TROOP NEWS for August 28
Compiled by Cheryl Seal
Casualty Officer Lt; Maria Salcido Dedicates Herself to Making Grief of Families Easier to Bear
By Laura Cruz
El Paso Times
When Amalia Estrella- Soto first met Lt. Maria Salcido on March 23, 2003, she disliked her almost immediately because she knew a visit from an Army officer -- especially a casualty assistance officer -- wasn't a good sign.
"For a long time I was very frustrated with her because she said she didn't know anything and I didn't believe her, but I began to realize she was being truthful," recalled Estrella-Soto, whose son Pvt. Ruben Estrella-Soto was killed in the ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company in Iraq. "In the end, I became endeared with her. I will never forget her kindness."
Salcido, who is the executive officer for Fort Bliss' Headquarters, Headquarters Battery, was a casualty assistance officer for the Estrella-Soto family and for the Rubalcava family, who lost their daughter, Sgt. Isela Rubalcava, May 8 in a mortar attack in Iraq.
"Normally, I sit in a (military) van and track aircraft and missiles in the sky and identify if they are friend or foe," said the 28-year-old soldier, whose primary duty is to be a tactical control officer. "I do that 10 percent of the time, and the rest of the time, I take care of my soldiers."
March 23, 2003, for the first time in her less than two-year military career, Salcido was sent by her unit to perform a duty few soldiers are asked to do: notify a family member that his or her soldier is missing, or worse, killed in action.
"We're tasked out to do other duties, like investigative officer or report surveys, but for me the most important one of all is that of a casualty assistance officer," said Salcido, who also helped the families arrange the funerals and answered the family's questions. Salcido, originally from East Los Angeles, said that the job was emotionally draining but that she knew she had to remain professional.
"I was thinking, 'This is my job.' Remembering, 'I'm in the Army and I'm representing the United States Army,' " she said. "I had to remember that at all times. 'I can't get emotional. I can't get personal with this family.' "
Salcido acknowledged that she's a "very emotional person, but I could not cry. I was emotionless, but it didn't mean that I didn't feel their pain as I watched the families break down," she said. "I don't think just anyone can be thrown into the task. It's a lot of work. You have to be careful. You just have to remember you're there for them."
Maria Isela Rubalcava, Sgt. Rubalcava's mother, said Salcido was there for the family at every moment, like a rock. "She was very strong. I never saw her cry, but someone told me they did see her cry," Maria Isela Rubalcava said. "She wiped her tears very quickly so no one would see her. She is human."
Salcido said, "The death of any soldier is sad for me. Sergeant Rubalcava was the first female soldier in El Paso to die, and I felt it especially painfully because she was a female," she said. "You hear every day of soldiers passing on, but there aren't a lot of females."
The Rev. Manny Marrufo, who accompanied Salcido during both duties serving as the military's chaplain, said Salcido displayed a unique quality that inspired the families to trust her, especially the mothers. "They always wanted her by their side," said Marrufo, who is a civilian priest hired by the Army to serve soldiers. "Salcido got to know more of the family members than I did because I concentrated on the parents," said Marrufo, who was a chaplain in the Army and the Army Reserve for 11 years beginning in 1982. "She's not there to deal with the grief or consolation. Her role was to represent the care of the Army in the death of a soldier."
Amalia Estrella-Soto said Salcido spent a great deal of time with the family. "She was very kind to us. She tried to help me understand the situation, but I couldn't. She tried to understand me," she recalled. "She came almost every day just to be around. And if she couldn't come, she would call and leave me a number where she could be reached."
Ruben Estrella, Ruben Estrella-Soto's father, said he was amazed by Salcido's patience. "We pressured her a lot, but she was very patient with us," he said. "She never showed her frustration. We would get angry with her, but she always behaved well. She gave us a lot of support."
Here are four stories about unsung heroes back home showing their support for the troops in unique and meaningul ways
High School Students Send Letters to US Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan
Aaron Lopez doesn't know anyone fighting in the U.S. armed forces. But Lopez, 15, believes it's important for the soldiers to hear from students at home. The Springdale High School sophomore was one of 140 students in Tx Trumbo's American history classes to write letters to soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. Lopez said he wrote his letter "so they have hope and they feel better."
This is the second year Trumbo has required his students to write letters to troops. Most of his students speak a language other than English and come from different cultures, such as Latin America, the Marshall Islands or India.
"It's just a good thing to do, I think, for any kids in high school," Trumbo said. "These kids did as well as I could have hoped --very caring."
In the classroom decorated with local newspaper clippings of the battles in Afghanistan and Iraq, the students sat Wednesday, penning their thoughts. The husband of another SHS teacher will send them overseas to troops, Trumbo said. Senior Arely Vizueth, 19, drew a heart on her letter, with the words "We miss you" inscribed across it. She wanted the troops to know Hispanic people support them.
"We are too (also) human," she said. "We want to fight for the United States against terrorism."
In their letter, Vizueth and a friend wrote, "Please be careful. Remember that always be someone waiting for you."
Trumbo said some of his students have friends or family members serving in the war against terrorism. Others might be thinking about joining the armed forces. A Marshallese student, who signed his letter "Scotty," wrote to the soldiers he will join the Army when he turns 18.
The classes aren't talking about the reasons for war. "It's just about supporting the young men and women" who are fighting, Trumbo said. The exercise also helps the people studying English as a second language learn about the political nature of the United States, their teacher said. "It makes them feel connected to the American culture," he said. "They have two cultures ... and I think it makes them feel connected to both."
No. Dakota Town Donates the Perfect Desert Treat to Iraq Troops: Beef Jerky
The Beef for the Troops project, launched in May, is providing kippered beef strips, called Sweet Beef Sticks, to more than 900 Nebraska servicemen and women overseas. "You would be surprised at how much the soldiers enjoyed the treat," serviceman Donald F. Buettner wrote from Kosovo.Maddux originally developed the kippered beef strips, that are produced and packaged at Top Cut's USDA plant in North Platte, as an item to be sold through Cabela's. The vacuum-packaged meat doesn't require refrigeration."
Kentucky Quilters Donate Hand-made Comforters to Wounded Soldiers
Some Lexington-area quilters are going to be quilting their fingers to the bone this weekend for U.S. soldiers who have been wounded in Iraq.The owners and staff of the Corner Quilt Shop, along with some volunteers, will be working at the Patchen Drive shop all day Friday and Saturday and into the wee hours Sunday to make quilts that will be presented to wounded troops returning home from Iraq.
Pat Farrell and Teresa Fritz, who own the shop, said they are looking for volunteers to help make the quilts, provide materials or donate money for the project, which is called Sew for the Soldiers.It's all part of a national effort organized by the Quilters Guild of Southern Maryland, which is asking quilt shops and quilters around the country to make quilts for wounded soldiers who are returning to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland at the rate of about 30 a day. "They want to be able to put a quilt on every injured soldier as they come off the plane, and they need help," Farrell said. "The goal here at our shop is to complete 50 quilts over the course of the weekend."
Contractors Donates Modifications needed in Homes of Disabled Vets
John Gonsalves is president and founder of Homes For Our Troops, a nonprofit organization that plans to build and adapt homes to meet the physical needs of severely injured soldiers. He had been watching news reports of soldiers injured in Iraq, and one story focused on a soldier who lost both of his legs in an attack.
"I asked myself what I could do," he told CONTRACTOR. "Since I'm a licensed construction supervisor and have been in the trade for 20 years, I felt the best thing I could contribute would relate to housing needs, to build adapted homes or to help adapt existing homes."
Gonsalves assumed that an organization for this purpose already existed.He did an Internet search to find one, so he could donate his time. When he found that nothing existed, he decided to create one. "I realized that, if I hadn't made the effort to start this, I would have been haunted the rest of my life with the question, 'What if?'" he said.
The idea for Homes For Our Troops was launched about a year ago. The organization was formally incorporated in February and received nonprofit, tax-exempt status. It received its registration with the Division of Charities in March, Gonsalves said. "I feel very fortunate that I was able to get two of the largest law firms in the U.S. on board with us, pro bono, to help with all of this work," he added.
Now for a painful contrast to good folks helping out....
OFFICERS AND LEADERS BEHAVING BADLY
Pentagon Censors and Suppresses Soldiers' Blogs
Unless you guys and gals in Iraq want to start up blogs devoted to exchanging recipes or presenting little stories that gush about how great life in Baghdad is, you'd better be careful: Big Brother is watching! NPR Reports: " Military officials are cracking down on blogs written by soldiers and Marines in Iraq, saying some of them reveal sensitive information. Critics say it's an attempt to suppress unflattering truths about the U.S. occupation. A blogger with the pen name CBFTW, stationed near Mosul with the First Battallion, 23rd Regiment, says he began his My War Web log to help combat boredom. "I'm just writing about my experiences," the soldier says. "I'm pretty much putting my diary on the Internet -- that's all it is."
CBFTW says he has avoided describing sensitive information, such as U.S. weapons capabilities, weaknesses and scheduling. But earlier this month, CBFTW was lectured by commanders about violating operational security. Two other popular blogs run by soldiers have been shut down recently.
Lt. Col. Paul Hastings, a spokesman for unit CBFTW belongs to, said the soldier's blog now has to be reviewed by his platoon sergeant and a superior officer." And of course we ALL know what that means! CBFTW may as well start just posting recipes and tips for getting those grease stains out of your cammies, because anything more meaningul will be chopped as "too sensitive."
Rumsfeld's Office Forced to Admit it DID Have dealings with Afghanistan 'Rogue Bounty Hunter'
BBC: "The US Department of Defense has admitted having contact with a former US soldier, Jonathan Idema, charged in Afghanistan with torturing civilians. "One name [Idema] mentioned was Heather Anderson, the Pentagon's Acting Director of Security, who answers to the chief official responsible for intelligence matters in the office of Donald Rumsfeld. Idema said Ms Anderson had applauded their work in Afghanistan and had wanted them to go on contract." First the Pentagon said they never had contact with Idema. Now it is admitted that Anderson did speak with Idema by phone earlier this year but that they turned him down, despite his repeated calls, faxes, and emails to Rummy's office. Idema's lawyer pointed out the obvious hole in this story: If Rummy's office had rebuffed Idema, why did they keep taking his phone calls? Meanwhile, lower-level soldiers continue to take nearly all the heat for the torture scandal
Swift boat smear widens - includes cast of liars, thugs, and GOP operatives
The Kerry campaign has tracked down not just one or two tentacles connecting Bush and the Swift Boat Phonies, they've found a veritable octopus! "Karl Rove, Ken Cordier, Benjamin Ginsberg, Harlan Crow, Bob Perry, Kady Bailey Hutchinson, John O'Neill, Merrie Spaeth, Tex Lezar, Harriet O'Neill, Margaret Wilson, the Bush-Cheney campaign HQ in FLA, the Minnesota RNC, the DCI Group, Charles Francis, Tom Synhorst, and Chris Lacivita. All were involved in the Swift Boat smear Campaign and ALL have strong ties to Bush and/or the Bush campaign. So where's the "60 Minutes," "Front Line," "Date Line," or "48 Hours" expose? If this story doesn't make it onto at least one of these shows, it is proof positive that the networks are "owned" by Bush.
Guys in Veterans Hospitals may be Blocked from Voting
Scott Rafferty registered voters at V.A. centers in CA, but "On April 15, 2004, Rafferty returned to the Menlo Park campus, accompanied by Steve Preminger, Chairman of the Santa Clara County Democrats. After Preminger asked permission to register patients, VA officials ordered Preminger to leave, but then two armed policemen detained him charging that official county voter registration forms Preminger carried were 'handbills' and that carrying them constituted a 'misdemeanor.' Bill Ball, VA Press Officer, claimed Preminger's 'Kerry button,' justified detention. Preminger denies wearing any button or having made any statements to patients. The VA admits Preminger's detention was based on his status as Democratic Party Chairman; he remains banned for VA facilities solely for this reason. 'The stakes are tremendous' says Preminger, 'If the federal government can deny the potential to vote to certain citizens, then our very constitutional framework as a nation is undermined.'"
Now check this "follow up" story out:
How far will the Bush Admin. Go to Keep Vets from Voting?
We find it more than a little suspicious that WITHIN 48 HOURS of the news hitting that the Bush administration has been trying to find ways to suppresses voter registration in VA hospitals that the lastest "terrorist threat" for which "there is no credible evidence" claims Al Qaeda plans to target VA hospitals! How very convenient. Now anyone trying to get into the hospitals to register voters can be blockd - Homeland Security, ya know! In the past year or two, the Bush admin. has also tried to block DAV reps from getting into VA hospitals to advise vets of their benefits. A high percentage of newly returned wounded vets in VA hospitals are determined to vote for John Kerry. So does it come as any surprise that extreme measures are being taken to block the vote? See also http://www.votingrightsfund.org/
BITS AND PIECES:
Akron Playground Named for Army National Guard Sergeant Killed in Iraq
He once was a little boy who ran on the playground at Sts. Philip and James Elementary School. Michael Barkey spent his youth on the playground at the Roman Catholic school. In July, after the 22-year-old Ohio Army National Guard sergeant was killed in a truck accident in Iraq, he was buried with full military honors in the church cemetery, near where the play- ground used to be.
On Thursday, the school's new playground was named for Sgt. Barkey, and following the dedication, a new generation of boys and girls ran and laughed and had fun there.Holding a photograph of her son, Julie Barkey told the children who gathered outside at mid-afternoon that Michael loved recess and playing on the playground the most. There were two things he loved, she said: Food and fun.
``He thought the best thing about school was recess,'' she said. The children laughed.
Earlier in the ceremony, the Rev. John Warner, the church pastor, sprinkled holy water on the playground. He prayed that ``holy angels'' protect and keep the children safe from injury, he said.Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northeast Ohio provided $8,000 of the $30,000 cost of the new playground.
Mrs. Barkey told the children that her son liked to make people laugh. ``He wasn't a perfect kid and was ornery,'' she said.But her son always did the right thing and told the truth and ``stood up for the little guy.''
Fliers in So. Pacific go into Mourning as F-14s are Retired from Action
By Greg Tyler
Stars and Stripes
" The U.S. Navy's meanest, fastest and most agile fighter jet, nearing retirement, is deployed in the western Pacific Ocean for the last time.The Grumman F-14, which entered military service in 1972, also is a movie star. At least for aviation aficionados, it upstaged actors including Tom Cruise in the film "Top Gun."
Pilots flying the F-14s are from Fighter Squadron Three One, or VF-31, from Virginia Beach, Va. The VF-31 Tomcatters, also known as the "Felix the Cat" squadron, now are embarked on the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.The ship and squadron already have taken part in Summer Pulse and Rim of the Pacific . They left Sasebo Wednesday for PASEX, an upcoming communications exercise with other nations in the region, said Stennis spokesman Lt. Corey Barker.
After this summer, the Tomcatters are to deploy once more from the U.S. East Coast, then head to the great aircraft retirement home in the desert, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Ariz."It's still the best fighter jet in the world," said Lt. Andrew McLean, a VF-31 Tomcatter with three years' experience at the F-14 controls
Romeo and Juliet with a Happy Ending? Marine Marries Iraqi Woman Het Fell for In Baghdad
AP: "A Washington state soldier has married the Iraqi woman he met and fell in love with while in Baghdad. Robert Hall, 23, says he knew within a month that he would marry Vivian Mansour, 21, of Baghdad, even though at first neither spoke a word of each other's language. Hall, an Army reservist who earned a Bronze Star for meritorious service during his one-year tour, said he's never been happier. The two were married here Saturday.
"I never in my life saw this coming," he said.
Hall was with the 402nd Civil Affairs Battalion, which set up camp inside the Baghdad palace complex. The battalion worked closely with Iraqis, helping to resolve infrastructure problems and clear weapons caches. He met Mansour - and her mother and sister - when they were hired as cleaning women.
"Every time she came over, I kind of followed her and watched her clean," Hall said.
"Yes, everywhere," Mansour recalled, laughing.
He met with his unit's attorney to make sure the interactions were legal. The couple met in open settings when Hall was off duty. "I made sure every step of the way I wasn't doing anything illegal," Hall said. "I wouldn't suggest having a relationship over there at all. It makes it that much harder. But I find myself blessed for what happened."
CONGRATULATIONS to the Halls!
Pentagon's BE SAFE Campaign Signs Recording Artist Mark Schultz
Word Records recording artist Mark Schultz performed "Letters from War" and other songs at the Pentagon Courtyard Aug. 25 to highlight the Army's "Be Safe!" campaign.
Schultz partnered with the U.S. Army Safety Center earlier this year and donated his song "Letters from War" is part of the Army's effort of reducing accidental deaths by 50 percent by October 2005.
Every 32 hours the Army loses a Soldier to an accidental death, [!!!!!]according to officials. The "Be Safe" program educates soldiers about potential hazards, emphasizing those connected with operating motor vehicles. The program also informs the general public about the need to help Soldiers be safe.
"Letters from War," from Schultz's current album " Stories & Songs," is about a Soldier safely returning home from war. His great-grandmother's diaries of her three sons who fought in World War II, was the inspiration for the song.
Speaking of Accident-proneness: Heat increases Risk of Errors
One Accidental death every 32 hours (cited in the article above) is pretty scary. But even worse is the finding of recent studies that accident proneness increases at temperatures over 77 and keeps going up as the temperature rises. So anyone in Afghanistan or Baghdad right about now would do best to assumed that they are "walking accident risk" and adjust their strategy accordingly. Add alcohol to the mix and, euphemistically speaking, all ya need is a match! Oldtimes in AA used to give this advice to keep people out of trouble - and it works for everything, not just staying away from a drink: THINK, THINK, THINK! Even if you have to slow down: better to act more like Forest Gump and less like Rambo than to become a statistic.
Speaking of Heat....
Bleach Can Keep Problem of 'Summer Complaint' down
In hot weather under sub-optimal sanitation conditions, there is bound to be a bumper crop of microscopic "fauna" growing on everything from table tops to helmets. This explosion of microbe life is what used to lead to the annual problem in southern US states known as "summer complaint" (intestinal ailments usually involving frequent frantic sprints to the outhouse). Where water is scarce for clean up, a good thing to keep around is old-fashioned household bleach. Many veterinarians and others working where microbes proliferation is a chronic problem swear by the stuff. Wiping down surfaces with even a tiny amount of straight bleach or dabbing with a cloth soaked in a diluted water-bleach solution or, if you're really ambitious, hauling out a bucket and mop and gettin' down with some serious deck swabbing will help.
Bush Steals Air Force One and Goes into Hiding After Texas Air National Guard Recalls Him to Active Duty (spoof)
FBI Busts Sleeper Cell of Al Qaeda Operatives Disquised as Nuns
Swift Pull Dentists For Truth Dispute Bush Accounts Of Vietnam-era Fillings
Spoof Horoscope for August 28