Saturday, December 27, 2008

Troops Spend Christmas Eve Donating Supplies to Afghan Village School

While people around the world made their final Christmas preparations, members of the Nangarhar Provincial Reconstruction Team, and Chaparhar Police Mentor Team, visited a school in the Terelay Village, of the Chaparhar district, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, Dec. 24, 2008, to distribute clothes and school supplies.

The teams first met with several elders from the village allowing the elders to discuss the current conditions in Terelay, the surrounding villages and the district.

"One of the PRT's goals is to bolster education and healthcare within the Nangarhar province," said Army Maj. Gary Knoer, Nangarhar PRT, Civil Affairs team leader. "Our visit today helped us assess the village, school and the needs of the students. By building a school facility that can accommodate the students indoors instead of their current outdoor classrooms, children will be able to attend regardless of weather."

Knoer said improving the conditions in which Afghan children receive a quality education is vital to the long-term stability of the area.

"The education of this generation is very important for the future of the country," he said. "The elders in every village I have visited have expressed this need."

If the project is approved for funding, the PRT hopes to build more classroom facilities and a security wall for the existing school.

Following the meeting, the teams donated several boxes of school supplies, clothes and radios to the elders and school's administrators. The troops also visited a few of the outdoor classes in session to personally hand out some of the supplies.

"These missions have a profound impact on the overall operation here," Knoer said. "The people here are like parents anywhere in the world; they have one priority and that is the needs of their children. When we show them that we care for their children, the same as we would our own, it means more to them than any other thing we could give them."

Knoer said that conducting this mission during the holiday season made it that much more special for the teams.

"There is an extra special feeling doing things this time of year, because it's the time of year we are supposed to be giving," said Knoer, who spent last Christmas serving in Iraq. "I am sure that all of us here would rather be home with our families on Christmas. However, when we look back at our lives in 20-30 years, this will probably be the Christmas that will come to mind before all others."

The Nangarhar Provincial Reconstruction Team is responsible for assisting the provincial, district and local governments in Nangarhar Province with their governance, security and reconstruction efforts. The team is currently working on approximately 60 projects worth more than $75.3 million in the province.

(Author Air Force Capt. Dustin Hart serves with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division PAO, Nangarhar PRT)
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Monday, December 22, 2008

Soldier's Memory Lives on With Well That Benefits Hundreds of Children and Families in Afghan Village

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Forrest Ewens -- a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army -- had a knack for putting a smile on a child's face in Afghanistan, often sneaking treats to them.

"Forrest had a real heart for the children in Afghanistan," Ewens' mother, Carol, said. "When he wrote home, he would write more about the help he was able to provide to the local people rather than his military adventures."

Forrest was 25 when he was killed in the line of duty in 2006. But his mission to help the Afghan people lives on in the form of a well that brings clean water to 500 families in the remote Samady Village in Badakhshan Province in northeast Afghanistan.

Thanks to Forrest's parents, Michael and Carol Ewens of Gig Harbor, Wash., the well means the community now has clean drinking water and sanitation facilities.

Before the well was built in the village, children -- especially girls -- had to walk to nearby villages to get water. They often waited several hours in long lines to take home only a few gallons of water. If water was not available, children and their families would rely on river water, only to become ill from water-borne diseases.

The Ewens, who have been active contributors to Christian Children's Fund (CCF) since 1992, wanted to provide funding for a well near the area where Forrest was killed.

"Being a soldier is a hard occupation and Forrest walked that path with honor," Michael Ewens said. "He got to build relationships with the locals, and his captain said when elders would come to the base Forrest was one of three soldiers they asked for by name."

The well was completed in September with Forrest's name stenciled on it.

Forrest's three brothers are also in the Army -- Oaken, 27, Elisha, 25, and Stephen 23. Oaken, Forrest's twin, was deployed this month to serve in Afghanistan and Elisha will deploy there in January.

"We pray for peace to finally come to these people (in Afghanistan)," said Carol Ewens. "We hope to have the privilege of visiting there one day."

CCF has worked in northern Afghanistan since 2001 under the name of ChildFund Afghanistan. ChildFund Afghanistan currently assists approximately 533,000 children and family members through community development improvements including renovation and construction of schools; teacher and health worker training; and construction of health posts. ChildFund Afghanistan facilitates programs to create a protective environment for children and families through community-based approaches.

"Afghanistan is still considered one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a child," said Anne Edgerton, CCF's director of Child Protection/Emergency Response.

"However, ChildFund Afghanistan is well-positioned to address widespread threats to children's well-being and in a way that strengthens communities and helps the Afghan government transition to long-term development."

The Badakhshan Province is one of the poorest and most remote areas of Afghanistan. More than 80 percent of the children do not have access to clean water, something that is changing with the construction of wells.

"We wanted to pursue Forrest's mission of stability for the Afghan people," Michael Ewens said of their donation.

"It is especially encouraging to us to see that our decision to be involved in CCF long ago has been so worthwhile," Carol Ewens said.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hooters of Savannah and Operation Homefront Georgia Hosts Christmas Party for the Troops

/PRNewswire/ -- On December 25, Hooters of Savannah is partnering with Operation Homefront Georgia to host an exclusive Christmas party for the service personnel returning home to Ft. Stewart after being deployed for 15 months in Iraq. Hooters of Savannah is expecting about 200 soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division to enjoy free food and presents from the Hooters Girls. Hooters of Savannah is located at 4 Gateway Blvd.

"Many of these young soldiers have no family in the area and are not permitted to travel any distance from the base for 30 days, so Operation Homefront Georgia asked Hooters to help put something together for these single soldiers," stated Leenie Ruben, Development Director for Operation Homefront Georgia. "They will be the honored guests of the Savannah Hooters on Christmas Day."

From 1:00 - 4:00 PM the Savannah Hooters will be open only to the soldiers during the private party. Homefront Georgia Volunteers along with HOPE (Animal-Assisted Crisis Response) dogs and handlers will be on hand to assist the Hooters Girls, all of whom volunteered to work on their holiday.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Patriotic Light Display in Fayette County

A special thank you to all of our men and women who proudly serve our country.

Editor's Note:

This light display is part of the Gaddy gift to Fayette County, Georgia, each year. For a number of years, the Gaddy family gears up in October to decorate their yard with lights galore. Tis their gift to the county. Their light show is much loved by young and old alike. It's a great way to get into the spirit of the holidays.

Thank you.

Photo by Fayette Front Page Staff
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Monday, December 15, 2008

Infantry Museum Offers Pavers as Unique Holiday Gifts

(ARA) - The holiday season brings with it one of the toughest decisions of the year: What to buy loved ones for Christmas. But this year, consider precious stones -- though not the ones you think.

The new National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center, scheduled to open March 2009 in Columbus, Ga., will honor the contributions of infantrymen and those who fight alongside them. Among the many magnificent attractions of this facility will be Heritage Walk, paved with stones honoring those living and dead who have made the ultimate sacrifice: infantrymen and their loved ones.

In the Footsteps of Heroes is a program developed by the National Infantry Foundation to give permanent recognition to heroes from all walks of life. The commemorative pavers, engraved with personal messages of gratitude, will line a 1,000-foot long, 20-foot wide walkway connecting the new museum and the parade field in Patriot Park. A kiosk will allow visitors to look up the exact location of their paver.

The National Infantry Foundation is selling the 4 inch by 8 inch granite pavers to support the mission of the National Infantry Museum and the Foundation. Each paver holds three lines of text; each line has room for 20 characters. The $250 cost is tax deductible and includes one free 2 inch by 4 inch replica paver that purchasers or honorees can keep on a desktop. Orders can be placed online or with a downloadable order form at and brochures are available for mailing. Proceeds will be used to complete construction of the museum.

Pavers that have been purchased by Dec. 18, 2008, will be placed along Heritage Walk in time for the National Infantry Museum's grand opening on March 20, 2009.

"In the Footsteps of Heroes will honor everyone --active duty soldiers and retired veterans; Infantry, Armor, Airborne, Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard -- everyone who has fought for and protected our beloved nation," says Major General Jerry A. White of the National Infantry Museum. "This project will also pay tribute to the wives, parents and children who have supported, loved and sometimes lost their loved ones in the fight for democracy; they, too, have made brave sacrifices for the freedoms we hold dear."

The 200-acre new National Infantry Museum site is adjacent to historic Fort Benning, known as the "Home of the Infantry." The famed United States Army Infantry School was established at Fort Benning and, through the years, this institution emerged as the most influential infantry center in the modern world. The museum's galleries will be chock full of engaging exhibits with themes highlighting infantry experiences in military training, Medal of Honor recipients, the Officer Candidate School training experience, the contributions of Rangers and more. In addition, the museum's 300-seat IMAX Theater will bring giant screen movies to the Columbus region for the first time.

Supporters of the National Infantry Museum include corporations such as Chrysler, AT&T, Synovus, Aflac, Burger King, Coca-Cola, Colt and Samsung as well as foundations, government grants and over 900 individuals who have made donations or contributed to the commemorative paver program. More information about the National Infantry Museum and In the Footsteps of Heroes is available at

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dave Niebes Participates in The Wreaths Across America Program

The Wreaths Across America program is sponsored annually by the Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine involving thousands of Christmas wreaths that are donated for placement at Arlington National Cemetery and other military cemeteries across America.

Dave Niebes represented Fayette County (Georgia) Post 105 of The American Legion at Arlington National Cemetery again this year.

He is shown at the grave of Seaman First Class William E. Harris, a World War I Navy veteran from Georgia

During a special ceremony, Christmas wreaths were also placed at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Note: Wreaths Across America was featured on Fox News Sunday 12/14/08. During the program the owner of the Worcester Wreath Company stated he would like to expand the program to include the placement of wreaths on veterans graves across the country.

This video tells more about the current project. We invite you to find out more and join in the effort:

Each year Worcester Wreath Company donates 5000 wreaths to be placed on the graves at Arlington National Cemetery to honor our Veterans during the holidays. This video was put together by the folks at Worcester Wreath, and President Morrill Worcester - to show why they do it. With images of Arlington, family and friends - this is one visual way of saying thank you - to those who serve, to those we've lost, and to those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms of this Country.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Coalition to Salute America's Heroes(TM) Hosts Record Turnout of Wounded Veterans, Families for 2008 'Road to Recovery Conference & Tribute'

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- This week, the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes, a not-for-profit dedicated to helping severely wounded veterans of the War on Terror, brought more than 150 severely wounded veterans, their families and their caregivers to the 5th Annual Road to Recovery Conference & Tribute, Sunday Dec. 7 through Thursday, Dec. 11 at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, FL.

The all-expense-paid event featured medical and career counseling, an adaptive sports clinic, motivational speakers, musical entertainment, and an opportunity to share inspirational success stories and form a lasting network of support.

"Tens of thousands of American troops have returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan severely wounded, struggling to heal from physical and mental wounds, pay for medical and other bills, and re-enter civilian life," said Dan Vargas, director of the CSAH Family Support Network.

Donny Daughenbaugh, CSAH National Spokesman and Grassroots Events Director, described every Road to Recovery attendee as a "true American hero."

"It's great to see my fellow wounded veterans and their families come together, share experiences and learn that there is a community of support that they can rely on to help them on their road to recovery," he said.

Highlights of the Road to Recovery Conference included:

Adaptive Sports Clinic - The clinic, which included adaptive skiing, snowboarding, rock climbing, and mountain biking, was adapted for use by amputees, the blind, and those with traumatic brain injury, not only served as a form of physical, but also psychological therapy.

Career Fair - Helping attendees transition from a military to a civilian lifestyle, the conference featured a job fair, resume writing and interviewing skills classes, and an employment panel, which led to successful job placements for veterans.

Entertainment - Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band, the Vandel-Snook Band, and artist Dan Dunn wowed the crowd, while up-and-coming country music star, wounded veteran and conference attendee Stephen Cochran surprised his fellow veterans and their families with a performance at the closing ceremony. Veterans were also given tickets to Walt Disney World, where they were able to share much needed quality time with their families.

Counseling Sessions - CSAH and a team of counselors from the Department of Veterans Affairs provided counseling sessions for the veterans, their spouses, caregivers and children to enable interactive conversation and facilitate the creation of a lasting support network to aid in the recovery process.

"There's nothing the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes won't do for a disabled vet," said Ssgt. Matthew Keil, a disabled Army veteran who attended the conference with his wife Tracy. "This is the only place where we have been able to meet others who understand what we're going through and find the right kind of support that we need. I'm with 150 families here that understand me and get it."

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

B 98.5 Wants Help Saying Merry Christmas to Soldiers

Steve and Vikki want to make sure none of our servicemen and women are forgotten around the holidays. You’ll find a list of names below of Georgia Soldiers at a camp in Iraq. We’re asking our great B 98.5 FM listeners to buy a holiday card, pick a solider from the list below, and write a personal message of "hope" to them. Then, send the card to us, and we will forward all of them at once.

1.Pick a soldier's name below.
2.Buy or make a holiday card.
3.Write message of hope inside the card.
4.Address the card with soldier's name first, then under that write:
Operation Ho Ho Hope
C/O Steve and Vikki Show
1601. W. Peachtree Street
Atlanta, Ga 30309 5.

Put a stamp on it and send it to us! If your class wants to help as well, the class with the most letters will win a Chic-Fil-A breakfast at their school! Let's get everyone involved in spreading hope to our Soldiers! All cards must be delivered to B98.5FM by 11:59am, Tuesday, December 2nd!
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Veterans Get Free Health Exams at Redskins-Sponsored Clinic

Scores of military veterans from across the National Capital Region visited FedEx Field on Nov. 8th, but not to watch the National Football League's Washington Redskins play.

Instead, while the players were taking a week off, veterans of all ages, some with their families, entered the Redskins' burgundy-hued locker room, where they received free health exams, including tests for cholesterol level, blood pressure, body fat percentage and other preventive-care checkups.

The event also featured children's games, candy, and appearances by the team's "Hoggettes" mascots and cheerleaders.

The Redskins conducted the clinic with the help of some health care firms and veterans' groups, said Stephanie R. Baldwin, the team's client services manager.

"Partnering together is a perfect way to get people out here and get them checked out," Baldwin said. "The military veterans do so much for our country. ... It's very important to recognize them."

Army veteran Nicol D. Martin, who was a finance sergeant when she left the Army in 2001 after six years of service, said the Redskins' health clinic was a great idea, as she waited her turn to get her body fat percentage checked via computer. Martin "did well" on her test, according to examiner Ammanuel Haile-Leal.

The Redskins should be saluted for holding a health clinic "for the veterans who've served the country," Martin said.

"For one, you get to see the Redskins' locker room and then, too, you get to have the health screenings," said Martin, a 38-year-old Woodbridge, Va., resident who now works at the Pentagon.

After receiving a cholesterol-level test, retired Navy Cmdr. Robert C. Douglass, 54, and his wife, Sheila, surveyed the bustling locker room. The Douglass' 11-year-old son, Jeremy, was among several other children at an X-Box 360 computer game set just a short distance away.

The Redskins and the other sponsors are to be commended for holding the health clinic, the Navy retiree and Chantilly, Va., resident said.

"I enjoy the fact that people are concerned about veterans' health," Douglass said, adding that the multifaceted event "made it exciting for the family as a whole."

World War II Army veteran and Alexandria, Va., resident Peter P. Evanko, 84, hailed the Redskins as he finished his prostate-specific antigen level screening, a blood test that helps to assess the health of the prostate gland.

"This is a very good thing, not only for a veteran, but I think all people should be taking care of themselves," said Evanko, left the Army at the end of the war with a sergeant's rank after serving in the European theater.

The health clinic "is a great thing for those of us who were in the service, and I thank everybody who sponsored it," Evanko said.

Pharmaceutical, biological and health care company GlaxoSmithKline was one of the co-sponsors of the Redskins-hosted veterans' health clinic, said Howard K. Thomas, a senior federal program manager with the firm.

"We're an active supporter of veterans, and we're very honored to be able to in some small way give back to the people who've so bravely served our country," Thomas said. "They're the ones who protect us."

The war against terrorism has caused Americans to reflect on military veterans' contributions throughout the years and of the efforts and sacrifices of present-day servicemembers, said Bill Bradshaw, 64, a Vietnam veteran, Army retiree and member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

"They recognize the importance of the job that we do of taking care of America," Bradshaw said.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

VA Secretary: America Keeps Lincoln's Promise to Veterans

As he prepares to observe his first Veterans Day as Veterans Affairs secretary, Dr. James B. Peake said he believes the United States is living up to Abraham Lincoln's pledge to care for "him who has borne the battle, and his widow and his orphan."

Those words from Lincoln's second inaugural address are inscribed at the entrance to the Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters here. They serve as a mantra for a VA workforce that provides healthcare to more than 7.5 million veterans and benefits to more than 3.5 million veterans.

Peake said the VA is taking advantage of technology and medical breakthroughs in ways Lincoln would never have dreamed possible . "I think he would be pretty proud," Peake told American Forces Press Service. "He'd say, 'You're fulfilling the promise."

A retired Army lieutenant general, Peake understands the significance of that promise in a way most Americans couldn't. He was wounded twice in battle as an infantry officer during the Vietnam War. His acceptance letter to Cornell University Medical College arrived as he was in the hospital recovering from his wounds.

Following the footsteps laid by his parents -- his father, a medical services officer and his mother -- an Army nurse, Peake attended medical school on an Army scholarship, returned to the Army for his medical internships and residencies and built his career in Army medicine. Ultimately, Peake became the 40th Army surgeon general.

Now Veterans Affairs secretary, Peake said he's gratified by continued support that ensures the VA can continue providing first-class care and benefits for veterans, including those returning from combat.

"Since 2001, the president and Congress have provided the Department of Veterans Affairs with a 98 percent increase in funding, and with the guidance and support to enable VA to honor America's debt to the men and women whose patriotic service and sacrifice have kept our nation free and prosperous," Peake said in his Veterans Day message. Health-care funding alone doubled during the past seven years, he said.

This funding has enabled the VA to reach out to more veterans and provide better, more effective services, he said, listing just a few of many new initiatives. VA hired more new mental-health professionals and expanded its community-based outreach. It opened more Vet Centers and laid plans for more to come. It began putting a fleet of motor coaches into service to take counseling services closer to the veterans who need it.

"We are trying to appropriately leverage technology and the tools to provide access to veterans, no matter where they are," Peake said. "That way, it is not your address that decides whether or not you get your benefits."

Meanwhile, in an unprecedented move authorized by the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2008 signed into law last month, the VA began offering VA-guaranteed home loans to veterans with more expensive and risky subprime mortgages.

Much of the VA's focus has been on care for the 850,000 newest veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The VA hired transition patient advocates to help severely wounded troops and their families work their way through the transition process and federal recovery coordinators to ensure life-long medical and rehabilitative care services and other benefits for families. More claims processors are on boar d to reduce the backlog in processing disability claims.

Peake called these examples an indication that the VA is on the right track in providing care for what we called "the best educated, best trained, best selected military we have ever had coming back, reentering become the next greatest generation."

He praised the commitment of his staff – 31 percent of them veterans themselves – and called them the spirit that makes every day Veterans Day at the VA. "You see that celebrated when you go to our VA," he said. There's a special level of dedication and commitment here."

Tomorrow, as he attends observances at Arlington National Cemetery and the Vietnam Memorial, then sits down to dinner with patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Peake said he'll feel gratified to see the United States observe the commemoration President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed as Armistice Day in 1919.

He urged all Americans to recognize Veterans Day, either at the 33 major national observances taking place across the country, or in simpler, more private ways that honor veterans and their service. "Participation in Veterans Day can be as simple as putting out the porch flag or reminding youngsters of the story of a relative who served in the military," he said.

Veterans Day is as important today as ever, perhaps even more so, Peake said. With just 1 percent of the U.S. population serving in uniform to protect liberties for the other 99 percent, Veterans Day offers a time to reflect and remember, he said.

"It's important for everybody to realize the debt that we owe those who serve this nation," Peake said. "Without the service of our veterans, we wouldn't have the freedoms we enjoy today...Their bravery, their resourcefulness and their patriotism mark them as our nation's finest citizens."
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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Bald Eagles Named in Honor of Fallen Military Heroes

(BUSINESS WIRE)--As America prepares to remember its military servicemen and women on Veteran’s Day, the American Eagle Foundation (AEF) held a special ceremony at its national eagle center to honor eight fallen soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq. In memory of these heroes, each of their families was invited to name a breeding bald eagle cared for by the conservation group (

“The bald eagle is the living symbol of the freedoms these brave men gave their lives to protect,” said AEF Founder and President Al Cecere. “To honor them and their families is truly a privilege for our staff, especially since our nation will soon observe Veteran’s Day.”

During the event on Saturday, the AEF awarded special certificates and medals to each of the participating families. Also, signs bearing the names of the eight soldiers and the eagles named by their families were placed near the entrance of the bird housing/breeding enclosures as a permanent tribute.

The AEF recognized the following East Tennessee soldiers: Army National Guard Sgt. Alfred B. Siler (Duff, TN), Army National Guard Sgt. Joseph D. Hunt (Sweetwater, TN), National Guard Sgt. Paul W. Thomason III (Talbot, TN), Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Morris (Clinton,TN), National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Kennedy (Oak Ridge, TN), Army Sgt. 1st Class James D Connell (Lake City, TN), Marine Lance Cpl. William C. Koprince Jr. (Lenoir City, TN), and Marine Cpl. Rusty L. Washam (Huntsville, TN).

The eagle names selected by the families of the soldiers were: “Volunteer” (Joseph Hunt), “Hero” (Stephen Kennedy), “Honor” (William Koprince Jr.), “Brave Heart” (James Connell), “Faithful” (Rusty Washam), “Peace” (Alfred Siler), “Faithful Spirit” (Daniel Morris), and “Freedom” (Paul Thomason).

The families were also treated to a free-flight demonstration by and photo with the AEF’s trained celebrity bald eagle “Challenger” (

The captive non-releasable breeding eagles that were named are housed at the AEF’s Dollywood-based headquarters in Pigeon Forge. The birds were given to the non-profit organization in June 2007 by the San Francisco Zoo.

“Future eaglets hatched by these majestic breeding eagles will be named and released into the wild in honor of other fallen soldiers,” said Cecere.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Coalition Has Entered 'Endgame' in Iraq, Gates Says

Amid an 80-percent drop in violence and with further withdrawals of U.S. forces in sight, the coalition in Iraq has reached the "endgame," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.

"I believe we have now entered that endgame – and our decisions today and in the months ahead will be critical to regional stability and our national security interests for years to come," he told the Senate Armed Service Committee during a hearing on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Highlighting success in Iraq are reductions in U.S. casualties and overall violence, and the handover of Anbar province this month to Iraqi authority. Anbar, the 11th of 18 provinces now under Iraqi control, once was a hotbed of the Sunni insurgency and the scene of some of the war's most contentious fighting.

In testimony the secretary submitted to lawmakers, he cited other measures of progress, including "incremental but significant" progress by the Iraqi parliament and -- with the exception of Iran -- an increased willingness on the part of Iraq's neighboring countries to engage with Baghdad and help to stabilize the country.

But Gates tempered his analysis, saying serious challenges remain, including the failure of Iraq's parliament to pass an election law, which likely will delay a planned election until December and could increase the possibility of politically motivated violence.

"Our military commanders do not yet believe our gains are necessarily enduring, and they believe that there are still many challenges and the potential for reversals in the future," he said.

The secretary characterized the situation in Iraq as fragile, but said current conditions mark vast improvements since early 2007, when Gates became Pentagon chief.

"When I entered office, the main concern was to halt and reverse the spiraling violence in order to prevent a strategic calamity for the United States and allow the Iraqis to make progress on the political, economic and security fronts," he said. "Although we all have criticisms of the Iraqi government, there can be no doubt that the situation is much different – and far better – than it was in early 2007."

The secretary credited Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the former commander in Iraq who oversaw a 33,000-troop surge and the ensuing drop in violence there, with a "brilliant performance" during his nearly 20-month tenure. Petraeus last week relinquished command of Multinational Force Iraq to Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and will take charge of U.S. Central Command in October.

Further, Gates called the relationship between Petraeus and U.S. Ambasador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker a superb model of military-civilian partnership.

"Beyond their own brilliant individual performances, the Petraeus-Crocker team ... [is] one that should be studied and emulated for years to come," the secretary said.

Earlier this month, Gates accepted recommendations on the way forward in Iraq from Petraeus and from Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, Army Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, acting CentCom commander, and the service chiefs.

"Although each viewed the challenges from a different perspective, weighing different factors, all once again arrived at similar recommendations," Gates said.

After receiving recommendations from the Defense Department, President Bush this month announced that some 8,000 U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by February without being replaced. This announcement comes after the drawdown of the five Army brigade combat teams, two Marine battalions and the Marine expeditionary unit that were sent to Iraq as part of the surge.

Meanwhile, withdrawal of 3,400 noncombat forces – including aviation personnel, explosive ordnance teams, combat and construction engineers, military police, and logistics support teams – began this month, will continue through the fall and will be completed in January, Gates said. In addition, a Marine battalion stationed in Anbar will return in November, and another Army brigade combat team will return by early February.

"The bottom-line point is that the drawdowns associated with the president's announcements do not wait until January or February, but in fact have begun," Gates said, calling the planned reductions an "acceptable risk today" that preserves a broad range of options for the next president. He added that the withdrawals "also provide for unforeseen circumstances in the future."

Gates said the continuing drawdowns are possible because of the success in reducing violence and building Iraqi security capacity. "Even with fewer U.S. troops in Iraq, the positive trends of the last year have held – and in some cases steadily continued in the right direction," he said.

The secretary urged that American leaders implement "cautious and flexible" strategies, and to expect to be involved in Iraq for years to come, albeit in changing and increasingly limited ways.

"As we proceed deeper into the endgame, I would urge our nation's leaders to implement strategies that, while steadily reducing our presence in Iraq, are cautious and flexible and take into account the advice of our senior commanders and military leaders," he said.
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Face of Defense: Soldier Leads by Being Part of Team

During a World War II battle in Holtzwihr, France, a wounded U.S. soldier climbed into a burning tank, took a spot behind a .50-caliber machine gun and fired until the enemy was vanquished.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Ernest Oberst watches the soldiers in his platoon conduct vehicle inspections northwest of Baghdad. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. J.B. Jaso III, Multinational Division Baghdad
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

At the age of 19, Audie Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor, and to this day, he inspires military leaders and soldiers – especially Army Sgt. 1st Class Ernest Oberst.

"As a kid, I used to watch the Audie Murphy biography 'To Hell and Back' on TV, and I wanted to be a soldier. He was my hero," Oberst said.

Oberst joined the Army three months after graduating from high school in Gladstone, Mich.

Now a platoon sergeant in Multinational Division Baghdad with 1st Platoon, Company B, 52nd Infantry Regiment, attached to the 25th Infantry Division's 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Oberst is responsible for the 33 soldiers in his platoon. He takes care of administrative paperwork, leads patrols, makes sure each soldier has the right equipment and takes care of any issues that may arise, whether personal or work related.

"I do anything a mom or dad does," he said jokingly.

Oberst has served in the Army for 14 years, and said he believes the best way to lead his soldiers is by setting an example for them and sharing the load.

"You can't just supervise; you have to be a part of the team," he said. "If my soldiers are out digging for caches, you won't find me sitting in the truck. I'm an able body that can work, and I'll be out there digging with them."

His soldiers describe him as a well-rounded leader who maintains discipline and has the ability of doing the right thing at the right time, every time.

"No matter what the mission is, Oberst is the first one on the ground and the last one back in the vehicle. That's just his style," Army Cpl. Zachary Manuel said. Sgt. Lucas Collins said Oberst will give any soldier a chance to succeed.

"When I came into this unit, I had two blown-out knees," said Collins, a team leader. "In the infantry, you are looked at as done. I was going to be chaptered out, but he gave me the chance to get better."

Three years later, Collins is awaiting promotion to staff sergeant and said a great amount of what he's learned is attributable to Oberst.

"He has shown me that taking care of my soldiers is No. 1," he said. "And if something needs to be done, make sure it gets done." Oberst not only makes sure the job gets done, but also ensures the job gets done right the first time, Collins added.

"He requires the best out of his men and expects nothing less," Manuel said. "For that reason, he gets the best."

Author Army Pfc. Lyndsey Dransfield serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 25th Infantry Division's 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.
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