Welcome Back!

March 3, 2009 at 7:57 am | Posted in Blogging, Deployment, Military | Leave a comment

One of the links on my sidebar (Zolnierz) is to a now formerly deployed soldier!  I had originally titled this post “Welcome Home”, but as some of you may recall he is originally from Poland.  I’m not sure if he actually considers Hawaii to be home :)  Either way, he is with family again and that is a good think.  He linked to a youtube video of the deployment ceremony which you can see here.

Go by and leave a comment on the post Film z Powrotu.  He blogs in Polish, but is perfectly happy to receive comments in English.  At least that’s what he has told me after my attempts at commenting in Polish using an online translator!

Is Change Starting?

November 8, 2008 at 3:35 pm | Posted in Challenges, Deployment, Mental Health, Military | 3 Comments

No, this is not a political post even though I did use one of the “buzz words” from the recent campaign cycle.  This post is actually about attitudes toward mental health problems and treatment within the military.  I’ve written before about some of the policy changes made by the Department of Defense and new programs under development in an attempt to reduce the stigma of mental health care within the military.

I haven’t noticed much in the news about DOD efforts to reduce the stigma of mental health care in the months since those posts and had started to wonder if the efforts were real or if the statements were for show.  This morning I read an article about Army Major General David Blackledge who served two tours in Iraq commanding Civil Affairs Units and now works at the Pentagon.  As we’ve come to see in Iraq and Afghanistan, the demarcations between the front-line/ “at risk” troops and those in relative safety are much more ambiguous than in previous wars.  IEDs, rocket and mortar attacks are equal opportunity hazards.

Maj Gen Blackledge was treated for symptoms of posttraumatic stress following an incident during his first deployment when he was injured and his interpreter killed following a convoy ambush.  He was again injured during his second tour and experienced symptoms again.  While I haven’t located a biography online, I did find this announcement of his promotion from Colonel to Brigadier General in 2003, so it would appear that Maj General Blackledge has continued to advance in the ranks since receiving treatment for his symptoms.  This is particularly important given that one of the top five barriers to care identified by OIF/OEF veterans is “It could harm my career” (endorsed by 44% of the respondents to the RAND survey).

In the article I read today, Maj Gen Blackledge is quoted as saying:

“It’s part of our profession … nobody wants to admit that they’ve got a weakness in this area,” Blackledge said of mental health problems among troops returning from America’s two wars.

“I have dealt with it. I’m dealing with it now,” said Blackledge, who came home with post-traumatic stress. “We need to be able to talk about it.”

I’m glad to see that he is speaking out and that active duty servicemembers are being given examples of leaders who have sought help, continued to advance in their careers, and are comfortable “going public” with their story.  I do believe this needs to be expanded though- including both NCOs and officers from different branches of the service with different deployment experiences.  In my research for this post, I discovered that this article with Maj Gen Blackledge going public may be just the start of a new DOD initiative to reduce the stigma of mental health care.  It looks like it has taken this long for stories to start hitting the internet and airwaves because DOD has been working on establishing a comprehensive effort.  I found some interesting information about it online and will post about it in the next few days.

New Additions to the Blogroll

October 28, 2008 at 7:26 pm | Posted in Deployment, Interesting Reads, Military | 5 Comments

I wrote once before about one part of blogging I don’t like- orphaned blogs. Now I have been guilty of orphaning a blog or two in the past, but it was always after no more than a handful of posts and generally no readers other than spambots. A lot of the milblogs that I have come to enjoy reading have been orphaned. I tend to keep the links in my bookmarks for quite a while and go back checking for updates. I’m usually disappointed, but every once in a while I get lucky.

Recently, an orphaned recruiter milblog has come back to life. Station Commando had a blog (Recruiting Tirade) when he was a recruiter. Recruiters seem to have a pretty high blog orphan rate BTW. Anyway, SC is back and posting under the title Conversations in the Desert. From his first few posts it sounds like he’s been through a lot since the old blog, but has found his way through. Other than the goodbye post, his recruiting days are no longer in the archives. However, he is now serving in Afghanistan and is posting about his deployment.

I also have a new link up on the sidebar for Embrace the Suck by Mud Puppy (as far as I know he hasn’t orphaned blogs yet). Mud Puppy is about to head to Afghanistan and has been posting since mid-Summer. I know I had to have ended up at his blog from a link, but have no clue where it was. He’s got some pretty funny posts, just be forewarned that he definitely has an infantry-style sense of humor. I have to tell you that I am amused to no end by his nom de plume.

Every time I see a comment or post with his blog name, I have flashbacks to a college zoology course. The course had a lab where we dissected a number of different creatures including….a mud puppy. The ones we dissected were basically like the salamanders you see in pet stores on steroids. My lab partner and I were doing fine until we had the mud puppy opened up and were trying to identify the reproductive system. When we compared the insides to our books we were kind of confused and had to call the TA over. Once she was at our station the TA confirmed our suspicions- our mud puppy was a hermaphrodite. Keep this story in mind when you read his posts and maybe you’ll understand a little better why the connection amuses me so much.

Treatment Options for Wounded Warriors

October 22, 2008 at 10:41 pm | Posted in Deployment, Disabilities, Military, Rehabilitation | 4 Comments

There is little doubt that traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and polytrauma are the signature injuries among veterans of OEF and OIF.  The nature of the injuries, the numbers of servicemembers experiencing them, and the lifetime impact of these injuries on the lives of individual servicemembers and their families have had a profound impact on rehabilitation systems of care, both within the VA and in the civilian sector.

DOD and the VA system have established new initiatives, including the development of the VAs polytrauma system of care and significant DOD funding for research with direct relevance to the treatment and rehabilitation of servicemembers with TBI and polytrauma.  In addition, the public profile and support  of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center , the Center for Deployment Psychology and the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress are increasing.

Clearly DOD and the VA are taking steps to ramp-up the research and clinical care capabilities within their systems for these populations.  However, as anyone who has ever worked within or tried to work with large governmental organizations knows, change comes slowly.  In the meantime, there are countless numbers of returning servicemembers who need services now.  Many of them are being served well through the VA system, but it seems that not very many understand that there are additional treatment options. Continue Reading Treatment Options for Wounded Warriors…

“Orphaned” Milblogs

August 28, 2008 at 9:34 pm | Posted in Blogging, Deployment, Military | Leave a comment

I’ve been reading milblogs for long enough now to recognize that many of my “favorites” are going to have a short lifespan. A minimum of 1/3 of the milblogs bookmarked in my web browser are no longer regularly updated. It’s different than the blog orphaning I’ve been guilty of in the past, but I would imagine the reasons for orphaning vary from milblogger to milblogger.

Today I received an email from a milblogger whose blog has gone long enough without being updated that I had actually removed the bookmark from Firefox. It was from Thunder6, the author of 365 and a Wake-up (I’ll be posting something separate about the email he sent later). Two and a half years had passed since his “Welcome Home” post. I recognized his blog as one of my daily “must reads” that has been orphaned and hoped that the email meant he was back to blogging. While there is one newer post on his blog (from this past June), the opening statement makes me think he won’t be blogging on it anymore.

It has been a very, very long time since I have had the opportunity to write in this online journal. Truth be told I have had the opportunity – I just lacked the ability. Although I wanted to bring some kind of closure to this journal it has always been – and will always remain – a war journal. And when you aren’t immersed in the blowtorch reality of combat it can be a little difficult to write about the emotions those situations give birth to.

I hope that he was able to gain the closure he sought.

One more MWD Photo and a Link

April 29, 2008 at 10:00 pm | Posted in Deployment, Dogs, Military | Leave a comment

I have one more Military Working Dog (MWD) photo I just have to share. I went to the website for Multi-National Force- Iraq (MNF-I) today and this picture was in the photo gallery. The website has links to official press releases, published articles (non-military publications) and generally also has at least 3 or 4 articles written by the Public Affairs Offices of the currently deployed forces.

Toward the bottom of the MNF-I home page is a box displaying several pictures from the photo gallery. The pictures change regularly. If you click on a picture it will enlarge in the same window and you will see buttons you can use to scroll through the gallery. The pictures cover many different aspects of daily life in Iraq, both for deployed servicemembers and civilians.

I’m posting this picture for two reasons: (1) I think it’s cute and (2) the dog in the picture (Lasso) reminds me of a German Shepherd my family had. If I was asked who was the best dog ever, my current dog or the GS, I’d be hard pressed to make a choice. It was very sad when he had to be put to sleep. This picture made me remember the good times and why he was such an amazing dog for our family. Plus, like I said, it’s cute!

( LAP IT UP- Lasso, a military working dog, takes a drink from handler Staff Sgt. Joseph Kirkey’s water bottle during training at Victory Kennels, April 27, 2008. Photo by Sgt. Joy Pariante, 13th Public Affairs Detachment.)

Latest blogroll addition- K9 Pride

April 29, 2008 at 10:00 am | Posted in Deployment, Dogs, Military | 2 Comments

After my first post on MWDs, I received an email from Sgt Mike Dowling. SGT Dowling served as a Marine Corps K9 handler from 2001-2005, including a deployment to Iraq in 2004 with Rex. He has recently started a blog dedicated to Working Dog Teams and sent me a link. I spent quite a bit of time at his site after receiving the link and really liked what I saw. The site is a great mix of stories, pictures and videos. He even has a page about adopting MWDs that presents a unique perspective of the benefits of adopting an MWD.

One of the pictures included on the site is one of my favorite MWD pictures ever. This is Zeko, an explosives detection canine (photo by Spc Barbara Ospina). Isn’t he cute in his doggles?

I love the way the doggles look on the MWDs, but they also serve a purpose. Sgt Dowling has a great post on how the elements impact the MWDs and what the handlers do to help them deal with the physical environment they work in.

Sgt Dowling also has great videos of MWDs in action in his posts. Check the one on this post out. Don’t you love the way the dog pulled the decoy out during the vehicle extraction? This video has great information about MWDs and how they are trained. I have to say though, my favorite so far is this video:

That’s one smart dog- he knew how to get what he wanted out of his handler!

The videos and the pictures are great, but I think what I like the most is his first-person perspective. I’ve read about MWDs and K9 teams and have even written a little bit about them on this blog, but it doesn’t compare to reading what Sgt. Dowling writes about his own life and experiences. If you do nothing else, be sure to check out this post about his MWD Rex. If you do, I have a feeling you’ll soon decide to read more.

MWDs in action

April 29, 2008 at 8:00 am | Posted in Deployment, Dogs, Military | Leave a comment

I’ve been posting on MWDs quite a bit lately. I had intended to write just one post, but it got so long that I broke it into two…then people asked questions and I found myself discovering all kinds of cool stuff on the internet to use in posts. I even received an email from a blogger who served in Iraq as a Marine K9 handler (check back later today for more about him and his site). Anyway, during my exploring I found these two photos.

I’ve seen MWDs in harnesses like this before- I think I even remember seeing one of an MWD hooked up to his handler and parachuting in somewhere (I’m 99.9% certain I’m not making this up). Both of the pictures above were taken by Spc Aubree Rundle, US Army and can be found here. The “official” descriptions of the photos are:

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (July 15, 2007) – 1st Sgt. Dean Bissey hooks the hoist harness to Staff Sgt. Michael Hile and his military working dog “Rronnie” (spelled with two “Rs”). Photo by Spc. Aubree Rundle, U.S. Army.

and

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (July 15, 2007) – U.S. Army Staff Sgt. David Hornsby and his special security dog Liza are hoisted into a helicopter during a canine-hoist training mission outside of Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, on July 15, 2007. Hornsby and Liza are attached to the101st Air Assault Division. Photo by Spc. Aubree Rundle, U.S. Army.

Things like this fascinate me (dogs being hoisted into helicopters?!) and I just had to share the photos.

Operation Gunner Mail a Success (so far)

April 13, 2008 at 1:22 pm | Posted in Deployment, Gunner Mail | Leave a comment

At this point, I can honestly state that Operation Gunner Mail is a success.  From what I was told, the APO address wasn’t supposed to be used until April 1st so I haven’t had a lot of time to work on this yet.  However, I received an email from Gunner this morning- the postcards I sent him to write to the kids with have arrived!  Plus, he also received the first letter.   There is one more “real” letter in the pipeline (e.g. at least one page long) and yesterday I mailed a little note.  So far I am on track with my personal objectives for Gunner Mail this deployment.  Hopefully I can maintain this trajectory the entire way through.

Operation Gunner Mail has begun!

April 7, 2008 at 10:36 pm | Posted in ABW Family, Deployment, Gunner Mail | 4 Comments

Those of you who have been reading for a while know that I started this blog at the urging of my friend ABW (aka Army Blogger Wife- she’s linked on the sidebar). Her husband (known in Blogland as Gunner) is deployed to Iraq right now. He actually came by the blog and commented today! It was my second-ever visit from someone in Iraq. The other was a milblogger who followed the link when I commented on his blog. He didn’t comment here, but has responded to comments on his own blog and hasn’t banned me, so I guess I passed the sanity test. Anyway, back to the point of this post.

I am very happy to report that so far I am on target for Gunner Mail this deployment. I did pretty well his first time in Iraq and then slacked horribly the second deployment. There were some personal reasons (that just don’t matter at this point), but I was not happy with my performance. My goal is a “real” letter mailed every week, usually written on Sunday, with a shorter letter or note later in the week. The second mail item each week usually includes one of the bizarre news stories I post here from time to time and a quick note from me. My goal with packages is to send one every two weeks. This has been the plan/goal for each deployment, but my execution of the plan has been quite variable.

ABW sent his address out a while back, but said we were supposed to wait until April 1st to send mail. So, technically I’ve only had a week to send mail so far. I’m doing well- two real letters and a package. The package is something I’ve sent each deployment that I think is fairly unique, but a really good idea for deployed soldiers with kids. I sent these during the first deployment and ABW/Gunner have requested them again for deployments two and three.

Continue Reading Operation Gunner Mail has begun!…

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