Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My night to honour a fallen hero

Recently on this blog I posted about Murrary Marshall and a tribute jersey he had made for his son Sapper Steven Marshall who was killed in Afghanistan. A few days later the Calgary Metro newspaper ran a story on Murray and what he was doing to keep Steven's memory alive. I've know Murray about a year now and he wants his son to never just be a number or ever forgotten tonight I had a chance to share in keeping his memory alive.

February 7Th, 2011 The Chicago Blackhawks were in town to play the Calgary Flames and I was lucky enough to obtain tickets. I contacted Murrary and told him I would be honoured to wear this at the game. Anyone who knows me knows of my love for the Toronto Maple Leafs but I never gave this a second thought and for tonight I was a Calgary Flames fan.
My night at the Saddledome started while waiting for a friend to meet me, so I had about 30 minutes to waste. In that thirty minutes I had about eight people come over and say that they saw the jersey in the paper and wanted to send along their condolences to Murrary. I was then approached by a young guy about 24 years old who told me he worked with Steven at the Chinook Center mall and wanted a picture with the jersey and told me to thank Murrary for what he is doing with Stevens Jersey.

Then came a very emotional moment for me, the singing of O'Canada, I looked around at people holding their hats on their hearts, listening to everyone sing along and was probably one of the proudest moments of my life. During the intermission I went out to get some food and was stopped by an older man who asked me about the jersey as he said he had know idea who #9 Marshall was and didn't remember him playing for the Flames I told him the story and how Steven was very involved in Minor hockey in Calgary and he then got very emotional and thought it was an amazing idea.

The jersey then made its way with some friends to a karaoke bar where I had two friends of mine come up and ask instantly about it, one of which had served 8 years with the military in Bosnia and was also taken back by the tribute. We then read all the comments that had been written on a Flames flag that flew over the base in Kandahar. At the time most of the guys there were from Ontario so there was some sarcastic comments from Leafs fans which we laughed and also some Canucks fans.

I am very thankful that I had a night with the jersey to pay my respects so Steven and help keep his memory alive. To Murrary Marshall, Thank You for giving me the honour of being the first person to wear this jersey out in public, it was a true honour and something I will never forget.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

From The Frontlines

From the Frontlines

There’s a new YouTube channel making waves throughout the military community created by an infantry soldier deployed with Bravo Company 2PPCLI in 2008. For the purpose of this interview I will refer to him as Scott C.

Why did you create this YouTube Channel:

Scott: After showing some of the footage from my platoon to family and friends I realized how oblivious most people are to what it is actually like over there. I couldn’t believe that some people still thought Canada was just peacekeeping after all these years. I started my channel to spread the word further that Canada has once again built a strong, professional military force. I couldn’t believe the amount of messages flowing in from people in the US, the UK and even Canada, who didn’t even know we had a military! It is a great feeling knowing you are able to open so many peoples eyes to the reality of our mission in Afghanistan, and the sacrifices that so many have made and continue to make.

To view Scott’s YouTube videos click the photo below, also below the link to Scotts YouTube you will find the rest of the interview with this soldier who thankfully returned home to share his story with us.

How do you separate yourself from what you’ve seen/been through to what your actual life is when you come home?
After I came home the previous 7 months in Afghanistan felt very surreal. For the first few months I found I was a little jumpy but to be honest it didn’t take long to get back to normal life. It really helped to have my family and wife Tara there for support. I think the hardest part was not having your buddies around you 24/7 and getting used to being alone again at times.

What do you say to people that say ‘It’s not our battle, we shouldn’t over there anyway?
It is very difficult to help people understand why our presence in Afghanistan is so important, because most people at home never get to see the good things we are accomplishing. We are not just there to fight the Taliban and that has never been out primary mission. Our mission is to provide aid to the people of Afghanistan and it was proven time and time again that they do want our help. Afghanistan is like any other humanitarian mission, but this time there is an opposing force that we have to deal with before we are able help the people that need it the most. An example would be trying to open a school for boys and girls in a remote village. After the school would open, classes would run while our forces stayed in the area for days or weeks. Once it was time to move elsewhere the Taliban would immediately move in, burn down the school, and punish those who had been attending. As long as the Taliban keep a foothold in those areas progress cannot be made.

Is there is one POSITIVE incident, that stands out above all others?
If I had to choose one positive experience that stands out in my mind above all the rest I would have to say it was when we had two brothers bring their baby sister in to see our medic. Two brothers, one around five, and the other closer to ten, carried their infant sister for at least a mile or two, to our remote outpost in the village of Haji in Panjwai. It was a really great feeling knowing that we had earned the trust of these people enough that they were willing to trust us with their children. We gave the boys clean water and some rations and they headed back home with a smile on their face and good news to tell their family.

if there was one thing that you would want people to know about Afghanistan that they don’t see on the news what would it be?
One thing I would want people to see more of back home, is the day to day life of what our soldiers live through on a daily basis while deployed. The other thing I rarely see on the news is the positive interaction between our soldiers and the local villagers. The children that come and sit down beside us and laugh with us while we are out on foot patrols. Most of the population in remote areas are very welcoming to our troops.

Keeping your cool in the line of battle VS. keeping your cool in a line up at the store or movies… Which is harder now?
This is a great question! I remember I laughed so hard when I saw the strain on the actors face in The Hurt Locker trying to decide on a cereal at the grocery store because it was so true. When you are deployed there are actually very few decisions that you need to make. Everything is very cut and dry for the most part and at the Private/Corporal level most decisions aren’t made by you. For 7 months your job is to protect your platoon members then protect yourself, that is about it. Any decisions you make for those 7 months are very easy to decide and the only thing you need to ask yourself is “will this put the members of my platoon at risk?”

How does one come back from there, doing and seeing what you saw, and have a normal life again. Doesn’t it haunt you and affect you life back home with your family and friends?
I found that after coming home it didn’t take long to realize how many trivial things most people worry about in day to day life. When you know that during this patrol you will be walking or driving down a heavily mined road, and inches will decide whether you will live or die, I find it hard to sweat the small stuff at home now. I think my tour brought my family as a whole closer together, but I also found that I just couldn’t relate to some of my closest friends I had known since kindergarten anymore.

What can you tell us about the Afghany Families. The real people?
The afghan people are very unique and I could not believe the hospitality they showed to us during patrols. Almost every patrol they would invite our platoon to come into their home (usually a 1-2 room mud hut) to talk about the needs of the village and give us tea and candies. We would literally take about 5 soldiers and go into their home and sit down on the floor with them and just talk and drink tea for 20 minutes. The children were amazing! I have never seen such happy children that had so little. They would always follow our patrol around asking questions or showing us their toys and games, which would usually involve a stick and an old tire.

What did you need the most while you were there that you could not get?
Honestly the CF is doing an excellent job getting packages to the troops. In our situation we could not always receive our packages because we were deployed so far from the main base and cut off by a mined road. However, when we would walk back for some rest the packages would be their waiting on our beds.

What was the first thing you did when you got back after your first tour?
When I got back from tour it was about 2200 hours mid week and I was picked up by my family at the airport. The first night I didn’t sleep at all and it was one of the harder nights I have had to go through. Even though I was home with my family, after they went to bed it was almost like a terrifying loneliness. For 7 months you are surrounded by the men you trust your life with, that have become your brothers. Now in a snap you are home sitting on your couch alone watching late night TV.

How does it make you “feel” when people are negative about the mission in Afghanistan?
When people are “negative” about the mission now I find that it really does stem from ignorance most of the time. When 90% of the news just shows the negative side of the war you can’t expect most people to support it, they don’t know any better.
There are also those who say that the Taliban are just regular people defending their country. There was one event that will forever stick in my mind that makes it very hard for me to believe that they are just regular people.
One of our platoons was conducting a regular presence patrol through a nearby village to talk with the locals and provide security. They were confronted by a man and a young child, standing a ways in front of them. The man gave the boy a push towards the patrol as he stepped slightly off the trail maintaining his distance. As per usual the afghan soldiers in the patrol approached the boy to do a simple search for any weapons or explosives. As the soldiers came within feet of the boy, the man stepped behind a tree and detonated the explosives that he had attached to the boy, killing the soldiers and the child.
It is still hard to comprehend how a human being is capable of such things, and that is why I personally believe the Taliban need to be stopped.

When you were overseas and you received packages from home how did that make you feel?
When we got packages from home it was like it was your birthday every time. The food and supplies were nice but for most people I think it was the letters from family and and little inside jokes that were the best. The letters and perfume on an old t-shirt from my wife Tara were what absolutely took me straight home for that moment and got me through some of the rougher days.

Father honours sons memory with travelling hockey jersey

On October 30, 2009, Sapper Steven Marshall, 24, from 11 Field Squadron, 1 Combat Engineer Regiment, based in Edmonton, was killed by an improvised device that detonated near his dismounted patrol.

On Saturday November 8th, Steven was honoured during a Calgary flames home game. The born and raised Calgarian was an avid fan, and loved to play the sport, he was heavily involved with minor hockey in the Calgary region and group up around the game.

Thousands stood for a moment of silence. At ice level veterans, soldiers and hockey players also paid homage to Marshall and to all Canadian forces members past and present.

Steven’s father Murray Marshal wanted to come up with a way to honour his son’s memory and decided to put his name on the back of Calgary Flames jersey, A Support our troops ribbon on the front as well as his Combat Engineers emblem.

Stevens Flames Jersey , his passion for his team was only exceeded by his passion for the Military - Murray Marshall

Murrary will be sending this jersey out to Steven’s family and close friends to wear to various events and share stories about his son. Murrary contacted me and asked me if I would want to wear this to a Flames game in honour of steven and I did not hesitate. Even though I am a Leafs fan first, our men and women and their families are like family to me and I am truly honoured for him to ask.

Murray will also be setting up a Facebook page where people can post their photos of the time they had with his jersey and keep the memory of Sapper Steven Marshal alive in their hearts.

“The biggest thing I’ve noticed with other fallen soldiers families is that is very hard to get their smile back after losing a loved on, Steven would want us to be having a laugh and sharing a story about him, this is my way of getting my smile back."
Sapper Steven Marshall -

I had the honor of wearing Stephens jersey to a Flames game which you can read on "My night to honor a fallen soldier" and a friend of mine who goes by @Newfiehun on Twitter also got to take her son to a Flames game wearing this jersey.

Update : December 23rd, 2011 - Thanks to Canadian womens hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser Murray and one of Steven's brothers will be going to the bronze medal game of the World Junior Hockey championship his year........... More Info Here 

A Daughters Prayer - Mary-Lynn Neil

A Daughter’s Prayer – The Story

Mary-Lynn Neil is a 13 year-old singer/songwriter. On January 12th, 2009 she wrote a poem about her dad, a Canadian soldier, who was serving his 3rd tour of duty in Afghanistan. At that time Mary-Lynn was 11years-old. While talking to her dad on the phone one night their line was cut. Mary-Lynn was worried about her him and couldn’t sleep so she decided to write her thoughts in her journal. She had been thinking about what her dad was doing over in Afghanistan and all the children he was helping there. Mary-Lynn says, “The first thought that came to me was that he’s really someone to be proud of and that I wasn’t going to be scared because other children needed him.” Those thoughts came out in the form of a poem.

Mary-Lynn further explains, “At first, I didn’t think that anyone else, except my mom, would hear my poem. When I brought it out for Mom to read, it was because I felt sad and wanted to talk about my dad. I didn’t expect her to like it as much as she did. When she said it could be a song and started to work with me on it using a guitar, it helped to take my mind off my dad.”

Mary-Lynn continues, “Still, I was scared because I had to think about what would happen if he died and what I would do. I did cry a little bit. It took me about an hour to write how I felt.”

“A lot of people don't seem to understand how hard it is on us when our parents go away with the military,” says Mary-Lynn.

After Mary-Lynn had finished the song her mother contacted musical friend Brian Dolph who fine-tuned the music and lyrics. The music was then recorded in Nashville. The song was released across Canada and around the world in 26 different countries. It has also been performed by choirs in schools from Ontario and used in a number of special radio broadcasts for Remembrance Day.

The music for A Daughter’s Prayer was recorded in Nashville, July 2009 and the vocals on August 14, 2009 in Kingston Ontario.

A Daughter's Prayer was part of the WE SALUTE OUR HEROES national campaign in support of our troops. It is also included on a special CD for our troops along with Randy Bachman and Natalie MacMaster. That CD is currently being distributed to Canadian Military personnel across Canada

This song truly lends a voice to the children of military families the world over...

Mary-Lynn Neil - Biography

Mary-Lynn Elizabeth Neil is 13 years old and was born on June 18th, 1997 in Kingston, Ontario.
Growing up, Mary-Lynn showed a deep love for music, including new and classic artists alike. At the age of 10, she sang on a local talent show and took first place. A love for performing was born and she began to perform in and around Kingston. The stage was a natural place for Mary-Lynn to practice her love of singing and dancing.

At 11, Mary-Lynn got her first guitar, which she nicknamed "Little Blue". It quickly became her constant companion and she soon began playing it on stage. It was a natural progression for Mary-Lynn to move into songwriting, and she began to write her own songs. Her first song, "A Daughter's Prayer" was written for her dad who was serving overseas in Afghanistan at the time. This song is very important to her because she feels that it gives a voice to military children everywhere.

People are the most important thing to Mary-Lynn. Her favorite times in life are spent with her family and friends. She knows the value of a good friend, and holds on tightly to her "Besties".

In addition to singing, playing guitar, and songwriting, Mary-Lynn has branched out into acting and modeling. In 2007, she was fortunate enough to act in a Canadian movie called Milo. When people are asked what the one thing is that they notice about Mary-Lynn on stage, they say they are floored to see such incredible stage presence in one so young.

The past 2 years have been exciting for Mary-Lynn and many things have happened in her young career. In August of 2010 Mary-Lynn became the youngest professional member of the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA). Her song A Daughter's Prayer is part of the WE SALUTE OUR HEROES national campaign in support of our troops. It is also included on a special CD for the troops along with Randy Bachman and Natalie MacMaster. This year Mary-Lynn was invited
to be part of Wayne Rostad's highly acclaimed and successful Christmas In The Valley Tour.

I Want A Boy For Christmas is Mary-Lynn's second international radio release. It has been released to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and parts of the United States.

Mary-Lynn is looking forward to an exciting 2011 with concerts and personal appearances planned along with the release of her first EP

Social Networking - Military Style

Social Networking - Military Style

Support with Honor, Respect, and Thanks - to those who serve and deserve - within our Canadian Armed Forces.

In October 2010, Jeramy Ratelle (Air Force) launched the Canadian Social Network -MyForces.ca. We are a community made up of Military (Active & Retired), family, friends, and supporters of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Bringing together CAF(s) and Civilian(s) in a friendly, social atmosphere.

On February 1, 2011 he will be officially launching myforces.net, for our American counterparts.

In the "community" (as we refer to it) we have an exciting array of member pictures, video, blogs, news items from all three elements (Air Force, Army and Navy); plus a variety of other items. We are striving to expand our horizons and are looking forward to growing from a community to a metropolis for 2011. We have a lot of things planned to bring to the community for the upcoming year.

So come join us to make new friends or meet up with old ones at MyForces.ca andmyforces.net to see what we have to offer. Bring your family, friends and supporters. You are more than welcome to add your suggestions and comments. ALL ARE WELCOME. You can even sign in with your Facebook account.

And don't forget to mention where you heard about MyForces.ca and MyForces.net and leave a message for Jeramy (MyForces Founder) or Louise (Head Moderator).

G.I. Jules

Julian Austin

Julian Austin is one of the greatest supporters of our men and women in uniform that I have met in the past two years. He has done live performances for our troops in many locations including several performances in Afghanistan. He has sent numerous packages to Our service men and women serving in various locations and is planning a future performance upcoming.

"The Red & White" written and record by Julian Austin is the song that inspired me to create the Thank A Soldier cause on Face Book. One line in particular says "Do we take the time to thank a soldier For everything they do." and this hit me and sparked the idea. I have spoken to Julian on many occasions and you can hear it in his voice and see it in his heart how much he cares about our soldiers and is defiantly a proud Canadian.

"Still Over There" is another amazing tribute for the troops co-written by Austin and friend Capt. Steve Giberson of the Royal Canadian Dragoons is about our men and women coming home from battle and their hearts still being overseas and in their minds. When I asked Julian about this song, and seeing that nearly 650,000+ people have joined the Thank A Soldier cause, we spoke of how much things have changed in the past two years, and Support for our men and women despite what the view is on the war is stronger than ever and I informed him that his song was the reason I started the cause I could tell him how proud it made him.

Julian, I wanted to thank you for all that you do for our men and women, and I'm proud to know you.

Here are the lyrics to the song "The Red & White", the link to watch the video of Julian performing it in Afghanistan is also below:

"The Red & White"

Harvey McPhee was my father
Harvey served in World War Two
Just like him they were all young men
Lord knows what they went through.
I remember on Remembrance Day
Dad saluted those who fought and died
I can’t imagine what he was thinking
When I saw the tears in my father’s eyes.

This country these days it seems
Is not proud as it should be
Do we care about our Heroes anymore.
Do we take the time to thank a soldier
For everything they do.
Have we forgotten those brave souls who fought and died
For the Red and White

I knew a man who served in Korea
He came back a different man
He went over for his country
To fight in a foreign land
He took to pills and the bottle
To numb his nightmares and his pain
He went to war barely 19
Bob Archer was his name


Coporal Jamie Murphy
Just 26 from Newfoundland
Was days away from coming home
When he was killed in Afghanistan
He never had a hope in hell
Al-Qaida bomber took his life
So far away from his home, on Green Route Road
That solider died for the Red and White

Julian Austin burst onto the country music scene with the release of his first album, What My Heart Already Knows, on May 6, 1997. The album was certified gold by the Canadian Recording Industry Association for sales of 50,000 copies and the first single, "Little Ol' Kisses," went to #1 the Canadian country singles chart. That same year, Austin won the Wrangler Rising Star Award from the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA). All of the additional singles released from the album reached the top 20, including the #3 song, "Diamond." In 1998, Austin was nominated for Best Country Male Vocalist at the Juno Awards.

1997 What My Heart Already Knows
2000 Back in Your Life
2002 Bulletproof
2007 The Red and White

Click here to visit Julian Austin's website.

MCpl Jeffrey Scott Walsh

MCpl Jeffrey Scott Walsh - Aug 1973-Aug 3rd, 2006

Master Cpl Jeffrey Scott Walsh - August 8th 1973 - August 3rd, 2006

Jeff was not only a soldier, he was a father, son, brother, uncle, cousin and yes a friend to all. Jeff was born in Saskatchewan and he and his sister were our chosen children. Jeff excelled in the army getting his promotions ahead of time and he had his career mind set. One time he said to me "Dad I WILL get my Sergeants" just a couple of years after that Sargent Major.

He Loved Life, and more so he loved his family and the family gatherings with friends. Yes, We will miss him, but I love talking about him, he is OUR HERO, our Son, and will never forget you. He is now our angel looking out for other soldiers on mission and us at home.

Jeff and his spouse Julie had three beautiful children two girls Avrey (8) Jordan (5) in March and little Ben (3) Jeff was meticulous in everything he did if it had to be done it had to be done right.Jeff if he did not know how to do something he would phone a plumber or electrician and find out and read up on it the proper way . Jeff on his visits to our home in Regina he helped us with our projects.Jeff was in excellent physical shape as one of his passions was weight lighting which he started in grade 10 and continued on in his life. Jeff loved his cars and owned a 1977 Camero that he and friends fixed up.Jeff also got some tickets with his Camero and worked hard at McDonald's to pay these off.

Jeff loved spending time with Family and friends. Jeff loved going to his Uncle and Aunts farm Ken and Linda Mushkas near Yorkton, Sask. Jeff use to have deep conversations with his Uncle Ken on different subjects.Jeff loved his sister Jodi and liked to spend time with her and her family when he was home on leave. To this very day his friends come to visit us and we talk about Jeff his antic (ect) (lol) and we have heard stories some which we never heard before (lol) .Jeff has left a giant void in our lives; we miss him greatly and think of him every day. He brought such joy and laughter to everyone that knew him. We shall not forget him. -Ben and Margie Walsh, Regina SASK, Canada

Walsh, 33, who was with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry from CFB Shilo in Manitoba, grew up in Regina and Avonlea, about 80 kilometers southwest of the city.

WARRIORS by Joan Gailic


I often wonder where our warriors have gone

Have the disappeared? Left with the dawn?

Perhaps they no longer wear armor or skins

But instead do their best to try and blend in

If you look you’ll see them all around

Within almost anyone they can be found

A football player at a hometown game

Defending his land lights the heart’s flame

A warrior is not defined by great strength

But by their ability to have patience for a great length

A babe’s mother will fight to the death

To protect her child, she’ll give her last breath

A warrior has courage to do what is needed

Even when danger is acknowledged and heeded

A soldier far from home who fights to extend

Not the reputation, but the time before the end

A warrior knows what’s important, the big and small

They put themselves behind the good of all

A cop fighting crime, working through his days

To keep order and reweave as justice frays

A warrior protects, tries to stop the wrong

He defends the weak because he is strong

A warrior fights for faith and life

Trying to stop the world’s strife

For honor and Love the warrior appears

To save a life, to stop the tears

But no matter when, or how, or why

Even if they’ll fail, a warrior will try

A Hero Comes Home by Nina Toth

A Hero Comes Home by Nina Toth

A Hero is not made, He's born.
His destiny awaits,
Until fulfillment comes, this hero yearns,
To seek, to serve, to save.
With the courage of a lion,
He defends the cause at hand,
He will take his last breath trying,
He may fall, yet he'll still stand.
A valiant soldier completes his task,
Though his tour has been cut short;
A much greater life awaits this man,
As he's greeted by our Lord.
This hero paid the greatest price,
He gave his all for his home land,
As we breathe the breath of freedom,
Let's thank God for this great man.
We will not take him for granted
By forgetting what's been done;
We will wave our flag in honor
For the victory He's won.
For service to his country,
The tenacity he's shown,
God's arms are open, welcoming,
A hero has come home.

Written by: Nina Toth

"Welcome Me Home" by Michelle Penn

"Welcome Me Home" by Michelle Penn

Singer Michelle Penn Honors Military Families with ‘Welcome Me Home”

Proceeds benefit Fisher House Foundation

Los Angeles –Indie rock musician Michelle Penn’s newest single, “Welcome Me Home,” and companion website, WelcomeMeHome.com, honor America’s military families. Inspired by Penn’s strong connection to the armed forces, song and merchandise sales benefit Fisher House Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping military families.

“Welcome Me Home” is currently available on iTunes, Amazon and CDBaby for 99 cents. 25 cents from each song download goes directly to Fisher House Foundation. “Welcome Me Home” Dog Tag Window Decals and Tour Edition CDs are also available for purchase at WelcomeMeHome.com for $6 and $10 respectively, with half of the profits benefiting Fisher House Foundation.

Penn wrote “Welcome Me Home” from the perspective of a soldier about to return home from deployment. The lyrics capture feelings that undoubtedly arise when coping with a lengthy separation from loved ones.

“As a songwriter, I wanted to help in the only way that I knew how – through music,” said Penn. “I have a real appreciation for those who make sacrifices for our country. My hope is that the song will be heard, create awareness and ultimately make a positive impact – because soldiers and their families deserve our respect and appreciation.”

The song’s accompanying music video features real-life footage of soldiers’ homecomings. The video shows the raw emotion of soldiers and their families as they are reunited. Families can submit photos and videos on WelcomeMeHome.com, which will be featured in an ever-changing music video available for viewing on YouTube. The current video has reached over 20,000 YouTube views and was aired nationally on E! News with Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic and various FOX affiliates in conjunction with Veterans Day.

When asked what inspired her to launch the “Welcome Me Home” campaign, Penn turns to memories of her grandfather. “My grandfather served in the Navy for 30 years, and I loved listening to his countless stories of faraway travels. It wasn’t until much later that I gained a full understanding of the sacrifice he made for his country.My own mother spent many years without her father around while he was deployed.Thousands of military families make that same sacrifice today and I wanted to do something to honor and support them.”

In addition to launching the website, Penn is playing benefit shows to raise even more money and awareness for the Welcome Me Home project. She hopes her 2011 touring schedule will take her to several military bases where she can continue to play in front of troops and their families. Says Penn, “I can’t believe how much military families have embraced this project and what a true blessing it has been to be a part of it. I continue

to be inspired by the stories and pictures that families have shared with me personally and on my website’s Welcome Wall. For instance, I received a wonderful email over the holidays from the owner of a printing company in Detroit. He heard about ‘Welcome Me Home’ during a radio interview and wrote to tell me of his own grandfather’s sacrifice during WWII. His grandfather founded the printing company he now runs, and in honor of his memory, he purchased ‘Welcome Me Home’ decals for each of his employees, making a donation on their behalf. Knowing that the song makes a real impact with listeners keeps me working harder to gain even more exposure.”

About Michelle Penn

Michelle Penn is a true chick rocker, proud to continue the tradition established by Chrissie Hynde, Joan Jett and Sheryl Crow. Her nationwide touring schedules have brought her meetings and collaborations with musical favorites as well as with other rising stars – all who shared their craft and inspired her further. She has shared stages with John Mayer, Sarah McLachlan, Jeff Buckley, Jason Mraz and the Go-Go’s. Penn’s five CD releases:Red Five, Last Laugh, 2 Good 4 U, How Do You Live and Running from the Seasons are all available through iTunes, Amazon and CDBaby. The Detroit native currently resides in Los Angeles. For more information visitwww.michellepenn.com

About Fisher House

Fisher House is a unique private-public partnership that supports America's military in their time of need. The program recognizes the special sacrifices of our men and women in uniform by donating “comfort homes," built on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers. These homes enable family members to be close to loved ones at stressful times – during hospitalization for unexpected illness, disease or injury.

There is at least one Fisher House at every major military medical center to assist families in need, ensuring they are provided with the comforts of home in a supportive environment. Annually, the Fisher House program serves more than 11,000 families, and has made available nearly three million days of lodging to family members since the program originated in 1990. For more information visit www.fisherhouse.org.

The Crosses White - by Graydon Archer

The Crosses White - by Graydon Archer

From the crosses white in Arlington,

To the graves in Flanders field.

Lie the bodies of the brave

Who carried freedoms shield.

From the beaches at Iwo Jima.

To the caves of Pakistan.

From the forests of the Ardennes,

To the hills in Viet Nam.

From the skies above all Europe.

To the battle grounds below .

From the burning sands of Africa

To Koreas ice and snow.

To all the sailors now at rest,

On the oceans muddy floors.

To all of those whos lives were lost,

To fight this nations wars.

I bow my head most humbly.

I offer you this prayer.

That God in Heaven, give to you,

A crown of gold to wear.

To all the men and women,

Who answered freedoms call.

My heartfelt thanks and grace of God,

Goes to one and all.

Graydon Archer Jan. 15th, 2011

Didn’t Think I’d Cry - By Martha Blakeman

Didn’t Think I’d Cry - By Martha Blakeman

A few months ago I watched Jake Rademacher’s documentary “Brothers at War”. His hometown is Decatur, Illinois which is not too far from where I live. Despite a lack of acquaintance, this fact made me feel more intimately connected to the story.

Viewing his journey to find the reason behind two of his brothers’ service with the U.S. Army inIraq was moving, to say the least. The emotion his story brought to the surface prompted my own words in both poetry and prose, which he was kind enough to allow me to share.

One facet of the story I made mental note of is the probable effect on parents having multiple children serving. Since the release of Jake’s movie a younger sister has graduated from Basic Training, bringing the number of his siblings serving to three out of six. When I heard this I thought, “Wow. That’s a lot of worry to spread around.”

This particular worry is familiar to me. My oldest daughter joined the Illinois Army National Guard at 17 and works full-time at Camp Lincoln in Springfield. Her husband joined at 17 and works there also. They are both AGR. Though my daughter has never gone through a deployment, her husband has. He left for Iraq a few short months after their wedding, made it home for leave when my first grandson was but days old, then returned stateside after completing a year in theater.

Future deployment for either is always a possibility.

When I read of Jake’s sister following her brothers, my thoughts immediately went to his mother and father. As I said, “Wow.” At one point two of their children were in theater, and now technically, they have the possibility of three. I didn’t know if I could ever grasp that depth of emotion.

As of now, I believe I have a fairly good concept.

Several days ago the younger of my two daughters (my only children) followed in her sister’s stead and was sworn into the Illinois Army National Guard. She had talked about the possibility for some time, so this was nothing unexpected. It’s what she wanted, she’d thought it through. It was by no means a rash decision.

On Wednesday of that particular week her recruiter took her to St. Louis to take the AVSAB. All day I seemed to be in a funk. My head hurt, stomach hurt, I felt all around out of sync. I was anxiously awaiting word from her as to the outcome of the first part of her testing. Finally, around2:15 in the afternoon I got a text message on my phone: she passed. The next day, following a barrage of medical tests and questions, she took the oath to serve.

I had considered myself prepared; maybe not so much. I didn’t think I’d cry.

Upon learning of her completed mission, the malady which had proven my nemesis most of those two days subsided-for about twenty seconds. Reality settled upon me and the cycle began anew: head, stomach, out of sync. She passed. I wanted her to, really I did. I hated to think of the blow to her self-esteem if by some quirk of fate she had not. It would have been devastating. Yet, lurking deep inside was a teensy voice that said, “Damn. She passed.”

I’m excessively proud of my girls, don’t misunderstand. What an honor to have both my children serve their country. Still, that knowledge didn’t help the overall feeling of anxiousness.

It took me a couple of days to identify the root of what was leaving me bereft, besides the obvious; I’m not oblivious to the fact it is the Army and we are engaged in a war. Yet, somehow I knew that wasn’t all that was affecting me. Then, as I was talking to the love of her life about his feelings, the proverbial light clicked on.

When my oldest joined (she’s 9 years older than her sis) I had the youngest left on “my side”, the civilian side. The one that has no idea what my daughter is talking about, and could not possibly comprehend the job she does. Their world is alien to the rest of us; she provided a kindred spirit in my alien status.

Yet, our alliance was being removed from the equation and this frightened me. Suddenly I felt more alone than I had in a very long time.

Through the years I never addressed the element of detachment I felt from my elder child’s life.With my youngest as my comrade, we could turn to each other and feel content in our ignorance.Given both my children would now be living lives so foreign to anything I’m accustomed, the time had come.

Laughingly, I told my girls I would “now have two children I couldn’t understand”, though the truth of that is of epic proportion. With this realization, and in order to maintain some semblance of future sanity, I expressed my fears to my girls.

For lack of perhaps a more eloquent explanation, I told my oldest I felt like I was losing her sister to her realm. In response, she offered up her understanding: “As soldiers, we live in a different world. It’s a world in which, unless you’ve been in residence, you can’t quite comprehend.”

Those may not have been her exact words, but the impact is the same. No matter what, I will forever be out of the loop.

I told my girl, “I know you get irritated with me when I ask you questions, but I want to have some understanding so I feel closer to you.” So, I asked (for probably the 10th time) what her drill unit was. “Mom, you don’t need to know that stuff.”

I turned and said, “But I want to.” She smiled. “Joint Forces Headquarters”

Given the nearing departure of my newest solider, I’ve made a conscious effort to spend more time together. This past weekend as we were traveling I commented, “Will you try to be patient with me when I ask you questions? I talked to your sis and she said she was going to do her best.”

“I’ll try, mom.” And she smiled.

I thought I was prepared; maybe not. I really didn’t think I’d cry.


On 13 January, 2011, my youngest graduated from Basic Training at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO. She was chosen as one to give a speech on Personal Courage, one of the U.S. Army Values. At approximately 05:30 this morning, Saturday, January 15, 2011, she arrived at Ft. Lee, VA for her AIT training. HOOAH!

Tom & Brandon's Christmas Together

What better way to experience the joy of Christmas than with the ones you love most? That’s exactly what PFC Bernard, Brandon T. of 40th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, Bravo Company Bulldogs did with MAJ Bernard, Thomas B. of 52nd Expeditionary Flying Training Squadron did.

PFC Bernard serves under OIC 1LT Adame, Adam and NCOIC SFC Lee, Fredrick. PFC Bernard currently works at the Tech Control Facility with the rest of his 18 fellow soldiers. MAJ Bernard is an Instructor Pilot with 52nd EFTS at COB Speicher, where the Air Force team is diligently standing up the Iraqi Air Force Pilot Training program.MAJ Bernard’s team is featured in an online news article that can be found at:http://aimpoints.hq.af.mil/display.cfm?id=41959.

MAJ Bernard was inspired to be a pilot at a young age when his father would tell him stories about military aircraft from the Korean war. After pursuing his civilian certifications he joined the Air Force. He realized the best flying was in the military, and he was right. He worked hard during his one year of pilot training and graduated in the top 10 percent of his class, and started his career as a T-38 Instructor were he taught traditional students and other Instructors. After his tour he left the active duty in pursuit of a Reserve career were he again instructed in T-37s and finally the T-6. With all of his Instructor experience he leapt at the opportunity to give back all of that experience afforded him to the new emerging Iraqi Air Force. In true father son tradition, PFC Brandon Bernard joined the Army in support of his country; a ‘chip of the old block’.

The father and son generational fighting team first united when MAJ Bernard took a quick hop from COB Speicher to FOB Warhorse. They enjoyed their time together comparing facilities such as the local DFAC and MWR. Dad had to concede to his son that the FOB Warhorse DFAC was “the greatest DFAC in Southern Iraq!”. PFC Bernard later developed an expert serve as his Dad schooled him in the ways of ping pong (watch out FOB Warhorse warriors!). A Somber moment was also spent at the FOB Warhorse’s honorable memorial wall, where the service of true American hero’s’ were felt by both father and son.

While MAJ Bernard’s humor was able to put a smile on the current warriors of Warhorse , it was he that left with a very positive impression of the sharp team that made up the 40th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, Bravo Company Bulldogs . He said he “will never forget the brave young men that unceasingly performed their duty in adverse conditions without wavering.”

“Major Bernard’s visit was a great moral visit on PFC Bernard and the 40thWarhorse team.” said SPC Breaux, Michael of 40th Expeditionary Signal Battalion. ”He is a great asset to the United States Air Force in doing what he does. Teaching the locals how to fly is a big contribution to Operation New Dawn. Its impressive how he chose this path to take the time and sit down with a qualified Iraqi pilot, and pass his knowledge on to the future of the Iraqi Air Force.” Sais SPC Gines, Yamil. MAJ Bernard was equally impressed with the 40th team at Warhorse.

With Christmas just around the corner, PFC Bernard was granted the opportunity to spend Christmas and Christmas Eve with MAJ Bernard at COB Speicher. The two sat down to down did some catching up that they were not able to do earlier. Of course, after some more ping pong and pool, the Bernard’s than exchanged gifts in the classic Christmas tradition. PFC Bernard got a chance to meet the whole 52nd EFTS and a few of the Iraqi student pilots. “I was extremely impressed with this operation that 52nd has going on. This operation started not long ago with just 2 IP’s and a Lt Col. At this point, now it’s a 12 man Squadron with 15+ T-6’s and Iraqi’s training Iraqi’s.” Said PFC Bernard.

This opportunity granted by LT COL Douglas, Commander of the 40thExpeditionary Signal Battalion and LT COL Stevens, Commander of the 52ndEFTS, was truly in the spirit and tradition that makes the foundation of the United States Armed Services; a tradition evidenced for Operation New Dawn.

My Dad

“Below is an essay my 16 year old wrote for school...”

CPT Joseph Pulvino - 1982nd FST FOB Shank Afghanistan

Some kids have parents that are police officers or firefighters. These are admirable jobs, but they don’t take their mother or father away for a year like my parents. Since the age of eight I have been dealing with one of my parents deploying overseas to support the war efforts in the Middle East. This past year was different than any other deployment. This is because I am older and more is expected of me. I was nervous when I learned my dad was leaving again, but he spent this past year preparing me for the many challenges ahead.

In November 2009 my dad received orders to go to Afghanistan in November 2010. At that point my family’s life changed. Everyone in the house was preparing for life without my father. My dad was preparing me to handle many of the tasks he normally does in our home. He was teaching me everything. He taught me how to cook, drive, manage the apartments, and make repairs around the house and our properties.

My dad felt it was very important to maintain our family traditions while he was gone. This included vacations and family meals. He showed me where all of the camping equipment was located. He taught me how to correctly pack and load vehicles this past year so I could help my mother during our trip to Alleghany State Park this upcoming summer.

My dad loved cooking so he wanted to make sure I could cook before he left. He is an Italian man and his favorite food is pasta. He enjoyed making his own homemade sauce. Before he left that was one of the many things he taught me how to prepare. My dad made sure I knew how to make our families favorite dinner. It was sliced chicken marinated in Stubbs’s Barb Q sauce. That’s our favorite meal. Dinner is a time when we have some our best family memories. My dad made sure that I would keep that going.

Learning how to manage our apartments we own was difficult. I needed to learn how much rent to collect and which tenant had to pay what amount. I learned how to keep track and write receipts for the renters. I make sure the tenants communicate and aren’t doing anything inappropriate in our houses. I always have to make sure the sidewalk is shoveled and the lawns are mowed so we don’t get a fine from the city.

My dad is very good with construction work. Prior to leaving he taught me as much as he could. I would assist him with every job that needed to be done in the apartments or in our house. I learned plumbing, carpeting, flooring, windows, and painting. The main job I learned was plumbing.In the apartments something always went wrong with plumbing. My dad also brought my uncle when we fixed things. My uncle and I are the managers of the apartments. When one of us is not available the other one will address any problems.

My father taught me how to drive. He wasn’t the best teacher even though he thinks he was. My dad said the only way to learn is to do it hands on. That’s how he taught me. My first time driving was in his truck on the highway. It was scary but I learned quickly even though we argued most of the time when driving together. By the time I finally received my license we stopped arguing and I was a descent driver. The day he left to Afghanistan is the day I successfully passed my road test.

My dad also made sure I was employed before he left. His best friend is Renato Sr.Passucci. They have been close friends since the 6th grade. Renato owns a construction company called E & R Construction. My father helped me get a job there and I work with my friend Nick Passucci. This job definitely teaches me the concept of hard work. I am trying to save money to buy my own car. It is also teaching me what my dad couldn’t before he left. I am also learning how to repair cars and welding. My good friend Nick is a great teacher, hard working, and very patient. I hope I can do as much as he can one day.

During our family vacations and hunting trips this past year my dad continued to teach and guide me. While camping he showed me where everything was at the site. He also taught me how to cook over the fire. When we went hunting he showed how to properly use a gun. He made sure I knew how to put the gun on safety, clean the weapon, and shoot properly.

At first I didn’t want all this responsibility. It was too overwhelming. I couldn’t handle all the pressure. Life was stressful. I tried to solve the stress in negative ways. One night I decided to drink with my buddies. One drink after another and I became intoxicated. It was not good. I told things to my mother I was trying to ignore and hide. I was upset and I finally told her how I felt about my dad leaving. The next morning my mom spoke to me about what had happened. She reminded me that I needed to talk to her about issues that were bothering me especially regarding my father leaving. I am more honest about how I feel about my dad’s deployment and know that my family and I have many friends and family members who will help us if we need it while my dad is gone.

My father finally left on November 12, 2010. The month prior to his departure was very busy with farewell ceremonies and family gatherings with not just our family but the other members of his unit. I could see my mother becoming sad at times and I tried hard to cheer her up. When he finally left it was a relief. His mission was starting and my family could begin doing all the things my dad taught us.

It has not been easy since he left. My mother is much busier and she has a very sick father and sister. Due to this I have even more responsibility with caring for my younger brother. Life is very busy for our family. Many of the family members from the unit depend on my mother for support.

I am proud of my dad. I am happy that he has confidence in me to take care of issues in our home. It is not easy but I know I can do it. We talk to him on the internet everyday and if I am not doing well in school, he knows. It is reassuring to know we have contact with him. Sometimes it feels like he is right in our kitchen; laughing and having a good time. He actually helped my mother cook Christmas dinner while he was on Skype.

I look forward to him coming home in 11 months but things will be different. I know I will be different and more independent. My mom told me that being away from home is difficult for soldiers. She explained to me that when she came home from overseas she felt distant and isolated. She reminded me that it will take my dad awhile to feel a part of the family again. When he comes home it will be my turn to prepare my dad just like he did it for me.