Words of War Project Looking for Veterans’ Writings

Photo by Jackie Dorr

Photo by Jackie Dorr

Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are invited to submit their writings to Words of War – an annual fundraiser that benefits the Headstrong Project, Team Rubicon, Team RWB, and Student Veterans of America.

Veterans of Operations Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom and their family members can submit poetry and prose.

The admissions form does not give a deadline.

However, it states that one writer will be selected by a panel of authors and flown to New York City, all expenses paid, to read their piece at the Words of War fundraiser May 8, 2013.

The selected writer also will have a chance to participate in a Google Hangout discussion about the importance of sharing war stories to document the wartime experience.

Submissions can be sent via this Google Form or by going to http:bit.ly/10fPnJf. Selected submissions will be edited and published in an e-book.

The Words of War event will include veterans’ performances along with celebrities, such as Jake Gyllenhaal, Adam Driver (from HBO’s Girls and the major motion picture Lincoln), and Joanne Tucker of Theater of War. The event will be held on Wednesday, May 8, 2013 from 6:00pm to 9:00pm at 555 West 18th Street New York, NY 10011.


A Soldier’s Email to His Congressman

Here is the email sent to Congressman C.W. “Bill” Young in June by one of his constituents serving in Afghanistan. Staff Sergeant Matthew Sitton sent the message in June. He was killed by an improvised explosive device Aug. 2, 2012.

Staff Sergeant Sitton. Photo courtesy of the US Army.

Hello, my name is Staff Sergeant Matthew Sitton. I am in the 82nd Airborne Division stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I am currently deployed with the 4th Brigade Combat Team in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

I am writing you because I am concerned for the safety of my soldiers. This is my third combat tour to Afghanistan, so I have seen the transition in rules of engagement and overall tactics over the past six years. I am only writing this email because I feel myself and my soldiers are being put into unnecessary positions where harm and danger are imminent. I know the threat of casualties in war and am totally on board with sacrifice for my country, but what I do not agree with is the chain of command making us walk through — for lack of a better term — basically a minefield on a daily basis.

I am in a platoon of 25 soldiers. We are operating at a tempo that is set for a full 35- to 40-man infantry platoon. We have been mandated to patrol twice daily for two-to-four hours each patrol on top of guarding our forward operating base and conducting routine maintenance of our equipment. There is no end state or purpose for the patrols given to us from our higher chain of command, only that we will be out for a certain period of time.

I am all for getting on the ground and fighting for my country when I know there is a desired end state and we have clear guidance of what needs to be done. But when we are told basically to just go walk around for a certain amount of time is not sitting well with me. As a brigade, we are averaging at a minimum an amputee a day from our soldiers because we are walking around aimlessly through grape rows and compounds that are littered with explosives, not to mention that the operating tempo that every soldier is on leaves little to no time for rest and refit. The morale and alertness levels on our patrols are low, and it is causing casualties left and right.

Here is an example of how bad things have gotten. Our small forward operating base was flooded accidentally by a local — that being citizen — early one morning a few days ago. He was watering his fields, and the dam he had broke, and water came flooding into our living area. Since our forward operating base does not have portable bathrooms, we had to dig a hole in the ground where soldiers could use for the bathroom. That also got flooded and contaminated the water, that later soaked into every soldier…and his gear.

Instead of returning to base and cleaning up, our chain of command was set on us meeting the brigade commander’s two-patrols-a-day guidance, that they made us move outside the flooded forward operating base and conduct our patrol soaked in urine.

That is just one single instance of the unsatisfactory situation that our chain of command has put us in. At least three of my soldiers have gotten sick since that incident and taken away from our combat power because of their illness caused by unhealthy conditions.

I understand that as a commander you are to follow the orders of those appointed over you. However, there needs to be a time where the wellness of your soldiers needs to take priority over walking around in fields four hours a day for no rhyme or reason but only to meet the brigade commander’s guidance of: you will conduct so many patrols for such an allotted time.

I am concerned about the well-being of my soldiers and have tried to voice my opinion through the proper channels of my own chain of command, only to be turned away and told that I need to stop complaining.

It is my responsibility to take care of my soldiers, and there is only so much I can do with that little bit of rank I have. My guys would fight by my side and have my back in any condition, and I owe it to them to have their best interest in mind. I know they would, and I certainly would appreciate it if there was something that you could do to help us out. I just want to return my guys home to their families healthy.

I apologize for taking your time like this, sir, and I appreciate what you do for us. I was told to contact you by my grandmother, who said you had helped my uncle many years ago. He was also serving in the military at that time.

Thank you again for allowing soldiers to voice their opinion. If anything, please pray for us.

God bless.

Six Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan Arrive at Dover AFB

An Army carry team transfers the remains of Spc. Clarence Williams III into a vehicle July 12, 2012 at Dover Air Force Base, Del. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

It was pointed out in a comment on my Wednesday blog post that I did not share the names of all six fallen warriors killed Sunday by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. That is because I did not have all the names.

I only learned of the two Tampa Bay area soldiers killed from local reports after the families came forward.

The Department of Defense had not yet officially released the names. That’s not uncommon as it takes time to officially notify all family members.

The official announcement came Thursday afternoon:

The Department of Defense announced today the death of six soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

They died July 8, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit in Maidan Shahr, Wardak province, Afghanistan, with an improvised explosive device.  They were assigned to the 978th Military Police Company, 93rd Military Police Battalion, Fort Bliss, Texas.

Killed were:

Staff Sgt. Ricardo Seija, 31, of Tampa, Fla.,

Spc. Erica P. Alecksen, 21, of Eatonton, Ga.,

Spc. Clarence Williams III, 23, of Brooksville, Fla.,

Pfc. Trevor B. Adkins, 21, of Spring Lake, N.C.,

Pfc. Alejandro J. Pardo, 21, of Porterville, Calif., and

Pfc. Cameron J. Stambaugh, 20, of Spring Grove, Pa.

There are no words that can comfort the families, friends and communities who have lost these men. But, as a community we can permanently note their names and honor their lives and sacrifice.

All six soldiers’ remains were returned Thursday to Dover Air Force Base.

A memorial service for Brooksville soldier Army Spc. Clarence Williams III is planned Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Grace World Outreach Church, 20366 Cortez Boulevard,  Brooksville, FL.

Hurlburt Field Loses Four Airmen in Djibouti Crash

The U-28A, seen in this file photo, is a single engine, manned fixed wing aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The casualties from Hurlburt Field, Florida include an Air Force pilot on his seventh deployment, another pilot on his fifth deployment, a lieutenant and an airman both on their third deployment.

The crew was killed when their U-28A crashed returning from a mission in the Horn of Africa in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

  • Capt. Ryan P. Hall, 30, of Colorado Springs, Colo.  He was assigned to the 319th Special Operations Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla.
  • Capt. Nicholas S. Whitlock, 29, of Newnan, Ga.  He was assigned to the 34th Special Operations Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla.
  • 1st Lt. Justin J. Wilkens, 26, of Bend, Ore.  He was assigned to the 34th Special Operations Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla.
  • Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten, 26, of Upper Marlboro, Md.  He was assigned to the 25th Intelligence Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla.

You can read the media release from Air Force Special Operations Command HERE.

VA Social Media Directory: An Online Single Source

All the major social media is there: Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, blogs and YouTube. The Department of Veterans Affairs has compiled a resource page of all of its VA Social Media.

Three VA Administrations

It’s clearly written broken down by the Department, the three separate administrations: Veterans Health, Veterans Benefits and National Cemetery Administration.

VA Medical Centers

There’s also a geographic listing of all VA Medical Centers. The directory is set up so you can check which location has an active Twitter account or blog. All appear to have their own Facebook page. You can click on the social media icon for that location and be taken directly the source.

Returning Service Members

And for OEF/OIF/OND Veterans (Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn) there’s a VA website to locate support for returning service members  including links for military families, National Guard and Reservists and active duty.

Military-Civilian Gap Continues to Grow and Why It Matters

Repairing front line trench after bomb explosion fifty yards from enemy trenches. D. W. Griffith in civilian clothing. During filming of the motion picture "Hearts of the World" in France (1917) Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

“I fear they do not know us. I fear they do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle.” – Adm. Mike Mullen addressing the West Point graduating class Spring 2011.

I began this blog with the mission of bridging that gap of understanding between military families, veterans and civilians. As evidenced by Adm. Mullen’s speech to the cadets, there’s a lot that still needs to be done.

It’s a two-way street. Civilians need to understand the sacrifices at home and abroad made by military service members and their families. But, veterans and military also need to understand civilians’ attitudes, be patient sometimes and help educate when needed.

Why does it matter? Because those who have fought in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom will be living with that “burden,” to quote Adm. Mullen again, for decades to come.

Think about it, the last known WWI combat Veteran, Claude Choules, just died this year, but the war ended 93 years ago.

Care for OEF/OIF Veterans will be needed for decades to come. Yet, if the gap continues to grow and fewer civilians have family military connections, providing Veterans care and fulfilling their needs could become challenging if there’s a lack of understanding of their sacrifice.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center, The Military-Civilian Gap: Fewer Family Connections, found that the gap is growing wider. Some key findings:

  • A smaller share of Americans currently serve in the U.S. Armed Forces than at any time since the peace-time era between World Wars I and II.
  • Afghanistan and Iraq wars are the longest period of sustained conflict in the nation’s history, yet,  just one-half of one percent of American adults has served on active duty at any given time.
  • As the size of the military shrinks, the connections between military personnel and the broader civilian population appear to be growing more distant.
  • Roughly two-thirds of those with family ties to the military say that, since the wars began, they have done something to help someone in the military or a military family. Fewer than half (47%) of those without family ties to the military say they have reached out to help a service person or a military family.
  • Young adults, ages 18-29, are much less likely to have family ties to the military (only 33 percent) compared to adults, ages 50-64, with 79 percent having family military ties.

Veteran Helping Veteran: VA Launches Make the Connection

One veteran supporting another. It’s a powerful experience to witness. Whether it’s an Afghanistan combat veteran helping his buddy deal with post traumatic stress symptoms or a wounded Iraq veteran helping rebuild a Vietnam veteran’s home.

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ “Make the Connection” campaign uses  veterans stories to encourage other veterans to seek help and access resources. There are sections for veterans from all the services and eras of service, WWII through Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

There is information for family and friends as well as clinicians and active duty military. And the resources page offers a locator to find the nearest Vet Center, VA clinic or PTSD program.

For those who prefer a more private approach, there’s an online Self-Assessment for depression, post traumatic stress, alcohol and substance abuse.

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