Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Polar Bears remember the fallen and missing

By Sgt. Chris McCann, 2nd BCT PAO

Soldiers of the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team gathered on Fort Drum Monday May 12 to remember the two Soldiers still missing from their ranks after a terrorist attack one year ago near Qarghuli Village, Iraq.
Members of the 31st Infantry Regiment Association attended the ceremony to present the battalion with a statuette – the boots, upright rifle and helmet that symbolize a fallen Soldier – in honor of the missing and fallen.
Pfc. Byron Fouty and Sgt. Alex Jimenez, both of Company D, 4-31, were part of a patrol on Route Malibu near the village. The Humvees were attacked at about 4:45 a.m. Five other 4-31 Soldiers were killed in or just after the attack, along with an Iraqi soldier that was with the patrol.
Pfc. Vincent DeFrank, a gunner with Co. B, 4-31, accepted the statuette from regiment veteran Jack Considine, who served with the 31st in Korea.
“I was really honored to accept such an award for the battalion,” said DeFrank. “I’m only a private, and they chose me to go up there. It was really meaningful for me, and I think it was even more meaningful for the Soldiers that were (in Iraq) longer than I was. These are our brothers that are missing, and we still hope they get home safely.”
Considine, who left the regiment after the war ended, spent his nine-month tour in Korea as a specialist, but is a staunch member of the association.
“When we saw what had happened, we said, ‘They deserve this for what they did,’ said Considine. “We always care about the Soldiers of the regiment, and I really enjoy being up here with these guys.”
Ron Corson commanded Co. A, 6th Bn., 31st Inf. Regt. in Vietnam, and retired as a colonel. He now serves as the commander of the regiment’s 1200-plus membership. The organization hopes that being involved with the Soldiers who currently serve in the regiment will help them build strong bonds. The association has members who were in the Bataan death march as well as those who saw combat in Korea, Vietnam, and now the War on Terror.
“It took Vietnam veterans about 30 years to start attending reunions,” said Corson, who hopes to avoid that situation. “Every year the numbers grow. Soldiers in combat have a relationship; there’s a bond with the unit that they didn’t share with anyone else.”
An official award was given a few months ago, but the ceremony was postponed until the anniversary of the attack.
“The membership came up with the idea …and we decided this was a fitting time to do it, a good time to present it publicly,” Corson said.
“It’s important that the unit pause and acknowledge this day,” said Sonny Mitchell, former command sergeant major of the battalion. “It impacted a lot of lives, and the heart and soul of this battalion. It’s one of those things we have to remember.”
There was no mention of the anniversary in the news.
“The lives of two Soldiers who stepped up to serve the country should be acknowledged,” said Mitchell. “But the great Americans who serve give others the ability to go through their day without thinking about the cruelty and ugliness of war.”
The statuette, while a small token, is a symbol of the continuity of the 31st Infantry.
“We’re passing on the memories and the history,” Mitchell said. “That’s the lifeblood of the unit.”

Commando Providers Visit Cooperstown

By Chaplain (Capt.) Lew Messinger

Eighteen Soldiers from the 210th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd BCT, visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York on May 1. Cooperstown has traditionally been known as the birthplace of the modern game of baseball.
The Commando Provider Soldiers were asked why the field was named “Doubleday Field.”
Pvt. Wesley Johns of Company B quickly replied, “Well, sir, maybe it’s because they used to play two games a day here.”
Legend attributed the game of baseball to Abner Doubleday in 1839. The sport – which had been developing already - quickly grew into a professionally-played sport and America’s national pastime.
While the Hall of Fame primarily venerates high-performing individuals who have given their all to the game, it also celebrates the many great teams that have graced America’s ballparks for over 100 years: the Knickerbockers, the Red Stockings, the Bronx Bombers, the Whiz Kids, the Big Red Machine, and many others.
Abner Doubleday himself was a man of action. A company-grade officer stationed at Fort Sumter at the outbreak of the Civil War, Doubleday eventually rose to the rank of major general.
“Everybody wants to be part of a great team,” said Col. David Miller, commander of the 2nd BCT, during his command in-brief. “But great teams don’t just happen. Individuals collectively make it happen.”
George Herman “Babe” Ruth hit a lot of home runs for the New York Yankees in the 1920s, but he didn’t make it America’s winning team all by himself!
Indeed, a “team” which emphasizes personal ambition and achievement over cohesion and camaraderie often amount to little more than a tragic group of individuals. Winning teams know that the greater whole is worth more than the sum of its parts (“1 + 1 = 3”), where each part complements the other, each building on another’s strength or compensating for another’s weakness.
The Commando Providers did not travel the three hours to Cooperstown to play any games. While there, they received training in the core Army Values and team building.
“Life is not a spectator sport, where you sit on the sidelines and watch other people play it out,” said 210th BSB Chaplain (Capt.) Lew Messinger. “While many things we experience are beyond our immediate control, life does not simply happen to us. We make it happen!”

Volunteers recognized at brigade ceremony

By Sgt. Chris McCann

When a Soldier is deployed and his daughter has her tonsils taken out, who brings a meal for the Family? Who can a spouse new to the area turn to when his wife is training in the field and he needs to get to the commissary? There is no military occupational specialty for the myriad little things that need to be done.
These acts of kindness are done by volunteers – spouses and sometimes Soldiers – who give their free time to help others.
The 2nd Brigade Combat Team held a ceremony May 8, honoring more than 100 volunteers who helped the brigade through its recent 15-month deployment and the reset process, at the Commons on Fort Drum.
“So much could not be done without volunteers,” said Col. David Miller, commander of the 2nd BCT. “Their work really affects us. There isn’t much that happens that doesn’t have the touch of a volunteer.”
He said that amid the changes going on in the brigade as Soldiers change duty stations, the efforts of volunteers offer stability.
“They did an outstanding job throughout the brigade,” Miller said.
Command Sergeant Major Clinton Reiss, senior enlisted Soldier with the 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd BCT, echoed that sentiment.
“Volunteers are invaluable to us. Soldiers couldn’t feel safe training unless they knew things were taken care of at home – and that’s what volunteers do,” said Reiss.
Michelle Vargas was one of those recognized for her efforts. Her husband, Capt. Joe Vargas, commanded Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1-89, and then took command of Trp. D. In both cases, Michelle led the troops’ Family Readiness Groups.
“We’d take meals when a spouse or a child had surgery; if someone needed a ride, we’d do that too,” she said. She thought that the ceremony was a nice recognition of the efforts of the volunteers.
“I’m glad to see that they know we’re here, and that they’re recognizing what we do,” Michelle added.
Tanya Manns’ husband, Maj. Mark Manns, serves as the executive officer for the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd BCT. Tanya was one of three women honored with the Dr. Mary E. Walker Award for excellence in volunteer work.
“The company FRG leaders did so much – without them, there’s no way I’d be here today,” said Tanya. “During the deployment, I was advising Families. We held a back-to-school bash, an Easter-egg hunt, and Christmas activities, for example. Anytime there was a death, we’d visit the Family and bring a meal, and try to comfort them. We also sent a memorial package with a stained-glass yellow star, a memory box engraved with the Soldier’s name and a card, and let them know we were here for them.”
She said she felt that she hadn’t earned the award, and that others did more.
“The company FRG leaders are so amazing, and they do so much. But I’m very appreciative of this,” she said.
Command Sgt. Maj. Benjamin Jones of the 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion said that the most important thing that volunteer work had done was to build a strong battalion team.
“They built an integrated team, and brought in all the new families as other volunteers departed due to change of station or the end of their contracts. They’re filling the team with new volunteers that make our strong organization just that much stronger.”

Troops take time to remember horrors of Holocaust

By Sgt. Chris McCann

The whole family was taken. The teenage girl held an older sister’s baby in her arms as they got off the train, not knowing that young mothers with their infants, along with the elderly or infirm, were taken to the gas chambers immediately. As she stepped up to the desk, an older woman ran up to her and grabbed the infant from her arms.
“You live. You tell this story. I’m dead already,” the woman said.
“I don’t know who she was,” Rabbi Yaakov Roth said, with tears in his eyes. “But I thank her, because without her I would not be here.” The teenage girl later became his mother.
Roth was the guest speaker as Fort Drum observed the Days of Remembrance with a ceremony May 8, honoring the 11 million people who died in the concentration camps under the Nazi regime. About six million were Jews, but Poles, Gypsies, homosexual men and the disabled also perished en masse.
Roth noted that Holocaust Remembrance Day falls not long after Passover, and that one of the prayers during the Passover seder addresses God as “He who stood for us and our forefathers, because not once, but in every generation someone rises up against us.”
Many people – himself included, Roth said – have asked how the people living in Germany could have allowed the situation that led to the Holocaust.
“I asked my parents, ‘How did you allow yourselves to go through this? Why did no one stop it?’ But later I realized, no one could believe the scope of the horror. Like Sept. 11, 2001; we were watching it live on TV and not believing it. ‘It can’t happen here,’ ‘People don’t do things like that.’”
The Holocaust has had a massive impact on the entire world, especially on the Jews, and children and grandchildren of camp survivors have often been raised in an atmosphere that says life is good now, but could change at any moment.
And despite the fact that the horrific events before and during WWII took place within living memory, parts of the world continue to sanction antisemitism. He mentioned three articles in the news that day, including Iranian Prime Minister Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s assertion that the state of Israel is a “stinking corpse bound for destruction.”
“It is through the generosity and magnificence of the United States that Israel holds on, both physically and financially,” said Roth. “My parents talk about the assistance they received from Americans, from the liberation of the camps to life in the displaced-persons camps and afterward. Jews are very thankful for U.S. support for Israel. But we cannot forget the cruelty that existed in what was one of the most cultured countries in the world.”
The laws under Hitler were “cruelty for the sake of cruelty,” he said.
Pfc. Robert Pruitt, a maintenance specialist with Company B, 10th Sustainment Brigade Troop Battalion, 10th Sustainment Brigade, attended the ceremony to honor and remember a Jewish friend.
“Specialist Lewis was very knowledgeable and wanted to come back into the Army as a rabbi, a chaplain. He was a great Soldier and always got the job done. This really helped me remember him,” Pruitt said.
“It was a moving experience,” said Sgt. Joseph Leighton, a Jewish Soldier with Co. A, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. “It was great to have Rabbi Roth relate experiences that really brought it home and made it less like history and more personal.”
Roth, who provides support for Jewish Soldiers and community members, said he was honored to speak and felt it was necessary.
“I feel that as the generation who survived passes on, it’s more incumbent upon we, the children, to tell the stories of the atrocities and the heroes so people remember - especially today, when evil for the sake of evil is rearing its head in the world again.”
Soldiers are an important force in the fight against evil.
“I thank Soldiers for their help and how it has had an effect in the Middle East,” said Roth. “It’s helping keep Israel’s borders secure. In Judaism, we have an obligation to acknowledge help and good deeds, even those done in the past, so it is incumbent to thank the U.S. military for its part in the liberation of the camps.”