Monday, March 31, 2008

A Brighter Future

Monday, 31 March 2008
By Sgt. Kevin Stabinsky
2nd BCT, 3rd Inf. Div. PAO

FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU — Her hands run across his hand, her fingers explore his features. She asks her father: Is he fat or skinny? Tall or short? She is trying to learn about the man she cannot see, the one who strives to end the mystery surrounding him and the world around her.

First Lt. Michael Kendrick, platoon leader of 2nd Platoon, Company D, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, said it is his goal to replace the mental picture young Noor Taha Najee has of her father with the actual image.

Noor, a 5-year-old girl who lives in al Buaytha, has been blind since birth, a condition caused by poorly-developed corneas, said her father Taha.

It is a problem which runs in the family. Taha's brother, Mustafa, also suffers from the birth defect, one that prevents the eyes from registering anything other than light sensitivity.

Although the condition is genetic, it is one that can be fixed through surgery. Kendrick, a native of Phoenix, Ariz., and his unit have been working closely with doctors to try to get something done for the family.

"To have her see her family, her brothers, to put a face to the voice, it would be a blessing," Taha said of the opportunity to help give sight to his daughter and brother.

The Eye Defects Research Foundation, a nongovernmental organization based in Los Angeles, is already trying to schedule a surgery for the girl.

On March 14, the Soldiers took Noor and her uncle to the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad to get an evaluation done on the two, which showed a higher potential for success with Noor.

"We're on standby now, waiting for a doctor in L.A.," Kendrick said.

He said they are now trying to find a local Iraqi doctor who would be willing to travel with Noor and her family to California. An Iraqi doctor is needed who could be shown the necessary follow-up care.

Such a gift would seem appropriate for a girl who is described as very generous and giving by her father.

"She's different from many other kids," Taha said. "She's always sharing. She'll give you anything."

It is a personality trait which has endeared her to the 2nd Platoon Soldiers.

"We've taken a real vested interest in the people here," Kendrick said, adding his Soldiers spend a lot of time on the ground, interacting with residents. "We empathize with the people. It pays dividends winning the hearts and minds. It keeps things quiet."

Noor has developed quite an attachment to Kendrick, Taha said.

"She likes to sit by him, and is always asking me about him and loves it when I tell her stories about him," he said. "She's only like that with Kendrick."

As a father of two young girls himself – Presley, 3, and Parker, 1, – Kendrick said he knows the importance of family and providing for them.

While she may not be able to see what the Soldiers are doing for her, Taha said Noor can definitely sense the good will of Kendrick's platoon.

"Love begins in the mind, not the eyes," Taha said.

Friday, March 28, 2008

After year in Afghanistan, battalion welcomed home

The Arizona Republic
Mar. 28, 2008 12:00 AM

They were part of the largest deployment for the Arizona National Guard since World War II. They had been in Afghanistan for a year.

This week, they came home.

About 100 members of the 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry Regiment began returning to Arizona on Thursday.

The rest of the unit will be home over the next several days.

The group, known as the Bushmasters, aided in a February rescue operation after a helicopter carrying Sens. John Kerry, Joe Biden and Chuck Hagel made an emergency landing.

Two members of the unit were killed in action while deployed: Staff Sgt. Charles Browning of Florence and Pfc. Mykel Miller of Phoenix. An additional 24 soldiers were wounded in action.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Five minutes of your time

Hit play, and watch this video and $1 goes to Operation Homefront to support military families.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Blue Star Mothers Meeting

March 25, 2008

Debbie Miller and Debbie Seifert were not able to attend the meeting. Those BSM’s in attendance held an informal meeting wherein the time was spent caring, sharing and discussing as follows:

  1. Resignation –
    1. Bonnielee Walsh’s resignation as Co-Vice President was announced.
  2. “Middle” Meeting, March 11th
    1. Vicki Payne informed everyone about the talk given by the D-M Speakers at the March 11th meeting and information on deployment, etc. One of the things they talked about the soldiers’ returning stateside and re-entering normal life. It takes between 3-12 months for the soldier to become acclimated back into stateside life. The suggestion was made that they be invited to speak at another meeting and that their talk be taped. The next “middle” meeting will be April 8th at the VFW.
  3. “Middle” Meetings –
    1. Obtaining speakers for these meetings was discussed.
  4. –
    1. Link has been added to the BSM website.
  5. Easter Eggstravaganza –
    1. Was discussed.
  6. April 8th “Middle” Meeting –
    1. Barbara Lutgendolf will be speaking. Barbara is a teacher in Marana whose son was a Naval Medic for the Marines.
  7. April 29th Meeting/Potluck –
    1. Barbara League and April Bolt will ask their sons (Matt and Gareth) to speak at the April 29th meeting. Debbie Miller’s son was in the same group. Discussion/decision to have a potluck that evening from 6:30-8:00pm and have the business meeting from 8:00-8:30pm. A potluck sign-up sheet was passed around.
    2. Vicki Payne will check with Kim Sloan regarding having food in the VFW meeting room.
  8. Pima County Fair –
    1. Decision was made to NOT have a table at the Pima County Fair. The table would have to manned every day for 10 days from 11:00am-9:00pm.
  9. Memorial Day –
    1. Lois Spangenberg will check to see if Tucson has anything in the works.
    2. VFW has a cookout for Memorial Day, May 26th.
  10. 4th of July/Mt. Lemmon –
    1. Helen Quigley volunteered to obtain details on the Mt. Lemon 4th of July Celebration. She participated for the BSM’s in 2007.
  11. 4th of July/Marana –
    1. Barbara League volunteered to obtain details on having a table at their celebration.
  12. 4th of July/Oro Valley –
    1. Linga Cagle volunteered to contact Oro Valley regarding having a table at their celebration.
  13. D-M Spring Air Show –
    1. Lois Spangenberg volunteered to get info on having a table there.
  14. Adopting a Highway –
    1. Suggestion was made to look into this, i.e. cost, what is involved and how often.
    1. There was a lot of discussion on the BSM’s original formed to be a support group and having lost a lot of the people who attended the first meetings because their need for support was not being met.
    2. Suggestion was that we need to reduce the time spent on business and to go back to being more of a support group.
    3. It was also suggested that a group e-mail be sent to those that have attended the BSM Meetings in the past to let them know that the meetings are going to revert back to lean more toward support than business.
    4. Doing “FUN” things was also suggested –

i. Getting groups together to go to –

1. Gaslight Theater.

2. Baseball games.

3. Reid Park Zoo, Music Under the Stars.

4. Sabino Canyon hikes.

5. Riverfront Park, Oro Valley.

6. Catalina State Park.

7. Etc.

Respectfully submitted,

Charli Greenlees

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Adopting a four-legged veteran

By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Mar 23, 2008 10:01:23 EDT

Benny was declared “excess” by the military and scheduled to be euthanized by January, according to his military medical records.

Today, Benny — a spry German shepherd — is anything but excess to Debbie Kandoll, who found him during a determined search to adopt a retired military working dog.

Even at the advanced dog age of 10, with degenerative bone disease, Benny has become an integral part of the Kandoll family since he was adopted from Langley Air Force Base, Va., on Jan. 4.

Kandoll, the wife of an Air Force Reserve officer currently on active duty, wants to get the word out to other military families and civilians that retired dogs are available for adoption at military working dog facilities across the country, as are some younger dogs who may have washed out of the program.

She has launched a Web site that includes phone numbers for 125 military working dog facilities.

The idea of supporting the troops, said Kandoll, who lives near Goldsboro, N.C., “should apply to all veterans, not just the human ones.”

Kandoll said she thought at first that she could adopt retired dogs only through the Defense Military Working Dog School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

“People should check with regional facilities to see what is available,” she said.

As for Benny, he’s thriving and his mobility has improved, she said — partly because he now gets to sleep on comfy pillows instead of concrete.

Although Benny is no longer on military patrols and sniffing for drugs, he is anything but retired. He visits hospitals, including the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Durham, N.C., as a certified therapy dog.

Kandoll and Benny make appearances at local events to raise awareness and encourage more civilians to adopt retired military working dogs.

Last year, 360 retired military working dogs were adopted or transferred to law enforcement agencies, according to officials at the Defense Military Working Dog School, with the 341st Training Squadron at Lackland.

Of those, 103 were transferred to law enforcement agencies, 139 were adopted at Lackland and the remaining dogs were adopted elsewhere, many likely by former military working dog handlers.

Under a law passed in 2000, dogs declared “excess” by the Defense Department can be adopted by law-enforcement agencies, prior military handlers and the general public.

“A lot of people still don’t know they can adopt dogs,” said Ron Aiello, founder of the U.S. War Dogs Association and a former military dog handler in Vietnam. “They don’t know dogs were used in Vietnam and that they are being used now. I’d like to see more veterans adopt military working dogs.”

Aiello said he works closely with Kandoll to provide information to people who want to adopt dogs. Interest has come from a number of Vietnam veteran dog handlers, many of whom had to leave their dogs behind in Vietnam.

He and Kandoll think adopting the dogs can be therapeutic for veterans.

To adopt a military working dog, prospective owners fill out a basic application with questions about their experience with dogs, other pets in the household, yard size, fencing and children in the household, officials said.

Once a match for a prospective adoption is made, an agreement is signed for the transfer of ownership, in which the new owner releases the Defense Department from liability.

The dogs are free, but the new owners must pay all costs, including transportation.

Officials at the Military Working Dog School said they have not had to euthanize any dogs for lack of someone to adopt them. In fact, they’ve had to establish a waiting list because there are not enough dogs to meet the high demand for them in the community and with law-enforcement agencies.

Kandoll’s dream is to build a Web site that connects people to working dogs. “These people at Lackland go above and beyond to place dogs in a home,” she said. “But it’s such an overwhelming job. The problem is that the word hasn’t gotten out that after the handlers and law enforcement, civilians can adopt the dogs.

“That’s why the kennel master had this smile in his voice when I called and asked if he had a dog available for adoption on the afternoon of Nov. 29,” she said.

“He said, ‘Yes, I do. ... His name is Benny, and he’s a great big goofball.’”

Kandoll had checked with Lackland officials earlier in November, but Benny was not in their database of dogs available for adoption, although he had been declared “excess” — ready to be retired — in October.

“If I hadn’t had the military connection, I would not have known how to contact these other facilities,” she said.

She and her husband drove to Langley Air Force Base on Jan. 4 and picked up Benny.

As part of the adoption process, Kandoll received Benny’s military medical records.

She quickly noticed that on Nov. 29, Benny officially had been scheduled for euthanasia in December or January. Nov. 29 was the same day Kandoll had made her 20th phone call — the one that led her to Benny.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Good News from Iraq: 4 Mar 2008

From MNF-I, Youth Sports Club Opens, Child Athletes have Place to Compete.

SULEIKH — As security improves in this Baghdad neighborhood, Iraqi citizens are focusing more attention on the quality of life in their community.

Several Suleikh area residents and leaders, Iraqi Army and Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers attended the grand opening celebration of the Suleikh Club, a youth sports center, March 1.

A procession of area athletic teams, including soccer, basketball, wrestling and martial arts groups, opened the festivities. The different squads marched in, proudly displaying colorful uniforms and team signs. The center will provide a place to practice and compete in their individual athletic disciplines.

Several community leaders including Fikrat Kareem, the neighborhood advisory council leader for the area, and Iraqi Army Lt. Col. Yeheya Rasol, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 11th Iraqi Army Division, spoke during the event.

“The opening of the club was beautiful,” Fikrat said through an interpreter. “Many citizens came to the (event). They are excited. Life is returning to normal.”

The club, which was originally built in 1957, is again a place where young people can participate in different sports, said Lt. Col. Wilson Shoffner, the commander of the 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, currently attached to 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, MND-B.

The club was shut down in 2005 due to criminal activity in the area.

“We had a couple of different insurgent groups operating here, some of them actually using the Suleikh Club as a base of operations. Obviously, with insurgents operating out of the club, that drove away the reason for its existence,” said Shoffner, a Lawton, Okla., native.

As the Iraqi Army and the local security forces in the area began to work together with Coalition forces, the area’s safety improved.

“The Iraqi Army and Sons of Iraq work together now,” said Yeheya. “We do our duty together to kick all of the terrorists out of Suleikh for the future (of the community).”

The Iraqi Army, the Suleikh neighborhood council and Coalition forces have been working to renovate the club during the last five months, said Shoffner.

The increased safety encouraged area leaders to focus more on reconciliation efforts.

“This club is the beginning of reunification in the area,” said Fikrat.

The youth sports center will connect several different neighborhoods in the area including Rabee’a, Suleikh, Tunnis, Shababkur and Qahira, he added. The youth sports activities bring the different groups in the area together for a common cause.

As reconciliation efforts continue, community centers, such as the Suleikh Club, will have a lasting impact on the Iraqi citizens.

“It was appreciated by the people here,” said Shoffner. “I think it will continue, long after the Coalition forces are gone, to be a place where people come to focus on youth sports center activities.”