Nov. VMO to Charkh Slide show

From Liisa, SMSgt Temple’s wife: Here are all the pictures from Rex’s recent village medical mission to Charkh.

 

Village Medical Supplies drop

AF MSgt carrying medical supplies.

AF MSgt carrying medical supplies.

Two days ago, we were supposed to visit this village, but didn’t and had to reschedule for today.  Only a handful of my teammates would accompany me on this visit as we joined forces with the camp medical personnel.  Even though the village was friendly and the camp has been supplying clothing, food, hygiene items, etc., we still traveled with an armed convoy along with some ANA soldiers.  Today’s mission was to deliver some badly needed medical supplies to the village medical clinic.  I was responsible for taking pictures and also served as a gunner with a mounted M-240 machine gun.  I really don’t like to be a gunner, but you get a different perspective when you are elevated up in the turret.

ANA soldier providing security.

ANA soldier providing security.

The dirt road was extremely dusty and our HMMVWs stirred up the dust making limited visibility for me as a gunner.  As the tail vehicle, I was responsible for the 6 o’clock position and faced backward.  But the dust cloud still caused me to cough as I inhaled it.

As we drove up to the village medical clinic, we

Afghan girl in coat and flip flops.

Afghan girl in coat and flip flops.

attracted quite a crowd.  Despite the blanket of dust we created, the children followed our vehicles.  They were wearing some of the donated clothing the camp previously supplied.  Fashion doesn’t apply here, but practicality and staying warm does.  However, note that almost everyone is still wearing flip-flops.  This observation continues to amaze me.  Since they are too poor to purchase shoes, I wonder what they wear in the snow.  It will be interesting to see as winter is quickly approaching.

Our group off-loaded the medical supplies and carried the boxes into the medical clinic.  In comparison to other clinics I visited, this one was rather nice and well-staffed.  The clinic is responsible for treating this village of

AF MSgt demonstrates neck brace.

AF MSgt demonstrates neck brace.

300-400 families.  The doctor along with his 2 assistants was happy to see the stockpile of medical items we brought.  Some of our medics demonstrated how to use a folding litter along with the proper way of applying a neck brace.  Our female medic described the multiple uses of a SAM splint.

After the demonstrations were over, we were

AF MSgt sips chai.

AF MSgt sips chai.

treated to some chai and some cookies.  For some of the group, this was the first time they ever drank chai and requested sugar to accompany their tea.  For me this was my third cup of tea for the day because I mentored my ANA counterparts earlier in the morning.  I had a philosophical and religious conversation with the Mullah and Religious Education officer.  Because it’s late here, I will have to save that for a separate entry.

After drinking tea, we went back outside and more children had gathered.  We purposely did not bring any school supplies to hand out.  Instead, we wanted to make a quick visit quick and return to camp.  It was rather humorous to watch herds of

Herd of sheep walking through village.

Herd of sheep walking through village.

sheep wandering through the village.  I thought they were going to run over my teammate…lol.  We got back into our vehicles and departed the village.  Once again we stirred up the dust and once again the children ran after our convoy.  The smiles on the children’s faces are still etched in my mind.  These types of missions are so rewarding and

Our group poses for picture.

Our group poses for picture.

worthwhile.  It’s a shame we have to wear our protective gear and be armed just to visit a village or to hand out ballpoint pens.  It’s just one of the realities of being in a combat zone.

From Liisa, SMSgt Temple’s wife: Rex took 105 pictures on this mission. Here are some more in a slide show.

Captain Freeman’s Annapolis service

From SMSgt Temple’s wife: Rex is too tired to write tonight. So I am using the space instead.

Freeman memorial service Afghanistan Aug 2009As many of you know Captain Matthew Freeman’s Annapolis service is today. This is a link to photos from that service: Naval Academy says Goodbye to Capt. Matthew Freeman

Here is what the Academy wrote about him: Navy.mil: Marine, Naval Academy Graduate Laid to Rest

If you are a Facebook user you can also view another 25 photos from the service by accessing the official Facebook site of United States Naval Academy and look for a photo album titled “Funeral services for Capt. Matthew Freeman.”

Here is what Washington Post wrote: A Heroic Death, Without the Headlines

Also, Capt. Freeman’s family has established a scholarship fund in his memory. If you would like to participate, please make checks payable to “Captain Matthew Freeman Memorial Scholarship” and send to:

Capt. Matthew Freeman Memorial Scholarship Fund

c/o Bryan Bank and Trust

P. O. Box 1299

Richmond Hill, GA 31324

US soldiers in Afghanistan | Photo slide show from AP

From SMSgt Temple’s wife Liisa: Rex and his team continue on their elections mission which means Rex can’t post new blog entries for a few days. Meanwhile, this caught my eye on a local news website. It’s an in-depth photo slide show of U.S. troops in Afghanistan compiled by the Associated Press.

US soldiers in Afghanistan | Tampabay.com – St. Petersburg Times

Posted using ShareThis

Camp memorial service for Capt. Matthew Freeman

Freeman memorial service 050The rest of Captain Freeman’s team finally arrived in country.  Captain Freeman arrived several weeks ahead as part of the advance team.  Instead of a being a reunion of Marines, they would attend their teammate’s memorial service.  Unlike some of the previous services held here, this one was a bit different.  To begin the service, several songs were played.  Marines holding helmet,weapon, and boots.Three Marines stood stoically 1 pace in front of a wooden box.They were holding the symbolic helmet, weapon, combat boots, and identification tags.  On cue, a Marine inserted the M-4 rifle bayonet into the wooden slot.  The helmet was then placed on top of the butt stock.  A set of identification tags were draped over the pistol grip and a pair of combat boots was positioned on each side of the bayonet.   Freeman memorial service 051On an adjacent table with a white cloth were two pictures of Captain Freeman along with his Purple Heart and Bronze Star medals.

At the podium, several speakers spoke about the life of Captain Matthew Freeman and the Army Chaplain provided some spiritual words too.  Behind the memorial, stood several rows of Marines, Airman, Soldiers, and Sailors at attention.  Freeman memorial service 014A roll call was announced and Capt Freeman did not respond to his name being called out.  Seven Marines who assumed the position of Honor Guard stood ready with their weapons.  With crack precision they raised their weapons to their shoulders and fired a volley of shots.  A command was given and the entire formation came to attention and rendered a sharp salute.  In the background, the somber notes of “Taps” echoed across the speaker.

Single file line waiting to pay respect.Once the final note of “Taps” was played, everyone formed a single line to pay their final respects to Captain Matthew Freeman.  One by one, each person approached the memorial.  After executing a facing movement, they slowly brought their right hand up from their side and performed a precision salute.  Then each member would remove their hat and kneel in front of the memorial.  Marine paying final respect.Some personnel would touch the helmet, while others touched the boots or held the identification tags in their hands.  A few individuals placed mementoes at the memorial to include a Sergeant Major insignia, Army metal cross sabers, patches, and the Marine Corp emblem.  Although I stood a few paces away, I could feel the powerful emotions expressed by his teammates.  Freeman memorial service 044It just wasn’t Marines saying their final goodbye, instead this long line was composed of Army, Air Force, Navy, and some coalition forces from Turkey and Greece.  We all felt the same way; we have lost another brother in arms.

It’s not easy taking these pictures because at times I feel as though I’m violating a person’s privacy.  Freeman memorial service 042But at the same time, I also know the families appreciate them.  After everyone filed through, I also approached the memorial.  I recognized his picture and recall seeing him at the dining hall when he first arrived.  I knelt down and held on to his ID tags and said “Capt Freeman, your death was not in vain and you are a hero.”

Later that night, I was invited to the pavilion area to smoke a cigar with the Marines.  I felt honored and was curious if this was a Marine tradition.  The pavilion was filled with smoke and Marines smoking cigars in honor of Capt Freeman; even Marines who don’t smoke still honored him.

Marine Captain Matthew Freeman

Marine Captain Matthew Freeman

As you can see here (and in the additional slide show pictures), he enjoyed a good cigar.   Not just any cigar either.  Over here, it’s rather easy to buy foreign-made cigars and Capt Freeman had an exquisite taste for them.  I too, participated in the honorary cigar smoking.  This is when one of his teammates gave me a CD with pictures on it.  I also learned a few more things about Captain Freeman.  His team was working on a motto and had plans to have it embroidered on their t-shirts.  According to his team, Capt Freeman with the assistance of his newly married wife Teresa crafted “Locus Pendeo”.  This is a Latin variant for situation dependent meaning—making the right decisions based on the situation on hand.  In honor of Capt Freeman, they have adopted this motto.  In the words of his Marine Staff Sergeant teammate, “I think he lived up to it [motto], taking in the situation around him, analyzing it to the best of his ability, and based his actions on his conclusion.”

Promotion to Capt., USMC

Promotion to Capt., USMC

Through my blog and talking with others, I was able to find out some interesting information too.  Captain Freeman came from a proud military family.  Son like father, they both graduated from the US Naval Academy and flew fighter jets.  Capt Freeman initially flew the Navy Harriers and then trained on C-130 aircraft.  He also served as a General’s aid.   When he was promoted to Captain, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was present at the Army-Navy football game and posed for a picture.

Semper Fidelis Captain Matthew Freeman, may God comfort your family and rest your soul.

Please take a moment to click on the link below and read the documents announcing Capt. Freeman’s Bronze Star for Valor.

Capt. Matt Freeman Bronze Star documents

If you’d like to have the slide show move faster, click on the “+” sign in bottom left corner to reach desired speed. You can also click on “View all images” and look at the photos at your own pace.

Some additional notes:  Family members can request the video and all of the pictures of the memorial service through the Casualty Assistance Officer.  Michael Jordan, freelance photographer and president of Cosmos Mariner Productions was also present.  He will incorporate the memorial service into a movie he has been filming for the past few days.

Combat Heroes SPC Lowe and Captain Freeman

SCP Christopher "Kit" Lowe with ANA soldiers

SPC Christopher "Kit" Lowe with ANA soldiers

It’s not too often you get to meet a hero in person, but I’ve been fortunate to meet several of them since being here.  You won’t see this in the newspaper, because the media is narrowly focused on fatalities and this hero survived his wounds.  But today you can read about a hero I would like to recognize.  He is a friend and brother in arms.  SPC Christopher Santiago Lowe hails from Savannah, Georgia and is a member of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 108th BCT, 48th Brigade – he’s one of the Alpha Troop and I call them the “Georgia Boys.”

SPC Lowe looking for insurgents in Uzbin Valley in June 09

SPC Lowe looking for insurgents in Uzbin Valley in June 09

I met SPC Lowe shortly after arriving here.  Everyone at camp calls him “Lowe”, but his mom calls him “Kit.”  Lowe worked in the same building as I did, except our offices are separated by a plywood wall.  His primary duty was to manage the ammunitions and munitions for the brigade.  In addition, he would accompany his team on missions to the various villages and valleys.  DSC02235In earlier blog entries, I published some photos of him out on missions.
Note:  For OPSEC reasons, I have to generalize some of the facts.  On the early morning of 7 August 09, SPC Lowe was part of a 5-man team patrolling in the Kapisa Province area along with ANA and coalition forces.   While traveling through one of the village hamlets lined with thick stone walls and mud brick houses, the insurgents unleashed a furious attack.  The insurgents were well prepared and it was almost as they were informed and anticipated their arrival.  Approximately 60-100 Taliban insurgents fired RPGs, AK-47’s, PKMs, and Ditska (equivalent of US 50-cal.) and other weapons at the approaching forces.   Lowe along with his team sought shelter in a kalat (mud-stone house inside a walled in compound).  Marine Captain Matt Freeman crawled on top of the roof looking for advantage points and was fatally hit by a bullet.  “Doc” the medic was trying to provide assistance and recover the body.  Doc yelled out for some help and Lowe’s reflexes took over as he scrambled up a ladder to the roof.  Doc was tugging on Captain Freeman’s body and Lowe apparently sensed the danger.  He grabbed Doc and threw him down.  About the same time, Lowe took a bullet to his upper right thigh area.  Both he and Doc fell off the roof to the ground.  Doc apparently fell on top of Lowe’s leg and thought he broke it because Lowe was yelling “My leg, my leg”.  But when the Doc saw the spurting blood, his medical training kicked into high gear and he applied a CAT tourniquet to stop the bleeding.
The femoral artery was nicked, but Doc was able to stabilize the bleeding and Lowe was transported out of the battle space to a helicopter landing zone.  Meanwhile the fierce fighting continued until the Air Force F-15’s armed with a 500 lb bomb along with a pair of Army Kiowa Attack helicopters arrived.   The ANA counter-reacted by methodically blowing up the kalats where the Taliban was hiding.  The insurgents retreated and ran for the hills.  The next few hours were small tactical engagements as the Taliban disappeared.  Tragically that day during this 6 ½ hour battle, the ANA lost 4 soldiers, US 1, and the French had 3 soldiers wounded.  The body count of the insurgents was 6-fold including one prominent Taliban area commander.
SPC Lowe was flown to Bagram Air Field (BAF) where he underwent surgery to save his leg.  Although the details are a bit fuzzy, he asked if he could go back (meaning to his FOB) and the nurse responded, “yes, you will go back.”  But before the nurse could finish her sentence, Lowe gave a thumbs-up.  But when the nurse completed the sentence with “back to the States,” he allegedly produced a different finger gesture.  While SPC Lowe was being cared for by the finest military doctors in country, he was also awarded the Purple Heart.
I had an opportunity to speak with Lowe on the phone yesterday.  He had just come out of another surgery and was still pretty groggy from the drugs, but I was able to decipher his muttering.  I told him he was a hero!  He said, “Senior, I am not a hero, I was only doing my job.”   The doctors were able to save his leg and this morning he is on a plane flying to Walter Reed hospital in Maryland.
As a result of my blog, his mother Sandi has becomes friends with my wife and kept her informed of Lowe’s progress.  Marine “Master Guns” also talked with Lowe too.  It’s obvious he still has his sense of humor about him.  He is quoted as saying to the female nurses “I am single, I am sexy, and I am wounded.”

Lowe undatedSPC Lowe will not return to Afghanistan and will undergo rehabilitation for his leg.  In honor of this brave soldier, friend and hero, I managed to gather some unpublished pictures (see photo slide show below for additional pictures).  I promised not to embarrass him too much.  Get well, Lowe, and Godspeed for your recovery.  PS…Your mom has invited Liisa and I to visit after my deployment.  Don’t be surprised if I show up on your doorstep.   I expect you to be able to run up the hill sides like you did on the last VMO mission.  Take care, my friend, and all of the Georgia Boys wish you the best!

Again, if you’d like to have the slide show move faster, click on the “+” sign in bottom left corner to reach desired speed. You can also click on “View all images” and look at the photos at your own pace.

Memorial Service for Fallen Hero—SGT Raymundo Morales

25 Jul 09 001It was a somber morning; all of the US flags on the camp were flying at half staff in honor of our latest fallen warrior, SGT Raymundo Morales.  SGT Morales died from his injuries when the HMMVW he was riding in rolled over near Methar Lam.  Today we would honor Raymundo Morales who was posthumously promoted to the rank of SGT.
Unit members attend memorial for SGT Morales.This was the 3rd memorial service I’ve attended since being in country.  I had hoped not to see another one for the remaining year.  Today instead of standing in formation, I was asked to take the photographs and an Army Specialist would use the video camera.  The slide show posted today shows some of the pictures I took.  The immediate family members can request through the Casualty Assistance Officer for a copy of all the images.
Although I did not know SGT Morales personally, I struggled with my emotions as I watched the emotions of others through the camera lens.  A military memorial service is the most dignified and professional ceremony you will ever witness.  Memorial table.Hearing ‘Amazing Grace’ being played on bagpipes is very moving.  In front of me was a table covered with a white table cloth.  On top of the cloth was a framed picture of SGT Morales and next to it was a traditional Army Stetson hat.  A few paces from the table were a wood stand.  In memory of SGT Morales.It held a single M-4 rifle with an affixed bayonet turned upside supporting a helmet with Morales’ name embroidered on the headband and a set of identification tags hung on the pistol grip.  One step below the rifle was a pair of combat shoes and the backdrop was numerous unit and coalition forces flags flying in the wind. Off to the side was the Honor Guard and behind them was a bugler.
DSC_0127Several people including his good friend the unit First Sergeant spoke about the life of SGT Morales and the family he leaves behind.  A roll call was announced and SGT Morales’s name was called out 3 times, but no reply was heard.  The Marine Honor Guard pointed their weapons at an angle toward the sky and fired off a 21 gun salute.  The bugler played ‘Taps’ as everyone stood at attention and rendered a final salute.  The official party paid their last respects and then unit and camp members approached the memorial to say a last goodbye.

Final salute to SGT Morales

Final salute to SGT Morales

SGT Morales, you were a brother in arms.  I pray that God will comfort your family in this time of mourning.

Freedom is not free.

Below you will find a photo slide show from today’s memorial service with additional photos.

Link to SGT Morales’ obituary which allows you to send condolences to his family.

Dalton Daily Citizen: Raymundo P. \”Ray\” Morales

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