Darkhorse Marine Battalion Lived an “Afghan Hell on Earth”

The 3/5 Marine Darkhorse Battalion was involved in more than a hundred fire-fights within the first three weeks of arriving in Helmand Province October 2010. The Marine deaths started almost immediately according to Tom Bowman’s report on National Public Radio. Here’s part two in the seven part series on the Marine Darkhorse Battalion which suffered the highest casualty rate of any Marine unit during the last decade of war in Afghanistan.

Cpl. David R. Hernandez/U.S. Marine Corps U.S. Marines with 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment and the Afghan National Army provide cover as they move out of a dangerous area after taking enemy sniper fire during a security patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan, in November 2010. During its seven-month deployment, the 3/5 sustained the highest casualty rate of any Marine unit during the Afghan war, losing 25 men.

Second of seven parts

The Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment remember Sangin in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province as different from anywhere else they’d fought.

Sgt. Daniel Robert describes it as “hell.” Lance Cpl. Jake Romo calls it “the Wild West.” Lt. Col. Jason Morris says he’d heard it described as “the most dangerous place in Afghanistan.”

Morris was the commander of the Marines of the 3/5, known as “Darkhorse,” and Sangin had been a battleground long before he arrived.

You can listen to the story or read the full article HERE.

You can listen to 1st story in the series HERE.

Battlefield Acupuncture Eases Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

Retired Col. Richard Niemtzow applies an acupuncture needle into Master Sgt. Michelle Tancrede’s ear during a battlefield acupuncture course. (U.S. Air Force photo by Bahja J. Jones)

Battlefield acupuncture is one of the latest treatments being evaluated to help alleviate the pain and symptoms of mild Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

Retired Air Force Col. Richard C. Niemtzow, former president of American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, spoke with blog writer Robyn Mincher of the Defense Centers of Excellence, about battlefield acupuncture which can interrupt the process of pain in the central nervous system.

“Like western medicine, it’s another tool in a medical bag,” Niemtzow said.

The tool was supported by Department of Veterans Affairs for a formal study on acupuncture’s effectiveness on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mTBI. The department’s recent clinical guidance recommends acupuncture as a supplementary therapy for PTSD, anxiety, pain and sleeplessness.

“The treatment is really useful for treating headache and sleep issues, as well as other associated pain,” said Air Force Col. Stephen Sharp, DCoE deputy director of TBI clinical standards of care. “Additionally, it can be used to treat psychological health concerns, which can occur with mTBI.”

You can read the full article on the Defense Centers of Excellence website HERE.

Marines of the 3/5 “Darkhorse” Seven Months in Afghanistan

Lt. Col. Jason Morris pays his respects at a memorial service in Sangin, Afghanistan, on Nov. 26, 2010, for three Marines who were killed: Lance Cpl. Brandon Pearson, Lance Cpl. Matthew Broehm and 1st Lt. Robert Kelly. Morris commanded a battalion in volatile Helmand province that suffered the highest casualty rate of any Marine unit in the Afghanistan War. Photo by Lance Cpl. Joseph M. Peterson/U.S. Marine Corps.

A year ago, nearly 1,000 U.S. Marine officers and enlisted men of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment deployed to restive Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. By the time their tour ended in April 2011, the Marines of the 3/5 — known as “Darkhorse” — suffered the highest casualty rate of any Marine unit during the past 10 years of war. This week, NPR tells the story of this unit’s seven long months at war — both in Afghanistan and back home.

First of seven parts

With his brown checkered sport coat, blue shirt and tie, Jason Morris could easily be mistaken for a young professor. Only the close-cropped hair and stocky build might suggest a military life.

Lt. Col. Morris served as a Marine officer during the 2003 invasion of Iraq and witnessed heavy combat in the push toward Baghdad.

But it’s his experience in Afghanistan during the past year that lingers: Morris commanded the Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment, which lost 25 troops during its seven-month-long deployment, the highest casualty rate of any Marine unit during the Afghan war.

These days, he is studying for a master’s degree at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. Standing on a sea wall there, Morris looks at sailboats slicing through the bay.

You can read the rest of the NPR story by Tom Bowman and hear the radio report HERE.

Taliban Suicide Bomb Attack Kills at Least 16 in Afghanistan

Taliban tactics in Afghanistan now include female suicide bombers as well as suidce car bombs and insurgents dressed in Afghan National Army uniforms according to a report Saturday  by Jim Garamone of the American Forces Press Service.

The New York Times is reporting that 17 were killed  – including American forces, civilian contractors and Afghans. The suicide car bomb attack on a bus carrying personnel is said to be the deadliest attack on Americans in Kabul since the war began.

The Washington Post is reporting 16 were killed when a suicide bomber swerved a van into the armored military bus.

Below is the latest article from the American Forces Press Service article:

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29, 2011 – A car bomb smashed into an International Security Assistance Force convoy in Kabul today killing 13 coalition personnel, NATO officials said.

 Five of the dead are service members, and eight are ISAF civilian employees. The attack injured several Afghans and coalition personnel as well as innocent Afghan civilian.

News reports out of Kabul say the Taliban took credit for the car bomb attack, and reports indicate the car ran into what is popularly called a Rhino — essentially an armored bus.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was informed of the convoy attack soon after it happened. “His heart goes out to those who were killed and wounded, and to their families,” said Pentagon Press Secretary George Little. “Continuing our aggressive pursuit of the enemy will honor their sacrifice, and he is determined that the United States – working closely with our Afghan and NATO partners – will do precisely that.”

A second attack in southern Afghanistan took the lives of three more coalition personnel and wounded others when a man wearing an Afghan National Army uniform shot the soldiers.

ISAF Commander U.S. Marine Gen. John R. Allen condemned today’s terrorist attacks.

You can read the full article HERE.

Marine Corps Marathon: Team TAMPA Ready to Run

Monty representing TEAM TAMPA in the 2010 Marine Coprs Marathon.

Master Sgt. Demonta Quailes is representing the T.A.M.P.A. USMC Family Support group at the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon Sunday in Arlington, VA.

MSgt.  Quailes, or “Monty” as he is lovingly known is described as a faithful Marine, husband to Samantha, father of Riley and Zachary and is member of T.A.M.P.A.  USMC. Members say Monty is very dedicated and helps whenever he’s asked with whatever is needed.

His participation in the Marathon is an apt example. Monty agreed to represent TEAM T.A.M.P.A. in the 2011 MCM, volunteering to raise funds for the organization.  Monies collected from this fundraiser will be used for Wounded Warrior projects, events, etc.

You can learn more HERE about Monty’s run for the Tampa Marine Support Group.

PTSD Poem, Art Exhibit Misses the Mark, Some Veterans Say

The reintegrattion brochure that inspirede the poem, Many Happy Returns.

Art for a cause is nothing new especially on college campuses and at the University of South Florida an adjunct professor is using her poetry, she said, to shine the spotlight on America’s responsibility to help combat veterans with post traumatic stress. But some veterans on campus believe her poem and accompanying art exhibit missed the mark and instead portrays them in a bad light.

The poem is titled Many Happy Returns by Melanie Graham who teaches composition and professional writing at USF. Graham called it a found poem because it combines written material from other sources into a poem. In this case, she merged language from a military brochure on reunification that one of her students had brought in for a project with news reports.

The poem begins:

A note to the returning service member and family:

If the return home was easy, there would be no need for this guide

But we know that is not always the case.

June 2002, the first veterans of the war in Afghanistan return to Fort Bragg, N.C.

However, knowing what to expect and preparing for it can make the process easier.

June 11,Sgt. First Class Rigoberto Nieves fatally shoots his wife Teresa and then himself in their bedroom.

A cork-board display, many with symbolic photos, is set up for each stanza of the poem Many Happy Returns.

She crafted the poem into an art installation making an individual cork-board for each stanza. At each board, you read the military brochure set-up and then the media account typewritten on onion skin paper.

“I choose onion skin because of rareness of the paper and it’s extremely fragile, you can almost see through it and like truth it’s very fragile,” Graham said.

Also symbolic are the many of the images with the displays: photos of a beekeeper, a steak and potato dinner, a family with their faces scratched out. Graham, whose father was a Vietnam veteran with PTSD, said she wrote the poem to focus on the observation that many military service members are coming home and not getting help with their symptoms of post traumatic stress.

“If you’re in America, we are at war. We don’t feel it,” Graham said. “We need to appreciate what’s going on and beside the fact of putting a yellow ribbon magnet on your car, beside the fact of saying to someone thank you for your service look at what the realities are that these people face.”

One of the more disturbing photos in the exhibit shows a generic family photo with the faces scratched out.

But some student veterans at USF who saw the exhibit drew different conclusions.

“One of the veterans said to me ‘I’m not going to come out and say I’ve got post traumatic stress if this is what they’re going to look at me and say oh you’re going to do this,’” said Larry Braue, director of the Office of Veteran Services at USF. “It (Graham’s art exhibit) paints an image that is not accurate of post traumatic stress.”

Braue said there are many different levels of post traumatic stress that are not reflected in the exhibit. He learned about Graham’s PTSD poem and display when one of his student veterans gave him a controversial postcard promoting the exhibit.

“Just the words that were on there,” Braue said. “And the graphic image of a veteran or somebody who appeared to be a veteran blowing his head off with a pistol.”

Braue, a veteran himself, went to the exhibit at USF’s Centre Gallery worried there would be similar violent images. There are not. But he was troubled by Graham’s poem as were many of the student veterans who come through his office for services.

“Some of them were offended. Some of them were hurt,” Braue said. “They felt hurt that they were being portrayed in a light that was very negative. You know when you look at the stories of a sergeant who comes home and kills his family, that’s certainly not how many of our veterans want to be portrayed and while things like that have happened, that is not the norm.”

Many Happy Returns - a poem turned into an art exhibit that focuses on returning combat veterans who have committed domestic violence, murder and suicide.

Graham said she sought feedback from veterans in her family as she worked on the poem and the postcard is an illustration of her brother who was a Marine embassy guard. She added that she did not mean to offend or traumatize veterans, but she defended her use of only violent homecoming scenarios.

“It’s a necessary evil, so to speak, to raise these issues and I certainly didn’t mean for it to damage anyone,” Graham said. “I’m hoping to wake people off of their Facebook so they’ll realize this is reality for a lot of people and people who sacrifice on behalf of the country.”

Because of the sensitive topics covered by the poem - the USF Centre Gallery put up a cautionary "adult content" notice on the gallery door.

While Braue did not like parts of the exhibit, he said it did prompt much-needed discussion about post traumatic stress.

“While maybe it’s not the way we would have liked it to happen, but it has raised awareness and it helps our veterans to say what post traumatic stress really is – it gets them to speak out and tell the real  story of what post traumatic stress is,” Braue said. “And really raises awareness for our counselors to know that there are misconceptions about post traumatic stress.”

The exhibit, Many Happy Returns, is open through Friday at the USF Marshall Center, Centre Gallery, Tampa Campus.

Veteran: How Do You Define Who Is a Vet?

Alison Derr, a Navy Veteran.

Does a military service member have to experience combat or be part of a life-risking mission to earn the title Veteran? Is it fair to compare the sacrifice of veterans by service branch,  by deployments or the number of years of service? Email me at bobrien@wusf.org with your definition of who is a military Veteran. Send your response by November 9th so  I can publish your answers on Veterans Day.

In a blog entry for the VA blog VAntage, Navy Veteran Alison Derr explains why she’s a little uneasy being called a Vet after four years at sea.

Alison Derr: The Definition of a Veteran

There are very few words that catch me quite like “Veteran”. It’s such a short word, but in today’s world, it means so much and identifies a person in just seven letters. Yesterday, I attended a local job fair that I thought was just for Veterans. However, I learned that it wasn’t specifically for Vets, but that it was sponsored and coordinated by a local Veterans support organization. The job fair was a major bust for me, but I did go with an ulterior motive and that was to support a local Veterans appreciation event held in my county every year.

After I spoke and gave my presentation to promote the event, I hung around to answer any questions from the group. And a few people did, in fact, stay behind to talk to me. A father asked if his teenage daughter, who is contemplating joining the military after high school, could contact me (“Of course!” was my response), another lady introduced herself as a family friend and a young guy who looked like a former Marine asked if he could take a pamphlet. But of everyone who stopped to chat, a very elderly man came by and our conversation went like this:

“Excuse me miss, but I just have to ask….are YOU a Veteran?!” he asked with astonishment in his voice.

“Yes, sir,” I answered. “I served four years in the Navy.”

“I’m a Sailor too!” he said through laughter. “I served during WWII on PT boats!”

You can  read the full VAntage blog entry by Alison Derr HERE.

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