Remembering the First Fallen from All-Female Team

   1st Lt. Ashley White was a member of the all-female Army Cultural Support Team. She was killed in Kandahar, Afghanistan in October 2011 while supporting a Ranger night mission. Credit Ashley White Family / Memorial Page


1st Lt. Ashley White was a member of the all-female Army Cultural Support Team. She was killed in Kandahar, Afghanistan in October 2011 while supporting a Ranger night mission.
Credit Ashley White Family / Memorial Page

Among those who will be remembered this Memorial Day is 1st Lt. Ashley White, a member of an all-female, all-Army Cultural Support Team attached to a Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan.

White is buried behind her family’s church in Ohio. It’s the same church where she was baptized and where she married Capt. Jason Stumpf six months before she was killed.

The family had the option of burying Ashley at Arlington National Cemetery,

“They wanted to keep her close to home,” said best-selling author Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. She tells the story of Ashley and her female teammates in her new book: Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield.

“One of the things that always stays for me is the first time I was in Ohio there was a sign in her room written on ripped up notebook paper that said in all block letters ‘YOU ARE MY MOTIVATION’,” Lemmon said. “You realize, it was not this exceptional person’s death that defined her. It was actually her life and the kind of person she was.”

White and two Army Rangers, Sgt. First Class Kris Domeij and Private First Class Christopher Horns, were killed by an improvised explosive device during a night mission in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan October 2011.

One was 29 and on his fourteenth deployment; another was just 20 serving on his first. And one was a National Guard member who answered the call to join a new, all-female, all Army special operations team. – Ashley’s War –

“This story is part of changing the way we see our heroes. And that is really what was so compelling about telling it was it was this team of women who came together and took the call to serve and will be family forever,” Lemmon said.

Ashley's_War_book_coverShe writes that the only comfort Ashley’s teammates could find in her death is that she was treated equally, the same as the two Rangers who died alongside. Just like them, a Ranger coin was placed on her casket before departing Afghanistan and her photo was placed on the wall of Ranger fallen.

“Special Operations commanders here in Tampa said these women may have well laid the foundation for ultimate integration,” Lemmon said. “They were out there every single night on these kinds of combat operations that less than 5 percent of U.S. military sees at the tip of the spear while officially women were banned from combat.”

She added that the White family considers that part of their daughter’s legacy is reminding the country of the courage and valor of this team of women who answered that call to serve.

You can read an excerpt from Ashley’s War here.

Author Lemmon also wrote the New York Times best-seller, The Dressmaker Of Khair Khana, which tells the story of a young Afghan entrepreneur whose business created jobs and hope for women during the Taliban years. Lemmon was in Tampa recently to speak to the Women in International Security Florida Chapter.

You can listen to the WUSF News story with Lemmon and the NPR interview from April.

Meet the Top NCO from Florida’s 53rd Infantry Brigade

Florida National Guard SSG Aidana Baez with her practice "ruck" weighing 45 pounds - 10 more pounds that in competition - for training marches.

Florida National Guard SSG Aidana Baez with her practice “ruck” weighing 45 pounds – 10 more pounds than what is used in the competition.

The top Non-Commissioned Officers from the Florida Army National Guard this weekend are at Camp Blanding vying for the title of “Florida NCO of the year.”

It is two days of physical competitions, weapons and skills contests, a six-mile “ruck” march and tests on Army regulations.

Representing the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, headquartered in Pinellas Park, is Staff Sergeant Aidana Baez. She won NCO competitions at the company level and battalion level to earn the top brigade honor.

“I like to joke that the Non-Commissioned Officer of the year for the infantry brigade wears a skirt,” Baez said. “Cause I wear a skirt with my uniform and I think that’s fantastic.”

Active Guard Reserves from the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team do PT, physical training, in the parking lot of their Pinellas Park, FL headquarters.

Active Guard Reserves from the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team do PT, physical training, in the parking lot of their Pinellas Park, FL headquarters.

The petite soldier beat out competitors from the two infantry battalions, a field artillery regiment and a cavalry unit.

“They were all men, and I was just another competitor,” Baez said. “Maybe they didn’t see it until the “ruck March” that I meant business. But, it wasn’t like a blowout. They all did really well and we all encouraged each other.”

Baez said her strength in the competition is knowing the Army regulations which is a sweet irony because she almost got thrown out of the regular Army 11 years ago.

“My first duty station was Fort Drum, New York, not an easy duty station and I was not an easy soldier to deal with,” Baez confessed. “I had attitude, I was insubordinate, I got in plenty of trouble. And then, the day had come where I did too much. I was getting kicked out of the Army. My paperwork was done.”

Baez holds some of the ribbons and medals she's earned during 14 years in the military and two deployments, one to Iraq and the other to Kuwait.

Baez holds some of the ribbons and medals she’s earned during 14 years in the military and two deployments, one to Iraq and the other to Kuwait.

But the base chaplain and several NCOs stepped up in her defense. She was given a rehabilitative transfer to a new unit. Baez finished her hitch with the regular Army and then moved back to Florida and joined the National Guard.

She’s now a staff sergeant known for giving second chances to her soldiers, but they have to earn it.

With 14 years of service to her credit, Baez is on a mission to become Florida’s Top Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year. If she wins, Baez will advance to the regional NCO completion in the Virgin Islands.

A West Point Band Concert in the Sky

The West Point Band plays on stage at the Saturday national ceremony, Veterans Legacy Summit, at Sarasota National Cemetery.

Why is it that the “behind-the-scenes” stories captivate and entertain us sometimes more than the “real event?”

The West Point Band was a major participant in this weekend’s national celebration of Patriot Plaza at Sarasota National Cemetery. They played during the two-hour Veterans Legacy Summit program Saturday and again on  Sunday in a free concert.

Their music was as artistic and engaging as the artworks and architecture of their venue. And there was toe-tapping and clapping in unison from an entertained audience.

But what many there might not have known is that as the band was flying from New York to Florida, their pilot found out the musicians were aboard. They were then asked and agreed to play for their fellow passengers.

Here’s a YouTube video of that plane ride:

As much as I enjoyed the West Point Band’s music at Patriot Plaza, I love the fact that they shared some of that artistry with fellow travelers.

 

 

Army ROTC Hosts Annual Golf Scramble

USF ARMY ROTC golf scrambleAs we near Veterans Day, a lot of people are looking for ways to honor veterans and those currently serving. If you play golf or just have fun on the links, here’s an opportunity to support young men and women training to become Army officers.

It’s the 11th Annual University of South Florida Army ROTC Golf Scramble – a rich tradition that helps fund Army ROTC current and future programs.

The event is scheduled Nov. 14, 2014, at Heritage Isles Golf and Country Club, 10630 Plantation Bay Drive, Tampa, FL. The Golf Scramble begins at 7:30am.

In addition to contributing to an organization that strives to build competent and confident cadets, it’s also an opportunity to meet our future 2nd Lieutenants that will be leading our sons and daughters in the U.S. Army. You can register and find more information about teams and sponsorships at USF Army ROTC Golf Scramble website.

Army Ranger Cory Remsburg Returns to Haley VA

 Dr. Steven Scott, director of the Polytrauma Center at James A. Haley VA Hospital, talks with his former patient, Army Ranger Cory Remsburg. Bobbie O'Brien WUSF Public Media


Dr. Steven Scott, director of the Polytrauma Center at James A. Haley VA Hospital, talks with his former patient, Army Ranger Cory Remsburg.
Bobbie O’Brien WUSF Public Media

Army Ranger Cory Remsburg returns each year to James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa to show the staff his progress. He was severely injured in 2009 and spent two years recovering at Haley’s Polytrauma Center.

Remsburg was on his tenth deployment when he was injured by an IED in Afghanistan. His teammates found him face down in a water-filled canal with shrapnel in his brain.

He was in a coma when he arrived at the Haley.

More than 800 patients have come through the polytrauma system according to Haley Chief of Staff Dr. Edward Cutolo, but he remembers Remsburg.

“He’s not a hard one to forget. He was very ill when he came here, very ill,” Cutolo said.

And Remsburg has not forgotten them, the therapists, nurses and doctors.

He returned this year with one goal in mind, to walk, unassisted to Dr. Steven Scott, director of the Haley Polytrauma Center.

Trailed closely by his stepmother, Annie Remsburg, Cory Remsburg successfully navigated about a 10-foot stretch, unaided, and was greeted with a handshake from Dr. Scott and applause from onlookers.

“One of the things that’s so interesting about Cory’s story is he was told by so many, so many people said he couldn’t do things. ‘You’re not going to walk, you’re not going to do this. You know what I mean,’” Scott said. “So, Cory always said, ‘Yes, I’m going to, yes I can.’”

Cory Remsburg responds slowly, “Being a Ranger, I had the mental part down. It’s the physical part I’m learning to overcome.”

His speech is labored because he had to learn to speak all over again. That’s just one of many things he’s had to overcome: dozens of surgeries, blindness in his right eye, a partially paralyzed left side.

He was in a coma more than three months. The treatments and people at Haley brought him back.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-R), on the left, made a special trip to meet Army Ranger Cory Remsburg (right) and his father, Craig Remsburg (center) when they visited the medical staff at Haley.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-R), on the left, made a special trip to meet Army Ranger Cory Remsburg (right) and his father, Craig Remsburg (center) when they visited the medical staff at Haley.

Craig Remsburg, credits a combination of ‘the man above’, Haley’s Emerging Consciousness Program, family and familiarity for bringing his son back.

“We knew that he loved vanilla extract, so we would burn that aroma. We would play Scrubs, he loved Scrubs. So, we had that playing always on a reel,” Craig Remsburg said.

There was no great awakening like in a movie. Instead, it was gradual and took a lot of hard work every day for two years.

As soon as Cory could eat solid food, Dr. Scott would sneak him two Boston Cream doughnuts each morning as incentive.  And even though Cory now lives in Arizona – Dr. Scott is still motivating his prized patient.

He asked Cory for his goals which are to walk independently for a sustainable distance and then run.

“That’s what I hoped you would say. I’ll give you a third,” Dr. Scott said. “Run up hill. Alright? The reason why you run uphill is because the view is better.”

At that suggestion, Cory smiled, held up his large cup of coffee as a toast affirming his new goals and said, “He knows me.”

You can listen to the story which is part of he WUSF Veterans Coming Home project on WUSF 89.7 FM.

Dr. Steven Scott (left) shows off the Haley Trauma Center's treadmill pool to former patient Cory Remsburg (center) and his dad, Craig Remsburg.

Dr. Steven Scott (left) shows off the Haley Trauma Center’s treadmill pool to former patient Cory Remsburg (center) and his dad, Craig Remsburg.

It Takes a Family to Keep the U.S. Military Strong

Jackie and Brian Dorr prior to his graduation as an Army Warrant Officer.

Jackie and Brian Dorr prior to his graduation as an Army Warrant Officer.

Putting a new twist on the old adage “It takes a village to raise a child” – “It takes an entire family to keep the U.S. Military strong.”

And today, I want to introduce you to one family in particular.

It’s a proud day for the Dorr Family as Brian Dorr graduates as new Warrant Officer and is pinned by his wife Jackie Dorr, the former president of the MacDill Enlisted Spouses Club.

That’s where I met Jackie and recruited her to write for my Off the Base blog. The headline of her first entry:

Five Years, Two Kids and Four Deployments Later

That’s a good summary of the sacrifice made by spouses, children, parents and other family members like siblings when a member of the military is deployed whether active-dut, or called up Reservists and National Guard. The entire family serves during a deployment – some stay at home but are no less involved, in fact, their responsibilities increase along with their stress.

Brian Dorr holding his daughter Anastin who was an infant when he deployed. March 2011

Brian Dorr holding his daughter Anastin who was an infant when he deployed. March 2011

So, a huge congratulations to Brian and Jackie for this milestone and an even larger thank you for your service.

You can read more of Jackie’s writing and view her exquisite photographs here. My favorite two photographs that epitomize a deployed father staying connected to his daughters: one shows Brian making snow angels in the snows of Afghanistan and the second is Ana falling asleep in his arms when he returned from deployment.

And I’ll revive a favorite video produced for 2012 Military Child Month. The video includes a lot of parents with their children as they deploy or return home. At about 3:18 into the video is a photo of Paisley Dorr, Brian and Jackie’s oldest daughter, holding onto her “Daddy Doll” which she did quite a lot when Brian was in Afghanistan.

The video was produced in remembrance of U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Jared C. Monti, Medal of Honor (posthumous) 2009.

 

 

 

Slain Fort Hood Sergeant Coming Home to Bay Area Friday

Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ferguson of Mulberry, FL. Photo courtesy of the Fort Hood Public Affairs Office via Reuters.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ferguson of Mulberry, FL. Photo courtesy of the Fort Hood Public Affairs Office via Reuters.

The body of Mulberry High School graduate, Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ferguson, 39, one of three killed in the recent Fort Hood shooting rampage, is expected to arrive home to the bay area Friday according to a member of the Florida Patriot Guard Riders.

Thomas “T-Man” Brown, Florida Patriot Guard Riders assistant state captain, told Tampa Tribune reporter Howard Altman that “the riders will escort Ferguson’s remains from Tampa International Airport, where there will be a private service at 6:50 p.m., to the Lakeland Funeral Home & Memorial Gardens.

There will be a private funeral Saturday morning at the Resurrection Catholic Church in Lakeland, said Brown.

The riders will then escort Ferguson to his final resting place at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell later that day, Brown said.

“All bikers are welcome to ride in the procession to show our support for this hero,” Brown said in an email to riders.

A second shooting victim, Army Sgt. Carlos A. Lazaney Rodriguez, 38, reportedly has relatives in Tampa but Lazaney was originally from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. He was close to completing 20 years of service and reportedly was preparing to retire and start a second career.

Ferguson enlisted in July 1993 as a transportation management coordinator. He was assigned to the 49th Transportation Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command, as a transportation supervisor. He had deployed to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lazaney Rodriguez enlisted in February 1995 as a unit supply specialist. He was assigned to the 21st Combat Support Hospital, 1st Medical Brigade, as a unit supply sergeant. He had deployed to Kuwait and Iraq.

The third shooting victim killed was Army Sgt. Timothy Wayne Owens, 37, from Effingham, Ill., enlisted in July 2004 as a motor transport operator, He was assigned to the 49th Transportation Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command, as a heavy vehicle driver. He had deployed to Iraq and Kuwait.

Fort Hood is planning a memorial service Wednesday, April 9, 2014 in memory of all the victims.

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