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[caption id="attachment_3385" align="alignleft" width="300"]WoudedWarriorsEnjoy09242010 Carlos Figueroa, a Marine Corps veteran who suffered a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and nerve injuries to his left leg during operations in Afghanistan, tries his hand at kayaking at the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego. VA photo by Robert Turtil[/caption] WASHINGTON Traumatic brain injuries, amputations and other combat wounds aren't getting in the way of a good time - and a great rehabilitative experience - for 75 disabled veterans participating this week in the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego.
The clinic, sponsored by the Veterans Affairs Department, opened Sept. 18 and wraps up with closing ceremonies later today.About a third of the participants were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, with some still being processed through the disability evaluation system, officials reported. For many, the clinic is their introduction to adaptive sports and recreational activities, and the therapeutic value of sailing, surfing, cycling, kayaking and track and field events. Raymond Warren, a 29-year-old Marine lance corporal severely wounded in Iraq when a grenade embedded shrapnel in his brain, legs, stomach and arms, said first learning of his severe traumatic brain injury felt like a death sentence. Always highly competitive, Warren feared when he first awoke at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., that an important part of his life was forever gone. "It hit me pretty hard," he said. But this week, as he ran hurdles, kayaked and tried his hand at sailing, surfing and other clinic events alongside his fellow veterans, Warren said he found himself focusing on his abilities rather than his disabilities. "This shows me I've still got what I used to have," he said. "There's nothing that can stop me from accomplishing the goals I've set forth in front of me." Like Warren, Carlos Figueroa always had been a devoted 'jock' before he was medically evacuated from Afghanistan with a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and nerve injuries to his left leg. "I've always been really competitive and big into sports, but when I got out of the service with my injury, I realized that I could no longer do any of the sports I used to play because I couldn't run," said the 31-year-old medically retired Marine. A friend introduced Figueroa to mixed martial arts and jujitsu, which have helped to renew his competitive spirit. "Once we hit the floor, I am no longer disabled," he said. "It's a fair game for both of us." Both Figueroa and Warren got their first exposure to VA's sports clinic program while attending the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass, Colo. Warren has participated three times. Figueroa attended the clinic for the first time this spring. "Since my injury, I've competed in other events, and typically I would be the only disabled participant," he said. "But the satisfaction of competing at the winter sports clinic felt 10 times greater -- just being around other disabled veterans, with everyone trying their hardest and knowing that, whether you succeed or not, everyone has achieved a goal in some way, just by being there." A joker at heart, Figueroa said the winter sports clinic restored the smile he'd lost and instilled a newfound self-confidence that has helped him resume a full life. "What I took back from it was not to underestimate myself, not to let my disability control me," he said. "There are still tons of things I can do out there." While relishing the competition at their first summer sports clinic, both Warren and Figueroa say they're buoyed just as much by the camaraderie they've found among their fellow disabled veterans. "You're with people who know what you're going through," Warren said. "We understand each other, so this is like a second family, away from your family." "This is great for veterans," agreed Figueroa. "I see the smile on so many veterans' faces while we are competing. You get participating in an event, and somehow, the pain goes away. I don't know why. Maybe it's just the simple fact that you are around other disabled veterans." Warren said he has benefitted greatly from the lessons shared by veterans with more experience living with their disabilities. "When you fall down, get up. Keep going forward," he said. "And don't let anything hold you down." Warren has taken those lessons to heart, noting he shares them with the newer disabled veterans he meets. "Don't give up on your goals," Warren said he tells his comrades. "And come to these events, because you are among other veterans going through what you are going through, and they will help you through it."Sept. 24, 2010: By Donna Miles- American Forces Press Service
370px-Medalsofhonor2 (2)WASHINGTON The nation's latest Medal of Honor recipient was inducted into the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes during a ceremony here today.
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy welcomed the brother, sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger, who was posthumously awarded the medal during a White House ceremony yesterday, to today's event.Adding Etchberger's name to the Hall of Heroes, where the names of all Medal of Honor recipients are inscribed, marks two firsts, Roy said.Etchberger is the first combat support airman and the first servicemember in the top enlisted grade to receive the Medal of Honor."Since Congress created the E-8 and E-9 pay grades in 1958, no other E-9, in any of our military services, has ever been awarded the Medal of Honor," Roy said. "Chief Etchberger is the first." Roy summarized the 1968 events for which Etchberger received the nation's highest award for military valor 42 years later. While he was serving as a ground radar superintendent for a secret installation in Laos as part of a covert CIA-Air Force operation, Etchberger and his unit came under attack. With two of his four-member crew dead and the two others injured, Etchberger single-handedly held off the enemy from the men's precarious perch on a cliffside ledge while calling for air strikes and air rescue throughout the night. The next morning, a rescue helicopter arrived. Etchberger braved heavy enemy fire to load his wounded compatriots and another surviving airman into slings dangling from a rescue helicopter. As the helicopter prepared to leave, Etchberger was shot, and he died while in flight. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz said Etchberger's legend will inspire generations of airmen. "Valor has no expiration date," he said. "Courage is timeless. And the discovery of truth, no matter how long it is delayed, sets the record straight." Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley also spoke at the ceremony, emphasizing Etchberger's significance representing Vietnam veterans. "To a younger generation, Vietnam is a faraway place indeed, present only in the history books, old movies and photographs, and through the stories of aging veterans," Donley said. "But for his family, and for our nation, for the Air Force he loved and served, for generations of airmen yet to come, Chief Etchberger's story will never fade in our memory," he continued. "Once lost beneath impenetrable layers of security, the story of Lima Site 85 -- Dick Etchberger's example of integrity, service and excellence [and] of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty -- is assured of its future." Cory Etchberger, the chief's youngest son, shared memories of his father as they'd been related to him by his father's fellow airmen. He was 9 when his father died, he said, and his own memories are "few, fuzzy and fleeting." But a series of commanding officers the chief served with, he said, characterized his father in his annual evaluations as "a born leader," "bursting with enthusiasm he gets the job done while he's still talking about it," and "the top [noncommissioned officer] in the United States Air Force." "Ladies and gentlemen here today, and especially the fine young airmen and women who now serve, or who have served, in our great Air Force: I hope this has given you a better idea of who Chief Master Sgt. Richard Etchberger was, from the perspective of the people who knew him best," Etchberger's son said. "At Amherst College in 1963," he continued, "President John F. Kennedy said the following: ‘A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.' To everybody here, thank you so much from the entire Etchberger family for honoring, and remembering." Sept. 22, 2010: By Karen Parrish- American Forces Press Service Article Redistributed by Support Our Troops Redistributed by
[caption id="attachment_3410" align="alignleft" width="320"]VeteranRecallsBattle09222010 Retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Daniel reflects on the 1968 battle at Lima Site 85 in Laos that resulted in the posthumous award of the Medal of Honor to Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard Etchberger. Daniel was one of the airmen saved by Etchberger during the battle. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. David Byron[/caption] WASHINGTON In 1968, a battle raged where heroes arose only to be unacknowledged for 18 years. Proper recognition occurred during a White House ceremony Sept. 21 when Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard Etchberger was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor after saving three of his men in a battle that failed to make headlines at the time due to its then-highly classified nature.
Retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Daniel was one of the airmen Etchberger saved during the battle at the Lima 85 radar site.The mission, named Heavy Green, was to provide radar information and assistance to U.S. aircraft bombing military targets in Hanoi, Vietnam, its surrounding areas and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The radar site, located on a hilltop in Laos, was not officially acknowledged until 1986 because Laos was considered a neutral country during the Vietnam War, despite U.S. and North Vietnamese forces often operating there.Daniel said that although the mission was to guide bombers on long-range strikes, as time went on the radar crews were forced to direct an increasing number of bombing runs closer to their own location. The North Vietnamese army had discovered the site's location and made a concerted push, including building roads to bring in heavy artillery, to launch attacks against the site. On the evening of March 10, 1968, the radar crew experienced a lull in guiding bomber missions and decided to take a dinner break. Daniel had the additional duty as cook for his shift. "I asked them what they wanted for dinner, and they all said steaks, so we went down to the barbecue pit and fired up the grill," he said. "We hadn't started cooking yet, and [Air Force Lt. Col.] Bill Blanton came up and said, 'Fellows, we need to have a little get-together up in the equipment.'" Blanton told the team that the North Vietnamese army had surrounded them and the situation looked dire, Daniel said. While calling in evacuation helicopters was a possibility, that option was rapidly disappearing as darkness approached. A flight out the following morning would be more likely. "We took a straw poll of everybody that was there," Daniel said. "We decided to just go ahead and drop bombs all night, and in the morning, detonate all the equipment and get out on choppers at first light." As it turned out, they didn't have as much time as they'd thought. During the meeting, the North Vietnamese army began its attack. The first artillery round hit the barbecue shack. "It was a good thing we were at that meeting and not having dinner," Daniel said. The radar team split into two crews. One team would pull the first shift manning the equipment, the other would return to the sleeping quarters, rest and prepare to relieve the first team. The sleeping quarters and bunker were located next to the barbecue shack. "I said I wasn't going to stay in quarters or the bunker," Daniel said. "They already hit there and had the range down on that. I said we should go down over the side of the hill, where we went to write letters. Nobody would find us down there." On one side of the hill was a ledge where the airmen often sat to compose letters or tapes to send home. It was 10 to 15 feet below the top of the hill, with a nearly 3,000-foot straight drop below. The five-man crew decided to take cover there. The five airmen started hearing small-arms fire and grenades going off on the hilltop, Daniel said. "Shortly thereafter," he added, "someone caught a glimpse of us and started emptying their rifles at us." In the first volley of gunfire, two members of the team were hit, one fatally. The crew returned fire with their M-16s. After the next exchange, two were dead and two others had been wounded. Etchberger was the only one not wounded. During lulls in the gun battle, the enemy began tossing grenades down on the ledge. "If I could reach them, I'd pick them up and throw them back on top of the hill," Daniel said. "If I couldn't reach them, I'd take the butt of my rifle and kick them off over the edge of the mountain." When one grenade landed outside both his own reach and the reach of his rifle, Daniel said, he rolled the dead body of a comrade over on top of it. Roughly 15 yards separated Daniel and Etchberger. Daniel had a radio near him, and as the attack continued, the chief directed him to call in an air strike on the top of the hill. Throughout the night, a succession of aircraft unloaded their ordnance, both bombs and bullets, on the hill. At daylight, three members of the team still survived on the ledge. An Air America helicopter spotted them and hovered, lowering a sling. Etchberger broke cover, exposing himself to the enemy, and closed the gap between himself and his wounded colleagues. "[Etchberger] scooted me on over and got me on that sling," Daniel said. "After I was up, he got [Capt. Stan Sliz] up on the sling." After the two survivors were aboard the helicopter, the chief began to secure himself to the sling. Before he could go up, Staff Sgt. Bill Husband, who had been playing dead atop the hill, dashed to the ledge. The chief locked arms with him, and they rode the sling together and boarded the helicopter. As the helicopter began to climb, a North Vietnamese soldier emptied his weapon into the underside of the aircraft. Etchberger was mortally wounded and died during the evacuation flight. "[Etchberger] was one hell of an NCO," Daniel said. "He knew the equipment. He knew how to handle people. He knew what to do and how to do it. You were eager to follow the man, to do what he wanted you to do." The Heavy Green mission began with volunteers, briefings and sworn statements of secrecy at the Pentagon in 1967. For those involved, the White House Medal of Honor presentation and the Pentagon Hall of Heroes induction ceremony today will provide closure to the mission. "It's only fitting," Daniel said, "that we're back in the Pentagon to finish it up and put an end to it, right where it started, 43 years ago." Sept. 22, 2010: By Air Force Senior Master Sgt. David Byron-Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
[caption id="attachment_3437" align="alignleft" width="300"]WoundedTroopsChallenge09142010 Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Joshua Wege and Army Pvt. Harrison Ruzicka race past a cheering Corps of Cadets crowd as they make their way through the indoor obstacle course test at Arvin Gymnasium at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y., Sept. 10, 2010. U.S. Army photo by John Pellino[/caption] WEST POINT, N.Y. They run road races and compete in triathlons. They climb mountains, kayak through rapids and ski on snow and water.
They are America's wounded warriors -- veterans who continue to inspire by their resilience and will to overcome any obstacle placed before them.Six Army soldiers and one Marine from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., visited the U.S. Military Academy here Sept. 10 to test their abilities on a challenging set of obstacles. The indoor obstacle course test is a rite of passage for all West Point cadets as a testament to their physical fortitude. Being able to make it through this intense test of balance, strength and stamina is hard enough, given months of practice and training. But for the wounded warriors, with only hours of preparation, the test was an inspirational example of the Warrior Ethos and human perseverance, said Army Col. Gregory L. Daniels, the chief of the academy's physical education department.
[caption id="attachment_3438" align="alignleft" width="149"]4WoundedTroopsChallenge09142010 Army Sgt. Robert Brown, a Paralympics athlete, takes on the indoor obstacle course test at Arvin Gymnasium at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y., Sept. 10, 2010. Brown, who has continued on active duty, earned three medals at the 2010 Warrior Games in June. He lost his right leg to sniper fire while on patrol near Ramadi, Iraq, in 2006, and returned to Iraq in 2009 as part of Operation Proper Exit. U.S. Army photo by Mike Strasser[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3439" align="alignleft" width="149"]2WoundedTroopsChallenge09142010 Army Spc. Nicholas Edinger takes on the indoor obstacle course test at Arvin Gymnasium at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y., Sept. 10, 2010. Edinger lost his leg in June 2009 when he stepped on a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Mike Strasser[/caption] "These outstanding soldiers are a testament to the amazing power of the human spirit," Daniels said of the wounded warriors. "They make no excuses for their so-called disabilities, and they drive on with an indomitable grit that is truly remarkable. Every single cadet should take notice and emulate their invincible spirit." For that reason, Daniels made sure cadets were present for this event. Hayes Gymnasium roared with the encouraging cheers of cadets as the wounded warriors moved through the timed course. "I wanted the cadets to cheer them on with all their might and to be inspired by what they observed," Daniels said. "These soldiers demonstrated the Warrior Ethos in a very unique and powerful way. I wanted as many cadets as possible to see first-hand the type of young person they will eventually have the immense responsibility and awesome privilege to lead." Cadets lined up to congratulate and speak with the group after the test. Cadet Brittany O'Connell said she left with a lump in her throat from what she'd witnessed. "It made me realize that even with things as hectic as they are here, your problems may not be as big as you think they are," she said. "It was truly amazing." When Daniels told the cadets to remember this event the next time they complained about something being too hard, Cadet Tom Snukis took it to heart. "It was definitely inspiring, because you see cadets struggle through this every day," said Snukis, who will take the course for score in October. "Then to come out here and see soldiers missing arms and legs, and they destroyed the [course]. 'Inspiring' is definitely the word." As the sole Marine and only double amputee in the group, Lance Cpl. Joshua Wege said he had even more to prove than his colleagues. He was not expecting such a large audience, he said, but it fueled his performance with an added dose of adrenaline. "The entire bleachers were filled, and just the sound reverberating off the walls was cool," Wege said. "I've never had crowds cheer me before. I was nervous at the starting line, which I don't get very often, but with everyone watching and the blood pumping, I wanted to do the best I could."
3WoundedTroopsChallenge09142010Army Spc. Matthew Kinsey said the group of wounded warriors is pretty close-knit, and it was evident in the way, as professional soldiers, they supported each other. They'd been practicing for a few weeks on a smaller course at Walter Reed, Kinsey said, but the West Point course was exhausting."At half-speed, the individual obstacles are not bad, but when you go through everything at once, that's a challenge," Kinsey said. Along with Wege and Kinsey, Army Sgt. Robert Brown, Army Pvt. Harrison Ruzicka, Army Spc. Joshua Rector, Army Spc. Nicholas Edinger and Army Sgt. Shane Baldwin also participated. Sept. 14, 2010: By Mike Strasser- U.S. Military Academy
FoldedFlagDOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. A day off is a cherished and holy time when you are deployed to the Air Force Mortuary Operations Center here.
Every military death overseas, from Alpha to Omega, comes through this mortuary. A new part of the mortuary mission, added a couple of years ago, is having families invited to see the arrival of their fallen loved one come home to U.S soil.My primary duty as a chaplain here at the mortuary is working with the grief-shocked families when they watch the dignified transfer, but sometimes I'm with the fallen as I help move gurneys and work with the people working with the fallen servicemembers.As a laborer in this casualty vineyard, you can't help but have images of grief and death come tripping through your mind in stocking feet. Seeing the dead and their families is a reality for me. To compensate and change your brain when that offered day off comes, you find a diversion away from the base. My diversion on my day off is soaking up American history. Like a pig in mud, I'm deployed to the center of the homeland of American history. Within a two-hour drive from Dover AFB, everywhere you go there is a historical site from the Revolutionary or Civil wars. If the church sign out front says "first" in its title, it may have really been the very first Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Quaker or other church in the original colonies. The first great thoughts and spoken words of our democracy are littered on every corner of the combined states of Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. After my lunch at the City Tavern, I saw the masts of a tall ship on the waterfront. It was time to keep exploring history by foot. In my walk to the pier, I found the Korean War memorial. A wonderful series of dark panels with pictures of the war etched into its marble. As I came to the site facing the river, there was an old man wearing a Korean War veteran ball cap. He was alone and in tears. This is where the chaplain, instead of the historian, took over. I inquired of my tear-filled soldier: "You were there weren't you." My vet nodded and pointed to the carved letters on the marble that read: "7th Infantry." I heard of the Battle of Inchon, and how he had been wounded. I listened deeply as he told me of holding a comrade who was dying as they were surrounded by the Chinese. Again he was wounded, but had escaped capture with the others from his unit. He looked up at me and said, "My brother fought in World War II and told me I would never get it out of my head, and he was right." I saw the dead comrades he told me about in my mind, for I had just seen them recently in body bags from Afghanistan and Iraq. He looked at my head and eyeballed my recent haircut. "You're military, you understand, don't you?" he said. I nodded, and told him I was a deployed chaplain at Dover AFB's mortuary. Like a child wanting a hug, his arms reached out, and we held onto one another, reaching across the decades. Two wars, memories dropping like falling leaves building a foundation of understanding and healing. To place my story into a simple theology, even when we are not expecting it, God places us where we are needed. We can embrace the moment and find the holy in stories, and care for one another, or we can walk on, to the waterfront where stuff just floats by. The joy of finding the holy moment when we are sent is that we don't forget the real sacrifice. Sept. 14, 2010: By Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Richard Cavens-Alaska Air National Guard Article Redistributed by Support Our Troops Redistributed by
We are proud to announce that as of September 2010 we have given over $632,471 worth of bulk goods for care packages through our new Support Our Troops®Care Goods Grant Program to various troop-support groups around America to include in their care packages which they send to the troops.