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Saturday, February 07, 2004

May you always have an angel by your side
Watching out for you in all the things you do
Reminding you to keep believing in brighter days
Finding ways for your wishes and dreams to take you to beautiful places
Giving you hope that is as certain as the sun
Giving you the strength of serenity as your guide
May you always have love, comfort and courage
And may you always have an angel by your side

May you always have an angel by your side
Someone there to catch you if you fall
Encouraging your dreams, Inspiring your happiness
Holding you hand and helping you through it all
In all our days, our lives are always changing
Tears come along as well as smiles
Along the roads you travel, may the miles be a thousand times more lovely than lonely

May they give you the kind of gifts that never, ever end:
Someone wonderful to love and a dear friend in who you can confide
May you have rainbows after every storm
May you have hopes to keep you warm
And may you always have an angel by your side.

- Emilia Larson

Friday, February 06, 2004

I represent KeystoneSoldiers and Soldiers Angels. Our groups were founded as a support system for our soldiers and their families during their deployment. We realized that there is still an urgent and compassionate need for Americans to show their support for the soldiers serving in the Middle East and several other areas of the world. We send the love of a grateful nation in every package sent to our soldiers.
Our mission is by no means a war effort. It is a support effort for the soldiers who are away from their families in dangerous and sometimes harsh conditions. They are the fathers and sons as well as mothers, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts of our families and our neighbors. Almost everyone today knows someone who is serving our country outside its borders.
We are currently involved in the Freedom Ride to Support Our Troops. Mr. Dan Forant will be riding his bicycle across the country from Albany, NY to Sacramento, CA beginning on March 1, 2004. He will be stopping at Ground Zero in NYC, suburban Philadelphia, Pa, Cincinnati, Oh and many other towns before connecting with historic Route 66 in St Louis, Mo and following that all the way to California.
We are asking Americans across the nation to be part of this historic event by coming out to the cities Mr. Forant will be passing through to wave their flags and yellow ribbons or ride their bicycles with him for part of the trip.
We are also seeking direct donations through our websites. These donations help to cover the cost of shipping packages to the soldiers and continued support and assistance for the military families. We are asking for 1 penny for every 3 miles, which translates to $20.00 for the entire trip. Of course, there is no donation too large or too small. You are welcome to contribute any amount to this effort. You will find a PayPal link on our websites if you wish to make a donation by credit card or e-check. We will also accept checks and money orders at the following address: Keystone Soldiers PO Box 152 Fleetwood, Pa 19522-0152 or Soldiers Angels 3355 N. Five Mile Road #186 Boise, ID 83713-3925.

We are in need of sponsors for Mr. Forant’s equipment and expenses. These include but are not limited to: sleeping accommodations for 3 people every night of the trip, meals for 3 every day, gas for the van that will follow the bicyclers in case of problems, and any incidentals along the way. There will be a national Press Release for all major sponsors and all sponsors will receive a graphic link on the special Freedom Bicycle Ride website.
All cities along the tour route have been or are being contacted and asked to bring out their flags, signs and patriotism. The response has been tremendous.
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology you will be able to follow this excursion daily on the internet. Mr. Forant will be equipped with a laptop computer and digital camera for live video and still shots. All this information will be transmitted to NY and posted on the website daily. You will be able to see where the group currently is and where they will be next.
This will be a great opportunity for schools to get involved in the effort to support our troops. The details of the trip across the country and how one man’s dedication can rally an entire nation will be wonderful learning tools.
We hope we can count on your support. You may contact us through the websites, by email or by phone for more detailed information. We also have information on many other ways you can participate and show your support.
Keystone Soldiers and
Soldiers Angels
www.keystonesoldiers.com / www.soldiersangels.com

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Army Postal Soldiers Earn Valor in Iraq
By Staff Sgt. Nate Orme
3rd Personnel Command PAO

BAGHDAD, Iraq --"I told the two Iraqi males to get in the back of the truck," said Capt. Juan David Pena, displaying concern for the property of two innocent strangers while in the midst of commandeering their truck at gunpoint during an anti-Coalition ambush of Pena's small reconnaissance convoy.

Pena was able to take control of the truck and extract himself, two other soldiers, and the body of a civilian contractor out of the ambush.
For their performance "in keeping with the highest traditions of military service" three soldiers from the 461st Personnel Services Battalion-Pena , Chief Warrant Officer 3 Robert Meyerhoff and Spc. Travis Duarte-have each been approved to receive the Bronze Star for Valor. Meyerhoff has also been approved for the Purple Heart for injuries sustained during the ambush.

The events began the morning of Sept. 3, explained Meyerhoff and Pena recently, soon after their convoy of two non-tactical vehicles (i.e., SUVs) left the secure confines of the joint military mail terminal at the Baghdad International Airport. They were headed to the new Army post office at a camp near the ancient city of Babylon, mapping out a route along the way to be used for mail delivery by KBR truck drivers.

Shortly after heading out onto a major highway, Meyerhoff determined they needed to be going in the other direction. While making a U-turn, the convoy was suddenly hit by a barrage of bullets, instantly killing Vernon Gaston, a civilian KBR employee, who was driving the vehicle with Meyerhoff, Pena and Duarte.

Duarte, carrying the substantial power of a squad automatic weapon, bailed out as the vehicle, without driver, careened over a berm and continued to attract bullets. Meyerhoff then jumped out and exchanged fire with the suspected enemy location, followed seconds later by Pena exiting the besieged vehicle.
Duarte quickly found cover in a ditch and began to return fire with his SAW, providing cover for the two other men. Meyerhoff, injured in the calf where a bullet had ripped through him during the first volley, began to force himself toward the vehicle, now stopped where it had hit a wall. When Meyerhoff collapsed on his leg, Pena rushed out and dragged him by his flack jacket the rest of the way, and both took cover behind the vehicle. Separately, each of them checked on Gaston and determined he was dead-a bullet had pierced his temple just under his Kevlar helmet. The two then assessed their situation.

Unable to contact the other vehicle, which escaped the ambush but was unable to assist, Pena, with two good legs, dashed over to Duarte, while Duarte with SAW and Meyerhoff with M-15 assult rifleprovided him cover. After a few moments, Meyerhoff, summoning untapped adrenaline, made a mad limp over to the other two. Pena, M-16 in hand, then went to the road, heavy with moving traffic, and stopped a small truck. The two young, scared Iraqi males inside complied with Pena's orders to get in the back. Soon, Meyerhoff and Duarte were also in the truck, Duarte in the back with the two Iraqis, where he told his fellow soldiers that he "had their back."

The three went back to the crashed vehicle and collected Gaston's body, Meyerhoff providing cover while struggling with the pain in his leg that was making him dizzy and near to passing out.

Once back on the road, Pena drove against traffic for over a mile, with Meyerhoff momentarily forgetting his bloody leg while directing people to move out of the way. Finally, the truck was able to cross to the right side of the road. After an equal distance, the truck reached a military compound where the soldiers fired a few rounds to signal someone's attention. A passing military convoy saw their distress and assisted them to the 407th Forward Support Battalion encampment nearby. The two young Iraqis then got their truck back.
Meyerhoff was taken to the trauma center, followed by surgery. Days later he would be sent to Germany and eventually to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C. for further treatment. Meanwhile, Pena and Duarte went back to the mail terminal at the airport and both soon were back to work.

"I didn't want to stay in the states," said Meyerhoff, a former Marine rifleman who served in Vietnam in `68-`69. "The mission wasn't accomplished. I got a medical clearance to get back. I have to do therapy for my leg is all."

"Really, it was more of a sense of honor (to return)-to finish the mission," said Meyerhoff. "When you're in the military, you have two families. Even when home, you miss the relationships and camaraderie."

Meyerhoff credits that feeling to the collaborative environment created by Lt. Col. Steven Heggen, commander of the 461st PSB, a Reserve unit from Decatur, Ga.

"Col. Heggen's leadership allows people to expand and take on additional responsibilities. His leadership style really aids in the motivation and dedication of soldiers. We work as a team. When the ambush happened, we didn't second guess each other. The trust was already there," Meyerhoff explained.

Before returning to Iraq, Meyerhoff was able to visit his wife and 16-year-old son at home in Valle Crucis, N.C., welcomed by the sight of trees lined with yellow ribbons along his driveway and neighbors and friends deluging the Meyerhoffs with home-cooked dinners, wine and gifts.

Pena also went home, but later, on regular rest and recuperation leave over Christmas. There, he was greeted first by family at the airport and then by neighbors waiting at the entrance of his Atlanta, Ga., neighborhood.

Unlike Meyerhoff, who, with a wink, yarned that getting shot at was old hat from his "Nam" days, Pena said the experience changed him.

"It made me more alert every time we go out," Pena said. "You realize how quickly life can change in a matter of seconds. It felt good to be around someone you knew under fire. Though injured, he (Meyerhoff) had my back. And Spc. Duarte reacted fearlessly and without hesitation."

Pena and Meyerhoff's words evoked the American spirit of fairness and decency displayed even during war-hard to imagine in most other militaries-that caused Pena to remember that the two scared Iraqis would want their vehicle back after it was briefly commandeered. It is a poignant example of the fundamental difference between the Americans, who do not blame average Iraqis for the criminal, world-destabilizing behavior of their now-deposed leadership, and the few "dead-enders" in Iraq who would kill anyone-man, woman, child, friend, ethnic foe-without compunction to achieve their tortured goals.

Killed KBR driver, Vernon Gaston, 46, who had served on the Lampasas, Texas, city council back home, was laid to rest at the First Baptist Church in Lampasas on Sept. 12. He is survived by his three sons, a daughter and his wife Kaye.

All three soon-to-be-decorated soldiers are back working at the mail terminal alongside KBR employees, ensuring that thousands of soldiers receive their mail while in Iraq. The three are scheduled to remain in the Operation Iraqi Freedom theater until the 461st PSB returns this spring.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Insurgent Iraqis Vow to Take Over Cities

RAMADI, Iraq - A coalition of insurgent groups has vowed to take over cities vacated by U.S. troops, and warned of "harsh consequences" for Iraqis who resist, according to pamphlets circulating in this hotbed of anti-American resistance.

The pamphlets, signed by Muhammad's Army and other insurgent groups, began appearing Saturday in Ramadi and nearby Fallujah - both part of the dangerous Sunni Triangle region.

"America is getting ready to withdraw its forces from our country with its tail between its legs ... pressured by rockets and explosive devices," the statement said.

The pamphlets, replete with Quranic verses and threats of "harsh consequences" for anyone firing on the insurgency's fighters, said Iraqis who did not collaborate with the Americans would be allowed to form city councils once U.S. forces are gone. Every council will name candidates to run in general elections, the pamphlet said.

It appeared highly unlikely that U.S. forces would allow events envisioned in the pamphlets or that American troops would be drawn down to such low levels while the insurgency remain powerful.

Once the Americans withdraw, a three-day curfew will be imposed in "liberated areas," the statement said, adding that hospitals and humanitarian organizations would be excluded.

Despite the threats, U.S. officials have expressed confidence Iraqi police will be able to handle the security situation.

Muhammad's Army appears to be an umbrella group for former Iraqi intelligence agents, army and security officials, and Baath Party members, U.S. officials say. It has been linked to several attacks against coalition forces.

The U.S. Army has said it will gradually reduce its presence in Iraqi cities and hand over control to Iraqi security forces. The Army has so far given a detailed withdrawal plan only for the capital, Baghdad, which it envisages to be virtually free of U.S. troops by May.

While pulling back from densely populated areas such as Baghdad, U.S. forces will remain nearby and ready to rapidly respond to civil disorder, U.S. officials have said.

U.S. commanders say the security situation is improving and the number of insurgent attacks including roadside bombings and hit-and-run firing are coming down. Still, the monthly U.S. casualty rate has remained steady with 251 soldiers dying in hostile action since May 1.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Monday, February 02, 2004

15-year-old High School student gets Army Public Service Medal

(FORT SNELLING, Minn.) - As some 300 soldiers, spouses and civilians of the
88th Regional Readiness Command (RRC) were gathering for its annual awards
banquet, so was a young gentleman who was watching all of the activities
with vigor and a little trepidation. Jeremy M. Jenson, 15, a student from St
Francis High School and a resident of Anoka, Minnesota was going to be one
of the award recipients that night.

Having never attended a military function before, Jeremy watched and proudly
participated as the honor guard presented the colors to the Commanding
General, Brigadier General Michael W. Beasley. He listened intently to the
traditional toasts to the nation, its soldiers and spouses, the
Commander-in-Chief, and our fallen comrades which were being given by
soldiers of the 88th RRC. Jeremy knew that within about an hour it would be
his turn to be in the spotlight. As he watched all of the hustle and bustle
of the dinner being served, many soldiers kept interrupting Jeremy to thank
him for his efforts for which he was going to be rewarded for later that
evening. General Officers, Command Sergeants Major and many others of all
ranks were all coming over to Table 1 to see who this young man was whom
everyone was talking about. As he told them his story, many of the soldiers
presented Jeremy their command coins, gave handshakes and words of
appreciation galore.

As the evening progressed and the dinner had barely begun, this young man
kept watching the time. He was waiting for his mom, dad, sister, aunt and
uncle to arrive for the presentation. His cell phone rang to let him know
they had arrived. Jeremy had barely eaten but a few bites of food and wanted
to go off and meet his family. The Colonels at the table said, "just eat
Jeremy, they're not going anywhere." Jeremy was a guest of the Command
during the daylong meeting and spoke to many soldiers from around the
Midwest attending the Commanders conference. As was the case for the most of
the day, Jeremy was getting orders from people he had never met before, all
interested in his well being and to trying to keep the anxiety level down
for this young man. Members of the RRC staff went and found the family, got
them seated right up front and within few minutes the awards portion of the
evening began.

Colonel Razz Waff, the 88th RRC's Chief of Staff got the audience back in
their seats and assembled General Beasley and Command Sergeant Major John
Werner in their places, the awards portion of the evening began.

Awards were given for Soldier of the Year, Noncommissioned Officer of the
Year, Best Maintenance Company, and a few others. Jeremy knew that he was
after the presentation of several $500.00 AUSA (Association of the United
States Army) scholarship awards. As the seconds counted down, Colonel Waff
announced the presentation of a Public Service award to Jeremy M. Jenson,
the next award recipient. Jeremy got a little push on the shoulder and was
told, "We're up."

Accompanied by the Chief Information Officer, Mr. Randall G. Ciechna, who
recommended Jeremy for the award, the two went to the stage as Colonel Waff
started to read a portion of the award nomination. The Chief of Staff also
noted that as far back as anyone could remember, Jeremy was going to be the
youngest recipient of any medal awarded by the Command. Seconds later, as
Jeremy stood proud and a little nervous, Colonel Waff read the award
citation while General Beasley pinned Jeremy with the U. S. Army's
Commander's Award for Public Service.

After the reading of the award citation and pinning of the medal, Jeremy got
a standing ovation from the audience. Over the roar and applause of the
audience, General Beasley could be heard to say, "Not many young men like
you will receive a standing ovation in their life time. You can be extremely
proud of your accomplishments and should cherish this forever. Thanks on
behalf of all the personnel serving in military."

Jeremy was awarded the Commander's Award for Public Service for "his
outstanding efforts and dedication to the wellbeing of soldiers in the 88th
Regional Readiness Command and all other military services. Through Jeremy's
efforts he has lifted the spirit and morale of personnel across the globe by
writing letters, sending care packages, and organizing others, in support of
deployed military personnel. Through his personal dedication and keen desire
to insure our soldiers are recognized for their dedication and sacrifice, he
is awarded this medal." Jeremy and his youth church group, along with some
help from his Aunt Cari sent over 500 letters to deployed personnel of all
the military services and routinely communicates back and forth with many of
them on a regular basis via mail or e-mail.

After the formal close of the awards banquet and the retiring of the colors,
many more soldiers and civilians came over to Jeremy and inundated him with
praise and thanks. Jeremy's immediate family had to wait a few minutes to
even get close to him too share their excitement and praise to their son.
Soldiers who had been deployed were telling him how important it is to
receive mail when they are away from home and told him to keep up his
efforts. After a break in the action, Jeremy took some pictures with four
Purple Heart recipients he had met earlier in the evening and who had been
awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in action during the current

The evening ended and Jeremy went home with his "Proud Mom," a term she used
in an e-mail which coordinated the event for her son. He also left with the
gratitude and appreciation of several hundred people representing thousands
of soldiers and family members, a pocket full of recognition coins, an award
citation and a medal. It was a day this young man will never forget and
neither will the 88th RRC. Someday Jeremy maybe standing in front of a group
of soldiers and be the receiving officer for the colors of a grateful nation
- you never know.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

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