Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder 

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

By James W. Ralph, M.D.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has become a major problem among veterans. In fact, it has been a problem
for many years, but fully appreciated until after Vietnam. In the past, PTSD has been called by such names as Shell
Shock, Survivor Guilt Syndrome, Forgotten Warrior Syndrome, and similar terms. As a former DAV National
Commander described it, PTSD includes: "Bitterness, anger and anxiety... depression, loneliness and alienation...
sleeplessness... flashbacks to combat and suicidal feelings... drug and alcohol dependence... and so much more."

The VA National Center for PTSD describes PTSD as: "...a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the
experience or witnessing of life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious
accidents, or violent personal assaults..." It has been reported that about 30% of Vietnam veterans have suffered some
degree of PTSD, and a similar percentage of those exposed to combat in Afghanistan and Iraq have also suffered from
PTSD. The signs and symptoms of PTSD should never be taken lightly!

PTSD presents in many forms, but often is not recognized until many years after the exposure to personal risks
occurred. This is particularly true in senior officers and senior NCOs who refuse to admit to themselves, or anyone else,
that they have problems, because they fear it could interfere with their military careers. This is also happens in
physicians, because we feel that we aren't subject to such problems, only our patients have it. I know this personally,
being a physician and retired senior medical officer who held in my own PTSD symptoms for almost 40 years. I served
two tours in Vietnam, as well as in Desert Storm. During my first tour in Vietnam, I was shot down and suffered serious
back, neck and shoulder injuries. Two weeks later I received a bullet wound to the scalp. I was a Flight Surgeon, but I
could not allow the pilots in my units to know I was developing a fear of flying, so I held it in and tried to ignore that I
had a problem. I ended up flying approximately 1,000 missions with my units, mostly with "Dustoff" MedEvac. I finally
had to admit that I had PTSD problems and I am now a PTSD outpatient with the VA medical system.

Why does PTSD happen to some, but not others who witness the same terrifying situations? There is no simple
answer to that. Some people have pre-existing personality disorders, such as dependency, obsessive-compulsive
behavior, paranoia, and so on, that become aggravated under stress. Others have no problems prior to experiencing
traumatic events, such as combat, only to subconsciously hold on to the horrifying experience. And this is not limited to
military veterans. Research has indicated at about 8% of all Americans suffer from some degree of PTSD, but I shall
concentrate on the PTSD of combat veterans.

What are some of the more common signs of PTSD? I will go over many of them, but for more compel information, I
suggest all concerned veterans obtain a copy of Veterans and Families Guide to Recovering from PTSD, which is an
excellent book available from the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Treatment of PTSD can consist of individual one-on-one therapy with a psychotherapist, group therapy with other
veterans, or even spending several; months in a group home (at or near a VA hospital) for daily interaction other
veterans, and occasional classes to explain PTSD and how to deal with it.

Anxiety is one of the most common symptoms of PTSD, with the veteran warring excessively over what others would
find to be minor problems. Anxiety is often related to flashbacks and nightmares of personal danger experienced in
combat. It may also add to other medical problems, such as increased blood pressure and rapid or irregular pulse.

Becoming easily frustrated and difficulty controlling anger are also high on the list. One may become easily
exasperated, feel displeasure and even hostility toward others. The tendency to strike out must be controlled, as doing
so will only worsen the situation. This is a sure sign that one needs professional help, before things get out of hand.

Chronic pain from combat injuries is often a very irritating reminder of horrifying situations in one's past. One must
take care to not become overly dependent on prescription pain medications, and definitely must avoid even "sampling"
illegal drugs. Drug dependency has serious, and often strict legal consequences.

Compulsive behavior, recurrent confusion, difficulties with sleeping, abnormal fear and delusions are often signs of
PTSD. Feeling depressed, lonely, or becoming overly dependent on others also suggests that PTSD may be the
underlying cause such symptoms. It is not at all unusual for victims of PTSD to be suspicious of employers, government
agencies (including the VA), or even friends a family members. Such feelings can lead to suicidal, or even homicidal,
thoughts. Holding in such feelings is counterproductive, but these feelings of paranoia can usually be treated with
proper therapy, if recognized and dealt with promptly. Trying to hide such feelings or to hold them in will only make
matters worse, possibly with tragic results. It is therefore very important to seek immediate help if such feelings occur.

I hope that the information provided in this article will help explain the signs and symptoms that many of us veterans
feel. If you recognize any of these thoughts or feelings in yourself, or in friends or family, please seek professional help
without delay.

Additional information of PTSD can be found at this VA web site: http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/facts/general/fs_what_is_ptsd.html


Dr. Ralph is a retired Colonel, U.S. Army Medical Corps. He is an Army Master Flight Surgeon and Naval Flight Surgeon (having served 4 years as a Marine Corps Reserve Battalion Surgeon). He is also Special Forces qualified. His combat decorations include the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star/V, and Purple Heart.

I'll Be Home For Christmas 

This Christmas Season was a very special one for Operation First Response, Inc; (OFR). OFR is a Culpeper, Virginia based, all volunteer, 501c3 non-profit that supports our nation’s wounded Heroes and their families with personal and financial needs.

One of OFR’s services is to facilitate flights for wounded service members and their families. OFR accepts donations of frequent flyer miles and uses them to purchase flights, reserving general funds for other needs whenever miles are available.

Armand Janelle, the assistant to James M. Cashman, the President of Cashman Companies contacted OFR to offer a large donation of frequent flyer miles.

Jamie Cashman, a home owner of Lafitte, Louisianna, donated 1.5 million miles to OFR requesting that we send as many wounded Heroes home for Christmas as possible. This generous donation enabled OFR to facilitate 27 flights to Heroes who contacted OFR during that time requesting help getting home for Christmas.

This was very moving to the staff of OFR.

In most cases OFR is involved with a family during a very traumatic time, this donation enabled us to share a special gift with them and their families.

Mr. Cashman gave 27 wounded Heroes and their families a special memory and new meaning to the phrase “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”.

Contact Info:

Operation First Response, Inc

Peggy Baker/ President


Cashman Companies

James Cashman


Monday, July 10, 2006


Operation First Response to Meet with the President Alongside Emmy Award-Winning Actor Gary Sinise to Discuss Efforts of ASY Member Organizations Nationwide

WASHINGTON—Operation First Response, a Culpeper-based organization, is one of fourteen groups that has been invited by President George W. Bush for a special White House meeting on June 26, 2006 at 10 a.m. of America Supports You team members to discuss their work and to thank them for their support of the military at home and abroad. Emmy Award-winning actor Gary Sinise will also participate in his role as a celebrity spokesperson for the America Supports You campaign. Sinise is a founder of the Kansas-based organization Operation Iraqi Children, also an America Supports You team member.

Immediately following the meeting, Sinise and other ASY members will convene outside the West Wing for an open-press Q&A to discuss their meeting with the president. America Supports You is an outreach program, launched by the Department of Defense, to recognize citizens’ support for our military men and women and to communicate that support to members of our Armed Forces and their families at home and abroad.

Operation First Response provides assistance to wounded service members and their families by aiding with travel expenses and financial burdens. The organization helps wounded military men and women from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and combat support hospitals in Iraq. The organization is always in need of financial donations as well as sweatshirts, socks, toothbrushes, razors and other personal products for care package backpacks for service members. Visit www.operationfirstresponse.org for more information.

WHO: Peggy Baker of Operation First Response
WHAT: Available for interview regarding meeting with President George W. Bush and Actor Gary Sinise at the White House
WHEN: Upon request
HOW: Phone or in person

About America Supports You:
America Supports You is an ongoing nationwide program that helps showcase American’s support for the men and women of the Armed Forces. Since its launch in November of 2004 by the Department of Defense, America Supports You has welcomed 225 member organizations and more than 20 corporate sponsors to its team. Many America Supports You team members support the troops by writing letters, sending care packages, helping the wounded when they return home, assisting military families, sending e-mails or simply extending kind gestures to the troops. To learn more about how you can support military personnel please visit www.americasupportsyou.mil.

About Gary Sinise:
Gary Sinise, best known for his work as Lt. Dan in the Academy Award winning film Forrest Gump and as Detective Mac Taylor in “CSI: New York,” is often noted for his efforts in raising awareness about the sacrifices made by members of the military. He is a celebrity member of the “America Supports You” campaign and performed with his Lt. Dan Band at an America Supports You Salute at the Pentagon in May during Military Appreciation Month. Sinise recently received the prestigious Superior Public Service Award from Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England for his support of U.S. service members. Sinise is a founder of the Kansas-based organization Operation Iraqi Children.

Operation First Response, Inc receives grant from the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation 

CONTACT: Peggy Baker
peggy@operationfirstresponse.org (540)547-9011


Culpeper, Virginia – Operation First Response, Inc (OFR) an all volunteer, non profit that supports our Nation’s wounded Heroes received a substantial grant in the amount $50,000.00 from the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) Service Foundation enabling OFR to continue their efforts in assisting military families.

The two organizations share a common goal that they will not forget the sacrifices made by America’s Finest.

“Due to long recovery periods for many wounded service members, families are in need of America’s support, thanks to the generosity of MOPH we will be able to continue to lighten their load with the services we offer,” states Peggy Baker, President and Co-Founder of Operation First Response.

In addition to financial assistance to the families of wounded service members OFR, sends backpacks filled with handmade quilts, clothes and hygiene items to soldiers wounded during combat. The organization works with hospitals in Iraq, Germany and other worldwide locations.

To learn more about OFR please visit their website at www.operationfirstresponse.org

To learn more about the Military Order of the Purple Heart visit their website at www.purpleheartfoundation.org

Operation First Response, Inc and Col. Wesley Fox Young Marines Coordinate Efforts 

Operation First Response, Inc (OFR) was contacted by Valerie Stoki; Community Service Officer of Col. Wesley Fox Young Marines of Front Royal, Virginia, in February wishing to offer the services of their Young Marines in helping our Nation’s wounded service members.
Plans were made for the children to help pack OFR backpacks on April 22, 2006.
Col. Wesley Fox Young Marines were an inspiration to watch; they quickly grasped what needed to be done and with the help of their leaders were able to pack 105 backpacks to be shipped overseas for our wounded heroes. The day ended with a pizza party and talk of future packing parties.

OFR would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to these fine young men and women who are following in the footsteps of our Heroes of Yesterday and Today, it is as if we have a small glimpse into the future and see the Heroes of Tomorrow. They are a reminder that we are never too young to learn that honoring our veterans, the very ones that make our freedoms possible, is the right thing to do.

For more information on how you can help our wounded Heroes please visit…

For more information on the Young Marines program please visit…

My Brothers, My Comrades 

By Peggy Baker
Mother of a Soldier
Operation First Response

Operation First Response an all volunteer, 501 c3, non profit organization that supports our Nation’s wounded Heroes and their families, partnered with Therapeutic Adventures a non-profit organization committed to providing greater access to adaptive outdoor recreation for persons of all ages who have a disability (physical or developmental), a chronic illness, or other special health needs, for a celebration of five very special members of the Army National Guard Unit 189 Big Stone Gap and Richlands, VA.

The event was located at Massanutten Ski Resort in Virginia, where everyone met and spent the weekend. What began as a celebration of Dean Swartz and some of his close comrades was to become a treasured memory for all with hopes of making this a yearly event. Therapeutic Adventures supplied adaptable snow gear for Dean Swartz, a young Hero who was deployed to Iraq where he was wounded and lost his leg, and ski passes for 4 of his comrades. Several family members and significant others of each soldier joined the festivities creating an even warmer atmosphere.

My brothers, my comrades…

Although I am only the mother of a soldier I believe that I have learned what that phrase really means.

As I watched these young men interact it was an indescribable feeling of awe. They are bonded together so intricately that I wonder if they even know of its strength. I suppose that it comes from watching each others back in a fashion that only they can understand.
To know that you would lay down your life for the man standing next to you or to comfort him as he lay wounded is something our troops must live with each day of their deployment to hostile territories. We, as Americans can not fathom waking up to that feeling each day and this is because of these young men and others like them. They have taken this commitment upon themselves to spare each of us on our homeland from knowing the terror that must exist in a country whose people are not free. For this and so many other reasons they should be forever honored by all Americans.

Dean’s family has lived through moments that every family prays they will not experience and it is evident that they have come through this experience with a love that is powerful. There is not even the slightest hint of self pity within any of them, actually quite the opposite. Theirs is a story of a family united by love and stronger than ever because of enduring one of life’s difficult trials. It was a privilege and an honor to be in the company of America’s Finest!

OFR would like extend a heartfelt thanks to Therapeutic Adventures for their kindness and generosity to our Heroes and most of all for giving us the opportunity to see yet another facet of the American Soldier…

My brothers, my comrades….their love, their strength, their unity.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

America Supports You: Virginia Group Supports Wounded Troops, Families 

By Paul X. RutzAmerican Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 23, 2006 – Wounded servicemembers have an extra helping hand thanks to Operation First Response, a group specializing in providing them supplies and funds during their recuperation.
Peggy Baker of Culpepper, Va., founder and president of the all-volunteer nonprofit, answered questions from interested troops Jan. 19 at the Washington Capitals' "Salute to the Military Night" at the MCI Center here. While thousands of servicemembers and their families enjoyed free tickets to the hockey game against the St. Louis Blues, Baker took the opportunity to offer assistance.
"We're kind of an extension. Where somebody will fall through the loops, we try to pick it up," she said.
As a member of America Supports You, a Department of Defense-sponsored effort to support the troops, the organization has found ways to provide a variety of services to show troops "they are heard, cared about, and honored," Baker said.
One way the group supports America's servicemembers is by collecting frequent flyer miles to allow family members of wounded troops to reunite with them, she said. It also provides a car service that picks up families at Washington-area airports and brings them to Walter Reed Army Medical Center here or the National Naval Medical Center, at nearby Bethesda, Md., as well as financial support for those families during their stay here.
Since its inception in August 2004, the group has provided similar types of aid to troops in other places. Baker said Operation First Response has developed connections to military installations across the country and beyond, including Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, in Germany; Fort Bliss, Texas; Camp Lejeune, N.C.; Naval Medical Center San Diego; Camp Pendleton, Calif.
"We help anywhere," Baker said.
The group's volunteers have sent thousands of backpacks full of supplies to wounded troops at combat support hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan, sending them "where they are most needed," she said. Volunteers pack the bags themselves after receiving donations, including hygiene items, T-shirts, socks, underwear and even handmade quilts for cots.
When contacted by family members of wounded servicemembers, the group often goes into action before wounded troops return to the states, facilitating phone calls and taking care of other needs, Baker said.
"We have a nurse at Landstuhl in Germany who takes care of our guys and gives them our information," she said. Landstuhl is often a stopping off point for servicemembers medically evacuated to the United States.
Baker, whose son is an Army specialist, said she founded OFR after she noticed a need while helping a friend. "My girlfriend's boy lost his leg, and I went into Walter Reed to meet with her to help her because she was from Iowa, and just saw a lot of things that we could actually do as citizens," she said.
Filling the gaps for servicemembers and families in need is what her group does best, Baker said.
"If they let us know what their needs are, we try to meet them," she said. "Whatever they call us with, we try to pick it up."

Heroes of Yesterday Helping Heroes of Today 

By Peggy Baker
Mother of a Soldier
President of Operation First Response, Inc

Operation First Response, Inc (OFR) is an all volunteer, non profit (501c3) organization that supports our Nation’s wounded Heroes and their families. OFR was presented a check from VFW Post 9835 of Warrenton, Virginia on January 26, 2006 for five hundred dollars to help with OFR services provided to wounded Heroes. The two organizations met at the Baker’s home in Culpeper, Virginia to have the opportunity to see how they can work together to let our wounded Heroes and our Veterans know they are heard, cared about and honored.
It is an incredible validation to have the Heroes of Yesterday donate to OFR, these men are of the same mold as our Heroes of Today; they would have sacrificed all to preserve our freedoms and as they talk about their memories and experiences you can see in their eyes the pride they have for their comrades and their country.
“The fact that men that have worn the “Uniform” feel that our work is important gives us the inspiration to push forward and never forget that we have a responsibility to these fine men and women,” says Peggy Baker, President of Operation First Response.
Our wounded Heroes of Today will be our Veterans of Tomorrow.
OFR hopes to inspire the wounded they work with to become members of their local VFW Posts and Post 9835 of Warrenton, Virginia hopes to inspire other VFW Posts to support the efforts of Operation First Response.
For more information on the organization please visit www.operationfirstresponse.org

Monday, December 26, 2005

Online Auction of the 50,000th copy of Military Salute to benefit Operation First Response 

The Minnesota Platoon, a group of five disabled Vietnam-era Veterans that distributes “Military Salute” at no charge to active-duty Military units, Veterans groups, family support groups, public safety organizations, church groups, school districts, and students working on patriotic projects, is now conducting an online auction of the 50,000th copy of the video to benefit Operation First Response.

Operation First Response (OFR) (http://www.operationfirstresponse.org) sends backpacks to Combat Support Hospitals in Iraq and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. OFR staff visits Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Bethesda National Naval Medical Center to meet with our wounded military and their families. OFR provides items such as groceries, clothing, hygiene items, books, and monetary assistance. Operation First Response is an all volunteer nonprofit 501(c) (3) organization formed in the State of Virginia. Your donation to OFR is tax deductible. Administrative costs are less than 1%.

“Military Salute” (http://condocat.home.att.net), a 34-minute Windows-XP video honoring America’s Armed Forces, past and present, can be viewed online or downloaded at no charge from http://www.soldiergifts.com/Military-Salute.html or http://www.rollingsportsman.com/Military-Salute.html.
The auction will run from January 1, 2006 through 11am CDT on Tuesday, April 25, 2006.
For more information, visit the Military Salute 50,000th Copy Online Auction page at http://home.att.net/~militarysalute4/index.html .

Operation First Response considers this opportunity the highest honor. To know that our wounded Heroes of the past consider our efforts worthy of their time and attention is exactly the kind of reputation the staff of Operation First Response strives for each day while caring for our wounded Heroes of today.

Please join Operation First Response in giving a big “Military Salute” to our Heroes, past, present and future. Let’s show them that we see their sacrifices and that we will never forget.

The higher the bid for this unique copy of “Military Salute” the more families of the wounded can benefit from the proceeds as well as tell all of our Military that…
America Supports You!

Saturday, December 03, 2005


> >by Michael Marks
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >I had no Christmas spirit when I breathed a weary sigh,
> >And looked across the table where the bills were piled too high.
> >
> >The laundry wasn't finished and the car I had to fix,
> >My stocks were down another point, the Chargers lost by six.
> >
> >And so with only minutes till my son got home from school
> >I gave up on the drudgery and grabbed a wooden stool.
> >
> >The burdens that I carried were about all I could take,
> >And so I flipped the TV on to catch a little break.
> >
> >I came upon a desert scene in shades of tan and rust,
> >No snowflakes hung upon the wind, just clouds of swirling dust.
> >
> >And where the reindeer should have stood before a laden sleigh, Eight
> >Humvees ran a column right behind an M1A.
> >
> >A group of boys walked past the tank, not one was past his teens
> >Their eyes were hard as polished flint, their faces drawn and lean.
> >
> >They walked the street in armor with their rifles shouldered tight,
> >Their dearest wish for Christmas, just to have a silent night.
> >
> >Other soldiers gathered, hunkered down against the wind,
> >To share a scrap of mail and dreams of going home again
> >
> >There wasn't much at all to put their lonely hearts at ease, They had
> >no Christmas turkey, just a pack of MREs.
> >
> >They didn't have a garland or a stocking I could see,
> >They didn't need an ornament--they lacked a Christmas tree.
> >
> >They didn't have a present even though it was tradition,
> >The only boxes I could see were labeled "ammunition."
> >
> >I felt a little tug and found my son now by my side,
> >He asked me what it was I feared, and why it was I cried.
> >
> >I swept him up into my arms and held him oh so near
> >And kissed him on the forehead as I whispered in his ear.
> >
> >"There's nothing wrong, my little son, for safe we sleep tonight Our
> >heroes stand on foreign land to give us all the right,
> >
> >To worry on the things in life that mean nothing at all, Instead of
> >wondering if we will be the next to fall."
> >
> >He looked at me as children do and said, "it's always right, To thank
> >the ones who help us and perhaps that we should write."
> >
> >And so we pushed aside the bills and sat to draft a note,
> >To thank the many far from home, and this is what we wrote:
> >
> >"God bless you all and keep you safe, and speed your way back home.
> >Remember that we love you so, and that you're not alone.
> >
> >The gift you give you share with all, a present every day, You give
> >the gift of liberty and that we can't repay."

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The following is a recap of my trip to Columbus, Georgia attending the fourth annual God Bless Fort Benning Day (GBFBD) on November 19th 2005.

The weekend started with a meet and greet on Friday night. Last year there was perhaps two dozen guests at the meet and greet; this year it grew and had to be more than fifty guests. The meet and greet was held at the Hilton Garden Inn in Columbus, which is where most, if not all, of the guests were staying. I was greeted by my friend Kim Scofi, Director of Operations for God Bless Fort Benning, www.GodBlessFortBenning.com in between greeting other guests we were catching up on what we both have been doing lately.

Once in the room, I went in search of my friend John Givhan, a wounded Vietnam Veteran and author of “Rice and Cotton: South Vietnam and South Alabama”. I found John right after I found the food :) With lots of people to meet, John introduced me to another wounded Vietnam Veteran and author, Jon Hovde “Left for Dead”. This was my chance to thank some Veterans for their service to our country and tell them and others about Operation First Response and Give 2 The Troops. I met a young man named Jason. Jason was an orphan from Vietnam who came to the United States and in his appreciation for a chance at life, drove the three plus hours to visit John Givhan and thank him for his service in Vietnam.

I also met “Ranger”, a retired SGM US Army and I met Phil Kiver, a currently active soldier and author of “182 Days in Iraq”. The evening wasn’t a long one since we had to rest up for the main event Saturday.

GBFBD is held at the Civic Center in Columbus. Unlike the warmth of last year, it was chilly for southwestern Georgia. I flew to Georgia after spending a few days off in Florida; it was preparing me for the cold of the northeast. We had a sunny day in spite of the chill in the air. I arrived and approached one of the volunteer tents to find out where to set up my table. Ironically, I’m standing in front of a young lady on her cell phone and just heard her say “I found Bob, he’s standing right in front of me!” Tiffany, one of two volunteers to help me with my table, was looking for me. Operation First Response (OFR) was there to help when Tiffany’s husband, Doug, was wounded. My other volunteer was Tiffany’s friend Dawn, whose husband is still deployed in Iraq. Knowing first hand the assistance OFR gave to Doug, both of these fine ladies wanted to help.

We displayed a wounded backpack to show what is included in the backpacks we send to Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany and Combat Support Hospitals (CSH) in Iraq and Afghanistan. A little side note: Peggy Baker, President/Founder of OFR, recently received a phone call from soldier in Iraq thanking OFR for the wounded backpack. We displayed a quilt, one of many that goes into a wounded backpack and handed out at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC). Fighting the wind, we had fliers on the table for OFR and Give 2 The Troops (G2TT). In addition to showing our support, it was a chance to make contacts and get donations.

One of the groups next to the OFR table was the National Military Family Association www.nmfa.org – from their website “To educate military families concerning their rights, benefits and services available to them and to inform them regarding the issues that affect their lives and...To promote and protect the interests of military families by influencing the development and implementation of legislation and policies affecting them.”
House of Heroes www.houseofheroes.org I met because they were raffling off a grill and I still took a couple of chances knowing I wasn’t about to take a grill onto Delta airlines LOL! Volunteers for House of Heroes perform minor repairs and make improvements to the homes of Veterans, public safety officers, and their spouses at no cost to them through the generosity of individuals, civic organizations and corporations.

Operation Special Delivery: www.OperationSpecialDelivery.com a group of volunteer doulas who assist military wives whose husbands are on deployment when they are due to give birth. I believe they came by when I was in search of a late lunch and well, let’s face it; it was better the two military wives, volunteering their time with me, spoke with the representative.

Karen Pavlicin, author of “Surviving Deployment: A Guide for Military Families” stopped by the OFR table to show support. www.survivingdeployment.com

Michelle Ferguson-Cohen, author of “Daddy, You’re My Hero” and “Mommy, You’re My Hero” also stopped by the OFR table. Michelle was stunned when the daughter of one of my volunteers started to recite the first few lines of Michelle’s book.

Sometime in the early afternoon, soldiers started to appear behind our table. Nextel offered them free calls to family members and with the lines long, some ended up near the OFR table. My two volunteers and I offered our cell phones to be used by the soldiers to call family as well. We had our own line of soldiers. I’m amazed and thankful my cell phone lasted the entire time. I’m also thankful it was a Saturday with unlimited calling LOL!

At the end of a long day, I met Marc Wolfe, artist of military and law enforcement tactical art. www.MarcWolfeArt.com I didn’t realize it at first, but I posed for a picture Friday night next to one of his works.

I also met Paul D’Andrea distributor of the Hooah bar www.HooahBar.com – Paul and I will talk about sending Hooah bars to the troops, which his company has already been doing through other organizations, as well as for the wounded at WRAMC.

Sunday morning came early. Breakfast at 7:30am with honored guests from the weekend. Food was excellent, speeches were made and very touching. Someday I’ll have the guts to stand up in front of a room and say something, preferably before the speeches that are heart wrenching. After breakfast I gave my business cards to a mother with sons in the military. I explained how her son deployed with the Navy can sign up with Give 2 The Troops www.Give2TheTroops.org to receive packages. In turn, she connected me with Tim Buckley who e-mailed me a couple of days later representing United for Our Troops www.UnitedForOurTroops.com - from their website “Families United for our Troops and Their Mission, a project of Operation Iraqi Hope, is a grassroots coalition of families who are united in their steadfast support of our men and women in uniform fighting the War on Terror, and for ensuring our troops are allowed to finish their mission.”

I was bold enough to introduce myself to General Yarborough, gave him my business cards and explained how OFR has helped soldiers from Fort Benning at WRAMC. I mentioned one by name, but didn’t expect it to ring a bell with all the men and women at Fort Benning.

One lady who spoke at breakfast gave me her book, “Heart of a Hawk, Eye of the Eagle” – her name is Deborah Tainsh. Deborah was explaining about a group she supports with profits from her book, www.taps.org which stands for “Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors”

It was an emotional weekend. I don’t think about my missed opportunity to ride a Huey helicopter and after watching hundreds of motorcycles depart at noon that Saturday for the motorcycle rally – I didn’t miss being on one. Those two should be an indicator that when I visit Six Flags, I’m usually holding items for those on the rides LOL!

I look forward to working with the contacts I made as well as another visit to God Bless Fort Benning Day next year.

Very Respectfully,

Director of Special Projects, Operation First Response

Director, Give 2 the Troops

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Busy Times for Groups Offering Tangible Support to the Troops 

New York Times
Published: November 14, 2005
WITH Motown tunes blasting in the background, about 900 volunteers for Operation Gratitude spent Veterans Day and this past weekend getting blisters on their hands and sore backs on an assembly line in the California Army National Guard Armory in Van Nuys, Calif. They were there packing 15,000 boxes for soldiers in Iraq with items like energy bars, coffee, DVD's, CD's, phone cards and T-shirts for shipment this morning.
Carolyn Blashek, who started Operation Gratitude (opgratitude.com) in March 2003, said this weekend was the kickoff to a season-long drive that lasts until the middle of December. In the 2½ years she has been doing this, her organization has sent more than 71,000 boxes of goods. But this year, she said, they are "way busier."
As the war in Iraq approaches its third year, the efforts of the American public to provide the troops there with supplies ranging from body armor to extra socks and toothbrushes have grown and become more organized. These groups also send supplies to troops in Afghanistan. Some organizations have also begun providing services to soldiers returning home from combat, particularly those with serious wounds. And more such groups keep coming. At least 32 charities with the words "military and veterans" had their names registered for a tax exemption with the Internal Revenue Service in 2004; so far this year, at least 25 more have registered.
The federal government has noticed . Last November, the Department of Defense started a Web site called americasupportsyou.mil, a clearinghouse for information on supporting the troops. The site gets over 100,000 new visitors each month on average. It includes a state-by-state list of certified charities, news articles and e-mail messages to and from the troops.
Cmdr. Greg Hicks, a Pentagon spokesman, said the proliferation of such charities is not a result of the troops' having more needs but rather reflects a growing interest by civilians who want to help. "People want to feel that they can contribute," he said. "It's a great measure of the intensity of support for our troops."
The Pentagon has also begun a reimbursement program for soldiers who buy necessary combat equipment for themselves. The measure was proposed last year by Senator Chris Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, and recently put into place by the Pentagon. A soldier can apply to be reimbursed for up to $1,100. (Information about the policy and the application can be found at defenselink.mil. To find the application, search for Form dd2902.)
Gail Van Vranken, who lives in Wheeling, W. Va., began Boatsie's Boxes (boatsie.com) in June 2004, sending care packages to the troops. This year, she has doubled the number of boxes she sends from an average of 20 a week to 40. She has also become a public speaker for the first time and has incorporated Boatsie's as a nonprofit organization.
For her big Christmas project, sending stockings stuffed with games and treats to the soldiers, her organization will be preparing close to 13,000, compared with the 2,500 she sent last year.
But Mrs. Van Vranken said that the most significant change had been the response, as word spread about her efforts. "Now I can pick up the phone and call the schools and call the stores and they know me," she said. And now that she said she was about to become a tax-exempt organization, she can solicit items from large companies for larger amounts and apply for grants.
Andi Grant, of Rocky Hill, Conn., who started give2thetroops.org, a charity listed on americasupportsyou, said her workload had doubled since 2004. Her husband, Sgt. Brian Grant, was deployed for a year in Iraq; his service there was an impetus for creating the charity. Even with a full-time job, she puts in an average of 30 hours a week on the project. Ms. Grant said she missed the hands-on work of packing boxes as her role has shifted since she incorporated last year. "Now we have a lot of legal responsibilities and management responsibilities," she said.
"We have nine branches all around the country," she added. "We don't do as much of the actual boxes. I used to do it every single night in my basement."
While the work keeps her aware of what is being reported about Iraq and what the soldiers are enduring, she said that politics have never entered into the equation at her charity. "Everyone seems very educated about the difference between supporting the war and supporting the troops," she said.
Operation First Response (operationfirstresponse.org), which was started by Peggy Baker of Culpeper, Va., and Liz Fuentes of Cheraw, S.C., is a nonprofit group devoted to the wounded. Mrs. Baker said the soldiers recovering in military hospitals are often far from their home, making it difficult for their families to visit. The soldiers are no longer receiving combat pay, and sometimes their spouses need to take a leave from work to stay nearby, problems that can lead to stress and financial difficulties.
Her organization sends care packages to the hospitals, donates frequent-flier miles and phone cards and has even sent a car service to and from the airport. In some cases, they have provided financial help. "A lot of families come, some have never traveled before, and you are traveling under the worst conditions," Mrs. Baker said. "A car service picks them up and takes them to the right building. So it's kind of a comfort thing for them."
She said she wanted to make sure the soldiers were not forgotten after their tour of duty. "The soldiers of today will become the veterans of tomorrow, and we have to make sure that we don't have another generation of homeless veterans," she said.
For everyone involved in these efforts, there is a goal beyond the tangible aid. Mrs. Van Vranken said it was summed up for her in a remark from an army reservist who approached her after she gave a talk at an American Legion hall. "You know, we see your boxes all over Iraq," he told her. "I want you to give the American people a message for me. I want you to tell the American people to continue loving us and supporting us."

Please remember our Wounded Heroes and their Families in your prayers this Holiday Season! 


Thank You West Virginia! 

Thank You West Virginia!
By Peggy Baker
Mother of a Soldier
President of Operation First Response

Operation First Response, Inc (OFR) is an all volunteer, 501 © 3 non profit organization that support’s our Nation’s Wounded Heroes and their Families.
OFR would like to take this time to thank all of the wonderful residents of West Virginia who have supported our wounded Heroes through the mission of OFR.

In July, OFR was asked by WV Delegate Jack Yost to speak about our mission to several people gathered at Brooke County Library in Wellsburg, WV.
We were met by many locals who opened their hearts to the needs of our Wounded Heroes.

Since that day OFR has seen a huge response from West Virginians in the way of hand made quilts, hygiene products, clothing, pillows and monetary funds. The out pouring of love has been a blessing beyond words.

OFR is a vehicle for a proud America, we could not touch the hearts of so many without all of you and your wondrous support. Your generous donations have sent a message to our wounded Heroes and their families, this message is one of love and hope and honor.

We believe that our Wounded Heroes of Today will be our Veterans of Tomorrow and that in being there for them now we can give them hope for a promising future. This Country was founded on Heroes such as the young men and women of our Military. They stand for the core of America and West Virginia has stood up and applauded them with the help they have provided and for that OFR will be forever grateful!

A deployed Soldier just recently emailed with this comment…

“Communities that support Soldiers and Veterans teach at an early age
the values of
duty, honor and selfless service.”

The residents of West Virginia have shown this to be true.

It is our duty as Americans to continue to keep the home fires burning and give comfort to those in need.

Thanksgiving is approaching and as we all sit down to our family dinners and prepare to thank God for this year’s blessings, please remember our Heroes and the sacrifices that they make for each of us.

The staff of OFR will certainly be thankful for the blessing of our good Friends of West Virginia.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Group comes through for Soldiers, families 

Melissa House
Bayonet staff

When her best friend's husband was evacuated to Brooke Army Medical Center, Dawn McMaster went to work finding help. When the Soldier came off his breathing tube, he asked for his parents, who could ill afford more than $2,000 for plane tickets.
McMaster got help - in spades - from an organization called Operation First Response, founded by two women from different areas of the country who were brought together by their desire to do something to help Soldiers and their families.
"It was amazing," McMaster said. "Not only did they get tickets from New York to San Antonio, Texas, but provided his family and the other families with money to help with expenses. And they're still doing more."
Peggy Baker, OFR's president and co-founder, had been on the board of directors with another charitable organization. She visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., with a friend whose son had lost a leg and realized there were wounded Soldiers with needs American citizens could fulfill.
So she left one organization in order to found another, and recently, OFR received its official nonprofit status.
"It has changed our lives forever," Baker said. "We get involved at such a critical time in the Soldiers' lives and we've worked with some of them for more than two years. We went to find a way to help and it has turned into so much more than we ever could have seen."
Since its inception in 2003, OFR has sent more than 1,000 black backpacks filled with T-shirts, undergarments, toiletries and a handmade lap quilt overseas to Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany. Wounded Soldiers often arrive there with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, she said. OFR volunteer Carolyn Crossley, a nurse and Army spouse, hands the backpacks out overseas.
"The backpacks get information out to the guys really quickly," she said. "So, if they have issues, they can contact us. Carolyn has the hardest job - she's faced with the trauma there."
But beside the backpacks, OFR has been able to provide 300 families of wounded Soldiers with things like plane tickets, cash, food and clothing, depending on their needs, she said. The OFR volunteers are "on call" from their homes in Virginia and South Carolina all day, every day.
"We stay in contact with the Soldiers and their families, even the ones who go home, retire or return to their units overseas," Baker said. "You become very personally attached to them at a time when it's so emotional. You're adding one more to your Christmas list."
And with McMaster's phone call, OFR added a few more families to the list. The group relies on donated frequent flier miles in order to provide family members with airline tickets.
"We desperately need frequent flier miles," Baker said. "Having to purchase the tickets really drains the funds ." Sometimes, she said, the funds run out, so they contact other agencies to get help. The Coalition to Salute America's Heroes is stepping in to help pay some bills.
"What a relief," Baker said. "We want (the Soldiers) to be able to concentrate on getting better and we're thrilled to be able to help take some burdens off the families."
"This is our way of letting the Soldiers know that America supports them and cares," she said. "It's an honor to be able to do this."
OFR's vice president and co-founder Liz Fuentes answered the phone at 10:30 p.m. when McMaster called her home in Cheraw, S.C., a small town of around 5,000.
"She was searching the Internet for help and by some miracle, she found us," Fuentes said.
But according to McMaster, the miracle is in what OFR is doing to help her friend's family and the families of other Fort Benning Soldiers.
"When an organization helps like that and in such a big way. it's wonderful," McMaster said. "It just kills me to see how much they care. These people are angels."And what really stuck in her mind was something Fuentes told her about why she became involved.
"She doesn't even have someone in the military," McMaster said.
In fact, Fuentes only connection to the military is the fact that her cousin's husband served in the Army for a few years.
She got started, she said, watching the war on TV.
"I have two daughters, 22 and 24, and they're safely in college," she said. "I kept seeing these sons and daughters going off to war."
She started sending packages and got more involved, to the point where she met Baker and decided she, too, wanted to focus of the wounded Soldiers.
"We feel fortunate we get support from the American public to be able to do what we do, she said. "We're honored any time someone calls us for assistance because they feel we can help."
Fuentes was on the phone with a wife on Wednesday hearing the latest news from BAMC.
"If it's good news, it's overwhelming. If it's bad news, it's really overwhelming," she said.
And something one of the wives she helped said something to her that stuck in her mind and made her want to work even harder.
"This wife of an injured Soldier - in the middle of a tough time - said 'Don't worry about (us), Just make sure you take care of the other Soldiers. We know we can make it through,'" Fuentes said. "To see (her husband) burned - to see his battle buddies burned and to still be so stalwart - amazes me.
"But it would be nice if we got put out of business," she said.
For more information or to make tax deductible contributions to OFR, visit

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Operation First Response 1st Annual Fundraiser RIDE & DRIVE Sponsored by the American Legion, Peterson Post 431 and the American Legion Riders of Iowa 

All proceeds donated to: Operation First Response“Supporting Wounded Heroes and Their Families; Serving America’s Finest”For More Information: www.operationfirstresponse.org
10:00 – 11:00 AM at the Gowrie City Park Shelter House
$25.00 per bike or vehicle. (Includes Free T-shirt)$10.00 per passenger (T-shirt not included)
Poker Run:
1st prize for High Hand $1002nd High Hand $50, Low Hand $50Cards need to be turned in at shelter house at 6:00 PM Pork Loin Dinner and entertainment included with each entry.
T-shirts and other items available for sale.Music at 7:00 PM Auction at 9:00 PM at Dick’s Trikes, 1110 Elm Street in Gowrie50/50 drawings will be held throughout the event
Limited Camping Available Call 1-866-833-5551 for more information.Motels available nearby in Fort Dodge
A Fundraiser For Our Wounded Troops

Saturday, August 20, 2005

She Does Not Speak for Me 

My son died in Iraq--and it was not in vain.
I lost a son in Iraq and Cindy Sheehan does not speak for me.
I grieve with Mrs. Sheehan, for all too well I know the full measure of the agony she is forever going to endure. I honor her son for his service and sacrifice. However, I abhor all that she represents and those who would cast her as the symbol for parents of our fallen soldiers.
The fallen heroes, until now, have enjoyed virtually no individuality. They have been treated as a monolith, a mere number. Now Mrs. Sheehan, with adept public relations tactics, has succeeded in elevating herself above the rest of us. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida declared that Mrs. Sheehan is now the symbol for all parents who have lost children in Iraq. Sorry, senator. Not for me.
Maureen Dowd of the New York Times portrays Mrs. Sheehan as a distraught mom standing heroically outside the guarded gates of the most powerful and inhumane man on earth, President Bush. Ms. Dowd is so moved by Mrs. Sheehan's plight that she bestowed upon her and all grieving parents the title of "absolute moral authority." That characterization epitomizes the arrogance and condescension of anyone who would presume to understand and speak for all of us. How can we all possess "absolute moral authority" when we hold so many different perspectives?
I don't want that title. I haven't earned that title.

Although we all walk the same sad road of sorrow and agony, we walk it as individuals with all the refreshing uniqueness of our own thoughts shaped in large measure by the life and death of our own fallen hero. Over the past few days I have reached out to other parents and loved ones of fallen heroes in an attempt to find out their reactions to all the attention Mrs. Sheehan has attracted. What emerges from those conversations is an empathy for Mrs. Sheehan's suffering but a fundamental disagreement with her politics.
Ann and Dale Hampton lost their only child, Capt. Kimberly Hampton, on Jan. 2, 2004, while she was flying her Kiowa helicopter. She was a member of the 82nd Airborne and the company commander. She had already served in Afghanistan before being deployed to Iraq. Ann Hampton wrote, "My grief sometimes seems unbearable, but I cannot add the additional baggage of anger. Mrs. Sheehan has every right to protest . . . but I cannot do that. I would be protesting the very thing that Kimberly believed in and died for."
Marine Capt. Benjamin Sammis was Stacey Sammis's husband. Ben died on April 4, 2003, while flying his Super Cobra helicopter. Listen to Stacey and she will tell you that she is just beginning to understand the enormousness of the character of soldiers who knowingly put their lives at risk to defend our country. She will tell you that one of her deepest regrets is that the world did not have the honor of experiencing for a much longer time this outstanding Marine she so deeply loved.
Speak to Joan Curtin, whose son, Cpl. Michael Curtin, was an infantryman with the 2-7th 3rd ID, and her words are passionately ambivalent. She says she has no room for bitterness. She has a life to lead and a family to nurture. She spoke of that part of her that never heals, for that is where Michael resides. She can go on, always knowing there will be that pain.
Karen Long is the mother of Spc. Zachariah Long, who died with my son Kyle on May 30, 2003. Zack and Kyle were inseparable friends as only soldiers can be, and Karen and I have become inseparable friends since their deaths. Karen's view is that what Mrs. Sheehan is doing she has every right to do, but she is dishonoring all soldiers, including Karen's son, Zack. Karen cannot comprehend why Mrs. Sheehan cannot seem to come to grips with the idea that her own son, Casey, was a soldier like Zack who had a mission to complete. Karen will tell you over and over again that Zack is not here and no one, but no one will dishonor her son.
My wife, Robin, has a different take on Mrs. Sheehan. She told me, "I don't care what she says or does. She is no more important than any other mother."

By all accounts Spc. Casey Sheehan, Mrs. Sheehan's son, was a soldier by choice and by the strength of his character. I did not have the honor of knowing him, but I have read that he attended community college for three years and then chose to join the Army. In August 2003, five months into Operation Iraqi Freedom and after three years of service, Casey Sheehan re-enlisted in the Army with the full knowledge there was a war going on, and with the high probability he would be assigned to a combat area. Mrs. Sheehan frequently speaks of her son in religious terms, even saying that she thought that some day Casey would be a priest. Like so many of the individuals who have given their lives in service to our country, Casey was a very special young man. How do you decry that which someone has chosen to do with his life? How does a mother dishonor the sacrifice of her own son?
Mrs. Sheehan has become the poster child for all the negativity surrounding the war in Iraq. In a way it heartens me to have all this attention paid to her, because that means others in her position now have the chance to be heard. Give equal time to other loved ones of fallen heroes. Feel the intensity of their love, their pride and the sorrow.
To many loved ones, there are few if any "what ifs." They, like their fallen heroes before them, live in the world as it is and not what it was or could have been. Think of the sacrifices that have brought us to this day. We as a country made a collective decision. We must now live up to our decision and not deviate until the mission is complete.
Thirty-five years ago, a president faced a similar dilemma in Vietnam. He gave in and we got "peace with honor." To this day, I am still searching for that honor. Today, those who defend our freedom every day do so as volunteers with a clear and certain purpose. Today, they have in their commander in chief someone who will not allow us to sink into self-pity. I will not allow him to. The amazing part about talking to the people left behind is that I did not want them to stop. After speaking to so many I have come away with the certainty of their conviction that in a large measure it's because of the deeds and sacrifices of their fallen heroes that this is a better and safer world we now live in.
Those who lost their lives believed in the mission. To honor their memory, and because it's right, we must believe in the mission, too.
We refuse to allow Cindy Sheehan to speak for all of us. Instead, we ask you to learn the individual stories. They are glorious. Honor their memories.
Honor their service. Never dishonor them by giving in. They never did.
Mr. Griffin is the father of Spc. Kyle Andrew Griffin, a recipient of the Army Commendation Medal, Army Meritorious Service Medal and the Bronze Star, who was killed in a truck accident on a road between Mosul and Tikrit on May 30, 2003.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Community supports one of its own 

Wounded 224th soldier returns home for benefit in his honor.
SALEM — Bob Briggs sat near the entrance to the food pavilion in the city park, smiling and talking with those in line — each of them there to support him and his family.
His hat read "Purple Heart. Iraqi Freedom. Combat wounded."
Briggs, a sergeant with the 224th Engineer Battalion, still wore the hospital bands around his right wrist. He still massaged his left hand, trying to get the feeling to come back.
On April 16, Briggs was hit by shrapnel from an artillery round while at Camp Ramadi, Iraq. He suffered head trauma rendering him paralyzed on his left side. He also lost his right eye.
Though wounded in combat, Briggs isn't letting anything hold him back from recovery.
"I plan on being out of this thing," he said, leaning forward and tapping the arm of the wheelchair with his right hand.
In the beginning, Briggs was taken to Germany and then transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington where he was told he'd only get back use of 80 percent of his left side.
He plans to gain back 100 percent.
Four months after the injury, Briggs has started to walk with a cane and has gained some movement in his left arm. While he still stays in Minneapolis for physical therapy, he got to come home for the benefit in his honor.
"He was really looking forward to coming home," his wife, Michelle Briggs, said. "The overwhelming support of the community is just awesome."
More than 250 went through the dinner line by 5:30 p.m., with several hours left to go, and more than 1,000 raffle tickets were sold at a dollar a piece.
"It's very overwhelming," Bob said about the sheer number of people attending the benefit. "Just look at how many come together when one of their own is hurt.
"I want people to keep the other soldiers in mind," he added. "The 224th Battalion is still over there — some of them lost their lives."
Carrie Crull was thinking of her husband, a sergeant in the 224th, when she came out to support Briggs.
"My husband's in Iraq; he's the next sergeant up from Bob," the Mount Pleasant woman said. "We all know Briggs."
Crull's daughters, 14–year–old Makenzie and 10–year–old Madysinn Crull, also were at the event.
"I think this is cool," Makenzie Crull said. "We get to see Bob, have fun and raise money."
Makenzie and Madysinn already were helping the family after the accident by baby–sitting the two Briggs children while Michelle ran her business, "A Paw Above."
Since Michelle has no plans to close her business, the girls will be needed again before Bob comes home.
A group of Iowa American Legion Riders came from Des Moines for the event.
The riders, part of Operation First Response, met Bob in his hospital bed in Washington months before, the day after he was taken off life support.
"He was a wreck," said club president Chuck Thompson. "We've kept in touch and tried to help with the expenses."
Michelle Briggs said all proceeds from the benefit will go directly to travel expenses and other unforeseen expenses in the family's future.
"The road is still in the air and we don't know where it will take us," she said.

Effort to Help Iraq Wounded Has Local Connection 

WELLSBURG - For more than two years, Americans have mourned their fallen soldiers and welcomed heroes returning home from Iraq, but the spotlight seldom falls on the nearly 7,000 wounded in Iraq - nor the hardships they face. This week, Wellsburg residents learned of an effort to bring comfort and hope to those injured overseas, as a nurse with local ties who works at Landstuhl Army Medical Hospital in Germany joined the co-founders of Operation First Response for a presentation at the Brooke County Library. The organization is based in Culpeper, Va.
West Virginia Delegate Jack Yost, D-Brooke, asked Carolyn Crossley to talk about her experiences with the soldiers being treated in Germany. Crossley was in the area for the Fourth of July weekend with her husband, Doug, a Wellsburg native and medical technician in the U.S. Army.
"Basically, they're there with no family," Crossley said of injured soldiers held in Germany for treatment, many of whom are amputees who must learn an entirely new way of life.
She noted the military does its best to care for wounded personnel but explained the system sometimes becomes overwhelmed, leading to shortages in necessary items like toothbrushes and clothing. Operation First Response has provided more than 1,000 backpacks that contain clothing, personal care items, pre-paid phone cards and hand-made quilts.
"It's like a hug from home, especially the quilts," Crossley said, noting that recovery from crippling injuries requires more than just medical treatment. "You need to treat the heart, too."
Operation First Response co-founder Peggy Baker said many soldiers don't have the support they need and the rest of us have a responsibility to help.
"We benefit from everything these young men and women do for us," Baker said. "A lot of these kids don't have a big family support system."
She said the military will pay for family members to travel overseas only when injuries are life-threatening and that the families of many wounded soldiers don't have the financial resources to travel to where their loved ones are hospitalized. Operation First Response assists those families by collecting donations of frequent flyer miles and providing free plane fare.
"We have families that are losing their homes, losing their vehicles and spending their life's savings to be with their soldiers," Baker said, pointing out that families can spend as much as a year overseas while wounded soldiers are treated.
Operation First Response also provides an average of $200 per week in financial support for families staying at Walter Reed.
"We've helped close to 250 families," Baker said.
Operation First Response co-founder Elizabeth Fuentes said the organization tries to provide whatever assistance is needed, from diapers and baby formula to cash to pay bills, and more. In one case, the organization made a $600 payment and negotiated more lenient terms with a lender to keep a family's car from being repossessed.
Each backpack costs about $40 to assemble and ship. For those wishing to help, Operation First Response accepts cash donations and frequent flyer miles, as well as backpacks and items to fill them. To meet military standards, backpacks must be all black without logos or designs. Other items accepted include T-shirts, sweat shirts, sweat pants, knit boxers, white crew socks, toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant, disposable razors, shampoo, hand lotion, antibacterial wipes, 5-inch combs, nail clippers, 100-minute prepaid phone cards and cot-size handmade quilts. All items should be "travel" size.
Donations may be sent to: Operation First Response, 20037 Dove Hill Rd, Culpeper,VA 22701.
Operation First Response began with hospital visits in November 2003 and was formally organized in September. The all-volunteer organization also seeks reliable helpers. For information, call Baker at (540) 547-9011or visit the Operation First Response Web site.

Baker said anyone wishing to provide assistance to Iraq veterans closer to home should contact their nearest VA hospital.

Group provides aid to wounded soldiers 

WELLSBURG - The Brooke County Public Library was visited Tuesday by three women involved in a grass-roots effort to provide assistance and moral support to servicemen and women injured while serving in Iraq. Peggy Baker, president of Operation First Response, said the Midland, Va.-based group has provided more than 1,000 backpacks containing clothing, personal hygiene products and other items to service members at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and other hospitals.
The group also provides airfare, through the donation of frequent flyer miles, to families visiting the patients at hospitals in the U.S.
The government provides transportation for two family members to visit service members classified as seriously injured or ill at such facilities.
But Elizabeth Fuentes, the group's secretary, said Operation First Response has enabled other family members to visit and to make return trips to the facilities when work and personal commitments temporarily take them from the patient's side.
Carolyn Crossley, the group's vice president and an Army nurse at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, said clothing and materials are issued by the government to service members treated there, but it's not unusual for the facility to run out of such supplies.
Crossley said the facility, the largest American hospital outside the U.S., typically treats 40 to 90 per day and at times during the war, has been been filed to its 400-bed capacity.
She recalled in December treating many injured in the suicidal bombing by an insurgent of a dining tent at an Army base in Northern Iraq.
"That was a horrible day for us," she said, adding the injuries were more severe because few were wearing the protective armor they would wear in combat.
More than 20 were killed and more than 60 injured in the attack, according to various reports.
Despite such casualties, Baker said she and others behind Operation First Response won't take an official position on the war.
Baker, the mother of a serviceman stationed in Korea, said, when asked by Time magazine how she felt about the war, "I said I feel the same as the boys."
She said through weekly visits to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, she has been impressed by the desire of wounded servicemen and women to return to Iraq to aid their fellow unit members.
"They truly are heroes. I don't know how else to describe them," Baker said.
Sgt. 1st Class Doug Crossley, Crossley's husband and a former Colliers resident, said the morale of those treated at Landstuhl hasn't been diminished by their injuries, which at times have led to double or triple amputations.
"They want to go back to their units from the hospital," said Crossley, who served in Somalia and is currently stationed in Germany.
But he added the soldiers there aren't without anxiety.
"The majority are scared. They don't know what the future holds for them (after the military)," Crossley said.
Baker said a visit from a family member helps to comfort them and the backpacks, particularly the quilts, show them someone cares.
"The quilt is a comfort item. It's something soft and clean and made for them and it ends up being a treasured item," she said.
Among those who heard the group's talk was Bill Konkle, president of the Brooke County chapter of AARP, who said he will recruit his group to collect items for the backpacks.
State Del. Jack Yost, D-Brooke, who arranged the program after meeting the Crossleys during this weekend's Independence Day festivities, said he and other state legislators want to also help.

To all of my friends, family, and associates 

Please go to www.operationfirstresponse.org and read about an organization that I think you will agree with me "Is one of the most NEEDED and NOTE WORTHY things that has come to our attention in a long time. I know the woman who started this and I can tell you that she is for real. ALL "ALL Money that is collected is spent on the soldiers and their families as the web site describes. This lady and the ones who help her do not get ANY of it nor do they want it. They only want to help the men and women that have sacrificed so much so that we as AMERICANS can do the things that we do everyday without worry or fear. My biggest fears are, How much higher will the price of gas go, Can I get a good enough price for a plane ticket to the next Longhorn Cattle sale, will I get a motel room close to the sale barn, will my men at home keep the customer satisfied, Do I get a bigger trailer to haul the cattle in and will this truck last until next year? It is 3 years old now. When I think about it, I am reminded that it could go another way if it were not for the brave men and women of OUR COUNTRY, THAT HAVE GIVEN THEIR LIVES AND LIMBS AND HEALTH for ME AND YOU. In their lives it is more like this. I hope I can get gas to take the kids to school. I wish I had a way to get a plane ticket to go and see my son/daughter/husband/wife/mother/dad in the hospital. I hope that I can find a way to afford to stay close to the hospital while I am there. Will I have a job when I get back from visiting them? Can I afford to keep the insurance on my 1991 chevy pick-up since my soldier spouse took a 50% cut in pay when they went active and the power company wants their money this month. I know that we all hear about the troubles that are going on and we think we would like to help, BUT do we ? There are a great deal of you who can put it in a much more eloquent way to your friends and associates. Please help in any way that you can. Give up that 1 tank of gas on a week-end on your boat or as the least MATCH IT. We have raised thousands even hundreds of thousands for other worthy causes like cancer research and even scholarships for our young ones. These are all great and worthy, but NOT MORE worthy than this one. These men and women are in these situations because they are willing to stand up with a weapon in their hands, between the enemy and us and allow us our freedom to do what we do. My intent is not to harass, or preach. Just to beg if needed. FOR YOUR HELP. Donate a cow for a soldier and their family, Donate your time to help, Donate a bedroom for a sleep over if you are near a hospital that has some wounded soldiers and their family needs help. Talk to your friends and neighbors. E-Mail forward, this like it was one of the best jokes you have ever read. I have referred a lot about the Cattle people and the longhorns. I guess this is because I have NEVER seen a more determined bunch that could get more done in less time anywhere and when I talk about the greatest bunch of people they are the ones that come to mind 1st as a group. Please pass this on to everyone and visit the web site www.operationfirstresponse.org and call Peggy to see what you can do to help..

Thanks, I love you all. Lee Sherbeyn Choice Longhorns

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Ellington native is "Mom" to wounded soldiers in Germany 

By DONNA FARLEY ~ Staff Writer

Cigarettes and a soda were the first things wounded Campbell soldier Carl Workman Jr. asked for when he met Carolyn Crossley in May at a Landstuhl, Germany hospital.
That's what the Ellington native does -- provide whatever help she can to as many of the arriving wounded as possible.
The city of Landstuhl holds the largest American hospital outside the United States. Many of the soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan are treated there.
"We get [soldiers] here fresh from the battle," Crossley said, "They are still in shock or in comas, but all of them want their mom and dad.
"So I do the best I can to fill that need until they can get home."
Crossley is one of many volunteers and liaisons working for the fledgling charity Operation First Response.
OFR offers support, providing supplies and financial assistance, to wounded soldiers and their families in an effort to pick up where military provisions leave off.
A Jackson, Miss., soldier's message on the OFR web site expressed how much he appreciated the help he and his family received after returning from Iraq and Kuwait in February 2004.
"When I was having pay problems, OFR was there to help," said the Army specialist, "When I was having trouble getting [Christmas] presents for my kids, OFR was there. When I have to return to Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] for my monthly check ups and I am having transportation problems, due to lack of funds, OFR is there to help.
"People out there truly do not understand what kind of predicaments the soldiers have to face on top of the medical problems."
Crossley, OFR vice president and mother of a Marine, has seen too much of the by-products of war to stand back and do nothing.
"In 1993, I was a nurse in Somalia [with the 42nd field hospital of Fort Knox, Ky.]," Crossley said, "During the conflict, I worked the expectant ward, where the soldiers are expected to die.
"There was nothing I could do to help them, just hold their hand and pray with them until they went.
"It left me hurting badly after six months of that duty, so during every conflict I have tried to find ways to help."
Over the years, Crossley has worked with a variety of people, sending care packages to wounded soldiers.
She left the United States for Germany when her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Douglas Crossley, was transferred to Landstuhl and has continued to work there.
Crossley met Peggy Baker, OFR president, on-line, while looking for ways to help deployed soldiers.
"[Peggy] called me one day and told me a mother had called about her son," Crossley said, "He was in very bad shape here, at Landstuhl, and in a coma. [The woman] didn't have the money to come to him.
"They asked me to go to him and tell him [his mother] loved him and that she would be waiting for him when he came to the United States."
The soldier, who recovered, had been shot through the neck.
"When I walked into his room, my heart broke. He was so badly injured." Crossley said, "I whispered in his ear the message from his mom. Then [I] called his mom and let her tell him over the phone.
"That night, Peggy and I made a promise to be there for these boys, and their families, wherever and whenever."
OFR was born, and the small charity covers a lot of ground, with Baker working at Walter Reed, Crossley at Landstuhl and liaisons at combat support hospitals in Iraq.
Injured soldiers, who are often transported with no personal belongings, receive care packages containing clean clothing, prepaid phone cards, hygiene products and comfort items, like CDs and handmade cot quilts.
"Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the assistance you gave my husband when he was sent to a hospital in Germany from Iraq." a wife wrote on OFR's web site, "He had no extra supplies with him and was given a backpack, which had your organization's name in it."
After starting OFR, the group realized that the families of wounded soldiers also had needs that the military was unable to meet.
"The military only flies families [in, if] their son or daughter is in grave condition," Crossley said, "So now we have boys who have lost their legs and arms and have parents who can't be there with them.
"[I] understand there are so many [wounded soldiers], the military couldn't begin to pay for all [the families' travel expenses.]
"So, we started using donated frequent flyer miles and started having families waiting at the hospitals in the States for their children or husband."
On the OFR web site, one woman thanked the organization for helping when her husband was injured in Iraq and she had no idea what to do.
"Without your help, I wouldn't have known who to call to get information," the woman said, "and would probably not have gotten in touch with my husband when he was at Walter Reed Hospital.
"Your support alone and words of wisdom and kindness carried me through several days of uneasiness and for that I will forever be grateful."
With over 350 benefactors, the organization has been able to give care packages to dozens of soldiers, help their families with transportation costs and continues to aid the soldiers even after they have been sent home.
Crossley plans to continue working with OFR, and work as a nurse in Landstuhl, despite the difficulty she has, seeing the injured men and women in the hospital.
"Is it hard to see these boys and girls [hurt]? Yes, yes, yes," Crossley said, "Some days it is so hard I don't want to see another young person in that shape. But the biggest hurt is to see them lying here, suffering, without their Mom's and Dad's. That hurts.
"Or to see the parents brought over to say good-bye to their children. They are only brought here, [to Landstuhl], if the news is very, very bad.
"Sometimes we see miracles, sometimes not."
OFR depends entirely on the donations sent by many individuals, schools, quilting societies, government officials and American Legion posts.
More information about the organization can be found at www.operationfirstresponse.org.
Donations can be sent to Operation First Response, 20037 Dove Hill Rd., Culpeper, VA. 22701.

The Littlest American 

Operation First Response, Inc. (OFR) is an all volunteer non- profit organization that serves our Nation’s wounded Heroes and their families at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and several other major military facilities located within the states and extended to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
During OFR’s work over the past two years we have become a vehicle for many proud Americans who wanted to let our Heroes know that they are not alone and that their sacrifices are seen and appreciated.
It our pleasure to take a moment to recognize one of our “Littlest Americans” for his selfless act of kindness to our wounded Heroes.
OFR was contacted by family members of Brian Weingast of Vienna, Virginia. We were told that he was approaching his seventh birthday and instead of receiving gifts his wish was to have donations made to OFR to help the people he most admired…
The American Soldiers…
Brian’s family sent out many birthday invitations explaining his wishes and on July 4, 2005 they had a large birthday celebration for him and also set up a table explaining what OFR’s mission was.
On July 16, 2005, OFR’s Co-founders, Peggy Baker and Liz Fuentes had the honor of meeting Brian and his family at the Malogne House, located at Walter Reed Army Post, where Brian presented over $2,000.00 worth of donations made on his behalf to OFR. Brian was presented with the very first OFR Award that day and was also introduced to several of the soldier’s that his generosity would benefit.
It was a very emotional visit for all involved, our wounded Heroes are awe inspiring, and regardless of their injuries they stand strong in their commitment to our Country and its Freedoms. Meeting Brian was just as inspiring, to know that our littlest Americans can have such a big heart gives us great hope that we are a Country that will stand with its Heroes and never forget what they have done for us.
Please join us in thanking Brian Weingast and his family for helping OFR help
America’s Finest!

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Power of Love...Sema Olson 

GCN Exclusive Special Feature

While Caring For A Severely Wounded Son At Walter Reed Army Medical Center, This Single Mom Has Lost Her Job, Home, And Car. Though A Muslim, She Proudly Proclaims,
“I Am An American, First.”

By Perry Hicks- Special to Gulf Coast News

The media has made much about the 1600 plus U.S. service members killed fighting in Iraq. What is rarely said is that upward of 90% of combat casualties actually survive their wounds. This stunning success is partly due to the protective body armor our troops wear, but also the rapid evacuations to combat support hospitals, and the superb medicine practiced at U.S. military facilities such as Walter Reed, Bethesda Naval, and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Once the wounded have reached Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., the warrior’s care will fall into the hands of specialized teams of doctors, therapists, and to many people’s surprise, their own mother.

One of these “Walter Reed Moms” is 45 year old Sema Olson, a naturalized citizen originally from Eskisehir, Turkey. Her son, Bobby, was severely wounded when his Stryker light armored vehicle drove over an improvised explosive device, or IED. While tending to the emotional and physical needs of her son, Sema has lost her job, her home, and her car. She lives at the generosity of U.S. Army invitational orders and the supporting humanitarian organizations working with Walter Reed.

While having to see Bobby struggle back has been very difficult for Sema, she does see the importance of his sacrifice because she knows the fear of terrorism first hand. Her native Turkey has long been a battleground for what some would say is “the soul of Islam.”

A Faith In Conflict

Sema is also familiar with the stifling cultural oppression that dictates that a Muslim woman is little more than chattel property. In Turkey, it can be dangerous for a woman to demand even the most basic of human rights. This reality seems to have been lost on many westerners who argue against bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East.

For example, just days before her son was wounded, Sema attended a lecture at the University of Puget Sound titled, “Woman and Islam,” presented by University of Kentucky professor, Riffat Hassan. The guest speaker was a British journalist who had been captured by the Taliban and held for 10 days before being released, Yvonne Ridley.

Once back in the United Kingdom, Ridley had converted to Islam. She has also adopted much of the hard-line anti-western, pro-Islamic rhetoric of those who would take the world back to the 12th century.

In her presentation, Ridley, covered head to toe in black orthodox Muslim attire, was quite critical in asserting that the West does not understand Islam. So when the question and answer session began, Sema spoke up to address Ridley with a few critical assertions of her own. Sema related to GCN her response this way:

“I told Ms. Ridley, I agree with you that the West misunderstands Islam, but having grown up in a Muslim country, it appears that Islam is misunderstood by the Muslims themselves. If it weren’t so, the women would not be treated the way they are in those Muslim countries. I appreciate the fact that you are able to practice the beautiful Muslim religion in a country like England where you are treated as an equal. However, having grown up in a Muslim country, and having crimes committed against me, I cannot put any weight in what you are defending.”

Sema’s remarks elicited hissing and condemnation from some of those in the audience. Afterwards, a group of berka wearing women chided her for “not being an obedient Muslim.”

Speaking very softly, Sema explained her view to GCN, “These jihadists do not work for God. Islam is a beautiful religion. There is nothing in the Koran about Berkas, or subjugating women the way they do.”

Professor Hassan has herself long asserted that Islam had been hijacked by Muslim extremists.

It should be note here that an estimated 4000 Muslims currently in the U.S. Armed Forces. They receive little recognition, much less thanks, for their service under what are arguably special circumstances.

Coming To America

It is against this backdrop of oppression that Sema came to the United States in 1983. Her Air Force husband of 6 years had taken up with another woman and was agitating for a divorce. Because a Turkish court would likely have taken her two boys from her, and realizing her children were automatically U.S. citizens, Sema brought the boys to the U.S. where they could expect to receive equal justice.

Sema came without marketable skills, without knowing how to drive a car, and without being able to speak English. The first 5 years she describes as “being an absolute hell.” She had to become skilled in all of these things while adapting to what for her was an alien culture. They arrived in January. They had little money so their first home was a mere camping trailer.

Still, Sema and her children were able to remain together as a family. She worked at night as a waitress in a restaurant bar while she attended school during the day. Sleep came whenever she could catch it. As might be expected, her finances remained critically tight.

One of the club’s regular customers was a Vietnam veteran. When his old wounds deteriorated to the point he was confined to a bed, Sema volunteered to take on still one more duty; caring for a crippled veteran until she finished her training as a paralegal.

A few months after Sema graduated, and was able to move her boys into a home of their own, the man committed suicide; something that causes her great emotional pain even after 17 years. In relating this story, her eyes well up with tears and her words come haltingly. At the end, she is utterly speechless.

A Seminal Moment

Immigration commonly fosters alienation so many newcomers to America come to feel as if there is nowhere they truly belong. Assimilation takes time.

“There was no sense of belonging here (in the U.S.,)” Sema explained. “Yet, I didn’t feel at home in Turkey.”

Though by then a citizen, Sema had not resolved her feelings by the morning of September 11th, 2001. She and the boys had been in the United States for almost 19 years.

“I could not believe what I was seeing on TV,” remarked Sema. “Even when the first plane hit the (north) tower, I immediately knew this was a terrorist attack. I had a sense of fear sweep over me that I hadn’t felt since I had lived in Turkey. It was as if this evil were following me.”

Shortly thereafter, Sema went to visit her mother in Eskisehir. Naturally, the subject of George W. Bush and the war terror came up in conversation and Sema found herself having to defend America.

After the first Gulf War, Kurds had poured across the Iraqi frontier into Turkey seeking asylum from Saddam Hussein. As Sema encountered them and heard the horror stories they had to tell, she had to ask herself, “What is our responsibility as the fortunate ones living with democracy and freedom to the rest of the world that is suffering? I really didn’t care whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or not. The suffering had to end and if we Americans could do that, then we should.”

To Sema’s surprise, her mother made the pronouncement that she “admired” Saddam.

Admire a man who so brutalized his people? Starved and gassed them? Mutilated them or simply gunned them down far out in the Iraqi desert?

“How could you possibly say that?” asked Sema.

Her mother replied tersely, “I admire him because he has stood up to America.”

It was precisely at that moment that Sema realized that “I was truly American.”

Walter Reed Army Medical Center

In 2003, her youngest son, Bobby, enlisted in the U.S. Army. He arrived in Iraq on October 9th, 2004 and was fortunate to witness the very first democratic election held in that country. Bobby was severely wounded on March 12th and was moved to a combat support hospital and stabilized so that by March 14th he was in Germany and in Washington D.C. the very next day. Bobby remained on life-support for 5 days after arriving at Walter Reed. He was unconscious the first 3 days but opened his eyes on day 4.

“When he opened his eyes they were blank; they didn’t even follow me as I moved about tending to him; wiping his eyes, they were always running; feeding him; keeping his lips moist with chips of ice. It almost killed me when he looked at me with those blank eyes. I thought he might have been brain-dead,” Sema told GCN. When she continued, emotion filled her voice, “Even as he lay asleep I kept telling him that I was here and he was safe and that I loved him. I was ecstatic when he was finally able to move just one finger,” Sema told GCN.

To call them merely “wounds” diminishes the ghastly nature of combat injuries: Limbs crushed and broken beyond surgical repair- providing they haven’t been blown off altogether. If not blinded, these battle survivors may have a temporary hyper-sensitivity to light, and they may also suffer temporary or even permanent deafness. There can also be burns, and/or serious head injuries. And of course, there are the attendant infections.
If any one of these veterans can remember how “it” happened, their collective stories sound all too much the same: It could have been either night or day; there was a flash-bang, yelling, screaming in pain, being dragged- or dragging oneself- out of a smoldering Humvee, Bradley, or Stryker before the enemy could finish blowing it to smithereens; the desperation as other squad members regrouped to mount a defense against enemy fighters who were just as desperately trying to finish them off; traumatic shock and ruptured eardrums may have left them in a surreal silence as they watched two or three medics frantically work to save their lives; other combat teams rallying to protect him with counter-suppression fire; and blood, they always say “there was so much blood.”

Often these battle veterans awaken thinking they are still back in Iraq. Nightmarish dreams leave them in a sweat as they relive that day over and over again. They may try to sit up and pull IVs out of their arms as they try to leave their bed.

For the third time Sema became emotional as her narrative related to me how her son suffered during the hours after his first surgery. Tearfully she told me how he pleaded with her to take the pain away. Bobby was already heavily sedated so all she could do was sit up with him and try to comfort him with her words and hold his hand. Later, around 4 AM, “He started to beg me help him die. My knees just gave in and tears just flooded onto my cheeks. I just couldn’t handle that….. that broke my heart and shook me to my core,” explained Sema.

Even now it is a sobering experience to see these wounded warriors lying in bed with their eyes glazed by powerful drugs and knowing that even this dosage level is grossly inadequate.

Interminable Waiting

Once Bobby’s condition had been stabilized, surgeons began to repair his broken body. For a time, this meant up to 3 surgeries per week installing or removing rods, installing plates, cleansing, and closing wounds. Bobby may have been taken to pre-op as early as 5:30 in the morning or 8:00 AM if he were the “second case.” Bobby would not return to his room until post-op could see his heart-rate had stabilized. Often, this would mean evening.

For the first 5 weeks, Sema had to be in constant attendance to Bobby. Since he was running a continuous fever, he struggled to maintain hydration; his mouth was always parched so Sema had to give him water every few minutes and applied cold compresses to make him feel more comfortable. Because he could not grasp things much less lift his arms, she also fed him and assisted him with his personal hygiene.

Sema went to her hotel room only to bathe herself and change clothes. Sleep came only when Bobby was away undergoing one of his many surgeries. Even now, when Bobby is able to do much more for himself, Sema feels guilty about leaving him. She has subordinated all of her own personal needs to that of her son.

For the single moms this waiting time may be spent trying to catch some blessed sleep, or reading. However, it may also be spent trying to delay the inevitable eviction, repossession, and financial ruin.

The volunteer assistance organization, Operation First Response (OFR,) provides support not only to wounded troops at Walter Reed, Bethesda Naval, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and combat support hospitals in Iraq, but also to the families tending to their loved one.

Peggy Baker, president and founder of OFR, put it in perspective for GCN saying, “The last thing these wounded guys (or gals) need is to watch their families come apart while they lay there in bed.”

Besides OFR, Walter Reed Army Medical Center Family Assistance, the USO, Red Cross, and numerous other volunteer agencies also offer support providing that funds are available. (See side bar.)

Sema praises these organizations and the Army for doing what it can to house her and provide her with some quality of life; she is particularly appreciative of Peggy Baker of OFR and Michael Wagner of Walter Reed’s Family Assistance.

The Army houses Sema in a small (264 room) Hilton in nearby Silver Spring, Maryland. So that she can travel back to Walter Reed every day, Peter Anderson, General Manager of Mologne House arranged for a rental car donated by Yellow Ribbon Fund. Still, there is food for her to buy and gas and parking for her to pay. With no job, meeting such expenses can be dicey.

It should be noted that Sema has not waited for Bobby to recover before she has begun to “give back.” She is currently a Red Cross volunteer.

Circling Predators

Like stalking hyenas watching and waiting for the opportunity to cull a weak gazelle from a herd, there are those who would take advantage of a vulnerable mom. Sometimes the offender is painfully too close to home.

Sema reports that an ex-husband of one of the other mom’s started up a website seeking donations for his wounded son. Of course, not a single dime has ever been sent to help either his son or his attendant mother.
Bobby’s own father wasted no time in contacting a hometown newspaper to talk about his great personal challenge in having a son wounded in Iraq. He has also written Bobby’s commander and has even gone so far as to write President George W. Bush. Sema was not mentioned.

But what was most hurtful to Sema and Bobby was the letter his biological father had sent Bobby claiming that his mother had “deprived me of loving you.” Considering what caused her to flee to America and the struggle she had to care for her boys, this claim cut her like a knife.

“No one can deprive you of loving,” Sema remarked with a combination of hurt and anger. At the same time, her words carried considerable poignancy. Just how could one actually deprive another of what love is; the feeling of unselfish devotion, affection and tenderness?

“My son's biological father did not have any contact with my sons for 20 years. No child support, no phone call, or a visit,” she said.

Sema does not want to speak of the details, but predators are not limited to ex-husbands. There are those who have even more sinister motivations that these moms have to guard themselves against.

When The Crisis Is Over

If his progress continues, Bobby may be able to transfer over to Walter Reed’s Mologne House just in time for Independence Day. There, he will continue various therapies and perhaps more minor medical interventions until he can totally take care of himself. Sema will likely move out of her hotel and into Mologne House so that she can continue to care for Bobby.

When Bobby is ready and able to live on his own, he will be transferred again to Summit Hill Apartments located off of medical center grounds. At that point, Sema’s presence will no longer be needed.

That is when Sema will have to resume her own life. However, unlike the veteran who has an entire Federal agency (VA,) dedicated to their reintroduction into mainstream society, Sema will have virtually nothing. She will have to somehow re-enter the work force, find her own place to live, and struggle to regain everything she had worked for over 22 years.

There is a considerable anti-climatic aspect to Sema’s return to her own life. Having subordinated her personal needs for so long, it will be difficult to redirect her energies solely to herself. Then there is also the distinct possibility that Sema, as any of the other moms, could experience post traumatic stress disorder. This begs the question then, just who will be there for the moms?
The Power Of Love

It would be all too easy for the parent of one of these service members to become embittered. Some do. However, Sema places it all in a spiritual perspective that helps keep her mind at ease and allowing her to eschew the medication some moms accept to steady their nerves. Sema explains her perspective this way:

“Since I’ve been here, I have met some wonderful people who extend their helping hands and hearts. I have made some great friends and met people who are challenging but I always try to see the message they bring. God puts people on our path for a reason.

“I spend many hours at the chapel on the 3rd floor of Walter Reed, which has been my sanctuary for the last 2 months. I try to find some solace in my and my son’s predicament. The only power I have is prayer. I ask God for compassion, patience, wisdom and guidance to deal with the challenges that we are facing. I trust He is guiding us both. There is a reason (God’s reason) for all of this.

“I have no animosity towards the people who did this to my son. I am very proud that my son doesn’t, either. He believes and trusts God’s plan.

“I feel blessed that my son’s mind and heart is with me. Our lives have changed drastically: As his world has shrunk into that hospital room, my world has shrunk into a hotel room. Even though I miss having a home with a window that opens, the simple pleasures of cooking and gardening… my old friends… the Northwest rain (yes, I can’t believe I miss the rain), I am fortunate to have a roof over my head. I am thankful that the Army provides me with food and lodging because I am a part of the team that is working feverishly to heal our heroes.

“During my travels, I have listened to people’s stories and what I have found is that no matter what color you are, what culture you come from, everybody’s story is the same. We are all suffering because this world is lacking love, compassion, tolerance and acceptance. Until the people of the world realize that, we will continue to have unfairness, crime, corruption, and wars.”

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