Monday, April 30, 2007

VFRG Weekly Presentation 4/30

From The Sands Of Iraq - Capt. McGrue

April 30, 2007


Greetings, Assassin Family,

I sincerely hope this letter finds everyone doing well. As it leaves me it leaves the men and I in good spirits.

Well, a month has passed and all is well as can be here in AO ASSASSINS. The men remain motivated and eager to accomplish their mission and their morale appears to be high. So please keep those care packages coming, because every little bit helps (SMILE).

Where to go from here? Let’s see, what can I tell you all and remember OPSEC (operational security). Let me start with FOB HAMMER (remember I mentioned in an earlier letter that we no longer call this place FOB SHAKOOSH because it is found to be mistranslated). Our living conditions have improved significantly since I have last written. We have enough tent space to where we have 17 Soldiers living in a 28-man tent. As I walk around checking on the men, it is pleasing to see how they are adjusting to their “home.” They have their poncho liners (looks like a camouflage blanket) tied up around their bunk to give them some privacy. Some of the men are bonding with their battle buddies and they have “roommates.” Whatever helps them make it through and does not protrude on their brothers on their left or right I am cool with. All of the tents have air conditioning units on both sides of the tents, so the men are not suffering from the heat that is soon to be upon us. Outside of the tent we have trailers that enable the men to conduct personal hygiene. There are two trailers dedicated as latrine trailers. Two trailers dedicated as shower facilities. And the civilian contractors living here are working on getting two more each operational for us. The trailers I just men tioned are used by all of 3-1 CAV so they are not Assassin specific. None the less, we have the same opportunity as anyone else to use them and I pretty much see an Assassin in there all the time. The MWR tent has improved. I do not know if the men are using the gym facilities, because I do not frequent the gym yet (still rehabbing my left hand/wrist). But the other tents I have frequented. There is a morale tent with five computers and three phones fully operational (well, depending on the stratosphere and atmosphere for satellite signals…that is what the young Soldier told me the other day when the internet was running VERY slow) (LOL). I’m sure many of you are aware that that tent is operational though, considerin g I have seen some of the men in there using both systems. I have not had the opportunity to use the phone yet, but I will be soon after mailing this letter to you, because I know I am going to hear it from Urs when she reads all this (sorry, baby). Another tent plays movies throughout the day and has a library section attached to it. And inside the library is another television that is connected to satellite, so the men can sit down and relax and watch a little television. I caught some of the NFL draft the other night. And the past two Saturday nights, and probably will continue every Saturday night, the movie tent converts into a music hall to enable the Soldiers to cut loose on the wooden floor. Considering the r atio of men to women in the military, it looked more like the movie You Got Served rather than the club scene. By the way, You Got Served is a movie that features street dancers competing to be the best dance group. There is a laundry facility operated by civilian contractors that can clean all of our clothes, fold them up, and have them ready for us within 24 hours (you can’t beat that). And last but not least, there is a PX trailer here (corner store on wheels). Although it stays pretty bare because Soldiers are cleaning the place out when new products arrive, they do have a means of purchasing something. Unfortunately the trailer system is not sophisticated enough to accept anything other than cash. In the near fu ture we will have vendors coming onto the FOB enabling us to purchase DVDs of movies coming out the same time as they do in the States (yeah, piracy laws don’t seem to apply here in Iraq). I’m not sure what other vendors are coming, but when they arrive I will make it a note to inform you all. I think that pretty much wraps up the FOB.

Changes within the Troop. Well during this past month we had to say goodbye to 1LT Nicholas James. He led 1st Platoon. He was selected to become the Executive Officer for B Troop (second in command). It is a good step for him in his professional development, and although I hated to see him go it is a good move for him. 1LT Clifton Hubbert replaced Nick as the 1st Platoon Leader. Clift was serving on Squadron staff waiting for a platoon leader vacancy. Clift has “hit the ground running” and making us look good, so no complaints there. < /SPAN>Three of our Soldiers were selected to be a part of a special unit the Squadron put together known as the Special Reaction Force (SRF). They still belong to the Assassins, but operationally they do patrols with the SRF. They are SSG Wisner, PV2 Heimann, and PV2 McClure. They are receiving some pretty good training first hand from former members of the Ranger Regiment and SF, and from talking with them they are enjoying themselves. The last change is a change within the troop. SSG Lopez, PV2 Sanders, and PFC Roland are now assigned to 1st Platoon. SSG Cameron, SGT Glatfelter, and PV2 Cesario are now assigned to 2nd Platoon.

Our area of operation has changed some also. Our battle space has become smaller so you will not get any complaints from me (LOL). We are now able to focus our efforts on pieces of terrain that should enable us to better effect what is operating around us. Starting two days ago we began working with the Iraqi National Police. This began in hopes of boosting their morale knowing they have our full support, as well as boosting the confidence of the local populace within their own security forces. If we can successfully accomplish handing this battle space over to the Iraqi Security Force, one of my key tasks will be accomplished. In regards to Iraqi Security Forces, we have three different types operating within our area; Iraqi Army, Iraqi Police, and Iraqi National Police. The best way I can explain it is as this: the Iraqi Police are like your local police (city, provincial), the Iraqi National Police are like your State Trooper, and the Iraqi Army is like us (Army that is). Considering that they have been conducting independent operations already, knowing that US Forces are close by tends to build their confidence and enable them to do more. I guess when you ride around in pickup trucks for a long time, and then you have this element arrive that wants to help and they are bringing tanks, Bradleys, and helicopters, your confidence gets a little boosted. The biggest area of improvement that I se e with our area of operation is the governance piece. We have a lot of rural areas to be responsible for, and they do not feel as if they have governmental representation. So we have to show them the way to get their government involved, as well as help them understand how it should work. I have not studied much in Government since high school, so I have some reading up to do. However, the initial step I want to take is improving their school. I learned from the last time I was here in my discussions with then LTC Cloutier, that if we can refurbish their schools and get them a better place to learn, then maybe we can improve the children’s way of thinking. I have always loved kids so let’s take that approach. The other areas we will attempt to help them is with electricity and water, but those are projects already in the work by themselves so we’ll only assist with pushing it along.

Well, I think I have rambled on long enough. I did not intend on making this letter this long, but I hope I have been able to bring you some peace and understanding as to how things have been here with the Assassins. We are all doing good and in great spirits. We have about two Soldiers with “boo-boos” so they can’t patrol as often as they would like, but even they are keeping their spirits up. Oh, I almost forgot. We begin participating in the R&R Leave Program next month (properly known as Environmental Leave Program or EML). I do not know who off the top of my head is coming home, but I will work to push that information to you as they depart from here and head home for their 15 days of leave. Also, we can never say exactly when they will be home, due to the travel involved to get from here to someplace in Iraq, to someplace in Kuwait, to catch the plane to get the home. Plus the Soldier should not know when he will be home until he makes his own travel arrangements in Kuwait. So do not be surprised if you get that phone call or email saying, “Hey, I’ll be home tomorrow.” They only thing I will be able to provide if a general time-frame that someone will be coming home. For example, PVT Joe Snuffy will be taking leave during the first portion of March. And once the Soldier touches ground at his port of embarkation, his leave days start. So another example, CPT McGrue touches ground in Atlanta airport on 1 March. My leave is from 1 March to 15 March.

Okay, now I have rambled on long enough. Take care, God bless, keep those packages coming, and thank you to those of you that sent me a card or thoughts wishing me to get well.

Take care and God bless.

Respectfully,
Captain Arthur L. McGrue III
Troop Commander
Alpha Troop, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Tent Mates

Got a short email from Chris today which found him in good spirits. He had received packages from Aunt June and Jaleen and was very excited! It's amazing how much the care packages mean and how they really pump him up. Thanks to all of you that are helping him through this tough time. He said the conditions aren't too bad. He works 12 - 16 hour days so he doesn't have a lot of free time. What little free time he does have, he enjoys going to the gym and working out. He said that he has a few camel spiders that are trying to be tent mates but they are small so it's not too bad.

He will be traveling back to Camp Victory in a few days. He is looking forward to the trip, as he calls it his vacation to civilization. It looks like he will be getting the opportunity to go several times during his tour.

Internet access is still very limited so the emails are few and far between. We continue to send him his sports updates, Grey's Anatomy updates and lots of love each day. I can't wait until internet access is more plentiful and we can keep in touch better. Right now, we are just grateful for the communication we have. Some news is definitely better than no news!

New Airport Procedures for Military Families

Just received this exciting news from the FRG and LTC Scott Quagliata. This will be great when Chris comes home on R&R and better yet, when he comes home for good!!!

The Transportation Security Administration has issued a directive pertaining to military passengers at U.S. airports. According to SecurityDirective 1544-01-10w, families of military members may be granted access to sterile concourse areas to escort the military passenger to the gate or tomeet a military passenger's inbound arrival at the gate. The family member can go to the airline that the military member is flying on and receive a pass to go to the gate. They will be required to have a pass and a photo ID to get through the security checkpoint. This is a wonderful opportunity for families to stay with the departing military member longer before they depart, or to be able to greet them at the gate upon their arrival. This is a wonderful change, spread the word.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

When Freedom Needed Heros


When freedom needed heros to answer duty’s call
You packed your bags and left home for the greater good of all.

And all though we can’t be with you, we still do understand
You have an important job to do in a distant foreign land.

You represent so many things, even though you are not here
Courage, Faith and Honor, the message is quite clear.

And until your job is finished and you’re back home to stay
Remember, you’re our hero and in our prayers each day!

Third Velvet Hammer


Below you will find a velvet hammer message. A velvet hammer message goes out when there is a casualty in the brigade.


On the 28th of April I was notified by LTC Gale (3rd Infantry Division Rear-Detachment Commander) that our Brigade has suffered the loss of three of our soldiers from D/1-15 Infantry. The soldiers lost their lives while conducting combat operations in Iraq. The next of kin of our fallen soldiers have been notified. I ask you for your prayers for these Sledgehammer soldiers and their families.


Respectfully,
LTC Scott Quagliata

Friday, April 27, 2007

Team Spirit

Pfc. Joseph Labutka
Soldiers from 3rd HBCT and Iraqi army soldiers from Besmaya Range Complex gather for a picture following the Sledgehammer vs. Bey May Eagles soccer game April 24 at BRC.
PFC. JOSEPH LABUTKA
3/3RD INF. DIV. PAO
FORWARD OPERATING BASE
HAMMER, Iraq
They partner on the battlefi eld, but on the soccer fi eld the two squared off. Soldiers of the 203rd Brigade Support Battalion, and the Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Heavy Brigade
Combat Team played soccer against Iraqi army soldiers from the Besmaya Range Complex, the Bey May Eagles, to promote camaraderie and partnership Tuesday. Sporting brand new soccer uniforms, the Iraqi army soldiers took to the field like professionals, doing drills and stretching exercises. The Sledgehammer Soldiers conducted a warm up routine similar to the standard exercises done before a regular day of physical training. Both teams were anxious to show
their soccer skills to the opposing players and to deepen their relationships with their partners. The difference between the American and Iraqi players was obvious.

Before the game, Spc. Mikael Lawal warned his teammates that the Iraqi soldiers were good runners, but he still felt the Sledgehammer soccer players had an edge. “You’re talking diversity,” said Lawal, a gunner for Company B, 203rd BSB, “We have all kinds of styles.” Spc. Coty Lowe, an intelligence analyst for Headquarters Company 203rd BSB, responded to Lawal explaining that soccer is the only sport Iraqis play, but the Americans have an advantage in diversity within their own team. “Asia, South America, North America, Africa; we have representatives from all other continents,” Lowe said.

As the teams took to the field to begin the game, Chaplain (Capt.) Mike Swartz, with 203rd BSB, presented Col. Fahil Abbas, commander of the Bey May Eagles, with a 203rd Eagles coin as a sign of friendship. Abbas later joined his fellow Iraqi soldiers scoring four additional goals against their American counterparts.

Both teams complimented each other’s skills after the game with handshakes and pats on the back. The final outcome favored the Iraqi soldiers with a score of 11-0. “Both teams played very good and respected each other.” Wsam Khzer, a soldier with the Iraqi Military Police said through a translator. “It doesn’t matter who won, just that we’re working together.”

This Week's Dog Face Daily

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Panic!

Tuesday night we had a terrible storm come through and it knocked out the power. I got up yesterday and started resetting all the clocks, etc... I thought everything had been taken care of until last night when we got home from work and we went to check the answering machine, we saw that it flashing Cl. I panicked! These days our answering machine is precious in more than one way! Before Chris deployed, he decided to call the house one evening when he knew we were all at work. He left an awesome message that we could replay over and over again while he was deployed. He started out by saying that he was leaving this message so we could access it anytime we missed him or just wanted to hear his voice. He addressed each of us and left us a special message. In closing he said "love you guys...keep smilin!" I was so afraid that we had lost our special message. Joey started messing with it and all it needed was resetting. THANK GOODNESS! It is SO nice to be able to hear Chris' voice. It was so thoughtful of him to leave the message before he deployed...it is worth a million bucks to us!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Deployment Bible


I have to share with you an awesome book I got yesterday. It's called Mom's Field Guide: What You Need to Know to Make It Through Your Loved One's Military Deployment by Sandy Doell. It is an absolute must if you are going through a deployment...it's like a deployment Bible. Sandy's son, David was in Iraq in 2004 and served a one year tour. Her book is packed with useful tips and wonderful ideas. Hat's off to Sandy for sharing her wealth of knowledge and helping all of us make the most out of our child's deployment.

Mail Call

Photo by Sgt. Kevin McSwain
Soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division sort mail during a recent mail drop on Forward Operating Base Hammer.

This is a story from the 3rd Infantry Public Affairs Office.
FOB HAMMER, Iraq— An open mailroom puts some 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team Soldiers in contact with family members for the first time since arriving in Iraq. “Soldiers are getting their mail and it feels good to know that I am a part of that,” said. El Paso, Texas, native Cpl. Maria Guardado, a brigade mail clerk. The task was to establish a mailroom for the Soldiers on Forward Operating Base Hammer from the 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, Ga.The mailroom started out with one large storage container and five Soldiers. However, Guardado said that did not provide sufficient space to hold the mail that was coming in, so she had to find other containers for storage. “I talked to the Mayor’s Cell and acquired more storage space to accommodate the incoming mail,” Guardado said. “I am very thankful for all the help the battalions have provided us. We had Soldiers from all over the brigade volunteer to help receive, organize, and distribute the mail.” With the help of the volunteers, Guardado said service members are able to receive their mail within 24 hours of its arrival to the forward operating base.The base is so new that phones and internet are not readily available for Soldiers. So, for some, this is the first connection to friends and family since their arrival in Iraq. Guardado said mail gives the Soldiers something to look forward to and it has lifted morale around the brigade. “I like to see the smile on a Soldier’s face when I tell them that they have a package,” she said. Guardado said all the mail clerks have become very popular. “Soldiers are always coming up to us and asking if they have any mail for the day,” she said. Soldiers on base emphasized how grateful they were for the hard work and dedication the mail clerks have put in to establish a mailroom.“It feels good to be receiving mail, and I know it is because of their hard work that this is possible,” said Sgt. Jamie Jones, a personnel specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 203rd Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd HBCT, 3rd Inf. Div. Jones, from Beaumont, Texas, said that out of everything she received in her first package, she cherished the pictures of her infant daughter the most. “Being able to see how much my daughter has grown in such a short time brings me joy and it gives me something to look forward to throughout the deployment,” she said. As one of the designated mail clerks for her battalion, Jones said the mail system has been a way for Soldiers to receive products they are not able to purchase at the local Post Exchange.“The care packages that have been sent so far have been very helpful for Soldiers,” she said. “It provides them with a little of the comforts of home out here in the desert.”Guardado, who has not received her first package, said she has one special request for the contents of the box. “When my package arrives, I hope it has a bottle of Louisiana hot sauce,” she said. “But whatever is inside will be greatly appreciated.”With the establishment of a mail center and other services around base, Soldiers of 3rd HBCT, 3rd Inf. Div. have shown how motivation and training can make anything possible.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

FOB Hammer Contemporary Church Service

It seems that the tent is bulging...
Church services at FOB Hammer are very popular, and consist of 50 - 60 Soldiers and contractors. It is just awesome that the troops have a great place to worship. The service is a mix of videos, humor, depth, rocking worship music with a full band and biblical teachings that apply to the Soldiers every day lives while deployed. Chaplain Randall is awesome and I am so thankful that he is with the guys.

3-1 CAV A Troop On Patrol

Just a quick slide show of A Troop on patrol.

A Troop Slideshow

Tough Decisions

Life is full of tough decisions, challenges and obstacles that we have to overcome. Sometimes we really don't know what the right decision is but we just hope and pray we have made the right one. Today, I was faced with a very tough decision and I struggled with it all day. I thought I was going to have to put our dog of almost 20 years to sleep.

Casey has been with us since August 1987 and is one of the family. In December he was diagnosed as having a cognitive disorder, very similiar to Alzheimers in humans. At that time he had very limited vision and hearing. The vet gave us some special food that was very high in anti oxidants that would help his brain. He did pretty good for a while but over the last few weeks he started really having problems at night. He has anxiety attacks at night and gets very disoriented. These attacks sometimes last up to two hours. Lastnight he had a very bad attack and was really out of it. I knew I had to call the vet because it was probably time to put him down. Christen, Joey and I talked about it and realized that we had to face the fact that Casey was not enjoying life when he was having these terrible anxiety attacks. It was tough because Casey is Chris' best friend and buddy and he wasn't around to be a part of the discussion. I FINALLY got up the courage to call the vet and we took him in. The vet examined Casey and said he was in excellent shape but his cognitive disorder had gotten worse and his vision was pretty much gone. He suggested that we try one last thing before we put him down. He prescribed him 1/4 tablet of valium at bedtime, and said this should help him stay calmed down and be able to sleep. He told us to try it for a few days and if this helped Casey not have the anxiety attacks at night that was great but if not that the only other option would be to put him down. We realize he is old and has lived a FULL life but it's still a tough decision.

The part of this that is so tough is that Casey and Chris are lifelong pals. We got Casey out of desperation. Chris and Christen were diagnosed with severe asthma when they were two years old. I was at the emergency room with one of them almost everyday. In fact, the ER personnel would tease and say I should have my own private room since I was there so much. Well, my Mom kept telling me about an Old Wives Tale that a Mexican Chihuahua would cure or tremendously help an asthmatic. I decided to give it a try...

Casey is a miracle dog. I never had to take either one of the kids to the emergency room for asthma again. When I researched the subject, I found that this breed has a unique oil in there skin and a higher body temperature than most dogs and they radiate a vapor that is responsible for helping with asthma. Well, it worked! Chris especially developed an unbelievable bond with Casey. Anytime Chris was not feeling well, Casey would be right beside him. It was really awesome. They have been best friends for almost 20 years. They grew up together. Knowing that Casey is going down hill quickly and the decision to put him down is coming soon, is really tough because Chris is thousands of miles away and can't be a part of what is going on, or even say a last goodbye.

Everyday is a challenge but with God's help we will make it through and be stronger because of it. I'm happy that today wasn't the day for Casey to leave us. This gives me a little more time to figure out how to help Chris through it when the time comes.

Monday, April 23, 2007

WOW!!! Wal Mart Really Does Have Everything

I stopped by Wal Mart after work today to pick up a few more things for my Viva Fiesta Care Package I'm sending to Chris and my phone rang. The number that came up was a San Antonio number so I didn't give it much thought...just answered it. Wow...it was Chris! He had been patched through Randolph AFB. I was shocked! I just stopped in the middle of the store and had a wonderful conversation. It was 3:30 AM in Iraq and he was on a break from work. He was doing good and said he stays very busy but it makes the time pass a little quicker.

He said that he hadn't gotten any mail since he had returned from Camp Victory but they don't have mail call everyday. He hasn't really figured out the mail service yet. He also said that Crystal Light, Lemondade and Kool Aid packets that you put into bottled water is a hot commodity at FOB Hammer. It's so convenient to carry the packets around and just pop them into the bottle, shake and you have a tasty drink. I got so excited that he had called, that I didn't even go check them out while I was at Wal Mart.

He is really hoping that eventually they get wireless internet so they can use their computers in the tents...but I'm sure that is quite a ways down the road. It is very difficult for him to get time on the computer to really write letters like he would like to do.

He sounded great and it was so awesome to hear his voice. The one time that Joey doesn't go shopping with me, Chris calls. Joey was very disappointed that he didn't get to talk to him. He has been saying for the last two days that he had a feeling that Bub was going to call...he did and he missed it. It's a horrible feeling since those phone calls are so rare and precious.

I've always heard that you can find most anything at Wal Mart...now I'm a firm believer. I went in to buy care package goodies and came out with a phone call from Iraq.

Flat Rate Box Going Up

Postage will be going up in May. The large flate rate box will be $9.15. As long as you are mailing more than 3 lbs., the flat rate box still saves you money

Alpha Troop, 3rd Squadron Photos

Here are a few photos of Alpha Troop, 3rd Squadron I received today from the FRG. AP Photos/Maya Alleruzzo. It is really nice to be able to actually see what the troops are doing.

A young girl offers water to Cpl. Joseph Katich of Alpha Troop, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division as he stands guard whild his platoon leader talks to the girls family in Al Majahreen 25 miles east of Baghdad, Saturday, April 21, 2007.

An Iraqi man watches troops search for a mortar man who fired on an American base near Rustamaya, 25 miles east of Baghdad, Saturday, April 21st

An Iraqi boy naps in his grandfather's lap as Lt Clifton Hubbert, center, and Sgt. William Mullen meet with the boy's family in Al Kargoulia, 25 miles east of Baghdad, Friday, April 20

A young girl watches woldiers outside her family's home as Sgt. Brandon Sayles stands guard in Aljahreen, 25 miles east of Baghdad, Saturday April 21st.

Cpl. Joseph Katich and Lt. Clifton Hubbert stand guard as an Iraqi man shows them the contents of his airconditioner during a search of his home in Al Majahreen on Saturday, April 21st

Staff Sgt. Joseph Rene greets a family as he searches their home for a mortar man who fired on an American base near Rustamaya on Saturday, April 21st

Staff Sgt. Jimmy Cameron, patrols in Al Kargoulia, 25 miles east of Baghdad, Iraq, Fri., April 20th

Cpl. Joseph Katich, patrols in Al Kargoulia, Fri., April 20th


Soldiers stand guard outside a meeting at the police station in Narhwan, 25 miles east of Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, April 19, 2007.

Staff Sgt. Joseph Rene, patrols in Al Majahreen, Saturday, April 21st.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Soldier's Prayer


I am a US Soldier, Serving Proudly, standing tall. I fight for freedom, yours and mine by answering this call. I do my job while knowing, the thanks it sometimes lacks. Say a prayer that I'll come home. It's me who's got your back.

Psalms 91 (The Soldier’s Prayer)
1 You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
2 Say to the LORD, "My refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust."
3 God will rescue you from the fowler's snare, from the destroying plague,
4 Will shelter you with pinions, spread wings that you may take refuge; God's faithfulness is a protecting shield.
5 You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 Nor the pestilence that roams in darkness, nor the plague that ravages at noon.
7 Though a thousand fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, near you it shall not come.
8 You need simply watch; the punishment of the wicked you will see.
9 You have the LORD for your refuge; you have made the Most High your stronghold.
10 No evil shall befall you, no affliction come near your tent.
11 For God commands the angels to guard you in all your ways.
12 With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone.
13 You shall tread upon the asp and the viper, trample the lion and the dragon.
14 Whoever clings to me I will deliver; whoever knows my name I will set on high.
15 All who call upon me I will answer; I will be with them in distress; I will deliver them and give them honor.
16 With length of days I will satisfy them and show them my saving power.

Fun With Care Packages

I was so excited when I came across some new ideas for care packages. It has only been 6 weeks and I am already running out of ideas. These ideas actually sparked my creativeness and I came up with a few more on my own. The Spurs are in the playoffs right now and Chris is really missing getting to follow them so one of my next packages will help him catch "Spurs Fever". Also, this is the start of Fiesta so I thought it would be cool to send a little bit of Fiesta to Iraq. Well, that was about all for my creativeness. At least I have a few FUN things to start working on. I know how much the packages mean to Chris and the others and it really makes me feel good to send them.

THEMED CARE PACKAGES

“Spurs Fever” (or team of choice) – All sorts of Spurs memorabilia ( pom poms, noise sticks, penants, etc…), newspaper clippings, Nerf basketball goal, and Spurs T-shirt
“Viva Fiesta” – Cascarones, chips, salsa, queso, Mexican pralines, tortillas, Corona boxers and lots of confetti. (It’s a San Antonio thing)
“ Surviving the Sandstorms”- Eye wash; Nasal spray; Chapstick; Bandana; goggles/sun glasses; etc
“Laundry Load”- Laundry soap (‘sample size’ or Tide tablets kind) to pack in with their clothes….in case there are no washer/dryers; Fabric softener sheets; clean socks and undershirts; Febreeze
“Lotta Java”- Tea; Cocoa; Coffee singles; creamer; sugar; International Coffee tins; cookies for dunking in coffee
“Thanks a Million!!”- Things that may “seem” expensive. Ex: Grey Poupon; electronic game of “Who wants to be a Millionaire?”; .
“Hang in There!”- Stuffed animal monkey; Banana bread; Banana chips; Banana pudding (the kind that doesn’t have to be refrigerated); Monkey’s in a Barrel game; card with a monkey on it. “A Day at the Beach!”- sunscreen; beach towel; beach snacks; flip flop sandals (shower shoes); aloe vera gel;
“Medicine Cabinet”- tylenol; band-aids; Neosporin cream; A&D ointment; cold medicine; alka seltzer; Rolaids; etc.
“Staying Healthy”- nutrition/health bars (ex: Powerbar; Tigers Milk; Myoplex); vitamins; Nutri-grain bars; Gatorade or other sports drink (to stay hydrated);
“MRE/Mess Hall Survival Kit”- restaurant size condiment packs of: BBQ sauce, mustard, ketchup, mayo, relish, salt. Pepper, taco sauce, ranch, cheese in a can dip, etc
“Correspondence Carton”- notebook paper; stationery; pens; pencils; stickers (who knows they may even play with these!!); envelopes, address book (filled out already of course); camera (with a note to send back once it is full) or memory card for digital camera;
“Action Hero’s”- Powerbars; squirt guns; Red Bull drinks; small Army figurines; comic books; Gatorade; Red Bull drinks; etc
“To Be A Kid Again”- silly string; bubbles; small bouncy balls; hacky sacks; brain teaser toys (rubix cube, etc); deck of cards; dominoes; slinky, Frisbee’s; Pez w/ dispenser; Nerf balls; sand box toys (pail, small shovel, etc);
“Bathroom in a Box”- TOILET PAPER!!! (the soft stuff); razor refills; foot powder; bars of soap; fresh, clean, soft washcloth; travel size shampoo/conditioner; toothpaste; toothbrush; etc
“Ruck Sack Snack Pack”- packed full of your loved one’s favorite snacks….possibilities endless. Doritos; M&M’s; nuts; chips; dips; crackers; jelly beans; beef jerky; gum; etc.
“Breakfast on the GO”- mutrigrain bars; instant oatmeal cups; small boxes of cereal; pop tarts; Hostess donuts: Otis Spunk Meyer muffins; cocoa; coffee; Tang;
“Tube O Tasties”- Just as something different…send a package in a tube instead of a square box. Make sure the parameters are acceptable though.
“Stress Reliever”- back scratcher; bubble wrap; yo-yo’s; bubbles; squeezy tension ball;
“Sloppy Kisses”- since we know chocolate melts over there….send a bunch of Hershey’s kisses. Bound to be “sloppy kisses!”
“I’m Nuts About You”- peanuts; cashews; pistachios; peanut butter cookies; any candy or cookies with nuts in them; Nutter Butter’s; Peanut Lover’s Chex mix; Fiddle Faddle with peanuts
“Rock On” or “Charlie ROCK”- pop rocks; music cd’s
“Chili Today, Hot Tamale”- hot tamales (candy); small cans of chili; red pepper flakes (like the ones at pizza parlors); salsa sunflower seeds; Cajun flavor Pringles; Spicy chex mix; Boston red hots; peppered beef jerky; taco bell hot sauce packets; Extreme Doritos; chili powder; nacho cheese sauce in a can; Tums/Rolaids , Jalapeño Ritz;
“And this little piggy went to the sandbox”- (foot care kit)- foot powder; Dr, Scholl’s boot inserts; foot lotion; foot file; fresh, clean socks; toe nail clippers; scrub brush; odor eater balls for shoes/boots; foot soaks (either include a small bucket or large Ziploc bags to soak feet it)
“How do you eat your OREOS??!!”- regular Oreos; peanut butter Oreos; double stuff Oreos; low fat Oreos; chocolate filled Oreos; chocolate covered Oreos; holiday Oreos
“Muchas Gracias…Nachos Supreme”- Doritos &/or Fritos &/or any corn tortilla chips; Mexican Velveeta; salsa (wrapped in bubble wrap); small can of olives (don’t forget the can opener); bean dip; nacho cheese dip; small can of green chilies; jar of jalapenos (wrapped in bubble wrap); taco seasoning; small paper plates or bowls (so they can make their nachos); taco sauce (especially easy are those condiment packets from Taco Bell); You could also send the sauces from the various Mexican dinner kits (they also have tortilla’s in those dinner kits that are sealed so they would probably get there without molding or drying out); Taco Bell Nacho Supreme kit
“Sweet Tooth”- Nerds; Gummy Bears; Laffy Taffy; Bubble Gum; Tootsie Rolls; Lolli pops; (any candy that won’t melt)
“Pamper Party” (for females)- Feminine hygiene products; shampoo/conditioner; hair barrettes and scrunchies (same color as their hair); facial scrub &/or soap; facial mask; lotion; shower gel; razors; facial moisturizer; tweezers; nail care kit; toner; special facial products (alpha hydroxy; eye cream; etc);
“Congrats on your promotion”- congratulation party favors; all your loved ones favorites snacks; sparkled cider (wrapped in bubble wrap of course); etc.
“For the Fisherman”- Goldfish crackers; tuna pouches; canned smoked salmon; cans of sardines; gummy worms; Go Fish card game; Field & Stream magazine; electronic fishing rod game; Sponge Bob Square Pants stuffed toy; fishing game toy (made by several different toy companies. Has a small fishing pole with a magnet on the end. Fish have magnets on their mouths);
“Say CHEEEESE!”- disposable cameras or memory sticks; cheese dip; Doritos; Cheetos; Cheese nips; Better Cheddars; Velveeta;
“Kick Back & Relax”- Dominoes; playing cards; magazines; books; music cd’s; crossword puzzles; jigsaw puzzles; word searches; hand held electronic games; squirt guns; water balloons; bubbles; hacky sacks; Nerf balls; board games (Axis & Allies, Clue, Trivial Pursuit, etc);
“Christmas in July”- wrap everything in Christmas wrapping paper; peppermint flavored hard candies;
“Italian Stallion”- Italian cheese Ghardetto’s; Pizza-licious Pringles; Pepperoni pizza Combo’s; small Boboli pizza bread; pizza sauce (for dipping Boboli); canned Ravioli, spaghetti, lasagna, etc;
“American Classics”- Pez with dispensers; Cracker Jacks; Lifesavers; Necco Wafers; Pop Rocks; Nerds; Good & Plenty; Candy Necklaces; Candy cigarettes
“Deployed on Thanksgiving”- canned turkey; instant mashed potato cups; hard breadsticks; gravy in a jar (wrapped in bubble wrap); Hostess apple pies; small can of corn (or other veggie); something special to cheer them up on Thanksgiving (pictures from home; magazines; tape recorded tape; small scrapbook; etc)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Things We Do For Love

We really should stop every now and then and be thankful for the people we have contact with on a daily basis or I should say CAN have contact with on a daily basis. We take them for granted until they are gone and then we wish we had been more thankful for what we had. We have always had very good communication with Chris and prior to deploying, we talked to him every day if we could and sometimes more than that. We would pick up the phone and tell him about something that just happened, or that we just saw or what we just did. It was really great and we really didn't appreciate it until it was gone. We really miss not being able to pick up the phone and talk! Joey and Chris have always had sports in common and were forever calling each other to inform the other one on the latest. Well, now we don't have that luxury so we have learned to compromise. Joey is absolutely the MASTER at it. He sends Chris a sports update almost daily via email. He really gets into it. Chris and Joey love the movie Anchorman and were always quoting lines. Well, Joey narrates his sports update emails as Tits McGee, which is how Ron Burgandy referred to his co-anchor. They are hilarious. Joey takes a great deal of pride in his sports updates and Chris loves getting them. Who knows...maybe Joey has a chance at a career in reporting. This really helps Joey feel like he still has his bond with Chris and Chris gets to stay up on the latest sports.

My job is to keep Chris up to date with Grey's Anatomy. Before he deployed, we would always call after the show and rehash what we liked and didn't like about the show. Now I share that in a weekly Grey's Anatomy update. It's not quite the same but Chris enjoys getting them and it helps him stay up on one of his favorite shows and it helps me feel like we still have our connection.

Nothing beats hearing Chris' voice but these things seem to help...
The things we do for love!

We Even Have HOT water!

We got an email from Chris today and he sounded great, as usual. He is still quite busy but really seems to be enjoying what he is doing. Yesterday he
went over to the Iraqi Army side of the base and met up with an Iraqi Army SGT and Captain. He said he learned some interesting intel from them and it was cool because it gave him a chance to practice his arabic. He is supposed to meet with them again in a few days.

He was also very excited that the showers were working and they EVEN had hot water now. He has been working out a lot and feels good as a result. He said he usually gets off around noon, eats lunch, runs, gets cleaned up and goes to sleep. His work day is midnight to noon everyday. He said he is feeling great and things have been quite around FOB Hammer, which is a good thing. It really makes my day when I get an email. Thanks, Chris!

Friday, April 20, 2007

News 3 WRBL On Your Side

Chris Sweigart is a local (Columbus) reporter that is actually with our guys.

From News 3 WRBL

On the Ground Chris Sweigart

On Your Side Friday, April 13, 2007

Fort Benning’s 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division took charge of their Area of Operations Saturday (April 7) and has been hard at work, getting settled in for what is expected to be a fifteen month deployment.The Sledgehammer Brigade is undertaking combat missions in Baghdad in an effort to bring security and stability. To accomplish that, soldiers are tasked with rooting out insurgents, and weapons. “Our overall mission is to interdict accelerants from coming into Baghdad,” Sowers said in a phone conversation Friday.The brigade’s area of operations covers most of Eastern Baghdad. According to the brigade’s Public Affairs Officer, Major Joe Sowers, the area is home to about 1.5 million Iraqis, roughly 70% Shiite and 30% Sunni.The 3rd Brigade, commonly known as the Sledgehammer Brigade, is currently working to establish their presence in eastern Baghdad by meeting with Iraqi Army, Police and governmental leaders. “Our challenge right now is that we have to establish relationships,” Sowers said. “We’ve got to build trust.”Elements of the brigade are working to establish their base of operations at Forward Operating Base Hammer, and a number of other FOBs and combat outposts. Those outposts will put Sledgehammer soldiers close to the Iraqi population, near towns and villages. “What there will be eventually is ‘mini-FOBs’ that are company-sized,” Sowers said.The Brigade also learned this week that their deployment to Iraq would last fifteen months. In a press conference Wednesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the extension was a "difficult but necessary interim step.""I think everybody is handling it pretty well. Everybody has kind of been like, 'Yeah, we knew that was coming,'" Sowers said.Sowers added that many of soldiers previously expected the deployment to go on for eighteen months. "They told us, be prepared for eighteen months. So, fifteen isn't as bad."Sowers said elements of the Sledgehammer Brigade are working to establish the creature comforts of home. A phone center and Internet café are in the works, which will allow soldiers to contact family and friends at home more regularly.

This Weeks Dog Face Daily

This is a publication produced by the 3rd Infantry Division’s Public Affairs Office.

Hammer Cut


FOB Hammer opens barber shop By Spc. Ben Hutto 3rd HBCT, 3rd ID Public Affairs


FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Soldiers of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team now have one more morale booster at the ever-improving Forward Operating Base Hammer.

A ribbon cutting ceremony marked the opening Sunday of the Hammer Cuts Barber Shop, located next to the new Post Exchange on FOB Hammer. Hammer Cuts Barber Shop took approximately 1 week to complete, according to 1st Lt. John Enfinger, FOB mayor. Steps involved in creating the shop included establishing a location, power generation, air conditioning, plumbing, sinks, water, and solid flooring. Both Army and Air Force Soldiers were involved in making the establishment fully operational. “It was a joint effort to provide our Soldiers with a much needed morale booster,” Enfinger, of New Brockton, Ala., said.
According to Enfinger, the barbers, contracted from the Army and Air Force Exchange Services, are from India and the Philippines. Hair cuts cost 3 dollars for both male and female Soldiers, a significant decrease from the average seven dollars at Fort Benning, Ga., where the 3rd HBCT calls home. “I am very glad that AAFES was able to provide this service to our Soldiers,” said FOB Governor Lt. Col. Kelly Lawler, Monticello, N.Y., native, and one of the first Soldiers to have his hair cut at Hammer Cuts.

The shop is open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and already has a steady clientele, according to Enfinger. The profit goes to AAFES and the barbers collect tips. “Hammer Cuts is great” said Sgt. Jeremiah Thompson, Headquarters Company, 3rd HBCT, from Jacksonville, Fla. “The prices are great and it’s a very clean establishment. It’s a good sign that progress is being made at FOB Hammer.”

Public Affairs Announcement of Capt. McGrue's Purple Heart


3rd HBCT awards Purple Heart to 3-1 Cav. leader 3rd HBCT, 3rd ID Public Affairs

FOB HAMMER, Iraq –The commander of 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, was the first member of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team to earn a Purple Heart during Operation Iraqi Freedom V.
Soldiers from the squadron, out of Fort Benning, Ga., gathered Tuesday to honor Capt. Arthur L. McGrue, III, from Seaside, Calif. The commander of Troop A was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries sustained during a small arms fire attack on March 29.
The incident occurred while McGrue was conducting a patrol with Company E, 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry Regiment, a National Guard unit from Michigan, to get familiarized with the route from Forward Operating Base Rustamiyah to Nahrawan, Iraq.

During the mission, MrGrue and his combat patrol stopped at an Iraqi Police station along the route to assess their facilities. During the stop, an informant gave coalition Soldiers a tip on a wanted individual in a nearby town and was willing to show his team the location.

During a joint patrol with the local IPs, to recover the individual, the patrol began taking fire.
As soon as McGrue heard it, he yelled, “Muzzle flash in the wood line! Muzzle flash in the wood line!” He added, “We all took cover and when I went to raise my weapon I was hit.”
He felt exactly where he was hit — in the chest of his interceptor body armor. “I started rubbing my body armor and calling out that I was hit,” McGrue said. “I checked real quickly for injuries and noticed my wrist was bleeding.”

McGrue explained he was hit in the chest and pieces of the round ricocheted off his armor and struck his left wrist in two places. He said the physician’s assistant who was with the convoy that day wanted to do immediate care. “I told the PA it was just a flesh wound,” McGrue said. “Then I moved to another wall for cover and continued to return fire.”

After a 15-minute firefight, McGrue said the patrol leader made the decision to return to the vehicles and leave the area. When he got back to his vehicle, he received aid for his injury.
Although he was injured in the line of duty, McGrue still keeps an upbeat attitude about the mission in Iraq.

“We have a positive effect,” McGrue said. “We talk with the local Iraqi citizens in our area and they are happy to see an American presence.”
After being awarded with the Purple Heart, McGrue spoke to his troops and told them three things to remember. “First, remembrance of the fallen Soldiers; second, remember to wear the proper uniform because it does save lives; and remember to be prepared when you leave because you don’t know what you will face,” McGrue said.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ya'll Are A Huge Part Of My Morale Boosting

Got a nice surprise today. I have set up my cell phone to send me a text message if I get an email from Chris. That way I will be notified right away. At about 6:00 this evening I got a text letting me know that I had an email. Well, I couldn't get to the computer fast enough. Chris is back at FOB Hammer and had a safe, uneventful trip. He referred to it as a mini vacation. He sounds great. He was very excited that he got back to the FOB and had a wonderul surprise.

Chris writes
"I got my packages from you and from a bunch of other people too!!!!! It was the most wonderful thing ever to come back and see like 12 packages all on my cot waiting for me. I shared with the guys in the tent and they were very greatful. First off thank ya'll so much for my packages, I love the sudoku game, the movies from granny and paw paw, all the kick ass candy, the magazines, and the stationary. It all rocks. Secondly please thank Mary, Reba and Larry, Joey's mom, Granny and Paw Paw, and Uncle Rod and Jan for me. I will email them all soon but I don't really have enough time right now. I appreciate all that they gave me and so does everyone in my tent. Mary sent me like 3 packages so far and it is really cool!"

Thank you all very much for helping keep Chris' morale up. He has remained very positive from the beginning and as you can tell by this above paragraph, the packages mean A LOT! He has a long road ahead of him and I hope and pray that he can continue making the best of it.

I will hold on to these words until the next email...
"I hope that you guys have a great day and week and just know that I am in very good spirits and happy as can be...well that is for being in a camel infested country that looks like a big brown piece of poo :) Love ya'll very much and thank you again for all you guys are doing for me. Ya'll are a huge part of my morale boosting."

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Being Prepared Is Not Easy

Sometimes being prepared is not easy. Today I applied for my passport. I had a sick feeling when I walked into the Post Office...the same feeling I had when Chris gave me his Last Will and Testament and asked me to keep it in a safe place. I decided it was a good idea to have a passport in hand just in case something happened to Chris and I needed to get to him. Right now the turn around time is 8 - 10 weeks but at least the process is started. Not that I will ever have to use the passport, I would much rather have it than need it and have to wait on it. I know Chris is safe and I feel sure in my heart I won't have to use a passport in the next 13 months but at least I have a peace of mind knowing I can get to Chris if something happens.

Amazing...Live From Iraq

Technology is really amazing these days. Listen to The Morning Show on NewsRadio 540 WDAK on Thursdays at 8:40 AM (Georgia time) for live reports from Iraq. 3rd Brigade spokesman Major Joe Sowers let's us know what's really happening there. You can also listen to archived reports. I am so thankful for modern technology.

540 WDAK Live Update

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Capt. McGrue's Purple Heart Ceremony

Captain McGrue and Chaplain Randall

Captain McGrue...a true Officer and a Gentleman


On March 29th Capt. McGrue was shot only 1/4" shy of his throat (his body armor saved his life). McGrue asked Chaplain Randall for a Word for the day and this is what was offered:

Psalm 41:2 The LORD will protect him and preserve his life; he will bless him in the land and not surrender him to the desire of his foes.We serve an awesome God! Trust him with your life...your eternal life.


17 APRIL 2007 FOB HAMMER

The Assassins of Alpha Troop, 3-1 CAV, gathered tonight to recognize their Troop Commander, CPT Arthur "Gru" McGrue, as he received the Purple Heart Award for his actions during a combat patrol in March 2007. CPT McGrue was shot and wounded while engaging enemy forces, and as a result of his body armor was able to live and tell about it. COL Grigsby, the 3BCT Commander, gave some remarks and complimented CPT McGrue on "getting back in the saddle" by leading his Troop on a patrol the very next day which demonstrated exceptional leadership. CPT McGrue told his Soldiers that one of the lessons he learned was to "always expect the unexpected" in combat in order to survive. He also thanked God for the preservation of his life. Congratulations to CPT McGrue.



I know Chris is disappointed that he was not able to attend the ceremony. Capt. McGrue is a VERY special person to Chris and I'm sure he would really have liked to have been there. Chris is not scheduled to return from Camp Victory until tomorrow. Capt. McGrue is quite the officer and I am so thankful that God spared his life. There are many people at FOB Hammer that feel much safer because Capt. McGrue is by their side.

Letter from Capt. Hathaway

Update from Iraq

Friends of Headhunter Troop, I quick update to let you know that everyone is doing fine. We have been able to set up a couple of phones and a computer so the boys have the chance to email and call home. The MWR center is coming along and the gym has been pretty active. It seems that everyone has set a goal to get in shape while we are here. By now everyone has heard about the extension to 15 months. Yes it is true. We have officially been extended, but it is what we expected. I know that this wasn't the news that everyone wanted, but at least it wasn't 18 months. All of the boys are doing well; they are busy but are doing pretty good. In the near future I should be able to start posting pictures. I hope all is well and that everyone is doing fine.

CPT Hathaway

A Few Pictures From The Sands

Capt. McGrue's Purple Heart Ceremony

The "TOC"
I'm pretty sure this is where Chris works

Easter Dinner...steak and lobster
Steaks for Easter Dinner
Church Service at FOB Hammer


They say a picture is worth a thousand words...that it definitely the case when you child is thousands of miles away in a place that you know NOTHING about. The more I learn and the more I am able to see pictures, the easier it is for me to accept everything that is happening. I continue to thank God everyday that Chris has chosen to make the very best of his situation and remain positive and upbeat. He's such a trooper!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Front Page News

Chris and Nick's old neighbor, Joleen, back in Columbus called me this morning to tell me about an article in the Columbus newspaper about FOB Hammer. Pretty interesting...the guys are making front page news.

Ledger-Enquirer Article on FOB Hammer

Two Things In One Day...WOW!

We do not get communication everyday so when we do it is a real treat. You should hear us when we open up our email and see we got mail from Chris. We sound like kids's at Christmas seeing the packages under the tree for the first time. It is such a neat feeling. This morning we got an email from Chris and he was at Camp Victory in SW Baghdad. He had gotten there yesterday and was there for taining to become a rewards pay agent. He said the place was huge and a LOT different from FOB Hammer. He referred to his time there as a mini vacation in civilization and was really enjoying his time there. He will be heading back the FOB Hammer on the 18th. He had been on a Blackhawk over Baghdad yesterday and said he had taken some really cool pictures. He has limited computer access so right now it is hard for him to upload them and send them to us. He was very upbeat and the tone of the email was very positive. He had done some shopping in Baghdad yesterday and was VERY excited about being able to purchase movies at such a ridiculous price...he loaded up!

About noon today I got on the internet to send a quick report and I saw Chris online. I took a chance and sent him an IM. He was able to respond and we were able to chat for a few minutes. He sounded GREAT! Technology...it amazes me. I am so happy and thankful that Chris has such a positive outlook on everything. He seems to always find the good in every situation. It sure makes things easier on Mom knowing that his mental state is so positive.

Well, I think I am on overload today. It was so great to start my week off with an email AND an instant message. Two more packages got sent Chris' way today. He did say that he had gotten some more packages but didn't say what or who they were from. He also said that he REALLY appreciates the packages and it is very exciting when he gets them. Thanks to all of you who have corresponded with him. I know how much it means to him and it means just as much to me to know that so many people care.

FRG Update 4/15/07 And Slideshow

I received this today from the FRG (Family Readiness Group). It was sort of a series of events leading up to their arrival in Iraq. The best part was getting pictures...it just makes you feel a little closer to the guys.

March 8, Sledgehammer Soldiers said “goodbye” to their families and boarded busses to Lawson Army Airfield once again. This time they were headed to Iraq in support of OIF 5.3 for a deployment thats length had not yet been determined. “The message to the Soldiers was to prepare for 12 to 18 months,” said Command Sgt. Maj. James M. Pearson, 43, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, senior enlisted noncommissioned officer of the 3rd HBCT. After approximately 24 hours of travel, the Soldiers arrived at Camp Beuhring, Kuwait where they would be spent about two weeks. During that time, the 3rd HBCT conducted various training exercises designed to prepare them for what they could encounter in the year-plus to come. Training included various weapons systems ranges, counter IED and counter insurgency classes, roll-over drills, medical training, close quarters marksmanship training and instruction on some of the brigade’s new equipment. “The (Mobile Operation in Urban Terrain) training and the medical training were great,” Pearson said. “It closely resembled what we could encounter here in Iraq.” Camp Buehring was the final stage in preparation and training to bring the Sledgehammer Soldiers of the 3rd HBCT where they are today. As of April 14, the 3rd HBCT is conducting full spectrum operations in the “Hammer” area of operations. The Sledgehammer Brigade is the first unit that was pushed out in the surge, to build a base from the ground up. Not more than one month before the unit arrived, FOB Hammer was an artillery and armored maneuver training range used by the Iraqi Army. The Sledgehammer Brigade had to construct every aspect of the FOB starting with security and the headquarters and moving on to amenities such as living quarters, showers and bathrooms, a chow hall and moral, welfare and recreation facilities. FOB Hammer is changing in appearance everyday. All headquarters have been established and are operating to their full capacity. There is a laundry facility run by Kellogg, Brown and Root and a post exchange, theater, gym and MWR all run by Sledgehammer Soldiers. April 11, an announcement was made by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to extend the standard twelve month tour to fifteen months for all active-duty Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the Sledgehammer Brigade, this could mean a redeployment date of Mid June, 2008. “Fifteen months is less than eighteen months,” Pearson said. “The Soldiers and their families already had it in their minds that this deployment could go over a year.” “I couldn’t be more proud of every Sledgehammer Soldier, leader and family member for all they have done in getting ourselves set here in Iraq for OIF 5.3,” said Grigsby. “Again, both myself and Hammer 7 (Pearson) are humbled to be part of this team. It’s an honor to serve each and every Soldier in the 3rd HBCT in conjunction with the Iraqi Security Forces. And we will be successful…Git ‘r done!”

Friday, April 13, 2007

YEAH...They're Open

I found these photos at Hammerslogger.com and was so excited!
Friday, April 13, 2007
Friday the 13th isn't such a bad day afterall. Today was a great day at FOB Hammer. Today was the grand opening of "Hammer X", the small PX at the FOB. I'm sure today was like Christmas...now they can at least go get a soda or a bag of chips. Then a couple of hours later the Desert Grille DFAC opened for lunch serving hamburger, hot dogs and other famous backyard favorites for the soldiers. I'm sure the soldiers are very appreciated that they will no longer have to rely on a MRE for lunch. Rumor has it that this is just the beginning. Supposedly more computers with Internet access, AT&T phones for Soldier’s to use and a barber shop on the way. This was exciting news for me and it helped with MY morale...I can only imagine that it boosted the morale of the troops.

WHAT IN THE WORLD IS A CAMEL SPIDER?


We got an email from Chris shortly after arriving in Iraq asking us to find out about Camel Spiders. He said he had been hearing horror stories about these creatures and wanted us to do some research. As they are horrible creatures, they really aren' as bad as all the rumors. I hope I put Chris' mind at ease and sincerely hope he will just stick to his "Barking Tree Spiders".
Here is what I found out...
The camel spider stories began to spread during the 1990-91 Gulf War. Now, with the continued presence of U.S. forces in the Middle East, the stories are becoming legendary. ..Most of the stories on the internet are completely untrue. These creatures are (usually) not dangerous to humans. But, dangerous or not, these creatures are horrifying to encounter. I pity anyone who encounters one for the first time.
Soldier in Iraq bitten by a Camel Spider. Yes, they can bite. If they do, there is always the possibility of infection.
With the internet becoming so much more widely used during this Iraq conflict, rumors are spreading like wildfire. E-mail chain letters with claims, "he/she said his or her friend—or friend of a friend—knew a soldier stationed in Iraq who had said that these camel spider could inject a sleeping soldier with anesthetic, then chew out a chunk of flesh."Webmasters with imagination and flare for the absurd take it to the extreme with claims such as, camel spiders are know to eat dogs or cats.
Most people don't know that the camel spider can also be found in the southwest U.S. and Mexico. While the recent buzz is all about the Middle Eastern camel spider, its North American cousin has no shortage of tall tales.
Some common Camel Spider Myths:
1. Camel spiders can move at speeds over 30 MPH, screaming while they run.
2. Camel spiders can be as large as a frisbee.
3. Camel spiders venom is an anesthetic that numbs their prey.
4. Camel spiders can jump three feet high.
5. Camel spiders get there name because they eat the stomachs of camels
THE FACTS
1. Camel spiders top speed - 10 mph.
2. Size: Up to 6 inches
3. They have no venom.
4. They don't jump.
5. Called camel spiders because they live in the desert.
They actually aren't spiders at all, they're solpugids.. Along with spiders, they are members of the class Arachnida.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mom...Happy Birthday!

What a way to start my birthday! At exactly 4:00 AM the phone rang and it was Chris. He was calling to wish me a Happy Birthday. The phone had just gotten installed today. I was so happy to hear from him. That ABSOLUTELY made my day. He was doing good and sounded very upbeat and happy (well as happy as you can be, all things considered). He works from midnight to noon and then gets off and plays Playstation 3 with his friend for about an hour before going to sleep. He was a little discouraged about the news they, as well as the rest of the world received yesterday about the tour being extended to at least 15 months. Now he will pin on Captain while in Iraq. It was so great hearing his voice. He assures us he is safe, well and that there hasn't been any excitement. It makes me feel so good that he always has such a good disposition. He never complains! He was very excited that he had gotten several packages, 2 from us, 2 from Patricia and 1 from Nick's Mom. I told him he had more on the way. He was a little frustrated that 7 minutes into our conversation, he was notified that he only had 1 more minute on his 300 minute phone card (was brand new when he started the call). Very quickly we brought our call to an end and said our goodbyes. I need to do some investigating and find a better phone card for him. I think the card he was using was Verizon International Calling Card that I bought him at Costco before he deployed. Sure not a very good value...$30.00 card and we got a total of 8 minutes of talk time. There has to be something better.

It was very hard for me to get back to sleep after I hung up the phone because I was so excited. My day continued to be great as Christen woke me up at 6:40 (my usual alarm time) with hot Krispy Kreme donuts, Starbucks coffee and 3 beautiful red roses. She served me breakfast in bed. When I got to work, I was welcomed by a dozen red roses on my desk from Joey. Wow...I didn't think it could get much better. Several of the employees surprised me with great gifts...one of which was extra special from the Tarvins. They gave me a beautiful lighted shadow box that had an American flag across one corner, the Army seal on the other corner, a tank at the bottom and a picture of Chris at the top with the words God Bless America above his picture. It was such a thoughtful gift and I couldn't help but cry. My day continued to be full of surprises...when we got home, Christen was waiting for us and we all loaded into the car and headed to dinner. They took me to Morton's of Chicago for and unbelievable dinner. We then walked to the Alamo and took a bunch of pictures to send to Chris. Christen even took Henry (the camel that goes everywhere in place of Chris) and took pictures with him at dinner and at the Alamo. My evening concluded by visiting my in-laws and getting some cool gifts from them. It was a great day...even though I am now a year older. I am so fortunate. Thank you son, for starting my day out with such a pleasant surprise! I love you and miss you. XXXOOO

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Just A Good Laugh

How to Prepare for a Deployment to Iraq
1. Sleep on a cot in the garage.
2. Replace the garage door with a curtain.
3. Three hours after you go to sleep, have your wife or girlfriend whip open the curtain, shine a flashlight in your eyes and mumble, "Sorry, wrong cot."
4. Renovate your bathroom. Hang a green plastic sheet down from the middle of your bathtub and move the shower-head down to chest level. Keep four inches of soapy cold water on the floor. Stop cleaning the toilet and pee everywhere but in the toilet itself. Leave two to three sheets of toilet paper. Or for best effect, remove it altogether. For a more realistic deployed bathroom experience, stop using your bathroom and use a neighbor's. Choose a neighbor who lives at least a quarter mile away.
5. When you take showers, wear flip-flops and keep the lights off.
6. Every time there is a thunderstorm, go sit in a wobbly rocking chair and dump dirt on your head.
7. Put lube oil in your humidifier instead of water and set it on "HIGH" for that tactical generator smell.
8. Don't watch TV except for movies in the middle of the night. Have your family vote on which movie to watch and then show a different one.
9. Leave a lawnmower running in your living room 24 hours a day for proper noise level.
10. Have the paperboy give you a haircut.
11. Once a week, blow compressed air up through your chimney making sure the wind carries the soot across and on to your neighbor's house. Laugh at him when he curses you.
12. Buy a trash compactor and only use it once a week. Store up garbage in the other side of your bathtub.
13. Wake up every night at midnight and have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a saltine cracker.
14. Make up your family menu a week ahead of time without looking in your food cabinets or refrigerator. Then serve some kind of meat in an unidentifiable sauce poured over noodles. Do this for every meal.
15. Set your alarm clock to go off at random times during the night. When it goes off, jump out of bed and get to the shower as fast as you can. Simulate there is no hot water by running out into your yard and breaking out the garden hose.
16. Once a month, take every major appliance completely apart and put it back together again.
17. Use 18 scoops of coffee per pot and allow it to sit for five or six hours before drinking.
18. Invite at least 185 people you don't really like because of their strange hygiene habits to come and visit for a couple of months. Exchange clothes with them.
19. Have a fluorescent lamp installed on the bottom of your coffee table and lie under it to read books.
20. Raise the thresholds and lower the top sills of your front and back doors so that you either trip over the threshold or hit your head on the sill every time you pass through one of them.
21. Keep a roll of toilet paper on your night stand and bring it to the bathroom with you. And bring your gun and a flashlight.
22. Go to the bathroom when you just have to pass gas, "just in case." Every time.
23. Announce to your family that they have mail, have them report to you as you stand outside your open garage door after supper and then say, "Sorry, it's for the other Smith."
24. Wash only 15 items of laundry per week. Roll up the semi-wet clean clothes in a ball. Place them in a cloth sack in the corner of the garage where the cat pees. After a week, unroll them and without ironing or removing the mildew, proudly wear them to professional meetings and family gatherings. Pretend you don't know what you look or smell like. Enthusiastically repeat the process for another week.
25. Go to the worst crime-infested place you can find, go heavily armed, wearing a flak jacket and a Kevlar helmet. Set up shop in a tent in a vacant lot. Announce to the residents that you are there to help them.
26. Eat a single M&M every Sunday and convince yourself it's for Malaria.
27. Demand each family member be limited to 10 minutes per week for a morale phone call. Enforce this with your teenage daughter.
28. Shoot a few bullet holes in the walls of your home for proper ambiance.
29. Sandbag the floor of your car to protect from mine blasts and fragmentation.
30. While traveling down roads in your car, stop at each overpass and culvert and inspect them for remotely detonated explosives before proceeding
31. Fire off 50 cherry bombs simultaneously in your driveway at 3:00 a.m. When startled neighbors appear, tell them all is well, you are just registering mortars. Tell them plastic will make an acceptable substitute for their shattered windows.
32. Drink your milk and sodas warm.
33. Spread gravel throughout your house and yard.
34. Make your children clear their Super Soakers in a clearing barrel you placed outside the front door before they come in.
35. Make your family dig a survivability position with overhead cover in the back yard. Complain that the 4x4s are not 8 inches on center and make them rebuild it.
36. Continuously ask your spouse to allow you to go buy an M-Gator.
37. When your 5-year-old asks for a stick of gum, have him find the exact stick and flavor he wants on the Internet and print out the web page. Type up an 1149 and staple the web page to the back. Submit the paperwork to your spouse for processing. After two weeks, give your son the gum.
38. Announce to your family that the dog is a vector for disease and shoot it. Throw the dog in a burn pit you dug in your neighbor's back yard.
39. Wait for the hottest day of the year and announce to your family that there will be no air conditioning that day so you can perform much needed maintenance on the air conditioner. Tell them you are doing this so they won't get hot.
40. Just when you think you're ready to resume a normal life, order yourself to repeat this process for another six months to simulate the next deployment you've been ordered to support.

A Military Mother's Prayer



by Pam Gibson


Dear God, Tonight I ask as a mother to bless my child as I do every night, but now I am reminding you this is a special child. This child helps to provide a blanket of protection that we as Americans slumber under each night. He has decided to give his life to protect this great country of ours, and before now there was always prayer for you to watch over this child but after the terror that has struck our U.S. soil, I feel even stronger, more pleading as I pray to you. This child loves God and country and has sworn to protect her inhabitants. But, this is still my child who I have sworn to protect with MY life until the day I die. Now I need your help more than ever. He is no longer in my reach, but can only be reached by your hand to protect him. He may be on the oceans, above the earth or in lands foreign and hostile to him, please God, keep him safe and bring him home to me…alive and soon. Let this horrendous terror go away. Let us find peace and keep these special children alive and safe to teach future generations how important life is and how important it is to protect it. They are a rare breed, and we are the mothers who have helped to raise them. Now we are the mothers who ask for your help to protect them. Please bless all the mother’s children of the world, but please remember I am a military mother and am asking you to take special care of this special child. I ask this in your name God, Amen.

15 Months...You've Got To Be Kidding Me

I got this message today and my heart sunk. I wasn't sure I could handle 12 months and now it looks like I will have to cope with this for 15 months. I know Chris will take this in stride so I guess I will too. I'm going to keep my chin up and keep trudging along!

We had a strange feeling when Chris left that there was a possibility that the tour was going to be longer than 12 months. We thought it was strange that he had bought and was taking his Captain rank with him. He is not up for Captain until May 2008. Of course, Chris didn't want to say anything because he was hoping for the best and didn't want to make the situation any harder on us than it already was. That's Chris...always watching out for the feelings of others! This is an email we got today from 3ID

Message from 3ID

Commanders, NCOICs and FRG Assistants, For the last several months Marne 6 has told Commanders, Soldiers and MarneDivision families that there was a great possibility that 3ID units may faceup to an 18 month tour of duty in Iraq.Today the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army announced thatactive component Army units will now have standard deployments of 15 months.Those active component units that have already deloyed to Iraq will be extended to a 15-month tour.We understand this is a sacrifice by our Soldiers and families, but theseextensions are necessary to meet surge unit requirements. The Army, 3d IDand the United States Army Garrison Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfieldwill continue to do everything in their power to support our families duringthis difficult time.We will provide more information as it becomes available.

COL Todd A. Buchs
USAG Fort Stewart/HAAF Commander

It's Official

I know everyone can read the news and what has been written by the papers. Here is a message the acting SEC of Army and CSA has sent to the Soldiers and Families.

Acting SecArmy and CSA Sends:

To the Soldiers and families of the U.S. Army,

Yesterday, we announced that active-duty Army units now in the CentralCommand area of responsibility and those headed there will deploy for notmore than 15 months and will return to home stations for not less than 12 months. We made this difficult decision after careful thought, and we oweyou an explanation. We wanted to tell you in advance, but events caused usto move faster than planned.

Faced with the increased probability of sending units to combat with lessthan 12 months dwell time, the possibility of numerous late-breaking unitextensions, and understanding that we are in a long and difficult strugglethat will require a steady deployment of ground forces, we had to change ourcurrent policy of 12 months deployed. We intend to return to the 12 month policy as soon as possible.

Deployments of 15 months with a minimum of 12 months for reset, retrainingand recovery allow us to sustain a predictable flow of well-trained andwell-equipped formations to theater commanders. This also allows us toprovide a more predictable and dependable deployment schedule for Soldiersand families. Though there is nothing certain in war, this represents asolid commitment to 12 months of dwell time at home. This predictability isessential to the long term health of our Service.

The Nation, led by its ground forces, has been at war for over five yearsfighting for America's freedom, America's security and America's future.The Army exists to field forces for victory. We are in this war to win, andyou are making a difference every day.

We know this decision asks even more from you and your family, but it isessential to our success. We are both personally and profoundly gratefulfor your service, your many continued sacrifices and your deep commitment toaccomplishing our shared mission during this time of danger and uncertainty.You are the strength of our Nation.

ARMY STRONG!

George W. Casey, Jr.
PeteGeren
General, U.S. Army Acting
Secretary of the ArmyChief of Staff

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

All Is Okay

Got a short email today from Chris and all is okay. He is working 12 - 14 hour days and has very limited access to the one computer that is available. I was so relieved to hear from him, especially since we had gotten a Velvet Hammer on Sunday. Chris was so excited that he had received some packages. Knowing how excited he was, makes me want to send even more! I knew Chris was planning on attending Chaplain Randall's Easter service and it looks like they had a nice Easter overall. The Dog Faced Soldier had some really nice pictures of Easter Sunday.

Hats Off To The Post Office

I love the fact that we can use the flat rate boxes to ship our goodies to Iraq. Now I have found that the Post Office will actually ship the supplies to our home or office. It works great...I just received my "mili-kit". Anyone sending packages to military can request these free supplies.

While it can’t cut postage costs, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) does provide help to military families and friends shipping care packages overseas to their deployed service members. Since Priority Mail® supplies are the packaging of choice for families and friends preparing care packages for service members overseas, the post office has created a "Mili-kit" based on the items most frequently requested by the military. This kit is available for free to military families.
It contains:
Three (3) each of flat rate boxes
Two each of Cube boxes
Address labels
One roll of Priority Mail tape
15 customs forms with envelopes
The kit may be requested by calling 1-800-610-8734 Choose your language (1 is English, 2 is Spanish).
Choose option 1 (it states it is for Express Mail®, Priority Mail or Global Express Guaranteed® products).
When you reach a live agent, request CAREKIT04, the “Military Kit. Allow 7-10 days for delivery. Note: These are free supplies only. Military families must still affix postage to the package.

You can order these kits as often as needed.
Hats off to the Post Office for helping out our soldiers, their friends and families!

Monday, April 9, 2007

Flat Son...on his way!


I'm so excited that I found a place to get a life size cut out of Chris. It is going to be great. Now instead of just having a place setting for Chris at Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc...we can actually have him there. I plan on putting it in Chris' room, on his bed with the Playstation controller next to it and dirty clothes all around it and I will feel like he's back home. lol This is a fantastic project and I can hardly wait until our life size Chris arrives! I sent this picture so it should turn out pretty good.