ending a career of almost 35 years that took him to every post-Viet nam hot spot, from Grenada to Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I was planning on getting out as a captain," he said. "I've had the privilege of working with and commanding some of the finest soldiers we have in the military."

At his retirement ceremony, Lt. Gen. Robert Wagner, commander of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, said the 40 or so generals or their wives who gathered to say farewell to Harrell might have been a record.

"I would also mention that we have some of Gary's closest personal friends here today: gun dealers, knife makers, ammunition purveyors, and, apparently, some people released from prison just to be here," Wagner said in a nod to Harrell's long career in some of the Army's toughest and most secretive units.

Harrell helped rescue U.S. hostage Kurt Muse from a Panamanian jail in 1989 and hunt down Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. He searched for mobile Iraqi Scud missile launch ers in the first Persian Gulf war in 1991, was a commander during the 1993 battle of Mogadishu immortalized in the book and movie "Black Hawk Down" and led perhaps the largest special operations force into combat in U.S. history in Iraq.

"If it was complex, if it was difficult or critical to our nation, Gary was there," Wagner said. For the past year, Harrell has been Wagner's deputy.

"I relied on Gary's unmatched expertise, broad credibility, judgment and common sense advice on every decision we made," Wagner said.

Harrell, who played defensive tackle at East Tennessee State University, is a block at 6-foot-1, 240 pounds. People who know him roared with laughter when they saw a slightly built actor portray him in "Black Hawk Down."

Wagner says Harrell's strength helped keep him alive.

"At least twice, Gary nearly lost his life serving our nation, in a helicopter crash in Panama that broke his back and in Somali a when a mortar round detonated within feet of where he stood, severely injuring and nearly severing his leg and inflicting other life-threatening injuries," Wagner said. "Except for his brute strength of mind and body and the heroic medics, Gary would not have survived to be here with us today."

To be sure, Harrell is a study in contrasts. He spent his career dodging the spotlight in the military's most secretive units, yet he was portrayed by name in two books and a popular movie.

Acclaimed as a combat leader, he displayed his soft side at the ceremony, holding hands with his wife and high school sweetheart, Jennifer. Over the years, she accompanied him to tell families that their loved ones would not be coming home. He spoke glowingly of his children and grandchildren.

"I'm more proud of being their father and grandfather than I am of retiring as a two-star general," he said.

Although Harrell is one of the military's premier experts in rapid, violent strikes, he is quick to point out that victory against terrorism may lie in education and patiently helping other countries solve their own problems.

He sees nuances in the most notorious characters, such as Escobar, the murderous Colombian drug lord.

"If you talk to the folks on the street of Medellin, this guy took care of their rent when they couldn't make it," Harrell said in an interview a couple of days before his retirement. "As near as I understand it, he took a lot of his money and put it back into the community in terms of taking care of poor people, kind of a Robin Hood-type twist to it."

Understanding the adversary is important in today's war, he said.

"There is certainly a lot of evil there, but there's another facet you need to understand. And that's important today, because Hamas has a side of it that does a lot of that same-type deal for Palestinians who a re in need," he said. "On the other hand, Hamas has got a large cadre of murderers and brigands and those type things. ... If you omit either one of those in your analysis, you are apt to make a big mistake."

Harrell was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1973. Ten years later, he got his first taste of war with the 82nd Airborne Division during the 1983 Grenada invasion.

"I remember walking out of the headquarters one morning and seeing an A-7 (attack airplane)," he said. "I could tell he was on a bomb run. I remember thinking, 'Gee, I thought the 82nd was over there.' He dropped a bomb on brigade headquarters. Those things happen in war. You make mistakes like that sometimes."

The military learned the painful lessons of Grenada, he said, such as the need to improve battlefield communications among the armed services.

Harrell was in the 10th Special Forces Group at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, when he got a call from Col. Bill Garrison, his former battalion commander, who said selection for Delta Force was coming up.

"He could be a man of few words when he needed to be," Harrell said. "'Hey! Harrell! Selection starts in the fall. Be there!'"

Delta's selection process is famous for rigorous marches and ordeals that make even Ranger and Special Forces selection pale by comparison.

"It's more a test of your mental ability in a lot of regards than it is your physical," Harrell said.

He passed the test and became a troop commander in Delta.

During the 1989 Panama invasion, Harrell was part of the team that swooped into the prison to rescue Muse, an American imprisoned for suspected CIA ties. Success, he said, lay in repeated rehearsals in Florida and Panama.

But they could not prepare fully for the barrage they had to face.

"I remember getting ready to go, getting back on one of the helicopters for the extraction and three basketball-sized, glowing red spheres went between me and the helicopter," he said. "I remember thinking, 'Hmmm, that wasn't good.'"

In 1993, he deployed to Somalia to help counter warlords that were undermining humanitarian efforts in the East African country. Two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down during a Delta Force and Ranger raid meant to capture warlord leaders.

Twice, Harrell turned down the request of two Delta Force operators to go to the rescue of one downed helicopter crew being overrun by a violent mob in Mogadishu.

The third time, Harrell told Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. 1st Class Randy Shughart yes.

Almost 15 years later, Harrell pauses with emotion when asked about his decision.

"They knew there was nothing else to back them up," Harrell said. "It was just them. They felt like it was so important to go that they needed to go."

Gordon and Shughart died in the rescue attempt, but they saved the helicopter pilot. They each received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award.

"That's one of those that makes you ask, 'Where do we find men like that?'" Harrell said. "It wasn't like they just decided they'd hop off the helicopter and thought that somebody would come to their rescue. We had two helicopters down. We had the capacity to get one. We didn't have the capacity to get two. They knew what was going on."

In 1998, Harrell took command of Delta Force, officially known as 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta and called simply "the unit" by members.

"It's interesting because you've got several hundred experts who pride themselves on knowing everything about everything," he said. "You are the guy that has kind of got to keep them moving in the same direction. That was enjoyable. It could be frustrating."

Sometimes, the battles were with the bureaucracy.

In Afghanistan in 2001, Harrell asked for saddles for Special Forces soldiers operating in the mountains. The Pentagon assumed the soldiers were riding for fun.

He called back, "The phone call went something like this: 'Hey, I'll tell you what. I'll make a deal. I"l put you on a bony old horse, and let you ride around the mountains with a rucksack on, see how well you like that without a saddle.'"

As Harrell closed the book on his military career, Wagner, the USASOC commander, may have summed up the sense that the best chapters remain unpublished.

"Well, there's a lot more that could be said, but many stories remain untold," Wagner said. "Just be glad Gary was there."

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We still need leaders like this. Good luck to the general in his well-earned retirement.

SFC Chuck Grist

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Medic in Afghanistan Awarded Silver Star

This is an inspiring story that was sent to me by Dave Stieghan, Army historian at Fort Benning, Georgia:

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Associated Press

CAMP SALERNO, Afghanistan — A 19-year-old medic from Texas will become the first woman in Afghanistan and only the second woman since World War II to receive the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest medal for valor.

Army Spc. Monica Lin Brown saved the lives of fellow soldiers after a roadside bomb tore through a convoy of Humvees in the eastern Paktia province in April 2007, the military said.

After the explosion, which wounded five soldiers in her unit, Brown ran through insurgent gunfire and used her body to shield wounded comrades as mortars fell less than 100 yards away, the military said.

"I did not really think about anything except for getting the guys to a safer location and getting them taken care of and getting them out of there," Brown told The Associated Press on Saturday at a U.S. base in the eastern province of Khost.

Brown, of Lake Jackson, Texas, is scheduled to receive the Silver Star later this month. She was part of a four-vehicle convoy patrolling near Jani Kheil in the eastern province of Paktia on April 25, 2007, when a bomb struck one of the Humvees.

"We stopped the convoy. I opened up my door and grabbed my aid bag," Brown said.

She started running toward the burning vehicle as insurgents opened fire. All five wounded soldiers had scrambled out.

"I assessed the patients to see how bad they were. We tried to move them to a safer location because we were still receiving incoming fire," Brown said.

Pentagon policy prohibits women from serving in frontline combat roles — in the infantry, armor or artillery, for example. But the nature of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with no real front lines, has seen women soldiers take part in close-quarters combat more than previous conflicts.

Four Army nurses in World War II were the first women to receive the Silver Star, though three nurses serving in World War I were awarded the medal posthumously last year, according to the Army's Web site.

Brown, of the 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, said ammunition going off inside the burning Humvee was sending shrapnel in all directions. She said they were sitting in a dangerous spot.

"So we dragged them for 100 or 200 meters, got them away from the Humvee a little bit," she said. "I was in a kind of a robot-mode, did not think about much but getting the guys taken care of."

For Brown, who knew all five wounded soldiers, it became a race to get them all to a safer location. Eventually, they moved the wounded some 500 yards away, treated them on site before putting them on a helicopter for evacuation.

"I did not really have time to be scared," Brown said. "Running back to the vehicle, I was nervous (since) I did not know how badly the guys were injured. That was scary."

The military said Brown's "bravery, unselfish actions and medical aid rendered under fire saved the lives of her comrades and represents the finest traditions of heroism in combat."

Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, of Nashville, Tenn., received the Silver Star in 2005 for gallantry during an insurgent ambush on a convoy in Iraq. Two men from her unit, the 617th Military Police Company of Richmond, Ky., also received the Silver Star for their roles in the same action.

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Medics have always held a special place in the hearts of warriors. Soldiers always take care of their buddies, but none do it as well as the medics. God bless them all.

SFC Chuck Grist

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Warrior Prince Revisited

Some time ago I wrote an entry in this blog called "The Warrior Prince: Harry Goes to Iraq" when Prince Harry of Great Britain was believed to be headed for Iraq.

The uproar created by his potential deployment ended his chance to deploy for the time, but he has now successfully served in Afghanistan. Although his tour was only about ten weeks due to the media attention, I believe this young British officer will be back at war at some point.

You have to admire him for his grit, his courage and his determination to make his own way even as he lives in the privileged royal class.

SFC Chuck Grist