Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Lorne E. Henry, Jr. reported killed in Iraq

A 21-year-old Niagara Falls High School graduate who mastered swimming in two years and went on to be a specialist in the Army died in Iraq when an explosion rocked the truck he was driving, a family priest said Tuesday night.

Spc. Lorne E. Henry Jr. had been home visiting his mother, Wendy Kovac, and stepfather, Charles Primerano, in Niagara Falls just a few weeks before and was slated to leave the Army in August, Father Stewart M. Lindsay said.

Henry, the second-oldest of four brothers, graduated from Niagara Falls High School in 2004 and was dating his high school sweetheart. He nearly always attended church at St. Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic Church on Lindbergh Avenue when he was home, Lindsay said.

“He always wanted to be a cop, always wanted to be helpful,” Amy Jones, Henry’s cousin, told the Gazette Tuesday night.

Jones said she learned of Henry’s death Tuesday afternoon. Her family believes the incident occurred sometime early Tuesday morning Iraq time. Henry’s job had been to drive a truck that picked up used bombs, she said.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions right now,” Jones said.

She described Henry as an energetic child whom she used to play ninja turtles with when the two were kids. He grew up, she said, to be a goal-driven young man who was very good with kids and was “funny, always smiling, always helpful.” Jones said Henry had wanted to get engaged to his girlfriend.

Henry’s younger brother is also serving in the Army and is stationed in Washington. His youngest brother is 11, she said.

“He looks up to him like his idol,” Jones said of Henry’s youngest brother. “It was really, really hard today.”

Henry is the second Iraqi War casualty from Niagara Falls. Army Staff Sgt. Aram J. Bass was killed during battle Nov. 23, 2005. Bass, who was born in Niagara Falls, played football and basketball at Niagara Catholic High School.

The U.S. Department of Defense had not confirmed Henry’s death Tuesday night. A spokeswoman for the department said it waits 24 hours after a family is notified to confirm details of a military death.

Stewart, who met with Henry’s family on Tuesday, said Henry was an altar server when he was younger and continued to attend church regularly with his family as he grew older.

“I was always impressed with him,” Stewart said. “He was just a nice kid.”

In a military portrait distributed Tuesday night, Henry, who has dark brown eyes and a sharp jaw, is wearing camouflage fatigues and sits in front of an American flag and an eagle.

Ed Maynard, the Niagara Falls High School swim coach, said he encouraged Henry to join the swim team when Henry was in his sophomore year Earth Science class. Within two years, Henry went from being a junior varsity swimmer to a member of one of his top varsity relays.

“For him to come out and be a brand new swimmer ... it did take a lot of guts,” Maynard said. “He just kept sticking with it and sticking with it. That’s just the kind of determination that kid had.”

Henry showed the same drive in the classroom.

“You just can’t ask for anything more,” Maynard said. “He showed me a lot of heart through the years.”

Stewart said Henry’s family had not received information Tuesday about when his body would return to the area.

Mayor Vince Anello instructed all city buildings to fly flags at half mast today in Henry’s honor.

“Certainly, our condolences go out to the family, and I plan on doing that personally tomorrow,” Anello said. “This is really close to home.”

From the Union

Brett Witteveen laid to rest

SHELBY -- When Brett Witteveen lost his mother to cancer several years ago, the boy was "taken in" by close friends and extended family who helped him and his father cope with their grief, friends said.

In many ways, he became everyone's brother, everyone's son.

And so, on Monday, when the hearse carrying the casket of 20-year-old Witteveen wound through his stomping grounds of Hart and Shelby, it was hard to decipher who among the dozens lining the route were friends and who were family.

Friends say the Hart High School graduate was so well-liked by so many in both Oceana County communities that the lines became blurred.

"He was a people person. He was always smiling. This is real hard ... We are just numb. We don't want to believe it," said former classmate Sierra Pangburn, one of those who turned out in the cold mist to pay their respects as Witteveen's body was carried to a Shelby funeral home.

The U.S. Marine reservist was killed Feb. 18 in Iraq when he was hit by a roadside bomb while on foot patrol near Fallujah, west of Baghdad. He served with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment out of Grand Rapids. He was been in Iraq since October, and was engaged to be married.

Several standing along the main streets in Hart and Shelby referred to the talented football player as "one of the family."

Mark Hodges was one of several veterans who lined the hearse's route near Hart High School.

"He was the toughest football kid," said Hodges, who served in Desert Storm and had coached Witteveen in football during his "pee wee" years.

Through tears, Hodges said Witteveen was taken "too soon."

"He was just a pup," he said. "He had so much heart. I'm sure he was the best solider there."

In nearby Shelby, a tearful Sandy Porter stood with her husband, Randy Porter, thinking back to the younger Witteveen they'd watched grow up "a few houses down."

"He was a good kid," she said. "He was full of life."

Meanwhile, among a circle of friends outside Hart High School stood Garrett Dennert, 16, whose brother, Jacob Dennert, 19, of Hart, is in Iraq with the same military company as Witteveen's.

The two went to Iraq together, Garrett Dennert said, with Witteveen completing boot camp soon after Jacob Dennert.

"This hits pretty close to home," Garrett Dennert said. "(Jacob) said it's been hard to cope with, and they had a funeral for Brett in Iraq."

From the Press

Related Link:
Brett A. Witteveen killed during combat operations

Brian Escalante laid to rest

FORT DODGE - That infectious grin.

Brian Escalante's military-issue photograph - like all such pictures - depicts a grim-faced military man, someone not apt to put up with much nonsense.

But as the 25-year-old Marine who grew up in Dodge City was laid to rest Tuesday, those who knew him drew a different picture, remembering his pearly white grin, his playful side and his quiet but gentle demeanor.

"He had such a big smile," recalled Daniel Nguyen of Newton, an in-law who thought of Escalante as a brother.

"He was always joking around, a comedian," chimed in Dennis Nevares, a cousin from Amarillo, Texas.

Escalante, a lance corporal, died Feb. 17 while on a combat operation in the Al Anbar province of Iraq after a roadside bomb blew up under his Humvee. Family, friends and others filled the pews at Dodge City's First Baptist Church for his funeral services, and he was buried at Kansas Veterans Cemetery in nearby Fort Dodge.

"Brian was a young man who loved life, a young man who loved his family and a young man who was proud of being a Marine," said the Rev. Dan Rhodes of First Baptist, who presided.

Still, the sobs and tears were plentiful, and the Rev. Jeff Turner of First Missionary Church, who helped officiate, called on Escalante's loved ones to hold on to their memories of the man as they struggle forward. Wife Crystal Escalante, 2-year-old son Aidyn, his parents and seven siblings survive.

"Over the next few days, weeks, months and beyond you'll go through a flood of different emotions, and that's normal," said Turner. "Be proud of the man he became while serving as a United States Marine."

Comments outside

Tuesday's ceremony unfolded amid calm, with around 110 members of the Patriot Guard Riders waving U.S. flags outside First Baptist during the funeral services. The Patriot Guard Riders, most of them motorcyclists, attend funerals all across the nation as a show of respect for fallen soldiers and their families.

"This country wouldn't be what it is ... if it wasn't for people like Brian, 200 years ago all the way up till now," said Stacia Crowley, a Guard rider from Dodge City who stood outside First Baptist. "He's a Marine, and he's the same age as my kids."

A block away, guarded over by seven law enforcement officers, three protestors from Topeka's Westboro Baptist Church worked to get their message out. The Westboro group, scorned by many, believes a vengeful God is behind the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, and members protest at funerals all across the country.

"There's a dead soldier down there, and he's dead at the hands of an angry God because this country has given itself up to every filthy abomination it can commit," said Paulette Phelps, one of the trio on hand Tuesday.

Spirit will live on

Inside First Baptist, meanwhile, Escalante came to life as he was recalled and recounted. Family members say he was quiet but seemed to blossom after joining the military.

"That helped him open up," said Rhodes. "He was a dedicated soldier, and he loved the Marines."

Still, that's not the end of the story. He liked basketball and his prized Mustang automobile, and sister Ida Escalante, whose remembrances were recounted by Rhodes, recalled her brother's love of professional wrestling.

After watching wrestling on television, Escalante, Ida Escalante and their other siblings, as children, would hold tournaments of their own. "Brian was always Andre the Giant or sometimes Hulk Hogan," said Rhodes.

Nguyen, the in-law, remembered Escalante's love of video games while Nevares spoke of his cousin's even demeanor. "He got along with everybody," Nevares said.

Going forward, Rhodes said the Marine's spirit will live on, even as his body is put to rest.

"We're going to miss him, but we're going to allow him to live on through us," he said.

From the Hutchinson News

Related Link:
Brian A. Escalante dies of injuries from I.E.D.

John Rode laid to rest

WASHINGTON -- Sgt. John D. Rode died in Iraq as a Canadian in an American uniform. But the young soldier will be buried today as a U.S. citizen, in a cemetery where the nation puts its warriors to rest.

Last week, the United States granted citizenship to the 24-year-old, soon after the Army sergeant was killed on Valentine's Day. The honor adds to a Bronze Star and at least one Purple Heart, his family said.

"I think he'd say that's part of the job -- the medals," said one of his three older sisters, Peggy Rode-Storey. But becoming an American citizen "was something he always wanted."

She was in Washington on Tuesday to attend a brief ceremony recognizing her brother's new nationality. He is one of 91 military service members since Sept. 11, 2001, to receive posthumous citizenship.

Rode was born in Ontario but moved to the United States in 1999. He joined the service two years later, visiting his parents' home in Lake Mary as a stopover between deployments.

Through his military career, Rode took steps to become a full-fledged citizen, even bringing application information with him to Iraq.

Rode was killed in his second tour of duty, when a roadside bomb destroyed his armor-plated truck. Two other soldiers also died in the attack.

The three were on the way to help other soldiers when the bomb exploded, the third such attack Rode faced in recent weeks. They were part of a rapid-response team assigned to rescue troops from damaged military vehicles.

From the Sentinel

Related Link:
John Rode remembered

Related Link:
John D. Rode dies of injuries from I.E.D.

Branden Cummings laid to rest

COCOA - Army Pfc. Branden Charles Cummings was remembered as a soldier who was proud to serve his country and as a jokester who loved to make his friends laugh.

"What a life, what a life that has been lived by this man," the Rev. Joe Robinson said in his eulogy Tuesday before hundreds of Cummings' friends, family members and comrades in arms, and several total strangers, who packed into Brevard Memorial Funeral Home. "We had a young man who stood up and said, 'I'll go.' This young man, and so many others around the world, are doing great things."

Close to 1,000 people, some standing in different rooms and others near the entrance after the chapel quickly filled, attended 10 a.m. funeral services for Cummings, who was killed Feb. 14 in a roadside bombing in Baqouba, Iraq. The 20-year-old Army private from Titusville was the 10th service member from Brevard County or with close family ties here to die in the Iraq war.

Cummings had been serving in Iraq since October and had returned to war in January after a two-week break at home for Christmas. He served in the Army with the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry, 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, based at Fort Hood, Texas. He completed his basic training at Fort Hood in February 2006.

Eager to learn

Those who served alongside Cummings in Iraq said he was eager to learn everything about being a soldier.

"Every time there was any kind of information being put out, he'd lock onto every word," Army Spc. Jason Deteso told the assembled. "He was an outstanding soldier. He wore the title of infantryman with pride."

But there was a lighter side.

Cummings would do anything to make others laugh, said his uncle, Don Cummings, who referred to a slide show featuring the soldier that preceded the funeral.

"There were 90 pictures in the slide show. In 89 of them, he was smiling," Cummings said, drawing laughter from the crowd. "In the other, he was sticking his tongue out."

Procession

Outside the funeral home, about 200 veterans of all ages held American flags as they lined the entrance and parking lot. More than 120 Patriot Guard Riders from across the state and as far away as Arizona, New York, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Michigan rode their motorcycles at the head of the funeral procession.

"We came to honor our hero," said Bobbie Bilotta, Florida state captain of the Patriot Guard Riders. "They've made the ultimate sacrifice for us. It's the least we can do for them and their families."

Dozens of corrections officers -- former colleagues of Cummings' father, Charles, a former state corrections officer in Orange County -- were scattered throughout the crowd, dressed in their brown and beige uniforms. Some served as pallbearers.

Small American flags lined every roadway through Brevard Memorial Park as the funeral proceeded with military honors, including the 21-gun volley and a rendition of "Taps" that pierced the graveside silence. Army honor guards folded the American flag over Cummings' casket.

Folded flags

Brig. Gen. James Nixon of Special Operations Command presented folded flags to Cummings' father, his mother, Melbaline, and his fiancée, Danielle Dennull.

After they completed duties as pallbearers, the corrections officers took off their white gloves and the red roses pinned to their shirts, and each placed his glove under the rose and put both on Cummings' casket.

Corrections officer Joey Morris added one other thing to his offering: his prized baseball glove.

"Me and Branden always played catch," he said after the ceremony. "He always wanted that glove and I would never give it to him. I left it for him."

And for them, Cummings left memories.

"Branden was my brother," close friend Daniel Jarolim told the crowd in the chapel. "At least he was the closest thing to a brother I ever had. Branden died a hero. Branden, you're my hero and I love you."

From Florida Today

Related Link:
Branden Cummings remembered

Related Link:
Branden C. Cummings dies of injuries from I.E.D.

Justin T. Paton laid to rest

The air of Walloon Lake Community Church was laden with sorrow and tears as friends and family gathered to pay their respects to Army Pfc. Justin Travis Paton Monday.

A few who knew Paton shared their thoughts of the Alanson soldier.

Friend Jacob Smith said he had many fond memories of things they had done together.

“Paton was a hero, my hero,” Smith said. “I loved him and I’m going to miss him.”

Paton, 24, was killed Feb. 17 in Iraq by a sniper.

He was a 2000 graduate of Inland Lakes High School who enlisted in the Army in 2005 and was deployed to Iraq Oct. 31. He had recently been named his unit’s leader.

The mother of a man who served with Paton said her son told her of Paton’s dedication.

“Justin was huge in our platoon,” she said on behalf of her son. “He loved us and we loved him.”

The Rev. Jeff Ellis, who officiated the service, said Paton was a man who was committed to his faith and he was certain Paton crossed the bridge to eternity.

“I have hope and faith and confidence today that Justin crossed that bridge,” he said.

Ellis shared e-mail messages from Paton and a letter he wrote to his aunt, Joyce.

In the letter, Paton said he missed his family and friends, and hoped they knew how much he loved and appreciated them.

“I wouldn’t want any other life than the one I was raised with,” Paton wrote.

Paton added that despite missing home, he had become close with others he was serving with and that they helped each other through the good and bad.

A slide show with photographs of Paton with family and friends was shown, after which Army Brig. Gen. John R. Bartley shared messages by fellow soldiers from a memorial service for Paton.

Bartley said Paton’s company commander remembered Paton always was looking out for the safety of the platoon, was one of the most organized soldiers he had met and was a gentle giant.

“He would take the shirt off his back if you asked him,” the company commander said.

Paton’s parents were presented with honors Paton received for his service. He was awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

Outside the church following the service, a volley of 21 shots was given in Paton’s honor and “Taps” was played. His parents, Donald and Shelley Paton, accepted a folded American flag in honor of their son. Paton was laid to rest at Ohioville Cemetery in Indian River.

From the Petoskey News

Related Link:
Justin T. Paton killed by small arms fire

Ethan Biggers remembered

INDIANAPOLIS — Liza Biggers blinked back tears and gently patted her brother Ethan's hand as he lay in his hospital bed, finally wearing the Purple Heart he earned in Iraq.

Ethan's family had held off on the medal ceremony, hoping he would emerge from his year-long coma.

When that didn't happen, his 22-year-old twin, Matt, made a phone call to make sure he received the award before he died.

Last Sunday's private ceremony was a poignant moment in a tumultuous journey that began the day Army Spc. Ethan Biggers was critically wounded in Iraq.

Biggers' family stopped trying to keep him alive on Feb. 13. His feedings were halted and all that was left were the goodbyes.

On Saturday, about 1:35 a.m., Ethan died, with Matt holding his hand and Liza at his side.

Ethan's last days were spent at the Richard L. Roudebush Veterans Affairs Medical Center. As three or four inches of snow blanketed the region last weekend, eight of Ethan's buddies from Beavercreek High School piled into two cars for the trip to Indianapolis.

"We're all here for him," said Mark Passage, 22, a former Army specialist who spent a year in Afghanistan.

Passage was one of five close friends — Ethan and Matt Biggers, Mike Mays and Jimmy Williams — who went into the Army straight out of high school.

All five went off to war.

Four came back safe.

Last Sunday, an Army lieutenant the family credits with helping save his life read aloud the brief, standard wording as Nathan Loper, a former barracks roommate, pinned the Purple Heart on Ethan's hospital gown.

In the quiet room, Ethan — his eyes open — loudly exhaled a breath.

'It's a miracle he's gotten this far'

Ethan was five months into his second tour of Iraq when he and a group of soldiers from B company, 1-502, 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Ky., were on a mission southwest of Baghdad. Ethan took a break from monitoring a radio and went up to a balcony to cool off and stretch his legs, his brother said.

The shot came out of nowhere.

"He was the only one hit," his father, Rand Biggers, said last spring as he kept vigil at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

The bullet entered above Ethan's left ear and exited above his right, leaving him with what the military calls a traumatic brain injury, or TBI.

The sniper's bullet did more than pierce his skull. It also struck Ethan's family thousands of miles away — squarely and without warning.

When Ethan was shot on March 5, 2006, his then-fiancee, Britni Fuller, was six months pregnant with their first child.

Matt, who already had done one tour of duty in Iraq, was stationed in Germany and hearing rumblings that his unit would soon be sent back to Iraq.

His father, a physicist at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, took leave from his job to be with his son. Devastated to see Ethan so gravely injured, he spent much of his time in a chapel at Walter Reed.

Ethan's sister, Liza, 25, would stand by her brother's bed for hours speaking quietly to him.

Many lives are touched when a soldier is wounded.

"It's not just the one person and the immediate family," said Charles An, Liza's husband. "It's so many people, and I never really even realized that before all this happened."

Brothers in arms

Growing up, Matt and Ethan — a fun-loving character tagged with nicknames like Bigg E and the Biggness — knew the military would be part of their futures.

Their father had flown C-130s for the Air Force during Vietnam and their grandfather was in the Navy in World War II.

Nobody was surprised when the twins enlisted in the Army the summer before their senior year at Beavercreek High School.

"The recruiter called up Ethan and Ethan said, 'Yeah, come over to our house, you can talk about it with us,' " Matt recalled. "When he came over, I just went with it. I always thought of it as an obligation."

Both brothers chose infantry.

Matt, a Bradley fighting vehicle driver, was in Iraq from February 2004 until February 2005.

His last five months were in Samara, north of Baghdad, which he called a hotbed. "But we had Bradleys and tanks. We were pretty lucky."

Ethan's light infantry unit was less protected, he said.

"The last time I talked to him, he'd lost nearly 20 percent of his company," Matt said shortly after Ethan was injured.

Despite the high casualty count, Ethan never filled out a living will — something Matt thinks he probably just ignored to avoid standing in a long line during Army pre-deployment.

"You're already there long enough, so people just blow it off," he said. "I didn't have a living will the first time I went."

Last spring, when Matt thought he might be sent back to Iraq, he decided to put down his requests on paper.

"I filled one out," he said, "but I knew about Ethan then."

'He's hanging in there'

Britni found out she was pregnant after Ethan left for Iraq.

"We were planning to get married when he came back home," she said last spring.

The two wrote each other often and picked out furniture and other items for the baby via the Internet.

After he was wounded, Britni prepared the baby's nursery, tried to stay optimistic about Ethan's recovery and visited him at Walter Reed — needing a medical clearance because of her high-risk pregnancy. When she couldn't see him in person, she would record herself talking to him and mail the tapes to Liza to play for him.

"He's hanging in there so I'm hanging in there," she said at the time.

Before Ethan departed for his second tour, he pulled his father aside and told him he didn't think he was coming back.

Ethan had wanted to get married before he left, but Rand urged him to wait.

His father would soon regret that advice. With his son in a coma, Rand Biggers organized a marriage from a Pennsylvania-based firm that arranged a double-marriage by proxy, where neither party had to be present.

Last March, Britni and Ethan legally became husband and wife.

Three months later, their son was born.

'Little E has finally come into the world'

Liza broke the news in the online journal she set up through CaringBridge, a service that helps people create a free personal Web site to keep family and friends updated during significant life events.

"Little E has finally come into the world," she wrote on May 27.

The boy's name — Eben — is a combination between Ethan and that of his friend, Benjamin Britts, who was killed in Iraq in 2005.

After a difficult pregnancy, the family saw the birth of a healthy baby boy as a beacon of hope, a lifeline.

There were other promising developments that day, too.

As Liza was helping turn Ethan, trying to move his head in a certain direction, this happened:

"Out of nowhere BIGG E growls at us!! The nurses just stopped and looked at him," Liza wrote in the journal. "That's a great sign."

Days later, Britni called Ethan and had Eben scream in his ear while she wished him a happy Father's Day.

Over the last year, Liza put her life on hold to help Ethan through his recovery, following him from the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., to Walter Reed, on to a Veterans Affairs rehabilitation center in Tampa, back to Walter Reed and finally to the VA hospital in Indianapolis.

Each time he was transferred, Liza and her stepmother, Cheryl Alspaugh Biggers of Beavercreek, would take down the large photos the family had put up on the walls for Ethan to see if he ever woke up.

Then they would put them right back up again in his new room.

They are snapshots in time. A beaming Rand with his sons on his lap. Matt and Ethan after completing basic training. Britni and Eben.

Three stunning angels, sketched by Liza, a freelance artist in New York City, appeared to be watching over him from the wall behind his bed.

After Ethan was transferred to a VA center in Tampa, respiratory therapists said he was breathing through his mouth and nose.

In physical therapy, he was able to sit for nearly two hours, holding his head up on his own more often.

In a journal entry on July 18, Liza wrote that a radiologist who read Ethan's CAT scans was impressed at how much he had healed in the last month.

That same day, Britni flew in with 6-week-old Eben to meet his father for the first time.

"BIGG E has met Baby E!!" Liza wrote.

Still, the family's effort to get Ethan into Casa Colina, a private facility in California that specializes in TBIs, kept running into roadblocks.

"It's another fight and we're getting tired of fighting," Liza wrote. "However, we are sticking to our guns and getting BIGG E where he has the best chance at recovery and where we can be with him more easily."

Later that month, doctors from Casa Colina evaluated Ethan and decided to keep him at the Tampa VA.

"Until Ethan is following commands and able to make significant gains, we cannot go to Casa Colina," Liza wrote.

Ethan cried out with a grimace one day as he was being moved from the bed to a tilt table.

Liza was encouraged.

"Although we don't like to see Ethan hurting, it's a great sign that he let us know he is," she wrote. "We hope he continues this and soon (will) be able to say some words."

'When does it stop?'

Rand, his wife, Cheryl, and Liza watched Ethan around the clock. But with Ethan now sleeping through the night, they agreed to start taking two-week breaks.

Rand started the rotation by heading back to Beavercreek. It was his first time away from Ethan since April and he was anxious to welcome home Matt, who was coming in from Germany that week.

On Thursday, July 27, the 59-year-old Biggers was exiting Interstate 675 onto U.S. 35 when a car went out of control, traveled over an embankment, became airborne and collided with his Jeep.

The coroner broke the news to Liza over her cell phone.

Biggers and Doris "Dori" Naone, 51, of Riverside, the driver of the other car, both died in the crash.

"Words cannot express our devastation," Liza wrote in the journal the next day.

There was little time for grief, however. Liza returned to Tampa with Matt, who was fresh out of the Army and had arrived home two days after his father was killed.

"I think we just forged on because he knew Ethan needed us," Liza said. "I've never asked myself why Ethan got shot. A car landed on top of my Dad ... I have to think it had to have happened for a reason. And even if it didn't, I can't spend my energy on 'why, why, why, why, why?' because it will never get you anywhere."

Loper, 33, the former barracks roommate who pinned the Purple Heart on Ethan, knew how much his friend idolized his father.

"When we heard what happened to Ethan's dad," he said, "it was just like, when does it stop?"

Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2:11 p.m. online journal entry:

During physical therapy, we got Ethan on the standing frame: a contraption that uses harnesses and pads to hold him up. The BIGGness held his head up by himself for quite a while!

He was doing very well using his trunk muscles and neck muscles to hold himself up. A BIGG improvement from two months ago.

That day, they celebrated Ethan and Matt's 22nd birthday with cake, cookies and strawberry rhubarb pie. A speech therapist helped Ethan taste the pie by dabbing a bit on his lips.

Through October, Ethan would squeeze family members' hands.

He could sit up on a mat and hold his head up for a few minutes.

And he started following commands, twitching his right hand when asked by his speech therapists.

One day, a physical therapist brought him to the gym in a wheelchair and placed a large orange ball in his lap.

"He did very well with his right hand, pushing and relaxing on command," Liza wrote. "It's a very encouraging sign."

'The worst kind of injury'

On Nov. 1, Ethan underwent surgery at Walter Reed to have his skull replaced. Doctors had earlier removed large portions of his skull to reduce swelling.

Matt's skull served as a template for his brother's. He went through CAT scans in Tampa so that surgeons at Walter Reed would have precise measurements to use. Liza announced the results in her journal that evening.

SUCCESS!!!

Ethan came through surgery great!! They managed to get both sides replaced, no problem! The neurosurgeons said the prosthetics fit like a glove (thanks Matt.) Ethan looks like Ethan! He responded fine to the fluid draining and as of right now, they don't believe he will need a shunt. The surgery itself took 5 1/2 hours. Whew!

...An hour after his surgery we all went to see him and he immediately opened his eyes at the sound of our voices. He's still really drugged though. We probably won't see any real changes, however, for at least a week. All is good right now.

But a neurologist told Matt the surgery was only cosmetic.

"It is the worst kind of injury you can suffer, a brain injury," Matt said. "A bullet going through the head ... you don't recover from that."

Searching for an answer

As Thanksgiving arrived, the family still didn't know where they could move Ethan.

"Tampa won't take him back unless he has some 'significant changes,' Liza wrote. "This would include tracking us with his eyes or following a command consistently. So if Ethan doesn't start doing this in the next week or so, we are to take him to a 'Level 2 Sub-acute VA' center. Cleveland was mentioned, but it's not so close to our home in Dayton."

Indianapolis was closer to home. And the VA center there had opened a renovated rehabilitation wing in August, equipped to handle TBI patients like Ethan.

Right before Christmas, he was flown on a private jet to Indiana, where Loper began visiting daily.

"Ethan is apparently squeezing his hand and tracking him around the room (by his voice)!," Liza wrote on Dec. 31. "To have new friends visit is absolutely critical stimuli for Ethan."

Liza is convinced Ethan could hear voices, and points to an experience in Indianapolis when a therapist put Matt on one side of Ethan and Liza on the other. Each was asked to call Ethan's name.

Each time, he turned to the right person.

Liza learned to read Ethan's body language, sensing when he was uncomfortable or didn't like something.

He was able to swallow applesauce and pureed foods.

"He loved coffee," she said, telling how she'd dip a little green sponge in coffee and put it in his mouth.

She'd put gummy Life Savers on a string so he could suck them without choking.

And she discovered he didn't care for blueberry-flavored Dum Dums. She knew because when she tried to give him one, he made a face.

In January, Cheryl put a spoon in her stepson's hand and helped him raise it. "He would open his mouth when it got there," she said. Amazed, she called in the nurse.

She was excited about his progress but then watched it stop.

"Those are only little tiny baby steps," Cheryl said last week. "Could Ethan have gotten better than that? We wouldn't know, but I know in the last few weeks Ethan was not trying."

Liza noticed it, too, and attributes the sudden change to when she began asking Ethan to give her a sign if he wanted more time to get better or wanted to die.

Her brother also searched for an answer.

"Matt had talked about seeing him in his dreams a lot, trying to get Ethan to tell him what he wanted. Matt felt that Ethan would want to go," Liza said. "When I told Ethan that, I really saw him start to pull out more and more. The therapists noticed it and the nurses noticed it that he was less alert and not as interested in rehab anymore."

Matt said he didn't want his brother to suffer any longer.

"You can't fix what's not there," he said. "He'd never be the same and he'd never live a full life."

After Rand died, Ethan's medical guardianship was transferred to Britni. But while Britni, too, wanted to end Ethan's suffering, Matt said she told him she couldn't bring herself to do it.

She turned over guardianship to him.

"I hope Ethan doesn't hate me for leaving him alive so long," Matt said.

Monday, Feb. 12, 11:49 a.m. journal entry:

I don't really know how to even write this. Cheryl and I just don't know what to say. So I'm going to go ahead and put my thoughts up here. I don't presume to represent anyone else's personal opinion. This is how I view the events.

After a family discussion, and by family I mean Matt, Cheryl, and I (Liza), the decision has been made to remove Ethan's feeding tube beginning March 5. This is something Matt feels very strongly about, and I believe for unselfish reasons. Cheryl in no way agrees with this decision, but has agreed to disagree with Matt. If it were my decision, I would probably grant a little more time. Regardless, I will continue to support Matt. In the end it is his decision as he has medical guardianship of Ethan.

The decision to stop Ethan's feedings was made by Matt. He came to the decision earlier because of Ethan's 104 degree temperature and other declining health issues.

His mother, Millie Biggers of Fairborn, didn't agree with it.

"I don't think Matt gave Ethan enough time," said Biggers, Rand's ex-wife and the mother of their four children.

She had visited Ethan in Indianapolis four times. Because of health reasons, she was driven there on Saturdays by the Miami Valley chapter of Blue Star Moms, a group made up of mothers who have or have had children in the military.

She believes Ethan could have recovered if the family had followed through on a plan to move him back to Dayton and into hospice care next month.

"I believe in miracles. I believe in the power of prayer and I believe in the right to life," she said Thursday.

Her oldest daughter, Amanda Watkins of Enon, however, seemed to sum up the sentiment of the rest of the family.

"I feel, out of everyone in the family, Matt knew him the best," she said. "Whatever decision he felt Ethan would have wanted, I would support."

Saying goodbye

Through the CaringBridge journal, Ethan's story has reached far beyond the Biggers family.

Since Liza began her updates, the site has had more than 25,000 visits and 420 posted messages. Some are to the family, like one from a woman in New Mexico who said she knew how hard the decision was because she's been there.

"I know my words will never be enough to help you all through this but I know that Ethan is a hero and fighter and will be forever in our hearts," she wrote.

Other messages are to Ethan directly. One simply reads, "Thank you for my freedom."

Gerard Simon, Rand's best friend, used to check the site every week or two for an update. When he learned Ethan was dying, he drove from Dayton to Indianapolis last week to pay his respects.

The ordeal has split the family, in many ways torn it apart. But at the same time, there is a closeness that wasn't there before.

An inner strength.

"I feel like if God didn't give us a miracle, he gave us strength," Liza said. Doctors initially told family members that Ethan could live anywhere from seven to 10 days. He died 11 days after his feedings were stopped.

Liza is convinced everyone did everything they could for Ethan, including the soldiers who bandaged his head and had him flown to Balad, where surgeons worked to save his life.

She's thankful they did.

"A lot of the argument is, 'Are we saving guys that shouldn't be saved?' " she said recently. "At least he got to come home. His loved ones got to say goodbye and he gets to die with his family instead of dying out in the desert. But, at the same time, it's a perpetual state of grief."

In her journal entry on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 8:16 p.m., she wrote:

Please keep Ethan in your thoughts and prayers for a safe and comfortable passage on. Matt and I are here by his side 24/7 until the time he passes on ... Dad can take him from there."

On Saturday, as she and Matt watched Ethan take his final breath, they saw him smile.

Each viewed it as another sign.

"That he's OK," Liza said.

And to Matt: "That he saw Dad."

From the Daily News

Related Link:
Ethan Biggers passes away peacefully after 1 year in coma

Jeremy Barnett remembered

HARTVILLE – Sgt. Jeremy D. Barnett gave his life for his country. Then he gave his heart.

His mother, Michele Barnett of Hartville, was at his side in a military hospital in Germany last week as the Mineral City man lay dying, another casualty of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“I held his hand, and I put my head on his chest and I knew that that heart was going to continue to beat. His heart was going to live on,” she said Tuesday about the soldier’s plan to donate his organs if things went wrong.

“He saved the life of a 51-year-old person in Europe. Our son’s heart is beating in this person.”

Life support was removed Saturday from the 27-year-old soldier, ending his life and a military career that included service to both the Navy and Army.

“I’m proud of my son,” his mother said. “He gave his life twice. He did what a lot of us would never have enough guts to do, and he did it well.”

His father, Dave Barnett of Mineral City, said he would like anyone who recognizes someone in uniform to “stop and shake his hand. We see in the paper where someone got injured or someone got killed, and we think it’s a shame. We don’t realize how bad it really is until it hits home.”

It hit home hard this week for the Barnett family. Jeremy Barnett also is survived by three younger sisters, Natalie, Emily and Rebecca Barnett.

Natalie Barnett said her brother, a good-natured young man who used humor to break the most tense moments, would want people to know that “he took his job very seriously; he loved his job.”

Their mother agreed. “He loved his country; he loved his service to his country.”

Sgt. Jeremy Barnett and his father e-mailed one another at least twice a week, as the soldier looked forward to returning home to fish and hunt with his dad. And Dave Barnett said he warned his son not to volunteer for anything.

“The last time I talked to him, I told him to do what he was told to do and to do his job, ‘but do not put your hand up,’” the elder Barnett said.

One week ago, the young man suffered “wounds sustained from a land mine detonation,” according to an announcement this week by the U.S. Department of Defense. He had volunteered for a patrol mission as a “first observer” in Ad-Dujayl, Iraq, on his day off. His father explained that the job entailed going in ahead of others to call in for artillery or air strikes.

“There was an explosion,” Dave Barnett said. “The AP is saying it was a land mine. ... No one seems to have a definite answer as to what happened. He got out of his Humvee to check something out. ...”

Army representatives called the Barnett family last Wednesday.

“When I answered the phone and they said it was the Army, I knew that wasn’t good,” Dave Barnett said.

The family flew to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl to be by Jeremy’s side.

Family members praised the medical staff and military personnel, saying they worked hard to make the dying soldier as comfortable as possible. They talked about all the volunteers who carry hundreds of wounded soldiers in large buses that serve as ambulances all day, every day. And they talked about the people assigned to coordinate and schedule events to make everything run smoothly during their devastating loss.

The Barnett family also attended the ceremonies during which Sgt. Barnett posthumously was presented with his medals.

The purple medal – “That was something I never wanted to see,” his father said, struggling to hold back tears.

Michele Barnett acknowledged that the parents of every soldier worry while their grown children are fighting in a war.

“Everyone has an anxiety about being over there in Iraq. I thought it (the worst) would be an injury,” she said.

From the Reporter

Related Link:
Jeremy D. Barnett dies of injuries from land mine

David Berry remembered

ANTHONY - Almost improbably, their lives followed an arc.

Only months separated David Berry and Jerrod Hays in age. They grew up in Anthony, graduating in the Class of '87 from Chaparral High School in Harper County.

"Happy and fun-loving guys," recalled fellow classmate Dan Bertholf, Medicine Lodge.

For a time, Berry and Hays even worked at the same foundry in Norwich. They also served in the Kansas Army National Guard, and as part of Bravo 1st Battalion 161st Field Artillery, they went to Iraq.

But their lives split in different directions Thursday after an improvised explosive device erupted, killing Berry and critically wounding Hays.

Berry, 37, who enlisted in the Kansas Army National Guard even before he collected his high school diploma, had more than 16 years' military service. The staff sergeant's accumulated honors included the Soldiers Medal, the highest peacetime recognition that a soldier can receive.

Hays' condition has been upgraded to serious and he was in a hospital in Germany on Friday. He has suffered trauma to his right eye and will undergo an operation Saturday to remove shrapnel, said Jerrod's brother, J.D. Hays, Anthony.

"He's alert, conscious," Hays said, and the family has been told that Jerrod's left eye "has the appropriate response."

Hays, 38, is scheduled to return Sunday to the U.S., where he will be hospitalized. Family members plan to fly to the East Coast to be with him.

Funeral plans for Berry, who had been living in Wichita and leaves a wife, Kathleen, a stepdaughter and two stepgrandchildren, have not been announced.

"It's unimaginable. As far as our grief is, I can't fathom what the Berrys are going through," said J.D. Hays on Friday, able to see Berry's parents' home from his workplace.

"Pretty tough day for the families," said Janett Ballard, Anthony, whose husband, Yancy, is with the same unit in Iraq.

Janett Ballard noted that she had known Berry and Hays longer than she had known Yancy.

Ballard said her husband and another Anthony man in Iraq, Rick Kenmore, were not injured.

As she communicated by e-mail with her husband Friday afternoon, Ballard tried to get him to think of other things and succeeded when she informed him she would have to take down the flag because of the wind.

He shifted the topic to the weather.

Berry was the first son of Anthony to die in the Iraq war. But Harper is only 9 miles away, and Anthony hardware store owner John Schott considered the death in Iraq four months ago of soldier WillSun Mock, now buried in Harper, like a death in the family, too.

On Friday morning, the city of Anthony put American flags on poles lining Main Street and along the highway leading into town. A sign outside the hardware store read: "God Bless the Berry and Hays Families."

"The response from the people has just been phenomenal," Hays said.

Berry and Jerrod Hays considered the mission in Iraq worthy, he said.

When classmate Bertholf heard the news from Iraq, he said he felt admiration for "their patriotism and sense of duty."

Soldiers who hear American politicians talk about failure in Iraq take it to heart, Hays said.

"I would encourage people to contact the VFW, find out who is serving overseas, and send them a letter of encouragement. It would sure help," Hays said.

From the Hutchinson News

Related Link:
David Berry dies of injury from I.E.D.

Perspective: Failing in Baghdad -- The British Did It First


Above: Frederick Stanley Maude (pictured left) enters Baghdad in 1917.

At the center of Baghdad's neglected North Gate War Cemetery, near the edge of the old city walls, stands an imposing grave. Sheltered from the weather by a grandiose red sandstone cupola, it is the final resting place of a man from whom George W. Bush could have learned a great deal about the perils of intervening in Iraq.

Lt. Gen. Sir Frederick Stanley Maude was head of the British army in Mesopotamia when he marched into Baghdad on a hot, dusty day in March 1917. Soon thereafter, he issued the British government's "Proclamation to the People of Baghdad," which eerily foreshadowed sentiments that Bush and his administration would express 86 years later: British forces, Maude declared, had entered the city not as conquerors, but as liberators.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

Opinion (James Dobbins): My enemy's enemy

WASHINGTON: Somehow, the United States has maneuvered itself into a position were most Shiite and most Sunni, most Arabs and most Persians alike seem to regard America as their enemy.

In fact, one of the few things the warring factions have in common is their opposition to the United States.

American forces in Iraq are being attacked on one side by Sunni insurgents, ex-Baathists and Al Qaeda operatives, and there is no sign their hostility to the U.S. is abating.

These groups are also hostile to Iran, which is backing the other side in the civil war — Shiite parties that dominate the current Iraqi government and their armed militias.

How has the United States managed to provoke opposition from all sides in this conflict?

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune

Opinion (Linda Heard): Mideast Is Plagued by Covert Operations


Iraqis have long suspected the finger of the occupying forces has stirred the pot of sectarian violence with the ultimate aim of splitting their country into three separate provinces.

Suspicions were particularly heightened in 2005 when British military agents in Arab garb were caught at a checkpoint with explosives in their booby-trapped vehicle, which according to a member of the Iraqi National Assembly Fattah El-Sheikh was destined to explode in a marketplace.

We can never know the truth of this claim since following the agents’ arrest and detention, the British Army used tanks to topple the walls of the jail and extricate their men before they could be interrogated.

Read the rest at the Arab News

Opinion (Niall Ferguson): Why our enemies -- and friends -- hate us

George Orwell (standing, third from left) in Mandalay, Burma in 1923. Of his experience there, Orwell wrote that he, 'hated the imperialism I was serving with a bitterness which I probably cannot make clear'. Orwell went on to write 'Animal Farm' and '1984'.

BEING HATED IS NO FUN. And few people hate being hated more than Americans. I wish I had a dollar for every time I've been asked, "Why do they hate us?" — and another for each of the different answers I've heard. It's because of our foreign policy. It's because of their extremism. It's because of our arrogance. It's because of their inferiority complex. Americans really hate not knowing why they're hated.

The best explanation is the simplest. Being hated is what happens to dominant empires. George Orwell knew the feeling. As a young man he served as an assistant police superintendent in British-run Burma, an experience he memorably described in his essay, "Shooting an Elephant." Called upon to kill a pachyderm that had run amok, Orwell was suddenly aware "of the watchful yellow faces behind" him: "The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh."

Read the rest at the LA Times

Opinion (Anna Badkhen): What if there had been no war?


As a Shiite living in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Thanaa al-Taee eked out an existence in a totalitarian state that oppressed her religious sect, cracked down on ethnic minorities, and silenced dissent by torturing and executing opponents who dared criticize the despotic regime.

Now, watching sectarian bloodshed rip apart her country, al-Taee wonders if the war that toppled Hussein's dictatorship was worth it.

"I have a conflict with myself about what happened to us, Iraqis," al-Taee, 38, who had worked at a Baghdad art gallery before fleeing to Bahrain in 2004, wrote in a recent e-mail after visiting her parents in Baghdad. "Do you think this is better for us?"

It is also the question on the minds of scholars and military experts in the United States, including the architect of the "shock and awe" campaign that helped bring down Hussein's regime. Four years after the United States invaded Iraq, these observers contemplate what Iraq would have looked like today had the Bush administration decided not to go to war.

Read the rest at the SF Chronicle

Opinion (Christopher Dickey): Demolition of the Willing

Feb. 23, 2007 - Four years ago a million people poured into the streets of Britain to march against the war they feared was coming in Iraq. I was in London, and I remember being struck by how decent, sincere and solid the protesters were. Many had come as families—mom and pop and the kids—just to stand up and be counted in favor of reason and diplomacy over sophistry, war and occupation.

Maybe you remember what President George W. Bush had to say about those folks. It tells you a lot about why the United States has so few friends left in the world; why its political allies have been weakened, deposed or defeated and why the public in Europe, especially, is unwilling to believe almost anything Washington says.

Read the rest at Newsweek

Perspective: Beyond Baghdad, Beyond ‘the Surge,’ War Still Simmers

Police in Samarra

SAMARRA, Iraq --The letter from Al Qaeda in Iraq to the members of the local police was clear.

Come to the mosque and swear allegiance on the Koran to Al Qaeda, the letter warned, or you will die and your family will be slaughtered. Also, bring $1,200.

It had the desired effect on American efforts to build an Iraqi security force here.

Nearly a third of the local police force went to the mosque, paid the money and pledged their allegiance. Another third was killed. By late October, only 34 local police officers were left to try to maintain order in this city of 100,000.

Read the rest at the NY Times

Perspective: Troubles for the Iraq Oil Deal


Barely two days have passed since Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hailed the country's new petroleum law as a "solid base for unity of all Iraqis" — a rare boast these days. President Bush has also trumpeted it as proof that Iraq has a viable future. But parliamentarians and Iraq's oil unions have already begun mobilizing against the draft legislation, arguing that it is a desperate attempt by al-Maliki's government to satisfy Western demands, which could damage Iraq's economic future and speed the country's ultimate disintegration.

Read the rest at Time

Perspective: The life and times of Jalal Talabani

BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraq's President Jalal Talabani, evacuated on Sunday to Jordan after falling ill, has a reputation as a peacemaker for trying to broker consensus between the country's bitterly divided factions.

Himself a Kurd, the 74-year-old former outlaw is the first non-Arab to lead an independent Arab majority state.

He became president in April 2005 after the first election in Iraq since a US-led invasion overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein, his sworn enemy.

Talabani was re-elected to the post a year later, cementing his people's powerful role on the national stage after suffering years as second-class citizens.

Read the rest at Yahoo News

Perspective: Sadr reigns in militia, but motives unknown

Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric and founder of the Mahdi Army militia, discovered recently that two of his commanders had created DVDs of their men killing Sunnis in Baghdad. Documents suggested that they had received money from Iran.

So he suspended them and stripped them of power, said two Mahdi leaders in Sadr City, the heart of Mr. Sadr’s support here in the capital.

But did he do so as part of his cooperation with the new security plan for Baghdad, which aims to quell the sectarian violence tormenting the city? Because his men had been disloyal, taking orders from Iran, whose support he values but whose control he fights? Or was it just for show — the act of an image-conscious leader who grasped the risk of graphic videos and wanted to stave off direct American action against him?

Read the rest at the NY Times

Perspective: Baghdad wary of Kurdish deployment


The deployment of Kurdish brigades in Baghdad neighborhoods controlled by followers of firebrand Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr has prompted hopes that the forces will bring peace, as well as fears that the move will stoke ethnic and sectarian tensions.

Around 3,000 Kurdish soldiers are deploying in Baghdad as part of the new security plan, which got under way this week. It's the first time Kurdish troops have been sent to the city in such numbers.

On 16 February, full-scale battle broke out in the southern city of Basra between British forces and the Mahdi Army militia, which is loyal to al-Sadr, raising the possibility that such all-out fighting may soon be seen in Baghdad.

For the past four years, relations between Kurds and al-Sadr followers have been sensitive at best. This is partly because the Sadr movement opposes federalism and article 140 of the Iraqi constitution calling for normalization in the ethnically mixed and oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Normalization refers to returning Kirkuk to its state before the Saddam regime, which imported Arabs and expelled Kurds. Many Sadrists believe the policy is being used to drive out Arabs and Turkomen.

Read the rest at ISN

Perspective: Iraq Rebuilding Short on Qualified Civilians

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad at the formal inauguration of a PRT in Iraq in November, 2005. "Think of the tourism potential here," he said.

In Diyala, the vast province northeast of Baghdad where Sunnis and Shiites are battling for primacy with mortars and nighttime abductions, the U.S. government has contracted the job of promoting democracy to a Pakistani citizen who has never lived or worked in a democracy.

The management of reconstruction projects in the province has been assigned to a Border Patrol commander with no reconstruction experience. The task of communicating with the embassy in Baghdad has been handed off to a man with no background in drafting diplomatic cables. The post of agriculture adviser has gone unfilled because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided just one of the six farming experts the State Department asked for a year ago.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

Perspective: Insurgents aim for wider-scale attacks, may mass-produce EFPs

BAGHDAD — Troops from Maj. Jeremy Siegrist's battalion were following up a tip recently when they came across something odd: two restaurant-sized freezers sitting in the middle of a palm grove.

The freezers' contents were even more surprising. Inside, the troops found 150 copper plates, C-4 plastic explosive and plastic tube sections — key ingredients in making the deadly, armor-piercing roadside bombs known as explosively formed projectiles, or EFPs.

The amount of Iran-made material suggested Iraqi militants have learned how to mass-produce EFPs, rather than only import them pre-made from Iran, Siegrist said Monday. "It's a huge step" for the militants, he said.

The increased use of EFPs, which can shoot molten metal through tanks and cause heavier casualties than normal bombs, may be part of a broader tactical shift by Iraqi insurgents, U.S. military officials and analysts say. Since an increase in U.S. troops patrolling Baghdad under President Bush's new security plan, extremists have launched fewer but deadlier attacks to kill Americans and terrify the Iraqi population.

Read the rest at USA Today

Perspective: Army sets goal of specializing in electronic warfare by 2008

An elecontronic counter-measures UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle)

The Army wants soldiers to take the war on terrorism to the electromagnetic spectrum.

The Army hopes to make electronic warfare its own Military Occupational Specialty by March 2008, the chief of the Army’s Electronic Warfare Division said.

Ultimately, the Army hopes to have thousands of soldiers trained in electronic warfare, which includes jamming enemy communications and preventing insurgents from detonating roadside bombs, said Col. Laurie Moe Buckhout.

Read the rest at Stars and Stripes

Perspective: Army Helicopter School Uses Iraq Lessons

A helicopter pilot practicing at Fort Rucker

FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- At a sprawling base set amid the wiregrass pastures of southern Alabama, the Army is teaching its next class of helicopter pilots how to avoid getting shot down when it's their turn to go to Iraq.

Sometimes you fly high, they learn, and sometimes you go low. Vary your speed, and don't fly the same route too often. And always -- always -- know what's going on around you. That's because it doesn't take much more than a single gun on the ground to take down even the most advanced U.S. helicopter.

"Self-preservation is what the key is," said Chief Warrant Officer Troy A. Wyatt, an instructor.

Read the rest at the LA Times

Security Summary: February 28, 2007

A woman stands in front of rubble from a car bomb explosion in a Baghdad market today which killed at least 10

MAALEF - U.S.-backed Iraqi forces found a weapons cache in Maalef, near Mosul, that including 194 mortar rounds, 14 mortar tubes, 18 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 160 rockets, a suicide vest and other gear for making bombs, the U.S. military said.

BAGHDAD - Mortars wounded nine civilians in southwestern Baghdad in a residential area, a police source said.

BAGHDAD - The body of a police colonel who had been kidnapped two months ago was found in northern Baghdad.

BAGHDAD - A car bomb killed 10 people and wounded 21 near a vegetable market in Bayaa district in southern Baghdad, police said.

NEAR TAJI - U.S. forces killed eight insurgents and detained six suspects during operations targeting foreign fighter facilitators and the al-Qaeda in Iraq network northeast of Taji, 20 km (9 miles) north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

MUQDADIYA - Gunmen killed two brothers of prominent Sunni politician Saleem al-Jubouri in the insurgent stronghold of Muqdadiya, north of Baghdad, police and Jubouri said.

BAGHDAD - A suicide car bomber attacked a police station in Nahdha district in central Baghdad, killing two policemen and wounding another two, police said.

BASRA - A British soldier was killed by gunfire while on patrol in Iraq's second city Basra, the British Ministry of Defence said on Wednesday.

MAHMUDIYA - Mortars killed one civilian and wounded another four from the same family in the town of Mahmudiya, 30 km (20 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

RIYADH - At least four Iraqi soldiers were seriously wounded when a roadside bomb struck their patrol in the town of Riyadh, 60 km (40 miles) southwest of the northern oil city of Kirkuk, an army source said.

TIKRIT - Gunmen shot dead a man inside his car on Tuesday in Tikrit, 175 km (110 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

HIMREEN - Police found a body shot in the head in the town of Himreen, 120 km (75 miles) south of the northern oil city of Kirkuk, police said.

MOSUL - Gunmen killed Abdul-Hadi Mahmoud, the head of a government office in Mosul that issues identity cards, in a drive-by shooting in the northern city of Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

ISKANDARIYA - Several mortar rounds landed in a residential district, killing a man and woman, in the town of Iskandariya, 40 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

From Reuters/Alternet

DOD Intelligence Director Maples: Attacks on forces match record high in January


WASHINGTON — Attacks against coalition forces in Iraq averaged nearly 180 a day in January, the highest level since major combat operations ended and more than double the rate one year ago, according to intelligence officials.

Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday said the attacks matched the previous high, set in October 2006.

Attacks on civilians also reached a new high, with almost 50 per day in January, according to the agency. Attacks on Iraqi Security Forces remained consistent with recent months, at about 30 a day.

Read the rest at Stars and Stripes

Iranian military threatens to cross into Iraq to pursue Kurdish fighters


Above: PKK fighters

Feb. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Iran's forces may cross into Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish rebels if the government in Baghdad can't expel the militants from border areas, an Iranian commander said.

"I warn Iraq's Kurdish movements and anti-revolutionary armed insurgents who are linked with foreigners that Iraq's government must oust them from the region," Revolutionary Guards leader Yahya Rahim Safavi was cited as saying today by state-run Mehr News. "Otherwise the Revolutionary Guards, to protect the security of the country and Iranian people, will consider it as their right to chase and neutralize them beyond the borders."

Iran's armed forces have regular clashes with Kurdish rebels in the northwest of the country, mainly members of the Party of Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK. Iranian forces killed three local PJAK chiefs Feb. 26, Agence France-Presse reported.

Read the rest at Bloomberg

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Perspective: From Iraqi mountains, Kurds train for battle with Iran

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Perspective: Will Turkey attack in Iraq?

U.S. Set to Join Iran and Syria in Talks on Iraq

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 — American officials said Tuesday that they had agreed to hold the highest-level contact with the Iranian authorities in more than two years as part of an international meeting on Iraq.

The discussions, scheduled for the next two months, are expected to include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Iranian and Syrian counterparts.

The announcement, first made in Baghdad and confirmed by Ms. Rice, that the United States would take part in two sets of meetings among Iraq and its neighbors, including Syria and Iran, is a shift in President Bush’s avoidance of high-level contacts with the governments in Damascus and, especially, Tehran.

Read the rest at the NY Times

Army cuts training of 100 NCOs 5 weeks short to support Iraq surge

FORT BLISS, Texas — About 100 senior NCOs will be released early from the nine-month resident Sergeants Major Course to support the troop surge in Iraq.

Col. David J. Abramowitz, commandant of the Sergeants Major Academy, said graduation ceremonies will be held April 13 for sergeants major designated for immediate deployment to Iraq. The rest of the 649-member Class #57 that began studies late last summer will graduate May 22, the regularly scheduled date.

Abramowitz, who leaves here Friday to become chief of staff for the Iraq Assistance Group, said the soldiers designated for early graduation will not participate in the course’s culminating command post exercise.

Read the rest at the Army Times

Related Link:
2 Army units will forgo desert training in rush to Iraq

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Report: Pace warns Congress of signifcant decline in military readiness, 'may take several years' to reverse

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Perspective: In rush to surge, soldiers sent in with little training

Gates: U.S. in Iraq for 'a number of years', but no desire for permanent bases


The U.S. has been 'upgrading' its major bases in Iraq over time. The 14-square mile Balad Air Base (pictured above) includes an olympic-sized swimming pool, five dining halls and a car dealership. The 19-square mile al-Asad Air Base includes a Burger King, a Pizza Hut and a car dealership. At Tallil, there's a mess hall for 6,000. The bases are tied into Iraq's electrical grid, another sign of permanence. But the U.S. insists that bases for 'long-term access' is a different thing than 'permanent'.

WASHINGTON, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday the United States may have a military presence in Iraq for a "prolonged period" and drew a comparison with U.S. bases in Germany and South Korea.

Gates, however, also said the United States had no desire for permanent bases in Iraq and any long-term military presence in the country would be far smaller than the current force level of some 140,000 U.S. troops.

"I think that at a very much reduced level we will probably have some presence in Iraq, as we have had in Korea and Germany and a variety of other places around the world where we've been at war, for a prolonged period of time, a number of years," Gates told the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee.

Read the rest at Reuters/Alternet

Related Link:
Report: U.S. building massive permanent base in north Iraq

Iraqi Gov't: Report of 18 children killed in bombing yesterday not true

A man and boy walk past the site of a bombing in Ramadi which destroyed a police station and killed 15 on Monday.

BAGHDAD, Feb 28 (Reuters) - A report of a bomb killing 18 people, mostly children, on Tuesday in the Iraqi city of Ramadi was wrong and stemmed from confusion over a similar attack the day before, police officials and residents said on Wednesday.

The reported killing of so many children drew swift condemnation from the president and the prime minister, but Colonel Tariq al Theibani, security adviser for Anbar province, said the report of the bombing on Tuesday was wrong.

"It happened the day before yesterday," he told Reuters.

He said 18 people, many of them children, were killed on Monday by a suicide car bomb, as previously reported. The U.S. military had put the death toll from that attack at 15.

Read the rest at Reuters/Alternet

Related Link:
Conflicting reports over bomb killing or injuring children in park in Ramadi

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Perspective: The phone is always on

Lance Cpl. Benjamin Ford reacts last week moments after an insurgent shot at his unit

MONROE -- Denise Ford ignores requests to shut off her cell phone at the doctor's office and at movie theaters. When she leaves home, she forwards her calls. She drives back home if she forgets her phone.

"You are paranoid about missing a call," Denise said.

Denise's son Ben, 21, is in Iraq.

Denise is no stranger to the military, having served in the Air Force for five years in the 1980s. But that doesn't stop her from worrying.

Her son, Ben, a Marine lance corporal, has been near Haditha, Iraq since late last year, serving with the Second Battalion, Third Marines, Echo Company. It is his second deployment.

Read the rest at the Monroe Times

Perspective: Brothers in more than spirit, 3 sons head to Iraq

ALANSON - Melody Bradley recently shared a few hugs and tears with her son, John McClellan, who leaves for Iraq in a few weeks.

In the next year, she will swallow back more tears and say goodbye as two more of her sons will leave for Iraq.

“I pray and cry,” Bradley said. “I'm proud of them for serving. But when they leave, it gets harder.”

Brothers John McClellan, 27, Dominic McClellan, 25, and Will Bradley, 20, are part of a greater brotherhood in the Marines.

“We're best friends, brothers and Marines,” John said. “We can relate on another level, not just as brothers.”

Read the rest at Petoskey News

Perspective: Building on a police force of one

Marines conduct a house-to-house search in Barwanah

If the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment is going to rid the town of Barwanah violent insurgents, it depends on 80 men from the Nimrawi tribe huddled in one dark room of a large house down the street. It is protected by concertina wire, tanks, Marines, soldiers, and one 19-year old Barwanah police officer who searched them when they came in. He is the only police officer on the entire force.

His name is Wahad. He wears a black ski mask to hide his face. His neighbors believe he was arrested and detained by the Americans; they don't know he joined the police force in December. He has only been home twice in two months, and then under cover of night and with a phalanx of Marines to protect him.

"They're scared all the time," said Buck, a police officer from Florida helping to organize the new force. "This is the time when they are hit, when they are killed, when there is a screening like this. This is the typical beginning of a police department in a hot area, just kind of going through the steps."

Read the rest at UPI

Perspective: 'I'd take a bullet for them'

Members of the 6th Iraqi Army Division, patrol through the streets of Mahmudiyah in joint mission with U.S. forces

CAMP VICTORY, Iraq Feb. 26, 2007 — "I'd take a bullet for them and I know they'd take a bullet for me," says U.S. Army Maj. Alvaro Roa. He calls them "my guys" and takes pride that they are the best in the brigade. It's obvious there's a friendship — the type forged in combat — between Roa and his men, the soldiers of the Babylon battalion of the Iraqi 6th Army.

"I get about 50 man kisses a day," Roa says, referring to the traditional Iraqi greeting, "and it doesn't bother me at all." Roa is the chief of one of more than 400 transition teams — American soldiers that live, work and fight with Iraqi security forces.

Read the rest at ABC News

Security Summary: February 27, 2007

Children watch as an unidentified Iraqi holds up an empty cannister from a 'stun grenade' used in a raid in Baghdad.

RAMADI - Iraqi police and a community leader said a bomb blast near a soccer field in Ramadi killed 18 people, mostly children, but the U.S. military said it was unaware of such an attack. The U.S. military said its soldiers had carried out a controlled explosion in Ramadi, also near a soccer field, that slightly wounded 30 people, including nine children.

Two Iraqi police sources said 18 people had been killed in the bomb attack. Tribal leader Hamid Farhan al-Hays from Ramadi told Iraqiya state television that 12 children and six women were killed in a bomb he blamed on al Qaeda.

BAGHDAD - Four bodies were found shot dead around Baghdad, a police source said.

BAGHDAD - Mortars killed three people and wounded six in Wehde, south of Baghdad, a police source said.

DIWANIYA - The U.S. military announced the death of another U.S. soldier, killed on Monday by a roadside bomb near Diwaniya, 180 km (110 miles) south of Baghdad. Two more soldiers were wounded by the bomb.

BAGHDAD - Three U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb on the outskirts of Baghdad and one more was wounded, the U.S. military said.

MOSUL - A suicide truck bomber targeting an Iraqi police station in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul killed seven policemen and wounded 47 people, including 32 civilians, police said.

BAGHDAD - A car bomb in Karrada killed five people and wounded 10 when it exploded shortly after an official convoy passed by, a police source said.

AL-BAAJ - A suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt killed four people and wounded six others in the reception of a company specialising in manufacturing cement barriers for the Iraqi security forces in the town of al-Baaj, about 100 km (60 miles) west of Mosul, police said.

BAGHDAD - A car bomb killed two people and wounded four others in a busy commercial street in the predominantly Shi'ite district of Karrada in central Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - A roadside bomb in Tayaran Square in central Baghdad killed two people and wounded 11, police said.

BAGHDAD - A roadside bomb wounded three policemen in Zayouna in eastern Baghdad, a police source said.

MOSUL - Gunmen killed a university student in Mosul, police said.

BAGHDAD - A total of 25 bodies were found shot dead in different districts of Baghdad on Monday and most showed signs of torture, police said.

BAGHDAD - U.S. forces detained 12 insurgents, including a suspected local al Qaeda leader, during raids targeting people who help foreign fighters and the al Qaeda in Iraq network, the U.S. military said.

BAGHDAD - Two Iraqi journalists working for the Shi'ite Furat television channel were wounded in Monday's bomb attack that wounded Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi and killed six people, an official said. Correspondent Abdul-Razzaq Raheem suffered from wounds to the head and cameraman Haider Qabil sustained shrapnel wounds in his hand.

BAGHDAD - Iraqi Army special forces backed by U.S. military advisors detained 16 suspected militiamen in operations in the northeastern Sadr City district of Baghdad against what the U.S. military described as "rogue" Mehdi Army militia cells.

RAMADI - The U.S. military put the final death toll from Monday's suicide truck bomb targeting a police station near Ramadi at 15 people killed, including two policemen, and nine wounded. The blast was in a village near the Sunni stronghold of Ramadi, 110 km (68 miles) west of Baghdad.

NEAR DIWANIYA - Iraqi police and army arrested 157 people they said were members of the Soldiers of Heaven, a group involved in a major battle with U.S. and Iraqi forces last month in which around 260 members of the group were killed. They were arrested in a town near Diwaniya, 180 km (112 miles) south of Baghdad, police brigadier Abdul-Khaliq al-Bedrani said.

From Reuters/Alternet

U.S., Iraqi forces stage pinpoint raids on Sadr City

Sadr City children stare through a window broken during the raids.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - U.S. and Iraqi forces staged raids in Baghdad's main Shiite militant stronghold Tuesday as part of politically sensitive forays into areas loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Troops have held back on broad sweeps through the teeming Sadr City slums since a major security operation began earlier this month, targeting militant factions and sectarian death squads that have ruled Baghdad's streets.

Al-Sadr withdrew his powerful Mahdi Army militia from checkpoints and bases under intense government pressure to let the neighbor-by-neighbor security sweeps move ahead. But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and others have opposed extensive U.S.-led patrols through Sadr City, fearing a violent backlash could derail the security effort.

The pre-dawn raids appeared to highlight a strategy of pinpoint strikes in Sadr City rather than the flood of soldiers sent into some Sunni districts.

At least 16 people were arrested after U.S.-Iraqi commandos - using concussion grenades - stormed six homes, police said. The U.S. military had no immediate details of the operation.

``My sons and wife were very terrified,'' complained Muhand Mihbas, 30, who said his brother and six cousins were taken in the sweeps. ``Does the security plan mean arresting innocent people and scaring civilians at night?''

Read the rest at the Guardian

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