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Airman Designs White House Christmas Tree Ornament

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Luke Johnson Special to American Forces Press Service BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. , Dec. 24, 2008 A reservist with the 940th Air Refueling Wing here was selected by California's 2nd district congressman and the 9th Reconnaissance Wing commander to design an ornament for the White House Christmas tree. The theme for this year's White House Christmas celebration is "Red, White and Blue Christmas," and the ornaments featured on the tree were decorated by artists around the country to represent the unique patriotic spirit of each artist's state. [caption id="attachment_3129" align="alignleft" width="250"]fod_ltroopdesigned_whitehouse_orniment_01_16_09 The ornament for the White House Christmas tree designed by Chief Master Sgt. Stuart Bisland, an Air Force reservist at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., showcases the emerging intelligence missions performed there. Bisland was asked by California's second district congressman and the 9th Reconnaissance Wing commander to design an ornament for the White House tree. (Courtesy photo)"Back in September, I was contacted by Brig. Gen. Robert Otto and his staff and asked to paint the White House ornament," Bisland said. "They asked me to depict the emerging intelligence missions we perform at Beale Air Force Base."Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Stuart Bisland designed the "Team Beale" ornament for the White House Christmas tree. At the request of first lady Laura Bush, Bisland was present for the unveiling of the tree.[/caption] Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Stuart Bisland designed the "Team Beale" ornament for the White House Christmas tree. At the request of first lady Laura Bush, Bisland was present for the unveiling of the tree. "Back in September, I was contacted by Brig. Gen. Robert Otto and his staff and asked to paint the White House ornament," Bisland said. "They asked me to depict the emerging intelligence missions we perform at Beale Air Force Base." On one side of the ornament is the curvature of the Earth, space and the moon, with an RQ-4 Global Hawk flying on the edge of the atmosphere and a satellite in the distance. On the other side of the ornament is a U-2 "Dragon Lady" flying through lightning with the Sutter Buttes in the background. The ornament also features the Team Beale logo surrounded by new and old Air Force insignia. The chief also managed to include a personal touch to the ornament. "In dedication to my late father, Richard Bisland, a Grumman aerospace lunar module engineer, I airbrushed a very small gold lunar module launching from the moon," Bisland said. The experience and the opportunity to represent Beale and the Air Force at the unveiling of the White House Christmas tree was overwhelming, Bislund said. "What makes this tree so special is that every inch of the 20-foot Fraser fir [from North Carolina] is decorated with red, white and blue decorations and the ornaments painted for Mrs. Bush and our congressmen," he said. "Standing in its presence, you get a real sense of the honor to be a chosen artist for your state. This was quite an experience, and I was proud to represent the 9th RW, the Air Force Reserve, the 940th ARW and all of the airmen of Beale." (Air Force Tech. Sgt. Luke Johnson serves in the 940th Air Refueling Wing public affairs office.) ***SOT***

Guard Soldier Uses Civilian Skills in Iraq

By Army Staff Sgt. Jason Kendrick Special to American Forces Press Service BAGHDAD, Dec. 23, 2008 Deployed National Guard soldiers often find themselves doing a job outside of their military occupational specialty. Army Capt. Jaime Hernandez, who serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 36th Infantry Division's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, is one such soldier. Hernandez, an armor officer, spent his first deployment -- to Taqqadum, Iraq, in 2005 with the 2nd Battalion, 112th Armored Regiment -- serving primarily as an infantry officer. "We did patrolling, route clearance, quick-reaction force and entry control point missions," he said. [caption id="attachment_3132" align="alignleft" width="250"]fod_guard_uses_civi_skills_01_16_09 Army Capt. Jaime Hernandez takes a picture of a Baghdad project Dec. 17, 2008, to track its progress. Hernandez, an armor officer, serves as a project engineer for a general contracting firm in his civilian job. While deployed, he uses many of his civilian skills to be successful in his brigade's engineer section. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Kendrick"He was hand-picked by me because of his construction experience," explained Army Maj. Robert Crockem, 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team's engineer officer.During his current deployment, Hernandez works in the brigade engineer cell. His civilian education and experience were deciding factors for his selection to serve in the section.[/caption] During his current deployment, Hernandez works in the brigade engineer cell. His civilian education and experience were deciding factors for his selection to serve in the section. "He was hand-picked by me because of his construction experience," explained Army Maj. Robert Crockem, 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team's engineer officer. Hernandez is a 2002 graduate of Texas A&M University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in construction science. The Fort Worth, Texas, native now works as a project engineer with a contractor on commercial projects. Prior to his deployment, he worked as a civilian project engineer on the Tarrant County Convention Center parking garage. His civilian skills have helped him be successful during this deployment, he said, adding that he has used those skills to put together various project proposals. But although there are many skill sets that are the same in his job back home and his mission here in Iraq, Hernandez said, there are some large differences as well. "Back home, I work for a general contractor, so we basically build off of the plans and specifications," he explained. "Here, we are developing the plan, designing the structure, providing the scope of work and quality control for the military, but I use a lot of the same skills." His brigade commander noted that National Guard soldiers often bring valuable experience gained outside the military when they deploy. "When you drop a National Guard soldier on the ground, you're getting more bang for your buck because of the civilian soft skills that they bring," Army Col. Lee Henry, commander of the 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, said. (Army Staff Sgt. Jason Kendrick serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 36th Infantry Division's 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.) Article Redistributed by Support Our Troops Distributed by www.SupportOurTroops.org

Wounded Warrior Ready to Return to Fight

By Emily Athens Special to American Forces Press Service SCHWEINFURT, Germany, Dec. 22, 2008 Danger lurks on every stretch of road in Iraq with the prospect of roadside bombs, which have taken a terrible toll on those serving downrange. Army Spc. Jake Altman knows very well the destruction they can cause. After serving two years in the Army, Altman deployed in 2006 with 9th Engineer Battalion, 172nd Infantry Brigade, stationed just north of Baghdad at Camp Taji. "Altman was hard-working. He was self-assured and got along with everyone," Army Spc. Jason Ogarro said. Army Sgt. Corey Blatchford, a friend of Altman's since they were stationed together in Bamberg, Germany, added that Altman was an eager worker in Iraq and pushed himself as far as a soldier should. [caption id="attachment_3041" align="alignleft" width="148"]fod_lwonded_warrior_returns_01_16_09 Army Spc. Jake Altman, wounded during his first deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2007, is preparing to re-join his unit in Iraq. U.S. Army photo by Emily Athens[/caption] But five months into the deployment, on the morning of May 14, 2007, Altman's life changed. "I remember him coming in, and he actually said to me 'I don't feel well today.' He actually felt like something wasn't right," Blatchford said. Altman left on a route-clearance mission that morning, operating a Husky, a single-occupant vehicle equipped to detect mines and improvised explosive devices.But five months into the deployment, on the morning of May 14, 2007, Altman's life changed. "I was the lead vehicle scouting for IEDs and letting the guys behind me know what's up ahead," he recalled. "About three hours into it, I came across one. I saw it for about a split second. I called it, and then all of a sudden, it blew up," Altman said, trailing off. A piercing bang, the harsh smell of explosives, and an overwhelming cloud of dust proved the unfortunate success of yet another insurgent attack. Altman suffered severe shrapnel wounds to his legs and the loss of his right arm at the elbow. Immediately after the explosion, Altman tried desperately to smash his M-16 rifle through the glass window so he could get out of the vehicle, but he was unsuccessful because of space limitations and injuries. "I was awake through the entire ordeal. I was completely conscious. There was a lot of pain and a lot of anger," he said. Although in tremendous pain and agony, Altman could not help but think what only heroes perceive during this type of emergency. "I was actually glad it was me. If I would have missed it, it would've hit a truck full of guys. That explosion would have killed everybody in the truck," he said. Despite any initial frustrations, Altman has come to terms with his wounds and has vowed to "keep pushing through it." After a year and a half of recovery and physical therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Altman returned to the 9th Engineer Battalion here, continuing his service and eager to take on future challenges. He has decided to deploy once again, and will readily leave Schweinfurt in January, fulfilling his desire to "stay in the fight." "Personally, I want to do this for myself," he said. "I'm not proving it to anybody else that I can do this. I'm doing it just for me." Remaining in the military was not an easy undertaking for Altman, Ogarro explained. After several attempts, Altman finally spoke to the right people and was allowed to continue his service. "I've had to fight to stay in the military, because this is what I want to do," he said. "I don't really feel impaired. I can always find a way around it," he said, noting his quick adjustment to his injuries. Altman's prosthetic hand limits him to grabbing things, closing, and rotating his new hand. The ability to twist his prosthetic hand completely around is a talent that he finds useful when he wants to "mess with people," he explained with a smile, demonstrating that although he lost a hand, he did not lose his spirit. "He's had a good sense of humor before and after. That's something he definitely didn't lose," Ogarro said, remembering a specific incident. "I asked him to give me a hand, and I knew I set myself up. He popped it off and gave it to me," Ogarro said, laughing. Altman's experiences and continued determination have become a motivation for other soldiers. "It shows the other soldiers that even if you have something happen, you still can come down and fight hard and still defend your country," Blatchford said. "It's courageous. €¦ If he can do it without an arm, why can't I do it with two arms?" Without regrets or resentment, Altman said, he looks forward to the years of service ahead. "I am a little nervous, but I want this." Altman said about going back to Iraq. "The military really is for me." (Emily Athens works in the U.S. Army Garrison Schweinfurt public affairs office.) Article Redistributed by Support Our Troops Distributed by www.SupportOurTroops.org  

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
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