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."

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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