Maria Ortiz

Maria I. Ortiz—December 2007 Shipment Honoree

A note from LHCP President Karen Grimord:

One of the greatest joys I have is getting to know our contacts. Some I get to know more than others. To date LHCP has supported troops through 161 different contacts. They all become a member of the family during the time they are deployed.  Some are the cousin you only hear from once a quarter and others are the brother or sister that you talk to every day or week. So when you get the word that one has given the ultimate sacrifice, it takes your breath away and the world stops. This happened to me in July when I received word that Maria had been killed in a mortar attack. I know that she was doing what touched her heart and that was caring for the wounded Iraqis at her hospital. My deepest sympathy goes to her family and friends. She was part of the LHCP family and will forever be with us.

Popular Army Nurse Is the First Killed in Combat Since Vietnam

Source: by Steve Vogel, Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 17, 2007; Page B06

Capt. Maria Ines Ortiz had a smile that lighted up the hallways in every hospital where she worked, from Aberdeen to Walter Reed to Iraq.

When a patient needed extra care, the Army nurse would stay late. If a colleague was feeling blue, she was there.

Ortiz, 40, was killed last week by a mortar attack in the Green Zone in Baghdad. The Edgewood, Md., resident is the first Army nurse killed in combat since the Vietnam War, Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, the Army’s acting surgeon general, said in an interview yesterday.

“Having one of the family go down is very, very hard,” said Pollock, who also is a nurse. “You feel like a piece of your heart is gone.”

Ortiz was returning from physical training July 10 when she was caught outside by a barrage of mortar shells. She was killed by shrapnel.

“If there was such a thing as the jewel of the clinic, she was the jewel,” said Renee Smith, who worked with Ortiz at an Army health clinic at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. “Her work wasn’t finished until everybody was cared for.”

Ortiz’s death has hit hard at Aberdeen, where she served as chief nurse at the Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic for 18 months before going to Iraq last fall. Many broke down in tears when the clinic commander called everyone together and told the news.

“It really took everybody by surprise,” Smith said. “God, it’s a great loss.”

Patients who knew Ortiz have “run in here in disbelief,” said Maj. Kathy Presper, chief of medical management at Kirk. “She was dedicated, a step-up-to-the-plate type person.”

At Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where Ortiz served from 2001 to 2003 as a dialysis nurse, Medical Command officials are considering whether to honor her by naming a building or clinic in her memory.

“She has many admirers and friends,” Maj. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the hospital commander, said yesterday.

Ortiz volunteered for duty in Iraq and was eager to go do her part, colleagues said. “She was very proud of the fact that she was going to go over to take care of soldiers,” said Wanda Schuler, a co-worker at Aberdeen.

When Schuler sent an e-mail asking Ortiz whether she needed anything, Ortiz asked her to send Christmas decorations she could use to brighten up the halls at the Army’s 28th Combat Support hospital, where she was assigned. “While she was caring for patients physically, she was caring for them emotionally, too,” Schuler said. “She tried to make it as cheery as possible.”

Ortiz was home on two weeks’ leave recently and paid a visit to the clinic at Aberdeen. “She said it was going well, and she felt like she was making a difference there,” Smith recalled.

Colleagues at the Baghdad hospital held a memorial service for Ortiz soon after her death. “They gathered together, and they talked about how she touched their lives,” Pollock said.

Ortiz, who was born in New Jersey and grew up in Puerto Rico, joined the service as an enlisted soldier with the Army Reserve in Puerto Rico in 1991, and she became active duty in 1993. She was commissioned as an officer in 1999.

Ortiz was engaged to be married to Juan Casiano upon her return from Iraq, friends said.

A memorial service for Ortiz is set for tomorrow at the Aberdeen clinic. A date for burial at Arlington National Cemetery has not been set, cemetery spokeswoman Kara McCarthy said.

Army nurse killed in Iraq had ties to Md., N.J.

Source: by Jason Laughlin, The (Cherry Hill, N.J.) Courier Post
Military Times

PENNSAUKEN, N.J. — An Army nurse based in Aberdeen, Md., who died in Iraq this week had roots in southern New Jersey, officials said.

Capt. Maria I. Ortiz, 40, was killed Tuesday by enemy mortar fire in Baghdad, the Defense Department said.

Army officials identified Ortiz’s hometown as Bayamon, Puerto Rico. But a military spokesman said the nurse’s mother, who was not named, lives in Pennsauken.

Ortiz reportedly was born in Pennsauken, but it was not clear how long she lived in this area.

She was assigned to the Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

“She was very popular and very highly thought of,” said George Mercer, a spokesman at the Maryland base. “It’s just a terrible loss.”

Ortiz was the 79th service member and third woman with ties to New Jersey to die in Iraq.

Ortiz graduated from the University of Puerto Rico in 1990 and joined the Army Reserves in Puerto Rico the next year, said Mercer.

Two years later she went on active duty in a career that took her to Honduras, South Korea and Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.

At Kirk, Ortiz was the chief nurse of general medicine for 18 months. She left in September 2005 for Iraq, where she served with the 28th Combat Support Hospital, 3rd Medical Command.

Ortiz earned a number of commendations, including the Bronze Star, Mercer said.

Soldier assigned to Aberdeen dies in Iraq

Source: The Associated Press
Military Times

BALTIMORE — A nurse assigned to the Aberdeen Proving Ground was killed this week in Iraq, the Department of Defense announced.

Maria I. Ortiz
Maria I. Ortiz

Capt. Maria I. Ortiz, 40, died July 10 in Baghdad of wounds inflicted by a mortar attack, Aberdeen Proving Ground spokeswoman Pat McClung said July 13.

According to the Defense Department, Ortiz is from Bayamon, Puerto Rico. However, records kept by Aberdeen indicate that Ortiz is from New Jersey.

Ortiz enlisted in 1991, at the age of 24. She got her degree in nursing in 1999 from the University of Puerto Rico and her master’s degree in quality management from the Massachusetts National Graduate School in 2004.

While she was assigned to Aberdeen, Ortiz served as the chief nurse of general medicine at the Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic. She has also been stationed in Puerto Rico, Korea and at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

A memorial service is scheduled for 3 p.m. July 18 at Aberdeen’s chapel.

Memorial service held for nurse killed in Iraq

Source: by Karissa Marcum, The Associated Press
Military Times

ABERDEEN, Md. — Family and friends, co-workers and admirers came to Aberdeen Proving Ground on July 18 to remember Capt. Maria Ines Ortiz, killed during a mortar attack on Baghdad’s Green Zone on July 10, the first Army nurse killed by hostile fire since the Vietnam War. The attack killed two other people and wounded 18 more.

About 200 people crammed into the chapel at Aberdeen. A pair of combat boots, a helmet and Ortiz’s dog tags were displayed at the chapel’s altar.

Before the ceremony ended, about two dozen veterans proceeded to the altar and saluted the display created in her honor.

Ortiz’s sister, Maria Luisa Medina, a first-grade bilingual teacher from Camden, N.J., said, “She’s the person that I want to be like, not because she was a soldier or a nurse but because she accomplished her purpose in life and she did everything for the Lord.”

Ortiz, 40, worked as chief nurse of general medicine at the Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic on base.

Her father, Jorge Ortiz, said she was off-duty and returning from a workout when the attack occurred.

Jorge Ortiz also served in the Army and said he is proud of his daughter’s sacrifice.

Her father said Ortiz spent much of her time studying, “She was precious. She was a beautiful girl,” Ortiz said in Spanish.

Ortiz said he talked to his daughter a month before she died, “I think I’m going to miss everything about my daughter.”

Ortiz was born in New Jersey, but grew up in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

She enlisted in 1991, at the age of 24. She got her degree in nursing in 1999 from the University of Puerto Rico and her master’s degree in quality management from the Massachusetts National Graduate School in 2004.

She has also been stationed in Puerto Rico, Korea and at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

Ortiz is survived by her father, her mother, Iris Santiago, four sisters and her fiance, Juan Casiano.

Her father said Ortiz will be buried Aug. 9 at Arlington National Cemetery.

The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember Marie during the month of Dec 2007 with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with Marie’s family and friends today and in the years to come.

Grant Fraser

Grant B. Fraser—November 2007 Shipment Honoree

Marine killed by improvised explosive device in IraqSource:  Associated Press

Grant B. FraserOne day while Grant B. Fraser was trundling around the house in his diapers and slippers, his father asked, “Sprout, why are you so happy?”

Grant paused, then answered, “Because mommy and daddy are happy at me.”

Fraser, 22, of Anchorage, Alaska, died Aug. 3 when his vehicle was hit by an explosive south of Haditha. He was assigned to Elmendorf Air Force Base.

Friends and relatives remembered Fraser as spontaneous, mischievous and witty. They talked about the big ears that jutted out from his head, the “award-winning” smile, and his favorite nickname, Tnarg — “Grant” spelled backward.

He had a wide range of interests: Acting, mountain biking, skiing, playing the piano, scuba diving, rock climbing, tennis and sailing. He left the University of Alaska at Anchorage in 2002 and enlisted in the Marines.

“The day Grant enlisted was a watershed day for all of us,” said his godmother, Lynn Manley. “What a happy guy he was that day. I saw him after boot camp and there was a tree trunk where his long graceful neck used to be. Grant was exactly where he wanted to be.”

He is survived by his parents, Sharon Long and James Fraser.

The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember Grant during the month of November 2007 with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with Grant’s family and friends today and in the years to come.

Tamara Long Archuleta

Tamara Long Archuleta—October 2007 Shipment Honoree

University Graduate Goes Down in Air Crash

Source:  New Mexico University Daily Lobo
By Clay Holtzman

A UNM alumna was killed Sunday when the helicopter she was copiloting crashed in southeastern Afghanistan during a mission to rescue two critically injured children.

Tamara Long Archuleta, 23, 1st Lt. In the United States Air Force, is described by those who remember her best as an ambitious person who seemed to always accomplish her goals no matter how much work was required.

“She’s always been a very driven person,” said Richard Long, Long Archuleta’s father. “She never was satisfied—she strove to always be at the top.”

Long Archuleta graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in political science from UNM after earning her associate’s degree from the Valencia branch campus where she had been selected to be her class valedictorian in 1997.

“She is one of the best students I have ever worked with—a terrible loss,” said Mark Peceny, associate professor of political science at the UNM main campus.

All six crewmembers of the 41st Rescue Squadron—part of the 347th Operation Group out of Moody Air Force Base in Georgia—were killed in the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter crash. Richard Long said his daughter had just performed a successful rescue mission the previous night. The Pave Hawk is primarily used in extraction and insertion missions during booth day and night.

“She was one of our top cadets,” said Lt. Col. Richard Trembley, commanding officer of the UNM Air Force ROTC program. “A very admirable cadet and a very focused individual.”

Long Archuleta was enrolled in the two-year officer training corps program and during her time at UNM was also was the commander of the Arnold Air Society, a service organization for Air Force cadets.

“She pushed you, she set an example,” said Air Force cadet Ralph Merrill, who was mentored by Long Archuleta when he started the ROTC program. “Really, she was a role model.”

Theresa Carabajal, an employee at the campus Air Force office, said she has seen nearly 1,000 cadets who have been commissioned as officers through ROTC, but she remembered Long Archuleta for her outstanding performance in the classroom and because she was willing to cut off half of her knee-length hair to make her training easier.

Ceremony honors Moody’s fallen

Source: War On Terror News
By Rip Prine

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE — There was standing room only for a memorial service at Moody Air Force Base Thursday as airmen paid tribute to six heroes who died Sunday in Afghanistan.

Members of the 41st and 38th Rescue Squadrons comforted each other as they looked at photographs of their fallen comrades, whose HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter crashed while en route to rescue two injured Afghan children. Their actions symbolized the combat search and rescue motto: “That Others May Live.”

“The reason we are here this afternoon is to honor the crew of Komodo 11,” said Brig Gen. John Folkerts, commander, 347th Rescue Wing. The crew members were Lt. Col. John Stein, Capt. (Select) Tamara Archuleta, Master Sgt. Michael Maltz, Staff Sgt. John Teal, Staff Sgt. Jason Hicks and Senior Airman Jason Plite.

“All of us at Moody Air Force Base are deeply grateful for your presence here today as we grieve the loss of part of our family,” Folkerts said. “We’ll honor them throughout history for their deeds, but today we gather as a community to say we miss you.”

It was a time for those gathered to heal, said Col. Tom Trask, commander, 347th Operations Group. “It will be our job to take up the slack and continue to carry on the combat rescue mission and the combat rescue,” Trask said. “They were us, and now part of us is gone.”

“Their mission was to attempt to rescue two small children from Afghanistan—two children that represent the future of a country that we freed from tyranny,” Trask said. “There is no one that can argue that this was a just and worthwhile mission.”

Individuals who knew the Komodo 11 crew gave personal accounts of their friends.

First Lt. Todd Thorpe spoke of his relationship with Stein, whom he referred to as his mentor. “When I think of Lt. Col. Stein, I think of the No. 1 principal of leadership,” Thorpe said. “He was the epitome of technical and tactical expert.”

Michael Long, Archuleta’s uncle, and former pararescueman, was stationed at the PJ school, Kirkland AFB, N.M., when his niece was born, he said. He had the fortune to watch her grow, before the Air Force took him away. He remembered her successes and her mastery of karate skills that were taught by her father. He remembered her determination to become an Air Force officer and pilot. “To me, she’s still the little cousin my daughter used to play with,” Long said.

Senior Master Sgt. William Sine, 38th RQS, spoke on behalf of Maltz, whom he had known for 17 years. He described Maltz as an awesome pararescueman who lived and breathed the job. As an instructor, Maltz shaped and molded numerous PJs, Sine said..

Staff Sgt. David Lacey, 41st RQS remembered Teal, whom he said his close friends referred to as Mike rather than John. “Mike loved flying and the rescue mission,” Lacey said. He mentioned a mission in Afghanistan in which he and Teal volunteered to fly extra time to rescue a badly wounded soldier on the side of a mountain at about 9,000 feet.

Staff Sgt. William Hale described his friend Hicks playing a football game like he was in the Super Bowl, Hale said. “I never met anybody like Jason before,” Hale said. “He was always full of life. He had that typical goofy look on his face, and if you looked at him you couldn’t help but smile. I’ll never forget him. He died doing what he loved.”

Staff Sgt. (Select) Sean Cunningham, 38th RQS, described 21-year-old Plite as a man who loved his job and loved being a PJ. “He was strong, he was energetic, enthusiastic … ,” Cunningham said. “He wanted to learn everything, he wanted to know everything, he wanted to be the best PJ he could be.”

Today, crews like Komodo 11 are conducting combat search and rescue missions in Afghanistan and other areas of the world. They have been responsible for saving 57 people ranging from U.S. and Allied military forces to Afghan civilians since their arrival in Afghanistan about 16 months ago, Trask said.

Pilot’s Death Strikes Close to Home for Third-Graders

Source: The Associated Press

LAKE PARK, Ga.   —   The death of a Moody Air Force Base helicopter pilot in Afghanistan struck close to home for third-graders at Georgia’s Lake Park Elementary School.

1st Lt. Tamara Archuleta of Belen, a co-pilot with the 41st Rescue Squadron at the air base near the school, had written to the pupils just last month in response to letters they had sent to lend their support to military personnel overseas. ?Archuleta and five other airmen died Sunday when their HH-60G Pave Hawk crashed en route to rescue two Afghan children who had suffered severe head wounds. The 23-year-old officer had a 3-year-old son.

About two weeks ago, Stacy Scarborough’s class received a package that contained 13 letters, all from Archuleta. There was also a U.S. flag with a certificate saying it had flown over Uzbekistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in honor of the Lake Park third-grade class.

“I think at that moment it all came together   —   the description of the flag being flown over there. The children were very excited,” Scarborough said. “It meant a lot to them.” The flag hangs on the wall in Scarborough’s classroom and will be flown permanently at the school shortly after spring break to honor all the men and women in the military.

The students started writing in January, and each has sent three to four letters. Scarborough told the children they might not receive replies because the troops were so busy. The package from Archuleta was more than they expected. “The fact that she wrote each individual, they picked up on that and knew how special that was,” the teacher said.

Landon Luke, 9, wrote his first letter to a military person overseas and started it off with “Dear Soldier.”  “I told them about myself and my hobbies,” he said. When he read Archuleta’s description of what the 41st did, he was amazed. “I was proud, and I felt good,” he said.

Taylor Thomas, 9, also felt pride. When she learned that Archuleta was killed, she cried. “I was very sad, because she was the very first person who had sent a letter to us,” Taylor said.

Robin White said her 8-year-old, Joseph, received his letter from Archuleta about two weeks ago. It was dated Feb. 23. Archuleta responded directly to him and mentioned how her son liked Scooby Doo, too. Joseph learned of Archuleta’s death Tuesday morning when he saw the story in the newspaper, his mother said. “He was stunned,” she said. “The person he wrote to and received a letter from was his first encounter with death. I told him our troops are defending our country, and they are willing to die for their country. “It’s got our whole family thinking about her. We didn’t know her, but now we feel like we did,” she said.

Letter From Pilot Archuleta to a Third-Grader Here is one of the letters written to third-graders at Lake Park Elementary School in Georgia by Air Force helicopter pilot Tamara Archuleta before she was killed in a crash in Afghanistan:

Dear Joseph, I am a pilot in the 41st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, of the United States Air Force. We are based out of Moody AFB in Valdosta, Georgia. We are currently covering the Afghanistan theatre in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and the Anti-Terrorism Task Force. Our squadron has a very special job. We fly HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters in combat search and rescue. We go behind enemy lines to cover downed personnel and isolated troops.

In peacetime, we do civilian rescues for people that are lost and hurt at sea, or in the mountains and need to get to a hospital. That is a lot of what we have been doing here to help show the people of Afghanistan that we are here to help them.

Thank you so much for the card! It was very nice of you to write the troops here a letter. I hung your cards up on the wall so that everyone can look at them and read your letters! My son likes Scooby Doo, too. Keep working hard in school and you can be anything you want to be when you grow up!

Tamara Archuleta
1LT, USAF 41st Rescue Squadron
Director of Training

  • Sources:
  • War On Terror
  • Legacy
  • Military Times (original link – militarycity.com/valor/262966.html)
  • Daily Lobo
  • Washington Post
  • Air Force Times
  • Iraq War Hereos

Matthew R. Soper

Matthew R. Soper—September 2007 Shipment Honoree

Army Pfc., age 25, of Kalamazoo, Mich., died June 6, 2007 in Bayji, Iraq, of wounds sustained from an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 1461st Transportation Company (Combat Heavy Equipment), Michigan Army National Guard, Jackson, Michigan.

Soldier Dies “doing what I love”

Source:  Jackson Citizen Patriot
Michigan Live
By Danielle Quisenberry

Matthew R. SoperIn every e-mail, every call, Sgt. Matthew Soper assured his family in Jackson that he believed in the cause. “He told me—‘If I die there, don’t think I didn’t die doing what I love,'” said Soper’s oldest sister, Amy Ciokajlo.

Soper, 26, of Jackson was killed this week in Iraq, where he was serving with the Michigan Army National Guard’s 1461st Transportation Company, based in Jackson.

Wednesday evening, two men in uniform arrived at his family’s home on S. Webster Street, walking through trees decked with yellow ribbons, to deliver the news that left the tight-knit family numb. “This isn’t supposed to be happening to us,” said Ciokajlo, 36, sitting on her parents’ front porch late Wednesday and dabbing her eyes with a tissue.

In front of her, dozens of family friends were gathered on the dark lawn, holding candles and reciting the Lord’s Prayer. One held a sign that read, “You’re in our prayers. United we stand.”

Soper is the third soldier from Jackson County killed in Iraq and the first to die from the 1461st Transportation Company in two wars. This was his second tour in Iraq.

Just about two years ago, Soper’s family was celebrating his return from the war. He returned home in February 2005 after nearly a year fighting with the 1462nd Transportation Company of Howell. As part of his 2005 homecoming celebration, Soper cut down yellow ribbon around an elm tree in his parents’ yard. “My dad put the yellow ribbon up the day I left for Iraq, and I chopped it down,” Soper told the Citizen Patriot. “I made it.”

After his return, he spent some time in Kalamazoo, taking classes at Kalamazoo Valley Community College until he was called to duty last year. He was among 299 soldiers mobilized in Jackson last June for deployment with the 1461st Transportation Company. It is a truck-driving unit that transports tanks in huge vehicles the Army calls HETs, for heavy equipment transport.

The 1461st is expected to return home in August. “He was just counting down the days until he could come home,” said his aunt, Sandy Cannons of Jackson.

She and the rest of the family last saw Soper—the fifth of Warner and Shirley Soper’s eight children—when he surprised everyone and came home in March to celebrate his grandmother’s 80th birthday. “That was his style—the grand entrance,” Ciokajlo said.

He would walk into a room and “light everyone up,” Cannons said and recalled him dancing in March to “Hillbilly Deluxe,” a country song by Brooks & Dunn.

Sgt. Brian Guenther of Jackson served with Soper in Iraq in Soper’s first tour. Guenther said they did not know each other well—”I was in admin and he was out on the trucks”—but Soper was “a pretty gung-ho guy.”

“He wanted to be there,” Guenther said. “He volunteered to come back again. He was well respected.”

Cannons spoke repeatedly of the pride she takes in her nephew. “I was always proud of him, even when he was naughty.”

As a boy, he made some mistakes, Ciokajlo and Cannons said; one was dropping out of Lumen Christi High School, though he later earned his GED.

But his service in the military changed him, Ciokajlo said. “He’s turned into a great human being. The military really did turn him around.” Soper was considering making a career of the armed services, his sister said. He joined to “call something his own,” she said. He was afraid he had caused disappointment and wanted to do something that would make others proud.

It is clear he did that. “I’ve told him every chance I got how proud of him and how honored I felt to be his sister,” Ciokajlo said. She said he was inspired by the positive things that were happening in Iraq and refused to watch news reports he considered negative. They never showed the good things, he would complain.

Ciokajlo said Soper led caravans while in Iraq, manning the front vehicle gun. “I can’t imagine how many lives he saved,” his sister said.

The 1461st Transportation Company was last deployed for the Gulf War in 1990. Two detachments of soldiers, one including Soper, have served in Iraq with other units.

Soper’s friends home for funeral

Source:  Jackson Citizen Patriot
By Holly Klaft

Matthew R. SoperDerek Eisele and Matthew Soper were inseparable. They had spent nearly every day together since they were classmates at Jackson Catholic Middle School. They joined the Michigan Army National Guard together, fought next to one another on their first tour in Iraq and headed out together with the 1461st Transportation Company for the second.

“We couldn’t get away from each other,” Eisele said. “He was my roommate, my gun partner and my battle buddy. You feel 100 times safer when it’s your best friend protecting your back.”

So when the pair parted ways earlier this year for different
assignments, the separation caused some uneasiness.
It was two months before they would see one another again,
when Soper surprised Eisele by stopping at his base.
“Maybe it was God saying Matt’s got to see you one more time,” Eisele said.

Two weeks later, Soper, 25, was killed when an improvised bomb struck his vehicle. His death devastated friends and relatives who say they’re trying to mend the gaping hole in their lives. Soper’s funeral is at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the Lumen Christi High School gymnasium.

Coming home

After learning of their son’s death, Shirley and Warner Soper spent the next week “knocking down doors” to bring his best friends and military family home. They succeeded last week when four, including Eisele, returned to Michigan.

“It’s what Matthew would have wanted, and it’s what we wanted,” Shirley Soper said. “They needed to be here.” The trip home was a relief for Soper’s close friends, who were told they wouldn’t be able to attend the funeral.

“I would have been a wreck if they didn’t let me come home,” said John Phelps, Soper’s longtime friend who is a communications officer in the 1461st. “This is what I needed to do, to come home and be with the people who knew and loved him like I did. I’m so grateful just to make it back so I could say goodbye to my brother.”

Nearly 500 soldiers attended Soper’s memorial service in Iraq, Phelps said. “Everyone knew he was a hero,” he said. “He was always busy looking out for everyone else.”

Battle bonds

During the first week of their tour in Iraq three years ago, Eisele and Soper’s convoy was struck by a bomb while traveling from Kuwait. Eisele said having Soper at his side helped him get through the anxiety.

“Your heart drops, and it races,” Eisele said. “We got that feeling that this is going to happen to us every day. It took awhile to get used to but just having a familiar face and seeing each other, you’d feel more like you were home.”

Eisele was with Soper when he was moved up to the position as gunner. Soper loved it and would volunteer for the dangerous position as lead gunner, eagerly telling friends about the roadside bombs he was able to spot.

“He’d come back and say ‘I found another one. No big deal,'” said Soper’s girlfriend, Alicia Oleksiak, who served with him in the 1461st. “Everyone relied on Matt. They knew when he was up there, nothing was getting by.”

Soper was in a great mood when he left with his convoy the day his vehicle was struck, Oleksiak said. He was set to return home in August and weeks earlier had spent hours discussing plans with Eisele for a raucous welcome-home party.

For Oleksiak, it still doesn’t seem real. “When they told me what happened it felt like my heart was getting ripped out of my chest,” Oleksiak said. “I don’t think I’ve ever cried so hard in my life.”

A somber return

Shirley Soper met her son’s casket Wednesday at Jackson County Airport, greeting him as if he had just stepped off the plane with his company. Some family members didn’t go, knowing it would be too heartbreaking for them to bear. “As a mother it was something I had to do,” she said. “I got to kiss him 100 times. I got to see his face and touch his hands.”

Army officials tell soldiers to write letters to their families in case something should happen to them, but Soper brushed off the idea during his first tour, reassuring everyone he would return home, Warner Soper said.

Before returning to Michigan, Eisele headed to Soper’s barracks to pick up some of his personal items. Stuck under his computer was an envelope addressed to his family in case he didn’t make it home alive.

“I didn’t know he could write like that. It was so beautiful,” Warner Soper said in tears. In the three-page letter Soper thanked his family for everything they’ve done and let them know he would continue to watch out for them.

“It said if we wanted to talk to him, just to look up and I’ll be the first star you see,” Shirley Soper said. “I looked up at the stars for him last night.”

Thousands attend emotional funeral for Soper

Source:  Jackson Citizen Patriot
Michigan Live
By Danielle Quisenberry and Chris Gautz; staff writer Holly Klaft contributed to this story.


Matthew SoperTo honor a soldier many had never met, they came in the thousands. They waved American flags, stood at rigid attention or wiped away tears for a family overcome by loss. About 1,500 people Tuesday crowded into the Lumen Christi Catholic High School gymnasium for Sgt. Matthew Soper’s funeral mass. Hundreds more lined Jackson streets, watching silently, as the hearse carrying Soper’s body made a somber journey to St. John’s Cemetery on E. South Street.

“This man gave his life for our freedom,” said Daniel Barnes of Jackson, a leather-clad biker who did not know Soper but rode in the funeral procession with more than 300 other vehicles. “The very least we can do is show our respect.”

Soper, 25 died June 6, 2007 in Baji, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device hit his patrol vehicle. He was serving his second tour of duty with the Jackson-based Michigan Army National Guard 1461st Transportation Company.

Tuesday, a silent crowd rose to its feet in reverence as his flag-draped coffin was taken through a light rain and into the high school gym. Soper’s weeping family walked slowly behind it.

His seven siblings, their spouses and his parents, Shirley and Warner Soper, filled the front rows of the gym as Father Bernard Reilly, of St. Mary Catholic Church in Jackson, delivered the homily. “(Soper) was unique and had that unique place in the family … and in your hearts,” said Reilly, standing at a podium flanked by red, white and blue flowers.

As he and others spoke, men and women dabbed their eyes with tissues. Soper’s best friend, Sgt. Derek Eisele, shook with emotion when Reilly referred to him and A.J. Curtis as “brothers” to Soper.

Many who had been able to maintain composure broke down as they viewed a slide show of family photos, accompanied by live acoustic guitar versions of popular country music songs, “An American Soldier” and “If You’re Reading This.” Pictures spanning Soper’s life—from a boy with his face smeared with food to a soldier kissing a niece—had men wiping their eyes.

Toward the end of the Mass, Soper’s brother-in-law, Jay Ciokajlo, fought his emotions as he read a poem Soper wrote. Soper’s friends found it in his room in Iraq after he died.

An excerpt: ?”I am that which others do not want to be.?I went where others feared to go.?And did what others failed to do.?I asked for nothing from those who gave nothing …?At least some day I will be able to say that I was proud of what I did and who I am.”

Ciokajlo continued by sharing memories of Soper, who nicknamed himself “Big Slick.”

“He was extreme. He wanted to be extreme in all he did. He did not get lost in a crowd,” Ciokajlo said. He was the “life of the party” and “all that and a bucket of chicken to the ladies,” he said, drawing laughs from Soper’s family. It was a light moment in an otherwise serious ceremony.

More than 100 military personnel attended the funeral, standing at attention as Maj. Gen. Thomas Cutler awarded Soper with the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. The Purple Heart is awarded to soldiers wounded in combat. The Bronze Star honors acts of heroism or meritorious service.

When the 1-hour, 45-minute service ended at about noon, more than 200 cars and trucks and about 100 motorcycles made their way along the five-mile procession to the cemetery for a grave-side service. The family rode in a white recreational vehicle marked with Soper’s name on its side as those along the route stood for what amounted to a silent parade for a soldier everyone called heroic.

Among them was Andrea Beeler of Napoleon, whose brother, Marine Lance Cpl. Brent Beeler, 22, was fatally shot in the chest Dec. 7 while on patrol in Fallujah, Iraq. He was serving with a Lansing-based Marine Corps Reserve company.

“I figured I should be here,” said Beeler, 19. Community support got her family through the rough time after her brother’s death, she said, holding a small flag. “I don’t know what I can do as one person, but I know it helped me.”

About 100 feet away, David Kughn, a 59-year-old Vietnam War veteran, stood on the corner of Jackson Street and Washington Avenue tightly gripping a 5-foot American flag and wearing a red, white and blue polo shirt.

“We wouldn’t be able to stand out here today and do what we want if it wasn’t for them,” Kughn said as procession vehicles approached a 25-by-40 foot American flag, waving about 40 feet above Washington Avenue.

The enormous patriotic symbol was strung up near Mechanic Street by Blackman and Spring Arbor township fire department ladder trucks to honor Soper. The flag was loaned to Blackman by the Hot Air Jubilee.

All the support was “wonderful,” said Soper’s aunt, Sandy Cannons of Jackson. “It just touched the hearts … I know it meant the world to Shirley and Warner and the kids.”

Master Sgt. Bill Bain said in 20 years of military service he has never seen such an outpouring of support. “I was really amazed how this community stepped up.” Bain served with Soper when he toured Iraq in 2004 and 2005 with the National Guard 1462nd Transportation Company, based in Howell.

It always hurts when a soldier dies, he said, his face showing obvious signs of expelled tears. “But he was one of our own … He was one of the best.”

Tough but gentle is how community remembers Matthew

Source:  Jackson Citizen Patriot
Michigan Live
By Holly Klaft

Matthew Soper was “one of the toughest kids you’d ever meet.” The rough-and-tumble 26 year old volunteered to go to Iraq and take on the dangerous position of lead gunner in the Michigan Army Guard’s 1461st Transportation Company.

He was such an aggressive athlete in high school, football coaches moved him up to the varsity team in his sophomore year. “He was a risk-taker,” said Herb Brogan, head football coach for Lumen Christi High School. “He was always challenging the limits, and he had that enthusiasm.”

Family, friends and Jackson residents mourned the loss of the devoted soldier, who they said always gave 100 percent to serving his country. “He loved the Army,” said Soper’s godmother Karen Manser. “It really meant something to him to fight for his country.”

Soper loved Lumen Christi football and showed his pride for the military by wearing his uniform to his younger brother’s games, Brogan said. “He was awfully proud of what he was doing and it was more or less his calling,” he said.

Soper was a “natural athlete” and played basketball and football his freshman and sophomore years at Lumen Christi. He also played baseball his freshman year. Coaches and teammates said the skilled basketball forward and football defensive end was an aggressive player who stood out as a leader.

“He never backed down from anything,” said friend and former teammate Andy Hawley. “He was one of the few sophomores that got moved up to varsity and he just stepped right in and wasn’t intimidated.”

Though he was tough on the field, he was always gentle with the children who knew and looked up to him, said Pat Neville, junior varsity football and basketball coach for Lumen Christi. “It was such an enjoyable time seeing him interact with the little kids,” Neville said. “He was this big kid taking care of little kids. Some high school kids think they’re too good to play with kids, but he really played with them.”

Soper always made time for the people in his life—especially the children—and was a favorite uncle.

“He loved to tease the kids and get them riled up, but he was always really gentle,” said Manser, an assistant to the principal at St. Mary’s School in Jackson.

Soper was supposed to visit a second-grade class at the school when he returned. The class had been sending Soper care packages and letters since his deployment a year ago and prayed for him every day, Manser said. They were putting together another bundle of packages and letters to send him this month.

Manser said Soper’s niece, Meg, loved him so much she told the family she “needed to go to heaven to be with uncle Matt.” “He was really a special boy and a good kid,” Manser said, fighting back tears. She said the family has been amazed by the outpouring of support from the community.

“You have all the respect and admiration in the world for those kids who serve and say a prayer for them every night,” Brogan said. “There’s nothing in the world you can say to make anyone feel better. All you can do is be there.”


Other links:

Washington Post
 Michigan Live
Military Times (original link – www.mco.com/valor/2827189.html)

Patrick Rapicault

Patrick Marc M. Rapicault – August 2007 Shipment Honoree

War Never Ends
Getting to know the men of Whiskey Six—and the loved ones they left behind.
By Phil Zabriskie
Posted Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2008, at 4:39 PM ET

In my youth, I knew Nov. 11 as my sister’s birthday. As I aged, I learned that it was also Veterans Day. Now, having spent time with American soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Philippines—and time elsewhere with soldiers from other nations—I think I have a much better understanding of what the day is designed to commemorate.

For the last three years, I’ve found myself looking past Veterans Day, to Nov. 15, which is now a more significant date on my personal calendar than many officially recognized holidays. It’s only b y a quirk of fate that the day means anything to me, but that quirk of fate had a lasting impact on me, and far more so on four different families.

I need to back up a little. In October 2004, I was halfway through my second stint with Time magazine’s Baghdad bureau. Conditions in Iraq were rapidly deteriorating. Mobility was limited, reporting increasingly dangerous. And in several places, working as an embedded reporter almost certainly meant coming under fire.

Ramadi was one of those places. Some military men considered it more dangerous than Fallujah, but, at that point, it still seemed like a good idea to spend time there with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, one of the outfits trying to keep the city from spiraling completely out of control. By chance, I was briefly billeted with the 2/5’s Whiskey Company, which was charged with, among other things, patrolling the main thoroughfare, known as Route Michigan, which almost guaranteed they’d get attacked. A week later, I returned for a few days to report on Ramadi and on combat stress among front-line soldiers.

During that second visit, I mainly rode in company commander Capt. Pat Rapicault’s Humvee, a vehicle with the call sign Whiskey Six. I’d initially thought Rapicault—”Frenchy” to his men—was Cajun, but I later learned he’d grown up in Martinique and France before attending high school and college in Mississippi and enlisting. He was joined by Cpl. Marc Ryan, a steely-eyed South Jersey native; Cpl. Lance Thompson, who hailed from Indiana farm country; and Lance Cpl. Ben Nelson, a Californian.

Late one night, Whiskey Company rode out to support other Marines. I sat behind Ryan, who drove. Rapicault was behind Thompson, who manned the radio, and Nelson was in the gunner’s hole. “We’ll probably get hit,” Ryan said. He’d know, I thought; he’d already served a bruising tour in Ramadi with the 2/4 Marines, then he re-upped and came back after spending only two weeks at home.

Indeed, he was right. Whiskey Company was ambushed twice that night. Whiskey Six was very nearly disabled by roadside bombs that detonated a few feet from the front tires. The wheels were flattened, the windshield spider-webbed and covered with engine oil. When Rapicault bellowed at Ryan to get moving, Nelson had to shout down directions so he could steer to safety.

Now I see that night as the most frightening experience I’ve ever had. Then, it was part of my job—and even more so, part of theirs. At the end of the month, my stint in Iraq ended. The battle for Fallujah commenced. Fighting continued in Ramadi. And on Nov. 15, I learned from the newspaper the next day, a suicide car bomber rammed Whiskey Six, killing Patrick Rapicault, 34; Marc Ryan, 25; and Lance Thompson, 21. Ben Nelson was seriously wounded but survived.

I didn’t know them well, but they may have saved my life. I happened to be in New York visiting my parents, so I went to Ryan’s funeral in Gloucester City, N.J. Later, I met Rapicault’s older sister, Christine Cappallino, who lived in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. The next year, on Nov. 15, I joined the Ryans for a memorial they held at a local bar. Two years later, I visited Lance Thompson’s family, the Rapicaults, and Ben Nelson, thinking I’d write about how they were handling their losses.

They were wary but welcoming, still mourning but generous. I think they felt the stories I’d written for Time about Ramadi gave them a window into what life “over there” was like for their sons and helped memorialize them in some way. They, in turn, gave me a window into their lives and the steps they were taking to protect and maintain the memories of those they’d lost—the gatherings, the T-shirts, the stickers and photo books, and the scholarship funds. I saw Gloucester City High pull out a stunning last-minute victory on the day they retired Marc Ryan’s jersey. I saw how Lance’s brothers, Matthew and Philip, his cousin Casey, and his mother, Melanie Smith, had all gotten the same tattoo Lance had on his wrist—the Chinese characters for gung-ho. And I saw that the Rapicaults, who had moved to a planned community in central Florida in the 1990s to be nearer to Patrick, were doing their mourning in isolation. Their English was shaky, leaving them largely unable to plug into the networks the Ryans and Thompsons had at their disposal. Cappallino had moved from New York to Florida to help out her father and stepmother (then 91 and 74, respectively), but she was finding it hard to adjust to the new surroundings. More to the point, they were heartbroken about Patrick, as was Vera Rapicault, his widow, who had moved to Oregon.

Ben Nelson had improved dramatically and was working again—as a radio dispatcher for the Plaster County’s sheriff’s office—but he still felt the effects of his injuries. The explosion had collapsed his lungs and severely burned his hands, neck, and face. Shrapnel had pierced his back, shattered his jaw, split his tongue, and broken seven teeth. His back and knee were badly bruised, likely from landing after the blast pressure popped him out of the turret into the air, which saved his life.

There had been hard times, a few ups—especially the birth of a daughter, Kaitlyn—and a lot of downs. His father and friends helped out as they could, but in the main, his greatest asset was his preternaturally poised wife, Emily. She was 21 when she got the call telling her Ben was wounded. “She grew up fast,” a friend of hers told me. “She’s everything to me,” Nelson said last winter.

Time couldn’t run the story I wrote, which was immensely frustrating for me and, I imagine, for the families as well. But they were extremely gracious about it. Melanie Smith and Linda Ryan took to comforting me about it; they told me that it was meeting each other that really counted. Our connection wasn’t much when measured temporally, and I daresay we had different opinions about the war itself, but I found myself opening up to them in ways I almost never do with people I write about.

A lot of people spent more time and faced more harrowing situations in Iraq than I did, but I think I’ve learned a few things about war through my various experiences in conflict zones. The biggest, I’d say, is that it doesn’t really end. It marks the people who experience it, and it marks their families, too. “It’s not what happens to you; it’s how you deal with,” Ben Nelson’s father told him at one of his low points. And that’s true, particularly, I think, with mourning. It doesn’t go away, but if you can make some peace with whatever happened—whether it’s by saying someone died doing something they loved or performing certain rituals or finding others who know the feelings involved—it gets a little easier to meet the days ahead.

Last year, on Nov. 15, Melanie Smith laid four roses at Lance’s gravesite in Indianapolis’ Crown Hill cemetery, red ones for Lance, Marc Ryan, and Pat Rapicault and a white one for Ben Nelson. “I notice [the anniversary],” Nelson said last year when I asked about it, but “I miss them just as much every other day.”

I don’t know exactly what I’ll do this Nov. 15, but it’s already been on my mind for a while, and I’m sure it will remain that way.

Formerly a staff writer for Time magazine based in Asia, Phil Zabriskie now lives in New York. He has written for National Geographic, National Geographic Adventure, New York Magazine, and others.

Widow says her Marine husband was ‘fearless’

Source: NCTimes.com, November 18, 2004
By: Teri Figueroa

Captain. Patrick Rapicault was born a French citizen. He died an American. The 34-year-old Marine Corps officer, a Carlsbad resident, was among Camp Pendleton-based Marines killed in enemy fighting in Iraq this week. Military officials said Rapicault, the commanding officer of his unit, died Monday in Ramadi, which is in the Al-Anbar province.

On Thursday, Rapicault’s widow, Vera Rapicault, tried to remain strong in the face of his death—”he’s in heaven, telling me to,” she said. She said the Marine Corps told her he died in a suicide bombing attack. Two other Marines died with him, she said.

The widow last spoke to her husband when his phone call woke her at 12:04 a.m. on Monday. “He said, ‘I was thinking about you and I love you with all my heart,’ ” she said.

The Marines, she said, told her that her husband died at about 6:45 am Pacific Standard Time—just hours after the couple’s last conversation. “He said, ‘I would love to come home and see you, but I am satisfied and happy with what I am doing.’ I am at peace with that,’ ” Vera Rapicault said of their last exchange, a hurried phone call.

Patrick Rapicault was born in France, and came as a foreign exchange student to the United States—to Mississippi, to be exact, and his use of the colloquialism “y’all” always came with his thick French accent. The young immigrant later attended college there, earning a degree in business.

But his heart was with the military, his wife said, and he joined the Marines. At about 25, Patrick Rapicault became an American citizen, and was thus able to pursue his dream of becoming an officer.

Vera Rapicault, a 1984 Vista High School graduate, met her “gorgeous” husband-to-be at a barbecue six years ago. After an engagement capped by their wedding at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Oceanside—in his dress blues that day, “he was more pretty than me,” Vera Rapicault said—the couple was sent to the East Coast. They eventually worked their way back to North County and bought a Carlsbad condo earlier this year.

Patrick Rapicault was “gung-ho” about the military, and about his deployment to Iraq, she said. “He ate, drank and slept the military,” she said. “He was the kind of man who wanted to be in the military, the kind of man you would want to be out there (in Iraq).” She said her husband had been in Iraq once before, and was injured with second degree burns in a bombing.

Vera Rapicault said Thursday that when he died, her husband was the commanding officer of his unit’s weapons company in the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.

In a story written a few weeks ago, a military publication on the Marine Corps Web site referred to Rapicault as the commanding officer of his unit’s Weapons Company. However, information provided by Camp Pendleton this week stated that Rapicault was the assistant operations officer. Pendleton officials said it was possible that Rapicault had become the commanding officer.

Vera Rapicault is planning her husband’s memorial, which she said she hopes will be next week at the same Oceanside church in which they married. He will be buried on Nov. 30 in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Patrick Rapicault was an honest man, she said, and a tough guy with a big heart, one who saw the Marines he led as “his boys.”

“I’ve never known anyone quite like him,” she said, “and I don’t think I ever will again. … I loved knowing he loved me.”

The sting of his death is still fresh, but Vera Rapicault holds tight to her knowledge that the man she calls her hero died doing what he believed in.

“Even though I knew he loved me and loved life, he was willing to put down his life for our country,” she said. “It puts him in a totally different category. … He was fearless.”

Marine’s Loyalty to Troops Recalled

Source: Washington Post, December 1, 2004
By Lila Arzua

The photograph of Captain Patrick Marc M. Rapicault appeared to be looking over the crowd of mourners gathered at the Old Post Chapel at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday. There he was with his dark hair cropped short, medals glistening against his chest, gaze as solid and determined as ever. Nearby, his body lay in a flag-draped coffin.

More than 100 family, friends and fellow service members had gathered to mourn the 34-year-old Marine who lost his life in Iraq. Rapicault, of St. Augustine, Fla., was killed November 15, 2004, in Anbar province. He was the 97th service member killed in Iraq to be buried at Arlington.

Rapicault was assistant operations officer for the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. He had been quoted in numerous news accounts and stories about the war in Iraq and the troops’ experiences.

“You have to get over your feelings and keep on pushing, just for the simple reason that you have another 170 Marines to take care of and make sure they come back,” he told Time magazine shortly before his death.

He was interviewed for an October 25, 2004, article on the war that recounted Rapicault’s role as commander of Whiskey Platoon, leading his men on a counterinsurgency mission prior to the start of major fighting in Fallujah.

According to the Time article, Rapicault’s Humvee was struck by mortar fire and disabled during the patrol. It was the sixth time he had been hit, the article said. None of his men were killed in that attack, but Rapicault was prepared to give his life for his country. “It is a daily hit and run,” Rapicault later told Agence France-Presse.

Yesterday, a letter from a CBS correspondent who had covered him was read aloud to the mourners. A friend and fellow serviceman recalled his “bone-crushing handshake” and his loyalty to those he loved.

Rapicault had been awarded the Purple Heart, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon and National Defense Service Medal.

He was born on the island of Martinique and moved to the French Riviera at age 5. He immigrated to the United States as a teenager. It was during his high school years in Mississippi that he developed his distinctive accent—part French and part southern, according to one of the speakers at the service. But “Frenchy,” as he was known to many, was proud of his mastery of English as a second language, and especially of a writing award he won.

Rapicault attended Delta State University in Mississippi and joined the Marine Corps Reserve. Upon graduating with a bachelor of science degree in business management, he converted to active duty. In 1997, he completed Officer Candidate School and reported to Camp Pendleton in California. The following year, he graduated first in his class from Army Ranger School.

At his grave yesterday, a Marine band played the hymn “Eternal Father Strong to Save.” Captain Daniel Hench presented a U.S. flag to Rapicault’s wife, Vera, and Staff Sergeant Charles Dorsey presented another to his mother, Nicole Rapicault.

In addition to his wife and mother, Rapicault is survived by his father, Gabriel Rapicault, and a sister, Christine Cappillino.

Marine officer posthumously receives Silver Star

 Source: Marine Corps News, Dec. 2, 2005
By Lance Cpl. Ray Lewis, MCB Camp Pendleton

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (Dec. 2, 2005) — “ He led from the front,” said 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment Bn. commander Lt. Col. Craig S. Kaczynski during Capt. Patrick M. Rapicault’s Silver Star ceremony Dec. 2.

Rapicault assumed command of Weapons Company, 2nd Bn. 5th Marines during his deployment to Iraq while they were in contact with the enemy on 24 September 2004. As company commander, Rapicault led his Marines through 50 firefights and 27 improvised explosive device ambushes between the time he took command of the unit and until he was killed Nov. 15, 2004.

For his gallantry, Rapicault was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award for combat valor. His wife, Vera Rapicault, accepted the award on his behalf during the ceremony at 5th Marines memorial park located in Camp San Mateo.

According to the citation, he directed the fire and maneuver of his company with complete disregard to his own personal safety. Despite being the first Marine wounded in his Battalion and his company suffering the heaviest casualties during the street fighting, Captain Rapicault always displayed an infectious enthusiasm that motivated every Marine to fight hard and recover quickly from battle.

On every mission, Captain Rapicault’s intuitive and calm combat leadership ensured success on the battlefield, which limited damage to vehicles and friendly casualties.

Also according to the citation, He gallantly gave his life in the cause of freedom.

“I was 200 meters away when he passed. It was hard because he was ‘that man’,” remembered 1st Lt. Shawn M. Maurer, an infantry officer who served with Rapicault in Iraq. “My fondest memory of him was his courage, you could see it in his eyes. I could look in his eyes and everything was going to be okay because he was the best Marine Corps officer I’ve ever served with,” Maurer said.

Rapicault’s heroics not only affected his Marines but also reached Marines throughout the 1st Marine Division. First Marine Division commanding general Maj. Gen. Richard F. Natonski said “We were blessed not only as a country and Marine Corps, but also as 1st Marine Division to have a leader like Capt. Rapicault” during the humble ceremony.

Natonski said Rapicault would never be forgotten. “He is as alive today as the day he died,” said Lt. Col. Randall P. Newman, former commanding officer of 2nd Bn., 5th Marines. “He is truly the backbone of what the corps is today. His memory goes on forever.”

Marine captain — killed in Iraq — featured in ‘60 Minutes’ report

Rapicault was featured in a report about U.S. Marines fighting in Ramdi, Iraq, that aired on the “60 Minutes” news show on CBS on Jan. 16, 2005. Read a transcript of the report at:


Other Links:

Arlington National Cemetery Website
Military Times (orignal link – www.militarycity.com/valor/508991.html)
North Country
California Gov.
Navy News

Justin T. Paton

Justin T. Paton—July 2007 Shipment Honoree

Alanson, Michigan man dies in combat in Iraq

Source:  Cheboygan  Daily Tribune
Iraq War Hereos
By Mike Fornes, February 20, 2007
Paton Justin T July 2007 Honoree
Paton, Justin T 

ALANSON – A 2000 graduate of Inland Lakes High School was killed Saturday in Iraq. The family of Army Pfc. Justin T. Paton of Alanson received notification Monday that he died when his patrol came under fire 40 miles north of Baghdad.

“We know that he is back in the States now, he’s in Dover, Del.,” said Paton’s sister, Stormy Dickinson. “We can’t make any kind of arrangements for his funeral until we get a date when he can come home.”

Dickinson said her brother was a member of the 1st Cavalry Division, Delta Company and had recently been named the unit’s leader. He was deployed to Iraq on Oct. 31, 2006. He had worked as a rehabilitation technician at Northern Michigan Hospital before joining the Army in 2005.

Family members said that Paton was born on July 4, 1982, and always thought that the fireworks were for his birthday. “They will be from now on,” all agreed.

Paton’s high school football coach remembered him Monday as “a bright young man and a fantastic kid – the kind of kid you hope your own son grows up to be.”

Inland Lakes Principal Don Killingbeck also recalled a visit he received from Paton, 24, last fall just before he went overseas. “He stopped in the school last fall,” Killingbeck said. “He had acquired a real physical presence with all his weight-lifting since I had last seen him, he looked like a pro football player. I gave him an Inland Lakes T-shirt to wear over there.”

Killingbeck said he had also taught Paton in a driver’s education class. “Indian River has lost a good son and a bright leader, someone who would have come back and had the ability to serve the community and be productive,” Killingbeck stated.

The son of Donald and Shelley Paton of Alanson, Justin is also survived by a sister, Stormy Dickinson, a brother Alan Parkey and numerous other family members.

Cheboygan Co. man killed while on duty in Iraq

Source: Traverse County Record Eagle
By Sheri McWhirter, February 20, 2007

INDIAN RIVER — Sniper fire killed a local soldier in Iraq. U.S. Army Pfc. Justin Paton, 24, died Saturday while on duty in the war zone, 40 miles north of Baghdad. His parents are Donald and Shelley Paton of Alanson, although they live in Cheboygan County, about halfway between Alanson and Indian River.

“I want everyone to know how wonderful he was,” said Stormy Dickinson, his sister. “We’ve lost someone so important to us, so full of life.”

Justin Paton graduated in 2000 from Inland Lakes High School in Indian River and played football his senior year. He was deployed to Iraq in October as a member of the Army’s 1st Calvary Division, Delta Company.

Dickinson said her “baby brother” wanted to be a doctor and joined the Army for benefits he would receive under the GI Bill of Rights, which would have paid for his education after he was discharged.

Paton loved to go “two-tracking” and was an avid kayaker. “He carried his kayak on his car and if he saw something interesting, he’d go right for it,” Dickinson said.

Paton volunteered and then was hired as a patient care technician at Northern Michigan Hospital in Petoskey before he joined the military.

“He was a fine young man, bright, honest and outgoing,” said Don Killingbeck, principal of Inland Lakes High School and Justin’s former social studies and driver’s education teacher. “He was all heart and he wanted to help people. He wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and he believed in what he was doing in Iraq.”

Paton corresponded with third-grade students at his former school, his nephew’s class. Those children were somber on Monday, Killingbeck said. “They don’t really understand what happened,” he said. “This is the first time we’ve lowered the flag for one of our own sons.”

In a recent e-mail message Paton sent to a friend from the war zone, he talked about the joy of receiving letters from the schoolchildren and also his desire to come home. “I am glad I am here. I would like to be home. But like I said before, if an American back home could look into the eyes of a child here, see the pain and horrors that they see daily, maybe their outlook would change,” he wrote.

Justin Paton
Justin Paton

Paton was a member of Walloon Lake Community Church, where no special services have yet been planned.

Paton also had a brother, Adam Parkey of Alanson, plus a large extended family. A full military funeral will take place when Paton’s body returns to northern Michigan.

Friends salute Alanson soldier, killed in Iraq

Source: Gaylord Herald Times
By Fred Gray and Maggie Peterson, News-Review Staff Writers
Posted: Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Army Pfc. Justin Paton, 24, the son of Donald and Shelley Paton of Alanson, was killed Saturday in Iraq, a close friend of the family said Monday.

Jerry Carpentier of Alanson, a friend of the Patons and a custodian at Petoskey Middle School, said he had spent much of the weekend with the Patons and was able to confirm that Justin had been killed in or near Baghdad.

Justin’s death was also confirmed by Justin’s uncle, Tom Paton, who was visiting with the family over the weekend. He said members of Justin’s immediate family were to meet with military officials later Monday to learn the details of Justin’s death.

Carpentier said he had been friends with the Patons for years, and had known Justin almost from birth. He said Justin had graduated from Inland Lakes High School in 2000.

Frank Holes, a former principal at Inland Lakes High School, said he remembered Justin as a quiet but friendly student.

“He was kind of a quiet kid in school,” Holes said. “He was a good student, he was always friendly, seemed to have lots of friends but he wasn’t the kind of kid that did anything outlandish or drew attention to himself.”

He added that Justin was interested in technology, and that he and a group of friends would often fix equipment at the school. “He was just a really, really nice kid. Just one of these kids that doesn’t draw attention, that doesn’t say, ‘Look at me,’ but he was steady and he was a good kid. He was a good representation of his school and his community and his parents, one of those silent leaders that was always doing things the right way and unfortunately doesn’t get a lot of recognition,” Holes said.

Carpentier, who said he was like an uncle to Justin, said Justin was “very easy-going, a good guy.” He said Justin liked to kayak and to be outside. “My wife and I spent time with them and shared our common interests in hunting and fishing and camping. Justin liked to camp when he was young and even when he grew older he would always come to the campsite to visit us.”

Justin Paton Kids
Justin Paton Kids

Carpentier said Justin loved rock gardening as a hobby, an interest that grew into a job with Dross Landscaping of Alanson.

Justin was a member of Walloon Lake Community Church.

He had a sister, Stormy Dickenson, and a brother, Adam Parkey, both of Alanson, and many nieces and nephews.

Soldier loved, called hero

Source: Petoskey News-Review
By Maggie Peterson News-Review Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The air of Walloon Lake Community Church was laden with sorrow and tears as friends and family gathered to pay their respects to Army Pfc. Justin Travis Paton Monday.

A few who knew Paton shared their thoughts of the Alanson soldier.

Friend Jacob Smith said he had many fond memories of things they had done together. “Paton was a hero, my hero,” Smith said. “I loved him and I’m going to miss him.”

Paton, 24, was killed Feb. 17 in Iraq by a sniper.

He was a 2000 graduate of Inland Lakes High School who enlisted in the Army in 2005 and was deployed to Iraq Oct. 31. He had recently been named his unit’s leader.

The mother of a man who served with Paton said her son told her of Paton’s dedication. “Justin was huge in our platoon,” she said on behalf of her son. “He loved us and we loved him.”

The Rev. Jeff Ellis, who officiated the service, said Paton was a man who was committed to his faith and he was certain Paton crossed the bridge to eternity. “I have hope and faith and confidence today that Justin crossed that bridge,” he said.

Ellis shared e-mail messages from Paton and a letter he wrote to his aunt, Joyce. In the letter, Paton said he missed his family and friends, and hoped they knew how much he loved and appreciated them. “I wouldn’t want any other life than the one I was raised with,” Paton wrote. Paton added that despite missing home, he had become close with others he was serving with and that they helped each other through the good and bad.

A slide show with photographs of Paton with family and friends was shown, after which Army Brig. Gen. John R. Bartley shared messages by fellow soldiers from a memorial service for Paton.

Bartley said Paton’s company commander remembered Paton always was looking out for the safety of the platoon, was one of the most organized soldiers he had met and was a gentle giant. “He would take the shirt off his back if you asked him,” the company commander said.

Paton’s parents were presented with honors Paton received for his service. He was awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

Outside the church following the service, a volley of 21 shots was given in Paton’s honor and “Taps” was played. His parents, Donald and Shelley Paton, accepted a folded American flag in honor of their son. Paton was laid to rest at Ohioville Cemetery in Indian River.

The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember Justin during the month of July 2007 with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with Justin’s family and friends today and in the years to come.


Nathan B. Bruckenthal

Nathan B. Bruckenthal—June 2007 Shipment Honoree

South Florida Coast Guardsman Killed In Suicide Attack

Source: Arlington National Cemetery Website

A Dania Beach, Florida, man has become the first Coast Guard member to die in combat since the Vietnam War. Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan B. Bruckenthal, 24, who was based out of Coast Guard Air Station Miami, died in an explosion on April 24, 2004 when an unidentified boat he was attempting to board blew up. It was Bruckenthal’s second tour in Iraq and he was 30 days from returning home.

“He was a very fun-loving boy,” said Bruckenthal’s father, Ric Bruckenthal, of Northport, New York. “He was always a happy child and he turned into a happy young adult. We’re very proud of what Nathan did.”

Bruckenthal, who left a pregnant wife behind, was one of three servicemen who died during an attack on two oil terminals in the northern Arabian Gulf.

According to the Coast Guard, Bruckenthal was part of a seven-member Coast Guard and U.S. Navy boarding team that was approaching an unidentified dhow, a small boat often used for fishing in the Gulf, when the dhow exploded as it approached the Khawr Al Amaya Oil Terminal.

About 20 minutes later, two smaller speedboats approached the Al Basrah Oil Terminal and also exploded as security teams tried to intercept them.

Two sailors were also killed, Petty Officer 1st Class Michael J. Pernaselli, a 27-year-old boatswain’s mate from Monroe, New York, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher E. Watts, a 28-year-old signalman from Knoxville, Tennessee. Three other sailors and another Coast Guardsman were wounded.

Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the attack in the name of the Jamaat al-Tawhid wa’l-Jihad, or Unity and Jihad Group, in a message posted on an Islamic Web site that often carries statements said to be from al-Qaida.

A Long Island native, Bruckenthal grew up in Hawaii, Virginia and Connecticut. His stepfather served in the Army and his father is police chief in Northport.

Bruckenthal joined the Coast Guard when he was 18 and served in Long Island and Washington State before joining Tactical Law Enforcement Team South, known as TACLET South, at Coast Guard Air Station Miami.

TACLET South has sent law enforcement detachments to help since the beginning of operations in Iraq. Coast Guard operations in Iraq include port and coastal security, maritime law enforcement, humanitarian aid and training of the newly established Iraqi coast guard.

Bruckenthal was first deployed to Iraq from February to May 2003 and returned in February.

“He was very honored to do anything that the Coast Guard asked him,” said Petty Officer Daniel Burgoyne, who was Bruckenthal’s shipmate, friend and neighbor in Dania Beach. “He was a true patriot. He loved serving his country.”

Burgoyne recalled going mountain biking with Bruckenthal and said his shipmate once purposely led him on a particularly difficult trail “just to see if I could handle it.”

“He was always trying to test someone I think to make sure that he could hang out with him, but in the end he just wanted to be your friend,” Burgoyne said.

Burgoyne said serving with Bruckenthal was fun since he found ways to lighten the mood on long missions.

“When we were on deployments he would always tell stories about the dumbest things,” he said. “It was always good to have him around. You always could count on him for a laugh.”

Because of the young petty officer’s rapport with his peers, Commander Glenn Grahl, commanding officer of TACLET South, had tapped him to join the training staff upon his return. Only the cream of the crop is picked for the assignment of training other members of TACLET South, Grahl said.

“Anybody who comes to my training staff has the ability to work well with people, and that was what he was all about,” he said.

Bruckenthal had been married two years, but missed both anniversaries because he was in Iraq. His wife, Pattie, is three months pregnant with their first child, for whom the Coast Guard is setting up a scholarship and trust fund.

Bruckenthal was excited about his impending fatherhood, Burgoyne said, and he loved his wife.

“He would never go anywhere without her,” he said.

Bruckenthal is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, fulfilling one of the Coast Guardsman’s final requests.

The Makah honor fallen guardsman

Source: By Mike Barber, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter, May 1, 2004

Though a full-time Coast Guardsman during his 2001-2003 tour of duty there, Petty Officer “Nate” Bruckenthal immersed himself in the Makah Nation community, volunteering with the local fire company, Police Department and football team.

Last night during a memorial service in Neah Bay, the 24-year-old, six-year Coast Guard veteran who gave of himself to the community, before he gave his life in Iraq last week, was given something by the Makah: their songs and prayers, wrapped in a blanket destined for his widow, who carries the couple’s unborn child. Special Coast Guard “ambassadors” are charged with carrying it to Arlington National Cemetery for her before his funeral Friday. It is a spiritual gesture as hallowed to the Makah as is the folded American flag she will receive.

“He showed us respect and helped our community. We show him respect,” said Arnie Hunter, traditional chief of Neah Bay, a former Marine and commander of Native American Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 11418. “A lot of people knew him, and it hit home. Kids especially knew him from football practice and games. We want to honor him for the honorable things he’s done in the service and for the community.”

Bruckenthal’s death brought the war home to remote Neah Bay in the northwest corner of Washington, home to the nearly 2,000-member Makah Tribe.

Nate and Pattie Bruckenthal met in Neah Bay when he was stationed there. She was a student from Pacific Lutheran University, which has a special educational program with the Makah. Married only two years, the couple never spent an anniversary together because he was on duty in Iraq.

When they were together, they were inseparable, friends said. Bruckenthal, looking forward to coming home in 30 days, was excited about impending fatherhood.

“This is family, their extended West Coast family,” Chief Warrant Officer Mike Tumulty, commander of Coast Guard Station Neah Bay, said of the mourning Coast Guard and Makah communities.

“He asked Pattie to marry him on Bowman Beach,” Tumulty recalled.

Tribal member Joe McGimpsey, an emergency medical technician, said Bruckenthal “was well-liked. Volunteering was the first thing he did; he helped the community.”

Lending an unconditional hand was a trait many recall about the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Bruckenthal. As a teen he was a Ridgefield, Connecticut, volunteer firefighter. After 9/11, he flew to New York to escort funerals for two firefighters and a police officer killed in the terrorist attacks. He stayed into October, spending vacation time at ground zero to pass out refreshments to firefighters, police officers and construction workers.

It was consistent with Bruckenthal’s respect for a family tradition of public service — his dad is a police officer, his stepfather a career Army veteran, and his grandfather a World War II veteran. He also embraced life optimistically, his father said.

Bruckenthal is survived by his wife, Patti Bruckenthal; father, Ric Bruckenthal, of Northport, NY; mother, Laurie Bullock, of Herndon, Virginia; a sister, Noa Beth, 26; and brothers Matthew, 15, and Michael, 12.

Bruckenthal and his wife left Neah Bay last year when he joined the Tactical Law Enforcement Team South in Miami. The Coast Guard unit sent detachments to Iraq to provide security, humanitarian aid and train the new Iraqi Coast Guard.

In a recent e-mail, Bruckenthal told of anxieties, saying he wondered if each day would be his last.

Last night’s memorial service was “a mix of military, for God and country, and of the sovereign nation of Neah Bay, respecting tradition,” Tumulty said.

Lieutenant Commander Ed Carroll, the Coast Guard District 13 chaplain, led the service. Five empty chairs represented Bruckenthal’s five local personas — fallen warrior, rescuer, fireman, police officer, assistant football coach.

Then the diverse communities merged. The Native American VFW Post 11418 honor guard brought in the colors. A Coast Guard boatswain’s whistle piped. Prayer songs, or ci-qa’s, were sung and drummed. The blanket-wrapping ceremony blessing the robe with songs and prayers drew special attention. Coast Guard officials assigned a special escort, Petty Officers James King and Fred Wilson, representing the local station and the Makah Nation, to ensure it properly reaches his widow in Arlington National Cemetery next week

The ceremony isn’t something often done for non-tribal members, Hunter and McGimpsey said. “That’s from the community. It’s to give her our strength to hold her up,” McGimpsey said.

The gesture affected Bruckenthal’s family and friends on the East Coast. “It is really so heartfelt,” was all an emotional family member at Bruckenthal’s father home could say.

In Florida, Kristi George, who knew Bruckenthal and is helping coordinate donations for his wife, said, “I am in complete awe. What a complete honor this is for the Bruckenthal family.”

Defense Link

Merideth Howard

Merideth L. Howard – May 2007 Shipment Honoree

She was 52 when Afghan bomb struck
Merideth Howard, the oldest known woman to die in combat, was behind the gun of a Humvee

Source: By Kim Barker and James Janega, Chicago Tribune, September 24, 2006

Merideth Personal Page UniformMEHTARLAM, Afghanistan — The older soldiers called themselves the Gray Brigade, but Sgt. 1st Class Merideth Howard never talked about her age. Soon, no one asked. In training, the Waukesha, Wis., resident ran as hard as men much younger. She became a gunner on a Humvee at this small military base, building a wooden box to stand on so she could see over the turret.

Her last night here, Howard and Staff Sgt. Robert Paul sat on the back stoop of their barracks with the base cook, as usual. “We started talking about the time she got shot at,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Marlin McDaniel, 42, the cook. “I said I’d probably duck. I wouldn’t know what to do. But they both basically said at the same time, `When it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go.'”

The next day, Howard and Paul made a supply run to a U.S. military base near the Afghan capital. They never made it back, dying in a fiery suicide bombing in Kabul on Sept. 8, 2006.

At 52, Howard, who had gray hair and an infectious smile, became the oldest known American woman to die in combat….She was the new face of the military’s civil affairs units, which do reconstruction and relief work.

Howard never had been deployed before, not since joining the Reserves on a whim in 1988. After her medical unit was disbanded in 1996, she was assigned to the Individual Ready Reserves, for soldiers without a unit. She still went to monthly drills but mainly handled paperwork, biding her time, putting in her 20 years before earning retirement benefits.

But as a stopgap—and in a first for the U.S. military—provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan were being filled by a mix of Navy, Air Force, Army, National Guard and Reserve soldiers. And many in the Reserves were like Howard, in the Individual Ready Reserves, home also to retired soldiers who had recently left the Army. “We were a little surprised,” said Master Sgt. Robyn Fees, 50, who became a close friend of Howard’s after the two were called up. “We didn’t even know what `civil affairs’ was, to be honest with you.”

She was used to challenges. Born and raised in Corpus Christi, Texas, Howard wanted to be a firefighter, but her hometown did not hire women. So in 1978 she joined the department in Bryan, Texas, as its first female firefighter. She later became a fire risk-management specialist with insurance companies, eventually helping set up a consulting company in California.

In late April, the nine members of Howard’s civil affairs team arrived at the Mehtarlam base in eastern Laghman province. They formed the core of the provincial reconstruction team. Civil affairs is not a new concept for the U.S. military, but provincial reconstruction teams are. The first team began its work in Afghanistan in 2003, a calculated attempt to try to fight the Taliban by helping Afghans rebuild….There are now 24 provincial reconstruction teams here, and a 25th is being set up in eastern Nuristan province.

It is not easy work. Almost 30 years of war have destroyed any professional class in Afghanistan. There are few engineers, architects, doctors or teachers. Achieving anything here takes many attempts. Hospital Road in Mehtarlam, for example, will soon have to be redone for the third time.

In May, Howard was filmed for a U.S. military video highlighting reconstruction work. She is serious, with no evidence of her normal laugh. She stands in a village near the Mehtarlam base, the wind blowing through her hair, her face pink from the hot sun, just after handing out backpacks to kids. “We have a good relationship with the people here in the village,” she says. “And of course, as [with] everybody in Afghanistan, they are in need.”

At first, Howard handled paperwork at the base, tracking projects and applying for money. She was good but longed to be off the base, to go on missions, to be out with the Afghan people. She wanted to be a gunner.

“She wanted to do everything,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Felicia Mason, 37, who later became Howard’s roommate. “She wanted to be able to excel in everything. Because she didn’t want anyone to say she couldn’t do it because she was a woman.” Howard got her chance. The civil affairs team of nine shrank. One soldier went home after a non-combat injury, another was sent to Nuristan, and the gunner to Jalalabad.

Howard told a cousin back home she was surprised at what she was doing. She told her husband that one day she realized she enjoyed it. In August, she told Christian she was thinking of extending her tour. “Merideth liked to live life as an adventure,” her husband said.

According to Pentagon policy, women are excluded from serving in combat units, though in the chaotic realities of Iraq and Afghanistan, their support roles have grown ever closer to the front lines. Howard’s death makes her the oldest U.S. servicewoman known to have died in combat, said Judy Bellafaire, chief historian at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation near Arlington National Cemetery. A 52-year-old nurse died in Vietnam, but from a stroke, she said. Even so, there still was some uncertainty. Records for World War II and earlier conflicts often omit ages.

On missions in Afghanistan, Paul was the driver and Howard was the gunner, standing on the box to make up for her height, about 5-foot-4. For Afghans in this conservative tribal area, where most women wear burqas that cover everything, it must have been a bizarre sight: a gray-haired woman in a helmet on top of a Humvee.

“That’s why Sgt. Howard loved the turret,” said Air Force Senior Airman Brenda Patterson, 26. “She wanted to give little girls dreams of their own.”

The supply run to Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul, happened every month or two. On this trip, the soldiers picked up mail, ammunition, supplies and three new Humvees, with adjustable platforms for the gunner. For the first time, Howard would not need her wooden box.

On that Friday morning, Sept. 8, the convoy of five Humvees left base. Paul and Howard were alone because they planned to pick up two other people at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. At Camp Phoenix, just outside Kabul, the soldiers dropped off one Humvee with transmission problems and a second Humvee pulling a trailer of ammunition. The other three vehicles made their way down Jalalabad Road, Kabul’s suicide bomb alley. The convoy headed for the embassy.

A Lexus SUV pulled up behind the third Humvee. A blue Toyota Corolla followed the Lexus. Witnesses said the Corolla tried to pass the Lexus on the left. But the Lexus blocked the Corolla and started trying to pass the convoy on the left.

The gunner on the third Humvee told soldiers after the attack that he was focused on the Lexus, warning it to stop. But at the same time, the blue Corolla moved up on the right. One soldier in the third Humvee saw the back of the driver’s head, his blue shirt. Another soldier noticed the brake lights.

And they all watched as the car swerved into the second Humvee, bounced off, and then swerved in again. And then a loud explosion, and a flash, and everything was on fire. The blast left a 6-foot-wide crater in the road, killing at least eight Afghans.

The soldiers hoped for survivors in the second Humvee, that somehow no one had died. But the medic never even got to open his bag. Howard and Paul, who did most things together on the base, who always referred to each other politely by rank and last name, were killed in the same instant

In Memoriam: Meridith L. Howard

Source:  The Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University

Merideth Personal Page Civilian ClothesU.S. Army Sgt 1st Class Merideth L. Howard was killed September 8, 2006 in Kabul, Afghanistan when a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated near her Humvee. Howard was assigned to the 364th Civil Affairs Brigade in support of the 10th Mountain Division at the time of her death.

Howard graduated from Corpus Christi’s King High School in 1973 and earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from Texas A&M University.

Family members, including her cousin Lorraine Stevenson of Corpus Christi, remember Howard‘s infectious laugh and her love of the outdoors. “She was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known, Stevenson said, “I never heard her speak ill of anyone.”

After graduating from Texas A&M, Howard worked as a firefighter in Bryan before beginning a career in fire safety and investigation. Her work moved her to California, where she met her husband, Hugh Hvolboll in 1991.

A member of Army reserves since 1988, Howard was called to active duty in December 2005. She is survived by her husband, Hugh Hvolboll, of Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Ross McGinnis

Ross McGinnis—April 2007 Shipment Honoree

Helping wounded soldiers would rank high on Ross’s list of ways to honor his memory. He was a generous and loving person up to the last second of his life, and his army brothers were as much family to him as his Mom and Dad were.

God bless you for all that you do for our boys and girls risking their lives for democracy, freedom and justice.

Tom McGinnis, father of Ross A. McGinnis

Specialist who dove on grenade nominated for Medal of Honor

Source:  Arlington National Cemetery Website  
13 December 2006
By Michelle Tan
Courtesy of Army Times

Specialist Ross A. McGinnis has been nominated by his commanders for the Medal of Honor, said Major Sean Ryan, a spokesman for 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. On December 4, 2006, while on duty in Baghdad, Iraq, McGinnis used his body to smother a grenade, saving the lives of four fellow soldiers. McGinnis died from the blast.

McGinnis, 19, was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, which is attached to 2nd BCT.

McGinnis’ family will have a memorial service for him at 2 p.m. Sunday at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Knox, Pennsylvania. His remains will later be transferred to Arlington National Cemetery.

According to information provided Tuesday by Multi-National Division-Baghdad, McGinnis was manning the gunner’s hatch when an insurgent tossed a grenade from above. The grenade flew past McGinnis and down through the hatch before lodging near the radio.

His platoon sergeant, Sergeant First Class Cedric Thomas, was in the vehicle at the time.

McGinnis “yelled, ‘Grenade. … It’s in the truck,’” Thomas said. “I looked out of the corner of my eye as I was crouching down and I saw him pin it down.”

McGinnis could have escaped the blast, Thomas said. “He had time to jump out of the truck,” he said. “He chose not to. He gave his life to save his crew and his Platoon Sergeant. He’s a hero.”

Three of the soldiers in the vehicle with McGinnis suffered minor injuries. Two of them have returned to duty. The fourth soldier is recovering in Germany.

McGinnis was approved Monday for a Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award for valor, according to a press release from MND-B. In it, he was referred to as a Private First Class. His company commander, Captain Michael Baka, had signed a waiver to promote McGinnis the morning he died. McGinnis was posthumously promoted to Specialist, Baka said.

Private First Class Ross McGinnis, 19, died December 4, 2006, from wounds received in Bahgdad, Iraq.

Born on June 14, 1987, in Meadville, Ross McGinnis was the son of Thomas and Romayne McGinnis of Shippenville. He was a 2005 graduate of Keystone Jr./Sr. High School and also attended Clarion County Career Center for automotive technology, where he participated in the student compass and performed as secretary/treasurer for the automotive department.

McGinnis also worked at McDonald’s on Perkins Road in Clarion during his high school years. He was a member of the Concert Choir in High School. Growing up, he was a member of Boy Scout Pack 56 starting as a Tiger Cub, then Cub Scout, Webelo Scout and Boy Scout. He played YMCA basketball and Soccer, and Little League Baseball with the Knox Association teams. He was a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Knox.

McGinnis enlisted in the U.S. Army on his 17th birthday in Pittsburgh through the Delayed Entry Program. On June 8, 2005, he left Pennsylvania for eight weeks of basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia. After basic he had six weeks of Advanced Infantry Training, graduating in October 2005. He was then assigned to the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team 1st Infantry Division in Schweinfurt, Germany. He was deployed to Iraq in July 2006, supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In addition to his parents, he is survived by two sisters, Becky McGinnis of Baltimore, Maryland, and Katie McGinnis of Monroeville; his maternal grandmother, Rosalind Knight of Knox; and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins. He met Christina Wendel of Ganheim, Bavaria in Germany, who he said was “the love of his life.”

A military memorial service will be held at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Twin Church Road in Knox, with full military honors, pastor Deborah Jacobson officiating. His remains will then be transferred to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. The date and time of the memorial service will be announced as soon as possible.

The family suggests for anybody who wishes to make a memorial donation to send something to a service member overseas, a veteran or local service member and present it as a gift from PFC Ross McGinnis.

Statement From Parents of SPC Ross A. McGinnis, December 23, 2006

Source: WashingtonPost.com, Tuesday, January 2, 2007

When the doorbell rang Monday evening December 4th, about 9:30, I wondered who would be visiting at this hour of the evening. But when I walked up to the door and saw two US Army officers standing on the patio at the bottom of the steps, I knew instantly what was happening. This is the only way the Army tells the next of kin that a soldier has died.

At that moment, I felt as if I had slipped off the edge of a cliff and there was nothing to grab onto; just a second beyond safety, falling into hell. If only my life could have ended just a moment before this so that I would not have to hear the words they were about to say. If only I could blink myself awake from this horrible dream. But it wasn’t a dream.

As the officers made their way into our living room, I rushed back into our bedroom and told my wife Romayne to get up; we had company. And they were going to tell us that Ross is dead. I knew of no other way to say it.

We rushed back out to meet the officers, and then the appointed spokesperson recited the standard message that Private First Class Ross A. McGinnis had been killed in action in Baghdad, Iraq, that day. They could tell us nothing more except that Army regulations required that the family be notified within 4 hours of the event. They offered their sympathy and support, and the Chaplain prayed for our strength in the days to come, and then they left us alone in shock, grief and disbelief.

In the days that followed, we were informed of the details of his death. The entire world probably knows those details now, since there was so much excitement about his heroic deed. Hundreds of family, friends and acquaintances offered us their words of prayer and comfort. But only time will take the edge off the knives that have wedged into our hearts.

Ross did not become OUR hero by dying to save his fellow soldiers from a grenade. He was a hero to us long before he died, because he was willing to risk his life to protect the ideals of freedom and justice that America represents. He has been recommended for the Medal of Honor, and many think that he deserves to get it without the typical 2 years that Congress has required of late. We, his parents, are in no hurry to have our son bestowed with this medal. That is not why he gave his life. The lives of four men who were his Army brothers outweighed the value of his one life. It was just a matter of simple kindergarten arithmetic. Four means more than one.

It didn’t matter to Ross that he could have escaped the situation without a scratch. Nobody would have questioned such a reflex reaction. What mattered to him were the four men placed in his care on a moment’s notice. One moment he was responsible for defending the rear of the convoy from enemy fire; the next moment he held the lives of four of his friends in his hands.

The choice for Ross was simple, but simple does not mean easy. His straightforward answer to a simple but difficult choice should stand as a shining example for the rest of us. We all face simple choices, but how often do we choose to make a sacrifice to get the right answer? The right choice sometimes requires honor.

Our Bible tells us that God gave up his only son to die for us so that we may live. But Romayne and I are not gods. We can’t see the future, and we didn’t give our son to die, knowing that he will live again. We gave him to fight and win and come home to us and marry and grow old and have children and grandchildren. But die he did, and his mother, dad and sisters must face that fact and go on without him, believing that someday we will meet again. Heaven is beyond our imagination and so we must wait to see what it’s like.

God bless everybody that has comforted us in our time of grief. But we must not forget the men and women who are still putting their lives on the line; we must keep them in our prayers and keep reminding them with gifts and letters that they are loved and that we want them to return safely to their families.

Ross’s Silver Star citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a M2 .50 Caliber Machine Gunner in 1st Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, in connection with combat operations against an armed enemy in Adhamiyah (Northeast Baghdad), Iraq on the afternoon of 4 December 2006. PFC Ross McGinnis’ platoon was conducting a combat patrol to deny the enemy freedom of movement in Adhamiyah and reduce the high-level of sectarian violence in the form of kidnappings, weapons smuggling, and murders. 1st Platoon’s combat patrol moved deliberately along a major route north towards the Abu Hanifa mosque, passing an IED hole from a recent detonation on a Military Police patrol that very morning. The combat patrol made a left turn onto a side street southwest of the Abu Hanifa Mosque. There were two-story buildings and parked vehicles on either side of the road. PFC McGinnis was manning the M2 .50 Caliber Machine Gun on the Platoon Sergeant’s M1151 Up-armored HMMWV. His primary responsibility was to protect the rear of the combat patrol from enemy attacks. Moments after PFC McGinnis’ vehicle made the turn traveling southwest a fragmentation grenade was thrown at his HMMWV by an unidentified insurgent from an adjacent rooftop. He immediately yelled “grenade” on the vehicle’s intercom system to alert the four other members of his crew. PFC McGinnis made an attempt to personally deflect the grenade, but was unable to prevent it from falling through the gunner’s hatch. His Platoon Sergeant, the truck commander, was unaware that the grenade physically entered the vehicle and shouted “where?” to PFC McGinnis. When an average man would have leapt out of the gunner’s cupola to safety, PFC McGinnis decided to stay with his crew. Unhesitatingly and with complete disregard for his own life he announced “the grenade is in the truck” and threw his back over the grenade to pin it between his body and the truck’s radio mount. When the grenade detonated, PFC McGinnis absorbed all lethal fragments and the concussion with his own body killing him instantly. His early warning allowed all four members of his crew to position their bodies in a protective posture to prepare for the grenade’s blast. As a result of his quick reflexes and heroic measures, no other members of the vehicle crew were seriously wounded in the attack. His gallant action and total disregard for his personal well-being directly saved four men from certain serious injury or death. PFC McGinnis’ extraordinary heroism and selflessness at the cost of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, are in the keeping of the highest traditions of military service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.



McGinnis to receive Medal of Honor

By Michelle Tan – Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Apr 27, 2008 8:31:52 EDT

Spc. Ross McGinnis, who was killed Dec. 4, 2006, in Iraq when he smothered a grenade with his body, will receive the Medal of Honor, sources told Army Times.

McGinnis, 19, is the second soldier to receive the nation’s highest valor award for actions while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, who was killed April 4, 2003, fighting off insurgents in a fierce firefight south of Baghdad, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor two years after he died.

McGinnis, of 1st Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, is credited with saving the lives of four fellow soldiers.

On Dec. 4, 2006, McGinnis was manning the turret in the last Humvee of a six-vehicle patrol in Adhamiyah in northeast Baghdad when an insurgent threw a grenade from the roof of a nearby building.

“Grenade!” yelled McGinnis, who was manning the vehicle’s M2 .50-caliber machine gun.

McGinnis, facing backwards because he was in the rear vehicle, tried to deflect the grenade but it fell into the Humvee and lodged between the radios.

As he stood up to get ready to jump out of the vehicle, as he had been trained to do, McGinnis realized the other four soldiers in the Humvee did not know where the grenade had landed and did not have enough time to escape.

McGinnis, a native of Knox, Pa., threw his back against the radio mount, where the grenade was lodged, and smothered the explosive with his body.

The grenade exploded, hitting McGinnis on his sides and lower back, under his vest. He was killed instantly. The other four men survived.

McGinnis, who was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, will be honored during a ceremony at the White House. The ceremony is expected to take place sometime in June.

It’s longstanding Army policy not to comment on the status of Medal of Honor nominations. The sources who confirmed the information to Army Times asked to remain anonymous.

When contacted by Army Times, McGinnis’s parents declined to comment.

In addition to McGinnis and Smith, two other service members have received the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq: Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham and Master-at-Arms 2nd Class (SEAL) Michael Monsoor. Only one Medal of Honor has been awarded for actions in Afghanistan, to Lt. Michael Murphy, a Navy SEAL.

Each of those awards was presented posthumously.

Paul J. Darga

Paul J. Darga—March 2007 Shipment Honoree

Little Creek petty officer killed by bomb in IraqSource:  by Kate Wiltrout, The Virginian-Pilot (August 24, 2006)

Paul J. DargaKarie Darga ‘s husband was gone more than he was home the past few years—which made the few months they had together this spring with their young daughter extra special.

Paul J. Darga, a chief petty officer based at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Virginia Beach, headed back to Iraq in June for his fourth Middle East tour. He was killed by a homemade bomb Tuesday in the Al Anbar province, the Department of Defense announced Thursday. Darga was 34.

“The few months he was home before this deployment we were closer than we’ve ever been,” said Karie Darga, who met her future husband in high school in Alpena, Mich. “If this had to happen, my last memories of him are the best they could be.”

Married since 1994, the couple has a 2-year-old daughter, Kailey Rose.

The past 12 months had been momentous for Paul Darga, who was born in Spain and lived in Japan as an Army brat before his father retired and the family moved to Michigan.

Last September, Darga was promoted to chief petty officer. He was a member of the Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Two.

Early this year, he spent more than two weeks of leave from the Middle East visiting his mother, who was dying of cancer. He’d been given the option of going to Michigan to see her while she was still alive, or returning to the United States for her funeral, family members said.

“He needed the time with her when she could talk,” Karie Darga said from her Norfolk home. “They had some wonderful conversations. He treasured that time.” His mother died in March.

On May 26, less than a month before he returned to Iraq, Darga was one of about 20 members of the Little Creek unit awarded a Bronze Star for Valor for their work disposing of bombs, unexploded weapons and weapons caches while in combat. “It meant a lot for him to be honored, but he truly believed he was doing his job,” Karie Darga said.

During a six-month deployment that ended in February 2005, the award citation said, Darga oversaw 163 ordnance disposal missions. He supervised the disposal of more than 6,000 pounds of captured explosives, and his team defused 40 IEDs, or improvised explosive devices. “His outstanding performance, dedication to duty and courage while performing his duties under hostile fire were critical to the success of coalition operations under the most extreme and austere conditions,” the citation says.

His father and stepmother traveled from Michigan for the ceremony. Jack Darga said Thursday that he had a feeling while saying goodbye to Paul that weekend that he wouldn’t see his youngest child again. “For the last six months I just had a premonition,” Jack Darga said from his home in Cheboygan, Mich. “I knew it was going to happen.”

Lt. Jim Hoeft, a spokesman for the Navy’s Expeditionary Combat Command, said Darga is the second Navy explosive ordnance disposal team member to be killed in combat in Iraq. His team had been responding to a strike Tuesday when a second IED exploded, according to the Department of Defense.

Karie Darga said her husband believed completely in the U.S. mission. He knew the risks and was fully trained and confident in his abilities, she said.

Paul Darga started his 16-year Navy career as a Seabee, then went to diving school and joined an underwater construction team at Little Creek. After a number of assignments and 12 months of rigorous EOD training in Florida, Darga and his wife returned to Hampton Roads in April 2002, when he joined Little Creek’s EOD Mobile Unit Two.

Two years later, Karie Darga gave birth to their daughter. “His heart began to melt the day I found out that I was pregnant,” she said.

In his little free time, Paul Darga enjoyed woodworking and tinkering on his beloved green 1995 Mustang. Karie Darga would work with him under the hood; the couple did everything together, she said.

On Saturday, she said, they spent a few hours on the phone, talking about everything and nothing, reveling in their newfound closeness. They last spoke on Monday, the day before he was killed, for about 15 minutes.

Now her thoughts have turned to planning his memorial service—and figuring out a way to preserve her husband’s memory for their daughter. She’s decided to create a box in which she and others who loved Paul can place items that help explain to Kailey who her father was.

Bomb technician attached to Pendlton unit killed in Iraq

Source: by MARK WALKER, Staff Writer, North Country Times

A U.S. Navy chief petty officer who specialized in detecting and removing explosives died in a roadside bomb attack in the Anbar province of Iraq, the Defense Department announced.

Chief Petty Officer Paul J. Darga was killed while responding to an earlier roadside bombing when his team was struck by another improvised explosive device, the military’s term for the weapons responsible for a majority of the combat deaths and injuries in Iraq.

Darga was on his second tour of duty in Iraq and was attached to the 1st Marine Logistics Group based at Camp Pendleton. Married and the father of one, he was assigned to the Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Norfolk, Va.

In May, Darga was awarded a Bronze Star with Combat Valor for his actions during a previous deployment to Iraq… When he was awarded the Bronze Star, Darga was cited for his actions in Iraq from August 2004 to February 2005. During that time, he and his team of specialists identified and rendered safe 40 roadside bombs and a wide array of other explosives, according to the citation accompanying the award.

Darga was a native of Lansing, Mich. He joined the Navy in 1992 and became a chief petty officer in September 2005.

In addition to the Bronze Star, he had three Navy Marine Corps Achievement medals, two Good Conduct medals and a Humanitarian Service Medal.

The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember Paul during the month of March 2007 with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with Paul’s family and friends today and in the years to come.

Randy Newman

Randy L. Newman—February 2007 Shipment Honoree

Marine of Bend, Oregon dies in Iraqi bombing

Source:  by Edward Walsh, The Oregonian and the Associated Press

Randy NewmanA 21-year-old Marine from Bend was killed last weekend in Iraq, his family and friends said Monday. Lance Cpl. Randy Lee Newman reportedly was killed Sunday morning by an improvised explosive device. Mike McKee, a family friend, said parents Jerry and Ramona Newman were informed of their son’s death Sunday evening.

Another family friend, Cecil Wilson, told KTVZ television in Bend that the parents were told that an improvised explosive device hit the vehicle Newman was riding in about 1 am Sunday Baghdad time just outside the Iraqi capital.

McKee said he could not confirm details of Newman’s death. The Department of Defense also did not issue confirmation. The family was expected to speak with the media later this week.

Newman was a member of Company D, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, based in Twentynine Palms, Calif. He was deployed on his first tour in Iraq in March.

Newman graduated from Mountain View High School in Bend, where he was a member of the wrestling team and participated in the Reserve Officer Training Corps, which McKee said was an indication of his interest in serving in the military. He has two younger brothers.

Describing Newman as “an all-American kid,” McKee said, “he believed firmly in what he was doing. . . . He volunteered for the Marines; he volunteered for reconnaissance duty. I think that speaks volumes about him by itself. The whole family is very God-fearing and believes in America.”

McKee said Newman’s parents were being comforted Monday night by family and friends and members of the Christian Life Church, which they attend.

Marine honored—Lance CPL. Randy Lee Newman, 1985-2006

Source:  By Cindy Powers/The Bulletin; published August 30. 2006

Randy NewmanREDMOND – In the stadium where 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Randy Lee Newman celebrated his graduation from Mountain View High School three years ago, more than 2,300 mourners gathered Tuesday to remember his love for his family, his faith in God and his fortitude in service as a U.S. Marine.

Dignitaries, friends and family greeted one another with hugs and tears as photos of Newman and his battalion in Iraq flashed across two large screens inside a pavilion at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center. The stage was covered with bouquets and photos of the fallen young Marine. Gold lettering on red, white and blue ribbons hanging from a carnation wreath read “Beloved son” and “Brother.” A picture of Newman with his mother and a vase with a single red rose were the only two items atop a lace-covered table sitting slightly forward of the stage. Just to the side, Newman’s dress Marine coat and his white service cap hung on display.

Some young mourners donned T-shirts with Newman in his dress blues on the front. The phrase “It’s not about the date when you were born or when you die, it’s about the dash in between,” was written on the back.

The date following Newman’s dash is Aug. 20, 2006. An improvised explosive device ripped into the armored vehicle he was riding in at about 2 pm Baghdad time, according to military officials. It was his third encounter with the devices that litter the countryside of the Al Anbar province of Iraq.

Newman was less than a month away from returning home to Bend after a six-month deployment with the 3rd Light Armored Division, Company D, based in Twentynine Palms, Calif. His family was still waiting for his return Tuesday. Newman’s body had not been reunited with his family, according to a family spokesman.

His parents, Jerry and Ramona Newman, sat silently with his younger brothers—18-year-old Dan and 8-year-old Ken—sitting between them during the two-hour service. At 11 am sharp the crowd fell silent. After a brief introduction, the wail of bagpipes filled the stadium with “Amazing Grace” as a Marine honor guard carried an American flag and the U.S. Marine Corps flag to the stage.

Remembering Randy

Newman’s family pastor, Dan LeLaCheur, officiated the ceremony and was joined by friends, government officials and fellow service members who spoke at the memorial. Each of them talked about Newman’s devotion to family and strong Christian faith.

“I thank God that he gave me such a good mother,” Newman wrote in a letter he recently sent home from Iraq. He wrote that his father was his “best friend” and referred to himself as a “momma’s boy.” In addition to letters home and e-mails, Newman called home whenever he got the chance.

“Randy loved his family and when he came back from a mission, before he would shower or eat he would try to call his family,” LeLaCheur said.

In messages left on the family answering machine that crackled from loudspeakers, Newman repeatedly told his parents and brothers that he loved them and that he was doing well.

In a letter printed in the program for the service, Newman thanked his father for the time they worked, played and hunted together.

Jerry Newman instilled in his son a love for hunting and fishing on weeklong trips spent with his eight uncles at a remote camp near Pendleton, said longtime family friend Bret Matteis. From the time he was a teen, Matteis said, Newman could be counted on to help out in any situation that came up during the camping trips. When an uncle who had recently undergone heart surgery had to leave a hunting trip early one year, Newman helped him ride out on horseback.

The work ethic served him well during his three years on the wrestling team at Mountain View High School. Newman was one of the hardest working athletes on the team, said coach Les Combs. “Randy never backed away from a challenge,” Combs said.

Newman also excelled in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps while in high school, said Master Chief J. W. Terry, a naval service instructor at Mountain View. “The seniors of that 2003 year are known simply as ‘The Class’ to our cadets,” Terry said. “In the corps of cadets, their names are legendary.”

After giving the names of each cadet in the class, Terry finished with Randy Newman. Newman’s JROTC leader, Col. Mike Brock, said “his life path was to become a Marine.”

Two of Newman’s brethren presented his parents with a Purple Heart, for injuries he sustained in an April explosion, and a posthumously awarded Gold Star for the injuries that caused his death. Newman’s father closed his eyes and winced as he accepted his son’s Gold Star.

Selfless service

While many of Newman’s friends and fellow Marines attended his memorial, his closest friend was notably absent. Newman met Army Cpl. Ryan Wilson when the two played on a baseball team in third grade. But Wilson is serving in Afghanistan, explained his wife, Stephanie. She read a letter Tuesday that her husband titled “My Best Friend.”

“A piece of me died as I read that Red Cross letter on August 21 telling me that I lost my brother in arms,” Wilson, wrote. The two communicated by e-mail nearly every day, Stephanie Wilson said, and Newman typed his final words to her husband the day the young Marine died. “It said ‘I’ve always got your back,’” she said.

The words did not come as a surprise to friends, family, fellow service members and LeLaCheur, who all said that Newman put others before himself. He spared his family the details of his prior run-ins with IEDs so they wouldn’t worry about him. He often ate last during his service in Iraq to make sure fellow Marines had enough food, said Pfc. Christopher Grimm, who served with Newman during his deployment there.

Grimm spoke haltingly at Tuesday’s service, his lower lip trembling as he shared memories of Newman’s boundless energy despite long days in a remote land. One night the two came back from patrol and all Grimm wanted to do get some shut-eye, he said. But Newman had other ideas. After several visits to his bunk, Newman finally coaxed Grimm into a late-night game of catch. “I thought, ‘Man this guy has no quit in him,’” Grimm said.

Grimm’s impression was echoed by the Marines that served with him, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, said Tuesday. “Randy’s physical vigor stood out even among his fellow Marines, who are a famously sturdy bunch,” Walden said. “His platoon mates recalled that after exhausting days in Iraq, Randy would do push-ups and sit-ups while others recouped their strength.”

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, a former Marine himself, said he would have relished the chance to ride with Newman in his full-size Dodge pickup to share stories of life as a young Marine. The souped-up truck is painted Mountain View red, white and black, and it sports a rebuilt engine, shiny metallic roll bars and new rims on its oversized wheels. It served as the Newman family’s ride to the fairgrounds Tuesday after they drove through downtown Bend to see streets lined with American flags in honor of their son. “I promise I will own it the rest of my life,” Jerry Newman said in an earlier interview.

Randy Newmen shipment

Randy Newman Shipment

Michael T. Robertson

Michael T. Robertson—January 2007 Shipment Honoree

Medic “Doc Rob” Fondly Remembered
Source:  Associated Press and Legacy.com’s Gazette

Michael T. RobertsonMichael T. Robertson, known as “Doc Rob” by fellow soldiers, was a quiet and contemplative young man. “He was a thinker. He always seemed to be older than his age,” said his aunt Alma Newsom. “People kinda looked up to him. They always came to him for advice.”

Robertson, 28, of Houston, died Oct. 25 at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio of injuries from a roadside bomb in Samarra on Oct. 17. He was assigned to Fort Benning.

A 1996 high school graduate, Robertson joined the Army in October of that year and recently marked his ninth anniversary in the service. He was serving his second tour in Iraq and had served in Bosnia.

“He taught me more than I could ever teach him,” said Capt. Timothy Hite, his former platoon leader. “I always looked forward to seeing Sgt. Rob every day to see what he had to say.”

He was passionate about maintaining and upgrading his skills and would go out on patrols to ensure no one would be left without medical attention if needed. Last December, he married Tanya, who was then also a medic. They had a son, Xavier.

Doc Rob’s friend Sharon Liehr asked LHCP to honor him with a shipment.

Michael T. Robertson shipment

Michael T. Robertson shipment

Warehouse Work

Oct 4, 2007

Not much time left here but still lots of work to be done. I asked for more boxes to be brought from the warehouse and with it being a down day I imagine not to many volunteers will show up to help with things tomorrow.

They are getting ready to move items from the warehouse into a room closer to the WWMC so anyone that was at work today was pulled away to help with that work. I was very busy today with trying to get all the items sorted. A large amount of the items unfortunately had to go into the garbage today. The amount of items with expired dates is just so sad. The rest of the items were all packed up and sent to our units and units that I have been receiving addresses from Marty at AnySoldier.com. This would have been much more difficult without his help. The weather is holding out for my trip very nicely here, but I did not get much accomplished today as we had lots of patients that came in today. They either were just coming in and needed something or knew I am leaving and wanted to just talk. Tomorrow, Oct 5, will be spent finishing the boxes I did not get done today.

I know that many volunteers would not have wanted to come or work at LRMC to spend most of their time unpacking, sorting and repacking boxes. I mean really, think about it, that is what I do in the States but this is where LRMC needs my help this trip. Those patients that needed help received it from me when I was here and from others when I am not. But the big picture is the number of troops that were served by all those packages that were unpacked, sorted, repacked and shipped out of LRMC. It consisted of troops working at the chaplain’s office and needed to get the warehouse cleaned out so they could get to items easier, it is also troops on the wards, ill or wounded that needed items we found as we went through the mountain of boxes every day. It is the nurses, techs, and corpsmen that know the wounded on their wards have the comfort items they need to feel better. It is also ALL those troops in the Middle East that received all those boxes with ALL those goodies that LRMC had and now all those supplies are with the right people. That is what matters.


Oct 3, 2007

WOW!! What a day. I asked for more items from the warehouse today. 12 more boxes went to the mailroom. The office group also had a going away little luncheon for me today. It was very nice and the Colonel “coined” me twice. One is a new volunteer coin, which says

Put on the whole armor of God. On the other side it says

Helmet of Salvation, Shield of Faith, Loins Girt with Truth, Feet Gospel of Peace, Sword of Spirit, Breastplate of Righteousness

In the middle in has all of the above with Ephesians 6:11:18

Then they had also submitted me for a hospital commander’s coin of excellence, which was approved. The commander told me that very few have been given this coin, so it means a lot to me. I have been asked when I will be coming back. I will try to plan another trip in late May, I think.

I ate lunch quickly and got back to work since they had delivered a lot of boxes to me. We had 30 patients come through today so it was busy trying to help them and get the boxes ready for mail by 3.

Then the American Legion reporter and PAO guys came back. They were looking for a patient they had met in morning. He had signed a consent for them to watch his surgery and they wanted to see him up and at the WWMC. He came down after they left and as I was helping him they came back. The PAO asked if it was all right for them to take pictures of him in the WWMC and he gave his permission and so they took pictures of me helping him. It is difficult to help a patient when you have a camera right there. But I got his bag packed and then they talked to him for a bit. He has my card and I hope that he stays in touch with me when he gets back to the West Coast.

American Legion Visits

Oct 2, 2007

Today was a very busy day. We went through so many boxes from the warehouse it has to be getting smaller. The bad thing is that we also threw away a bunch of items. Most was expired food or toiletries.

A photographer and reporter came through today. They are with the American Legion. I had some things to tell them since I was not to happy with the way LRMC was portrayed in a letter by the Commander of the Legion, the President of the Auxiliary and the commander of the Sons of the American Legion. I was told it was a misunderstanding and done to help raise funds, but the backlash here cause major problems for those at the WWMC. Anyways those that know me knew I had to put my two cents in.

They took some pictures and asked why I was there to volunteer so it will be interesting to see if they use any of it.

We sent out about 13 boxes again today.

The nice part of the day happened after I left work. I went to the club on base for a beer. Four Army guys came in still in uniform. We found out they were from a Wisconsin unit and had been delayed in Germany overnight. Some of you may not agree with it, but a beer was bought for each of them, since it will be the last beer they have in a VERY long time. For three out of the four this is their first deployment. The youngest kid is actually the one who has served two deployments to the Middle East. They thanked everyone back home several times. They all have my business card so if they need anything we can help out.

Today I worked 10 hours in thanks to Maria Waddell who contributed to my trip.

Tired and Sore But With a Full Heart

Oct 1, 2007

Well, today is the start of my last week and I have mixed feelings. I am glad to be going home and get back into the swing of LHCP and shipping our supplies out to those that depend on us, but I also want to be here to work with the troops, chaplains, doctors, nurses, corpsman, techs, liaisons that make Landstuhl the great place that it is. I have found many changes here since my last visit. Most have been good. The number of seriously wounded is way down from my last visit. The chaplains are still just as caring and compassionate. I cannot sing the praises of the chaplain’s assistants enough. As much as I harass poor Adam Whitehead, he has been instrumental in helping me get items from the warehouse so that I can get them mailed out. This is one sailor that I would recommend to anyone as being top notch.

I think most of the liaisons are overworked and their needs to be at least two for each unit deployed. Some of these guys and gals work 7 days a week nonstop. Most are very concerned about their comrades and work hard to support them here. I have heard some of them say that they wish they could be deployed with their units, but the work that most of them do is so important to the heart and soul of the wounded that I don’t think many of them understand the effect that they have on their fellow troops.

There needs to be more volunteers at the WWMC, but I think most people have their own ideas of the work they wish to do and when it does not fall in line with what they wish to do they leave. If all you do is stock shelves or pack boxes to go downrange the support you are providing to our troops is very important. I find that what is more important is the feeling of satisfaction knowing that you walked away tired and sore but with a full heart. I am a greedy person. I like that feeling when my heart is so full of love that there is no more room and you feel like you are going to choke on it. I find that the only way to get that is when you truly have no hidden agenda. You do what is needed, not necessarily what you want to do, and the reward is greater than anything you can imagine.

Today was a beautiful day. There were a variety of items brought from the warehouse to either go inside the WWMC or to go downrange. We had several patients come in on two flights. We have a lot of kids coming in with headaches. I wonder if it is stress, if it is the blasts, or if we will ever know.

I want to thank Kathi for stopping by with the small item that was requested. I am to thank you and let you know that “It made her feel like new.” She was sore and felt old and tired but you made a difference, thank you!” She flies today. I am sorry I could not talk more, but we had to get to the mailroom with my load of boxes.

We took about 12 boxes to the mailroom today for our units downrange and picked up about 40. They were full of magazines and books. Due to fire regulations and the amount of books we already have, we have no use for these magazines. Most of them were 3 to 5 years old so the library and thrift store will not take them. I have sent so many books downrange I have no other contacts requesting books and the magazines are so old that they are not requested by our troops. This organization spent almost $500 in shipping to send these here. It is depressing to know that someone spent so much time to do all of this and spent good money but the items just cannot be used.

I forgot to mention that last week one of the patients from the week before came in to say good-bye. He said that he had to come see me before he left. He is meeting his wife in N.C. before heading home to see the kids. Anyways, I took him to lunch and I know that someone had sent money for me to do that. I am sorry I did not post this before now but I guess old age is creeping up on me. Anyways, he wanted Burger King so that is where we ate. Tomorrow I will be taking another patient to lunch if he stops by before we get too busy.

I have about 4 boxes left to go through for tomorrow morning and then a new shipment from the warehouse. I need about 5 volunteers and good boxes to get this all done but there is a rotation of troops and so everyone is getting ready to leave here and I just will not be able to finish this on my own. I hope I have made some improvement in their warehouse for this Christmas rush.

Karen M. I got an email from one of the units downrange and he said that he got some of our blankets so I thank you for your hard work in helping out there while I have been gone. I know that you and Brian have been trying to stay on top of it all and it looks like you are doing a great job. I will be home soon and you can fill me in.

Sandra thank you for all of your help with my rental car arrangements. Kathi, thank you for traveling back and forth in dealing with the car rental people. I could not have done it without you.

My computer time is likely to be more limited as the computer I have been using will be cut off Tuesday night.

Today I worked 10 hours in thanks to Jeanne Dedman and her contribution to my trip. I believe I only have one more person for tomorrow even through I had 4 other contributors. Again, I would like to thank each of you for making this trip a little easier.

Romanian Army Lt. Col. Dorin Petrut

Sept 29, 2007

I had hoped to go out Friday night with my host, but I was so tired I went home and went to bed about 8:30. What happened to the days of working and going out and getting up a 7 to go back to work?

I went to work at 9 today and started right away with getting things stocked and boxes packed for downrange that had come in Friday’s mail that are not needed here. The sad thing is after I leave here, there is no one here to complete this task for the WWMC. It is almost a full-time job.

I had 6 or 7 patients come in from today’s flight. We got a lot of clothing in on Friday that I could not get out but all of the pants were 34-inch waist so I am looking for that perfect patient.

I watched a liaison and patient walk down the sidewalk towards the WWMC and as many say, “It is a good thing your head is attached” I have heard that everyone has a twin but this kid looked like my brother’s oldest son. As he got closer the more he looked like him. When he got inside the WWMC I told him that he looked like my nephew. He told me that he had an aunt named Karen. We started off just talking but as I worked through his clothing items he would say that he did not need any of this or that. I told him that it was cold here and that if I caught him outside with a jacket or sweatshirt that I would have to call his mom and he was now family and my responsibility here. I could not help but give this kid a hug three or four times. The liaison with him kept saying that it was scary how many things we had in common. The liaison said that we looked like we could have been family. He was from the Midwest, but this kid was for sure my family.

The liaison with the boots for the Romanian came in while I was waiting on the rest of the patients and he had to wait for me to finish but we got to our Romanian patient about 20 minutes late. Our Colonel was so excited to see us that he hung up on his dad.

He had a slide show of his tour in Iraq. He showed us pictures of his surgery and wounds. He told me that it was graphic and if I could not handle it to let him know. It was not the pictures of his leg 1/3 blown off that was upsetting to me. It was the fact that this man thought of his American troops as his brothers. He called them his second family, those that served with him in Iraq, and wore the American uniform. It reminded me of those that I was so close to in Bosnia. It took me back many years ago to friendships that I had and those that I had lost contact with. Those that I had shared some of the most stressful times in my life. It brought tears to my eyes to look at his second family and remember mine.

We gave him his boots and the 10th Mountain Liaison gave him a robe with the 10th Mountain emblem on it. He wanted our pictures and so we posed, me on one side and the 10th Mountain Liaison on the other. Next thing I knew we were in a headlock and the picture was taken. Then he said it was time for a nice picture, so we took one all smiles.

I worked 3 1/2 hours today in thanks to Ann Pearce and her contribution to my trip.

Here is the story about the Romanian Army Lt. Col. Dorin Petrut

Mass Causality Victims

Sept 28, 2007

Today started very early, as there was a military exercise that caused the base to be shut down for a couple hours and so I would be able to get on to the base I left home at 0615.

The base was already in ready mode with the extra security in place. I got on with little trouble, but those that were less than 15 minutes behind me got stuck. As I was walking across the parking lot I noticed two flashlights flashing in my direction. The lights were coming from the German guards ID shack. As I walked up to them they were smiling saying that they were lighting the way for me. We joke, tease and have had some good talks with each other several times a day so we have gotten to know each other pretty good.

The first flight was not due in for several hours, so several of us just hung out at the bus stop talking and watching the security folks do their thing.

All of the sudden there was a large bang that set off the exercise that simulated a package being thrown. The last time I heard anything like that was in Bosnia. I decided to go inside the hospital and grab some hot chocolate and then maybe go to work if time would pass a little faster than what it seemed to be. When we came back outside they had their mass causality victims right outside so we sat and watched them for a little while since we still had lots of time before we had to start our respective jobs. Since LRMC is an Army hospital and there are Navy, Army, Marine and AF working here I got feedback from the different troops about how the respective services train and handle these exercises.

It was finally time to go to work. Our flight was arriving during the exercise so by the time the patients got through their briefings and got to me I was more than ready for them. The other volunteers did not manage to get in until 11 or 11:30 due to the exercise. The chaplain’s staff was not able to bring in items from the warehouse since the day was spent with ICU patients and the exercise.

The Romanian Colonel came down and asked us for desert boots. The WWMC does not carry uniform items, but I told him how he could get those items. He said he did not wish to go back to his homeland with out being in full uniform. One of the liaisons from the 10th Mountain was there and I asked him about the boots and he asked what size. It is amazing how some of these liaisons wish to help these wounded. It just happened to be that he had a pair that fit the Romanian Colonel and we set a time to come in on Saturday to hand them over.

I did give him some gloves for his hands that will keep them warm and are great for the wheel chair.

I worked 11 hours today in thanks to Kim Hritz and her contribution to my trip.