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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

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 May 18, 2010: By Zach Morgan- Fort Polk Guardian


Meet Your Military: Glew Keeps Company Together

[caption id="attachment_3847" align="alignleft" width="300"]GlewkeepsCompany Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Jason Glew, left, poses with Marine Corps 1st Sgt. Edwin Mota in front of the India Company "Mustang" sign in Marja, Afghanistan, April 23, 2010. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde[/caption] MARJA, Afghanistan,– Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Jason Glew is a workhorse.
He serves as the company gunnery sergeant for India Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, and thrives at juggling multiple tasks at once as India Company fights the Taliban insurgency here. As the company's logistician Glew is responsible for delivering all supplies, including food, water and clothing, to India's Marines out on the front lines. The 34-year-old noncommissioned officer also mentors India Company's platoon sergeants. "It's hard to explain all the different roles and things [Glew] does to make the entire company successful," said Marine Corps Capt. Bill Hefty, India Company's commanding officer. "He gets less sleep than anybody while on deployment." Glew has deployed often in his career. His current journey to Afghanistan marks the seventh time he has gone overseas since joining the Marine Corps. He has traveled to several different countries with the Marines, including Japan, Norway and Iraq. Deploying, Glew said, is satisfying -- especially being “outside the wireâ€Â of a base. "Just going out there and doing everything that you've learned while you've been in [the Marine Corps], it's the culminating point," Glew said. "It's like the Super Bowl for football players. Being outside the wire is the Marines' Super Bowl. You get to put everything you know to the test -- all your skills." Glew is no stranger to combat either, having fought in Iraq in the battle of Fallujah in 2004. "That was the first time I was ever scared while I've been in the Marine Corps," he said. "I definitely thought many of us weren't going to make it out of that one, myself included." Glew recalled that Fallujah was a constant fight from the get-go, with the Marines having to battle for every square inch of the city. He said that his platoon was attacked with machine-gun fire upon entering Fallujah's first half-block. "The whole platoon was pinned down for about 30 minutes, until one of the squad leaders single-handedly ran up and fragged two of the machine-gun bunkers, which enabled us to roll," the Pittsburgh native said. "Being stuck in a two-foot-deep canal with machine-gun rounds hitting right next to you is pretty scary." Glew's experience in Fallujah has given him the knowledge needed to serve as company gunnery sergeant and lead his Marines here. "Falling back on experiences in Fallujah helped me know what [our Marines] needed to be both mentally and physically prepared for [Operation Moshtarak]," Glew said. “I was able to look back to when I was a platoon sergeant in the kinetic fight and remember what [supplies] I needed and how important it was to me that the company pushed those needs quickly. “I [drew] from that experience,â€Â he added, “and was able to forecast what equipment the Marines needed and how much of it." Glew also used knowledge gained from Fallujah to ensure that the senior Marines in the company's line platoons were ready to deal with the stress of a combat deployment. "I was able to mentor the platoon leadership we currently have and give them a mental picture of how intense it could get," he said. "I talked with them and showed them how to put the intensity of the fight aside." Glew's Marines have responded to his leadership. "Gunny Glew has so much wisdom to pass," said Marine Corps Pfc. Anthony Cotto, a rifleman who works with Glew on a daily basis. "He's the jack-of-all-trades for the company." Hefty said Glew’s work has made other Marines' jobs much easier and has played a major part in the company's success during Operation Moshtarak. "We're lucky Gunny Glew can change roles on a dime and take care of any number of issues before it's one more thing that clutters up my to-do list," Hefty said. "He's completely pro-active, all the time." "He does it all," Cotto agreed. "The guy is awesome." May 17, 2010: By Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde- 1st Marine Division


Meet Your Military: Soldier Becomes U.S. Citizen

[caption id="attachment_3841" align="alignleft" width="300"]SoldierBecomesUS Army Spc. Carlos Baptista of the Rhode Island Army National Guard’s 115th Military Police Battalion takes the U.S. oath of allegiance during his naturalization ceremony at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, April 19, 2010. U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Shane Arrington[/caption] GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba,- Army Spc. Carlos Baptista of the Rhode Island Army National Guard’s 115th Military Police Company had dreamed of becoming an American citizen since he left the island country of Cape Verde off the African coast when he was just 4 years old.
Twenty years later, that dream became a reality when he took the oath of allegiance while deployed here with Joint Task Force Guantanamo.Completing the process makes Baptista proud – and his parents, as well, he said.“I know this brings a big smile to my parents’ faces,â€Â Baptista said with a smile of his own, shortly after taking the oath that officially made him a citizen of the country he’d already sworn to support and defend almost four years ago. Along with Baptista, Army Sgt. Ardicio Galvao and Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jo Kurosu received their citizenship during the naturalization ceremony. Baptista joined the Rhode Island Army National Guard on Sept. 11, 2006, and he made it clear it was no coincidence he joined on that date. But while getting his citizenship has always been a goal, he said, it was easier said than done. “I’ve always been very busy, but I needed to start working on my citizenship,â€Â Baptista said. “[I had to] get it while in Cuba to come on this deployment. I was really lucky to have so many people help me. My command gave me the time I needed to study and prepare.â€Â Army Capt. Nicolas Pacheco, 115th Military Police Company commander, said he’s glad to see his soldier’s hard work pay off. “He was very passionate and dedicated,â€Â Pacheco said. “We were all proud to see him raise his hand in the first recorded naturalization ceremony in Guantanamo Bay.â€Â Baptista mentioned two of his former officers who he said were instrumental in encouraging him to pursue his dream of citizenship. Army Maj. Samuel Maldonado and Army Capt. Alex Arroyo “gave a lot of their spare time to help me get everything done properly,â€Â Baptista said. “They didn’t have to help,â€Â he added, “but I’m glad they did.â€Â Baptista was given an American flag during the ceremony. The flag, he said, will be safely sent home and respected. Now that he’s an American citizen, Baptista said, he’s glad he can do things he couldn’t before, such as applying for a security clearance and an American passport and apply to bring more of his family to the country he has called home for most of his life. “I always felt like something was missing,â€Â Baptista said. “But now that I’m an American citizen, I feel complete.â€ÂMay 13, 2010: By Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Shane Arrington- Joint Task Force Guantanamo ***SOT***


Girl Scout Troop Adopts Female Marines

GirlsScoutsGirl Scouts of San Gorgonio Troop 1124 adopted two female Marine Privates who are both currently deployed overseas. The two women, along with Gunnery Sergeant Lee from the Marine Corps Recruiting Station in Temecula, visited with the Daisy troop to talk to them about what it is like to be a soldier in the military. The girls were very curious about bootcamp and had many questions about what was like. They learned that it helped build strength and stamina. The Privates described what it was like to do massive amounts of marching and running with heavy packs on your back. "Do they give you extra time to do stuff because you're a girl?" one scout asked. "Sure they do," the women laughed. "The men have to make the run in 8 minutes. We have to do it in 8 1/2 minutes. They give us a whole extra 1/2 minute!" The troop also learned that the Marines are the only branch of the military that puts women on the front lines. GirlsScouts2The girls wanted to know who made a better soldier--men or women. The Marines replied that it depended more on the person rather than on their gender. The women talked about how courage, character and confidence, the foundations of Girl Scouting, apply to the military as well. These three important principles, they told the troop, are what make a good soldier. Gunnery Sergeant Lee gave each of the girls Marine lanyards and water bottles with the inscription, "Pain is weakness leaving the body." According to scout leader Irene Trovato, the water bottles were a big hit with the girls. One little girl in the troop still carries it around with her wherever she goes. One of the biggest lessons that the troop came away with was that girls could be pretty and feminine and still be strong soldiers. The Marines were all incredibly good sports, not only answering questions, but also working with the girls doing improvisational skits and planting flowers. GirlsScouts3Both of the female Marines are currently deployed overseas, and the Daisy Girl Scouts still stay in touch with their adopted friends by sending letters and drawings. Whenever either of the Privates writes back to a girl, she brings the letter to her troop meeting to read aloud to the rest of the scouts. The girls also take turns watering the flowers planted by the two Privates as a way to honor and remember them. According to Gunnery Sargent Lee, there are many other soldiers who would love to be adopted by the Girl Scouts. Troops can contact him at the Marine Corps Recruiting Station in Temecula for more information (951) 719-3486. May 12, 2010: By GSSGC Girl Scouts ***SOT***

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