By Lance Cpl. Roger L. Nelson
Marine Corps Base Hawaii
KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii, Jan. 4, 2006 - Sgt. Russell L. Bridges, noncommissioned officer-in-charge, Base Operations, Headquarters Battalion, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay, said the events of his past have made him push to be a better person.
"I've been on my own since I was 14, because I was emancipated from my parents," said Bridges. "They had their problems and it wasn't a good environment for me, so my grandmother was given guardianship of me.
[caption id="attachment_3192" align="alignleft" width="304"] U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Russell D. Bridges, noncommissioned officer-in-charge, base operations, Headquarters Battalion, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay, has been in the Marine Corps for more than seven years, said his grandfather -- a former military police officer during Vietnam -- was only family member who pushed him to join the military. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Roger L. Nelson[/caption]
"Growing up with my grandma, I was really allowed to do pretty much whatever I wanted, as long as I stayed out of trouble," said 26-year-old Bridges. "She worked full-time in order to make ends meet, but did a good job raising me."
As a junior in high school Bridges decided he wanted to join the military with his friends."Growing up with my grandma, I was really allowed to do pretty much whatever I wanted, as long as I stayed out of trouble," said 26-year-old Bridges. "She worked full-time in order to make ends meet, but did a good job raising me."
"I originally was going to join the Army because all of my friends were doing it," he said. "We were going to do the whole buddy system thing. One of my friends actually took me to the Marine recruiter, and when I was talking to him, he asked what I was doing next summer. I told him I was going to Army boot camp, and he said, €˜No you're not, you're going to Marine Corps boot camp,' and that's how I got to be where I am today."
Bridges enlisted in the Marine Corps as an engineer, going through boot camp at Marine Corps Recruiting Depot, Parris Island, S.C.
"My family was very supportive of my decision to join the military," said the native of Alton, Ill. "My grandma just wasn't thrilled that I chose the Marine Corps over the others, but still backed me. My grandfather served as a military police officer in the Air Force during Vietnam and retired as a senior enlisted, so he was really the only person who pushed me to join."
Bridges explained that a lot of his friends ended up being "grunts," but he was interested in demolition, which is why he joined as an engineer.
"I didn't like doing humps; but I loved demolition, so I knew it was for me," said Bridges. "I'm glad I chose it because I really like it, and it turned out to be really cool."
Bridges has been in the Marines for more than seven years and has been to many different places.
"Before I was in the military, the only place I had ever been to was Mexico - on a church trip," he said. "Since I've been in, I've been to Iraq, all over Europe, Spain, Italy, Jordan, Egypt, and a lot of other interesting places."
Bridges was in Operation Iraqi Freedom and returned to Hawaii in March. While deployed, his job billet was staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge for information operations.
"I volunteered to go to Iraq, so it was awkward. I was scared from time to time, but was never in an actual fire fight," Bridges said. "Our biggest threat was indirect fire. You would hear bombs going off in the distance and then they would stop, so you would have no clue where the next one is going to go off."
He said that if it were up to him, he would not like to be deployed again, but wouldn't mind if he had to go.
"Everybody asks if it's a different lifestyle in Iraq," said Bridges. "They have their good and bad people there."
Bridges said that he is unsure as to what the future holds for him, but believes he will want to retire from the Marine Corps.
"As it looks now I'm going to do my 20 years and retire," he said. "But it's hard to say what's going to happen in the future. If I do decide to get out, I'd be interested in being on a special weapons and tactics team somewhere."
By Sgt. Jason Mikeworth
207th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
BALAD, Iraq, Jan. 3, 2006 - It started as a normal August day. Soldiers of Task Force 1/128th comprised of K Troop, 3 rd Squadron, 278th Armored Calvary Regiment and 1st Battalion, 128 th Infantry Regiment, were returning to Forward Operating Base O'Ryan after a successful mission to escort an engineer unit. They were just minutes away from an improvised explosive device changing their lives forever.
[caption id="attachment_3581" align="alignleft" width="154"] Ten years of experience as a combat medic were put to use as U.S. Army Sgt. Chad Mahutga worked to treat shrapnel wounds, head injuries and keep one soldier's airway open after an improvised explosive device detonated under a Humvee near Balad, Iraq, last August. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jason Mikeworth[/caption]
The IED, made from two anti-tank mines, detonated beneath the lead vehicle of the patrol, tossing the Humvee into the air and causing it to land on its roof. The smoke and dust obscured the vehicle from the view of the rest of the patrol.
"The first thing I did was give a contact report," said Sgt. 1st Class Eric Weaver, a platoon sergeant with K Troop. "Then I radioed to the vehicle to see if they had rolled through it."The IED, made from two anti-tank mines, detonated beneath the lead vehicle of the patrol, tossing the Humvee into the air and causing it to land on its roof. The smoke and dust obscured the vehicle from the view of the rest of the patrol.
There was no answer.
Sgt. Chad Mahutga, a medic with 3rd Platoon, got to the scene as quickly as he could.
"It was like time stood still," Mahutga said. "As soon as my feet hit the ground, it was like operating on instinct."
Mahutga went to work organizing a casualty collection point with the help of Combat Life Savers from the engineers and from K Troop. McCullouch ordered another vehicle closer to the scene to help shield the wounded from the rounds that were discharging in the fire.
Ten years of experience as a combat medic were put to feverish use as Mahutga worked to treat shrapnel wounds, head injuries and to keep one soldier's airway open.
"Doc Mahutga was like a machine. He was doing what he was trained to do," said McCullouch.
Weaver also expressed his admiration of Mahutga's actions.
"Sgt. Mahutga is a franchise player, I'm glad he's on my team," Weaver said. "None of them would have survived if he hadn't been there. He took a bad situation and made it better."
By Cpl. Cullen J. Tiernan
2nd Marine Aircraft Wing
AL ASAD, Iraq, Jan. 3, 2006 - They mirrored each other growing up. From sports, both playing quarterback for their high school teams, to school, both active in student leadership, to joining the Marine Corps and becoming CH-53 pilots, they are brothers, best friends and Marines.
Now, together at Al Asad, Iraq, Capt. Michael S. Beasley, the intelligence officer with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466, and his younger brother, 1st Lt. Mark P. Beasley, the morale officer with HMH-466, share the unique experience of flying in the same squadron while deployed to a combat environment.
[caption id="attachment_3196" align="alignleft" width="308"] U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Michael S. Beasley (right), the intelligence officer with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466, and his younger brother 1st Lt. Mark P. Beasley, the morale officer with HMH-466, are able to share the unique experience of flying in the same squadron while deployed in a combat environment together at Al Asad, Iraq. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Cullen J. Tiernan[/caption]
We try to eat at least one meal together a day," said Michael, who is serving his second tour in Iraq. "We will catch up on what we have been doing and catch up on brotherly stuff as well. We try and consolidate our phone calls back home and keep everyone updated on how we are doing."
The Beasley brothers are natives of Placerville, Calif.. They said their father Pat Beasley, mother Kathy Beasley and older sister Tara Beasley all share a common interest in aviation."We try to eat at least one meal together a day," said Michael, who is serving his second tour in Iraq. "We will catch up on what we have been doing and catch up on brotherly stuff as well. We try and consolidate our phone calls back home and keep everyone updated on how we are doing."
"When we were kids, our dad flew Cessnas," said Michael. "All of them back home think it's cool we are here together. They are real patriotic and proud of what we are doing."
Michael began his career when he enlisted in the Marine Corps during 1994 as an aircraft recovery specialist. Working airfields by day and going to college at night, he earned his degree and his commission as a pilot through the enlisted commissioning program.
"Seeing Michael graduate from boot camp was inspiring, it got me interested in the Marine Corps," said Mark. "I saw the esprit de corps, the motivation level and the way they pushed physical fitness. As far as compared to the other services, I wanted to join the best."
Mark earned a Reserve Officers' Training Corps scholarship to Oklahoma University, and upon graduation, joined the Marine Corps. During January 2005, he reported to HMH-466 and joined his brother, who had been there since December 2004.
"We were just lucky to get stationed together," said Michael. "We don't fly together, or even fly in the same section. Imagine having a brother trying to tell you what to do, or trying to keep your focus while worried about what the other is doing."
Lt. Col. John H. Celigoy, the commanding officer of HMH-466, said the Beasleys bring a very positive dynamic to the squadron and the ready room.
"They are both great Marines," said Celigoy. "Since (Michael) is the older brother, they seem to take on that older, younger sibling role. They look out for each other. They have a strong relationship that brings a lot to the squadron. It's our pleasure to have them in the squadron, and an honor to serve with them. "
While Celigoy said it is definitely unique to have two brothers in the same squadron, he said they are professional Marine officers, who never let their personal relationship get in the way of their mission.
"Obviously, there is some risk in our profession," said Celigoy. "I am not willing to place undue burden on one family. This squadron can execute its mission without them flying in the same cockpit. It's also a promise I made to their father before we deployed. I have no intention of breaking a promise made to a Marine's parent."
Around the squadron, the Beasley brothers said Michael is more talkative and Mark is more reserved and quiet. They also said the Marines of HMH-466 who don't see them daily often confuse them. But, they said it doesn't bother them, and Mark said it's good having someone who's a little senior who can give him the inside scoop on how everything works.
"They look like brothers, but they have very different personalities," said Celigoy. "They both strive to be the best pilots and Marines they can be. They also both think they are experts on the subject of football and can often be found debating the final points of the game. (Mark) is a University of Oklahoma graduate. So naturally, he's going through some tough times with the performance of the Sooners lately."
The brothers said it's only natural for them to be flying the same aircraft in the same squadron. They said the Marine Corps is like a family, but it's nice to be in the same squadron with a brother you grew up with. They also said they both have the loves of their lives waiting for them in the United States. Mark is married to Melissa, and Michael is engaged to his girlfriend of six years, Sharice Smart.
They said everyone back home was happy they were able to celebrate the holidays together, and just like when they were children playing football or going to school together, they can depend on each other for anything.
U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Michael S. Beasley (right), the intelligence officer with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466, and his younger brother 1st Lt. Mark P. Beasley, the morale officer with HMH-466, are able to share the unique experience of flying in the same squadron while deployed in a combat environment together at Al Asad, Iraq. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Cullen J. Tiernan
By U.S. Army Master Sgt. Bob Haskell
National Guard Bureau
WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2005 €“€“ Army National Guard officer Ladda "Tammy" Duckworth did not give a room full of men, including a couple of generals and a legislator from her state of Illinois, any time to feel sorry for her when she was promoted to major on Dec. 21 at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
[caption id="attachment_3147" align="alignleft" width="308"] Santa Claus visited newly promoted Illinois Army National Guard Maj. Tammy Duckworth on Dec. 21, 2004, at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where she is undergoing treatment after being severely injured in Iraq on Nov. 12. A rocket-propelled grenade hit the helicopter that Duckworth was piloting and most of her two legs have been amputated. U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Bob Haskell[/caption]
The lady in the wheelchair was too busy swapping stories about flying helicopters, asking about her outfit's 300 or so soldiers still serving in Iraq, and making her point that she plans to continue serving this country. There was no chance for anyone to lament the fact that most of her two legs are missing and that her severely damaged right arm was encased in a hinged splint.
"I hope this is the worst thing that happens to anyone in the 106th during this deployment," the UH-60 Blackhawk pilot smiled warmly on the first day of winter. "This is not so bad. There is always somebody worse off than you are. I'm just glad it was me and not one of my guys out there."The lady in the wheelchair was too busy swapping stories about flying helicopters, asking about her outfit's 300 or so soldiers still serving in Iraq, and making her point that she plans to continue serving this country. There was no chance for anyone to lament the fact that most of her two legs are missing and that her severely damaged right arm was encased in a hinged splint.
Lt. Gen. Roger Schultz, director of the Army National Guard, and other leaders from the Army Guard's Readiness Center in nearby Arlington, Va., were there. The adjutant general, Brig. Gen. Randal Thomas, and five other Guard members from Illinois were there. So was State Senator Chris Lauzen from Illinois's 25th District.
They gathered in the afternoon, four days before Christmas, to surprise Duckworth with her promotion from captain to major and to present her with an Air Medal and Army Commendation Medal. She was presented a Purple Heart on Dec. 3.
Duckworth is a native of Hawaii, and her mother and father flew from their home in Pearl City to spend the holidays with her and her husband. Her brother and members of her husband's family also visited.
Life for Maj. Tammy Duckworth, 36, and her husband, Illinois Army Guard Capt. Bryan Bowlsbey, has changed dramatically since the afternoon of Nov. 12. That's when a rocket propelled grenade hit the chin bubble of the Blackhawk she was piloting in Iraq and exploded between her legs, according to the on-line journal her husband is writing.
Her copilot, from the Missouri Army Guard, landed the crippled Blackhawk before other crewmembers, air ambulance personnel and doctors began working feverishly to save her life, Bowlsbey stated. The helicopter's crew chief, Spc. Kurt Hannemann, from Illinois was apparently hurt but "was listed as not seriously injured," Illinois Guard officials reported.
Duckworth lost half of the blood in her body, said the woman who had served in Iraq with the Illinois Army Guard's 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation, an assault helicopter unit, since last March. All three bones in her right arm were broken but have since been pinned and plated together.
Nearly all of her right leg has been amputated, and she has lost her left leg beneath the knee. Her left leg will be fitted with a prosthesis, and Duckworth is grasping at every hope that she can also be fitted with a right-leg prosthesis, her husband explained, so she can again fly helicopters or fixed-wing airplanes or at least remain in the Army Guard.
"Remaining a soldier is her fall-back position," her husband told a reporter while Duckworth talked and joked with her visitors. "She will try to fly Blackhawks with prostheses after a long recovery period. She will go before a medical review board in six months or a year. Their decision may depend on whether she can pass a physical fitness test."
"It's always a privilege to wear the uniform," said Duckworth who has been assured she can return to her civilian job when she is able, her husband added. She is the manager of Rotary service clubs in the Asian-Pacific area for Rotary International.
Bowlsbey knows the drill because he is also an Army Guard officer, a captain and the commander of Charlie Company, 133rd Signal Battalion. He works fulltime for the Army ROTC program at Northern Illinois University, in De Kalb, where, coincidentally, Duckworth earned her commission in 1992.
She joined the Army Reserve and went to flight school and then joined the Illinois Army Guard in 1996, said her husband of more than 10 years. It is important for her to keep her wings.
No one was betting against the determined woman who had undergone surgery many times by Dec. 21 and who gave every impression of having come a long way in the days since being shot down. She was still learning to maneuver her electrically powered wheelchair because it was only the third time she had been up from her bed since arriving at Walter Reed on Nov. 18.
"We're so proud of one of our finest," praised Lauzen. "My first priority is taking care of soldiers who we are fortunate enough to have come home to us. I'm here to express the love, respect and appreciation of the people of Illinois."
"She is a person of unusual strength and unusual courage and tremendous personal discipline," said Lt. Gen. Schultz. "Just being around her gives you a sense of appreciation for the people who make our Army the organization that it is." Walter Reed is filled with patients and practitioners who accentuate the positive.
"The medical team here has done an incredible job of fixing Tammy so far," Bowlsbey stated. "They did a miracle job of rebuilding her right arm. They reattached her triceps, and they rebuilt all three bones."
Other patients were equally upbeat about their lot.
"I'm doing OK. This could be a lot worse," North Carolina Army Guard Sgt. Dale Beatty, a double amputee, told Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum who visited the medical center on Dec. 15. Beatty's six-month-old son Lucas lay beside him on his bed.
Beatty, with a certain sense of pride, showed his visitors a photo of the Humvee in which he was riding when an antitank mine shredded the front of the vehicle and cost Beatty both legs beneath his knees. President George Bush pinned a Purple Heart to the left sleeve of Beatty's T-shirt, bearing the slogan "Strong to the Finish," on the same afternoon that Duckworth was promoted.
"We saw probably some of the most magnificent Citizen-Soldiers who have ever volunteered to answer the call to colors for this country," said Blum after visiting Beatty and other Guard soldiers. "They are battle wounded, some with life-altering wounds, but their spirit has not been broken. They still have the warrior ethos. They still live the Army values."
That means, in the words of The Soldier's Creed, "I will never accept defeat. I will never quit." It also means, as soldiers frequently say, "driving on."
"In the final analysis, from the time she swore the Oath of Enlistment, ... she has been honored to €˜obey the orders of the President of the United States and the officers appointed over' her," wrote Bowlsbey in Web journal. "This applies to all lawful orders, and nothing can negate that obligation. She still does not regret that commitment. Tammy has rededicated herself to the mission, chosen some long and short-term goals, and is moving forward."
Distributed by www.SupportOurTroops.org
By U.S. Army Capt. Frank Myers
Gulf Region Division, US Army Corps of Engineers
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 3, 2005 - Leaving Portland in early August to serve as a civilian in Baghdad, Iraq was a sacrifice for Linda Tompkins in a number of ways. Besides her absence from friends and family during the holidays, she also gave up her five-year streak of raising money for breast cancer research as a participant in the Portland to Coast charity walk.
[caption id="attachment_3159" align="alignleft" width="154"] Linda Tompkins left Portland, Oregon in early August to serve as a civilian in Baghdad, Iraq. U.S. Army photo[/caption]
"I've loved being involved in raising awareness and money for breast cancer, but as important as that has been to me, coming [to Baghdad] has been even more important. I really know we're making a difference in the lives of the Iraqi people. The Corps[of Engineers] is building schools and roads and power plants. We're building the whole infrastructure of a new [democracy]."
For the past five years Linda served as a walker and a coordinator for "Christine's Dream Team," a team of twenty eight walkers who all were breast cancer survivors."I've loved being involved in raising awareness and money for breast cancer, but as important as that has been to me, coming [to Baghdad] has been even more important. I really know we're making a difference in the lives of the Iraqi people. The Corps[of Engineers] is building schools and roads and power plants. We're building the whole infrastructure of a new [democracy]."
Eight years ago, Linda discovered she had breast cancer when her doctor called her at her office. She cried the entire twenty-five mile trip to her Portland home, sure she was going to die.
When she arrived home her husband Jim looked down from repairing a roof to see Linda standing in the back yard with tears streaming down her face. He could hear her sobbing and he knew then the mammogram result.
Only six years into their marriage, the couple faced a life or death obstacle, but they faced it together.
"Jim was unbelievably supportive. Would you believe, no matter the sacrifice, he went with me to every single doctor's appointment."
Only a month after her doctor called her with the disturbing news, she went into surgery for a double mastectomy with tram-flap reconstruction. The operation was a complete success. She has had no further signs of cancer.
"I only got the initial exam because my sister had just had her own breast cancer surgery, but I was five years younger and never thought I would get cancer."
"I changed a lot from the experience," Linda says. "Before my breast cancer I was a real wallflower, very shy. After this, I feel free."
Meeting Linda now, you would never know she was once a wall flower. She is a gregarious outgoing red head, but to meet her now, you would have to fly half-way around the world - to a war zone.
"I went to work for the Army Corps of Engineers in 1999. Until coming here [to Baghdad, Iraq] I worked in the Portland District at the Hydroelectric Design Center."
"I started working on the paperwork last summer knowing that the Army needed volunteers to help rebuild Iraq. It took me three months of making arrangements, but last August I flew into this great adventure."
One person glad she is here is her supervisor, in the Real Estate Department, Ann Volz.
"Linda brings an energy and an enthusiasm for our work that really helps. She is aggressive and speaks her mind. She has had to be a quick learner as she has taken on a lot of work outside her specialty. She fills in our gaps and keeps the office together while we conduct our critical mission."
You won't get any argument from the Division Commanding General Thomas Bostick, "Linda works in our Real Estate department helping fulfill a crucial mission. As many construction projects as we have started, we try to ensure every lease of private property is at a fair market value. The Real Estate office works throughout the whole country of Iraq doing this."
When asked about the hardest part of being here, Linda said, "It is hard being here, but [the hardest part is] not the scary rockets or mortars or car bombs. I just spent Christmas without my family and I have two little girls at home that miss their grandmother terribly."
Including Thanksgiving, and with New Year looming, Linda faces her third major holiday away from her family. These are holidays that she didn't have to be in Iraq. Originally, Linda was supposed to go home in time for Christmas. Her original volunteer tour was only for four months.
"But once I got here and got to know some of the local Iraqis, I could see how much our work meant here. That's why I volunteered to stay two more months." Linda's six months in Iraq ends in January with her having missed the cancer walk and the holidays. She feels fulfilled because she feels her priorities are straight.
Linda advocates regular self-exams and early mammograms. She knows the earlier breast cancer is discovered, the better chance of survival a person has.
"If I hadn't had my breast cancer, I would never have had the inner strength to come to this war. I know I am a stronger person for what I have survived. Now I am able to use that strength to help in this struggle. I have so much to be thankful for."