Christmas Carolers Serenade Marines at Camp Leatherneck

Christmas caroling is a tradition that continues even in Afghanistan. Here’s a video produced by USMC 2nd Lt. James F. Stenger and USMC Sgt. Justin J. Shemanski. If you have a family member currently serving in Afghanistan, may listening to it make you feel closer to your loved one.

The video shows an international band of Christmas carolers, including U.S. and British military personnel, as they bring holiday cheer to service members at the 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward) compound aboard Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan on December 22, 2011.

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A Marine’s Christmas Song from Afghanistan

Master Sgt. Robert Allen, a native of Pawnee, Okla., serves as the aircraft rescue firefighting chief for Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 in Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan. An avid musician, Allen wrote a Christmas song for his wife, Carla, as he spends the holidays away from her and their three children. Photo by U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Brian Adam Jones.

Imagine Christmas without the colors of green and red surrounded only by desert brown. Imagine Christmas without eggnog and snow angels,  instead there are MREs and sand-filled Hesco barriers.

Imagine Christmas without your wife or children – your only family – fellow Marines.

That is the world Marine Corps Master Sgt. Robert Allen sings about in this Christmas Song for his wife. Allen is currently deployed at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan.

Click on his YouTube video. Take 2:35 to watch it and then help make it go viral – a fitting gift for a Marine and his wife.

You can read more about Marine Master Sgt. Allen in an article by the American Forces Press Service HERE.

The Marine Corps’ 236th Birthday: Semper Fidelis

The USMC logo courtesy of the Marine Corps website.

The Marine Corps has many rich traditions. At the top of the list is Semper Fidelis, Latin for “Always Faithful.”

The motto was adopted in 1883 and is defined here in quotes the Marine Corps website:

“Semper Fidelis distinguishes the Marine Corps bond from any other. It goes beyond teamwork – it is a brotherhood and lasts for life.”

“It guides Marines to remain faithful to the mission at hand, to each other, to the Corps and to country, no matter what.”

The Commandant’s 2011 Marine Corps Birthday message:

Darkhorse Battalion Marine Amputees Focus on Rehab

After losing his leg, Chischilly underwent rehabilitation in San Diego. He uses a recumbent bike equipped with hand pedals. He finished 16th in the wheelchair portion of the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 30 in Washington. Photo by David Gilkey/NPR.

Thirty-four of the Marines who were with “Darkhorse” Battalion are amputees. The injuries and deaths incurred during their seven month deployment to Afghanistan gave the 3/5 the highest casualty rate of any Marine unit during the past 10 years. In his ongoing series, National Public Radio’s Tom Bowman brings us the stories of the long road back for some Marines who are adjusting to life as amputees.

Sixth of seven parts

Jake Romo loved running.

“Running was my favorite thing to do. I can almost say that I loved running more than my wife and kids,” he said. “I would run with weights. If I was just running with shorts and a T-shirt, I could run all day. I would run and run and run and not stop.”

But these days, he can’t run. Wounded in Afghanistan, Romo’s legs are now just stumps, wrapped in khaki fabric.

Romo, a lance corporal, is one of dozens of Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment — known as “Darkhorse” — who have come to the Balboa naval hospital in San Diego, Calif., for rehabilitation work after the serious injuries they suffered in southern Afghanistan. A total of 34 Marines lost limbs.

On this day, Romo is doing an upper-body workout. A physical therapist helps one Marine with weights. Just outside, another Marine who lost a leg is now climbing a rock wall.

“We have to hold these guys back,” said Michael Podlenski, a physical therapist at Balboa who works with as many as 30 amputees each day. “All these guys are very motivated. They wanted to be running yesterday.”

Romo, 22, was on his first deployment when he lost his legs in February.

You can read the full story and hear Tom Bowman’s story HERE.

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.

Deployment’s Emotional Cycles: Stage 1 for an Army Wife

 

Alison during pre-deployment photos. Photo by Carolyn Cummins, http://www.shootinforfun.com.

Anticipation of Departure for the service member and spouse is different from what I experience as a military mom.  The first stage of the emotional cycle of deployment is a very busy time for the soldier and his or her family and brings mixed emotions.

The service member is away from home frequently due to extensive training and preparation which touts the reality of the looming separation for the whole family.  The bond between unit members grows immensely as they are completely focused on the impending mission.  In addition to preparing for the work side of deployments, there are many personal items that need tended to: wills and power of attorneys, house and auto repairs, decisions and arrangements about where spouse will spend the deployment, final visits with family, medical and dental visits–these are just a few.  This stage can be stressful for the soldier as he juggles the final preparations for work and home while trying to spend quality time with family.

My daughter-in-law, Alison, shared her thoughts and experiences with this stage:

Josh and Alison during pre-deployment photos. Photo by Carolyn Cummins, http://www.shootinforfun.com.

“The anxiety prior to deployment is overwhelming because I feel such pressure to make the most of every moment I have left with Josh while I’m constantly fighting emotions for the loss I am about to experience when I have to say good-bye.  Josh and I created a wish list (similar to a bucket list) of things to do before he deployed and we accomplished everything.  We truly lived like we were dying and savored every outing and relaxing moment together.  I treasure the dinners, movies, walks, fishing trips, hugs, and we had intimate conversations that we struggle with during deployments.  We learned a lot about each other and our relationship as husband and wife during the month prior to his leaving.   

Our fun trip prior to deployment was a hog hunting excursion in Oklahoma which Josh picked.  It was both satisfying and sad; I know how much he enjoyed it, but the reality is he wanted the experience in case he doesn’t get another chance.  

We have professional photos done prior to every deployment; it is very important to me to have fresh photos to treasure if they are the last ones of us together.  This may sound morbid but I never know when such opportunities are the last.”

I commend Alison for her strength and willingness to share her innermost feelings.  She is a loving and supportive wife to my son and an amazing example and mentor to other Army wives.

Josh and Alison on their hog-hunting trip prior to his third deployment.

 

Freedom Is Not Free, Military Families Pay the Price Daily

On Monday, we celebrated the signing of the Declaration of Independence  on July 4, 1776 by delegates of the original thirteen colonies.  The first Independence Day celebration occurred on July 4,1777 although our freedom was not fully achieved until September 3, 1783 when the United States and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Paris and ended the Revolutionary War.

America’s first freedom, the dissolution of Britain’s rule over us, was accomplished because men were willing to leave their families to fight and die for this great cause.    Now, 235 years later, every freedom that we cherish and sometimes take for granted  is defended by the men and women of our Armed Forces.  Without the sacrifices and selfless acts of these brave heroes, life as we know it would not exist.

My thoughts on July 4th were on the images of deployment day: the line up of duffel bags at Fort Carson representing families that were about to say good-bye, small children clinging to their daddy’s leg while he was giving mommy that last hug, my son’s final embrace with his wife just after he and I shared ours.

Deployment day at Fort Carson for Tracie's son.

I tearfully relive the moments standing side by side with Army wives as we watched our men disappear into that gym.  Our families are just a fraction of the many military families that are currently separated by deployments.

I am reminded of the anguish on the faces of two mothers on the day their fallen hero sons were laid to rest here in Denver.  I think of the two wounded warriors and their parents that are part of our Colorado Military Families Ministry group and what they have gone through.

July 4th is a day to celebrate our nation’s freedom, but let us not forget to honor the heroes and their families that endure the burden of defending that freedom.

A special thanks to all of our men and women in uniform and their families–you are the reason we celebrate Independence Day.

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