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Law Advisor Sets Bar High in Iraq

By Army Staff Sgt. Scott Wolfe American Forces Press Service BAGHDAD, Dec. 19, 2008 The U.S. Army may take Col. Roy House out of Iraq. But Iraq will never really be out of House -- and his mark here will long outlast his deployment. House, a member of the Arkansas National Guard and a soldier of 38 years, has spent the past 18 months here assisting the Iraqi judiciary in the administration of juvenile justice. As an Army lawyer, he was assigned the task of mentoring and encouraging officials of the Republic of Iraq's juvenile police, juvenile courts and juvenile rehabilitation institutions. [caption id="attachment_3522" align="alignleft" width="200"]fod_law_advisor_01_16_09 Army Col. Roy House, a rule of law advisor with the State Department's Baghdad Provincial Reconstruction Team, is presented the Bronze Star for his meritorious services while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. U.S. Army photo by Dr. Dhafer Baker[/caption] In January, instead of dodging roadside bombs on his frequent visits to the Iraqi courthouse, House will be retiring to his home in Searcy, Ark., where he will get reacquainted with his family and return to his private law practice.ouraging officials of the Republic of Iraq's juvenile police, juvenile courts and juvenile rehabilitation institutions. For the man who volunteered to deploy 12 times before he was mobilized here in June 2007 and assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division, Multinational Division Center, the life change is bittersweet. "I get to sow the seeds that someone else will reap," he said. Because of his background in civil and government law, specifically as a former judge in juvenile courts, House was assigned to the State Department's Baghdad Provincial Reconstruction Team to assist the Iraqi judiciary in the administration of juvenile justice. Of the many initiatives House worked on, he said he is most proud of two projects he helped bring to the Iraqi people. He enlisted the help of Iraqi lawyers in educating citizens about the rule of law -- a principle that no one is above the law -- something some Americans may take for granted but is foreign to Iraqis. He also helped educate Iraqi citizens on the privilege of voting, and how they can now decide who will lead them. House also assisted in the creation of a nongovernmental organization that would pay private attorneys to write articles in local newspapers explaining subjects such as democracy, human rights and the functions of government. The program allows the typical Iraqi citizen, who has never had a civics lesson, to learn how their new government works and how to participate it its growth. "It was 100 percent his idea," Richard Hawkins, leader of the PRT in Mada'in, said of House. "He found the guys who would do it; he helped create the NGO. From there, professional pride took over and now well over a dozen articles and more are published every week." "He is a good man with a big heart," Hawkins said. House became so engrossed in his work that he decided to extend his 12-month tour to 18 months. "He did not need to stay here," Hawkins said. "He had fulfilled his obligations. He stayed here because he felt that strongly about what he was doing." House said his most memorable moment in Iraq came while he was on a routine patrol to a courthouse in April when his convoy came under enemy fire. His actions that day earned him a Combat Action Badge. That same month, he joined the 1st Armored Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team when it replaced the 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team in the Mada'in Qada, in the Baghdad province. He speaks fondly of the Iron Brigade. "They think further down the road. They are used to thinking ahead," he said. "Armor moves down the road at 20 to 30 mph, and they have to think about what happens further down." House also was awarded the Bronze Star for his exceptionally meritorious service as the Rule of Law advisor while deployed here. For himself, however, he said the deployment was always about his passion for the law and the Iraqi juvenile justice system. He witnessed and reported on deplorable conditions of juveniles in the Iraqi court system to his superiors and to Iraqi judges. He enlisted the assistance of the United Nations Children's Fund, formerly UNICEF, and the International Committee of the Red Cross to improve the conditions. "Seeing human beings in these conditions would make you cry," House said. "No one would allow animals to live in such deplorable conditions in America." House arranged a meeting in Amman, Jordan, with the organizations and 30 Iraqi judges, lawyers and senior government officials responsible for juvenile justice. As a result of the meeting, the U.N. and other international groups provided assistance to Iraq's juvenile justice system. As a result, Iraq's juvenile delinquents and neglected children receive improved care. "The Iraqi judges are pretty good," House said in his soft, southern drawl. "There is nothing wrong with their judges. I have never heard of them breaking the law or taking a bribe. I have a lot of confidence in their judiciary." House also brought people together to establish the second NGO to hire educators, teachers and administrators that would eventually develop a civics education curriculum to be tested in the Mada'in Qada. About the size of Washington, D.C., the Mada'in is a microcosm of Iraq and the perfect choice for curriculum all of Iraq ultimately will adopt, House said. The course includes a 30-minute civics lesson in each class, at each grade level, each week throughout the school year. It is backed by Iraq's ministries of Education and Human Rights as well as the U.S. State Department. During his time in the military, House said he remembers the people and units more than the things that happened. "I have worked with the 82nd, 101st, 1st ID, 3rd ID €¦ They are a professional group of people," he said. Asked what he might miss when he gets back to the United States, House said with a chuckle, "I might go back to Iraq. "I am an adopted member of the Borjet tribe," he explained, "so I have family out here. I have a €˜nephew' now that is as old as I am. "Really, they are a great people, and I love them. I just wish I had been able to do more. Maybe I will go back." (Army Staff Sgt. Scott Wolfe works in the 1st Armored Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.) Article Redistributed by Support Our Troops Distributed by www.SupportOurTroops.org

Soldier Continues Holiday Tradition in Afghanistan

By Army 1st Lt. Lory Stevens Special to American Forces Press Service BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Dec. 18, 2008 Although far from home, a deployed soldier here will continue a long-standing holiday tradition with his family in Louisiana. Every Christmas Eve, Army Lt. Col. Stephen Jeselink, Task Force Warrior deputy commander, reads the poem "The Night Before Christmas" to his family €“ a tradition he started 18 years ago when the family was stationed in Karlsruhe, Germany. "It's a simple act, but it means so much to me and my family," Jeselink said. [caption id="attachment_3524" align="alignleft" width="180"]fod_holiday_traditions_continue_01_16_09 Army Lt. Col. Stephen Jeselink, Task Force Warrior deputy commander, is recorded while reading the poem "The Night Before Christmas" at the USO at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Dec. 16, 2008. Through the United Through Reading military program, the Jeselink family in Louisiana will be able to continue a long-standing holiday tradition of listening to Stephen read the poem on Christmas Eve. U.S. Army photo[/caption] Jeselink will be able to continue that tradition, thanks to the United Through Reading military program, which allows servicemembers to record themselves reading books and then send the DVD to their children back home. United Through Reading is, in part, a troop-support group that offers DVD services at deployed and some USO locations. "Many Americans only see the USO centers in airports throughout the United States, but they're providing an incredible service to our servicemen and civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, too," Jeselink said. Jeselink said he is grateful for the program, particularly since this will be the first Christmas he and his wife, Barbara, will be apart in their 26 years of marriage."Many Americans only see the USO centers in airports throughout the United States, but they're providing an incredible service to our servicemen and civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, too," Jeselink said. "I felt like we needed to do this even though he is deployed," Barbara said. She mailed her husband a copy of the poem by Clement Clarke Moore so he could record himself reading it at the USO here. Barbara hopes to surprise her family by playing the recording of Jeselink after Christmas Eve dinner when the entire family gathers in the living room in front of the Christmas tree. "Dad gets the book while Mom gives an envelope to everyone," son Stephen II said, adding that the envelopes may have money, gift cards or gifts inside. "Dad usually sits with us in a circle and gives instructions on what to do with the envelopes. As he reads the story, every time he says the word €˜the,' we pass the envelopes to the person on our right," he said. "The best Christmas memory I have is sitting around the tree with my family, listening to my dad read the story, and watching his face light up every time he read the word €˜the,'" his son Jarod said. "He has such enthusiasm reading the story for us, it makes it all the more fun," daughter-in-law Stormy added. The fun starts after Jeselink finishes the story. Everyone, beginning with the youngest, gets to exchange, if desired, an envelope with another family member. After everyone has had a chance to pass the envelope or keep it if they wish, everyone opens their envelope at the same time. "It's special to be part of something that was started so many years ago," daughter-in-law Shelley said. (Army 1st Lt. Lory Stevens serves in the Task Force Warrior public affairs office.) Article Redistributed by Support Our Troops Distributed by www.SupportOurTroops.org

Refugee Becomes Marine to Repay Debt to Nation

By Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Achilles Tsantarliotis Special to American Forces Press Service KARMAH, Iraq, Dec. 15, 2008 A deployed Marine lived through a war as a child, but he did not hesitate years later when it came time to defend the freedom he and his family almost lost. Marine Corps Cpl. Bajro Buzaljko, 21, an ammunition technician serving with Regimental Combat Team 1's Task Force 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, first experienced war as a child in Bosnia. When Bosnia erupted into civil war in the early 1990s, Buzaljko's mixed Muslim-Catholic family's life in Stolac was shattered. The Croatian military placed his father and uncle into a concentration camp, leaving his mother alone to care for Buzaljko and his baby brother. [caption id="attachment_3029" align="alignleft" width="166"]fod_refugee_becomes_marine_01_14_09 Marine Corps Cpl. Bajro Buzaljko, 21, an ammunition technician with Regimental Combat Team 1's Task Force 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, performs a function test on a weapon to ensure its operability in Iraq. After fleeing war-torn Bosnia as a child, Buzaljko joined the Marines to defend the country that accepted him and his family with open arms. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Achilles Tsantarliotis[/caption] Buzaljko said he cherishes memories of Bosnia prior to the civil war. He described the country as having a scenic environment with lush fields and streams. The erupting violence was completely contradictory of everything he remembered up to that point, he said. "Before the war, it was a beautiful place," he said. "We would always play and have so much fun. It is full of history and had gorgeous scenery. Then one day, tanks and [troops] came through our town." Not until mortars began falling in the town did Buzaljko realize the danger his home, and everything he knew, was in. "My mother tried her best to keep me unaware of the violence surrounding us," Buzaljko said. "One day we were getting ready to escape the city, and we were covering the lights on our car to avoid detection. All of a sudden everyone started running; it was chaos. I heard this loud whistling, and all of a sudden, boom! My school was gone."Not until mortars began falling in the town did Buzaljko realize the danger his home, and everything he knew, was in. Buzaljko's father and uncle spent a year doing hard labor with scarce food until United Nations officials helped to free them. When his mother woke him up to tell him his father was home, Buzaljko did not recognize him. "I saw him standing in front of me, and I didn't know who he was," Buzaljko said. "He had several shirts on, and I could still see his bones through his clothing." Bosnian soldiers running the concentration camp allowed only prisoners nearing death to go home. After Buzaljko's family reunited, U.N. officials told them they could go wherever they wished. They wanted to go to America. "We moved to New York, and my family started rebuilding our lives," Buzaljko said. "In Bosnia, my family was established. We had good jobs, financial security, everything we needed. It was taken away." Buzaljko grew up appreciating life in Utica, N.Y., quickly accepting it as his new home and thoroughly enjoying the land of opportunity. "It was great," he said. "Even as we were leaving Bosnia, they told my mother she could stay, but the children could not, since she came from a mixed marriage of Catholicism and Muslim. In America, that never even came up." Buzaljko's interest in the military started in high school, where he was actively involved in the Junior ROTC program. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Buzaljko said, he knew he would take his interest further, and joined the Marine Corps after graduation. "When we were attacked, it just made me feel like my home was being attacked again," he said. "I wasn't going to let that happen to me. That was the final factor in my decision to join. I wanted to go help fellow Americans." During Buzaljko's first deployment -- to Afghanistan with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines -- he discovered another aspect of his service. "When I got there, I realized not only was I doing my part for a country that took me in and helped my family, but I was helping other people in need, just like [the U.N.] helped me when my family was in trouble." Buzaljko's care and concern have carried over to his deployment here. It says a lot about someone to go back to a similar environment they left under such unfavorable circumstances, said Marine Corps Cpl. Matthew Clay, 23, a logistics operations center watch chief with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines. "Anyone who's lived through a war and volunteered to go back has a lot of courage. I have a lot of respect for him." Despite the hardships Buzaljko's family endured to leave their war-torn home, they remain supportive of their son and his service to their new country. "I am very proud; you can't even imagine," his mother, Vesna Buzaljko, said. "He joined to say €˜thank you' to the [United States] for welcoming us with open arms. It was a tough time when we left, but America took us in and saved our family. Now he has a purpose to help others like we were helped when we needed it, and we are so proud." (Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Achilles Tsantarliotis serves with Regimental Combat Team 1.) Article Redistributed by Support Our Troops Distributed by www.SupportOurTroops.org

Sister, Brother Re-enlist Together in Iraq

By Army Staff Sgt. Scott Wolfe Special to American Forces Press Service BAGHDAD, Dec. 10, 2008 Two deployed soldiers decided to make their re-enlistment a family affair. Army Staff Sgt. Normando Gallardo and his sister, Army Pfc. Marlene Banuelos, both Multinational Division Baghdad soldiers, made a six-year commitment to the Army together during a Dec. 7 re-enlistment ceremony at Camp Striker, Iraq. [caption id="attachment_3036" align="alignleft" width="250"]fod_brother_sister_reinlist_01_14_09 Siblings Army Pfc. Marlene Banuelos and Army Staff Sgt. Normando Gallardo, natives of El Paso, Texas, swear the oath of enlistment administered by Army Col. Pat White during a Dec. 7, 2008, re-enlistment ceremony at Camp Striker, Iraq. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Wolfe[/caption] The siblings, natives of El Paso, Texas, both are serving in Iraq, although at different bases. Gallardo is assigned to the 40th Electronic Signal Brigade based in Balad, and Banuelos serves with the 1st Armored Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team in Camp Striker.six-year commitment to the Army together during a Dec. 7 re-enlistment ceremony at Camp Striker, Iraq. It was fitting for the siblings to re-enlist together, as the two have influenced each other's careers. Banuelos said she initially intended on joining the Navy. When that path didn't work out, she changed her mind and decided to join her brother in the Army. Gallardo drove his sister to see the Army recruiter. "It was her own decision," he said. "She couldn't go Navy, so I told her I could take her down to the Army recruiter." Gallardo, a cable system installer, has re-enlisted for the sixth and what he said would be the final time. With 15 years in the Army, he has his sister beat by a few years both in service and age. "I'm 22; he's 35. There are 13 years between us," said Banuelos, who serves as a gunner with the security detail team for the brigade's command sergeant major. Gallardo said his younger sister had the final word on when the two would commit to their new service obligation. "I had to call her up to ask when she wanted to do this," he quipped. (Army Staff Sgt. Scott Wolfe serves in the 1st Armored Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.) Article Redistributed by Support Our Troops Distributed by www.SupportOurTroops.org  

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                
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