On Sunday, they came again, bearing Memorial Day bouquets for men and women they never knew, but whose 8,300 headstones the people of the Netherlands have adopted as their own.
For the American relatives of the fallen, it was an outpouring of gratitude almost as stunning as the rows of white marble crosses and Jewish Stars of David at the Netherlands American Cemetery. Each grave has been adopted by a Dutch or, in some cases, Belgian or German family, as well as local schools, companies and military organizations. More than 100 people are on a waiting list to become caretakers.
Capt. Dustin R. Lukasiewicz, from Nebraska, served as a UH-1Y pilot and aviation safety officer with HMLA-469.
Lukasiewicz received his commissioned on March 28, 2008. He deployed to Afghanistan, with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and to Nepal.
Lukasiewicz was featured in a Marine Corps video about relief efforts in Nepal posted days before the helo accident. He described how they delivered rice, potatoes and tarps to remote areas devastated by the earthquake.
"They came to save us, and to give us dignity. Their sacrifice will remain in the minds of our children for the rest of their lives. We will teach their names to our children, and keep their names in our books of history as heroes who gave their lives for freedom." - Kurd Sheik Ahmet at the April 17th, 1994 memorial service in Zakhu, Iraq.
Today, is the 21st anniversary of a dark day in our military history...while the inquiry results were weak, this was one incident in which many lessons were learned that later saved American and allied lives (true IFF came from this), and continued the long trek to freedom for one of the most deserving groups of human beings on this planet.
Let's start at what isn't quite the beginning but as good as any place to start this story...
In April, 1991, as part of U.N. Resolution 688, the National Command Authority commanded the US Armed Forces to conduct Operation Provide Comfort. On the 8th of April 1991, the 1st Battalion (FWD) of the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) from Bad Tolz, Germany, deployed to conduct humanitarian relief operations for over a half million Kurdish refugees. Soon the 2nd and 3rd Battalions arrived from the states.
...Operation PROVIDE COMFORT was one of the largest relief operations in history. During the critical first three weeks, the 10th Special Forces Group directed and executed the overall ground relief and security efforts. In the words of General Galvin, the CINCEUR "...10th Special Forces Group saved half a million Kurds from extinction."
The conditions in the refugee camps shocked the world. Before 10th Group arrived, an average of 450 refugees perished daily, with 70 percent being children. In two weeks time the rate was approximately 15-20 per day and of these, only 28 percent were children. 10th Group had made the difference.
The basic operation was divided into three phases. Phase one provided immediate emergency relief with food, water and shelter. The intent was to make an accurate assessment of the situation and to organize Kurdish leadership. Phase two provided basic services. The ODA and ODB detachments performed many tasks and missions: pipe water from the mountains, organize food distribution and camp sanitation, service drop zones and landing zones, and coordinate with the multinational relief organizations. Additionally, they assisted in rendering medical treatment for the refugees. Phase three prepared and moved the refugees from their mountain camps into resettlement camps in Iraq or straight back to their own homes. Waystations built by 10th SFG(A), provided food, water and fuel, and limited medical help enroute...
As the video below shows, it was really about saving the families and the children:
The mission was a tough one - to provide humanitarian aid to over one million Kurdish Refugees in northern Iraq. The mission began with airdrops (food, clothing, tents, blankets, medicine) and soon launched missions taking supplies directly to the Kurds.
A UH-60A Black Hawk (Blackhawk) helicopter flies over a small village in the Kurdish occupied security zone in northern Iraq. The helicopters and the crews from C Company 6/159th Aviation Regiment, Geibelstadt, Germany, are deployed to Diyarbakir, Turkey, in support of the operation Provide Comfort. (DoD photo by: SSGT. THEODORE J. KONIARES Date Shot: 1993-11-17).
To further stop Saddam from killing the Kurds, a northern No-Fly Zone was placed north of the 36th parallel. Any Iraqi aircraft would be shot down in the No-Fly Zone.
Photo from CIA Factbook
The No-Fly Zone was patrolled and kept "clean" by the USAF with fighters (F-15s) being supported by command and control aircraft (AWACS).
General John Shalikashvili, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had this to say about the hard work of the Provide Comfort Soldiers and Airmen:
For over 1,000 days, the pilots and crews assigned to Operation Provide Comfort flew mission after mission, totalling over 50,000 hours...
The mission continued for 3 years until the first Commander was due to reliquish command...
On April 14th, 1994, two Blackhawk helicopters were ready for take-off from Diyarbakir, Turkey. COL Jerry Thompson - one of the most respected officers and commanders in Special Forces - was changing command (or co-command as "command" of Provide Comfort was shared with Turkey). He decided to show his replacement, COL Mulhern, the lay of the land. At 0730, COL Thompson assembled 26 people that comprised important (command group) roles for the mission. He included French, British, and Turkish commanders and liaisons, and also brought along Kurdish para-military personnel and linguists.
The two Blackhawks were designated Eagle-1 and Eagle-2. Their first destination was Irbil, Iraq, but they would have to make a stop in Zakhu, Iraq (where the military part of Provide Comfort operated). There were plans to visit several other areas as well.
At 8:22AM, Eagle Flight departed Diyarbakir. They were headed East-Southeast for a "gate" into the No-Fly Zone. Per Standard Operating Procedure, the command group was split between Eagle-1 and Eagle-2 to ensure continuity of command if one helicopter went down.
At 9:21AM, Eagle Flight called the AWACS (callsign "Cougar"). They requested and were granted permission to enter the "gate" into the the No-Fly Zone.
At 9:24AM, Eagle Flight lands at Zakhu, Iraq.
At 9:35AM, two USAF F-15 fighters launched from Incirlik, Turkey. They were designated Tiger-1 and Tiger-2. Tiger-1 was the lead fighter with Tiger-2 as the wingman. Tiger Flight was headed to patrol the No-Fly Zone.
At 9:54AM, Eagle Flight calls the AWACS to report departure from Zakhu, Iraq, with a destination of Irbil, Iraq.
At 10:12AM, Eagle Flight enters mountainous terrain. It's Identification Friend or Foe system (IFF) failed.
At 10:20AM Tiger Flight passes through "gate" into No-Fly Zone.
At 10:22AM Tiger Flight picks up radar contact at forty nautical miles. No IFF reading occurs. Tiger-1 reports, "Cougar, picked up helicopter tracking northwest bound." AWACS says the area should be "clean".
At 10:25 AWACS responds that there are "hits there" in the No-Fly Zone - confirming Tiger Flight's radar contact.
Tiger Flight makes visual contact with Eagle Flight at five nautical miles.
At 10:28 Tiger-1 conducts a visual identification (VID) pass of the helicopters. "Cougar, tally 2 HINDS."
HINDS are Soviet Helicopters used by the Iraqi Armed Forces.
AWACS replied, "Copy two HINDS".
Tiger-1 then instructed Tiger-2 to make a VID pass.
Thirty seconds later Tiger-2 confirms, "Tally 2."
Tiger-1 to Tiger-2, "Arm hot."
At 10:30AM on April 14, 1994, Tiger-1 fired an AIM 120 (medium range air-to-air missle) at Eagle-2. Tiger-2 fired an AIM 9 (Sidewinder air-to-air missle) at Eagle-1.
The missles hit Eagle Flight with deadly accuracy. Tiger-1 confirmed the hits to AWACS, "Splash two HINDS."
Of the 26 team members of Eagle Flight, there were no survivors...
US Military: SSG Paul Barclay (SF Commo NCO) SPC Cornelius A. Bass (Eagle-1 Door Gunner) SPC Jeffrey C. Colbert (Eagle-1 Crew Chief) SPC Mark A. Ellner (Eagle-2 Door Gunner) CW2 John W. Garrett, Jr. (Eagle-1 Pilot) CW2 Michael A. Hall (Eagle-2 Pilot Command) SFC Benjamin T. Hodge (Linguist) CPT Patrick M. McKenna (Eagle-1 Pilot Command) WO1 Erik S. Mounsey (Eagle-2 Pilot) COL Richard A. Mulhern (Incoming Co-Commander) 1LT Laurie A. Piper (USAF, Intel Officer) SGT Michael S. Robinson (Eagle-2 Crew Chief) SSG Ricky L. Robinson (SF Medic) Ms. Barbara L. Schell (State Dept. Political Advisor) COL Jerald L. Thompson (Outgoing Co-Commander)
British Military: MAJ Harry Shapland (Security/Intel Duty Officer) LTC Jonathan C. Swann (Senior UK Officer)
French Military: LTC Guy Demetz (Senior French Officer)
Turkish Army: COL Hikmet Alp (Co-Commander) LT Ceyhun Civas (Laison Officer) LT Barlas Gultepe (Liason Officer)
Kurdish Partisans: Abdulsatur Arab Ghandi Hussein Bader Mikho Ahmad Mohammed Salid Said (Linguist)
USAF Photo: U.S. Military personnel inspect the wreckage of a Black Hawk helicopter (Eagle 2) in the Northern Iraq No Fly Zone during Operation Provide Comfort, April 16, 1994.
DoD photo MSGT MICHAEL J. HAGGERTY: The remains of 26 people were flown in for transportation to the U.S. Army Mortuary Center, Frankfurt, Germany. The 26 were killed in an accidental downing of two U.S. Army UH-60A Black Hawk (Blackhawk) helicopters by U.S. AIr Force F-15C fighters in the northern Iraq "no fly zone". Standing in review was the Rhein-Main-Air Base color guard, they displayed the flags of the countries that mourn the loss of their citizens, the United States, Britain, France and Turkey.
I took this photo while visiting the Colonel (his story is an interesting one). He's near Mary Todd Lincoln's tomb on a slight rise over looking a beautiful part of Arlington...You can visit him and Barclay, Hodge and Bass at Arlington.
This is an annual repost honoring Casey Sheehan who gave his life in a fight to save his brothers...
Casey Sheehan grew up in a devout Catholic home. He served as an altar boy and then as a key member of his church's youth group for years.
When he was old enough, Casey joined the Boy Scouts, becoming the very second Eagle Scout out of his troop.
He enlisted in the Army when he was twenty years old. He decided to be a mechanic. He would undergo Combat Lifesaver training - a class on how to give IVs and treat trauma only second in intense learning to combat medic training. He was also certified to assist with giving communion to soldiers while in the field.
Specialist Sheehan re-enlisted in the Army in 2004 knowing full well that he could be sent into a combat zone.
Casey Sheehan was a Humvee mechanic with the 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment.
On April 3rd, 2004, forces loyal to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al'Sadr stormed police stations and government offices in Sadr City (a city of over 2 million). They knew the Americans would come, and they wanted a fight. Muqtada Sadr was working them up into a religious frenzy. And he had his thugs murder anyone who he thought might stand in his way - even other Shi'ite clerics. His forces were known as the Mahdi Army.
American forces quickly surrounded Muqtada al'Sadr's quarters.
On April 4th, 2004, al'Sadr's Mahdi forces blocked roadways and bridges with burning tires, vehicles and trash. Visibility was less than 300 meters anywhere in the city. They began to attack American vehicles on patrol throughout Sadr City - some were protecting Shia worshipers (Holy Arbayeen) while others were escorting city government vehicles.
A battle raged across Sadr City. Insurgents assaulted American troops while looters and mobs formed and stormed through the streets. Word spread quickly across the American FOBs that there was trouble.
Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment were ambushed with RPGs and pinned down and dying. While fighting off an attack himself, the Commander of the 2/5th, LTC Volesky, called for help. A Quick Reaction Force (QRF) was formed of volunteers - their mission was to go out and rescue the American troops.
Casey Sheehan's Sergeant asked for volunteers. Sheehan had just returned from Mass. After Sheehan volunteered once, the Sergeant asked Sheehan again if he wanted to go on the mission. According to many reports (and according to his own mother), Casey responded, "Where my Chief goes, I go."
The QRF was launched. Not long after entering the Mahdi area, the QRF was channeled onto a dead-end street where the roofs were lined with snipers, RPGs, and even some militia throwing burning tires onto the vehicles. The Mahdi blocked the exit and let loose with everything they had.
Sheehan's vehicle was hit with multiple RPGs and automatic-weapons fire.
Specialist Casey Sheehan and Corporal Forest J. Jostes were killed.
A second QRF was formed - all volunteers - to go rescue the first. Specialist Ahmed Cason was hit in the second QRF - but kept fighting until he bled to death.
They were Spc. Robert R. Arsiaga, Spc. Ahmed Cason, Sgt. Yihjyh L. "Eddie" Chen, Spc. Stephen D. Hiller, Spc. Israel Garza, Cpl. Forest J. Jostes, and Sgt. Michael W. Mitchell.
It was Palm Sunday.
Palm Sunday commemorates the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem. Back then, the palm frond was a symbol of victory - laid beneath the feet of those of the highest honor and triumph. Some believe it was this honor fit for a king that forced Jesus's enemies to act and crucify him.
In recognition of Casey, the Catholic Chapel at Fort Hood, Texas (where Sheehan was stationed) named the Knights of Columbus chapter the "Casey Austin Sheehan Council".
Casey also received the Bronze Star for his Valor that day.
This is an annual Someone You Should Know (St. Patrick's Day Edition) post to celebrate an Irish soldier's sacrifice. Below is the story of Ian Malone - a young Irishman who bridged the divide between Ireland and England in life and death.
Ian died during the invasion of Iraq in April of 2003 doing what he wanted to do - Soldiering for his country. Below is his story, told expertly by Philip Watson of the Telegraph:
Lance Corporal Ian Malone died in an ambush on the streets of Basra in April last year. Throughout a long, hot Sunday, he and his armoured brigade had been pushing through the southern suburbs of Iraq's second city, flushing out enemy soldiers. While most of the regular Iraqi Army had fled, the streets and houses contained pockets of determined Fedayeen fighters, paramilitaries who remained loyal to Saddam Hussein.
Having reached the edge of the old city and achieved their objective of securing a university campus, Ian Malone and his colleagues had left their Warrior armoured personnel carrier, and were regrouping. They had scoured the area and, in the dusty shade of dusk, all seemed safe.
In an instant, however, two Fedayeen in civilian clothes broke cover and sprayed the crew with automatic fire. Four soldiers were hit. Ian Malone took two bullets - one through the neck, the other in the head - and died instantly, becoming one of 55 British soldiers killed in Iraq in the past year.
What made the 28-year-old Lance Corporal remarkable, though, apart from the peerless qualities that all who knew him instantly recognised - he was a thinker and philosopher; courteous and religious; a talented chess player and musician; an exceptional soldier; and, as his school chaplain said at his funeral, not macho but manly - was that Ian Malone was an Irishman fighting for the British Army.
Many have found in Ian Malone's life and death something profoundly symbolic: the notion that he represents the continuing spirit of progress and reconciliation between Britain and Ireland...
His three combat tours in Afghanistan had been boiled down to a 38-second video clip, played and replayed on YouTube more than a million times. In it, Rob Richards and three other Marine Corps snipers are seen urinating on the bodies of Taliban fighters they had just killed.
“Total dismay” were the words then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton used to describe the video when it surfaced on the Internet in January 2012. “Utterly deplorable,” agreed then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Richards’s career in the military was finished.
More than two years later — long after the rest of the country had moved on to other scandals — Richards, 28, died at home and alone from an accidental painkiller overdose...
Now an ammunition can carrying his cremated remains sat on the table of a hotel bar in Arlington, Va., as his family, friends and fellow Marines swirled around it....
At about 0600 on the morning of 8 November C Company began a move northwest toward Hill 65, while B Company moved northeast toward Hill 78. Shortly before 0800, C Company was engaged by a sizable enemy force well dug in to the southern face of Hill 65. At 0845, B Company was directed to wheel in place and proceed toward Hill 65 with the intention of relieving C Company.
B Company reached the foot of Hill 65 at about 0930 and moved up the hill. It became obvious that there was a very large enemy force in place on the hill,C Company was getting hammered, and by chance, B Company was forcing the enemy's right flank.
Under pressure from B Company's flanking attack the enemy force—most of a Viet Cong regiment—moved to the northwest, whereupon the B Company commander called in air and artillery fires on the retreating troops. B Company halted in place in an effort to locate and consolidate with C Company's platoons, managing to establish a coherent defensive line running around the hilltop from southeast to northwest, but with little cover on the southern side.
Meanwhile, the VC commander realized that his best chance was to close with the US soldiers so that the 173rd's air and artillery fire could not be effectively employed. He attempted to out-flank the US position atop the hill from both the east and the southwest, moving his troops closer to the Americans. The result was shoulder-to-shoulder attacks up the hillside, hand-to-hand fighting, and isolation of parts of B and C Companies but the Americans held against two such attacks. Although the fighting continued after the second massed attack, it reduced in intensity as the VC commander again attempted to disengage and withdraw. By late afternoon it seemed that contact had been broken off, allowing the two companies to prepare a night defensive position while collecting their dead and wounded in the center of the position. Although a few of the most seriously wounded were extracted by USAF helicopters using Stokes litters, the triple-canopy jungle prevented the majority from being evacuated until the morning of 9 November.
The result of the battle was heavy losses on both sides—48 Paratroopers dead, many more wounded, and 403 dead VC troops.
Here is the link to the tribute video by Big and Rich:
If you get a chance, raise a glass to the Sky Soldiers of the 173rd tonight ("Airborne!"). Many of the Viet Nam vets that trained me and my generation of paratroopers wore the 173rd patch on their right shoulder.
Update:In the Company of Soldiers has more on Lawrence Joel who saved a lot of lives on the 8th of November in 1965 and was awarded the Medal of Honor.