Thursday, September 30, 2010
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Stars and Stripes|by Leo Shane III and Megan McCloskey
WASHINGTON -- Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, a Soldier who risked his life to stop Taliban fighters from kidnapping a fallen comrade, will be the first living U.S. servicemember from either Iraq or Afghanistan to receive the Medal of Honor, White House officials announced Friday.
President Barack Obama spoke with Giunta on Thursday to inform him of the award and thank him for "his service and extraordinary bravery in battle."
Giunta, whose story was featured in the recently published Sebastian Junger book "War," was serving as a rifle team leader with Company B, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment during combat operations in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley in 2007.
On Oct. 25 that year, then-Spc. Giunta's squad was ambushed by insurgents and two Soldiers were cut off from the rest. White House officials said in the initial moments of the firefight Giunta ventured out into enemy fire to pull a comrade back to cover."Everything kind of slowed down and I did everything I thought I could do, nothing more and nothing less," Giunta, now 25, told Junger.
Giunta and two other Soldiers assaulted the enemy position with grenades to move forward and link up with the two seperated Soldiers, one of whom was Sgt. Joshua Brennan. When Giunta sprinted to where to he thought Brennan would be, he saw two enemy fighters dragging him down the hill. Giunta fired his M4 and ran after them, killing one insurgent and forcing the other to drop Brennan and run away.
Army officials say Giunta provided medical aid to his comrade while the rest of his squad caught up and provided security. Brennan later died, but Giunta's actions prevented his body and equipment from falling into enemy hands.
One other Soldier died that day, and five were wounded.
"I didn't' run through fire to save a buddy," Giunta told Junger. "I ran through fire to see what was going on with him and maybe we could hide behind the same rock and shoot together. I didn't run through fire to do anything heroic or brave. I did what I believe anyone would have done."
Brennan's father told his hometown newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal, that Giunta has expressed hesitation about receiving such an honor.
"Not only did he save Josh, so that we were able to have him back and have an open coffin at the funeral, he really saved half of the platoon," he said.
No date has been set for his award ceremony.
The news comes a day after the White House announced that Staff Sgt. Robert Miller would be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan in 2007.
U.S. Navy neurosurgeon Steven Cobery looks at an X-ray of a bolt he removed during surgery at the NATO hospital near Kandahar.
A 3-inch-long, threaded steel bolt was buried deep inside the man's head.
"I thought, this poor guy is doomed," recalls Navy Cmdr. Steven Cobery, 44, a U.S. military neurosurgeon in Afghanistan.
Insurgents are creating more destructive roadside bombs this year by packing them with nails, screws, bolts, metal coils, ball bearings and other materials, according to doctors treating wounded U.S. and coalition troops here.
The number of casualties suffering multiple wounds from these objects has increased from about a dozen in March to around 100 each month this summer, according to Navy Capt. Michael Mullins, spokesman for the NATO hospital operated by the U.S. Navy outside Kandahar.
The casualties include not only U.S. soldiers and Marines, but also coalition and Afghan troops and Afghan civilians hurt by roadside bombs, Mullins says. About half of the casualties are American servicemembers, he says.
Cobery says he has seen several instances of household objects used in bombs. An Afghan soldier lost his left eye to shrapnel made of leather from the tongue of a shoe, he says.
"I've taken (centimeter-wide) ball bearings out of someone's spine," he says. "It's crazy."
The wounds complicate treatment and can cause excessive bleeding and infection, says Canadian Air Force Maj. Cathy Mountford, an emergency room doctor who has worked at the NATO hospital for five months.
"Through July definitely we've noticed that there are more objects and things, coils and stuff that would become implanted in the body" of a casualty, Mountford says. "They (wounded troops) just get peppered."
Marines fighting in nearby Helmand province report the same trend, uncovering roadside bombs stuffed with ball bearings, nails, screws and bullets, says Lt. Col. Michael Manning, a battalion commander.
The U.S. military is preparing new medical guidelines for the treatment of these wounds, says U.S. Air Force Maj. Randy Snoots, a trauma specialist here who tracks trends in casualties.
The bombs, he says, "are getting bigger and bigger and more full of stuff."
In July, Cobery spent six hours in surgery removing the 3-inch-long bolt blasted into the skull of the Afghan soldier.
It entered through the right side of the soldier's face near his nose and lodged in the second vertebra of his spinal column. Destruction of the spinal column at that high level would result in death instantly, Cobery says.
"The guy turning his head could end up killing himself," he says.
With the patient immobilized, "I took a chisel and gently tapped it out of the spinal canal," Cobery says. He then used a clamp to slowly pull the bolt through the man's face, out the direction it had entered.
When the soldier regained consciousness, he shook the doctor's hand. The soldier had to wear a metal framework to keep the head stable and allow the spinal column bones to heal, but he eventually was able to walk out of the hospital for further care at another medical center.
"I told him that if the bolt had gone 2 to 3 millimeters more to the right or if his head was turned in a different way, he wouldn't be standing there talking to me," Cobery says.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Saturday, September 18, 2010
The Washington Times
In a shift in tactics, the U.S. military in Afghanistan plans to rely more on old-fashioned surveillance, as compared with new-age technology, to stop the biggest killer of American service members in the field.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Marine Corps veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, said he was informed by the Pentagon in recent weeks that the command is building up a special task force to defeat improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Task Force ODIN (Observe, Detect, Identify, Neutralize) is designed to constantly watch troop and convoy routes to catch the enemy planting IEDs, which account for more than 50 percent of U.S. fatalities in Afghanistan.
"I just found out they finally instituted ODIN in one province, Ghazni, in Regional Command East," Mr. Hunter, California Republican and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told The Washington Times. "IED attacks dropped by 70 percent. They have already killed 25 insurgents. That was after 20 days of being on line."
The Pentagon has spent nearly $20 billion in a concerted effort since 2004 to blunt IEDs after they became prime weapons for insurgents in Iraq and then for the Taliban in Afghanistan.
A spokesman for Gen. Petraeus referred questions to the Pentagon's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, which coordinates all counter-IED work. A spokeswoman for the organization referred questions to the Pentagon, which did not respond to a reporter's questions over several days.
However, a senior NATO officer in Afghanistan told The Times, "We have added substantial additional counter-IED platforms, optics, assets."
Mr. Hunter, a captain in the Marine Corps Reserve, has pushed for months for the Pentagon to put more surveillance aircraft in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, analysts are debating whether the best counters to IEDs are high-tech jammers, lasers and detection devices - on which the Defense Department has spent billions of dollars - or on something simpler such as watching the roads where the bombs are embedded.
Mr. Hunter, who fought in Fallujah, said Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, greatly relied on the task force during the 2007 troop surge in Iraq, with dramatically improved results.
Mr. Hunter said Gen. Petraeus' commanders "created an Army air unit that was able to do this outside [the defense secretary office's] purview on the Army's own so they didn't have to go through any red tape. They killed more bad guys than the rest of the people in Iraq put together, and they were all IED emplacements."
FORT BENNING, Ga. (WTVM) – A U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit soldier becomes the first service member since 1987 to win the National High Power Rifle Championship.
Sgt. Sherri Jo Gallagher set a new national record in the match with a 2396-161x, dropping only four shots during the entire competition. She shot 21 more bulls eyes than anyone else. Competitors included legends of the sport and past champions.
"I wanted to be in the military since I was very young-I was drawn to the challenge and excitement of it," said Gallagher. "I wanted to learn how to be a leader and make a difference in life. Then I had the opportunity to join the USAMU and turn my favorite hobby into my daily life. Nothing could be more fun than that."
She also became the second woman ever to win the championship. Her mother Nancy Tompkins won the honor in 1998.
"We were both competing that year so I didn't get to watch her that much" Gallagher said. "But, she wasn't shooting high-power this year so she was able to watch me shoot. She brought me coffee every day. It was very nice."
Gallagher currently holds 21 national records in rifle. In 2009, she won the national high-power long-range rifle championship for the first time.
SAN ANGELO, Texas — Angela Williams watched as the Purple Heart — the military’s oldest decoration — was pinned to her only child’s Battle Dress Uniform, just below the heart.
“I’m the proudest mother in America right now,” she said Friday at a ceremony at Goodfellow Air Force Base. “I’m just glad he’s here.”
Seven years after Staff Sgt. Dustin Vigil, 17th Security Forces Squadron, was wounded during his tour in Iraq, the 27-year-old is still coping, emotionally and physically, with the experience.
On June 25, 2003, Vigil was traveling in a Humvee when a mortar round exploded outside the vehicle. Vigil was thrown 10 feet, landing on his head and suffering from injuries that at the time were believed to be superficial.
More than a year after that day, the migraines Vigil experienced following the explosion had become so severe he was required to have an MRI scan. Doctors found his skull was fractured and several of the discs in his back were damaged. His first brain surgery was in 2005; the second, two years later.
Vigil said he’s also gone through neck surgery and spent some time with his ankle in a cast because of a hairline fracture, which he had walked on for three or four years.
“It (all) happened within three weeks,” he said. “I looked like I was hit by a car.”
Friday morning at Goodfellow Air Force Base’s event center, members of his squadron, members of the wing staff and his family came together to honor the airman who’s still battling his injuries.
Vigil said the presence of his mother, who has mainly experienced the hospitals, surgeries and doctors that came as a result of his injury, made the ceremony more meaningful.
“Her coming in and seeing this was a huge uplift,” he said.
Williams and her husband, Lynn Wendt, stood alongside Vigil after the ceremony as he shook hands with members of his squadron, men and women from the wing staff and members with the city’s respite center.
The medal was presented by Brig. Gen. Scott Bethel, the strategy, integration and doctrine director and deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance at Headquarters Air Force in Washington, D.C. Bethel is a former commanding officer of Goodfellow.
At the end of a speech directed at the audience, Bethel turned to Vigil and thanked him for “being such a wonderful American.”
Vigil’s squadron presented the shadowbox for displaying the medal.
Friday also was the last day he would see one of his former Air Force K-9 Spidla, or “Spidy.” After the ceremony he spent several minutes kneeling on the carpet holding and playing with the black and brown German Shepard.
“It’s good to see him. I love to be able to touch and play with him one last time,” Vigil said. “He was my partner.”
Becoming a K-9 handler was one reason Vigil said he signed up for the Air Force. Although the Oklahoma native had offers to play college soccer, he also visited military recruiting offices, hearing pitches for each branch.
When he visited with the Air Force, the recruiter made no promises about his future, and Vigil knew it was the path to take. He enlisted July 2001.
“It was pre 9/11,” he said, “There was something about the military that was tantalizing or alluring.”
Now, he said, given the chance, he wouldn’t take any of it back.
Although he wished his children, who live in California with his wife, could be at the ceremony, he understood they couldn’t be pulled from school. He said Goodfellow members filmed the ceremony and will send a copy to them.
Vigil said he plans to stay in the Concho Valley, in part because of a state-sponsored group of combat veterans called “Bring it to the Zone.” Men and women meet to talk among themselves, rather than a psychiatrist, about what they’ve experienced overseas.
He said there are still days when he looks in the medicine cabinet and sees it contains more medication than most 80-year-olds would use, but he tries to be grateful for what he has — including his new decoration.
“You have to be positive. If you have a negative attitude you’re not going to get anywhere,” Vigil said. “I’m happy because I’m alive. You have to be.”
- SLIDE SHOW:
By Brian Dukes
Flanked by a pair of aircraft - a C-17 Globemaster and a C-130 Hercules - and with hangers No. 4 and 5 in the background, country music star Craig Morgan performed a free concert Friday night on the flight line of Silver Ramp at Pope Air Force Base.
It was a familiar - and welcoming - sight for Morgan, a former soldier in the 82nd Airborne Division.
"Thank you; it's so good to be back in this part of the world," Morgan said to the cheering crowd, which military officials estimated at 15,000. "It always feels like home."
That sentiment hit home with Staff Sgt. Chris Connell, a soldier in the 82nd who attended the concert with his wife, Morgan, and daughter, 5-year-old Arianna.
"It's good to have something like this for families to do on a Friday night," said Connell, who danced with his daughter in the waning orange sunlight during a performance by opening act Perry Howell & the Barn Burners.
"It's really good to see him (Morgan) give back to soldiers - to take care of his brothers," Connell said.
Pfc. Jason Jimeson and his wife, Andrea, thought the free concert was a nice diversion for a Friday night.
"It's cool; it's a free concert!" said Jimeson, a solider at Fort Bragg. "But it's also really cool he's giving back ... and it's a nice going away party for Pope."
Jimeson was referring to how Pope Air Force Base will become part of Fort Bragg when the planned Base Closure and Realignment is complete.
The only thing realigning itself Friday night was the crowd, which surged to the front of the stage and stood throughout Morgan's entire set.
Morgan often thanked those assembled, consisting mostly of soldiers and their families.
Accompanied by his five-piece band, Morgan also made the crowd happy by playing several of his greatest hits, including "That's What I Love About Sunday," "Bonfire," "Little Bit of Life" and many more.
At one point, during the first chorus of "I Got You," Morgan stopped the song in order to pull an engaged couple up who were to be married the next day on stage. The couple held a sign that caught the singer's attention.
"Ma'am, do you know how hard it is to read and sing at the same time?" Morgan playfully asked the bride-to-be in the front row. "Now, I can do a lot of things at once, but I can't do that."
While Morgan's antics and vocal prowess entertained the masses, it was the singer's down-to-earth attitude that most impressed Sgt. Thomas Anderson, who attended the concert with his wife, Tris.
"I like that he (Morgan) stays true to his roots," said Anderson, a soldier at Fort Bragg. "He knows where he's from, and he knows what Army families go through. He's served here and no matter how famous he's become, his values still come through."
By Henry Cuningham
Families cheered and waved U.S. flags Friday as an airplane carrying the last large group of 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers home from Afghanistan touched down at Pope Air Force Base.
The arrival of the Omni Air International flight around 10a.m. marked the return of almost the entire 82nd Airborne Division to Fort Bragg for one of the few times since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
About 200 paratroopers were on the flight.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Darrel Shanks and his wife, Colleen, drove 17 hours from their home in Bolivar, Mo., to see their 27-year-old son, Sgt. Darrel Shanks II, arrive home. It was the second time they had made the drive to welcome their son's return.
"This one hasn't been that bad," the elder Shanks said. He was a sergeant major in 3rd Special Forces Group who made several deployments to hot spots around the world during his own military career.
The 4th Brigade Combat Team had more than 3,500 paratroopers in southern and western Afghanistan since August 2009.
"No brigade was asked to do as much and (operate) as decentralized," said Col. Brian Drinkwine, the brigade commander. Drinkwine and Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Sturdevant returned last Saturday.
Thirty-eight Fort Bragg paratroopers died during the deployment. With other attached units, the task force grew to about 5,700. A total of 50 troops from the entire task force were killed and about 200 were wounded.
"We had twice as many Afghan Security Forces that fell in the line of duty, as well," Drinkwine said.
The brigade and other coalition forces worked to build up the Afghan National Security Forces, bolster the Afghan government, fight insurgents and improve the lives of the Afghan people.
"Every single day, whether it was western or southern Afghanistan, we had troops in contact, we had leaders doing 'key-leader' engagements or meeting with villagers and making a difference," Drinkwine said.
The brigade, known as Fury, worked in Kandahar, the heavily contested home of the Taliban, and surrounding provinces.
A brigade from Fort Carson, Colo., replaced the 4th Brigade.
Lt. Col. Bob O'Brien, the brigade's deputy commander, led the formation of paratroopers up the sidewalk to the passenger shelter at Green Ramp.
His wife, Michele, had been watching weather reports on Hurricane Earl, which had been threatening North Carolina for several days.
"It's wonderful to have him home," she said. "We're so proud of him."
There was talk about the hurricane and whether the flight would be able to arrive on schedule.
"We've got a few guys left that are bringing home some of our equipment," O'Brien said. "This was the last main-body flight of Task Force Fury paratroopers. So it's quite a thrill to bring them home."
Von Evans, 73, drove six hours from his home in Clinton, Tenn., to see his grandson, Staff Sgt. Joel Evans, return from his second deployment. The grandfather wore a specially printed white T-shirt with his grandson's name in large black letters.
"Me and granny had to come and see him," he said. "He looked good. He's been through a trying time, I know that. He's got two kids. He hasn't seen the little girl since she was about 3 months old. She's little over a year."
- SLIDE SHOW:4th Brigade Combat Team returns home
USA TODAY's Gregg Zoroya, reporting from Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan, says none of the nearly 20,000 U.S. Marines fighting in Helmand province is likely to be pulled out when President Obama's deadline for troop withdrawal is reached next summer.
Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of Marine combat ground troops there, tells Zoroya that if there are reductions of Marines in the Helmand area, they will be sent elsewhere in the country rather than home.
About 19,000 U.S. Marines are deployed to Helmand province, including 12,000 to 13,000 ground combat troops in six infantry battalions under Osterman's command.
Zoroya sends us this file on his interview with Osterman:
While Marines have provided enough security in certain areas to allow schools to open soon and commerce to improve, too much of this southern province remains contested or controlled by the Taliban for any withdrawal to occur next year, Osterman says.
"This was the heart of darkness," he says of Helmand, for years a core Taliban stronghold. "It's one of those things where you can't be everywhere."
Obama set June of 2011 as the deadline to begin withdrawing U.S. forces as security operations are handed off to Afghan troops.
A limited transition to Afghan control could occur for some government centers in Helmand by the end of this year, Osterman says. But any Marines freed by this will be needed to fight elsewhere, he says.
Osterman concedes there were rosy predictions of rapid change when the Marine offensive to drive the Taliban from Helmand province began with the seizure of Marjah in February. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then overall commander of forces in Afghanistan, promised a government-in-a-box approach that would quickly extend central government control.
Osterman, who took command of the 1st Marine Division here weeks after that operation began, says it took far longer to find competent government leaders who could run services in Helmand.
MUSA QALA, Afghanistan — Afghan children as young as 3 years old are being used by the Taliban as human shields or to gather spent cartridges, and teen-agers are being given motorcycles for planting roadside bombs, U.S. Marines say.
"We've seen children actually dropping mortar rounds in the (firing) tubes against us," says Lt. Col. Michael Manning, commander of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment that is rotating home after seven months in this hilly northern district of Helmand province.
"I've never seen a culture that cares so little for human life. They (the Taliban) truly don't care unless it impacts their own personal family," says Manning, who has lost 13 Marines and seen 127 wounded since March.
U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers routed the Taliban from Helmand's main city of Marjah in February. They have undertaken an offensive to drive the Taliban from the province and are pressing into regions that the jihadists have held for years.
Brig. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of Marine ground combat forces here, says the Taliban is increasingly relying on children to fend off the Marine offensive.
Marines have witnessed youngsters dragging away wounded Taliban, planting roadside bombs and collecting dropped weapons, he says.
At a remote firebase east of here, squad leader Sgt. John Ellis says he found children selling heroin wrapped in torn pages of the Quran in the village streets.
"We found children with pockets of heroin and wads of cash," Ellis says.
A Marine Corps battlefield report describes a fight in the Marjah district in August, where retreating insurgents "placed five children shoulder to shoulder on (the roadway) to cover their movements. Once the children were placed, the Taliban element mounted their motorcycles and escaped."
Another incident in the report describes how a child was sent out onto a roadway to observe a Marine patrol from a distance of 150 yards. He used hand signals to communicate the patrol's movements to an unseen enemy. Later, the patrol was ambushed, the report says.
"In both instances, the Taliban elements were willing to place children in direct danger to avoid risking themselves," says the report, portions of which were provided to USA TODAY by Osterman's office.
Battlefield reports typically derive from the observations of Marine officers in the field. The Marine Corps says it is difficult to identify how many instances where insurgents have been seen using children in Helmand. But they said there have been 50 battlefield reports filed since March listing one or several cases of kids used in combat.
"We're seeing an increasing trend," Osterman says of the Taliban's use of children.
Marine commanders believe that families are either coerced into allowing children to be used by Taliban fighters, or in the case of adolescents, paid money or offered inducements to fight, such as small, Chinese-made motorcycles.
"It's a recruitable, very easily influenced group of people," Manning says of the children and families. "And there's tons of them."Osterman compares the trend with what happened in areas of Africa where child soldiers became veteran fighters. "Have they (the Taliban) gotten to that point of desperation now where they're going down that road which turns kids into combatants?" he says.