Martin C. Evans

Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

NY Guard Compiling Soldiers’ Stories

In Uncategorized on February 18, 2011 at 2:19 pm

In the memories of the 6,000 New York Guard troops who have served in battle since 9/11 reside tales of courage and cowardice, determination and despair, loneliness and loss.

Now, Guard officials want those soldiers to contribute their personal accounts and photographs to a digital archive of the New York Army National Guard’s role in Iraq and Afghanistan since NY Guard troops were first sent there in the winter of 2003.

 

Members of the NY Guard's "Fighting 69th," during a St. Patrick's Day Parade in Manhattan.

 

 

 

Dubbed “Remember My Service,” the project is financed by the National Guard Bureau and is designed to help gather detailed historic information for inclusion in Army National Guard official records.

The Guard will send e-mails to current and former Guard soldiers who served active duty beginning in the winter of 2003, including more than 300 Long Islanders. The e-mails will urge soldiers to submit photos and personal stories on line and in person during project meetings at selected armories around New York.

While all deployed units will be included in the project, it is being built around specific units, including  the 1st Battalion 69th Infantry (“Fighting 69th and Task Force Wolfhound”), which deployed in Iraq in 2005, and Guard aviation units, including the 3rd Battalion, 142nd Assault Helicopter Battalion, based at MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma.

Veterans wishing to participate can register at www.rmsrollcall.org A link to this site can be found at the Division of Military and Naval Affairs website at http://dmna.state.ny.us/index.php.

The project will be run in part by Story Rock, a Utah-based company specializing in collecting and organizing archival information. Story Rock has already completed similar projects for  Guard units in other states and  some active duty Army units.

The stories will be compiled on commemorative compact discs, which are scheduled for release during ceremonies at armories around New York in May 2011. They will also be included in the Guard’s archives at the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center in Saratoga Springs, and in the  National Guard Bureau’s national archives.

 

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War’s Images Confront Adelphi

In Uncategorized on February 17, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Young Iraqi photographed by journalist Brian Palmer, August, 2004

America’s bloody involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan can seem a faraway inconvenience on today’s college campuses, where students devote more energy arguing over parking spaces than they do pondering whether we should be at war.

But an exhibition of more than 70 photographs plus video shot in Iraq by a former CNN reporter has brought glimpses of the war’s reality to Adelphi University, including Marines hunkering during a mortar attack, Iraqi children peering from behind barbed wire and the severed hand of a dead Iraqi policeman.

The severed hand of Iraqi Police Captain Thamood Hassan Haj al-Janabi, who was killed by a roadside bomb during a routine patrol in 2005.

“I was really emotionally effected, and it was obvious that everyone in the room was,” said Drew Facklam, a 22-year-old political science and art history major, who saw the show.

The show is the first Adelphi exhibit to focus on war in recent memory, according to Eliz Alahverdian, Adelphi’s director of exhibitions.

Children peek around a blast wall in Haswa, Iraq.

“We thought it would be an eye-opener for the Adelphi community,” she said of the exhibit. “I wanted people to know there is still a war going on, and we shouldn’t dismiss it. This is just a little reminder, very neutral, very powerful.”

The images, some of which are included here, are those of Brian Palmer, a Brooklyn photojournalist and former Beijing bureau chief for U.S. News and World Report. Palmer embedded with members of the First Battalion/Second Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary in Iraq on three occasions between 2004 and 2006, a time of some of the war’s fiercest fighting.

Photograph of SGT Edgar E. Lopez of First Battalion/Second Marine Regiment on the wall of the home he shared with his wife and two children. Lopez was killed in Aug., 2004.

The exhibit ends Sunday, but Palmer will return to Adelphi’s campus for a March 29 public discussion of his work.

In an interview, Palmer, who witnessed the shooting deaths of Iraqis, and who survived a mortar attack during which a Marine was killed, described what he called the “tragic improvisation of 19-year-olds put in an untenable situation in which they had to do the best they could.”

Palmer said he was unnerved by his own reaction under fire.

“As with most traumatic events that occurred then, my brain would be activated but my heart would turn off,” Palmer said. “When the bullets are flying and the mortars are falling, you just survive. The fear and the wrenching moral and ethical stuff came later.”

Gallery hours are from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Adelphi is located at 1 South Steet, in Garden City.

SSgt Robert Moyer, First Battalion/Second Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. July, 2004.

Did Burn Pits Claim Life of West Babylon Man?

In Uncategorized on January 1, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Did a former West Babylon soldier contract the cancer that killed him from a routine military practice that has exposed hundreds of thousands of U.S. GIs to toxic gasses while they served in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Newsday is reporting that the soldier, former Sgt. Bill McKenna, died at a Florida hospice Dec. 27 of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
His wife Dina, a Lindenhurst native now living in Florida, insists that the rare cancer was the result of his daily inhalation of smoke from military burn pits during his wartime service.
McKenna, who in his free time during the 1980s and early 1990s played bass guitar with local metal bands Chemical Warfare and Skull Rot, was only 41.
McKenna enlisted in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, and served two tours in Iraq.
While there, he was constantly exposed to smoke from the burn pits that Balad and virtually all US military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan used daily to incinerate tons of plastic, medical waste, spent equipment and other trash.
The practice produced irritating chemical aerosols that many soldiers say left them with asthma and other respiratory problems.

 

Recent concerns about the possible link between burn pits and health troubles echo earlier anxieties of many Vietnam veterans, who believe their exposure to Agent Orange a generation earlier has led to a rash of premature deaths among them.

Newsday first reported on concerns related to burn pits a year ago.

That article cited the chief of the allergy section at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Dr. Anthony Szema, who told a congressional committee that the pits were exposing soldiers to mercury, arsenic, dioxins and other toxic combustion products released by the constantly smoldering pits.

 

Earlier this year, a federal judge allowed a class-action lawsuit to proceed against contractors who operated burn pits for the U.S. military, according to the Tampa Tribune. The lawsuit already has 300 plaintiffs in 43 states.

For Medical Personnel in Wartime, no Christmas Break

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2010 at 11:18 am

Landstuhl, GERMANY – America’s two armed conflicts in the Persian Gulf region have not provided a Christmas break for America’s military. Certainly not in Afghanistan’s bloody Helmand province, where at least five Marines alone were killed in the ten days leading to Christmas. And certainly not here, at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where Airman 1st Class Wilfredo Ortiz was among soldiers from Long Island who spent the holiday season trying to save the lives of war wounded GIs.

Wilfredo Ortiz, 20. The Landstuhl trauma center performs more than 30 surgeries per day, including amputations for GIs wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan

Ortiz, a 20-year-old soldier from Valley Stream, works as a weekend shift leader for surgical technicians at this trauma facility, the U.S. military’s primary medical center for troops wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Treating war casualties

The 149-bed facility 100 miles southwest of Frankfurt, Germany – the largest American hospital outside the United States – became a trauma center in 2004 to care for the growing number of war-related injuries. Since then, medical personnel have treated more than 13,000 combat casualties, including scores from Long Island.

Among them was Army Cpl. Christopher Levi, a former 10th Mountain Division soldier from Holbrook who lost his legs when a roadside bomb exploded in Afghanistan in March of 2008.

As a surgical technician, Ortiz prepares the operating room. He sets out surgical tools, helps position patients on the operating table and assists surgeons as they work.

“It won’t ruin my Christmas, because it’s my job and I love my job. But you never really want to see this,” Ortiz said last week as two soldiers rushed from Afghanistan were prepared for emergency surgery in adjacent operating rooms.

“Sometimes they still have mud in their wounds,” Ortiz said. “You’ll see rocks, you’ll see shrapnel, wood, pretty much anything that flies.”

In an operating room to Ortiz’s left, doctors had begun working on a soldier who had lost limbs but survived an explosion. Officials here say the number of those types of injuries has spiked with the increase in foot patrols that have accompanied the surge of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Flaps of skin and muscle hung from the soldier’s right leg, which had been shorn off about 6 inches above the knee.

He also had lost the lower part of his left leg, where jagged bone protruded from wounded flesh. His left arm and hand had also been seriously injured. Hundreds of particles from the blast, each potentially infectious, riddled his flesh.

The soldier in the operating room to Ortiz’s right looked almost serene, like a man who had fallen asleep. A medical staffer pulled the man’s jaw open and wiggled a breathing tube into his throat. Another tube had been inserted through his side to carry away waste from his injured lower intestine.

Like the soldier in the adjoining operating room, both of his legs had also been shorn off in this, the 10th holiday season U.S. troops have been fighting in Afghanistan.

Volunteering for duty

“Christmas is a family holiday, so I volunteered to work Christmas,” said Ortiz, who is part of a 3,000-member hospital staff that, according to Landstuhl officials, averages 32 surgeries a day. “But I didn’t volunteer for New Year’s. New Year’s is a single man’s holiday.”

Ortiz’s enlistment ends March 3, 2015, the day he turns 25. He said he intends to move to New York City.

Specialist Russell Kaiser Jr., 30, an Army medic, also is spending part of the holiday season on duty at Landstuhl.

Had he been home, the Brooklyn native said, he would have gathered with family – including an uncle from Rockville Centre – at the Staten Island home of an aunt.

“It’s really hard being away from family,” said Kaiser, who is single. “You get used to family traditions you don’t even know you miss until you’re not home to take part in them.”

Someone’s child

Petty Officer Gloriela Robinson, 59, a Navy reservist from Levittown who works as a nurse at Landstuhl, planned to spend Christmas visiting patients as a USO volunteer.

Robinson, who when not on active duty is a licensed practical nurse at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said the mostly routine care provided at Northport did not prepare her for the horrific nature of blast wounds and other war trauma.

“You know about the war, but it really doesn’t touch you until you’re here,” Robinson, 59, said as she wept.

“The amputees really get me. I feel for them because I could be their mother. What’s going to happen to them once they go home?”

A Painful Task: Delivering The Knock Parents Dread

In Uncategorized on May 8, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Marine First Sgt. Amber Kash visits grave of LCpl. James Argentine, whose parents Kash had notified of his death. (Newsday photo by Charles Eckert)

The Marine in dress greens appeared on the front porch of the East Northport home on a warm July morning.

“Do you have a son, Cpl. Christopher Scherer, in the Marines . . .?” she began. “The commandant of the Marine Corps has entrusted me to express his deep regret . . .”

Janet and Timothy Scherer’s 21-year-old son had been killed by a sniper hours earlier in Iraq. First Sgt. Amber Kash, a casualty assistance calls officer, stood at the front door to deliver the news. The impression she made that day, July 21, 2007 — her sad, serious face, how her lips moved when she spoke, how her voice and her words seemed so unreal, how she delivered a message so filled with pain — have stayed with the couple every day since.

“She’s the woman who delivered the worst possible news of our lives to us on a Saturday morning,” Tim Scherer said. “But she’s the woman who has held us up so that we could handle that news.”

The Scherers and two other families she would later notify of combat deaths say that Amber, as they affectionately call her, melds duty with compassion.

She has returned often to the Scherer home to sit and talk with them, to let them know she was still there. Nearly three years after appearing on the porch, Kash has remained a vital presence in the couple’s lives — a Marine who came on official business to tell an American family their son was dead, and stayed on as a friend. It is the same with members of two other families to whom she brought similar news — JoAnn Lyles in Sag Harbor, and Bob and Janet Argentine in Farmingdale.

“The Marines are Semper Fidelis, always faithful. And I can see through Amber that that is etched in their soul, that she will always take care of me,” said Lyles, whose son Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter was killed in Iraq.

In the eight years since the United States first began sending troops to Afghanistan and later to Iraq, casualty officers representing all five military branches have visited the next of kin of the nearly 6,500 troops who have been killed in action — including at least 45 from Long Island.

Known as “caco’s”, not only do they  inform families of a service member’s death, they are expected to remain in close contact with the family through the funeral and beyond. In addition to comforting the bereaved, the casualty officer handles myriad details that a military death brings with it.

Acting on the family’s wishes, they coordinate all aspects of the funeral details, even making sure the deceased’s uniform at a viewing is perfect — the buttons of the jacket in alignment with the belt buckle, for example — and offer travel arrangements for eligible family members. They deliver the military’s $100,000 “death gratuity” check to the Marine’s survivors. They help with paperwork, insurance policies, survivor benefits, housing, education grants and other needs.

Newsday is running powerful photographs and video with Kash’s story. See it, and the full text of this article, on Newsday’s website and in Sunday’s newspaper.

Angel of Death: First Sgt. Kash, with dog tags of three Marines whose deaths she has announced.

To be sure, the military has often botched the notification process or has been ham-fisted in handling the details that confront grieving families.

Dorine Kenney, whose son, Army Spc. Jacob Fletcher was killed in Iraq in 2003, said she was forced to deal with a new Army casualty officer every few weeks as previous ones were called away on new deployments.

She said she was distraught when the Army would forward shipments of her dead son’s personal effects without notifying her first, or making sure a CACO was there to ease the shock.

“I wanted someone with me because I was scared to death of what was inside,” said Kenney, of Middle Island, who said she called a friend to open the boxes with her.

These possibilities floated through Kash’s mind as she prepared to visit the Scherer home — her first assignment as a CACO .

“As I was walking up to the Scherer house, I literally almost threw up,” Kash, 36, said. “It was a really, really emotional time for me, knowing I was going to have to do this. I was very, very hurt internally that I had to give this family the news. I looked at it like I just destroyed this family’s life.”

Former Staff Sgt. Michael Gilmore, of Astoria, who retired from the Marines two years ago, had assisted Kash with the notification that day.

“I served in combat in Iraq and I can honestly say I was never more terrified than the morning we walked up to the Scherer’s door,” Gilmore said. “It was the first notification for both of us.”

“It’s the greatest privilege the Marine Corps ever gave me,” Gilmore said. “And the worst job they ever gave me.”

Unemployment higher among recent vets

In veterans on February 6, 2010 at 12:22 am

Bad news if you joined the military to get job skills: Unemployment has hit recent vets even harder than it has regular civilians, according to the most recent U.S. Labor Department data .

Although the jobless rate for all Americans edged down to 9.7 percent last month, it was at 12.6 percent for vets who have served since 2001.

Ex-Marine Mike Carrol, 29, and his family were homeless for almost a year until the Manhattan resident got help from a non-profit veterans agency. (Photo: NY Daily News)

The higher-than-average jobless rate for recent vets may be a reflection of the difficulty facing younger job seekers in general. The jobless rate for Americans 20-24 is an above-average 15.8 percent.

Still, that may be little consolation to military recruits who were lured by recruiters’ promises of high-paying job skills, but who now stand in line at unemployment offices.

The jobs picture was particularly bad for women who served post-9/11. Their unemployment rate hit 14.2 percent in January, up from 10.9 percent a year earlier. For men, January’s unemployment rate rose from 8.9 percent last year to 12.6 percent now.

Analysts say military service may make it more difficult for veterans to find work once they return to the civilian world.

They say employers may be wary of hiring personnel who may eventually display antisocial behaviors linked to post traumatic stress disorder. Vets may be hurt by spending years away civilian job networking. And soldiers accustomed to military routine have often chafed in workplace environments where civilian employees seem undisciplined and self-absorbed.

Early morphine curbs PTSD in trauma victims, study shows

In Uncategorized on January 13, 2010 at 11:08 pm

Morphine may be the magic bullet that kills post traumatic stress disorder before it develops, a study of troops gravely-injured in Iraq revealed.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at the records of 696 severely injured Marines. It found that those who were given morphine during the early moments of their resuscitation were significantly less likely to later display the anxiety and depression associated with PTSD than those who were not administered the powerful painkilling opiate.

Researchers believe morphine’s effectiveness in curbing PTSD stems from blocking a patient’s memory formation following injury-causing traumatic events, and the fear response associated with them.

Their conclusions were based on the experiences of troops injured in combat and treated at forward medical facilities in Iraq between January, 2004 and December, 2006.

The researchers said their findings were similar to those obtained during a study of child burn victims published in 2001. That study also showed lower rates of PTSD symptoms among patients who got morphine early.

Nassau vets chief ousted

In Veterans services on January 1, 2010 at 6:54 pm

The director of the Nassau County Veterans Services Agency is out after 8 years, and he’s not happy. Neither are the leaders of several vets groups.

Ed Aulman

Incoming Nassau Executive Edward Mangano sent director Ed Aulman packing effective Jan. 31 without indicating who would take leadership of the agency’s 7-member staff. Mangano, a Republican who narrowly edged Democrat Tom Suozzi  in November, apparently wants his own guy. (See Newsday article, subscription required.)

“It was a bit of a surprise,” Aulman told me. “I don’t know why they felt they had to do without me, especially since there is no replacement yet. Without a replacement, I think the agency will kind of drift along.”

Aulman’s deputy, Pat Yngstrom, who was not among the roughly 150 political appointees ousted by Mangano throughout county government, is said to be a possible replacement. Yngstrom served as director under former county executive Tom Gulotta, a Republican, from 2001 until Suozzi took office in 2002.

Mangano forced out Aulman even though United Veterans Organization of Nassau, a collection of 31 veterans groups, sent Mangano a letter urging that he keep the leadership of the agency intact, according to past president Tom Riley.

“He didn’t listen,” Riley said. “It’s political. That’s the game when a new man comes in.”

James Stasio, president of the Nassau chapter of the 1st Marine Division Association, denounced the firing, saying Aulman had been a galvanizing force for veterans in the country.

“I think it’s terrible, because he did a great job,” Stasio said.

Aulman cited increased staff training and his production of Veterans News, a monthly newsletter with information concerning veterans, as principal achievements during his tenure as director.

But the newsletter was often filled with announcements of wreath layings, senior citizens events, tributes and legislative breakfasts, and it struggled to connect with the tens of thousands of younger veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

Aulman has been criticized for not being particularly creative or energetic in his advocacy for new veterans, whose need for services are made urgent by high rates of joblessness, homelessness, post traumatic stress disorder and other maladies, but who are often skittish about bureaucratic contact.

Aulman was a platoon leader during the Vietnam War, serving with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment from 1967 to 1971. He later was active locally with the 1st Marine Association and the Marine Corps League.

“Pregnant? Drop and gimmie twenty!”

In Women on December 25, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Maj. Gen. Anthony A. Cucolo III says soldiers who become pregnant or get another soldier pregnant harm unit cohesion

“Soldier, you will not become pregnant! IS THAT CLEAR!”

In so many words, that was a direct order issued last month to his troops by Major Gen. Anthony A. Cucolo III, who commands soldiers in northern Iraq.

Cucolo, reviving questions over what role women should play in the U.S. military, ordered that female soldiers who became pregnant, and male soldiers who helped get them there, could be subject court martial and jail time.

But Cucolo’s directive was overturned this week by Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, after Cucolo’s directive drew sharp criticism from female advocates. Odierno  drafted new policy that will go into effect Jan. 1, which made no mention of pregnancy.

Cucolo, who commands the Multinational Division North, in Iraq, had said the prohibition against pregnancy was essential to protect combat units from losing soldiers during deployments. Because Defense Department rules prevent pregnant soldiers from serving in a combat theater, women known to be pregnant while in Iraq or Afghanistan are required to leave their combat unit and redeploy to their home duty station.

Under Cucolo’s directive, which was first reported by Stars and Stripes, even married couples could have faced discipline for conceiving a child.

“I believe there should be professional consequences for making a choice like that,” Cucolo said before his order was overturned, according to the Armed Forces Press Service.

His directive exposes a longstanding tension over what role if any women should have in the military. While some say women play an invaluable role in today’s modern military, others say maintaining discipline and operational readiness in a poly-gender military is problematic.

But Cucolo’s order last month incurred the wrath of several women’s groups, including the National Organization of Women. Four women in the U.S. Senators, including Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, wrote to the general asking him to rescind the order.

“We can think of no greater deterrent to women contemplating a military career than the image of a pregnant woman being severely punished simply for conceiving a child,” the senators wrote.

Vet groups pressing Congress for caregiver assistance

In Uncategorized on December 10, 2009 at 9:22 am

A double amputee on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol

Veterans groups are urging Congress to agree on legislation that would help family caregivers provide for severely disabled veterans at home.

The House and Senate each have passed a version of caregiver legislation, but differences between the two versions must be ironed out before Congress can give final passage.

There is bipartisan support for  a key element of the legislation – a provision that would provide training for caregivers on how to care for bedridden veterans. That would allow more injured veterans to remain at home, rather than in an institution.

The Senate version would provide assistance to caregivers of soldiers injured in Iraq or Afghanistan. The House version, which is supported by the veterans groups, would assist the caregivers of all veterans.

Supporters of the legislation say the large numbers of U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan with traumatic brain injuries, amputations, severed spinal cords and other debilitating conditions burdens families who try to care for their loved ones at home.

Nineteen groups sent a letter urging Congressional action on the legislation, include Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, the Brain Injury Association of America, and the Disabled American Veterans.

Vet caregivers might look for help at Agis or by clicking through the boring but useful Military OneSource website.

Also this week, Congress set aside $48.2 billion in advance funding for veterans health care programs for 2011. The set-aside was implemented to prevent disruptions to veterans care should Congress not pass the fiscal 2011 budget on time.