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Stand up for America

A Story Worth Sharing... An unreported story worth sharing...

At a recent Soldiers Breakfast held at Redstone Arsenal, AL, Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA) Jack Tilley shared the following story. (The incident was recorded by James Henderson, with the U.S. Army Redstone Huntsville Chaplain Association Chapter.

He - (SMA Jack Tilley) - described a recent visit to our wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington that I (Chaplain Henderson) will never forget.

"The Special Forces soldier had lost his right hand and had suffered severe wounds of his face and side of his body. As SMA Tilley described, how do you honor such a soldier, showing respect without offending? What can you say or do in such a situation that will encourage and uplift? How do you shake the right hand of a soldier who just lost his?

Finally he told how he acted as though the man had a hand, taking his wrist as though it were his hand and speaking encouragement to him. But he said there was another man in that group of visitors who had even brought his wife with him to visit the wounded who knew exactly what to do. This man reverently took this soldier's stump of a hand in both of his hands, bowed at the bedside and prayed for him. When he stood from praying he bent over and kissed the man on the head and told him he loved him.

What a powerful expression of love for one of our wounded heroes! And what a beautiful Christ-like example! What kind of man would kneel in such humility and submission to the Living God of the Bible?

It was George W. Bush, President of the United States and Commander in Chief of our Armed forces, a true leader.

American GIs

A little propagada now and again doesn't hurt.....

The Men Who Won The War (An 'embed' reporter looks at our soldiers)
By Jim Lacey

Since returning from Iraq a short time ago I have been answering a  lot of questions about the war from friends, family, and strangers. When they ask me how it was over there I find myself glossing over the fighting, the heat, the sandstorms, and the flies (these last could have taught the Iraqi army a thing or two about staying power).

Instead, I talk about the soldiers I met, and how they reflected the best of America. A lot of people are going to tell the story of how this war was fought; I would rather say something about the men who won the war.

War came early for the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne when an otherwise quiet night in the Kuwaiti desert was shattered by thunderous close-quarters grenade blasts. Sgt. Hasan Akbar, a U.S. soldier, had thrown grenades into an officers' tent, killing two and wounding a dozen others. Adding to the immediate confusion was the piercing scream of SCUD alarms, which kicked in the second Akbar's grenade exploded. For a moment, it was a scene of near panic and total chaos.

Just minutes after the explosions, a perimeter was established around the area of the attack, medics were treating the wounded, and calls for evacuation vehicles and helicopters were already being sent out. Remarkably, the very people who should have been organizing all of this were the ones lying on the stretchers, seriously wounded. It fell to junior officers and untested sergeants to take charge and lead. Without hesitation everyone stepped up and unfalteringly did just that.

I stood in amazement as two captains (Townlee Hendrick and Tony Jones) directed the evacuation of the wounded, established a hasty defense, and helped to organize a search for the culprit. They did all this despite bleeding heavily from their wounds. For over six hours, these two men ran things while refusing to be evacuated until they were sure all of the men in their command were safe.

Two days later Capt. Jones left the hospital and hitchhiked back to the unit: He had heard a rumor that it was about to move into Iraq and he wanted to be there. As Jones -- dressed only in boots, a hospital gown, and a flak vest -- limped toward headquarters, Col. Hodges, the 1st Brigade's commander, announced, "I see that Captain Jones has returned  to us in full martial splendor." The colonel later said that he was tempted to send Jones to the unit surgeon for further evaluation, but that he didn't feel he had the right to tell another man not to fight. Hodges himself had elected to leave two grenade fragments in his arm so that he could return to his command as quickly as possible.

The war had not even begun and already I was aware that I had fallen in with a special breed of men. Over the next four weeks, nothing I saw would alter this impression. A military historian once told me that soldiers could forgive their officers any fault save cowardice. After the grenade attack I knew these men were not cowards, but I had yet to learn that the brigade's leaders had made a cult of bravery. A few examples will suffice.

While out on what he called "battlefield circulation," Col. Hodges was surveying suspected enemy positions with one of his battalion commanders (Lt. Col. Chris Hughes) when a soldier yelled "Incoming" to alert everyone that mortar shells were headed our way. A few soldiers moved closer to a wall, but Hodges and Hughes never budged and only briefly glanced up when the rounds hit a few hundred yards away. As Hodges completed his review and prepared to leave, another young soldier  asked him when they would get to kill whoever was firing the mortar.

Hodges smiled and said, "Don't be in a hurry to kill him. They might replace that guy with someone who can shoot."

The next day, a convoy Col. Hodges was traveling in was ambushed by several Iraqi paramilitary soldiers. A ferocious firefight ensued, but Hodges never left the side of his vehicle. Puffing on a cigar as he directed the action, Hodges remained constantly exposed to fire. When  two Kiowa helicopters swooped in to pulverize the enemy strongpoint with rocket fire, he turned to some journalists watching the action and quipped, "That's your tax dollars at work."

Bravery inspires men, but brains and quick thinking win wars. In one particularly tense moment, a company of U.S. soldiers was preparing to guard the Mosque of Ali -- one of the most sacred Muslim sites -- when agitators in what had been a friendly crowd started shouting that they were going to storm the mosque. In an instant, the Iraqis began to chant and a riot seemed imminent.

A couple of nervous soldiers slid their weapons into fire mode, and I thought we were only moments away from  a slaughter. These soldiers had just fought an all-night battle. They were exhausted, tense, and prepared to crush any riot with violence of their own. But they were also professionals, and so, when their battalion commander, Chris Hughes, ordered them to take a knee, point their weapons to the ground, and start smiling, that is exactly what they did.

Calm returned. By placing his men in the most non-threatening posture possible, Hughes had sapped the crowd of its aggression. Quick thinking and iron discipline had reversed an ugly situation and averted

Since then, I have often wondered how we created an army of men who could fight with ruthless savagery all night and then respond so easily to an order to "smile" while under impending threat. Historian Stephen Ambrose said of the American soldier: "When soldiers from any other army, even our allies, entered a town, the people hid in the cellars. When Americans came in, even into German towns, it meant smiles, chocolate bars and C-rations." Ours has always been an army like no  other, because our soldiers reflect a society unlike any other. They are pitiless when confronted by armed enemy fighters and yet full of compassion for civilians and even defeated enemies.

American soldiers immediately began saving Iraqi lives at the conclusion of any fight. Medics later said that the Iraqi wounded they treated were astounded by our compassion. They expected they would be left to suffer or die. I witnessed Iraqi paramilitary troops using women and children as human shields, turning grade schools into fortresses, and defiling their own holy sites. Time and again, I saw Americans taking unnecessary risks to clear buildings without firing or using grenades, because it might injure civilians. I stood in awe as 19-year-olds refused to return enemy fire because it was coming from a mosque.

It was American soldiers who handed over food to hungry Iraqis, who gave their own medical supplies to Iraqi doctors, and who brought water to the thirsty.

It was American soldiers who went door-to-door in a slum  because a girl was rumored to have been injured in the fighting; when they found her, they called in a helicopter to take her to an Army hospital.

It was American soldiers who wept when a three-year-old was carried out of the rubble where she had been killed by Iraqi mortar fire. It was American soldiers who cleaned up houses they had been fighting over and later occupied -- they wanted the places to look at least somewhat tidy when the residents returned.

It was these same soldiers who stormed to Baghdad in only a couple of weeks, accepted the surrender of three Iraqi Army divisions,  massacred any Republican Guard unit that stood and fought, and disposed of a dictator and a regime with ruthless efficiency. There is no other army -- and there are no other soldiers -- in the world capable of such merciless fighting yet possessed of such compassion for their fellow man. No society except America could have produced them.

Before I end this I want to point out one other quality of the American soldier: his sense of justice. After a grueling fight, a company of infantrymen was resting and opening their first mail delivery of the war. One of the young soldiers had received a care package and was sharing the home-baked cookies with his friends. A photographer with a heavy French accent asked if he could have one. The soldier looked him over and said there would be no cookies for Frenchmen. The photographer then protested that he was half Italian. Without missing a beat, the soldier broke a cookie in half and gave it to him. It was a perfect moment and a perfect reflection of the American soldier.

Commentary: A note of thanks to those who serve
Christy Ferer

NEW YORK (AFPN) -- When I told friends about my pilgrimage to Iraq to thank the U.S. troops, reaction was underwhelming at best.

Some were blunt. "Why are you going there?" They could not understand why it was important for me, a 9/11 widow, to express my support for the men and women stationed today in the Gulf.

But the reason seemed clear to me: 200,000 troops have been sent halfway around the world to stabilize the kind of culture that breeds terrorists like those who I believe began World War III on Sept. 11, 2001. Reaction was so politely negative that I began to doubt my role on the first USO/Tribeca Institute tour into newly occupied Iraq where, on average, a soldier a day is killed.

Besides, with Robert De Niro, Kid Rock, Rebecca and John Stamos, Wayne Newton, Gary Sinise, and Lee Ann Womack, who needed me?

Did they really want to hear about my husband, Neil Levin, who went to work as director of the New York Port Authority on Sept.11 and never came home? How would they relate to the two others traveling with me: Ginny Bauer, a New Jersey homemaker and the mother of three who lost her husband, David; and former Marine Jon Vigiano, who lost his only sons, Jon, a firefighter and Joe, a policeman.

As we were choppered over deserts that looked like bleached bread crumbs, I wondered if I'd feel like a street hawker, passing out Port Authority pins and baseball caps as I said "thank you" to the troops. Would a hug from me mean anything at all in the presence of the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders and  a Victoria's Secret model?

The first "meet and greet" made me weep. Why? Soldiers, armed with M16s and saddlebags of water in 120-degree heat, swarmed over the stars for photos and autographs. When it was announced that a trio of Sept. 11 family members was also in the tent it was as if a psychic cork on an emotional dam was popped.

Soldiers from all over our great country rushed toward us to express their condolences. Some wanted to touch us, as if they needed a physical connection to our sorrow and for some living proof for why they were there.

One mother of two from Montana told me she enlisted because of Sept. 11. Dozens of others told us the same thing. One young soldier showed me his metal bracelet engraved with the name of a victim he never knew and that awful date none of us will ever forget.

In fact at every encounter with the troops there would be a surge of Reservists -- firefighters and cops, including many who had worked the rubble of Ground Zero -- wanting to exchange a hometown hug.

Their glassy eyes still do not allow anyone to penetrate too far inside to the place where their trauma is lodged; the trauma of a devastation far greater than anyone who hadn't been there could even imagine. It's there in me, too. I had forced my way downtown on that awful morning, convinced that I could find Neil beneath the rubble.

What I was not prepared for was to have soldiers show us the World Trade Center memorabilia they'd carried with them into the streets of Baghdad. Others had clearly been holding in stories of personal 9/11 tragedies which had made them enlist.

USO handlers moved us from one corner to the next so everyone could meet  us. One fire brigade plucked the three of us from the crowd, transporting us to their firehouse to call on those who had to stand guard during the Baghdad concert. It was all about touching us and feeling the reason they were in this hell. Back at Baghdad International Airport, Kid Rock turned a "meet and greet" into an impromptu concert in a steamy airport hangar before 5000 troops.

One particular soldier, Capt. Vargas from the Bronx, told me he enlisted in the Army after some of his wife's best friends were lost at the World Trade Center.

When he glimpsed the piece of recovered metal from the Towers that I had been showing to a group of soldiers he grasped for it as if it were the Holy Grail. Then he handed it to Kid Rock who passed the precious metal through the 5000 troops in the audience. They lunged at the opportunity to touch the steel that symbolized what so many of them felt was the purpose of their mission -- which puts them at risk every day in the 116 degree heat, not knowing all the while if a sniper was going to strike at anytime.

Looking into that sea of khaki gave me chills even in that blistering heat. To me, those troops were there to avenge the murder of my husband and 3,000 others. When I got to the microphone I told them we had not made this journey for condolences but to thank them and to tell them that the families of 9/11 think of them every day. They lift our hearts. The crowd interrupted me with chants of "USA, USA, USA." Many wept.

What happened next left no doubt that the troops drew inspiration from our tragedies. When I was first asked to speak to thousands of troops in Qatar, after Iraq, I wondered if it would feel like a "grief for sale" spectacle.

But this time I was shaking because I was to present the recovered WTC  steel to Gen. Tommy Franks (U.S. Central Command commander). I quivered as I handed him the icy gray block of steel. His great craggy eyes welled up with tears. The sea of khaki fell silent. Then the proud four-star general was unable to hold back the tears which streamed down his face on center stage before 4,000 troops. As this mighty man turned from the spotlight to regain his composure I comforted him with a hug.

Now, when do I return?

(Editor's note: This commentary is printed with permission from Christy Ferer, a New York native whose husband, Neil Levin, was killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Ferer was part of a recent United Services Organizations tour to Iraq.)

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