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Wounded Airman Lives for Son, Hopes to Stay on Active Duty

By Samantha L. Quigley American Forces Press Service WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2008 Air Force Tech. Sgt. Israel Del Toro has made remarkable strides in his recovery in the three years and 102 surgeries since he and his team were ambushed by the Taliban in the mountains near Qalat, Afghanistan. His fight to survive started on that mountain, where he refused to leave his 3-year-old son fatherless. He'd lost his father early in life and vowed his son wouldn't know what that was like. [caption id="attachment_3042" align="alignleft" width="250"]fod_wounded_airman_lives_for_01_14_09 Air Force Tech. Sgt. Israel Del Toro works out at the Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, fitness center. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cecilio M. Ricardo[/caption] The fight intensified when he woke up in the intensive care unit at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. "They told me I was going to be in the hospital for another year, that I may or may not walk again, [and] that I was going to be stuck on a respirator for the rest of my life," Del Toro said. "I sat there for a few seconds and came back with, €˜You can kiss my ass,'" he said.The fight intensified when he woke up in the intensive care unit at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Del Toro was part of Tactical Air Command and Control, Detachment 1, 4th Air Support Operation Squadron, when he was deployed in December 2005 to Forward Operating Base Lagman, Afghanistan, in support of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. He was part of a scout team sent to investigate intelligence that the Taliban, including a high-value target, was using a supply route in the mountains near the southeastern city of Qalat. A couple of days into the mission, an interpreter picked up chatter indicating that the Taliban were observing the unit's every move. "The Taliban were talking about €¦ that they could see us when we leave out of the compound, that they see us when we come back in," Del Toro said. "They saw us if we left with the motorcycles, if we were leaving with the trucks." Del Toro's lieutenant decided to take half a scout team and try to catch the Taliban at their own game. Five members of the 10-man team would head up the mountain after dark and try to catch the Taliban members as they returned the following morning. The rest, including Del Toro and the lieutenant, would provide overwatch from another vantage point. When a couple of days passed with no action, the lieutenant decided his team would head into the town at the foot of the mountain. There wasn't much in the town, but a suspicious man going up the mountain drew their attention and the five-man team began to follow. Del Toro told his lieutenant that he could take the shot, but the officer wanted to capture the suspect. "I told him, €˜Sir, these guys are like goats here in Afghanistan. They can be in flip-flops. They can be barefoot. [But] they run up these mountains like gods.'" The lieutenant still wanted to capture the man, however, but as Del Toro had predicted, the man escaped, leaving the team to traverse the one road that led up and down the mountain. Del Toro's group was on its way to pick the rest of their team on top of the mountain when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb just after passing a creek. "They always say your life flashes in front of you. I never believed it, but it's kind of true," he said. "I just thought of my family, my son; what we were supposed to do. We were living in Italy at the time. We were going to Greece. I was going to teach my boy how to play ball." When Del Toro got out of the vehicle, he was on fire from head to toe. "I knew that creek was behind me," he said. "But the flames overtook me, and I collapsed. I did think I was going to die there." His comrades weren't about to let that happen, though. The lieutenant helped him up, and they both jumped in the creek. Both the primary and secondary radios had been destroyed in the blast, making it impossible to call in air support for the team on top of the mountain that was caught in crossfire. An Army private with a radio became Del Toro's mouthpiece. "He's repeating everything I'm telling him," said Del Toro, who, as a joint terminal attack controller, normally would have made the call. "He eventually gets a hold of Lagman, and they say, €˜Hey, tell Gunslinger [Del Toro's call sign] he has A-10s and British airs coming in." That was the last action Del Toro took that day. After the trauma of the blast, the third-degree burns covering 80 percent of his body, and the frigid dip in the creek, his body began to shut down. His brothers in arms knew how to keep him going, though. "They knew that I had lost my dad when I was young, and how I said I would never let that happen to my son," he said. "They used that to keep me [awake]." Del Toro remembers being loaded onto the helicopter that arrived after about 20 minutes. He remembers getting to the field hospital, where the doctor cut off his watch and told him he'd be OK. And that's all he remembers about that day. That was December 2005. He woke up in March 2006. Losing four months of his life was surreal, he said. "Sometimes I'll try and concentrate and see if I can remember anything," he said. "But I'm not even sure if they're memories, or hallucinations or dreams." Del Toro did not get much time to dwell on his lost time. He had bigger demons to slay in recovering. First, there was the news that he may not walk again and that he'd be on a respirator the rest of his life. In an act of defiance, Del Toro left the ICU at the end of April. A month later, he walked out of the hospital, breathing on his own. Despite all he'd gone through, Del Toro said, he never once wished that he'd died. Still, his biggest personal fear later made that thought race through his mind in what he described as a "real dark hour." "When you're as badly burned as I was, they ease you into seeing your face," he said. "There was one day where my wife and my therapist - he was my guardian angel €“ were helping me to the bathroom. "I don't know if it was my wife or my therapist €¦ [who] slipped and fell and pulled the towel off the mirror, [but] I saw my face in there and I broke down," he said. "I just wished I died at that point." It had nothing to do with being vain, and everything to do with his son and how he would react to his father's appearance, he said. "I was like, €˜My God, if I think I'm a monster, what's my 3-year-old son going to think?'" he said. Just as his therapist had assured him, however, Israel Del Toro Jr., after a brief hesitation, gave his dad a big hug when he heard his voice. Del Toro, who hopes to remain on active duty, has had several speaking engagements since becoming an outpatient. "I'm still an NCO in the Air Force. I've still got a job to do," he said. "Just because I got hurt, if I use that as an excuse not to go my job, I think that's a copout." Del Toro has accepted that when he's finished with his recovery - he estimates he's got another 10 to 15 surgeries remaining - he won't be able to return to the field as an operator. Instead, he said, he would like to become an instructor. It's the attitude one would expect from someone who, until questioned about their whereabouts, didn't know where his medals were. His Purple Heart and Army Commendation Medal, which he received in a June 24, 2006, ceremony, along with the Bronze Star he received for actions in Iraq, were in a box in a closet. "For me, my medals aren't a big thing," the 12-year Air Force veteran said. "I went there to do my job. I saved some guys. I came back. I didn't expect to be rewarded for it." Del Toro, a Chicago native, and his wife, Carmen, live near Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Article Redistributed by Support Our Troops Distributed by www.SupportOurTroops.org

Medal Recipient Chooses Third Iraq Tour

By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill Special to American Forces Press Service CAMP TAJI, Iraq, Dec. 5, 2008 [caption id="attachment_3047" align="alignleft" width="250"]fod_medal__recipient__01_12_09 Army Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Nein, who is on his third deployment to Iraq, serves with the Kentucky National Guard's 223rd Military Police Company, at Camp Taji, Iraq. Nein was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions as a squad leader with the 617th Military Police Company during an ambush on March 20, 2005. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill[/caption] Army Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Nein didn't have to come back here. He served in Iraq twice before and was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions as a squad leader under fire. If anyone could have gotten a pass, it was Nein. But he wouldn't take it. "I probably didn't have to be here this time, but I don't think that I would have missed it," Nein said. "I feel honored to be a part of this."Army Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Nein didn't have to come back here. He served in Iraq twice before and was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions as a squad leader under fire. If anyone could have gotten a pass, it was Nein. But he wouldn't take it. Nein, 39, still leads in Iraq, this time as a platoon sergeant with the Kentucky National Guard's 223rd Military Police Company, providing escorts for the 18th Military Police Brigade's Iraqi Police Transitional Team. It is his third deployment in Iraq, and his fourth overseas tour this decade. The first was in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2001. Nein first deployed here with the initial liberation force in 2003. But it was his second tour, in 2005, that would impact him the most. He was a squad leader with the Kentucky National Guard's 617th Military Police Company on March 20, 2005, when a convoy they were riding in was ambushed near the town of Salman Pak, south of Baghdad. Article Redistributed by Support Our Troops Distributed by www.SupportOurTroops.org                

Army Sniper Finds Lesson in Injury, Recovery

NEW YORK, Dec. 3, 2008 Army Sgt. Joel Dulashanti is, in his own words, "pretty much fully recovered" now, but the road to recovery was neither short nor easy. It did, however, provide him with a life lesson. "There is no reason to waste time in life being sad, or depressed, or angry," the 22-year-old soldier said. "Life's too short, and you learn that through those experiences. You've got to €¦ decide to be happy." [caption id="attachment_3137" align="alignleft" width="217"]fod_army_sniper_01_12_09 Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff, presents a flag flown over Ground Zero in New York City to Army Sgt. Joel Dulashanti after a brief ceremony at the site for a group of wounded veterans. The ceremony was part of a United Service Organizations-Microsoft "Salute to Our Troops" weekend, Nov. 8, 2008. DoD photo by Samantha L. Quigley[/caption] Dulashanti, a Cincinnati native, could have had a very different outlook on his situation. Then a corporal, Dulashanti was deployed to Afghanistan as a sniper with the 82nd Airborne Division in May 2007. His platoon was near the Pakistan border when he and his partner were ambushed.Dulashanti, a Cincinnati native, could have had a very different outlook on his situation. "We were dismounted, chasing down two guys, and they just happened to ambush us before we could ambush them," he said. "I was shot three times; through my left knee, through my right knee €“ which resulted in an above-knee amputation -- and once in my abdomen." The latter injury caused the loss of abdominal muscle as well as the loss of part of his stomach and intestines. Between the attack and Dulashanti's arrival at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, there were stops at Orgun-E and Bagram in Afghanistan. The whole process took a day. After a four-day stay at Landstuhl, he arrived at Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center on May 8, 2007, where his family met him. He was still an inpatient when President George W. Bush presented him with his Purple Heart medal on July 3, 2007; something he remembers as "pretty cool." "It does mean a little bit to me," Dulashanti said. "I gave something to get that, but a lot of other people have them [too]. It's actually one of the few things that is actually given to you that you've €¦ earned, but didn't put any work into it," he added flashing a million-dollar smile. The former distance runner and weightlifter spent part of his recovery learning how to walk on his new prosthetic leg, but it wasn't long before he wanted to take up another of his favorite activities again. "I used to rollerblade a lot, [and] I continue to rollerblade a lot," he said. "It was weird, because there aren't any above-knee amputees that rollerblade, so I was the first. "It was kind of difficult coming up with a prosthetic to use," he continued, "but I worked with my prosthetics and [one was developed through] trial and error." Dulashanti estimated the whole process took about a month. Running is still difficult, he said, but he's determined to get back to it soon. He'd also like to get back to active duty, as well. "I just started my medical board," he said. "Hopefully, cross my fingers, it won't be another six months. So, we'll see where that takes me. I'll get my feet wet again, and we'll go from there, but I would like to get back into the field and operate again as a sniper." For now, though, it's a waiting game, and to fill the time he's taking classes in general education. Article Redistributed by Support Our Troops Distributed by www.SupportOurTroops.org

First Sergeant Cites Difference U.S. Soldiers Make

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Brent Hunt American Forces Press Service CAMP TAJI, Iraq, Dec. 2, 2008 For one senior enlisted soldier serving in Multinational Division Baghdad, the American soldier often represents the only goodness a lot of people around the world will ever know. [caption id="attachment_2993" align="alignleft" width="229"]fod081125 Army 1st Sgt. Albert Rodriguez, first sergeant for the 4th Infantry Division's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade, said he is proud of what he and his soldiers personify around the world.[/caption] "For a lot of people in the world, American soldiers are the only goodness a lot of people will ever know; the only bible a lot of people will never read; and the only example of America and freedom a lot of people will ever see," said the Oxnard, Calif., native who is on his second deployment to Iraq. "I am proud to serve, because as a member of the U.S. Army, I am part of a long line of soldiers who have fought and died for our freedom," he said. "In particular, I have had two uncles who gave their lives during World War II and the Vietnam conflict."For a lot of people in the world, American soldiers are the only goodness a lot of people will ever know; the only bible a lot of people will never read; and the only example of America and freedom a lot of people will ever see," said the Oxnard, Calif., native who is on his second deployment to Iraq. "When I reflect on what their experiences must have been like," he continued, "I immediately appreciate all that is good in my life. I believe all soldiers should be proud of who they are and what they are doing, regardless of their job. They have all sacrificed so much for our country and our freedom." Many of the soldiers in the first sergeant's company are directly involved in the planning, operation and execution of the Apache helicopter battalion's mission around the greater Baghdad region. His job is to coach, mentor and take care of soldiers as they conduct their daily tasks in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His company, deployed here just north of the Iraqi capital, uses the attack helicopters to directly affect the fight by protecting soldiers on the ground with aerial support. Although the job could seem overwhelming, many of Rodriguez's young soldiers are performing like seasoned veterans, he said. Army Cpl. Jack Condon, 24, an aviation operations specialist from Catoosa, Okla., who works in the battalion's tactical operations center, said he relies on the advice he receives from senior noncommissioned officers to shape how he moves forward. "Every 15 minutes, I get a [situation report] so I can inform the commander on the mission," he said. "I am at the center of the information flow. I ask for guidance from senior NCOs about what to do with a soldier or a situation, because every soldier and situation is different. That's how my NCOs are here, and I want to be the same." As Condon and other soldiers in the company try to emulate their first sergeant, Rodriguez instills in them that taking care of soldiers is an NCO's top priority. How soldiers live while deployed reflects directly on their morale, the mission and esprit de corps, he said. "Clearly, one of the most positive changes I have seen since my last deployment is the quality of life for our soldiers, who definitely deserve it," Rodriguez said, comparing today's conditions to those that were in place when he served during the initial invasion in March 2003. "The standard of living has been raised so high that we can never go back to the way it used to be. €¦ Trying to describe to a young soldier what it is like to live on a cot for six months is like trying to describe the days without the Internet: unimaginable." (Army Sgt. 1st Class Brent Hunt serves in the 4th Infantry Division's Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs Office.)

Meet Your Military: Soldier Provides "Eyes in Sky" for Ground Forces

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Brent Hunt American Forces Press Service December 1, 2008 CAMP TAJI, Iraq, Dec. 1, 2008 – Troops on the ground in Iraq have an “eye in the sky,” thanks to soldiers like Army Spc. Rodolfo Delatorre in the 4th Infantry Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade, who launches, recovers and maintains the Shadow unmanned aerial system. Delatorre, who serves with Company G, 2nd Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, hails from Fresno, Calif. “I refuel, add oil, change spark plugs and change filters,” he said. “I perform services on the Shadow to ensure it stays in the air.” [caption id="attachment_3584" align="alignleft" width="250"]foddelatome-9999h-001 Army Spc. Rodolfo Delatorre, unmanned aerial system maintainer, 4th Infantry Division’s Company G, 2nd Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade, Multinational Division Baghdad, wires the propeller of a Shadow unmanned aerial system before launching the surveillance aircraft. Delatorre is responsible for launching, recovering and maintaining the high-tech Shadow at Camp Taji, Iraq. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brent Hunt[/caption] Delatorre is attached from the 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team as a member of the “Iron Eagle” company, which launches and recovers the Shadow surveillance vehicles day and night. Shadow maintainers perform takeoff and landing procedures from their facility, using a pneumatic launcher for takeoffs. The soldiers recover the vehicles by using an arresting hook and cable system similar to the ones used on aircraft carriers.Delatorre is attached from the 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team as a member of the “Iron Eagle” company, which launches and recovers the Shadow surveillance vehicles day and night. To keep the fleet of surveillance aircraft in the air, maintenance, quality control and production control are of high priority. Double- and triple-checking all maintenance procedures is commonplace. “Once one is launched, there is another one coming down. Once it has landed, we do maintenance on it,” Delatorre said. “I like this job because it is a lot of hands-on. I like to work with my hands. It gives me a lot of satisfaction when everything is launching well and there are no problems with the UAS.” The Shadow provides commanders on the ground the ability to see the entire battlefield with its high-tech cameras and communications equipment. Since the inception of unmanned surveillance aircraft more than 10 years ago, the “eyes in the sky” have become an integral part of the modern battlefield. Commanders have come to depend on the Shadow’s ability to give them surveillance footage from the sky; maintainers here ensure the “overhead edge” continues on the battlefield for Multinational Division Baghdad troops. “His job is extremely important to the overall mission,” said Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Lovell, Delatorre’s supervisor at the UAS company. “We have a high [operational tempo], and if it wasn’t for guys like Delatorre, we couldn’t support the overhead mission for MND-B. “He is a stellar soldier,” he continued, “and I tell other soldiers to emulate him. He is one of those soldiers who make my job a lot easier.”

Medic Earns Three Purple Hearts During One Deployment to Iraq

By Samantha L. Quigley American Forces Press Service WASHINGTON, Dec. 1, 2008 If Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Sims was a cat, he'd have only six lives left after his yearlong deployment to Iraq with the 1st Armored Division's Company B, 270th Armor Battalion, out of Fort Riley, Kan. [caption id="attachment_2997" align="alignleft" width="250"]fod081201 Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Sims, a medic who was wounded three times during his last deployment to Iraq, is preparing to deploy again. Courtesy photo[/caption] "I was wounded three times in Iraq the last time I was there," Sims said of the deployment that began in January 2005. Sims, a medic, was riding in a tracked ambulance between two M1-A1 Abrams tanks when a roadside bomb detonated. Shrapnel pierced the vehicle and penetrated his flak vest, puncturing his left lung."I was wounded three times in Iraq the last time I was there," Sims said of the deployment that began in January 2005. He was evacuated to the hospital in Balad. He spent about three weeks recovering before returning to his unit, but it was only the first of three stays at the hospital. "They know me there," he said with a chuckle. Three months after he'd returned to duty, his unit was on a foot patrol when it started taking enemy mortar fire. One mortar landed near Sims. "Shrapnel hit near my lower left leg, penetrating through the front lower part and coming out the back," he said. "[I] almost, almost lost that limb in that incident, but everything's fine now." Again, Sims was transported to Balad, where he spent another four weeks recovering from his injuries before rejoining his unit to finish his tour. Unfortunately, he would endure one more interruption before rotating back home. It was about 4 a.m., and Company B was patrolling Main Supply Route Tampa, one of the main roads in Iraq, when Sims, who was riding in an Abrams tank, started seeing flashes in the distance. He doesn't remember anything after calling in the attack, however. "I took a sniper bullet €“ 7.62 mm €“ to the front of the helmet -- straight in front, almost right between the eyes," Sims said. The bullet fractured his neck and skull and knocked him unconscious. "I fell into the turret of the tank," he said, "and when €¦ [it] turned to fire at the enemy, it broke my right femur." That earned him a two-month stay in the Balad hospital. He said the care he received there was excellent, and he gave the men in his unit kudos for their part in his survival and recovery. "I attribute a lot of my speedy recovery €¦ [to] the care that I received actually on site at the point of injury -- quick response from all the people that were there," he said, referring to the soldiers he'd trained in the new Combat Life Saver program. "The people that were actually treating me were people that I had trained. By the time I got to Balad, I was pretty much good to go. They just had to kind of patch me up." Sims' last tour in Iraq may have resulted in three Purple Hearts, but he said he's not hesitant about returning. "No, not at all," he said. "I think that it's a lot safer than when I was there. I think the time that I was there, it was right around the national election time, [and] it was really the peak of all the main [bomb] attacks. fod081201-002"I think now, it's almost 100 percent turnaround," he added. It's good he's not timid about returning. His current unit, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 15th Engineer Battalion based out of Schweinfurt, Germany, is certain to deploy at some time. "We're trying to get all the equipment in and get this unit stood up, because it's the only construction battalion in Europe right now," Sims said. "So, we don't know exactly where we're going yet, but we know we're going to go somewhere." Sims, who has served 10 years since enlisting right out of high school, recently re-enlisted indefinitely. He hopes to become a doctor or a physician assistant, he said, but he has his sights on one of the Army's top spots if he remains in the Army as an enlisted soldier. He said he'd like to be the first medic to serve as sergeant major of the Army. "As a medic, you get a broad spectrum of everything that's in the Army," he added. "You can go to any type of unit, so you're more well-rounded, I think." Sims and his wife call St. Charles, Mo., home.  
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