A Tribute to Unsung Heroes

•September 5, 2007 • 2 Comments

We generally post news articles detailing the need for better veteran care, the cost of war at home, and other “unsung” or neglected issues that vitally need to be addressed in this country. However, I’d like to take a break and recognize an unsung hero.


Captain Erick Foster, commander of A Troop, 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division Paratrooper, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., was killed in action last week.

The mission which took his life resulted in the death of 18 insurgents, the capture of 5 terrorists, the disarming of 10 IED’s (bombs), and the liberation of 2 Iraqi prisoners of war (al Qaeda takes many Iraqi prisoners that American soldiers frequently liberate – however, these victories are rarely covered by the media). Regardless of your political stance on the Iraq War, Erick firmly believed in the cause, would frequently comment on the great good that the troops are doing, and the need to remain resolute.

The following was written by his commanding officer concerning his death:

He died of a gunshot wound to the shoulder that penetrated into his chest. CPT Foster was accompanying one of his Platoon’s on a combat patrol in a terrorist safe haven in the Diyala River Valley when the incident occurred. The incident occurred at approximately 9:13 PM Eastern Standard Time on the 28th of August 2007.

CPT Foster was evacuated by medical evacuation helicopter to the 332nd AFTH shortly after the incident where he underwent immediate treatment in attempts to save his life. Despite the heroic efforts of the medical staff, CPT Foster’s injuries were too extensive and he passed away. Erick’s death is a terrible loss to our Task Force, and our thoughts and prayers go to Erick’s family.

CPT Foster served with honor and distinction, as evidenced by two bronze stars, a purple hart, a Ranger Tab, and numerous other awards for his courage and leadership as an officer. His obituary may be found here, and I highly recommend it, as the author did an incredible job honoring his service and his memory.

I had the pleasure of meeting CPT Foster while he was on leave from duty. He came to St. Louis to visit family (who I am good friends with). You would have never known that he regularly led men into combat, or that he has been awarded some of the highest medals the U.S. Military has to offer. While I never had the chance to know him well, I know many who have been so blessed, and can confidently say that he will be greatly missed.

As we struggle with the realities of war at home, we must not forget the sacrifice, courage, and dedication of soldiers with “boots on ground.” Each of them is an “unsung hero,” and to write about each and every one as their sacrifices merit and deserve, are beyond the abilities of even the most gifted poet. If asked, Erick would say that what he was doing was nothing more than any of the soldiers he led on a daily basis. This is not the exception, but the norm for most soldiers, and Erick embodies this warrior ethos.

Thus, I write this article as a tribute to the U.S. Soldier, who’s personal courage, sacrifice, and dedication is exemplified by Captain Erick Foster.

I am an American Soldier.
I am a Warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United States and live the Army Values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.
– The Soldier’s Creed


Their lives in limbo, war wives soldier on

•August 16, 2007 • 7 Comments

NORMAL — It’s not easy on the war wives left behind.

While Kathy Murdoch’s husband is in Iraq, the Normal woman fights feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Kathi Drozs, of Clinton, copes with raising two children alone. Loneliness affects her, too, as it does Jill Dorbeck of Bloomington.

Each woman has a husband in the Illinois Army National Guard 33rd Military Police Battalion, which shipped out of Bloomington a year ago last month amid much fanfare, including hundreds of people lining the streets as the battalion left town via Veterans Parkway.

About 70 soldiers with the 33rd left the Twin Cities, including about 30 from McLean County. The unit arrived in Iraq in October.

Dorbeck’s husband, Sgt. Richard Dorbeck, a motor pool sergeant who was recently home on leave, said the wives “have it as bad if not worse than we (soldiers) do,” noting that spouses must cope not only with running their households, but with raising children alone.

While various local support groups like State Farm Insurance Cos.’ Military Affinity Group (MAG), Operation Porchlight and the Family Readiness Group help with things like home repairs, there is nothing that can replace the reliance spouses have on each other.

“We cling to each other,” said Drozs, adding she and Kathy Murdoch talk at least once and sometimes three or four times a week.

Their husbands, both named Chris, are scheduled to come home by early October.

Even with increased talk of troop reductions in Iraq, there remains no end in sight for the four-year-old war. The wives know nothing is certain — and that the military has extended deployments before.

“We’re holding our breath,” Murdoch said.

While they wait, they continue to lean on one another, talking on the telephone, doing things together outside the home and having dinner together.

The most trying times are at night.

Continue reading ‘Their lives in limbo, war wives soldier on’

Landmark program designed for Illinois veterans

•August 3, 2007 • 1 Comment

From the Granite City Press-Record:

Saturday, July 21, 2007 1:10 PM CDT

The state launched a new program this month that will increase health care benefits for veterans and will later become part of the governor’s Illinois Covered insurance plan.

The first of it’s kind, the program is geared at screening every returning Illinois National Guard member for traumatic brain injury, offering traumatic brain injury screening to veterans, and creating a 24-hour toll-free psychological assistance for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, we’re seeing what a serious toll combat can take on the mental health of brave men and women fighting on our behalf,” Gov. Rod Blagojevich said in a statement. “After they’ve given so much to protect our freedom, we should do everything we can to help them live productive and stable lives when they return home.”

The program will work in two parts: The traumatic brain injury screening will mandate screening for all Illinois National Guard members returning from deployment and offer free screening to all Illinois veterans. The post-traumatic stress disorder portion will offer 24-hour assistance to suffering veterans who need help.

“We can’t wait for the federal government to catch up with the news and growing mental health needs associated with combat, or for Illinois lawmakers to approve the comprehensive Illinois Covered program,” Blagojevich said. “Too many returning soldiers and veterans need help now.”

Illinois is the first state in the nation to establish a statewide traumatic brain injury screening program for veterans and returning soldiers.

Legislation would simplify veterans benefits

•July 9, 2007 • 2 Comments

Bill lets those with 100% disability rating get Social Security benefits early

By Nicole Fuller
Sun Reporter
Originally published July 2, 2007, 8:27 AM EDT


U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland has introduced legislation that will streamline the process in which disabled war veterans receive government benefits.

Sarbanes will speak publicly about the pending legislation — the Benefit Rating Acceleration for Veterans Entitlement Act, or BRAVE Act — at a news conference scheduled for 9:30 this morning.

Sarbanes will be joined by Richard Vandervlis, a local veteran who inspired the act, and members of both the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Korean War Veterans Association of Baltimore.

The legislation, which has 36 co-sponsors, including U.S. Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Chris Van Hollen, will allow a veteran who receives a 100 percent disability rating from the VA to receive Social Security benefits quicker than the prolonged waiting period now in place.

“If you’re a veteran and you’re deemed 100 percent disabled … the Social Security Administration still makes you go through a lengthy process,” said Pia Carusone, a spokeswoman for Sarbanes. “If the VA says you’re 100 percent disabled, the Social Security needs to agree with that, and expedite the process.”

From the Baltimore Sun.

Senate Committee Approves Five Bills To Improve Health Care For Veterans

•July 3, 2007 • 2 Comments

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Wednesday approved five measures aimed at improving veterans’ health, CQ Today reports. The bills, passed by voice vote, include: an omnibus benefits measure (S 1315), a cost-of-living adjustment for veterans’ benefits (S 423), expanded vision benefits (S 1163), a traumatic brain injury and omnibus health care bill (S 1233), and a suicide-prevention bill (S 479).

Under the suicide-prevention measure, the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary would direct an outreach effort to Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and their families and launch a campaign to discuss mental health problems among veterans. The legislation also would require VA to make mental health care available 24 hours a day (Yoest, CQ Today, 6/27). The suicide-prevention bill would place special emphasis on the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (Talbott, CongressDaily, 6/28). The House passed similar legislation (HR 327) on March 22.

The vision benefits legislation would provide additional compensation for veterans who have only partial sight in their second eye. Currently, disability compensation is given to veterans who are blind in one eye, and compensation increases if their visual acuity is 5/200 or less in the other eye. No compensation is provided if veterans have more serious impairment in the second eye. Under the new measure, the requirement to qualify for visual benefits for impairment in the second eye would be lowered to 20/200 or less — the American Medical Association‘s standard for legal blindness.

The committee also approved a measure that would provide a routine cost-of-living increase in benefits next year for veterans with service-related disabilities. The measure also applies to dependency and insurance benefits for the families of disabled veterans. The percentage increase would be the same as for Social Security benefits, which will be calculated later this year.

In addition, the committee approved an omnibus benefits bill that would expand life insurance benefits for veterans and pay Filipino World War II veterans service-related compensation benefits at the full benefit rate for veterans who live outside of the U.S. The omnibus health care bill also would rescind a January 2003 regulation that prohibits the enrollment of “Priority 8” veterans — those who do not have a service-related disability and have annual incomes greater than $27,790 — in veterans’ hospitals. The minimum income level for Priority 8 status is greater for veterans with dependents and veterans in areas with a high cost of living.

Read the article in full at Medical News Today.

Home to a hero’s welcome

•June 26, 2007 • 1 Comment

By Joelyn Hansen and Keith Rydberg/Daily Sun staff writers
Monday, June 25, 2007 9:51 AM CDT

LINCOLN – As Calleen Hartig and her boys, Dalton, 8, Quintin, 7, and Collin, 5, waited outside the stadium at Haymarket Park in Lincoln Sunday morning, they kept a close watch on the horizon.

The Beatrice family was tingling with anticipation as they waited for the Patriot Guard and the bus carrying her husband, National Guard Sgt. 1st Class John Hartig, to pull into the parking lot on Sunday.

Jamie Vater shares a homecoming kiss with husband Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Vater of Beatrice after he arrives in Lincoln Sunday morning. Photo by Jane White, Daily Sun staff

The Hartigs were among the thousands of people crowding outside the stadium, waiting to welcome home about 250 Nebraska National Guardsmen from the 1-167th Cavalry and 134th Infantry (Long-Range Surveillance) after a 22-month deployment.

As the time for reuniting soldiers and families approached, the parking lot contained a spectrum of colors and emotions: people lining the streets holding flags, Lincoln fire trucks flying the United States flag high in the air and family and friends dressed in red, white and blue grasping handmade signs welcoming the guardsmen home.

The last time Hartig saw her husband was exactly a year ago when he was on leave from Iraq.

“It’s kind of weird to think you haven’t seen him in one year,” she said.

Eager to have him home, Hartig said she hardly slept Saturday night.

Yet, she still awoke early Sunday morning to check on her coffee shop, Breakaway Coffeehouse on South Sixth Street, and ensure she and the children would be on time to watch the buses roll into Lincoln.

It was a crazy morning, but there wasn’t any other place she would rather be, she said.

“There’s so much emotion and anticipation,” Hartig said as she waited for her husband.

No stranger to deployments, Hartig said this was the third deployment her family has experienced in their 11 years of marriage – two deployments for him and one for her, said Hartig, a Nebraska Army National Guard veteran herself.

“Out of 11 years of marriage, we’ve been actually together about five,” she said.

Read the rest at the Beatrice Daily Sun.

Iraq vets and the homeless

•June 22, 2007 • 4 Comments


09:30 AM PDT on Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Press-Enterprise

Photos: Veteran Joshua Harmon in a sober-living home

Army Spc. Joshua Harmon headed home from the ongoing war in Iraq on the Fourth of July.

It was 2003 and Harmon had spent three months as a machine gunner on the front lines. He was coming home with a lot of baggage.

He said there were nightmares and insomnia. Fear, rage and guilt.

He started at the sound of fireworks and snapped for no reason. He said he felt shame for sleeping in a soft bed while his buddies were still in the desert.

A year later, Harmon said he was alone and living on the streets, a victim of the mental scars inflicted by combat and the drugs and alcohol with which he tried to heal them.

“I’d walk 14-15 miles at a time, because in my mind, I was still on patrol,” said Harmon, a square-shouldered 27-year-old with close-cropped brown hair and an intense gaze.

Story continues below

Stan Lim / The Press-Enterprise

Joshua Harmon is staying at a sober living home for veterans in San Bernardino. He spent three months in Iraq and wound up homeless about a year after his return.

Harmon, who has been in a federally funded housing program in San Bernardino for several months, is one of the new faces of homelessness — veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Experts say growing numbers of former servicemen and women — wracked by post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries and struggling with substance abuse and other ills — are winding up on the streets.

It is a problem that military and Veterans Affairs officials and homeless advocates are struggling to cope with. A Department of Defense task force reported last week that “the military system does not have enough resources, funding or personnel to adequately support the psychological health of service members and their families in peace and during conflict.”

From 2004 to 2006 — the most current data available — the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs identified as homeless 1,049 service members who served in the current fighting in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Read the full article at Press Enterprise.