There are four distinct parts to this book: His father’s story, the story of how Stephen grew up, a comparison of the author’s life with Commander James Hunter “Tupper” Ware III, and what it was like to be a part of a military family. The book begins with a description of the commander of the Black Ravens, Peter Rodrick, who died in a Navy plane crash on November 28th, 1979. While on the homestretch of a mission that had been extended because of the Iran hostage situation, Rodrick Sr. crashed his Prowler into the Indian Ocean, taking three younger crewmembers with him. The author's mother, newly widowed, packed up the family and moved from Whidbey Island to Detroit, where the author bumbled through junior high and high school as a bit of a sports-nerd misfit, quoting baseball statistics but working far below his potential. After escaping to Chicago for college, the author's real talent as a writer began to surface. The book follows Rodrick’s search for a father he barely knew, to figure out just who was his father.
A powerful part of the book is when Rodrick met with members of his father’s former squadron, the "World-Famous Black Ravens." As he learns about his father, he uncovers the layers of these sailors’ lives: their loves, friendships, dreams, disappointments, and the consequences of their choices. It is here that the reader is introduced to Commander Ware who is struggling to balance his military career with his family obligations. Getting to know the Black Ravens’ newly commissioned commander, James Hunter Ware III, would help Stephen better understand his own father. The author noted to blackfive.net that his father was a ghost, a parent in absentia that sometimes he saw his father as a stranger in his home. “I was really sad and lonely while my dad was gone. I think the resentment and anger came later, after he died. What I would like any reader to do is sit down with their dad to discuss life, something I did not have an opportunity to do with my dad.”
This leads into a discussion about the other casualties of war, not just the victim, but also the family members, the sacrifices the Navy wife and children made in service to our country. It is a stark reminder that in addition to praising those who serve there are tremendous contributions of the families that must be acknowledged. Rodrick stated to blackfive.net, “As a little boy I was euphoric that my dad flew jets off carriers. But then after he crashed I always wondered if one or two things had gone another way he might still be with us. One of the great advantages of being a part of a military family is you have such a large extended family. One of the great memories of my childhood is that we were all tight knit. What was really magical was that my own son was born on November 28th, 2013, thirty-four years almost to the hour of my dad’s accident. It is nice to have something to celebrate on that day and not associate it with a day of sorrow.”
The Magical Stranger: a Son’s Journey into His Father’s Life mixes the past with the present. Regarding military families it shows that not much has changed over the decades. This book is a thoughtful reflection on the meaning of service and the realistic legacy of his father. Readers will understand that the author wrote the book to obtain closure as Stephen struggled to fully grasp the reality of his father’s death and the effect it had on everyone in his family.
A Douglas C-47 Skytrain, known as Whiskey 7, flies alongside a C-130J Super Hercules from the 37th Airlift Squadron over Ramstein Air Base, Germany, May 30, 2014. The C-47 is participating in base activities with its legacy unit, the 37th Airlift Squadron, before returning to Normandy, France, to recreate its World War II role, dropping paratroopers over the original drop zone in Sainte-Mere Eglise, France. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Sara Keller
A U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft drops U.S. and international paratroopers to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, France, June 8, 2014. More than 700 paratroopers from the United States, France, Germany, England and the Netherlands re-enacted the historic airdrop over the town of Chef-du-Pont, France. DOD photos by Marvin Lynchard
Veterans from several nations board the train on their way to the 70th anniversary commemoration of D-Day at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, June 6, 2014. DOD photo by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Aaron Hostutler
Bill Prindible, a veteran U.S. Army pilot who flew on D-Day, takes the controls of a C-47 Skytrain during a commemorative flight over Normandy, France, June 5, 2014, as part of a series of D-Day 70th anniversary activities. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jordan Castelan
A headstone with a photo of a loved one is displayed in the Normandy American Cemetery during the 70th Anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, France, June 6, 2014. DOD photo by Marvin Lynchard
A U.S. paratrooper presents flowers to Ellan Levitsky-Orkin served as a U.S. Army nurse in Normandy during World War II, at a ceremony honoring the service of U.S. Army nurses during World War II, in Bolleville, France, June 4, 2014. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Sara Keller
A French paratrooper donning a vintage American World War II paratrooper uniform celebrates after jumping from a DC-3 aircraft over the Normandy region of France, June 8, 2014, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day. DOD photo by Marvin Lynchard
From the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division...sad news:
From the 2nd BCT's Facebook page:
Sgt. Shaina B. Schmigel, 21, an intelligence analyst with the 37th Engineer Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 82nd Abn. Div., died during a standard T-11 parachute jump at Holland Drop Zone, Friday.
“All of the Paratroopers in the brigade are deeply saddened by the loss of an extraordinary and much-respected member of our team,” said Lt. Col. Albert Paquin, commander of the 2nd BCT. “Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends during this time of great loss. Our chaplains and our health care professionals are available to help comfort and support all of her fellow Paratroopers affected by this tragedy.”
Being a paratrooper is a dangerous job. Sergeant Schmigel risked her life every time that she exited an aircraft in flight. Death is a possibility that all Airborne accept, and it's what makes them family. Some break, most endure and a precious few pay the ultimate price for liberty.
Even in peacetime, military service is a dangerous job.
Godspeed, Sergeant. Prayers on the way to your family, friends, and comrades.
I hope everyone is enjoying their day off and their BBQ. I am as well today, but not without a sense of the meloncholy. Little Deebow helped to put flags out out the cemetery with his Cub Scout Troop yesterday and he is only beginning to understand what today means.
I know that everyone says most of the same things on Memorial Day, and I am guilty of it myself sometimes. Today especially though, I think about Major Larry Bauguess, Sergeant First Class Bernard Deghand, and Sergeant Earl Werner and how they have helped me to make every day worth it. You were taken from us and your families long before we were ready and I will remember those days and our times together and who we were forever. I think about Larry often, our time was so short together in 2007 and the controversy over what happened that day continues.
I don't know where we get men like these, but if I ever find out, I will guard the secret forever.
May our comrades, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and loved ones that we miss like no other in our lives and the memories of all those who have sacrificed for America make our time with our families today sweeter, our burgers and brats that much tastier and our holiday that much more enjoyable for the freedom we have to enjoy it in the greatest country God ever gave man.
For the first time on the National Mall, VVMF will have people read the names of each and every American service member who has made the ultimate sacrifice since the attacks on September 11, 2001. Americans from across the nation will join together to read the names of these heroes in the order they were taken from us.
The reading of the names begins on Saturday, May 24th, 0900 EDT.
Day Is Done, Gone the Sun, From the Earth, From the Hill, From the Sky, All Is Well, Safely Rest, God Is Nigh
When Taps is played at dusk, it has a completely different meaning than when Taps is played during the day. No soldier really wants to hear it played during daylight. For when the bugle plays Taps in the daylight...that means a soldier has fallen...There is a belief among some that Taps is the clarion call to open the gates of heaven for the fallen warrior and letting them know to "Safely Rest"...
Of course, Memorial Day is about remembering the sacrifices that our military men and women have made over the last 237 years. We are still a young nation, but one that has made many sacrifices to remain free. We should also take time to remember the families who have lost loved ones.
We have focused on just a few of the fallen over the last few years. I've lost good friends during the War on Terror. And I write about the others to ensure that we don't forget their sacrifices - I do that for me as much as for anybody.
I can't speak for the friends of the many others who have fallen, but for Mat, Cooter, and Mikey, I can say this:
It is important to remember them, and it is just as important to enjoy yourself this weekend. To spend time with your family and friends. Have a beer while grilling Wisconsin brats (Schram-bo!) in the backyard while watching your kids play tag.
What better assurance to them that they did not die in vain?
Enjoying your freedom and understanding it's value is the best way to honor the sacrifices of my friends.
That's the way they'd want you to spend Memorial Day.
Remembering them, and being a good friend, father, and an American is the best way that I can honor their memory.
I'll close with this heartfelt letter, written by Rick Kennedy, that I received via the late and great Corporal Seamus Garrahy about Taylor Prazynski - a Marine who was buried at Arlington nine years ago.
On Saturday morning May 21st I flew to Washington, D.C to meet my daughter Mary with grandchildren Calista and Lindsey, and her husband Joe Teller to drive with them to Chesterfield Virginia to attend a ballet recital for Callie that evening. Joe and Mary were in Washington for the burial services of Lance Corporal Taylor Prazynski USMC the 20 year old son of Joe’s cousin John Prazynski. Taylor was killed by enemy fire in Fallujah on May 9th while serving in combat with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment, and 2nd Marine Division. Mary and Joe, along with 50 other family members attended the burial service for Taylor on Friday at Arlington National Cemetery, and when I met them they remained emotionally overwhelmed and forever moved by the elegant display of military reverence, and efficiency at Arlington. They were deeply saddened by the loss of this young Marine.
Earlier in the week Taylor’s body arrived at the Greater Cincinnati Airport by commercial jet. All passengers were instructed to remain on the plane until Taylor’s body was removed by a contingent of Marines. A military helicopter followed the Marine vehicle as it motored to the funeral parlor. Police and fire trucks were stationed at the overpasses and along the highway and saluted at Taylor passed by. At the funeral parlor no civilian was allowed to touch the body. The Marines prepared the deceased...A Marine color guard followed by a rider less horse accompanied Taylor’s body down Ohio Highway 4 for funeral services at Fairfield High School gym. Over 1500 people were in attendance of the funeral service at the school where the young Marine graduated in 2003, and played football and ran track. Pastor Dave Workman of the Vineyard Community Church presided. He gave a sterling tribute to this fallen hero that gave his life to his country. The pastor praised Taylor for his work with the church’s youth group, and his volunteer work with a multiple-disabilities class while in high school.
At Arlington on May 20th, the seven pall bearers dressed resplendent in the Marine dress blues uniform marched with the flag draped casket with military precision. When they reached the gravesite they abruptly raised the casket above their shoulders for 30 long seconds, giving the fallen Marine salute, and then rested the casket on its conveyor belt support over the grave. The military chaplain in civilian clothes gave the last rites, and presented the family Taylor’s posthumously awarded Purple Heart Medal.
All seven Marines removed the American Flag from the casket. They raised the stars and stripes above the casket pulling the flag rigid like a drum. Then they tightly folded the flag step by step in a triangle with the ends tucked firmly in place. One of the Marines did an about face and presented the flag to the Marine Sergeant standing alone to the rear of the casket, and saluted the flag.. The Marine in charge carrying the flag proceeded to the seat of the father John Prazynski. The Marine knelt down and bowed his head and presented the flag to the grieving father as the final gesture of sympathy and appreciation by the United States Marine Corps for the brave service of this young Marine.
Seven Marines standing away from the proceedings fired their rifles in three volleys representing a 21 gun salute, and you could hear muffled screams of sorrow from the youth in attendance as a lone bugler in Marine dress blues played the sad haunting sound of “Taps’ that echoed across the green rolling plains of Arlington on to the endless stream of white stones in this section called” Iraqi Freedom”. This was the Marines way of sending a signal to God to open the gates of Heaven for the arrival of [Corporal] Prazynski who gave his life for his country and our fight against terror throughout the world.
You might have seen the announcement or even read the citation that will be presented with the Medal to Sergeant White. But you should go here to read about Kyle White's actions from someone who witnessed his uncommon valor under extreme conditions over at From Cow Pastures to Kosovo. Five paratroopers and one Marine lost their lives that day...it's certain that that count would be higher if it had not been for the actions of the platoon RTO.
"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 20th 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 like I am today.
Please take a minute to pray for their families today and remember that their hard work and sacrifices led to a flourishing Kurdish enclave - a place they would be very, very proud of today. I don't think in our wildest dreams we ever thought that would have been possible.