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.

April 5, 2014: Today Is Gold Star Wives Day

An act of Congress established the Gold Star Lapel Pin (left), for issue to immediate family members of service members killed in combat. The Next of Kin Pin (right) signifies a service-related. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.

An act of Congress established the Gold Star Lapel Pin (left), for issue to immediate family members of service members killed in combat. The Next of Kin Pin (right) signifies a service-related. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.

By William Bradner – U.S. Army Installation Management Command

“It’s heartbreaking to think of someone asking ‘what a beautiful pin, where can I get one?'” said Gold Star Wife Donna Engeman.

“We need to ensure the nation — the world — recognizes what that pin really signifies,” she continued.

April 5, 2014, has been designated by Congress as “Gold Star Wives Day.” The intent is to publicly recognize the sacrifices made by our service members in support of our nation.

Though the official designation of the Gold Star Wives Day is relatively new, the gold star has officially been recognized as a symbol of loss since 1918.

Throughout the First World War, families would hang blue service stars in their windows to indicate that their loved ones were serving in the war effort. By 1918, it became common practice to pin a gold star over the blue star to indicate that their service member had died. President Wilson also authorized mothers to wear a gold star on the traditional black mourning band to signify their loss was war-related in 1918.

During the Second World War, service flags and what they represented were standardized and codified by Congress. In April of 1945, a non-profit group calling themselves “Gold Star Wives of America” filed incorporation paperwork signed by Eleanor Roosevelt. Less than two years later Congress approved the design, manufacture and distribution of the Gold Star Label Pin to be presented to surviving family members of those who died in that conflict.GoldStarWives_14-Digitalv2

Though service flags and Gold Star pins fell out of favor in the sixties, in 1973 the Army approved a lapel pin to be worn by those who lost their lives while serving on active duty but not in combat operations.

The rise of patriotism and pride in service after September 11 brought about a resurgence of the use of both the blue and gold stars in flags, bumper and window stickers and lapel pins.

But it’s not enough, said Engeman, who manages the Survivor Outreach Services program for the Army.

During World War II, more than 16 million people served in the war effort overseas, and most of the country supported the war effort through rationing, victory gardens, war bonds, and other public displays of support.

Only 2.5 million service members have deployed during the war on terror; less that 1 percent of the American population. While service flags can be readily found in windows in the residential areas on military installations, it’s rare to see them in mainstream America.

To help raise awareness, the Army has produced a series of public service announcements describing the significance of Gold Star pins. The PSAs will be released over the course of the year, to expand awareness efforts beyond a single day proclaimed by Congress.goldstar_poster

The Army, recognizing that families who have paid the ultimate sacrifice deserve our respect, gratitude and the very best we can provide, created Survivor Outreach Services to provide long-term support services and family case management for surviving families. A program in the G9, Family and MWR Services Directorate of the Installation Management Command, SOS is integral to the Army’s support system and casualty notification office.

“Our support service coordinators and financial counselors are dedicated to helping survivors from all eras understand–and apply for–the benefits they’re entitled to” said Hal Snyder, chief of IMCOM’s Wounded and Fallen Support Services Office. “We also help them stay connected to the Army family for as long as they desire.”

SOS currently supports more than 55,900 surviving military family members, and is spearheading the effort to raise awareness through the PSAs.

“We’re committed to our survivors,” said Lt. Gen. Mike Ferriter, IMCOM commander. “So educating the public on the meaning behind the gold star pins is simply another way to reaffirm that we honor and understand the sacrifices they’ve made for our country.”

This article is courtesy of the Gold Star Pins.org – a U.S. Army website.

 

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