December 28th Troop Thanks

Here is the latest Troop Thanks letter we have received. This will be added to our Troop Thanks 2012 page.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Dear Karen and Members of the Landstuhl Hospital Care Project,

Thank you very much for the shipment of clogs and blankets. You do amazing things for our troops and we so appreciate all that you send. The clogs are excellent. Having them allows our patients to get comfortable. Before, some did not have anything but their boots to wear. Now they can get truly comfortable. The blankets are always wonderful to have. It can be chilly here in the CASF, and certainly the C17 airplane ride to the USA requires some extra warmth.

Thank you for helping us here at the CASF USO to take care of our Wounded Warriors. We could not do what we do without your help.

Thank you, for all you do.

Happy New Year.

 
Sincerely,
Loriann Tierney
CASF USO Ramstein Air Base, Germany

Veteran’s Day Benefit

Veteran's Day Benefit
Veteran’s Day Benefit

Songwriters Spotlight Veteran’s Day Benefit

Sunday, Nov 11, 2012 7:00 PM
Franklin Theatre, Franklin TN
Doors open at 6:00 PM
To purchase tickets click here
Go to Calendar, click on November 11th.
 

The Veteran’s Day Benefit presented by Songwriter’s Spotlight will feature artists such as Even Stevens, Leslie Satcher, Larry Stewart, Tim Rushlow, and Raven Cliff.

Artist Featured Include:

  • Even Stevens: BMI Songwriter of the Century. Hits include, “When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman” (Dr. Hook), “I Love A Rainy Night” and “Drivin My Life Away” (Eddie Rabbitt), and “Love Will Turn You Around” (Kenny Rogers).
  • Leslie Satcher: Hits include, “Troubador” (George Strait), Grammy Winner “When God Fearin’ Women Get The Blues” and “For These Times” (Martina McBride), and “Politically Uncorrect” (Gretchen Wilson).
  • Larry Stewart: ACM Winner, CMA & Grammy Nominee. Lead singer for Restless Heart. Hits include, “I’ll Still Be Loving You,” “That Rock Won’t Roll,” and “Fast Movin’ Train.”
  • Tim Rushlow: ACM Winner/Grammy Nominee. Former Lead singer for Little Texas. Hits include, “Kick A Little,” “What Might Have Been,” and “My Love.”
  • Raven Cliff: Nashville’s newest breaking country act.

The Veteran’s Day Benefit is in support of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project – America’s largest oversea’s U.S. military hospital and combat support hospitals in the Middle East. The Landstuhl Hospital Care Project is a non-profit organization that provides comfort and relief items for military members who become sick, injured, or wounded from service in the Middle East. Donated items are distributed to patients at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, the largest American militay hospital outside of the U.S. Items are also distributed to field hospitals in the Middle East and to VA facilities throughout the United States.

“The Nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotton.” – Calvin Coolidge

Event Pricing
Balcony & Lounge Admission – $40.00
Cabaret Table – $400.00
Classic Admission – $50.00

4th Quarter 2012 Newletter

Farewell 2012… on to 2013!

Our 2012 4th quarter Landstuhl Hospital Care Project newsletter includes “Thank You Notes from Recipients” “Nashville Songwriters Raise Funds” “Welcome our New Sr. Vice President” and much more. Expand and view here or download and print PDF for armchair reading – hope you enjoy.

Download

The Saturday Evening Post – American Angle

By: Julie A. Evans
In Issue: November/December 2012

American Angel
Karen Grimord with Sargeant Daniel Roman, a patient at Landstuhl hospital in Germany.
Photo courtesy Philip Jones.

To understand why Karen Grimord is so passionate about helping wounded soldiers overseas, just shake her family tree. Karen is a proud military brat who was born in a military hospital and grew up within the tight-knit, supportive community of military families. Both Karen’s father and husband retired from the U.S. Air Force after 22 years. At one point, five family members were serving in the Middle East at the same time, including her son and son-in-law. Karen herself worked as a military contractor for years, first for Lockheed Martin and later, for Raytheon.

Frequent moves and fast-forming friendships are hallmarks of the military lifestyle. So is a deeply rooted sense of mission and loyalty to country and the men and women who serve. That mission may be what drives Karen, 51, to commit extraordinary acts of charity through her nonprofit organization, Landstuhl Hospital Care Project.

Since 2004, the organization has shipped more than 200,000 pounds of donated clothing and supplies, often at Karen’s own expense, to wounded and ailing soldiers in the Middle East. The bulk of donated items are mailed to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, the largest American military hospital outside of the U.S. Karen also sends supplies to medics, nurses, and chaplains at more than 150 military units throughout Afghanistan, Iraq, and other Middle East countries with U.S. military operations. “If we can help just one military member with a gift, then I hope they feel the respect, gratitude, and the love we have for them. That’s what keeps pushing me on—knowing that it makes their future a little bit easier,” Karen says.

Her labor of love can be back-breaking at times. Working out of her home in Stafford, Virginia, she fills boxes with an assortment of requested items. A typical shipment might include sweatpants, Crocs, socks, towels, pillows, or blankets. Four or five days a week, she drives to the post office in her white Chevy Suburban, which she reluctantly purchased a few years back when the charity grew too large for her beloved Jeep to handle.

Sometimes, Karen is lucky enough to find volunteers to help. But often, it’s just Karen and her packing tape filling up boxes and taping them shut for their distant journey. Halfway through 2012, Karen had already shipped 946 boxes, a number on pace to beat last year’s tally of 1,713 boxes. In fact, supply and demand have grown rapidly since the charity’s first year when it sent its first 33 boxes of supplies. Karen expects demand will increase as other nonprofits close their doors or shift their focus to helping returning soldiers.

The organization grew out of a simple request from Karen’s daughter who was living in Germany, where her husband was stationed. Would she collect DVD and videotape movies and send them to wounded soldiers at nearby Landstuhl hospital?

Karen appealed to her circle of family and friends, collecting 485 movies. Grateful for her enthusiasm, the chaplain at Landstuhl asked Karen to collect sweatpants. Again, she turned to family and friends who donated 108 pairs. To her dismay, she learned the number was a “drop in the bucket” to meet the hospital’s needs. At the time, as many as 1,000 soldiers were arriving at the hospital every month, and their first stop was the Chaplain’s Closet, a place where soldiers received donated clothing and supplies to replace their tattered and bloody clothing.

Karen reached out to veterans groups such as the American Legion and soon, donations came pouring in. But the more supplies she mailed to Landstuhl, the greater the requests for donations. In just a year, word-of-mouth spread among military medics and medical staff in the Middle East about the woman in Stafford, Virginia, who almost never said “no” to a request for supplies.

“There was never a plan for me to start a nonprofit,” Karen says. “What started as one or two boxes turned into thousands.”

Karen knew she needed help with the legal and financial realities of running a charitable organization. Today, a small but loyal group of volunteers—many with strong military ties—handle accounting, communications, and other vital support services.

In addition to running her nonprofit, Karen also spends a month at Landstuhl hospital every year as a volunteer, handing out clothing and supplies from the Chaplain’s Closet.

It was at the hospital that she met Marine Lance Corporal Justin Reynolds. In 2006, the young Marine was recovering from shrapnel wounds and other injuries suffered when his Humvee hit an Improvised Explosive Device in Iraq.

From the start, the wounded soldier from Ohio clicked with Karen and gave her the nickname “Mom Two.” One day, Karen got a call from Ann Reynolds, Justin’s mother. The soldier had returned home to recuperate but suffered a stroke resulting in partial paralysis. Karen hopped in her car and drove to the hospital in North Carolina where Justin was fighting for his life. There, the two “moms” met face-to-face for the first time.

Nearly two years later, a second setback robbed Justin of his speech and motor coordination. Again Karen dropped everything to visit the Marine and his family, now in nearby Richmond, Virginia. “Karen has been such a great friend,” says Ann Reynolds. “If I need something, I call Karen. She knows how to get it.”

Karen’s devotion to Justin and his family is a clear example of why she works so tirelessly for wounded military members. Karen, her friends and family members say, is the kind of person who simply refuses to back down. Karen believes Justin one day will regain his speech and motor skills. Until that day, she will support him, just as she supports her charity—until every military member comes home.

To view a video of Karen Grimord, go to SaturdayEveningPost.com/Karen-Grimord.

Franklin Watson

Lance Corporal Franklin “Frankie” Watson—December 2012 Shipment Honoree


Serving Operation Enduring Freedom

VONORE, Tenn. (WVLT)–A local Marine from Vonore was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan. Lance Corporal Franklin “Frankie” Watson was with assigned to Company D, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, 4th Marine Division, and Marine Forces Reserve, based out of Knoxville, Tennessee. LCPL Watson was sweeping for IED’s when his unit was attacked. Watson was 21 years old.

LCPL Watson
LCPL Watson

“Frankie” was a 2008 graduate and star athlete of Sequoyah High School and resident of Vonore, Tennessee. He was also a 2009 graduate of the Cleveland State Police Academy and attended college there to study Criminal Justice. He was employed at the Madisonville Police Department and he began his law enforcement career as a part time deputy with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department. Frankie Watson enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve in 2010. As both a U.S. Marine and a law enforcement officer, Frankie Watson was committed to bringing the rules and the unruly into alignment. Peacekeeping and finding a solution — both as a Marine and a police officer — were at the core of Watson’s being.

His family said Watson was one of those rare people everybody seemed to love.

His cousins, Allie and Miriam Watson told me, “God knew what He was doing when He made him. That’s for sure. He made a soldier. He made a brave young man with a heart of gold.”

“He always smiled. He was always full of spunk. He was competitive and he seemed like he always wanted to be the best at everything,” said Watson’s uncle, Norman.

That competitive drive is why a family friend was lead to say.

I asked ‘Frankie why’d you choose the Marines?’ and he said ‘I wanted to go through the hardest one I could get in,’ Russell said.

Strong and athletic, Watson was also a Madisonville police officer and Monroe County sheriff’s deputy. His cousins told me his physical prowess made him an impressive Marine. His heart made him an impressive man.

Miriam said, “He’s one of the bravest men I’ve ever met in my entire life.”

Another cousin Randy Nash added, “He definitely had good character. You don’t find a lot of people like that anymore.”

Barely in Afghanistan for three months, Watson, a combat engineer in charge of disarming IED’s was shot in the chest during an attack on his unit.

Allie tried to hold back tears as she said, “Everybody thought he was going to come home. And he’s never going to come home anymore. And he called and he said he wanted to come home so bad, and God heard him. God took him home.”

When I asked them what they loved and remember most about Frankie each of his family and friends told me it was his smile and his ability to light up the room.

“Everybody that knows him says he’s got the best smile in the world,” said Russell.

“As soon as you got around him, it doesn’t matter how bad you were hurting, or bad you were upset or how bad your day was, he’d do something to make you laugh that’s for sure,” added Allie and Miriam.

His aunt Laurie called Frankie a hero.

“He was a man of honor. Always smiled, he was always happy,” she said.

And as they remember the hero they lost, family and friends wish they could have seen him one last time.

“I love him to death and I wish I could tell him that again.”

“I love him and I miss him and I wish I had got to tell him goodbye.”

But like so many families of those who serve, they’ll never have the chance.

The Watsons asked us to post this note. Miriam wrote it after she heard the news about her cousin.

“It takes a real man to do what you’ve done. You’ve not only inspired your friends and family, but the world. You showed them that you’re brave enough, to risk your own life, to give us freedom. You were our hero before you left, and you still will be. You mean everything in this world to us, and you’ll be missed so much. That great personality of yours, that beautiful smile; everything. You were pretty much my brother! You’re truly a great young man, who had a brave heart. You stand out, over so many people in this world, Frankie. You had a wonderful heart, and put it to great use! Some people come into our lives and leave footprints in our hearts and we are never ever the same again. You left footprints in my heart, that will always be there. You’re in a much better place that this, and with a man who is going to make everything better for you. I know you wouldn’t want to see me with tears streaming down my face, so I may cry, but I’m going to keep smiling because that’s what you would want, and I’m going to do exactly what you would hope for, no matter how sad I am, or how much I cry. Although this is my “goodbye” letter, goodbyes are not forever. Goodbyes are not the end. They simply mean I’ll miss you, until we meet again! So, when God is ready for me to see you again, I’ll be ready. I love you more than anything in this world, Frankie, and you will be missed!”

Local 8 Now (source – no longer available)

Still Serving

Eight Men Out Press Copy
Eight Men Out Press Copy

 Karen – During my second deployment to Iraq as a Company Commander with the 1st Armored Division – I was hurt after only 1 month in Iraq and was medevac’d to Landstuhl Hospital for surgery. While I was upset that I had been hurt and needed to have surgery, the most upsetting thing was leaving my troops in combat while I flew back to Germany.

Ironically it was my 30th birthday when I went into surgery – but when I came out – I ultimately received support from the LHCP. I’ll never forget how I felt to receive help from complete strangers when I was in such a rough state of mind. It was a bit emotional – that people out there who didn’t know me – really cared about the situation I was in – and wanted to help. I was stationed in Germany at the time but as the whole brigade was deployed – I felt completely alone. LHCP made a lasting impact on me and really helped me through those trying times.

Fast forward 4 years later – my knee is in great shape (thanks to the Landstuhl Med staff and the Physical Therapists in Hanau) – I’m no longer in the military but work in a company that hires a lot of prior military officers. For the past 6 months – seven co-workers and I have been on a weight loss challenge. Each one of us committed to trying to return to our military bodies 🙂 The target was to loss 15% of your body weight. And we wanted to make a financial sensitivity apply – so depending upon how much you lost – determined how much money you would give to a charity. The winner would be allowed to direct all of the money to a 501-c-3 charity.

I won this morning and while it’s not a huge amount of money (approximately $2,400) – I would like to direct all of our checks to the Landstuhl Hospital Care Project. Due to tax reasons 🙂 — I’m letting each of the guys write their own checks and I’ll collect them and mail them all together. But I wanted to (1) let you know who we were and (2) verify that we’re sending the money to Sharon Buck in Ft. Mitchell, AL?

Having served 9 1/2 years in the Army – and going on multiple deployments to the middle east – I can attest to the stress the force is under during these times. And having been a patient at Landstuhl during my command – I can attest to the greatest your organization is doing to every Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine it touches!!

I couldn’t think of a better place for our money!!

Thanks again and all the best –

Jason

LeRoy DeRonde III

PFC LeRoy DeRonde III—November 2012 Shipment Honoree


From his sister

LeRoy DeRonde
LeRoy DeRonde

Leroy was a great brother and my family and I miss him everyday. He had such a big heart and could always make us laugh.

Army Pfc. LeRoy DeRonde III was coming into his own, distancing himself from a hard-luck childhood and stepping up to take care of his family.

Leroy grew up in Jersey City, NJ. Leroy was the middle child of three, leaving behind his younger brother Harold, 18, and older sister Jennifer, 33.

When Leroy’s mother passed away from cancer in 2002, his cousin Owen and fiancé became his legal guardian. Leroy was 16 at the time. “At 20, it clicked for him. He would have to put the family on his shoulders to survive,” said Owen, adding that was when he began to seriously consider the military.

Leroy briefly attended Dickinson and Lincoln High Schools. After getting his GED and taking a few college credit courses, PFC DeRonde left home for basic training in January 2011.

In three months’ time he was one of five basic training graduates to be promoted to E-2 (private) and was awarded the 1st Battalion 48th Infantry Regiment Order of the Dragon Soldiers. DeRonde was then sent to be stationed in Fort Bliss, Texas. He was assigned to the 125th Brigade Support Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.

In 2012 Army Pfc. LeRoy DeRonde III was sent to Afghanistan. In support of Operation Enduring Freedom Leroy and another fellow Soldier were attacked and killed by enemy forces in the Chak-E Warkdak District, on 27 May 2012.

“Army Pfc. LeRoy DeRonde III paid the ultimate price defending the United States of America and the principles which our country was founded,” said Healy the Governor of New Jersey. “Losing such a young life is a terrible tragedy and during this difficult time, I extend my deepest condolences to his family and friends. As we mourn with them, I hope they find comfort in knowing Army Pfc. DeRonde died a hero fighting for his country.”

Governor Healy signed an Executive Order that all flags be flown half-staff in honor of PFC DeRonde.

PFC LeRoy DeRonde III will be buried at the cemetery’s 9/11 Veterans Memorial section with full military honors.

Articles courtesy of: Jersey City Independent, CBS local, and bobcat.ws


U.S. Army soldier from Jersey City killed in Afghanistan

by Julia, Terruso and Richard Khavkine-The Star-Ledger

 

PFC LeRoy DeRonde II
PFC LeRoy DeRonde II

The 22-year-old Jersey City man saw the military as a way to do that, his family said, in a plan that began to form eight years ago when his mother, Elizabeth, died of cancer. Her absence shook the family’s foundation and then profoundly galvanized her eldest son.

“He realized he was going to put the family on his shoulders. The military was his calling to do that financially,” DeRonde’s cousin, Jason Owen, said last night outside the soldier’s family’s apartment on West Side Avenue. “From the time he decided that it was full steam ahead.”

But DeRonde was one of two soldiers killed on May 27 when their unit was attacked in Afghanistan, the Department of Defense said today. DeRonde, assigned to the 125th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss Texas, died in the Wardak District in central Afghanistan.

DeRonde is at least the 44th service member with ties to New Jersey to be killed in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001. An additional 102 service members from New Jersey have died in Iraq since 2003.

“His life didn’t take hold until he was 22,” said Owen, who noted DeRonde sent monthly checks home. “He was really taking the reins, he was ascending. The real tragedy here is from an upbringing that wasn’t so good he was working … to help his family and to better himself.”

DeRonde was born and raised in the city’s Bergen neighborhood. As a child, he kept mostly to himself.

His father, Leroy DeRonde Jr., said he loved playing PlayStation 3 with his brother, Harold, who is now 17.

“The two wSoldier 2.JPGere inseparable,” DeRonde’s father said. He added that since his son’s deployment a year ago, they would talk using the online video chat service Skype.

 photo of Leroy DeRonde III on his Facebook page.
photo of Leroy DeRonde III on his Facebook page.

“If he wasn’t on, my hands would shake,” he said. “It’s a terrible thing.”

Through the years, and in DeRonde’s short life, the tight-knit family has known both the fear of loss and tragedy.

At 5, Harold was diagnosed with leukemia and given three weeks to live. The family went to Disney World on a Make-A-Wish vacation. It was the only real vacation they ever took together, Leroy DeRonde Jr. said. By luck, Harold survived.

But when their mother died, DeRonde made a plan that required groundwork. He got his GED and then 15 college credits, both of which were required before he could join the Army, which he did in January 2011.

DeRonde, his family said, was kind of person who, when he figured out where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do, nothing could stop him.

After basic training, DeRonde’s family saw him off at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. — as one of a handful of graduates to have been immediately promoted to a Private E2.

“He’d been so quiet, but he knew everyone, they knew his name,” his half-sister, Jennifer Owen, said. “In six months, he really came out of his shell.”

Ahmed Altaie

Staff Sgt. Ahmed Altaie—October 2012 Shipment Honoree


U.S. service member unaccounted for in Iraq

“I am Lt Col Joel Elsbury. In my 18 years with the USAF, I have been stationed in the United States, Germany, Iraq, and Turkey. I have traveled both officially and as a tourist to over 20 countries around the world. I have been blessed to meet and work shoulder-to-shoulder with patriots who, while they were not born in the United States, have honorably served and sacrificed in the Defense of a Nation they love. Staff Sgt. Ahmed Al-Taie is one such patriot. Born in Iraq, SSG Al-Taie immigrated to the US in the late 1970s when Ahmed was just 12 years-old. Later, he was naturalized, and joined the US Army as a 35P, Army Linguist. I cannot imagine the moral courage it must have taken for SSG Taie to answer his adopted country’s call to Arms in the land of his birth.

Without hesitation, SSG Taie not only deployed in defense of HIS Country, he willingly paid the ultimate price and gave his life for our freedom! I am so grateful the Landstuhl Hospital Care Project is honoring the memory of this patriotic American, whose courage led him to escape tyranny and embrace freedom, but whose greater courage led him to return to Iraq, fight, and die to end that tyranny.

I’m humbled to be SSG Taie’s brother in the profession of Arms, and honored to remember his patriotism and courage!”

Family seeks answers about lone U.S. servicemember unaccounted for in Iraq

BY; Matthew M. Burke
Stars and Stripes
Published: February 16, 2012
 
Ahmed Altaie
Ahmed

In almost nine years of war, more than 1.5 million U.S. troops served in Iraq, with 4,408 losing their lives. The last 40,000 crossed into Kuwait by Dec. 18.

Except for U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ahmed Altaie.

Altaie is the lone U.S. service member unaccounted for from operations in Iraq.

The Iraqi-born reservist from Michigan was abducted more than five years ago in Baghdad after breaking the rules and sneaking outside the wire to meet his Iraqi wife.

In the days after he went missing, 3,000 coalition soldiers conducted more than 50 raids to find their comrade. At least one soldier was killed; others were wounded.

As the trail turned cold, Altaie’s family and friends grew frustrated by what they say is the U.S. government’s lack of effort to find him.

“They won’t talk about it,” Altaie’s ex-wife and self-described best friend, Linda Racey, said from Michigan recently. “They feel he’s not worth looking for. They’re not doing anything.”

Ahmed’s brother, Hathal Taie Altaie, said the family hasn’t been able to get answers from the government since the abduction.

“We need to know the truth,” he said. “Some say he’s in Iran. Some say he’s dead. At least they could find out if he’s alive or not.”

Now, after almost no movement in the case in about a year, the family has latched onto a glimmer of hope.

On Drill
Ahmed on drill to the far left

On Dec. 26, Altaie’s family was watching Al Arabiya News Channel when a man they say might have information about the missing solder appeared before the cameras.

Qais al-Khazali is the leader of Asaib Ahel al-Haq, an Iranian-backed militia responsible for abductions and the deaths of U.S. troops. In 2010, the group claimed to be holding Altaie and offered to exchange him for detained members of its group. On TV, Khazali pledged to put down his weapons so his group could join the Iraqi government. He said their “duty” to fight the Americans was over.

If Khazali was sincere about joining the Iraqi government, might he be willing to return Altaie, the family wondered?

“They claim they have Ahmed,” said Hathal Altaie. “They are probably liars, but we don’t know. This guy must know something. The U.S. government needs to pressure the Iraqis.”

No clear answers

U.S. and Iraqi officials remain quiet.

Raifet Ahmad, a spokesman for the Iraqi Embassy in Washington, said he had asked Baghdad officials what was being done to find Altaie and whether the government had questioned Khazali. He didn’t receive an answer.

Asked the same questions, the White House declined to comment, as did the U.S. Embassy in Iraq and the FBI. The Army, the office of the Secretary of Defense, Pentagon officials and the CIA directed inquiries to the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office, which is responsible for investigating missing servicemembers from “past” conflicts.

The Missing Personnel Office took over the case from U.S. Central Command on Dec. 1, 2011, but spokeswoman Maj. Carie Parker said her office has yet to receive all of Altaie’s case files. She “couldn’t say” when the office would be up to speed on the case.

“In fact, we are still combing archives on old cases from as far back as World War II,” Parker wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes.

“Staff Sgt. Altaie’s status is ‘missing-captured’ and his status will not change until there is information that indicates otherwise,” she said. “The U.S. government is actively pursuing any and all leads thoroughly.”

Parker said efforts would be coordinated through the embassy in Iraq and directed Stars and Stripes to an embassy public affairs officer who never responded to calls or emails.

The perceived lack of cooperation between agencies doesn’t sit well with Altaie’s family. Hathal Altaie met with representatives of all of the major agencies about a month ago and learned nothing, he said.

“No one gave us any clear answers,” he said. “All we hear is, ‘We’re working on it. We’ll let you know.’ To be honest, they’re not doing enough.”

The family even pleaded its case to the office of Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.

“My office continues to monitor this case and to ensure that Staff Sgt. Altaie’s family is kept informed of any developments,” Levin said in a statement released by Kathleen Long, a spokesman in his office.

Racey, who has spearheaded efforts to keep the case active, said she believes Levin’s office has “blown off” the family, as have the other agencies.

Racey and Altaie have known each other for more than 20 years and remained close after amicably divorcing in 2001, she said. Once the point person for the family, Racey said the agencies won’t talk to her anymore because she kept pushing for answers.

“I’ve been on the case for five years and three months,” she said. “I’ll never give up on this.”

Last moments

Staff Sgt. Ahmed Altaei second from right
Staff Sgt. Ahmed Altae in fatigues

Altaie and his parents left Iraq when he was 12, his mother, Nawal, said. An aviation enthusiast, Altaie found work in Michigan as a mechanic on airplanes, but was laid off in 2001. The couple divorced that year.

The Ann Arbor Muslim was operating on auto-pilot, a man without a plan, until a visit to Iraq in 2003 with his family. Nawal said that her son fell in love again with the country of his birth, especially Baghdad. During his trip, which lasted for several months, he met the woman who would become his wife, Israa Sultan, according to Racey.

The family left Iraq once again as the security situation worsened, Nawal said.

Family members said Altaie was committed to going back to Iraq, and the fluent Arabic speaker could have taken lucrative contractor jobs there as a translator. Instead, he joined the Army Reserve in December 2004, according to Hathal. Family members said he wanted to support the mission in Iraq — as a proud American citizen and soldier. In 2005 he returned, as part of a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Baghdad, and acted as a translator in the embassy for VIPs.

Altaie and Sultan were married in 2006, his wife told the Detroit News in June, her only interview since the abduction. The marriage would have been against military regulations, since troops are not allowed to marry citizens of a country that the U.S. military is involved with in a conflict. However, Army spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell would later say that Altaie had not broken the rules because of the timing of his marriage.

On Oct. 22, 2006, Altaie called Racey to make sure she was taking her insulin for her diabetes, she said. It was Ramadan, and Altaie told her he had given his new wife’s family $100 to buy a leg of lamb for the feast. He told them he would return the next day at 4 p.m., Racey recalled.

Racey could hear ordnance exploding in the background. What he said next now haunts her.

“He said, ‘It’s getting real dangerous here,’” she said. “‘If I die, Linda, I want to be buried next to you,’” he told her. “That’s the last thing he said.”

The next day, Altaie stole off from Baghdad’s Green Zone in civilian clothes on a new scooter for an unauthorized visit to Sultan, Racey said, according to her early conversations with the FBI and other agencies.

There are discrepancies regarding the circumstances, but Army officials acknowledged that Altaie was married to Sultan. Altaie wasn’t a bad person, Racey said, but he was known to sometimes break the rules. When he worked at the airport, for example, he would leave work early, asking someone to punch out for him later. He had snuck out of the fortified zone to visit Sultan on several occasions without consequence. This time would be different.

When the 41-year-old linguist, then a specialist, arrived in the Karradah neighborhood of Baghdad, his phone rang. It was the man who had sold him the scooter. The caller heard cars approaching and then listened to Altaie’s cries as he was confronted by several armed masked men before he reached the front door of Sultan’s family home.

Racey said that the FBI interrogated the scooter salesman later, and he told them he heard Altaie’s wife screaming the name of a neighborhood thug. Altaie broke free from the kidnappers and took shelter in Sultan’s family home, hiding in a closet. But the kidnappers came in and took him, cuffing and stuffing him into a Mercedes before driving off.

“This last mistake cost him his life, possibly,” Racey said.

Failed deals

Racey believes the kidnapping was an inside job. “The [kidnappers] knew he would be there at 4 o’clock,” she said.

Sultan now lives in Michigan, where she was taken “for her own protection” as a “spouse of a U.S. Army soldier,” according to Mark Edwards, a spokesman for U.S. Army Human Resources Command.

Hathal Altaie said the family hadn’t spoken to her in more than a year.

Initially, the U.S. government offered a $50,000 reward for information that led to Altaie’s recovery. Caldwell said that in the days after the abduction, U.S. forces conducted dozens if raids, including some in the Shiite militant stronghold of Sadr City. They detained men who confessed to the kidnapping, but said they sold Altaie to another group.

The Ahl Albait Group issued a statement claiming responsibility for the kidnapping. Altaie’s family was confident that he would be returned unharmed, because they believed a U.S. soldier would have value in negotiations.

Four months after Altaie was abducted, a video with no sound surfaced on a militant website showing the soldier standing, reading from a piece of paper. His mother said she barely recognized her handsome son.

“He looked very different from when I saw him [last],” Nawal said, adding that he appeared to have been beaten and looked as if his teeth had been broken.

“I never saw him again,” Nawal said.

In 2009, according to media accounts, an insurgent group tried to coordinate an exchange for Altaie’s body, but the body they handed over belonged to another missing American service member.

Then in 2010, a Reuters reporter said he had spoken with the leader of the kidnappers, a man claiming to be from Asaib Ahel al-Haq. He claimed that Altaie had been killed in 2006 by another group and that they had received the body.

Around the same time, relatives saw a statement from Asaib Ahel al-Haq on a website saying they wanted to exchange Altaie for detainees.

That never happened.

Cold case

The family is tired of the roller-coaster ride.

They say the U.S. government has kept them in the dark, and they have lost faith in their efforts.

Racey now believes she knows why the case has gone cold.

Three months ago, she got an anonymous call from someone who claimed to be on the Army search team. The man told her the Army considered him absent without leave for venturing outside the Green Zone and wouldn’t spend any more money or risk any more lives trying to find him.

Altaie’s family said they are speaking out now because they want to put those rumors to bed. True, he broke the rules, Racey said, but he had left before and always returned. It shouldn’t mean that the U.S. stops looking, she said. People who think he went over to the other side are dead wrong, Racey said. Altaie loved his job in the military and wanted to make a career out of it. Racey is in constant touch with Altaie’s parents, and said Nawal believes her son is alive and prays for his safe return.

Racey doesn’t share her optimism.

“I don’t think he’s still alive,” she said. “I’m a realist.” Still, she said she has dreams in which Nawal calls her to report a miracle, that Altaie has been found alive.

Today, Altaie would be 46. He has been promoted twice while in captivity. Friends and family remember him for his passions: music, flying airplanes and dressing well. Nawal said she will never forget her son’s smile.

“I’m always thinking of him, wishing he would come back,” Nawal said. “We want to know if he’s dead or alive. Please.”

[email protected]

 

Unconditional Love

Tuesday

Well I have done about all I can do this year.  Our wounded numbers are down, but the seriousness of the wounds is up. Today I went to deliver some items to ICU and as I stood outside a room waiting, I saw an image I wish everyone could see.  It was not that he was a typical, good looking man about mid 30’s.  It was not the fact that the man in the ICU bed was hooked to every machine possible.  It was not the fact that he was an amputee.  It was that as he slept, his wife sat next to him with a loving, but concerned look on her face.  His bed sat quite a bit higher than her chair and she sat there wrapped in her shawl watching him as he slept.  It was an image that I had a difficult time looking away from.  I really did not look at him, but at his wife.  If it was at all possible to look at someone with so much love that it heal them, she would have been the one.  When the staff was finished with what I had delivered, I moved on, but that image will be forever in my mind.

Tonight I stood outside the USO and listened to new troops talk about all the wonderful, beautiful things that had happened since arriving at LRMC.  Most would think that a strange statement, since they were all patients.  However, several were thankful for the 10 minute hot shower.  One had not had a shower for over two weeks.  That shower was almost all cold water.  Another man said his last shower was 12 days ago and he had hot water, but it was either all hot or all cold.  Another said that he had thought rain had completely disappeared.  He said he had not seen rain since March 30th.  Another waited to speak and all he said was, “this is paradise,” and he felt like he might finally be able to relax.

Today I worked 9.5 hours in honor of Sharon Buck, LHCP’s treasurer.  Sharon has been with LHCP from almost the very beginning.  She manages to keep the Board and all our finances organized.  Her help has been invaluable!  Thank you, Sharon!

Giving Back

 Monday

Today has been a nasty cold and rainy day.  I seem to have been all over the place with different tasks.  This morning I stocked some of our towels and pillows on the shelves.  We ran to Ramstein to pick up water and sodas for the Tuesday and Wednesday dinners.  We ate lunch pretty quickly and then went back to the hospital.  We received a call from one of the wards asking if we had reading glasses.  I asked what prescription strength and it was a minor correction.  The Chaplain’s Clothes Closet does not have any, but I had my personal pair in my purse and would deliver them to the patient.

On the way to drop off the glasses, I ran into the patient that I mentioned in Saturday’s post.  He was sitting at the end of the hall.  He saw me first and spoke.  It was obvious something was not right.  I asked him if he was feeling ok.  He said that they are readmitting him.  I could not believe how his appearance had changed just from Saturday.  I sat and talked to him for a short period of time.  My heart just broke.  He was on the verge of tears, but he managed to hold it.  He said he just wanted his body back.  I asked him what ward was he going to and he told me he did not know.  He had been waiting for someone to come and take him up.  I told him that I could take him upstairs if he could get permission.  I pushed him to the front desk and they gave permission for me to take him up.

I started pushing him in the chair and realized I still had the reading glasses in my hand. I got him to his ward and into his bed.  He has lost so much weight in just the few weeks I have known him.  He has no bum to cushion him while he sits.  His collar bones are now very present.  He managed to roll from the chair to the bed and I could tell he was in a lot of pain, but he did it.  We got him covered, but his tech said he needed to get into a gown.  I asked him if there was anything more I could do for him and he said no he was just happy to get help going to his new bed.  I explained I had to deliver the reading glasses but would be back.  I went down a couple more wards and delivered the reading glasses.  That patient asked me how I found them and I told him it was not difficult.  He said they were very nice glasses and could not believe we found him a pair.  He was extremely grateful.  There was no reason to tell him they were mine.  He is the patient in the hospital with not much to do but read and watch TV.  I will tell Brian what I did; he will roll his eyes and say I would give away all my clothes if I was not always so cold.  LOL, it was all good.

I went back to see my very young patient, but he was still being in processed so I told him I would be back.  I contacted his liaison and had him bring the patient his lap top from his outpatient room.  When I went back before I was off work, he had his lap top.  I took him a little stuffed squirrel wearing a denim jacket, and a DS game system that I brought from the states.  I also gave him the last IPOD Shuffle and ITunes card so he could download some music.  When I pulled the Shuffle from my purse, he just looked at it and then he took it in his hands and just stared at it.  I know he knew what it was, but I don’t think he could believe he would be able to listen to music.  I had to tell him twice that it was his.  He reached out his hand for me to take and then he leaned forward for me to give him a kiss on the cheek.  I left him with his gifts and told him I would be back tomorrow.

This is the difficult part of the trip.  So many of the patients come and go while I am here, but they are moving forward in their care.  The last few days of my trip, I leave our patients to continue on with the LHCP mission, but I feel my heart is being ripped out each time I must leave them while they still finish their care here.

This young man will eventually go back to the Lone Star state.  I wish he was closer so I could continue to check in on him.  He has a home forever in my heart.

I worked 9 hours today thanks to Callie Jordan.  Callie has been a member of LHCP for almost six years.  She is also a member of Stitches of Love, creating beautiful handmade items for our wounded warriors.  Thank you for all your years of support, Callie!

Rhine River Cruise

Saturday

Saturday was our weekly cruise down the Rhine River with our patients. It was a little windy, chilly and cloud cover. Our patient in the wheel chair went. Germany is not as wheel chair friendly as the USA. We got him on the boat and then the restaurant but not without lifting him and some pulling. I believe he looks worse than he did on Thursday, but he has a lot of spunk and spirit. This is the last lunch LHCP will pay for while I am here. Thanks to many of you who made donations toward this trip, we have served up a lot of love and relaxation with the lunches on these trips. As we started to return to LRMC the weather turned nicer. Figures doesn’t it.

I worked 11 hours today.


Sunday

Time to wash clothes.

Too Funny

Tuesday

Yesterday and today were very slow days for patient arrival.  We did have some come in the Chaplain’s Clothes Closet to pick out their free clothing.  After all these years, they are still surprised that so many people back home still care enough to ship care packages.  One of the young men that came in could not believe that we gave him a brand new duffel bag.  He asked how it was possible and one of the volunteers told him who I was and what LHCP does.  She told him that all the duffel bags were from LHCP and he just stood there like a deer in headlights.  Then he gave me a big hug and said to tell all of our donors thank you.

This afternoon I was out distributing supplies.  When I returned to the Chaplain’s Clothes Closet, one of our wounded warriors saw me before I saw him.  As soon as I walked into the Closet, he jumped from around the corner and scared me.  He was laughing so hard, he could barely speak.  I do not handle being scared very well.  My son scared me once in the dark and I took him to the floor with one punch.  He was on his back with legs and arms in the air laughing and saying, “Mom it is me, it is Jeremy.”  My daughter turned on the light before I stopped.  Thank goodness I did not hurt him; even though I was punching him, he thought it was very funny that he scared me that bad.  The patient had the same reaction as my son.  I told him that he was lucky that I did not hurt him.  He just kept laughing saying it would have been worth it.  MEN you really have to wonder about them sometimes!

Today I also got to Ramstein AFB to visit the CASF.  The Ramstein CASF receives patients who are medically evacuated from the Middle East to LRMC.  The CASF also helps evacuate patients back to the Middle East or stateside.  LHCP has been supporting them for several years.  They seem to be well taken care of right now.  The items they are in need of will come from the LRMC surplus.  We may be able to delete them from our web page since they are well covered from the local community.  That is great news!!

I have been tasked with being the A driver for the wounded warriors tour tomorrow.  I hope it is not much walking, because my feet are starting to swell.  I walked 5 miles just in the hospital today.

That’s it for now and it is bedtime once again.  I worked 9 hours today.

My work Saturday, Monday, and today was in honor of Deadra Nelson.  Deadra is another long-time supporter of LHCP and I want to thank her for her years of support to our wounded warriors!

WOW, It Is So Green here

Monday

The weather has finally turned nice again.  This morning, as patients arrived, I was standing outside talking to a LRMC employee.  The first thing I heard from one of the patients is something I have heard year after year.  “WOW, it is so green here,”  as he was staring at the grass next to the Chaplain’s Clothes Closet,  and said, “that grass over there looks so nice, I would just like to go lay in it.”  Just as he finished saying this, a loud pop from the parking lot was heard.  I am not sure what it was, but it sounded like it could have been someone smashing a soda can on the asphalt.  As far as I could see, each of the newly arrived patients from the field jumped and exclaimed every word imaginable.  One patient went down to a knee immediately; even though they were safe in Germany, their bodies and minds were still on high alert.

We have cleared out almost 12 feet of storage space and now the winter jackets can be brought in from the bunkers before it snows.  I have never seen so many beanie hats, rosary beads, decks of cards, stationary, pens and pencils in my life.  I spoke with several patients tonight and even though it is a nice evening, (about 60 degrees) the patients are arriving from 100 degree weather and they are very cold.  I ran into one patient on Sunday that had on all of his military winter gear.  He had the flaps down over his ears and the facemask covering his mouth and nose.  He said he could not believe how cold it was here.  It takes them about a week to get their bodies adjusted to the temperature here in Germany.

I would say 99% of the pillows on the shelf in the Chaplain’s Clothes Closet are LHCP Stitches of Love pillows.  There were several pillows that got lots of comments today.  When I looked at the pillow it had a LHCP tag with the name Kitty Grandma of NC, Maria is that right?  I know it is your mom.  (That’s right, Karen.  She has 8 grandkitties!)  The pillow had tropical fish on it and another had cartoon characters.  The cartoon went first and one of the fish went second.  Callie, you did good, great job!

Dealing With Guilt

September 15, 2012 Saturday

I was up at 6:00 AM to be ready for the wounded warrior tour down the Rhine River, again.  We had a smaller group today and the weather was not as nice as our last outing.  I talked to one young man who said he felt guilty for being here as a patient.  When I asked him why, he said that he looks at some of the patients and thinks to himself, “I am not shot and I am not an amputee.”  He went on to say that he felt like he should be able to control his condition by himself.  I have observed over time that many, if not all of the patients have guilt of one sort or another.  They have guilt for leaving their families back home, they have guilt for leaving their comrades down range, they have guilt about being sick or wounded.  I don’t know how many times I have said, “it is normal to have guilt; however, if you are not at 100% you will not help anyone.”  There is a reason they are all here, but sometimes the psychological guilt they harbor can be worse than the actual reason that brought them to the hospital.  Guilt is a difficult emotion to come to terms with and control.

I worked 11 hours today


September 14, 2012 Friday

I worked 7 hours today.


September 12, 2012 Wednesday

It is a cold, rainy and windy day. I worked 8 hours today.

LHCP’s Honorees

Monday

Today was spent doing the same as I have done on previous days; I pushed two carts around the hospital trying to clear out more excess donations.  However, there is still so much more to clear out.  Tomorrow will be spent packing up excess donations to go to LHCP units in Afghanistan.  This afternoon a mom, who is flying back with her son, needed a pair of comfortable shoes and I had to go to the storage room to find her size.

As many of you already know, LHCP dedicates donation shipments each month to a different fallen military member.  Each box shipped has an 8×11 address label and above the address is our current honoree’s story.  Because we buy new, sturdy boxes many of our LHCP boxes are utilized to store donation items.

Upon entering the storage area where the shoes are kept, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of honoree labels staring me in the face.  Looking at the shelves in front of me, I could see our LHCP boxes lying on their side with the bottom of the box toward the wall and the address labels facing the front.  The amount of honoree stories on those boxes took me off guard and I found myself standing in the middle of a 6×18 room looking at all of their names.  I felt like I could not breathe for a moment because I realized that so many states were represented on these labels, but more significant was the fact that they represented fathers, sisters, sons, and cousins, etc.  My eyes jumped from box to box and my brain was taking a mental note; there is Amy, Ryan, Jason, Daniel, Riley, and Buddy.  I felt honored and sad at the same time.  Suddenly in the midst of all this, the silence was broken by a young man at the door asking for my help; my attention shifted to assist with his needs.  The young man was in need of directions and once I gave him the information, it was back to the Chaplain’s Closet with shoes in hand; leaving the many LHCP boxes behind once again, along with the each of the honoree’s short, sweet stories of devotion and sacrifice.  I felt the donations were in good company, watched over by those brave fallen men and women waiting for the next wounded warrior in need of items the boxes contained.

Today I worked 10 hours thanks to Callie Waddell.  Without her support over the many years, LHCP would be short hundreds of pillows and other items.  Callie has been a very big donor and supporter.

Thank you Callie

War and Youth

Friday

Today is Friday.  This week seems to have gone very fast.  I went to one of the bunkers that LRMC Chaplain’s Clothes Closet (CCC) uses to store excess supplies.  WOW!!   That is all I can say.  I stood there in amazement at a bunker larger than my house – full of items.  They have three bunkers, all full.  The CCC and LHCP have been putting out a “Do not send” list for years.

The items they have in storage…well…wow!  They have so many aqua-colored shoes, I don’t know if they will ever get rid of them all.  They have containers upon containers of lotion, cotton balls, combs, conditioner, paperback books, magazines, decks of cards, pens, stationary, blank cards – the list just continues on and on.  Storage space is precious at LRMC and it has been taken up by items they just don’t use.  I need to try to help them clear some of this out, but I just don’t know if it is possible.  I am hoping that our units in the Middle East can use some of it, but I am afraid much of it will not be used by anyone.  They also continue to have expiration dates expire on toiletry items before it arrives at LRMC or will expire soon after it arrives.

Today I am going to take one of our IPOD shuffle donations to a wounded warrior in ICU.  I was asked to deliver it to him personally.  I knew it would be difficult, but after all these years it still gets to me worse than I thought it would.  The liaison and I went up and the patient had been moved from his bed to a bed/chair.  They were asking him if he wanted to move back to his bed and even though he could not speak the word “no,” we all understood that the sound that he made meant no.   The liaison told him why I was there; he explained the CCC and LHCP.  The patient just looked at me.  I thought about my own family members that have been deployed and I realized I was putting them in that bed.  I had to choke back what I was feeling and told him that I was happy to meet him and that I wanted to give him one of the IPODs.  One member of his family was flown in to be by his side and since the warrior was paralyzed from the neck down, I gave it to his brother.  I turned to look at the warrior and he had a smile on his face. This man is younger than my son and I just melted.  I asked the brother if I could give the patient a kiss on the forehead.  I then asked the patient if I could give him a kiss on the forehead.  Both answered with a yes and so as difficult as it was, I gave him a whisper of a kiss on his forehead.  My heart was pounding so hard by then I knew I did not have much time before it overwhelmed me.  As I started to leave the room, we were told that a 3-star general was outside our door and could we please wait.  I do not seek out “distinguished visitor” visits.  I am uncomfortable and would rather seek out a patient or a box to unpack.  I squeezed by everyone in the room and stuck myself in the corner.  It was all going well until the liaison said he would like to introduce me to the 3-star.  I whispered no to the liaison before he could get the first couple of his words out, but it did not work.  The general asked about LHCP, the CCC, and my yearly visits.  Then he thanked me and asked that I be sure to thank all our members and donors.  After he stepped out of the room, I made my silent departure.

I went back down to the CCC and found two large carts of excess supplies waiting for me to find them a home.  So, around to all the clinics I traveled.  I did clear out four or five bins, but still came back with several full ones I could not clear out.  Monday, I will try again.


Saturday

Today is Saturday and the last of my clean clothes.  We had the regular wounded warrior trip today, so the clothes must wait.  This group will also take a trip down the Rhine.  It was a beautiful day with temps in the 80s.  I found a chair by the side and sat and watched the hills and castles go by.  I had several wounded come up and sit with me and I realized that my heart was in pain.  The patients were all smiles and taking pictures, but I kept thinking about the patient in ICU.  I caught myself twice with tears welling up and would turn away from a patient so I could compose myself.  Would the patient in ICU ever be able to breathe on his own?  Would he be able to eat by himself, dress himself or even walk on to a boat for a river cruise?  I thought about how wonderful the sun would feel to him, and as strong as I could, I wished the warmth to him.  Sounds silly, I know.

By the end of the trip, most of us looked like we were in the running to be Rudolph (red noses).  We moved all the patients to the bus for a short trip to the restaurant where LHCP paid for lunch again.  As I looked around at all the tables, I saw a gunshot patient, I saw the PTSD patients, I saw the shoulder patients.  If some of them were not wearing American logos on their shirts, you would never have thought anything was wrong with them.  Then I noticed one patient with head in hand.  I got up and went over to him to ask if he was ok.  He said he had a headache.  I asked him if he thought it was from the sun and he said yes.  I looked around and they were just putting glasses of water on the tables.  His would be last so I went back to my table and gave him my glass.  In another 3 or 4 minutes he received his glass and drank that water as well.  Within about 20 minutes, he was feeling much better.  One of the patients told me that I was connected to them by a small fiber.  He said I knew when one in almost 40 people was not feeling well.

I was almost finished with my lunch when one of our ladies got up and walked out.  Silva and I noticed about the same time that something was wrong. I told Silvia I would go with the patient.  I found her outside with tears in her eyes.  I asked her if she would like to go for a walk and she said yes.  She is having panic attacks and not sure why or what set this one off.  I held her hands and promised her these episodes do get better.  It might take a while and not be as fast as she might think she should heal, but they would.  She explained some personal things and we slowly made our way back to the restaurant.  She will be heading back to the states for further care.  When Silva saw us walk back in, she told me that I really had a way with the patients.  I told her that I am not sure that it is me.  I believe that they really have a way with me.  They have a way of getting inside my heart.

After lunch, the patients have about one hour to walk around and look at the German shops.  I took my group into several stores.  We found the largest cuckoo clock I have ever seen.  They asked me if I had a wall large enough for the clock.  I laughed and said no, but I also did not have a wallet large enough to pay the 25,000 euro price.

The bus was rather warm when we got back to it and it did not take long for them to all fall asleep.


Sunday

Today is Sunday.  It was another 0600 day as one of the chaplains asked me to his church services.  He also asked some of the wounded warriors, and we took two of them with us.  Afternoon plans were cancelled, so it gave me the perfect opportunity to get clothes washed.  Tonight was rather calm as I sat outside the building and talked to wounded arriving throughout the three hours I sat there.  Then we all went inside and watched the football games.

Dianne and Frank Lane have been long time supporters of LHCP.  They have also helped support this trip over the years.  I want to thank them for their continued support and dedicate the last few days to them.  Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I worked 10 hours, 15 hours, and 18 hours.

A Special Thanks

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

It has been a fast paced crazy couple of days.  I spent most of Tuesday trying to in-process.  Each year the requirements to be a volunteer change.  The Red Cross has taken over the volunteer program again at the Chaplain’s Clothes Closet (CCC).  All volunteers must have a military id card, must be cleared through the Occupational Health, Security Office, take a HIPPA test, and go through Red Cross training.  This process can take over three weeks.

Tuesday I worked with very  few patients coming through the CCC.  Most of Tuesday and Wednesday I worked in the store rooms.  I met the Navy retired volunteer that receives our shipments here.  When we were introduced he gave me a big hug and said to tell all of you a very big thank you!  As in years past, there are many items that can not be used here.  I took some of these items through the hospital asking staff and those waiting for appointments if they wanted any of them.  Within about an hour, all the items on my little cart were gone.  Tomorrow I plan to do the same thing.  There are bins upon bins of items that are on the Do Not Send list that continues to be sent to LRMC.  Storage space is prime real-estate here. We need to clear these items out so volunteers can store things that are needed on a daily basis.

Wednesday was spent working with a few more patients.  I spent part of the day with a photographer in tow.  The public affairs officer received an email from the Saturday Evening Post which is interested in doing a story about LHCP and they need pictures. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the National Guard and local VFW post provide pizza and sandwiches for the wounded and ill troops after the CCC closes.   I leave the CCC and head over to the other building to help set up and spend some time talking with wounded warriors.

The Chaplain’s office has tours for the wounded warriors on Thursday and Saturdays; so Thursday was spent directing wounded warriors from one location to another and making sure we did not lose anyone. These tours are one program that I believe is extremely important for the wounded and ill.  This 5- or 6- hour trip gets patients away from the hospital environment and gives them a chance to feel healthy and normal.  They may walk with a limp, be on crutches, or have braces; but during the tour they are more normal than many of them have felt in months of deployment or days at LRMC.  The mornings that we leave for these trips, the wounded and ill sit around without speaking to each other.  By the time we pull back up to the hospital, they have formed some great relationships with others going through the same thing they are.  These trips allow the door to be opened for communication with others that have been through the same experience and feelings.

I have met some Georgian military.  Many of us do not realize that there are many countries supporting our U.S. military in Afghanistan.  One of those is the Georgian Armed Forces.  They are a staunch ally of the United States with approximately 2,000 serving in Afghanistan – that is a huge contribution of military troops from a very small country.  They work directly with our marines in some of the worst areas of Afghanistan. One member of the Georgian military is stationed at LRMC as the liaison for their wounded that arrive here.  Two Georgian doctors escorted Georgian wounded to LRMC.  One is the brother of a Georgian ICU wounded warrior.  It does not matter the country our wounded warriors are from, if you are called to be by the bedside of a loved one it is never good.  None of the patients, nor the brother, speaks English and I can not imagine the stress that must add to a already stressful situation.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday I worked a combined total of 34 hours, thanks to the support of the Dawejko family.   They tracked me down early this week to bring me bottled water and goodies.

Aaron J. Ward

PFC Aaron J. Ward—September 2012 Shipment Honoree

By Jia-Rui Chong Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
June 15, 2008
 

Aaron J. WardAaron J. Ward had a choice about serving in Iraq. Because he was the last male Ward in his family, the Army offered him the opportunity to avoid going, he told his mother. He asked her what she would tell Army officials if they asked her opinion on the matter.

“It wouldn’t be normal if I said, ‘Yeah, take him,’ ” Debbie Ward told him. “But if you feel you need to do this, I’ll stand behind you.”

“I need to do this,” he told his mother. “I need to give the guys over there a break.”

Debbie Ward understood: “Aaron just always thought of everybody else.”

The 19-year-old Army private first class from San Jacinto, southeast of Riverside, left for Iraq at the end of February.

On May 6, he was killed when his unit was attacked with small-arms fire while cordoning off an area and searching buildings in Anbar province, west of Baghdad.

Ward was assigned to the 170th Military Police Company, 504th Military Police Battalion, 42nd Military Police Brigade at Ft. Lewis, Wash.

He had joined the Army in April 2006, inspired in part by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and his family history.

His great-grandfather was an Army Ranger during World War II. His grandfather served in the Army and Navy in Vietnam. Two uncles served in the Navy, one during the Gulf War. His sister Samantha was on a Navy ship off Bahrain, supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Debbie Ward, 47, was proud when her son enlisted. He hoped to become a career soldier or maybe use his training to become a police officer or firefighter.

“I really thought Aaron would excel in there,” she said. “He had no fear of anything.”

Ward quickly finished his studies to earn his diploma at Mountain View High School in San Jacinto and left for boot camp last July.

When he came back to San Jacinto on leave in December, he so loved what he was doing that he worked for two weeks at his recruiter’s office in Hemet, encouraging a new crew of young men to sign on.

It was around this time that his friendship with Kati Jakubac, 19, started to bloom.

Jakubac had met Ward in 2006 when one of her friends invited him to hang out with them at a Starbucks in Hemet.

“He seemed really intimidating at first — a Mr. Tough Guy,” she said. “I was kind of afraid of him. But once I got talking to him, he was like a real teddy bear.”

When he left for Ft. Lewis, they started swapping flirty text messages. They exchanged about 7,000 text messages that February, Jakubac said. She was worried that she was causing problems for him on base. “He had to do a lot of push-ups,” she said. “But he said, ‘I’d rather get in trouble than not be able to text.’ ”

One night in February, she sent him a text message saying that she didn’t want him to leave. His reply: “I just wanted to let you know I love you.”


Army Pfc. Aaron J. Ward, 19, San Jacinto

Military police officer is killed in combat in Iraq

About two weeks later, he left for Iraq. Twice a day, or at least several times a week, he woke his mother and Jakubac with his cheerful voice.

“I would answer the phone at 1:30 in the morning and I would hear this voice, ‘Good morning, beautiful,’ ” Debbie Ward said. The calls always seemed to come in the middle of the night, but they didn’t mind.

Ward didn’t want them to worry, so he always told them it was boring in Iraq. “He said, ‘Don’t think of me going to Iraq, just think of it as me going camping,’ ” Jakubac said.

The last time Debbie Ward talked to her son was May 3. He called to say happy Mother’s Day in advance because he was getting busy on missions and wasn’t sure if he would be able to call later. He also said that he planned to ask Jakubac to marry him when he got home.

The next day, he called Jakubac. She missed him because she was busy talking to customers at the Greek restaurant she manages.

He died two days later.

Jakubac now thinks about how she would have said yes to his proposal and how she probably would be moving to Washington state, near his base.

She visits his grave at Riverside National Cemetery regularly and spoke on her cellphone one day as she was having lunch there.

“The hardest part of him being gone is not the not seeing him, but all the what-ifs,” she said.