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Man Finds Solace, Beauty in Stone Art

[caption id="attachment_3831" align="alignleft" width="298"]ManFindsSolace This marble emblem for 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, was created by Charles Wagner, from Rainier, Wash., a mechanic with General Dynamic Land Systems. Wagner will present it to the brigade at the end of their deployment here. U.S. Army photo by Pvt. Zach Zuber.[/caption] DIYALA For Charles Wagner, a mechanic with General Dynamic Land Systems, it all started when three U.S. Soldiers lost their lives here in 2005.  Wagner, a U.S. civilian contractor then working in Mosul, had to find a way to deal with the pain of losing his friends.
As a way to elevate his sorrow and honor the U.S. military, Wagner began shaping marble stones into crests, crosses and hearts. Since that time, he has created many works of art for units and individual service members."This started out as a way to displace myself from what's going on over here, working during off hours to focus on other things," said Wagner, a native of Rainier, Wash. Wagner said he lost all three Soldiers on one mission, and he created hearts, crucifixes, and lancers for each of the parents as a way to connect to them. During that first tour, in 2004-05, he carved a full-size lancer for 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. Then, during his 2006-07 tour with 3rd SBCT, 2nd ID, he created a replica of the Indian-head shield that represents the 2nd ID. When he deployed with the 3rd SBCT here in August, he received the request to make that crest, which includes the 2nd ID shield on top of an arrowhead, with the number three located above the shield. The piece, carved from nearly fifty pounds of marble, is a chance to leave a permanent personal memento with the brigade, said Wagner. "I was born at Madigan Army Hospital [at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.], so I kind of share the pride of the brigade," he said. "And for the Soldiers, this is my gift back because of what the military has done for me. It's a lot of pride for me to be asked to do this, and to offer it to the Soldiers of the brigade." Wagner is quick to share his gift with any who are interested. Often, when Soldiers drop off vehicles to his shop for repair, they see the stone carvings he has laying around. If a curious individual asks about them, Wagner gladly explains how they can create their own art from a simple block of stone. "If you give someone a square block, they can take a saw to the corners and round it off with a washer to make a perfect circle," said Wagner. "That's what I show to Soldiers I meet; to help them take their mind off of what's going on and let them drift somewhere else." After they are taught basic carving techniques, the Soldiers then have the opportunity to enlighten the teacher. "I can't understand why people do what they do just from looking in their eyes, but when I see what they make I see different creative views," said Wagner. "Everybody has a different opinion of how life is, and you can see that when someone is given a piece of stone and turns it into a unit crest, a shot glass, or even just a ball." By spending time here just like Soldiers do, he understands how they feel about being away from home, he said. His hope is to offer those willing to listen some of the knowledge he's gained through years of life experiences. "Our main thing here is to help Soldiers," he said. "The main thing is to at least make the time here seem shorter." Since he started working with stone more than seven years ago, Wagner has provided more than 100 Soldiers with a piece of marble and the proper tools to shape it. When the time comes this summer for him to present the crest to the 3rd SBCT, all will know that it also represents a piece of his heart. June 19, 2010: Written by Pvt. Zach Zuber, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division
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Meet Your Military: Yeoman Displays Positive Attitude

[caption id="attachment_3873" align="alignleft" width="300"]YeomanDisplays Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin Clark, left, gives documents to Navy Rear Adm. John Jolliffe, vice commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, at Naval Support Activity Bahrain. Clark handles all correspondence for the command's chief of staff, flag secretary, deputy commander, and commander. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason T. Poplin[/caption] MANAMA, Bahrain– Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin Clark says his flag staff office job at U.S. Naval Forces Central Command here is comparable to "working in the stock market on Wall Street."
His fast-paced duties as a yeoman include military correspondence, clerical work, office management, travel coordination, supply work and career counseling."I like doing what I do," Clark said. "I like making sure every sailor and military member is taken care of."Clark's primary responsibilities include tracking correspondence for the chief of staff, flag secretary, deputy commander and commander, and taking care of the travel needs of personnel from seamen to admirals. Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Croon said Clark is an invaluable part of the team. "I call him the work horse," said Croon, the flag office's leading petty officer. "He's a hard worker. When he gets a task, he's on it until he's finished, and then he's on to the next one." Clark, a native of Clearwater, Fla., reported to the command in October 2009. He originally was assigned to work in Naval Forces Central Command's administration office, but his chain of command recognized his outstanding work ethic and transferred him to the flag office. "When he left the regular administration office, he had to turn over his job to three people," Croon said. "He has a lot of impact at the command for a second class petty officer." Clark is scheduled to transfer to San Diego in November, where he will serve at his fifth command, aboard the USS Decatur. "I'd like to pick up my surface warfare pin and be a leading petty officer at sea," he said. "I also want to pursue a college degree." Clark attributed his success here to a love of customer service. "Positive attitude gets the job done," he said. May 25, 2010: By Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason T. Poplin- U.S. Naval Forces Central Command ***SOT***

Meet Your Military: Father, Daughter Return From Iraq

[caption id="attachment_3867" align="alignleft" width="300"]FatherDaughterReturn Before leaving Camp Atterbury, Ind., for deployment to Iraq in 2009, Army 1st Sgt. Bob Hempstead and his daughter, then Pfc. Crystal Hempstead pose for a photo during their pre-mobilization training at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center. Crystal Hempstead since has been promoted to sergeant. The soldiers serve with the Indiana National Guard’s 1313th Engineer Company. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Elizabeth Gorenc[/caption] CAMP ATTERBURY JOINT MANEUVER TRAINING CENTER, Ind., – It’s difficult for any leader to send someone into harm’s way, but it’s especially hard when that someone is your daughter.
Army 1st Sgt. Robert Hempstead, first sergeant for the Indiana National Guard’s 1313th Engineer Company, knows what that’s like. The company, based in Columbus, Ind., recently returned from a tour in Iraq, and Hempstead’s daughter, Crystal, is one of the unit’s soldiers.“This sort of thing is unusual and caused some initial concern among the command group,â€Â Hempstead said. “She was part of 1413th Engineer Company as a mechanic. When she heard of the deployment, she came to me and asked to go. We were short mechanics, so we took her.â€ÂSgt. Crystal Hempstead said it didn’t seem to her to be a big issue. “Because there was such a rank difference, it wasn’t like I was going to be working directly with him,â€Â she explained. “I think he handled it very well. It was frustrating, because it was almost like he was harder on me than everybody else. There was definitely no favoritism anywhere.â€Â Crystal said that although people often told her she was fortunate to deploy with family, she doesn’t necessarily agree. “We’re in a combat zone,â€Â she said. “Do you really want your parents to go to a combat zone? Just as much as it tore him up for me to be there, it was upsetting to me that he was there. Honestly, I didn’t like seeing him there.â€Â Handling the desire to be protective of his daughter wasn’t easy for Hempstead, he said, but his experience as a senior noncommissioned officer gave him the perspective to manage the situation. “I had to flip the switch with her, but I did that with all of [the company’s soldiers],â€Â he said. “To say that I wasn’t concerned about her would be a lie, but to say I wasn’t concerned about all of them would also be a lie.â€Â Hempstead said he is proud of his daughter’s ambition and looks forward to her future as a soldier and as a young woman. “She’s an E-5 now, and she’s 22 years old,â€Â he said. “She has a very good opportunity to work at the Patriot Academy. She’s finishing her degree. She doesn’t need me as much as she thinks she does.â€Â The young NCO said she would deploy with her father again. “He is a good first sergeant, and he definitely knows what he is doing,â€Â she said. “In that aspect, I would serve with him again, but it would always be in the back of my mind that my dad is overseas again, and I would rather he not be. But it is his career as much as it is mine, and that is just part of it.â€Â May 21, 2010: By Army Sgt. David Bruce- Camp Atterbury Public Affairs
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Meet Your Military: Cancer Survivor Ready to Fly

[caption id="attachment_3863" align="alignleft" width="320"]CancerSurvivorReady Air Force Senior Airman Brian Petras sits in the cockpit of a C-130 Hercules, May 11, 2010, on the flightline at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. Diagnosed with cancer in 2009, he returned to duty less than a year after surgery to remove part of his right leg. He is a flight engineer with the 50th Airlift Squadron. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Steele C.G. Britton[/caption] LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark.,- One year ago, Air Force Senior Airman Brian Petras was flying C-130 Hercules missions around the world.
Since then, the flight engineer was diagnosed with cancer, underwent extensive surgery, recuperated, returned to all duties except flying and passed his physical fitness test with no score adjustments.And he passed with just one foot. Petras, 24, has 700 deployed flying hours from two deployments, and he's a cancer survivor.Last summer, after icing his sore foot for a month and seeing no improvement, he went to the doctor. "It started out as kind of like a lump on my foot, like a swelling," he said, "and I just thought it was a sprained muscle or something." After a month and a half of tests and treatments, Petras learned he had a malignant tumor and said that doctors would have to amputate his right foot. "I was shocked," he said. "But since I … knew it was definitely going to happen, I just decided I could either stay positive or feel sorry for myself. I've just been trying to go on as normal as possible." Before his surgery, Petras enjoyed biking, running and snowboarding. Since his surgery, he not only enjoys all of the same activities, but also has become even more active. He recently rode his bicycle 350 miles across Texas in six days, and later this month he will begin a two-month, 4,000-mile coast-to-coast bike ride from San Francisco to Virginia. The trip, organized by World Team Sports, is called "The Face of America: Sea to Shining Sea Ride." In the ride, Petras will join about a half dozen injured servicemembers from each of the military branches, along with a few civilians, to raise money for charities. Petras said his desire to returning to flying was a major factor that motivated him to recover and return to work so quickly. "I just enjoy flying," he said, "I can't stand sitting around. I like traveling. I like just being on the flight, and I like the challenge of it. "As of right now, I'm 95 percent back to normal,â€Â he continued. “There's really not much holding me back. I can run, snowboard, ride a bike, pretty much do anything. I can do everything I could before. I feel 100 percent confident I can go back and do my job without any problem." Despite his unshakable positive attitude, the road to recovery hasn't been easy. "The first couple of months were pretty rough," he acknowledged. He healed for six weeks after the Aug. 24 amputation before he got a prosthetic leg. In the middle of September, he started the first of four rounds of chemotherapy that spanned three months. "It was one week on, then three weeks off to recover," he explained. He got his prosthetic leg shortly after his first round and began rehabilitation between subsequent rounds. "That was pretty rough,â€Â he admitted. “The chemo pretty much knocked me out. I had almost no energy. I felt sick. I really couldn't do much. I could barely take care of myself. Luckily, I was able to get a prosthetic [leg] and walk around without crutches and still do certain things, but I was still really tired." Petras went home for Christmas after his final chemotherapy session, and in January he went to the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. "It specializes in care for amputees and burn victims," he said, "It's mostly guys coming from Iraq and Afghanistan that are there. But they do a really good job.â€Â His time at the center gave him perspective, Petras said. “Here's me with a below-the-knee amputation, rehabbing and getting done in three months, and there are guys who've been there for years,â€Â he said. “They're missing both of their legs, they're missing [legs] above the knee, they're missing arms and hands, or 90 percent of their body is burned, and me coming in there is like a scratch. It's not a big deal at all. "Those guys are very inspiring,â€Â he continued. “Some of the guys, with the stuff they're going through, have just as good an attitude as I have, so we all kind of helped each other. To [the other patients], you're no different; you don't get treated any different." Petras said he was very pleased with the care he received at the center. "The people who worked at the [Center for the Intrepid], they're just really good at their jobs, from the physical therapists, to the occupational therapist to the psychologist there. Everybody cared about us and made sure we got the best training possible or the best rehabilitation possible. They did a really good job." He added that he’s especially grateful for the care he received from John Wood, his recovery care coordinator, and Lauren Palmer, his medical case manager. They were “two people who helped me out immensely. Not even just medical stuff, but anything," he said. "I don't like to consider myself handicapped. … I feel normal," he added. The Bloomsbury, N.J., native said he continues to look to the future. "The biggest thing I want to convey is that I don't see it as a serious problem right now,â€Â he said. “I see it as a minor inconvenience, and I want other people to treat me like that. I think of this thing as a pair of glasses. For me, it's something that takes me five extra minutes to get out of bed in the morning. … The biggest challenge for me is taking a shower standing on one leg. … Some people have injuries that are not as visible as mine, yet they're not even as mobile as me. I don't limp, I can run, I can do whatever. "I don't want my accomplishments to be thought of as 'Brian the amputee' did something,â€Â he added. “I don't like that. I want it to just be 'Brian' did something. I want to be treated like it's not that big of a deal. I don't feel handicapped. … As far as I'm concerned, I was ready to [return to flying] in January." May 20, 2010: By Air Force Capt. Joseph Knable-19th Airlift Wing ***SOT***

Meet Your Military: Couple Has Dream Wedding

[caption id="attachment_3856" align="alignleft" width="280"]CoupleHasDream Vanessa Muza Teskey and Air Force Capt. Mike Hawkins have some of their wedding photos taken at the San Francisco waterfront May 14, 2010. The couple won the San Francisco Dream Wedding Giveaway through online voting. Mrs. Hawkins has been diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin's lymphoma. Vendors donated $100,000 of goods and services for their wedding day. U.S. Air Force photo by Lance Cheung[/caption] SAN FRANCISCO, Cancer seemed as far away as a San Francisco seagull could fly as an Air Force captain danced his first dance with his new bride.
Mike and Vanessa Hawkins married on the San Francisco waterfront May 14, and for a few weeks, they could push aside her Stage 4 Hodgkin's lymphoma for a wedding they’d won in the San Francisco Dream Wedding Giveaway.The online contest provided the couple -- she an Air Force Academy graduate and he a University of Virginia ROTC graduate -- with a $100,000 wedding package that included the ceremony at a luxury waterfront hotel, custom-designed rings, a honeymoon in nearby Napa, Calif. It also allowed the bride to temporarily set aside the sweatpants and T-shirts she wears for chemotherapy and radiation treatments in favor of a white, strapless Lee Ann Belter gown. The only visible sign of the bride's illness, which usually is widespread in the lymph nodes and other parts of the body such as lungs, liver or bone, was a bandage on her forearm. "It was definitely like a dream," she said just before the ceremony on the roof of Hotel Vitale, across from the Port of San Francisco. "Even what you can dream cannot be anything like this. I really don't know if I could've planned a wedding right now. This is better than I ever dreamed I could feel, and I feel prettier than I ever dreamed I could look." The couple met exactly three years earlier at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. Captain Hawkins was a contracting officer. His future bride worked in personnel after she was given the option of cross-training into the services field or separating from the Air Force and remaining in her career field as a civilian. She chose to separate. They became engaged in July 2008 and received the news of her diagnosis the day before Captain Hawkins deployed to Southwest Asia. They survived the separation while she endured her treatments with the help of the Columbus base community and family and online video chats. Captain Hawkins shaved his head when his fiancée lost her hair because of her chemotherapy treatments. While he was deployed, she was in Wisconsin with her family, so both were apart from their friends in the squadron at Columbus. "But they never forgot about me," she said. Mrs. Hawkins’ nurse submitted the couple in the online San Francisco Dream Wedding Giveaway, and they wrote an essay and produced a video that told the story of their relationship and her battle with Hodgkin's. The Air Force community quickly went to work, along with Mrs. Hawkins’ father, Van Teskey, in Wisconsin. Captain Hawkins and his fiancée were one of 350 couples in an online contest decided by website voting. "I was getting calls from people on bases throughout the country who had heard about us," said Captain Hawkins, now a contracting officer in Chantilly, Va. "People Air Force-wide had heard about us through the global network. Even people who didn't know us were voting for us and sending [the link] to old squadrons and church groups. They were telling people, 'This is an Air Force captain, and they deserve this.'" He returned home in November, and was with his fiancée on Valentine's Day when a team of photographers and videographers appeared at his mother's home in Stafford, Va., to tell them they were named "the most inspirational couple" in the first San Francisco Dream Wedding Giveaway. Many of their Air Force friends booked their airline tickets and hotel reservations before the couple had theirs. Liz Guthrie, a San Jose wedding consultant with the contest, who had created a nonprofit organization designed to plan smaller weddings, said many people were inspired by the couple's story. "We were looking for someone who was facing illness, loss or hardship to give a wedding to, and the public determined the winner," she said. "Mike and Vanessa's story touched a lot of people, and they won by a landslide.â€Â After their honeymoon in Napa, the couple plans to live in their Fairfax, Va., townhouse, and Mrs. Hawkins will resume her treatments. But she's already thinking past the cancer, to a future that includes nursing school and a family. Captain Hawkins and his new wife said they are grateful to the contest sponsors and to their families and the Air Force community for helping them have their dream wedding day on the San Francisco Bay. "His commanders have been totally supportive and all of the spouses of people in his squadron have been incredible," Mrs. Hawkins said. "He's only been in Virginia for two weeks, and everyone has already reached out to me. Then, there are all of my friends from the academy, and some of them were here for this. That's a relationship you can't build anywhere else, and it's so awesome to be able to share this with them. "The Air Force network is incredible," she said. May 19, 2010: By Randy Roughton- Defense Media Activity-San Antonio
 
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Meet Your Military: Buddy's Concern Saves Soldier's Life

[caption id="attachment_3851" align="alignleft" width="280"]BuddysConcernSaves Army Cpl. Joe Sanders and Spc. Albert Godding pose April 27, 2010, after Godding received a Meritorious Service Medal for preventing Sanders' suicide in Iraq in 2008. U.S. Army photo by Zach Morgan[/caption] FORT POLK, La.,– Aug. 7, 2008, was a hot day in Iraq, and it seemed as if the walls were closing in on Army Spc. Joe Sanders.
Sanders had deployed to Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division’s 5th Battalion, 25th Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team. Sander’s wife was leaving him, and he had several months left to serve in Iraq when he attempted suicide by turning his weapon on himself.His battle buddy, Army Spc. Albert Godding, had seen the signs of Sanders' stress, and removed the firing pin from his friend’s rifle earlier that day. The weapon misfired and Godding confronted his friend about the attempt. Sanders sought counseling and made it home alive. On April 27 here, Godding received the Meritorious Service Medal for his actions. He is now with the 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team at Fort Carson, Colo., and was at Fort Polk for a pre-deployment rotation with his unit when he received the award. Sanders is thankful his friend had intervened in Iraq. "Every day I wake up, I have to thank Godding," he said. "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have gotten to experience my fiancée. I wouldn't have gotten to lead troops, or attend schools and learn. Those are things I love to do." Since redeploying in 2009, Sanders has attended the Warrior Leaders Course, been promoted to corporal and was selected for marksmanship school. He is with the same battery, is leading troops, and he’ll deploy this year to Afghanistan. He also is engaged to be married this month. Helping others, Godding said, is something everyone should do. "A lot of people crack jokes and call me hero, but if I ever see anybody who looks like they're feeling down, I talk to them just to make sure everything's OK," he said. "I'm not just trying to stop people from committing suicide. I'm trying to help them any way I can." Though he appreciates the recognition, Gooding said, the important thing is that his friend is alive and thriving. "It's been a long time since the event, and I didn't think I was going to get an award this big," he said. "I didn't need an award; I thought what I did was reward enough." The officer who commanded 5th Battalion, 25th Artillery, at the time of the incident noted that one person can make a huge difference. "Godding is circumspect about his role,â€Â said Army Lt. Col. Dennis Yates, now the senior fire support trainer and mentor at the Joint Readiness Training Center here. “He says it was just the right thing to do, but it is an illustration of the power that one person can have in another's life.â€Â Yates sees “unlimited potentialâ€Â for Sanders and Godding. "They're both great soldiers,â€Â he said. “Sanders has big plans - no matter what he sets his mind to, he'll do well. This experience is going to help form both of them long-term. The taste of success will be that much sweeter for Sanders from here on out because of what his friend did for him." Despite his low-key manner, Godding realizes the seriousness of suicide and Sanders' actions. "It made me realize that suicide is real," he said. "Sanders is not the type of soldier who would do that. It could happen to anybody." Friends and supervisors who notice changes in behavior should address it, Sanders said. "It doesn't hurt to ask how a person is feeling," he said. And, he added, soldiers shouldn’t be timid about seeking help. "Don't be afraid to get help, even if you have to take a battle buddy with you," Sanders said. "It made me feel a thousand times better when I was able to talk to someone about my trouble. Don't be afraid about what people will think about you, either. I did not hear any negativity in my unit about being a weak soldier. If anything, I was a lot stronger for going to get help." Yates said a unit’s climate is a big factor when it comes to soldiers looking out for one another, and that climate starts with leadership. "Commanders have to constantly ask themselves, 'Am I creating the type of environment that encourages leaders and soldiers to take care of each other?'" he said. "Not only did Sanders have a battle buddy who was on the ball, but he had a platoon leader and platoon sergeant who understood what was going on in their soldiers' lives." Sanders happened to be on the forward operating base with Godding because his platoon leadership saw him struggling and sent him back for counseling. "It was a stroke of luck that Godding happened to be on the [base] at the same time," Yates said. "Not a day goes by that I don't think about it. It was that significant." Yates pointed out that Army culture has shifted from the old model, in which soldiers were expected to 'tough it out' and seeking help was a sign of weakness. "As we become more experienced, we get a more mature view of what it means to be tough and temper it with compassion," he said. "There is still a stigma among family members that they can't let their units know about their problems. That's nonsense. No one will look down on you for coming forward. It was a big challenge for me to convince the spouses that they don't have to suffer in silence." Godding addressed the other difficulty of dealing with potential suicide. "It's hard sometimes to ask your friend about how they feel, because you don't want to intrude," he said. "When you spend time with your battle buddies during field training or [readiness training] rotations, you know when something's off and they're not acting right. It doesn't hurt to ask if they are OK and invite them to talk about it." Sanders said the kinds of issues that resulted in his suicide attempt have become more common, so talking about them no longer creates a potentially negative spotlight. "Because we deploy so often, soldiers are losing their friends and wives," he explained. "It's not uncommon to feel the way I did. Because more people are experiencing this, it's not such a taboo subject." As he prepares for his deployment, Sanders said he hopes to pass along the help he received to the soldiers he now leads. "I have more experience now," he said. "I know what to expect and talked to my fiancée about it. She's from a military family, so she knows about deployments. I got lucky in that respect." Sanders said being away from family and friends often is the hardest part of a deployment. "Fighting doesn't bother soldiers,â€Â he said. “We do that all day long. What gets to us is being away from our loved ones. It will be tough, but I'm ready. I know what my soldiers are going through. I will be able to help them cope." Many resources are available for soldiers and family members who are dealing with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems, officials here noted. The chain of command, unit chaplains and Army Community Service can provide help, and Military OneSource is a free service available by phone at 800- 342-9647 or online at http://www.militaryonesource.com. May 18, 2010: By Zach Morgan- Fort Polk Guardian
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