Soldier Stories

You wrote: Battle of the Bulge color photographs and more…

2 hours ago
OMG, thanks for the link. Just awesome.

Second Lieutenant Walter Tull was the first black British Army officer

Life on the front lines: Extremely rare colour photos of U.S. troops before and after D-Day show World War II in brand new light

Dining out: American troops eat a meal set on top of boxes of ammunition amid preparation for the D-Day invasion of France

Vivid: The full-colour photographs show American forces in the days leading up to the historic Normandy invasion, nearly 70 years ago

An African-American soldier stacks gas cans

Prisoners: American troops stand guard behind German soldiers captured near the town of Le Gast during the Normandy invasion

Maintenance: A crew works on an American fighter plane in a makeshift airfield in the countryside following the invasion

Glory: French women and a little girl pose with a group of American troops shortly after they forced German soldiers out of the area

Jean d’Arc

’s 600th birthday

‘If you’re reading this…’ The heartbreaking collection of last letters to loved ones from soldiers who never came home

Battle scars: Eugene Courtright, who was killed during World War II in 1945, told his father ‘I didn’t quit without a fight’, while , who perished in the American Civil War in 1861, told his wife his love for her was ‘deathless’

Icy: An American Sherman M4 tank moves past another gun carriage that slid off icy road in the Ardennes Forest during push to halt advancing German troops.

Holding out: American troops man the trenches along a snowy hedgerow in the northern Ardennes Forest during the Battle of the Bulge.

The Seventh Armored Division trudge through snow in a bombed-out Belgian village in 1945.

Wreckage: This German plane was shot down by Allied guns and was found lying in snowy field.

American soldiers of the 1st Army huddle around campfire in the snowy countryside of northern Ardennes Forest during lull in the Battle of the Bulge.

January 1945: Hard going for US tanks at Amonines, Belgium, on the northern flank of the Battle of the Bulge.

Exhausted: An American soldier, just back from the front lines near the town of Murrigen, shows signs of fatigue January 1, 1945

U.S. Prisoner ’s Failed Attempt to Escape From Taliban
Dec 7, 2011 4:45 AM EST

In exclusive interviews, Afghan insurgents reveal how Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, imprisoned by the Taliban in Pakistan since 2009, made a bold bid for freedom—but was quickly recaptured.

He is believed to be the only American soldier held in captivity by the Taliban—and about three months ago he made a daring break for freedom.

One night in late August or early September, 25-year-old Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, jumped from a first-floor window of the mud-brick house in Pakistan in which he had been imprisoned and headed into the nearby underbrush and forested mountains, according to three reliable militant sources who got the story from fighters who were present during the prisoner’s attempted escape. They spoke exclusively to the Daily Beast.

Bergdahl has been in militant hands since June 30, 2009, when he was captured in Afghanistan’s Paktika province by a guerrilla force under Mullah Sangin, a senior commander in the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network. In a July 2009 video, the first of five videos that the militants have released, Bergdahl is sitting cross-legged on a blanket, with a glass mug in front of him. He explains that he was captured after falling behind on a foot patrol with his unit: the First Battalion, 501 Infantry Regiment, Fourth Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. As he talks he stops several times so he can choke back tears.

“Well, I’m scared,” he says. “It’s very unnerving to be a prisoner.”

In an interview this month near the Afghan city of Khost, an area under heavy Haqqani influence, Hafiz Hanif, a young Afghan militant who was featured in  a Newsweek cover story on Al Qaeda last year and whose information has proved reliable in the past, told The Daily Beast what he had seen and heard of Bergdahl’s life—and his escape.

Hanif first spotted Bergdahl last June. It was on a high mountain trail in North Waziristan, on the isolated frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The young jihadist, then a 17-year-old fighter with the remnants of Al Qaeda in Pakistan’s wild and militant-infested Shawal Valley area, didn’t take any notice at first of the man, who was walking along the stony path with a group of armed fighters from the notorious Haqqani Network. The man had a beard, and was dressed like the others in ordinary tribal clothing, a loose-fitting shalwar kameez. The only thing to set him apart was that he had no weapon. “That’s the American military prisoner,” a companion told Hafiz Hanif, pointing to the unarmed man.

Hanif saw Bergdahl again several months later, again in the Shawal Valley area. This time the American was in the back seat of a pickup truck, sandwiched between two armed fighters.

Hanif and two other Afghan Taliban fighters who have seen Bergdahl up close tell the Daily Beast that the U.S. soldier is in good health and has been cooperating with his captors. Over time he seemed so friendly and cooperative—even trying to learn Pashto, the language of his captors—that his jailers removed the restraints they had bound him with, especially at night, to prevent him from escaping. Early in the summer they began letting him move around rather freely outside. On occasion, Hanif says, the American was even allowed to carry an old, loaded rifle and join the guerrillas as they hunted birds and rabbits for food and sport in the mountains.

The militants miscalculated. Bergdahl took advantage of the lax conditions and ran.

Mullah Sangin and his brother Mullah Balal, who had been put in charge of the prisoner, organized a search as soon as the escape was discovered. Nevertheless, the sources say, Bergdahl successfully avoided capture for three days and two nights. The searchers finally found him, weak, exhausted, and nearly naked—he had spent three days without food or water—hiding in a shallow trench he had dug with his own hands and covered with leaves.

Even then, he put up a ferocious fight. The two gunmen who found him first were unable to subdue him. “He fought like a boxer,” Hanif was told. It took five more militants to overpower him. Now back in custody, he is kept shackled at night, and his jailers are taking no chances. They constantly move him from place to place, hoping to elude any U.S. efforts to find him, Hanif says. Another Afghan source says the American’s captors shuttle him back and forth across the border.

According to one Taliban source close to senior Haqqani commanders, Bergdahl told them after his recapture that he had hoped to find villagers who might shelter him and help get word of his whereabouts to U.S. officials. The mountain tribes’ code of honor, Pashtunwali, requires them to protect and care for any stranger who seeks their assistance. But it was no use: civilians had abandoned the area long ago, squeezed out by the militants’ ever-growing presence and the unrelenting danger of Predator drone strikes. Bergdahl could find no one to help him.

Still, the militants’ own fear of the drones could eventually work in Bergdahl’s favor. When he was first captured, the militants reportedly demanded $1 million in ransom for his return, together with the release of 21 senior Taliban prisoners and Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui. (The MIT-educated Siddiqui is currently serving an 86-year sentence in America for trying to kill U.S. soldiers while she was in police custody in Afghanistan.) But 18 months after Bergdahl’s capture, with the Predators more of a threat than ever, the militants may be ready to deal. “There’s a fear that a drone could hit the golden chicken,” says another Taliban source close to the Haqqanis, using a local idiom to express the prisoner’s value. He says the Haqqanis may now be looking for what he calls an “easier” deal, willing to accept less for his release than what they thought they could get when he was first captured. Meanwhile, however, Bergdahl and his family can only wait—and hope he’ll be home soon.

Col. Timothy Marsano, an Idaho National Guard public-affairs officer who acts as a media liaison for Bergdahl’s parents, Jani and Robert, said they declined to comment on the Daily Beast’s information about their son. “Obviously a mother wants to hear that her son is well,” Marsano said. He said she was proud to hear “that he fought off his captors,” and she was pleased to “know that he’s in good physical shape.”

Bob Prucha, deputy director for public affairs at U.S. Central Command, said in response to the Daily Beast’s information on Bergdahl: “It’s material I’ve never heard before … It’s been a long time since we’ve had any indication that he’s alive. We’re still looking for him. We’ve never ceased looking and working every intelligence angle we can come up with. We get a lead, we track it down.”

See also:

Idahoan’s Unlikely Journey to Life as a Taliban Prisoner

Robert and Jani Bergdahl’s son was captured in 2009.

From Viet Nam to Afghanistan: America’s oldest front line soldier is about to turn 60… and still wants to do another tour

Staff Sergeant is oldest of the 6,000 soldiers in the 25th Infantry Division in eastern Afghanistan
He served two tours of Vietnam
Re-enlisted in U.S. Army after 9/11

Fighting from the front lines: Sergeant Nicholas, who turns 60 this summer, will be ordered out of the battlefield due to age restrictions

Last updated at 3:09 PM on 23rd November 2011

A Vietnam War veteran and former Marine rifleman, it is fair to say U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Don Nicholas has served his country well in his 59 years.

In fact, despite his 60th birthday fast approaching, he remains on active duty in Afghanistan. And yet, his biggest fear isn’t spending another year on the front lines. To the contrary – it’s retirement.

Nicholas, who will be ordered out of the battlefield this summer due to age restrictions, is fighting to re-enlist so that he can remain a soldier as long as he’s physically and mentally able to fight.

The Ohio-based podiatrist was, however, accepted by the U.S. Army in 2004, and deployed to Afghanistan as part of an Army Reserves psychological-operations unit in Korengal Valley.

He returned home after duty, albeit breifly, and was sent to Iraq for 11 months. That tour was followed by a deployment this year to Kunar Province, along the Pakistan border in Afghanistan – where he serves on the front lines today.

Having served in three wars over 16 total years in service, the married father-of-two still feels a call to duty.

But he insists it’s not due to a gross obsession with war.

‘It’s really not a fascination with war itself,’ he told the Journal. ‘It’s more trying to keep people from getting killed. I’m taking the spot of some 19-year-old.’

Nevertheless, Pentagon regulations will require him to retire in July when he turns 60.

‘If I have my chance to stay in and complete my 20 years. I absolutely would,’ he said.

‘Probably would stay in a few more years after that if I could.’

Nicholas told the Journal he hopes to receive a commission in the Army medical branch which would allow him a chance to stay in the Army. He could also be eligible through the commission to complete another tour in Afghanistan.

Sunday December 25, 2011 3:16 AM

Can an act of human kindness change a life? I have had all day to think about this, and I am quite sure that it can.

My wife and I and our children picked up my son about a week ago at the airport. He is on leave from Fort Benning, Ga. We went to breakfast with him, his girlfriend and her family. There were 11 of us.

A gentleman approached our table and said hello to my son Zachary, the soldier, and said he appreciated what Zachary is doing for the country. He asked to pay for his meal. Zachary declined but thanked him. The man informed him it already was taken care of.

We were not prepared for what he said next. He told us his grandson had served and been killed in Iraq a few years ago. My wife began to cry, and I felt my own eyes well up with tears. I shook the man’s hand and thanked him and apologized for his loss. I sincerely felt his pain and anguish.

I did not catch the man’s name or the name of his grandson. I don’t know whether his grandson was married or where he grew up. I don’t know if he had brothers or sisters.

I do know that he made the ultimate sacrifice. His selfless sacrifice preserved for me the freedom to enjoy a holiday gathering with family and friends. For this I am eternally grateful.

I wish I knew more about this young man. I wish I knew all of the people who have given their lives during the past decade so that I can continue to live in the last free country on Earth. I wish they could enjoy time with their families this Christmas season.

As for the nice man at breakfast, he did pay for my son’s meal — and for the other 10 people in our party. I thank him for that. But more than that, I thank him for sharing the story about his grandson. He did not die in vain. He, along with the others and all of their families, are in my thoughts and prayers.

Doc wounded in Iraq speaks out about combat trauma

The Associated Press

MILWAUKEE – Dr. Ken Lee lives every day with reminders of a suicide car bombing: a crescent-shaped scar on his temple, thumbs that don’t work correctly, constant headaches, and legs and arms that always feel like they’re on fire.

The attack in Baghdad nearly killed the Wisconsin National Guard’s chief medical officer, leaving him with a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder so severe that the slightest provocation sent him into a furniture-smashing rage , even as he worked to diagnose and heal fellow veterans back home.

Lee eventually learned to live with his nightmares. Now as the last American troops leave Iraq, he’s using his unique experience , as a doctor, patient and combat veteran , to wage a new battle to call attention to the effects of combat trauma that will be with veterans for years to come.

“I can tell my son that his dad was right in the middle of it,” Lee said. “I was part of the process to make it better.”

Lee, 46, emigrated from South Korea with his family when he was a child. After graduating from medical school in Milwaukee, he became a physician in the Wisconsin National Guard and landed a job with the Department of Veterans Affairs, working as a spinal cord specialist in Milwaukee.

He had just been promoted to head of spinal cord treatment when he got the call in November 2003 to head to Iraq. He left his wife and two young children and shipped out in command of Company B of the 118th Medical Battalion.

Lee treated high-value U.S. prisoners that included Saddam Hussein. He visited the deposed dictator twice to treat a sore wrist. Lee described Hussein as an educated, pleasant man who spoke decent English , but probably understood more than he let on.

The worst moments came during the Fallujah offensive as exhausted medics tried to save badly wounded Marines.

“We’re seeing death in front of us,” he said. “We kept absorbing it until it wasn’t healthy. Some stopped eating. Some cried. I would lock myself in my room. I couldn’t get hold of this feeling of despair.”

Then, in September 2004, Lee made the mistake that changed his life.

He was leading a convoy when he spotted soldiers removing a bomb up ahead. Rather than speeding around them, Lee felt safe enough to stop the vehicles, climb out and help guard the rear.

Suddenly, he heard the screech of rubber on pavement. A Buick was bearing down on them. As Lee raised his rifle, the driver detonated his explosives. An orange ball of flame rolled toward him in slow motion and knocked him backward under a car.

When Lee came to, the world was red. His head was split open, and blood was pouring into his eyes. Medics performed life-saving surgery.

During months of rehabilitation back in Washington, he thought about how medical teams could better detect PTSD and traumatic brain injuries, the wounds that have defined the Iraq War. Lee offered ideas to a group at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, suggesting that screening begin as soon as the first symptoms appeared.

When he finally returned home, nothing felt right. He sat alone while his wife went to work and children went to school. For one miserable year, little things like the sound of one of his kids dropping a toy enraged him. He often retreated to the basement, where at one point he smashed the family’s extra dining set. He drank himself to sleep in hopes of blocking out nightmares.

But at work, he dealt with everyone else’s problems with a smile, and he excelled. He became the Wisconsin National Guard’s state surgeon in 2008.

At home, Lee was on the brink of divorce. One day, while playing with his 10-year-old daughter, she commented that he never smiled anymore. Lee cried.

“I just didn’t want to believe I had” PTSD, he said. “Nobody does.”

Since then, he has resolved to be happy. He started thinking of the day the bomb went off as his “alive day,” the day he didn’t die. He celebrated it with his family by going out to eat or doing some other fun activity. At work, he continued to spread the word about detecting PTSD and brain injuries.

The Defense Department estimates that nearly 213,000 military personnel have suffered traumatic brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2000.

An earlier report by the Rand Corp. estimated that 300,000 veterans of both conflicts suffered post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression. Less than half had sought treatment for PTSD over the preceding year, and nearly 60 percent of those reporting a probable brain injury weren’t evaluated by a physician for one.

Army protocol requires soldiers returning from overseas to undergo a health assessment when they get back and again after they’ve been home for several months. Lee took that a step further in Wisconsin, sending medical teams to demobilization points to check on returning units as soon as they hit the ground.

“When you come home, it’s hidden,” said Lee, bespectacled with dark hair mowed into a crew-cut.

“Why don’t we do all these guys when they come back, instead of doing it when they walk into your office?”

He’s also traveled the country lecturing on how combat trauma can be mental as well as physical, displaying photographs of his wounds and sharing his struggles.

As a spinal specialist, Lee doesn’t treat PTSD or brain injuries directly, but he’s earned a new level of respect from veterans. Many who aren’t even his patients seek him out to talk.

Gus Sorenson of Sturtevant, Wis., lost the use of his legs in a 1970 car crash just days after returning from Vietnam. He has seen Lee for years and noticed a change after the doctor returned from Iraq.

“I think the word is `empathy,’” Sorenson said. “He was the patient. That experience helped the learning process. Other vets can relate to that.”

Lee still can’t remember appointments unless he emails them to himself. He can walk, but he has almost no feeling in his legs except a constant burning. His thumbs don’t bend properly because the blast apparently jammed them against his rifle grips.

Sometimes he wakes up to find bloody spots on the sheets as tiny shards of shrapnel work their way out of his body. He’s worried that his kids are still terrified of him, and he still suffers from flashbacks and nightmares.

Even after the U.S. withdrawal is complete, the U.S. will spend decades dealing with psychologically scarred veterans, Lee said.

“We have a product that comes back from war,” he said. “We have to have a system to take care of it.”

Dec 21, 1:44 PM EST

From vets to moms, Iraq war leaves mark on town

AP National Writer

KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) — In a quiet park on the eastern edge of this auto manufacturing town, a gleaming ring of black granite walls and monuments stand in solemn tribute to the war dead. Hundreds of names are etched in stone, many of them long forgotten to history.

Not so the six newest additions: Brian M. Clemens. Robert L. McKinley. James E. Swain. Rickey E. Jones. Nathan J. Frigo. David N. Simmons.

Their smiles, their voices, their Little League games, their yearbook photos are fresh memories here to friends and family. Now the six — all of whom died in the Iraq war — are honored next to the walls on a granite monument inscribed with the words “Global War on Terror.”

This town of 45,000 is known for embracing the military, whether it’s memorializing its fallen heroes in the middle of the war, stretching Veterans Day into an eight-day tribute or flying POW-MIA flags outside the schools.

But now, in the wake of the departure of the last U.S. troops from Iraq, Kokomo joins hundreds of smaller towns across the nation that will be wrestling with the legacy of a nearly nine-year war that claimed nearly 4,500 American lives, wounded tens of thousands, and became one of the most politically divisive conflicts in U.S. History.

More than 1.5 million Americans served in a war that introduced the nation to new battlefields (Ramadi, Fallujah, Nasiriyah) and IEDs (improvised explosive devices), a conflict that lasted so long some soldiers at the end were elementary school students at the beginning.

In Kokomo — a town where the names of the war dead in Iraq and Afghanistan were read aloud last Veterans Day — there will be reverberations for years to come, from the churches and colleges to grieving mothers and a new generation of vets nervous about the troubled economy.

“What I worry about is once Americans forget about the war, they’re going to forget about the people who fought the war,” says Jason Vazquez, a 28-year-old Navy veteran of two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. “I never really understood it from the Vietnam guys but I can see it now: For the troops … the war is really never over.”


Howard County is dotted with memorials remembering veterans whose service spans three centuries.

They’re stone and brass, grand and modest, indoor and outdoor. They commemorate the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. And a group of vets hopes to add to that: It’s trying to raise more than $300,000 for a new memorial honoring military families.

There are individual tributes, too. After James Swain, a 2002 Kokomo High School graduate, honors student and statistician for the girls basketball team, was killed in Fallujah at the age of 20, a scholarship was established in his name.

In this central Indiana county where veterans make up about 9 percent of the population, almost everyone has a neighbor, acquaintance or relative who has donned a military uniform.

Bob Ladd, the county’s veterans service officer, knows many of them. His office caseload of about 3,500 includes about 1,000 vets from the 9/11 generation, many of whom are dealing with traumatic brain injury, hearing loss or PTSD.

He hears the stories of young warriors who’ve returned home, scared to drive, haunted by IEDs hidden on roads in Iraq, or so wary of crowds, they shop deep into the night.

“They’re still kids,” says Ladd, a Desert Storm vet. “You’re going from high school to a combat zone. I believe the military does mature a person but when you see what they have and then you’re trying to readjust when you’re 21, 22, it’s tough.”

So tough that some have taken desperate measures. Ladd says he knows of five young vets in the county who attempted suicide over the last year — one ended in death.

Ladd’s office tries to smooth the way for these newest vets, helping them navigate the bureaucratic maze to apply for benefits, get counseling, if needed, and take advantage of the Post 9/11 GI bill to attend school.

“They definitely earned it and they deserve it,” he says, “and their lives will be better.”

Patrick McCrumb, a Marine Corps reservist who served in Iraq and Afghanistan before returning in 2010, is still adjusting. It hasn’t been easy.

At first, he says, “people try to tiptoe around you to avoid talking about what you did the last year of your life. No one wants to dive in the pool.”

Even now, he’s not sure where he belongs. “When you’re there, the only place you want to be is back home and when you’re home, the only place you want to be is back there,” he says. “I still feel that way sometimes.”

McCrumb, now a 25-year-old divorced father, found work in a steel factory in 2010, but almost lost his left leg in a machine accident, sidelining him for a year.

He had joined the Marines to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. But McCrumb also had been inspired to serve after the death of Rickey Jones, his boyhood friend, Little League teammate and a guy, he says, was “the life of every party.”

Nearly six years have passed since Jones’ death, but McCrumb thinks of him often. Every now and then, he puts on his Marine dress blues and visits his grave, bringing a beer.

“When I go to the cemetery,” he says, “it’s just me and him. That’s it.”


Like his friend, McCrumb, Jason Vazquez is a third-generation military man.

Two weeks out of high school in 2002 and motivated by the Sept. 11 attacks, Vazquez was in boot camp at Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois.

Seven years later, the 28-year-old father was home, trying to find his footing as a civilian in a nation reeling from a recession and a town devastated by an auto industry in steep decline. As home to both Chrysler and General Motors, Kokomo was hemorrhaging jobs. Unemployment briefly rocketed to around 20 percent.

Since then, the community has rebounded with the auto bailout and $1.4 billion in investments in Kokomo in the last 18 months, much of it from Chrysler. But with the jobless rate hovering at about 10 percent, it’s still hard to find work for vets such as Vazquez, who has devoted most of his adult life to the military.

As a Navy corpsman who treated wounded troops, Vazquez had thrived in the pressure cooker of war. But back in Indiana, that experience wasn’t good enough to land a job as a firefighter, emergency medical technician, ambulance crew member or lab specialist drawing blood.

“I thought that I was worthless,” he says. “I felt like no one wanted me anymore after the military.”

It was especially crushing considering his quick decisions and medical skills had helped save lives on the battlefield.

“I had a guy whose leg was blown up and he’s grabbing me, saying, ‘Doc, make sure I get home.’ Or a guy who’s burned saying, ‘Doc, I have trust in you that I’ll make it. I know you can do it,’” he recalls. “I’d gone from that to people saying you don’t have the credentials to put a Band-Aid on someone.”

Vazquez had always expected his service would be a plus.

“I had the assumption that it’s a steppingstone, that I’ll be financially set, I’ll have training and then I can get a job like that,” he says, snapping his fingers. “That’s everything I’d heard in high school — ‘You go into the military and when you come out people are going to respect you so much more. They’ll put you first in line.’ None of that’s true.”

The public, he adds, is “happy to shake your hand and say, ‘Thank you’ … but when it comes to them actually doing something for us … it stops. If it takes them putting us ahead of somebody who has had college, they’re not going to do that to give us a job.”

Vazquez’s predicament isn’t unusual. About 11 percent of veterans who served in the military since Sept. 11, 2001, are unemployed, according to recent federal statistics. Last month, President Barack Obama signed into law a measure that creates tax breaks for companies that hire jobless veterans.

Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight is sympathetic.

“I think it’s a shame we ask people to go out and put their lives on the line and when they come back, not only are there very limited opportunities for the majority of them … but the debt to pay for the war will fall on their shoulders as well,” he says.

Goodnight presided at a City Hall ceremony last month kicking off the annual Military Appreciation Days, an eight-day local observance in which about 70 businesses offered free or discounted services to military members and their families.

Vazquez attended the ceremony and organized a six-mile march to honor fallen Iraq and fallen Afghanistan troops, walking to the Golden Corral restaurant, where 1,140 free meals were served to members of the military. Manager Rick Riddle started the special citywide tribute three years ago.

Vazquez eventually did find work at the Howard County Veterans Service office, helping vets with paperwork and advising then about services.

He was recruited by Ladd, the head of the office. Vazquez had come in to discuss benefits, but talk eventually turned to his post-traumatic stress, including nightmares and anger problems so severe, he says, “I would yell at my 6-year-old daughter like she was one of my Marines.”

Ladd encouraged him to seek help. “‘I want you to ask for it now, rather than 20 years from now so you can have a productive life with your family,’” he told him.

Vazquez received counseling and now attends Ivy Tech Community College, where he’s studying to be a nurse anesthetist. He’s considering joining the Air Force Reserve and though he says he lives paycheck to paycheck, he recently turned down a lucrative security job with a contractor that would dispatched him to hot spots overseas.

“My wife says, ‘Money’s not everything. You’re home with us, that’s what make me happy,’” he explains.

Vazquez is building a future in Kokomo, but the past isn’t completely the past.

“I can still remember the smells, the anxiety I had, the kids — and the heat. I can still feel the heat and the sun and the sweat running down my back,” he says. “The memories are so strong, they’ll never go away.”

Still, Vasquez says he’d love to go to Iraq one day with his wife and daughter and hopes it’ll become a thriving nation, like another country where America fought — Vietnam.

“I think it would bring some peace,” he says, “knowing that my friends didn’t die in vain.”

Teri Rose hopes to visit Iraq, too — the land where her son was killed.

It’s part of what she calls her “strange bucket list” — an addition born of tragedy after David N. Simmons, known to all as Neil, was killed Easter Sunday 2007, just weeks after he had been deployed to Iraq. He was 20. The roadside bomb also claimed two other soldiers.

“I want to walk in the sand where Neil lost his life,” his mother says. “I want to see the culture. I want to know what he went there for. I want to know what all of them went there for and what they experienced. … If I can board a plane and do that, that means they (the Iraqis) have progressed without us. And I think that would be incredible.”

When her son’s funeral was held nearly five years ago, townspeople lined the road from the church to the grave site. The fire department hoisted an enormous American flag at the intersection along the way. As comforting as that was, the agony of losing her youngest son was so unbearable she considered suicide.

“There’s no way to describe the pain … it feels like someone’s reached inside you and just pulled everything out,” Rose says.

Even seeing others in uniform while traveling through the Atlanta airport was an ordeal. Normally, she says, she’d thank them, but she didn’t “because I was so afraid that they would see in me that I’d lost my son … and it would put fear in them.”

As the war continued, every new death was a stinging reminder of “those words being spoken to you — your child has been killed. You know what that family is going through,” Rose says. “You just start to relive it all over again. It’s been a very slow process.”

Rose says she finally found peace after about two years.

This fall, the Gold Star mother gave her first public speech when a traveling military exhibit — featuring a replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall — came to Kokomo. She and her daughter joined the march honoring the fallen Afghanistan and Iraq troops.

And she was comforted recently watching the president welcome Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. “The closer it comes to an end,” she says, “the more healing it is.”

Rose still wonders sometimes what her son would have been like had he returned. “Neil was a very tender-hearted kind of guy and after hearing some of the stories of events that happened and things that these guys have witnessed,” she says, “I think Neil would be trying to heal for the rest of his life.”

But Rose also says if she had to do it again, she would have never discouraged him from joining the Army.

“It all goes back to my faith,” she says. “My pastor always says, ‘Remember the end of the story.’ The end of the story is Neil is in heaven. My son is in heaven.”


Pastor Jeff Harlow knew Teri Rose’s son from the time Neil was born.

The little boy Harlow remembers as a ball of energy was honored by the pastor at his 2007 funeral as “a soldier at heart” from the time he was 5, a hero who “got to go to heaven in a Bradley fighting machine.”

In Kokomo, as in other towns, the church is a gathering spot for celebration and mourning. And twice during the Iraq war, Crossroads Community Church bid farewell to local boys — Simmons and Rickey Jones.

As senior pastor, Harlow works to constantly remind his 3,000-member congregation of the sacrifices of everyone in uniform. His church’s weekly bulletin lists the names of all active duty troops and those deployed.

“We don’t decide if and when we go to war,” he says. “But these are our families, our friends, our kids that are in harm’s way. And we’re going to support them in any way we can.”

Harlow had his own personal link to Iraq and Afghanistan. Two nephews served; one who was deployed five times suffered a concussion in a bomb blast.

The wars, he says, remind him of a London visit when a guide pointed out buildings with pock marks and mismatched bricks, telltale reminders of the massive bombing the city suffered during World War II.

There is no rubble here, and yet, Harlow says, the “shots fired on the other side of the planet still hit our homes. …. Kokomo didn’t simply watch the newscasts and read the stories about the war; the cameras came here, the stories were aboutus.”

The war, he says, left scars no one will ever see.

“How do you measure the loss of not being there when your child is born?” he asks. “How do you measure the loss of a teen going through tough times and a parent not being there? … If you’re gone for two years … even if you come back healthy, there are the Christmases that your children woke up without their mom or dad. They’ll never get those back.”
Harlow pauses, then adds:

“I know the next time war is declared and soldiers are sent off, there may be a Teri Rose in the making … not everyone comes back. It happened before and it can happen again. …There is a price to war. You just always hope that it’s worth it.”

‘It was him or me. I chose me’: Extraordinary story of woman medic who became the first British female to kill a fighter in Taliban ambush

Last updated at 9:56 AM on 4th December 2011

A woman medic has become the first female front-line British soldier known to have killed an enemy fighter in combat.

Chantelle Taylor has described the terrifying moment when – as a sergeant in the Royal Army Medical Corps – she had to choose whether to shoot a Taliban gunman or be shot herself.

She says: ‘Faced with the choice of him or me, I chose me.’

It was the first time the 32-year-old medic, who was sent to the war zone to save lives, had fired her standard issue SA80 assault rifle at another person.

Female soldiers in the British Army are officially not allowed to fight on the front line in battle and are banned from serving in infantry units whose job is to ‘close with and kill’ the enemy.

The group is listening intently. They all know the importance of what is being said, if they are to stand any chance of surviving a blast in Helmand province. It is early 2008 and I have been selected to oversee haemorrhage-control training for 16 Air Assault Brigade before its deployment to southern Afghanistan. This means making sure that guys on the ground know how to stop bleeding.

It doesn’t take long before I notice my own Squadron Sergeant Major chuckling to himself. Suddenly the penny drops and I recognise one seemingly familiar face in the group. As my talk finishes, this now very familiar guest approaches me and I don’t know whether to salute him or curtsy. I can feel the burn of my reddening cheeks. Pausing for a moment and taking hold of his outstretched hand I introduce myself to Prince William.

‘Thanks for that, it was very informative,’ he says.

The future head of our Armed Forces continues to discuss the hazards that accompany the applications of tourniquets and dressings and thanks me again before moving off. And I take a moment to think about the situation.

Much had changed for me, the girl who had left a council estate 11 years earlier. I am Sergeant Chantelle Taylor, a 32-year-old Combat Medical Technician, serving in support of the British Army’s 16 Air Assault Brigade. A force of paratroopers, air assault infantry soldiers and a host of specialist units from engineers to medics who go to war by helicopter, transport plane and parachute.

Enlisting in April 1998 at the rank of Private, I have experienced active service in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan. I often think that this life less ordinary offered me the direction that I lacked growing up. I was able to benefit from further education and rose through the ranks.
My development as a soldier was to peak during this coming tour of Helmand: I am to be the lead medic attached to B Company (5 SCOTS), The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. A band of brothers under siege.

Terrifying account: Army medic Chantelle Taylor pictured in Afghanistan where she was caught in a Taliban ambush

The operation is set for several days. At first, we stay in the open desert outside the town of Marjah to report on activity. Marjah has been identified as a haven for insurgents intent on the cultivation of poppies.

At night we use the desert as a makeshift base. It provides clear 360-degree arcs of fire, so an all-round defence stance is adopted. During dark hours the general routine is to rest around our vehicles, eat our scoff and wait for sunrise. During the hottest part of the day we try to find shade.

The coolest place is down beside one of the Land Rover wheels; I manage to squeeze my 5ft 8in frame into that tiny shadow.

Orders come that we are to probe the centre of Marjah. The situation is not at all positive. As we turn on to one of the tracks that leads to a canal, I can see villagers running – and they are running away. 

My legs feel like jelly and I now want something to happen just so I can feel or think about something else.

Boom! Boom! Two deafening explosions are followed by small arms fire and heavy machine guns. The first explosion rocks the vehicle, smashing my head against the front of the wagon. An airburst of incoming rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) rains debris and shrapnel around us.

Our lightly armoured convoy has turned into a Taliban shooting gallery. Our heavy machine guns open fire as broken brick and clouds of dust envelope us.

Our Land Rover, the second vehicle, is taking heavy fire. Looking up through the hatch I can see rounds pinging from left to right, apparently from enemy on my side. I hear someone shout: ‘Get some f****** rounds down!’

Rounds are pinging off the top of our vehicle and I see them zip through the antenna above me.

Within seconds the mounted guns on our open-top Weapons Mounted Installation Kit (WMIK) vehicles roar into action. The sound is unbelievable.

I pop back up and immediately get eyes on a Taliban fighter – a little more than 50ft away, in a field to our left. Suddenly, overwhelmed by a fear that I am about to be shot in the face, I experience a massive rush of blood to the head. I take in a mouthful of dust as I remind myself to breathe.

Instinctively and purposefully I engage him, firing seven shots, which would later become quite the joke within my regiment. Apparently I was wasting ammunition.

The first two are hazy, I just fire in his general direction. Then I can see him clearly. His baggy clothing is darker than the colour of the field he is standing in.

His face is long, and exaggerated by a straggly black beard. I am struck by the fearlessness. He knows the odds are that he is about to die, but continues to fire elaborate drug-crazed bursts from his AK-47.

It is desperate. My colleague gets eyes on more fighters. The gunner operating a Minimi light machine gun in the vehicle behind takes on two insurgents positioned on the roof of a compound.

The fighter that I engaged has dropped. It would never be right to claim a kill as a medic but, at the end of the day, he no longer had the ability to engage us and that’s all that I am concerned about. Faced with the choice of him or me, I chose me.

The Taliban’s attack was perfectly timed. They chose the hottest part of the day, which was a tactic to slow us, ‘the infidels’, down.

‘Man Down! Man Down!’ I can hear the radio traffic through the back of the vehicle.

Our commanding officer Major Harry Clark shouts through to the back: ‘One casualty in the rear vehicle.’

We stop and two B Company snipers set up on a roof nearby. Our company snipers are a godsend along with the Apache helicopter, which has arrived above us and now sets about hunting the Taliban of Marjah.

The insurgents here weren’t ragtag, they knew what they were doing, and they had just educated us in a textbook L-shaped ambush.

The soldier who has been hit is Chucky, a tiny Scot, who has been shot in the abdomen. Chucky had been manning the .50 calibre machine gun and the entry wound looks pretty high, so he may be developing a chest wound.

The Chinook comes in swift and heavy. I attach Chucky’s paperwork to his chest and grab the first person that comes off the bird. I scream all the important stuff in his ear. He gives me the thumbs-up and heads back up the ramp.

As the Chinook takes off again, I look around at the faces of our company. It’s not such a great feeling being left in Marjah knowing that we had to somehow get ourselves out of this s***hole and back to our base in Lashkar Gah. This was my first taste of close-quarter combat; little did I know that B Company would be under fire almost every day for the next two months.

Afghanistan is land-locked in the bowl of the Hindu Kush, with mountains that go on forever. The landscape is severe, but beautiful. I’ve served in several theatres of war, but Afghanistan isn’t just another country. It’s another mind-set.

Winters are bleak and summers are marked by cloudless blue skies with temperatures topping 60C (140F) in the sun.

The dry climate and harsh environment delivers beauty in the spring as the fields of Helmand blossom with red flowers. These fields of opium poppies are the ‘death crop’ of southern Afghanistan. We often hear in briefings that 30 Taliban had been killed here, another 40 there. But they just keep coming in their dishdashes [traditional robes] and worn-out shoes.

Local young men are paid $10 a day (£6.40) to join the fight against the foreigners.

We have the fire power. What they have is time. They flee to the mountains and wait. We pacify a town, maybe reopen a school. They come back and tear the building down.

They say Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires. The Afghans routed the Russians and the tribes kept the British from planting the Union Jack over Kabul.

Alexander the Great in the 3rd Century BC lost half his army in four years of battle.
Like most soldiers, I started to read about the history of the place before we deployed.

History was telling me that everything we’re doing has been done before and whatever mis-takes were made then, we are making again.

We are well into our tour of Helmand province when we are tasked to patrol into a place called Nad-e Ali, which is north of our main operating base. Our convoy moves cautiously across the desert, heading north-west through the sand storm whipped up by our own vehicles.

I take in a face full of diesel fumes. I am thirsty and my back is soaking wet. My skull bakes like pie crust inside my helmet. We hear the thud of several explosions ahead.

My initial impression of the mood or ‘atmospherics’ in Nad-e Ali is grim. Plastic bags skip down empty streets. That feeling of the calm before the storm.

Half our convoy heads towards the closed-down school, which is now the headquarters of an Afghan National Army ‘kandak’ (a battalion of roughly 600 soldiers). We press on to the Afghan National Police compound.

The Brigade is delivering a 300-ton turbine by convoy from Kandahar across open desert to the hydro-electric dam at Kajaki. It would be a major coup. Success would mean ‘lighting up’ Helmand.

But insurgents gathering in Nad-e Ali are presenting an unwelcome distraction: if they attack, the operation could be compromised.

I’m leading a team of three medics and I feel responsible for the young Jocks we are supporting.

From nowhere someone screams: ‘Incoming! Incoming!’

Boom! Boom! Everyone’s shouting, but the voices sound far away. I’ve been in contact before. When it kicks off you’re always numb for a moment, disorientated. More explosions slam into the base as RPGs rain down on us.

A cloud of broken brick and dust fills the air. I can taste it. Another RPG drills into the wall opposite. I watch in disbelief as two of our men dodge across the open ground and, exposed to the enemy, climb the broken set of steps to the flat roof. Within seconds they’ve organised the ramshackle Afghan police.

Behind the rattle of our guns, I can hear the deep-throated roar of the Soviet-made 12.7 mm heavy machine gun. It’s the Taliban’s top weapon; the stuff of nightmares for us. Semi-automatic rounds stitch holes into the walls.

Flashes of electric blue and green light made by the blasts illuminate the faces of two of the Afghan police who have taken cover with us. They have blank, exhausted eyes. There’s no war like a civil war.

The barrage stops. Either the Taliban had grown bored or they had gone to ground after receiving the good news from our guns on the roof. A voice comes on the radio. There are serious casualties back at the school. Four ‘Cat B’ wounded need taking to Camp Bastion, the main British military base, north-west of Lashkar Gah.

As I enter the room where Abbie Cottle, my fellow medic, has been working, I’m hit by the smell of petrol, human faeces and the cold, coppery tang of blood. The four wounded are Afghans.

The five Afghans helping as medical orderlies have lowered eyes and expressions that are both respectful and bewildered. This could well  be their first encounter with a Western woman.

Maybe they’ve never seen the face of any woman except their mother before and the way they are taking instructions from Abbie is an encouraging sign. Abbie’s drawn features tell me what kind of night she’s been having. I check the casualties are stable enough to fly. Abbie’s eyes meet mine. She has kept the four men alive in a situation that would have tested anyone.

When I hear debates about equality in the Armed Forces, I often think: send your daughter or sister to the front line or, better still, send yourself and soak up the atmospherics of Nad-e Ali, Sangin or Marjah. Then you can make an informed decision. There are females who have the stomach to push a bayonet into another person, twist it, take it out and do it again. Those types are few and far between.

Female soldiers already play a key role in many areas of the military. From intelligence work, technical areas, dog handling, command positions, as fighter pilots and, of course, medicine. In Helmand some of the bravest young soldiers are females driving supply lorries across open desert, constantly facing attack.

A British Army soldier of Highlanders, 4th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland at a joint check point with Afghan National Police (ANP) outside the town of Lashkar Gah in Helmand province (file photo)

Then, of course, there are the frontline medics. In Helmand, we have been forced to squeeze into the front line because we have so few troops trying to stabilise the area. For many years we had more than 20,000 in Northern Ireland, yet when we first deployed to southern Afghanistan we sent just 4,500 troops and it took several years before that was increased to 10,000.

In Helmand, I became frustrated at the lack of resources and manpower. Our government had an almost naive view that we, Task Force Helmand, controlled the battle space. In reality the insurgents had the tactical advantage and every soldier in Helmand knew that. I recall the then Defence
Secretary John Reid saying in 2006 that he hoped not a single round would be fired on that tour. Clearly he had been reading the wrong reports.
By late 2006 it was clear that the insurgents had changed tactics, with more attention being given to the roadside bomb.

They opted for smaller operations in which they would plant the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and the volume of attacks soared. But more troops and resources did not arrive. Instead, the insurgency became stronger than we would ever care to admit.

Road moves were our biggest danger especially as there was no national curfew imposed. In 2008, we lacked helicopters and instead were forced to drive around in lightly armoured vehicles on roads that the Taliban had littered with their crude but destructive bombs. Our mechanics added metal plates to vehicles to give more protection, but while this worked the weight reduced their capability and speed. It also put a huge strain on gearboxes.

The tracks of our vehicles cut a path through the sand, which created a huge sand cloud and signalled to the Taliban that we were in the area.

The Soviets suffered catastrophic losses during their invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Had we not learned these lessons?

The fighting man on the ground had been let down not by our commanders, but by politicians. Our inability to rescue our own soldiers from extreme incidents was highlighted when a patrol became trapped in an old, unmarked minefield. Four severely injured men, including my good friend Corporal Stu Pearson, had to lie in that minefield for an unacceptable length of time. We had no Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) helicopter to winch the injured soldiers to safety. It was left to the Americans who deployed two Black Hawks. That patrol on that day would never have gone near the minefield had they been given an up-to-date map of the area.

Our system, or lack of it, had failed our men, leaving Stu and two colleagues with lower limb amputations and one man dead. Stu was decorated with the Queen’s Gallantry Medal.

My decision to leave the Army was easy. Stu’s experience left me doubtful that I could endure much more of the bulls*** coming out of the mouths of politicians who were involved in decision-making at the top.

About Jerry Frey

Born 1953. Vietnam Veteran. Graduated Ohio State 1980. Have 5 published books. In the Woods Before Dawn; Grandpa's Gone; Longstreet's Assault; Pioneer of Salvation; Three Quarter Cadillac
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