Wednesday, March 11, 2009

letter 12

March 9, 2009

Letter 12
Balad, Iraq
Ali Al Salem, Kuwait
Indianapolis, Indiana U.S.A.

Hopefully, this letter finds everyone well. I am doing very well due to being home on my leave. I cannot express to you how great it is/was to see my family, friends, my students, and everyone else who has supported me. I want to organize this letter chronologically so I will start with the week that I left Iraq.

In a previous letter I spoke of Dr. Altman, who is a family practice doctor from Tennessee. He has been working with an active duty Stryker Brigade at a small FOB (forward operating base) south of Baghdad. This unit spends the majority of its time “outside the wire”. The picture below is of a Stryker in Iraq, although it is not mine as I do not have a current picture of a Stryker.

Before I continue with my story I will address some points with this picture. The first item in the picture is to note the wire mesh on the outside of the vehicle. The mesh is used to breakup an RPG or (other rocket) so that the shrapnel/rocket pieces will hit the armor over a larger surface area and prevent penetration. The second item of note is the canopy over the top. This is used to protect against snipers which is an ever present danger. The other items sticking out are to counter IEDs (improvised explosive devices).

Continuing with my story, one of the U.S. Strykers with this unit was out patrolling and was struck by two “daisy chained” anti-tank mines that were used as an IED. None of the solders inside were killed but two of the three inside were very seriously injured and MEDEVAC to Balad for emergency care. Now, the point of this story is to try to explain the kind of bonds that are formed in the military that you just don’t see in the civilian world. Dr. Altman came up to Balad with three Strykers full of soldiers that were all part of the platoon of the injured soldiers. They drove over two hours on the same roads that their friends were just blown-up on, risked their own life…why? They came up just to make sure that the injured soldiers knew that they were not forgotten, just to let them know that they were supported and they would be there for them. In the civilian world, we might send an email, maybe call, probably not drive across town and certainly not during rush hour. I had the fortune of being in the hospital parking lot when they wheeled out one of the injured soldiers to see his “buddies”. The interaction that I witnessed will stay with my forever…a bunch of invincible, manly soldiers not knowing what to say…but words were not needed. There were stifled tears, then the hugs and the look of pure gratitude in the injured soldiers face that spoke volumes, and the awkward words were not needed. This is what selfless service is! This is what YOUR military members do! They quietly risk their lives for all of us, and are not looking for fame, a “golden parachute” or a one-year multi-million dollar contract that seems to dominate our news today.

Speaking of that, the mainstream media is not even talking about Iraq anymore. In talking with people and watching the news there are numerous comments being stated that it is “all over” in Iraq and that there is no more violence. Several people even stated that it must be due to President Obama’s plan to leave Iraq. (Most of the locals I have spoken with do not think that the changing of the US President will make any difference in Iraq). Most are afraid of what will happen when the US leaves. Regarding the violence, besides the above story with the Stryker, there were three American soldiers killed just outside the perimeter of my base the week I left. The hospital ER and operating room have increased its trauma care by about 300% over the past month and our base still gets a mortar or rocket attack about 3 times a week. I would tell you that I personally have not seen a drop in the violence from where I am at. I do think the media wants the American public to support the withdrawal from Iraq and one way to do this is “out of sight, out of mind”. I am ok with us leaving Iraq we need to at some point, but I am not ok with media “minimizing” the great work and sacrifices being made by our service members. I am not sure if the increase in violence is due to the spring weather and/or the increased sand storms, or simply a result of the decrease US patrols/presence.

I have come to hate sandstorms! They get sand in spaces that should not have sand. Below are two pictures of sandstorms at our base. The first one is outside of my living area. The second is by the hospital. The difference in color is simply due to if there are clouds present above the storm.

The problem with the sandstorms is that they ground all the aircraft. This means that the predators and other craft that prevent attacks on our base are unable to fly. We must then man all the towers and the risk for attack is very high. Needless to say they are miserable for every possible reason.

Let’s switch gears and lighten the tone. I have spent the last week and half on leave and spending time with my family. I flew from Balad to Ali Al Salem (Ali) air base in Kuwait. This of course was in a very crowded C130. When we arrived the military is amazing in its efficiency (not comfort). They processed 300+ people with briefings, worked as a travel agent to get us civilian flights all the way back to our homes, housed us, and worked us through customs all within about 24 hours. Ali had a lot of Australians working there. They even had a McDonalds… (I was good and resisted the urge). Anyway, there was a black cat that looked like my kid’s cat that was visiting our soldiers in this area.

This is a random soldier that was trying his best not to feed the cat. However, the cat was relentless. At one point the cat had both paws up on his shoulder. He did end up sharing his french-fries with the cat. It was actually pretty cute (in a manly, military way of course). If you look at the table across from the soldier and the cat you will see my “Kuwait desk”. This is where I gave one of my lectures to my PA students...awesome! If you look between the two buildings you will see some bunkers. Kuwait is still considered a combat zone, although it is pretty safe. I think they are a bit “sensitive” about the “combat zone” thing as during one of our briefs they had a series of practice alarms that seriously lasted 5 minutes…this was about 4.5 minutes longer than our real alarms at Balad.

From Kuwait we bused about 2 hours down to Kuwait City where we boarded a large civilian aircraft and flew to Leipzig, Germany which took about 5 hours. We then flew all the way to Atlanta which was about 9.5 hours of flying time. Upon my arrival in Indianapolis, I felt like a kid in the parking lot to Disneyworld. Walking out of the terminal to where my family was my kids almost made it to the magic black line on the floor before running to me. Well, we ended up about 12 inches across the line and some TSA agent started trying to yell at the kids to “get back”. I am in full uniform and it is obvious that I have just returned and we are so close to the line…she continues to yell at us. Watch out….terrorist could be anywhere…especially in four kids under the age of 12 and a U.S. soldier in uniform returning from Iraq!

It was great seeing my family. When I arrived home and was finally changing out my uniform I looked out my bedroom window and this is what I saw:

I thought this was a pretty cool view, what can you say?. This is the flagpole that was given to me and my family from the faculty and staff of the College of Pharmacy and Health Science at Butler University. Thank you to everyone that contributed, it looks great and was a nice sight to see on my arrival home.

I have continued my crazy pace since arriving home. I have continued to teach and even gave a live lecture to my PA1 students which I loved! I forgot how much I prefer lecturing live compared to via the internet. I also gave a general talk about some of my experiences in Iraq.

Here I am lecturing about the different influences in Iraq. Yes, that is a normal population curve on the whiteboard behind me! If you already knew that you are a math/stat geek! Thank you to all the people who came to the talk. I also want to thank Dr. Bonnie Brown for creating the miracle of “cokes and pizza” to feed the masses while I gave the “sermon on the podium”. Sorry….bad analogy alert.

One of my favorite things was the “surprise” birthday party that all of the PA students were going to throw for me. The idea was that they were going to “call” me via Scype at my party, but I was going to reverse it and surprise them at the party. Well it sort of worked out, but the secret got out and I am not sure how much of a surprise it really was. I was genuinely humbled by the turnout and the support that the students all showed me. It is amazing and reaffirms my decision to go into academia. Thank you! Below are all a series of pictures for my surprise birthday party.

There are so many things that need to be commented on in this picture. First, that is Kolbe, my son in the middle of the picture with the unicorn party hat, and my oldest, Mahayla on the left. Second, the creepy looking thing on the table is something that my wife would have tasered if she walked in and it was dark. The face cutout is in of itself a bit creepy, but I think my students took a little too much joy in cutting the eyes out. I do like how they added a “tasty beverage” to the guy. Third, if you did not think the guy on the table is weird, what about the “mini-me” hanging from the ceiling? The military would be happy as I have on my eye-pro (eye protection). Third, back to the table…the arm anatomy model holding the balloons…at least the models are getting used.

The picture above and below are some of the PA3 students who will soon be graduating. They have all worked very hard and are some of the best students that we have ever had!

Of course my kids all made it into the picture. Mahayla (11) is in front of me with the white shirt. Rachel (9) has the green hat on. Kolbe (7) has the Army hat on between Mahayla and Rachel. Abby (6) has the jean jacket on.

Above and below are some of the PA2s. I was this class’s advisor and have a special affinity for them. They are indeed one of the purely smartest bunch of students that I have ever dealt with…also the most high stress group that will all be on heart medication in the next 2 years!

They are wearing red for me. I wore red with our administrative assistant Mary Kay on Fridays to support the troops. They have continued the tradition in my absence. What a great group. I cannot wait to see what they do when they graduate. Finally, are some pictures of the PA1s.

Above and below are the PA1s. I have been lecturing them via on-line and this is the first time that I have really formally met them. I guess when you are a rookie (PA1) you get stuck eating your food on the floor. Maybe next year you can eat at the “grown-up table”.

Here are the PA1s, and of course my kids again made it into the picture…Rachel even is holding “creepy head” with the little bit of “extra effort” in cutting out the eyes. Below are all of the students that were there.

Without Photoshop this is the best picture that I can create. It is one big group shot of all the students. It is like a where’s Waldo picture. Find professor/Major Roscoe. Find three pairs of glasses. Find three “creepy heads”. Find a “pretend uniform” (hint: look for an Air force uniform). Ok, that is enough.

The final picture for this letter is a picture of my wife Shelby, who is one of the hardest working women that I know, and the secret of the success of our family.

If you look at my oldest daughter’s eyes you can see the evil spirit of a teenager lurking to get out. The beads around her neck are actually pieces of garlic to try to prevent the emergence (also to keep the boys away). So far it seems to be working. One of the reasons to include this picture is to note Shelby’s pixie haircut. On March 18th Shelby is going to shave her head along with Rachel my 9 year old daughter and Kolbe my son all in support of St. Baldrick’s day. It is an event to support the fight against childhood cancer. “Team Roscoe” is shaving their heads to support Joey Chamness (a student at St. Thomas Aquinas with osteosarcoma). Please see for general information. You can view the Team Roscoe site by clicking on the “find a participant tab” and typing “Team Roscoe”. Otherwise the following address will take you directly to Team Roscoe. I do not normally ask people to support various causes, but this one is very personal to us and I would ask you to at least consider it…if not say a prayer for all the kids and families that are dealing with cancer.

I of course want to add an email story that was sent to me by Tina Vawter at Butler University.

"Six Boys and Thirteen Hands...Each year I am hired to go to Washington, DC, with the eighth grade class from Clinton, WI where I grew up, to videotape their trip. I greatly enjoy visiting our nation's capitol, and each year I take some special memories back with me. This fall's trip was especially memorable.
On the last night of our trip, we stopped at the Iwo Jima memorial. This memorial is the largest bronze statue in the world and depicts one of the most famous photographs in history -- that of the six brave soldiers raising the American Flag at the top of a rocky hill on the island of Iwo Jima, Japan, during WW II. Over one hundred students and chaperones piled off the buses and headed towards the memorial. I noticed a solitary figure at the base of the statue, and as I got closer he asked, 'Where are you guys from?' I told him that we were from Wisconsin. 'Hey, I'm a cheese head, too! Come gather around, Cheese heads, and I will tell you a story.'
(James Bradley just happened to be in Washington, DC, to speak at the memorial the following day. He was there that night to say good night to his dad, who had passed away. He was just about to leave when he saw the buses pull up. I videotaped him as he spoke to us, and received his permission to share what he said from my videotape. It is one thing to tour the incredible monuments filled with history in Washington, DC, but it is quite another to get the kind of insight we received that night.) When all had gathered around, he reverently began to speak… (Here are his words that night.) 'My name is James Bradley and I'm from Antigo, Wisconsin. My dad is on that statue, and I just wrote a book called 'Flags of Our Fathers' which is #5 on the New York Times Best Seller list right now. It is the story of the six boys you see behind me. 'Six boys raised the flag. The first guy putting the pole in the ground is Harlon Block. Harlon was an all-state football player. He enlisted in the Marine Corps with all the senior members of his football team. They were off to play another type of game. A game called 'War.' But it didn't turn out to be a game. Harlon, at the age of 21, died with his intestines in his hands. I don't say that to gross you out, I say that because there are people who stand in front of this statue and talk about the glory of war. You guys need to know that most of the boys in Iwo Jima were 17, 18, and 19 years old - and it was so hard that the ones who did make it home never even would talk to their families about it. (He pointed to the statue) 'You see this next guy? That's Rene Gagnon from New Hampshire. If you took Rene's helmet off at the moment this photo was taken and looked in the webbing of that helmet, you would find a photograph; a photograph of his girlfriend. Rene put that in there for protection because he was scared. He was 18 years old. It was just boys who won the battle of Iwo Jima . Boys. Not old men. 'The next guy here, the third guy in this tableau, was Sergeant Mike Strank. Mike is my hero. He was the hero of all these guys. They called him the 'old man' because he was so old. He was already 24. When Mike would motivate his boys in training camp, he didn't say, 'Let's go kill some Japanese' or 'Let's die for our country.' He knew he was talking to little boys.. Instead he would say, 'You do what I say, and I'll get you home to your mothers.' 'The last guy on this side of the statue is Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian from Arizona. Ira Hayes was one who walked off Iwo Jima. He went into the White House with my dad. President Truman told him, 'You're a hero' He told reporters, 'How can I feel like a hero when 250 of my buddies hit the island with me and only 27 of us walked off alive?'
So you take your class at school, 250 of you spending a year together having fun, doing everything together. Then all 250 of you hit the beach, but only 27 of your classmates walk off alive. That was Ira Hayes He had images of horror in his mind. Ira Hayes carried the pain home with him and e ventually died dead drunk, face down at the age of 32 (ten years after this picture was taken). 'The next guy, going around the statue, is Franklin Sousley from Hilltop, Kentucky; a fun-lovin' hillbilly boy. His best friend, who is now 70, told me, 'Yeah, you know, we took two cows up on the porch of the Hilltop General Store. Then we strung wire across the stairs so the cows couldn't get down. Then we fed them Epsom salts. Those cows crapped all night.' Yes, he was a fun-lovin' hillbilly boy. Franklin died on Iwo Jima at the age of 19. When the telegram came to tell his mother that he was dead, it went to the Hilltop General Store. A barefoot boy ran that telegram up to his mother's farm. The neighbors could hear her scream all night and into the morning. Those neighbors lived a quarter of a mile away. 'The next guy, as we continue to go around the statue, is my dad, John Bradley, from Antigo, Wisconsin, where I was raised. My dad lived until 1994, but he would never give interviews. When Walter Cronkite's producers or the New York Times would call, we were trained as little kids to say 'No, I'm sorry, sir, my dad's not here. He is in Canada fishing. No, there is no phone there, sir. No, we don't know when he is coming back.' My dad never fished or even went to Canada. Usually, he was sitting there right at the table eating his Campbell's soup. But we had to tell the press that he was out fishing. He didn't want to talk to the press. 'You see, like Ira Hayes, my dad didn't see himself as a hero. Everyone thinks these guys are heroes, 'cause they are in a photo and on a monument. My dad knew better. He was a medic. John Bradley from Wisconsin was a caregiver. In Iwo Jima he probably held over 200 boys as they died. And when boys died in Iwo Jima, they writhed and screamed, without any medication or help with the pain. 'When I was a little boy, my third grade teacher told me that my dad was a hero. When I went home and told my dad that, he looked at me and said, 'I want you always to remember that the heroes of Iwo Jima are the guys who did not come back. Did NOT come back.' 'So that's the story about six nice young boys. Three died on Iwo Jima, and three came back as national heroes. Overall, 7,000 boys died on Iwo Jima in the worst battle in the history of the Marine Corps. My voice is giving out, so I will end here. Thank you for your time.' Suddenly, the monument wasn't just a big old piece of metal with a flag sticking out of the top. It came to life before our eyes with the heartfelt words of a son who did indeed have a father who was a hero. Maybe not a hero for the reasons most people would believe, but a hero nonetheless. We need to remember that God created this vast and glorious world for us to live in, freely, but also at great sacrifice Let us never forget from the Revolutionary War to the current War on Terrorism and all the wars in-between that sacrifice was made for our freedom. Remember to pray praises for this great country of ours and also pray for those still in murderous unrest around the world.
STOP and thank God for being alive and being free at someone else's sacrifice. God Bless You and God Bless America.
REMINDER: Everyday that you can wake up free, it's going to be a great day. One thing I learned while on tour with my 8th grade students in DC that is not mentioned here is. If you look at the statue very closely and count the number of 'hands' raising the flag, there are 13. When the man who made the statue was asked why there were 13, he simply said the 13th hand was the hand of God. Great story - worth your time - worth every American's time"

Sorry that this letter is a bit longer than some of the past editions, and maybe a bit more Butler oriented. I want to take a few minutes and recognize my St. Thomas Aquinas Community. All your support for my family is beyond belief! Thank you to everyone who takes my kids during the week, especially the Prein, Haas, Cain and Forsee families. Thank you for helping take care of my children. Thank you to Mary Kay for all her efforts on my behalf with all the Butler students, faculty and staff. I am sorry if I did not get to meet with everyone on leave…it was so busy and simply not enough time. I will be having a homecoming party when I get back and I want everyone to come. I must close this letter, and I think you know the words by now. NEVER FORGET the soldiers and families that are still sacrificing for all our freedoms. NEVER FORGET all those that came before us to provide for us to live and raise our families in the greatest country on Earth. NEVER FORGET our veterans. Thank you for all your support!

Major Roscoe


Pamela Lin Thompson said...

I just found your site and wanted to say "HELLO" and THANKS for the work you do, also to say that my son was part of the Indiana National Guard and just returned in Dec. he's moving to KS to live with us and his transfer is still in progress. Also to tell you that our second oldest son just returned home for leave on March 24, he is part of the 82nd Airborn and is at Camp Loyalty. I so enjoy reading your blog.. Keep up the wonderful work. Blessings for all those who serve~

beeceem said...

Great blog. Loved the pictures. It's great to have such support from your family, friends and students.