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Five years after an improvised explosive device in Iraq put him in a coma for 11 days, Capt. Fred Babauta heads the Army World Class Athlete Program. U.S. Army photo by Tim Hipps.[/caption]
FORT CARSON, Colo. The Fourth of July is especially significant to Army Capt. Fred Babauta, as this Independence Day marks the fifth anniversary of his awakening from an 11-day coma following an improvised explosive device attack in Ramadi, Iraq.
Babauta, now commander of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, was rushed to Balad Air Base in Iraq and transported via Landstuhl, Germany, to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, before he realized that he was alive. Army officials ensured that his wife arrived from Guam, and his parents from the state of Washington, in time to see their Soldier awaken."They all met me in San Antonio when I arrived," Babauta recalled. "Of course, I didn't know they were there because I was in a coma, but the Army took care of my family."
Babauta remembers his last battle mission as if it happened yesterday.
In June 2005, he was deployed to Ramadi with the 1st Battalion of the 503rd Infantry Brigade. "We were the brigade of [2nd Infantry Division] that deployed from Korea to Iraq," he said. "About two weeks out from us leaving country, I was walking by an IED and it went off. I was probably about 10 feet away."
Babauta had served in Iraq for nearly a year before taking the one step that burned his entire face, stole the vision from his right eye and nearly took his life.
"After the explosion went off, they got me into a courtyard and called [a] quick-reaction force to come pick us up," Babauta said. "I was out with a sniper team, and there were only five of us. QRF picked us up. They started out with five vehicles to pick us up, and they ended up only with two."
The other three encountered more IEDs.
"The two vehicles finally picked us up," Babauta continued. "We piled in the back, and they drove us back to our outpost. The doctor gave me a shot of morphine, packaged me up, the bird landed right outside our outpost, and they loaded me up."
At that point, Babauta thought he was headed to Al Taqaddum Air Base. The severity of his injuries, however, called for treatment at Balad Air Base.
"I remember them unloading me off the helicopter in Balad," he said. "It sounded like they pulled me into a hangar. I was on a stretcher and they put me on a bed. Doc said, 'Hey, I'm Doc so-and-so, I'm going to put this over your face,' which I guess was an oxygen mask, 'and you're going to feel a real quick pinch in your arm.' I guess he gave me a shot, sort of put me under, and I woke up 11 days later in Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston.
Eleven days later was July 4th of 2005.
The rest of the trip is a blur to Babauta.
"I think they repaired my jugular in Balad," he said. "From what I understand, it didn't rupture until I got to Balad. I guess it was just probably hanging on by a string, but luckily the timing was great."
An avid Detroit Pistons fan, Babauta went on patrol earlier that day with visions of watching a replay of his beloved team taking on the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 of the NBA Finals upon return to camp.
"This is what I was thinking," he recalled. "I was going to go out for 24 hours. Game 7 was going to already happen. Someone was going to record it so I could come back and watch the game. I don't know if you remember that series, but the Pistons were killing the Spurs, and the Spurs came back and it was tied up, 3-3. So I was thinking I was going to come back and watch Game 7. It was in San Antonio. So the Pistons ended up losing, and guess where I wake up? San Antonio.
"That was the worst."
In the long run, however, Babauta counts his lucky stars to be alive. On the night he came around, folks were launching rockets not only in Texas but across the nation.
"It was amazing," he said. "The nurse asked me if I saw the fireworks outside my window. I didn't see any fireworks, but I guess there was a fireworks celebration that night when I woke up."
Born in Okinawa, Japan, Babauta was an Army brat who spent most of his childhood in Guam. He also lived on Fort Lewis, Wash., Fort Davis, Panama, and Fort Stewart, Ga. At age 22, he left the University of Guam, got married and reported to the 1st Ranger Battalion in Savannah, Ga.
All of the men in Babauta's family served in the Army. His younger brother, Danny, 32, is deployed. His two older brothers both served four years before becoming policemen.
Babauta, 38, is the proud father of three daughters. "In my house, my girls, they have to play a sport," he said. "They've got to do something. My oldest grew up playing soccer, and she's actually on a soccer scholarship to Winthrop University. She just finished her freshman year. The other two play volleyball."
Instead of leading troops on the battlefield, Babauta now leads Soldiers to international and national-level athletic events while commanding the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program.
"It might be in a different context," he said, "but I think the principle is the same, as far as getting ready to go. They're going to war. They're going to meet someone on the mat that wants to beat them. So they've got to do everything now to be ready for that match in Council Bluffs. I would imagine everyone here can use that comparison. It's not as life-threatening as deploying to Afghanistan or Iraq, but I think there are a lot of similarities.
Babauta takes great pride in the AWCAP, working constantly to increase awareness of the program.
"Everyone knows a Ranger," he said. We're trying to push hard so that everyone knows the World Class Athlete Program. We're making good strides. We just need to continue."
July 04, 2010: Written by Tim Hipps, U.S. Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command
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MartinBoire and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Driver, Ryan Newman at 7-1-2010 Press Conference Announcing SOT Tires for this Year's Races at DIS[/caption]
Daytona Beach, FL July 1, 2010
The troops tell me everyday how much it means to them when the folks here at home stand up for them the way they stand up for all of us.
And I want to thank Goodyear and NASCAR for stepping up for the troops in a major way.Like most of you I've never been in the military.Â But I've been in some pretty tough spots in this world, and I can tell you that what the troops do for us each day- is an awesome miracle.In fact, the red in the flag stands for them and they're giving their all to America, not asking what she'll do for them.So I ask you-Â isn't it time to show how much we care?
And Goodyear and NASCAR have stepped up to help you and I do just that with a really fun and great program at Goodyear.com.
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Left to Right: Goodyear General Manager Stu Grant, NASCAR President, Mike Helton, Support Our Troops(r) Chairman Martin Boire, and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Driver, Ryan Newman announce Goodyear, announce historic, weekend-long transformation of Goodyear race tires to say 'thank you' to the service men and women of the United States Armed Forces and to help launch the Goodyear Support Our Troops®
fundraising and support program.[/caption]
You wanna do something simple and fun to help the troops?Â Â This is easy.Â Â Just go to Goodyear.com
, click on the SOT icon and get in on the action.Â And keep checking back because new things are being added every day.So I say, let's all get together and make the troops as proud of us as we are of them
.And I am pleased to give you Nascar driver Ryan Newman, one of the great men who is going to help you and I do the troops proud by actually driving the launch of this great program on these Goodyear Support Our Troops tires this weekend.Martin C. Boire
July 1, 2010
Permission is granted to reprint, rebroadcast, and quote the written material and images in this release in relation to this matter.
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The Commander of 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Col. Chuck A.E. Sexton, respectfully folds the American flag that he has carried with him on deployments for the past 24 years. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Gregory Gieske.[/caption]
CONTINGENCY OPERATING SITE MAREZ It goes by many names Old Glory, the Stars and Stripes, the Red, White and Blue but, no matter what you call it, the United States flag represents a free and unified country, indivisible, with freedom and justice for all.
However, for one U.S. service member here, one single, specific, U.S. flag provides a far more personal representation. Although worn, tattered, and frayed at the edges, it has witnessed the highs and lows of six different military deployments and has flown in five different countries.It's more than just the cloth and material, though, which gives this flag its special meaning. It represents the cause for which Soldiers have given their lives. It represents the Soldiers who serve their country, putting themselves into harm's way, preserving the freedoms we enjoy today.This specific flag has special meaning for Col. Chuck E. A. Sexton, the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team commander, 3rd Infantry Division, who has carried it with him for the past 24 years. The respect he has for this flag is a quality bestowed upon him by his parents.
"Both my mother and father's families were immigrants to the United States who left Europe to get away from oppression and slavery in Eastern and Western Europe," said Sexton, a New York City native. "When they came to this country, they valued the country so much they defended it during World War II. They taught me as a kid growing up, to always respect my country and flag."
Respect for the flag has carried over to Sexton's military service. After his initial enlistment in the Army as a private, he was commissioned as an Infantry second lieutenant in July 1985.
"It's a part of you. It's something that's very comforting to bring with me each time I go," said the self-assured New Yorker. "When I flew it in Somalia, it got some battle damage there. It also got some damage in the first Gulf War. It's very comforting to have it with you. Usually I keep it folded now, because it's frayed at the edges in a couple of places and it's got some shrapnel rips in it.
"In the first Gulf War the stars and stripes got a little greyer from the oil fires," he continued. "It took a little bit of shrapnel from Iraqi artillery and it put a couple of rips in it. The wind was really strong then, so it kind of unraveled a little bit at the ends, too."
Sexton said he remembers with clarity a windy day, Feb. 27, 1991, after capturing the Jalibah Airfield, a place south of Tallil, along Highway 8, during Operation Desert Storm.
"After we captured the airfield, at eight o'clock in the morning and things were still smoking, we pulled out our flags because we had them stowed during the attack," he said. "I mounted mine on top of the track. It was for a good reason part of it was for morale and the other was so we wouldn't get hit by our own aircraft. It was a really good feeling to see the good old Stars and Stripes unfurled and flying in the breeze. You heard a lot of the guys cheering and it was a good feeling, seeing that flag flying."
It flew every day, and was then refolded until his next deployment, when he was called to serve in Somalia in 1993, where it was unfurled and once more flew on a daily basis.
"Now, when someone asks me to re-enlist them, or asks me to promote them, I always bring it with me," said Sexton. "It's kind of neat to look over the last 20-plus years and the number of people that have stood under that flag with their hands up swearing an oath either an oath of re-enlistment, or an oath to our nation. It's easily in the hundreds now.
"It's even neater to watch the Soldiers you've been with. It causes it to become more tangible and more of a living thing. That is the most critical part it represents the people. That's what makes our country great. It's the people it represents, instead of one specific leader. The flag talks about that continuity," he concluded, with a knowing smile.
June 22, 2010: Written by Maj. Stephen Holt, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division