Staff SGT Donald Wayne West, Jr., enlisted in the United States Army National Guard on September 11, 2001. As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Company A of the 150th Combat Engineers served active duty Aug 29, 2004, until Dec 30, 2005. SSGT West returned to college in January, 2006. He married Lauren Ritchie June 9, 2006, at Seaside, Fla., and they have three children. SSGT West completed military service at Camp Minden, LA on Aug 23, 2009.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Day 314 - Thank God, It Ain't Necessarily So

Ask Dr. Bruce Lipton if perception is reality, and you’ll get a scientifically resounding Yes.

Former medical school professor at the University of Wisconsin and research scientist at Stanford University School of Medicine, Lipton has written a new book, The Biology of Belief.

After a lifetime of research examining the molecular mechanisms by which cells process information, Lipton proves that genes do not, in fact, control our behavior. Instead, he purports, genes are turned on and off by influences outside the cell. These influences include perceptions and beliefs.

In layman’s language, Lipton’s research shows how beliefs — true or false, positive or negative — affect genetic activity and actually alter our genetic code. In other words, how perception affects reality.

So what?

So what difference does it make to the men and women with boots on the ground in Iraq if the preponderance of mainstream media focuses on seemingly hopeless causes and a growing lack of support for the mission to help Iraq establish democracy?

For one thing, it ain’t necessarily so, at least not to the more than 500 soldiers assigned or attached to the 155th Brigade Combat team who have already re-enlisted during their tour with Iraqi Freedom III.

Not according to Marine Corporal Stan Mayer, either, who says Iraq is not solely a place of death and loss. It is also a place of hope. It is the hope of the town of Hit, which he saw transformed from an insurgent stronghold to a place where kids played on Marine trucks. It is the hope of villagers who whispered where roadside bombs were hidden. But most of all, it is the hope he saw in a young Iraqi girl who loved pens and Oreo cookies.

"We know we made a positive difference," says Cpl. Jeff Schuller of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, who spent all but one week of his eight-month tour with Mayer. "I can't say at what level, but I know that where we were, we made it better than it was when we got there.”

"You really start to believe that you protect the innocent," says Schuller, speaking of children who learned to trust the Marines. "It sounds like a stupid cliché...."

"But it's not," adds Mayer. "You are in the service of others."

According to the report in today’s Christian Science Monitor, many positive stories never make it to print. These are the stories Mayer and Schuller and many like them want to share with the American people - and is also the source of their frustration. Eight months in Iraq changed their lives, and they believe it has changed the lives of the Iraqis they met as well.

Whether or not these notes of grace and kindness are as influential as the dirge of war is open to question, the story concludes. But many in the military feel that they should at least be a part of the conversation.

We agree.

Proud Thanks

Across the world, in far off lands,
On heaving seas, on desert sands,
You serve our flag, you guard, you fight,
Make despots quake and fear our might.
You show the world a fearsome face,
But do it with a noble grace.
The same steel fists that man the guns,
Unfold in kindness to little ones.

How can you warriors fight through the night,
Then hand out food when comes the light?
Unlike other armies, you American G.I.’s
Are not viewed with fear by civilian eyes.

Other nations see this and are amazed
Not us, we know it’s how you’re raised.
Wherever you serve, the world can see,
You’re the fine result of our democracy.

On this day of grace we send our prayer,
And give proud thanks to you everywhere.

Russ Vaughn
2d Bn, 327th Parachute Infantry Regiment
101st Airborne Division
Vietnam 65-66

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Day 312 - Is That Underwear on Your Head??

Wayne sent this shot a few weeks ago after I requested a new picture to use for Christmas cards.

"Somehow, this isn't quite what I had in mind," I said.

Trying not to laugh, I continued, "Just out of curiosity, is that underwear on your head??"

The question got such a huge laugh out of Wayne, we are sharing the picture today in hopes our faithful readers will add to the fun with new captions. Please use the comment section to post your entries so everybody else can laugh, too.

In the mean time, I'll try to figure out a prize for the winner. Hopefully, Wayne will check in to remind me what that thing on his head is actually called!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Day 311 - I Have Never Walked Alone

When Myron and I returned from the golf course yesterday, we were thrilled to find an Instant Message from Wayne waiting on the screen: “The phone lines are crazy. I’ll call you later tonight.”

Sure enough, just after 8 p.m. last night (5 a.m. Friday for Wayne), our Caller ID registered the unfamiliar number we have come to associate with Wayne. For the next few minutes, he described his Thanksgiving feast.

“For lunch, I had a rib eye steak, some ham, candied yams, dressing and pie. For dinner, it was pretty much the same thing,” he continued, “except the Sri Lankan cooks had prepared two ginormous cakes for dessert. One cake, at least as big as a table, was decorated with a huge mountain in the background. A river flowing from the mountain split into tributaries and watered the entire valley. It was really beautiful.”

Returning to my computer to check late night emails just before bedtime, I found this Thanksgiving letter from Wayne (pictures and links added). We offer it as the fourth in this week's series of letters from soldiers in Iraq:

Another year has gone by, one that will never be forgotten.

An emotional rollercoaster, this year could inspire a new ride at Six Flags. Exciting and exhilarating moments. Adrenaline rushes, speed, alertness in the dark.

And then, there are the long 12-hour night shifts. And the fear of silence that makes you want never to be quiet for too long, because you know what you'll think about—how much longer it is. And thinking about it only makes it seem farther away.

On the other hand, you long for the quiet peacefulness of nothing, just to sit and watch the sun blaze across the sky in a hundred different colors as it bids you goodnight.

The wind blows across a sea of sand, throwing my cowlick into a frenzy, but I don’t mind. It's Thanksgiving Day and I'm alive to see it!!

I have lived every day this year with the sounds of voices to carry me through. Sounds through a telephone or a computer; it doesn't matter. The sounds are from angels 8000 miles away who never have given up and never will give up on me, but have always stuck with me through very tough times. And I am grateful.

I have a mother who knows not how to limit her love for me and fiancee who cherishes the very air I breathe. I am in love. I love life and everything that makes living alive.

I have been stretched past my comfort zone into levels of strain and stress I never knew I could bear nor wanted to try to bear, but I have never walked alone.

I have felt strong and confident, ready to take on the world, and I have also felt weak and corroded. Yet through both, I have never walked alone.

I’ve seen, heard, and physically felt things that have made me tremble in fear for my life, fear that I may not see my precious love again. But faith was stronger than fear, and I have never walked alone.

I am a soldier, a son, a fiance, and a friend. Above all, I am a child of a living God who knows not how to limit his love for me, who cherishes the very air I breathe.

The ground I have walked is holy ground and shall be blessed! And never once have I walked alone.

I am covered by a protection policy that was paid for and signed in blood almost 2000 years ago which says that ‘no harm shall come nigh the dwelling of the Lord,’

Sgt. D. Wayne West
150th Combat Engineers
155th Brigade Combat Team

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Day 310 - On Behalf of the Captain of the Host

Today, I'm thankful for words. All my life, words have fascinated me. Beautiful prose makes me weep. Angry words wound me. Profound speech moves me.

"Epistle" simply means a letter intended to be published and read by the general public. An established literary style as early as the 4th century, general epistles written to churches and individuals eventually became the basis for most of the Biblical New Testament. The main body of the letter usually followed an opening salutation, and was rounded off by more or less personal messages.

This week, we've already shared two letters. The first, from Colonel William Glasgow, described accomplishments of the 155th this year. Monday's letter from Sergeant William J. Rausch provided a clear view of positive changes in Iraq from a solider on the ground.

Our third open letter this week comes from CPT George W. Vinzant, a soldier from Mississippi currently serving with the 155th Brigade Combat Team. The original letter was read in its entirity last month on American Family Radio's Issues Today program. Here are portions of CPT Vinzant's letter (pictures added):

When we came to Iraq, the people here lived under the rule of a tyrant. Today they're working towards a free, democratic state.

When we drive down the road the Iraqi children run towards our vehicles waving their hands, why? Because they know that American soldiers aren't shooting bullets at them, but bringing food, shoes, clothes, candy, medical supplies, soccer balls, water, the things they need and the same things they know their own children would want.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. (Abraham Lincoln)

We, as Americans, above all other nations on the earth, ought to understand what's going on this country. Our soldiers die here so that a new nation, based upon freedom, a government by the people and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

This isn't a football game; it's not a pie eating contest or Miss America Pageant. It's a struggle for a way of life, for freedom for a people. Why should we care? Because we're Americans, and we should know what this fight is really about.

I've stood on the ground in Babylon where Daniel stood. I've seen the Euphrates, where Adam, Abraham, Noah, Ezekiel, walked. When I look up at the stars at night, I remember them. I pray for the people of Iraq. I pray for their freedom, for the safety of their families, for their soldiers, for victory and peace in this land.

My love is greater than hate; my faith is stronger than fear, my hopes higher than despair. I will do my part, both as a soldier and a Christian, to help this country to receive the same liberties and freedoms we have at home.

Some would say we're fighting to help an Islamic country, or ‘If they don't believe in Jesus, why should we help them?’

If you believe that we are the Body of Christ, that He manifests his love to the world through us, that our words and our deeds are seeds and reflections of His love, then you must also understand that many others and I are here are planting seeds. I do not despair at the poverty in this place or what the news media has to say. Instead, each day, I do what I can from where I am to see that His love is manifested in this earth.

I may not be able to feed a thousand children, but I can feed one. I may not be able to provide shoes for every child here, but I can provide them for two or three. I might not be able to fix all of it, but I'm going to do my part to fix some of it.

Some people just never get it. The mountains are too high, the storms too large. They never stop fearing. Engaged in daily discussions, their mouths speak fear and their feet remain planted in place. It makes me just want to yell, "Get up and do something! Start moving forward!”

It's not my job to fix the world, but it is my job to minister the love of the Father to it. If I have to carry a weapon to bring freedom to this country, to defend the rights of the Iraqi people, then so be it. I thank God for the opportunity to kick in and do my part.

I'm an adopted child of God, with a purpose in life. His eyes are upon me and I never walk alone.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Day 309 - Creating Peace on Earth

One of the ways I create peace in my own life is by listening to peaceful music. Finding the right CD is hard, especially because most projects don't deliver 60-90 minutes of peace. Instead, they drag the listener along a bumpy ride of different tempos and changing volume.

Back in August, I attended a conference in Eureka Springs, Ark., where Jeff Greene was leading worship.

Jeff called Monday night to tell Myron and me about his new website, which features two of his new CDs. This morning, I wrapped myself in his beautiful melody called "Going Home." Besides creating a peaceful atmosphere to cradle the dawn of a very busy day, this particularly calming selection helps me visualize Wayne finally stepping off the plane onto American soil.

"Child of Wonder" is Jeff's new offering for babies and younger children. I'm buying several copies for the small ones in our family. In the meantime, his Christmas CD is my constant companion in the car.

You can meet Jeff and find his music here.

Last week, while traveling on a press tour in south Texas, I met a new friend, Cheri Sicard. Author of and, Cheri is a virtual treasure chest of ideas and information.

After talking with Cheri about Wayne and his mission in Iraq, she told me of a project which is dear to her heart. Cheri's book, The Great American Handbook, describes what we, as a passionate citizens, can do for our country today and every day. Lots of copies available for less than a buck apiece here.

Today, I'm grateful for two more new friends. Jeff and Cheri have each enriched my life, helped to make my shopping easier, and are genuinely promoting the cause of world peace.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Day 308 - Misty-Eyed

I don’t recall ever having received so many Thanksgiving greeting cards as have graced our mailbox this year. Maybe it’s because we’re getting older. Maybe it’s because of Iraq. Maybe it’s because of the year’s tortuous weather. Whatever the reason, people seem unusually eager to express their gratitude for all things good—especially friends.

Yesterday, my sister, Teresa, emailed a family quip, typical of her conversations with Sarah Grace, Wayne’s very bright first-grade cousin from Atlanta.

Someone asked Sarah, "If you won the lottery, what would you buy your daddy and mama?"

Sarah replied, "For Daddy, I'd get him a purple Porsche. For Mama, a gift certificate to K-mart."
During Wayne’s deployment this year, faithful friends and family have recognized the wants and needs unique to this military mom. A thoughtful blog comment. A check. A well-timed hug. A shared thumbs-up. A tear. A song. A handwritten letter sent snail mail with a pretty stamp. Dinner. A book. A phone call. A visit. A prayer.

One new long-distance friend has massaged our friendship in her own special way.

When Myron and I visited Amelia Island Plantation in late summer, we met Misty Sherwood, a Licensed Massage Therapist on staff at the property’s Spa. Before and after our spa sessions, we shared Wayne’s story and this blog site address.

Since then, Misty has become a new friend, a faithful supporter of the troops, and a frequent commenter on our blog. She and her husband, Ron, along with their son, Elijah, have gently found a permanent place in our hearts this year.

Above all, we are a family grateful for friends.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Day 307 - Who Cares?

Yesterday, while I was tramming between terminals A&E at DFW Airport on the way home from a press tour to Matagorda County, Texas, Wayne called.

Since he sounded a little less chipper than usual, I asked how things were going.

“I’m just ready to come home,” he replied in uncharacteristic monotone.

First Sergeant Kevin Kelly echoed Wayne’s sentiments in an email this morning, saying, “I think the closer we get, the more depressed everyone gets because it just drags along. Everyone here is fine though.”

The Washington Times reports today Lawrence Di Rita, spokesman for Donald Rumsfeld, said commanders are not telling the Pentagon that morale is sinking, although they have long-standing concerns about the press.

"The commanders often have expressed their incredulity at the difference between the progress they are seeing in Iraq and the manner in which that progress is obscured in Washington by the disproportionate focus on the challenges, in lieu of the many reasons to feel proud and satisfied at all that is happening," Di Rita said.

What difference does all the hoopla make? Ask SGT Walter J. Rausch, currently fighting in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. He and his platoon have penned a message to the American public that may be a lot different from the message you are hearing in the mainstream media.

I’m helping his mom to help get this message out. Here it is from the soldiers on the ground. (Links and photos added.)

Be my voice. I want this message heard. It is mine and my platoon’s to the country. A man I know lost his legs the other night. He is in another company in our battalion. I can no longer be silent after watching the sacrifices made by Iraqis and Americans everyday. Send it to a congressman if you have to. Send it to FOX news if you have to. Let this message be heard please…

My fellow Americans, I have a task for those with the courage and fortitude to take it. I have a message that needs not fall on deaf ears. A vision the blind need to see. I am not a political man nor one with great wisdom. I am just a soldier who finds himself helping rebuild a country that he helped liberate a couple years ago.

I have watched on television how the American public questions why their mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters are fighting and dying in a country 9000 miles away from their own soil. Take the word of a soldier, for that is all I am, that our cause is a noble one. The reason we are here is one worth fighting for. A cause that has been the most costly and sought after cause in our small span of existence on our little planet. Bought in blood and paid for by those brave enough to give the ultimate sacrifice to obtain it. A right that is given to every man, woman, and child, I believe. by God. I am talking of freedom.

Freedom. One word but yet countless words could never capture its true meaning or power. “For those who have fought for it, freedom has a taste the protected will never know.” I read that once and it couldn’t be more true. It’s not the average American’s fault that he or she is “blind and deaf” to the taste of freedom. Most Americans are born into their God given right so it is all they ever know. I was once one of them. I would even dare to say that it isn’t surprising that they take for granted what they have had all their life. My experiences in the military however opened my eyes to the truth.

Ironically you will find the biggest outcries of opposition to our cause from those who have had no military experience and haven’t had to fight for freedom. I challenge all of those who are daring enough to question such a noble cause to come here for just a month and see it first hand. I have a feeling that many voices would be silenced.

I watched Cindy Sheehan sit on the President’s lawn and say that America isn’t worth dying for. Later she corrected herself and said Iraq isn’t worth dying for. She badmouthed all that her son had fought and died for. I bet he is rolling over in his grave.

Ladies and gentleman I ask you this. What if you lived in a country that wasn’t free? What if someone told you when you could have heat, electricity, and water? What if you had no sewage systems so human waste flowed into the streets? What if someone would kill you for bad-mouthing your government? What if you weren’t allowed to watch TV, connect to the internet, or have cell phones unless under extreme censorship? What if you couldn’t put shoes on your child’s feet?

You need not to have a great understanding of the world but rather common sense to realize that it is our duty as HUMAN BEINGS to free the oppressed. If you lived that way would you not want someone to help you????

The Iraqis pour into the streets to wave at us, and when we liberated the cities during the war, they gathered in the thousands to cheer, hug and kiss us. It was what the soldier’s in WW2 experienced, yet no one questioned their cause!! Saddam was no better than Hitler! He tortured and killed thousands of innocent people. We are heroes over here, yet American’s badmouth our President for having us here.

Every police station here has a dozen or more memorials for officers that were murdered trying to ensure that their people live free. These are husbands, fathers, and sons killed every day. What if it were your country? What would your choice be? Everything we fight for is worth the blood that may be shed. The media never reports the true HEROISM I witness everyday in the Iraqis. Yes there are bad ones here, but I assure you they are a minuscule percent. Yet they are a number big enough to cause worry in this country’s future.

I have watched brave souls give their all and lose their lives and limbs for this cause. I will no longer stand silent and let the “deaf and blind” be the only voice shouting. Stonewall Jackson once said, “All that I have, all that I am is at the service of the country.” For these brave souls who gave the ultimate sacrifice, including your son Cindy Sheehan, I will shout till I can no longer. These men and women are heroes. Their spirit lives on in their military and they will never be forgotten. They did not die in vain but rather for a cause that is larger than all of us.

My fellow countrymen and women, we are not overseas for our country alone but also another. We are here to spread democracy and freedom to those who KNOW the true taste of it because they fight for it everyday. You can see the desire in their eyes and I am honored to fight alongside them as an Infantryman in the 101st Airborne.

Freedom is not free, but yet it is everyone’s right to have. Ironic isn’t it? That is why we are here. Though you will always have the skeptics, I know that most of our military will agree with this message.

Please, at the request of this soldier spread this message to all you know. We are in Operation Iraqi Freedom and that is our goal. It is a cause that I and thousands of others stand ready to pay the ultimate sacrifice for because, Cindy Sheehan, freedom is worth dying for, no matter what country it is! And only after the world is free, can we hope to have peace.

SGT Walter J. Rausch,
and 1st Platoon101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Day 302 - Letter from Col. William Glasgow

The following letter to the Editor, written by Col. William Glasgow, Executive officer with the 155th Brigade Combat Team, was published online today by the Brookhaven Daily Leader.

The 155th Brigade Combat Team's deployment to Iraq is rapidly approaching its completion. Approximately 4,000 soldiers from Mississippi, Arkansas, Vermont and across the United States will be returning home to their loved ones. I wanted to write this letter just to let the folks back home know how much the 155th BCT has accomplished during its tour of duty and how much we appreciate the support our family and friends have provided.

The 155th BCT area of operations encompassed two provinces and a large portion of a third province (Karbala, Najaf and northern Babil). Tremendous successes have been attained by the soldiers of the 155th BCT. Numerous weapons caches have been found throughout the area of operations.

Approximately 35,000 artillery and mortar rounds have been discovered and destroyed by the 155th Brigade Combat Team, each one destroyed denying the enemy a potential IED (improvised explosive device). Soldiers of the 155th BCT have detained approximately 1,300 suspected insurgents, with over 500 of those being sent to Abu Gharib prison.

This is only a small example of what your soldiers have accomplished. Many humanitarian aid projects have been undertaken and completed by the 155th BCT. Endless boxes of school supplies and backpacks have made it into the grateful hands of the children of Iraq.

The 155th Brigade Combat Team has suffered casualties during its tour of duty. Our hearts, thoughts and prayers will always remain with the family members of our fallen comrades, and we will not let their sacrifice be forgotten.

In closing, I say to the family members and friends of the 155th Brigade Combat Team, you can be proud of your sons, daughters, husbands and wives who met the challenge here in Iraq and continue to "make a difference" every day. We look forward to seeing you all soon. Once again, thank you for all the support you have provided from the home front.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Day 301 - Standing Ovation for Sgt. William E. Brooks

Specialist William E. Brooks, 23, was injured March 29 when his Humvee was blown up by a roadside bomb in central Iraq. Both of his legs were amputated above the knees as a result of the injuries.

While Brooks was recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Desoto County’s largest homebuilder and other companies donated goods and services to retrofit his Southaven, Miss., home for him and his parents.

Gutted and rebuilt inside at no expense to the Brooks family by Reeves Williams, the home now includes wider doorways and other features designed for use by someone in a wheelchair. The new ammenities will also serve Sergeant Brooks’ father, who was disabled in a 2002 auto accident.

While the renovation was underway, the family's furniture and other possessions were stored outside in two large container pods, loaned to the family by another local business.

When move-back-in day arrived, volunteers from Southaven’s Trinity Baptist church helped haul furniture and appliances into the newly retrofitted home.

Brooks, now promoted to Sergeant, recently addressed a class of 77 licensed practical nurse graduates Friday at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The 23-year-old military policeman with the 155th Brigade Combat team said the encouragement and aid of the medics and nurses he encountered made all the difference. Dedicated medical personnel were by his side "... from the time I left camp until the time I got here," he said.

Brooks also praised Walter Reed and its staff. "When I got here at WRAMC on the floors and the wards, there was always a friendly face no matter what I needed ... [staff were] always willing to help [me] and do whatever was needed to make sure I was comfortable," he said.
(Read the entire story here.)

A few days ago, SGT Brooks posted a comment on the 155th BCT Family Discussion Board:
This is new promoted SGT William E. Brooks, and I want to say thank you to everyone who has prayed for me and my family. To my fellow MP's..I love you guys and can't wait until I get to see you again. OF THE TROOPS, FOR THE TROOPS!!

Willie B
From all of us, thank YOU, Sgt. Brooks.
make us proud.

(Thanks to The Commercial Appeal for facts about Sgt. Brooks.)

***In other Tuesday Triumph news: Members of the 155th Brigade Combat Team discovered a weapons cache in an area west of Iskandariyah. Nearly 300 mortar rounds (82 mm) were seized and subsequently destroyed.


Monday, November 14, 2005

Day 300 - More Good News Monday

It’s hard to follow yesterday’s post where Bret McCormick shared why Veterans Day is still important, but we'll try.

This morning I read a heartwarming story of the North Jackson Lions Club, a group of compassionate do-gooders who collected school supplies for children in Iraq through the request of one of their members called to active duty in Iraq.

According to the story posted online by The Clarion Ledger, Major Eddy Waller, son of a former governor and brother of a state Supreme Court justice, is serving active duty in Iraq with the 155th Brigade Combat Team, a National Guard unit out of Tupelo.

When the club asked Waller what they could collect to send him, Waller jumped on the opportunity to deflect their generosity to needy schoolchildren in Iraq.

“For Eddy to come back and say, 'Don't send things to us soldiers, but help us with this school we're adopting," Mark Maxwell, Morgan Keegan brokerage executive and Lions Club president, says. "These guys are in harm's way. We're thinking about them, but they're thinking about others…”
(Photo by The Clarion Ledger. Read the entire story here.)

And if you didn't take time to watch this video yesterday, it's worth a couple of minutes Before You Go. (Hat tip to our friend, veteran and blogger-commenter-extraordinaire Duane Vandenburg.)

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Day 299 - Good News Sunday

A huge clap of thunder went KABOOM! outside the window next to my bed just after dawm this morning. Even though work has reduced sleep to a minimum the past few days, I bounced to the floor, convinced more than ever I’m a real military mom, since my first thought was how soldiers respond to mortar fire in the middle of the night.

Like a zombie, I stumbled past the computer, just to check whether Wayne might be online. Sure enough, he was. Already 3 p.m. Sunday in Iraq, Wayne and a buddy were scheduled for night shift guard duty. We got to chat for a precious minute and exchange Internet hugs before he had to go.

Scanning my Inbox before heading to the coffee pot, I noticed an email from Bret, my younger stepson who works as a news editor for The Ruston Daily Leader in north Louisiana. Bret is also an aspiring sports editor, now blogging his passion at Strictly Sports.
“I did my column for Monday about Veterans Day and talked about Wayne,” he began. “I wanted you to read it. There are some things in there that I've never told him (and probably should).”
Here’s Bret’s column, posted with pictures I either got from Wayne or took at the Hot Springs Veterans Day parade Friday night.

Veterans Day Still Important

Growing up, I never really paid much attention to Veterans Day.

That's not because I'm unpatriotic, don't care about veterans, am a pacifist or disinterested in history. In fact, I'm the opposite of all of those things.

It's just that many people in my generation took freedom for granted. We didn't love through war, didn't understand many of the sacrifices that were made to obtain the freedom we all cherish.

The closest thing I experienced to war growing up was Desert Storm, which really wasn't a war. Sure, I grew up in the end stages of the Cold War — but people weren't dying in battle then because it was more of a political war.

I didn't have a Vietnam growing up — nothing that profoundly affected my childhood and youth. Therefore, Veterans Day wasn't a particularly noteworthy holiday for me.

Sure, I thought about the veterans of the World Wars. But I didn't dwell, and I moved on.
Over the past four years, however, my life has been profoundly changed. I've experienced war firsthand — the war on terror.

It was my country that was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Sure, the battles in Afghanistan and Iraq are many miles away, but this thing was started on my home soil. Therefore, it matters to me. Veterans Day matters to me because we have people — kids my age and younger than me — dying overseas everyday so that we can feel safe back at home.

This Veterans Day was one of even more particular importance to me and my family. I have a family member fighting in Iraq. For the first time, I'm experiencing Veterans Day for what it truly means.

My stepbrother, Wayne West, is a hero. No, he's no different than any of the other soldiers that are putting themselves in danger so I feel safe in my cubicle at work or on my couch at home. They're all heroes.

It's just this year I had a little bit more of a reason to reflect on just what Veterans Day means to me.

For nearly the past year, I haven't seen my stepbrother. We've communicated via e-mail for a couple of times, but we haven't spoken since we spent Christmas together last year. However, I have been able to follow Wayne's chronicles in Iraq. His mother (and my stepmother), Rebecca, has kept us all up to date via Wayne’s World.

I am extremely proud of my stepbrother, just as I am all of our soldiers.

However, there is something deep in me that glows when I think of Wayne.

His story is truly unique. On the morning of Sept. 11, he was driving from Monroe to Jackson, Miss., to enlist in the Mississippi National Guard in order to gain money to attend college.

Despite being repeatedly warned about the dangers of signing up in the wake of the terrorist attack, Wayne was even more determined to serve his country.

What I realize, and what I hope all of you realize, is there are thousands of stories out there just like Wayne. Many times our soldiers are simply names and faces, but all of them have stories that make them unique and fascinating.

It's because of them that Veterans Day is such a special holiday. We have the chance to simply reflect and honor those who give the ultimate sacrifice so we don't have to.
Footnote: My mom has been visiting here all week. Turns out, she was walking her dog outside this morning when lightening struck the ground a few away, seconds before the sonic thunder which woke me up. Quickly deciding a doggie accident inside would be better than a dead mama outside, she and Angel headed for dry ground through the garage. Only the garage door won’t close now, a malfunction apparently caused from the electrical surge.

For now, we really mean, “Our door is always open!”

Friday, November 11, 2005

Day 297 - Veteran's Day 2005

In 1938, Congress approved an Act declaring November 11 each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace. Originally known as “Armistice Day,” the day was set aside to honor the veterans of World War I, which fighting ended the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918.

Veterans’ service organizations petitioned the 83rd Congress in 1954 to change the name of the holiday to “Veterans’ Day” in recognition of soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who fought to preserve America’s freedom during World War II and the Korean War.

From 1968-1978, the holiday was set to fall on Monday, to give Federal employees a 3-day weekend. President Gerald R. Ford resumed the celebration of Veterans Day on November 11 to preserve the historical significance of the date and to focus attention on the purpose of the holiday: to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Wayne was driving from Monroe, LA to Jackson, MS to enlist in the Mississippi Army National Guard to help pay for college. When attacks on the World Trade Center started, the recruiter called and said he would not allow Wayne to sign up when he arrived. “I’ll send him back home. You guys wait this thing out and then decide what to do.”

That night, citizens from our city gathered for an ecumenical prayer service. After all the priests, pastors, rabbis and rectors had finished their prayers for the nation, they asked if anyone in the congregation had anything to add. Wayne, 18-years-young at the time, stepped forward.
“Father, we ask that you give wisdom to our President and all the members of the houses of Congress to make the best decisions for the good of our country,” he began, “and we ask you to give courage to the parents of those of us who have been called to serve and to protect our freedom.” Three weeks later, he was at basic training.
Now, four years later, Wayne’s combat engineer unit is close to the end of a year of active duty in central Iraq. Amid bombs, ambushes, sandstorms and excruciating heat, the heart of these soldiers strives to return some semblance of normal life to this damaged world, as one newspaper editor said.
"In Wayne’s World, our soldiers provide health care for children. They adopted a school. They deliver school supplies sent from home, and worry there aren’t enough backpacks to go around. They notice children didn’t have shoes, and then collect 1200 pair from families at home. They give out toys and candy and supplies, building relationships and trust in a place where there’s been little to trust for many years."
Several times this year, I’ve had to apologize for being late, like to the interview for the cover story of the magazine this month. “Sorry, but I was talking to my son online. A car bomber crashed through a checkpoint this morning and blew up 100 yards in front of him. He's OK. I'm a little rattled."

If anybody needs to find me tonight, I’ll be downtown at the Veteran’s Day parade, thanking all the men and women like Wayne who help keep my perspective straight.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Day 296 - 150th Awards Bronze Star Medals

LT Kimbrough with his Bronze Star Medal recipient dad, 1st SGT Kimbrough

General Augustus Collins recently presented Bronze Star Medals to members of the 150th Engineer battalion. The fourth highest award for bravery, heroism or meritorious service, the Bronze Star Medal is a United States Armed Forces individual military decoration.

The medal is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity in or with the military of the United States after December 6, 1941, distinguished himself or herself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service, not involving participation in aerial flight, while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States; while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

Awards may be made for acts of heroism, performed under circumstances described above, which are of lesser degree than required for the award of the Silver Star. To the left, 1st SGT James K. Smith accepts his Bronze Star medal for his technical expertise and inspirational leadership, critical factors in the successful completion of more than 150 combat operations without any casualties.

Awards may also be made to recognize single acts of merit or meritorious service. The required achievement or service while of lesser degree than that required for the award of the Legion of Merit must nevertheless have been meritorious and accomplished with distinction.

The Bronze Star Medal is typically referred to by its full name (including the word Medal) to differentiate the decoration from bronze service stars which are worn on campaign medals.

The dedication of America's soldiers is probably most evident in reenlistment rates, which continue to exceed the Pentagon's goals more than four years into the war on terror.

Bronze Star Medal Ceremony at Camp Dogwood

Congratulations, Soldiers!
(Posted at Mudville Gazette.)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Day 295 - Who Ya Gonna Call?

The only thing more colorful than the trees in Hot Springs was our telephone conversation with Wayne this morning.

The little turkey caught me totally off guard with a 284 area code on my caller ID.
"Mornin', May-um," the rather countrified voice drawled through the phone line. "Do yew know who this ee-uz?"

"Help me out a little bit," I coaxed, rolling my eyes trying to guess which new non-sales-call gimmick I had fallen for. "I don't recognize the area code."

"Thee-us ee-uz yer son, Waaaayne West," he continued, unable to hold back the laugh any longer. "HI, MAMA!"

True to form, classic Wayne-o.

The rest of our 20 minute visit, (grandmother) GG and I mostly just giggled like teenagers talking to the most favorite person we could think to interrupt our work day. Wayne, entertaining us on the speaker phone, talked mostly about breakfast, his favorite meal of the day, telling us how much he loves omelets and mangos. We milked the conversation for all it was worth, too, right up until the last phone minute expired.

In case you missed Sunday's post about Project Valour IT, it's not too late to help push Army over the top of their $20K goal to provide voice activated software to enable soldiers recovering in military hospitals from hand and arm injuries to communicate with friends, family and their military buddies.

A short while ago, we received an email from CPT Charles "Chuck" Ziegenfuss, announcing his wife, Carren, will appear on MSNBC's "Connected Coast to Coast" Wednesday.
Don't know how long she'll be on, but please tune in... The show runs from 1200-1300. That's noon to 1 p.m. EST fer ya civilians out there. My beloved is supposed to be on around 1240, but I will rest assured her looks, personality and general charm will either get her on early, or the show will go into extra rounds like Rocky and the Big Ruskie in Rocky IV.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Day 294 - You Are My Son. Shine!

Late afternoon sunlight streams through the trees these days like Nature’s flash photography. Over the weekend, cars slugged through mountain roads as tourists and natives alike wrapped themselves in a blanket of Fall color.

The sun also smiled on Wayne’s new niece, Taylor Catherine, at her recent christening in Lafayette, Louisiana. Daughter of Shawn and Nikki (West) Moore, Taylor takes the place of her older sister, Reagan Elizabeth, as the newest little Moore.

In Iraq, another mother beamed with joy Saturday when she talked to her daughter, who is recovering from life saving surgery at Penn State Children’s Hospital in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Soldiers from the 155th Brigade Combat Team learned of Hadiya’s congenital heart defect during a routine inspection of a water treatment plant. Through the generosity of Americans, Hadiya (whose name means ‘God gift’) traveled with her father to the United States in mid-October to prepare for surgery last week.

After the operation, soldiers visited Hadiya’s mother to share the good news her daughter had come through surgery with flying colors.
(Read the full story here.)

We pray The Son continues to shine on our own soldiers, until they all come home under the flying colors of the red, white and blue.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Day 293 - Project Valour IT - Good News Sunday

In anticipation of Veteran’s Day, we join Soldier’s Angels and other milbloggers in friendly competition among service branches to raise money for Project Valour IT. Competition runs through Friday, November 11. (As of this writing, the Navy is still ahead!)

Founded in memory of SFC William V. Ziegenfuss, Project Valour IT provides voice-controlled software and laptop computers to wounded Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines recovering from hand and arm injuries or amputations at major military medical centers.

Using voice-controlled software, our wounded heroes are able to operate laptops by speaking into a microphone without having to press a key or move a mouse.

Army CPT Charles "Chuck" Ziegenfuss, a partner in the project, suffered hand wounds while commanding a tank company Iraq. Carren, Chuck’s wife, knows firsthand how voice-controlled software can significantly enhance a wounded servicemember's recovery by giving them a way to send and receive messages from friends and loved ones, surf the Internet, and communicate with buddies still in the field.
"Chuck is much happier now that he is able to blog," she says. "Despite the fact the voice recognition thing can be a hassle sometimes, he is very grateful to have it. He loves to see how many people comment when he posts. This blog is really an amazing thing for him and very instrumental for his healing. Alice and I can only do so much..."

Ready to donate? Find the donation box in the sidebar!

Wondering how to fit your gift into year-end philanthropy? Congress has recently passed measures to encourage increased charitable giving in 2005.

The Katrina Emergency Relief Act provides new tax incentives for charitable gifts made from August 28 until the end of the year.

Take note of two specific provisions of the Act:

• Limits on the amounts individuals can deduct for cash contributions to any charitable organization are lifted through December 31, 2005. Current law limits individual deductions to 50% of their adjusted gross income.
• Limits on the amounts corporations can deduct for charitable contributions for Katrina relief are lifted through December 31, 2005. Current law limits corporate deductions to 10% of their taxable income.
Describing the intent of the new incentives, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) said, "My hope in passing this provision is that Americans' generosity for those harmed by Hurricane Katrina won't mean a tradeoff for other important charitable work in this country."

Donations are accepted through PayPal, a secure third party source for fund transfers. If you don't already have free account, sign up here.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Day 292 - Hello-ho-ho!

Wayne showed up online this morning, asking for gift suggestions to help complete his Christmas shopping online.

“Everything’s being shipped to your house, so don’t be rummaging through the boxes!” he warned with a Yahoo “audible” attached to his text. The Ultimate Christmas Groupie, Wayne always plays “Santa” on Christmas morning, passing out presents to whatever extended family is gathered for the holiday.

In addition to two new daughters-in-law this year, we also have a new grandson on the scene. Add Wayne and Lauren's pending wedding next summer, and we’re experiencing some of the same growing pains as every family who has lots of folks to love! One thing we’ve learned is people are more important than stuff, so through the years, we’ve cut back on the stuff to save time and energy for traveling and hugging. This year will be indescribably delicious if Wayne makes it back in time to don his Santa hat!

One of our family’s Christmas morning traditions is to eat Padow’s Virginia Cured Country Ham on hot biscuits with one hand, and Aunt Les’s famous Cream Cheese Braids with the other. Just kidding about the two-fisted eating, but sometimes it seems that way, since Christmas is the ONLY time of year we eat either treat! (I called to get the recipe just now, but Les isn’t home, and her crew won’t share family secrets without getting permission first, which we understand.)

On another note, journalist blogger Michael Yon reports Bruce Willis has been to Iraq with his band and the USO, and is now following events in Mosul through Yon’s dispatches. “One of the finest and most successful actors in the world, Willis has expressed his desire to support our troops to me on numerous occasions. Read his website to see how strongly he feels about this,” urges Yon.