Monday, July 31, 2006

254

Soldier's fast rise through the ranks was ended by a sniper's bullet
Staff sergeant mourned in Baumholder ceremony

By Terry Boyd, Stars and Stripes

BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Being a career soldier meant Staff Sgt. Chris Swanson had made the eight-man squad he led his family.

And because they were his family, Swanson would do anything for those eight men, including give his life for them, Staff Sgt. Joshua Tucker told mourners gathered Friday for Swanson’s memorial.

Swanson, of Company B, 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, died July 22, shot by a sniper while leading that squad during a combat patrol in Ramadi.

It was the third Iraq tour for Swanson, a 25-year-old native of Rose Haven, Md.

He wasn’t just an able soldier, said those who saluted him Friday at H.D. Smith Barracks. It was hard to see any limits on Chris Swanson’s Army career.

In the 82nd Airborne before he came to the 1st Armored Division, it took him only 18 months to rise from specialist to E-6. He was chosen last year to lead a squad in a live-fire demonstration at Grafenwöhr Training Area for Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey, said Capt. Marvin King III, 2-6 battalion rear-detachment commander.

His friend knew if he could make E-7 and go to master gunner school, “he was well on his way,” Tucker said. But Swanson knew what he was getting into.

“When we parted two months ago, one going one way, one going another, I embraced him like a brother,” Tucker said during the memorial. “He looked at me and said, ‘I got it!’ We both understood.”

As career soldiers, both understood what Swanson was in for, going to Ramadi, Tucker said in an interview. He was going to combat. “I knew what he was getting into. He knew it too.” Swanson already had earned the Purple Heart. It took 25 stitches to sew up a shrapnel wound from an improvised bomb two weeks ago, according to media reports.

But if ever there was a soldier prepared for combat, it was Swanson. Swanson was from a family of public servants who served in the police, military and the FBI. For the time they’d known each other, Tucker watched Swanson “evolve from a good friend into a great soldier,” he said. Ambitious, aggressive, determined, energetic and most of all competent were the adjectives those who knew him used.

Swanson was also incredibly competitive, on duty and off, King and Tucker said.

If anyone said his squad or even his platoon were better, “he’d stop you on the spot and challenge you to a competition,” King said. “He had no worries. He knew his men were the best.”

Swanson was adept at forming close, long-lasting friendships, friendships that extended to locals. He still can visualize Swanson off duty, relaxing in the nearby old Roman city of Trier, surrounded by his German friends, Tucker said.

“I will never be able to express in words the impact he had on my life, or on the soldiers he leaves in the wake of his legacy,” he said.

Swanson is survived by his father and mother, Gary and Kelly Swanson, and a brother, Kenny.

Swanson was one of three 1st AD soldier to die this week. Capt. Jason M. West, 28, of Pittsburgh, Pa., died July 24 in Ramadi, when insurgents attacked his unit with small arms fire. West was assigned to the Friedberg-based 1st Brigade.

Another 1st Brigade soldier died the same day in a separate attack, but neither the Department of Defense nor the division has yet released his name.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

250

This should be required reading for all Americans!

Navy Captain Dan Ouimette's speech to the Pensacola Civitan Club on February 19th, 2003:

America WAKE UP!


That's what we think we heard on the 11th of September 2001 and maybe it
was, but I think it should have been "Get Out of Bed!" In fact, I think
the alarm clock has been buzzing since 1979 and we have continued to hit
the snooze button and roll over for a few more minutes of peaceful sleep
since then.

It was a cool fall day in November 1979 in a country going through a
religious and political upheaval when a group of Iranian students
attacked and seized the American Embassy in Tehran. This seizure was an
outright attack on American soil; it was an attack that held the world's
most powerful country hostage and paralyzed a Presidency. The attack on
this sovereign US embassy set the stage for the events to follow for the
next 23 years.

America was still reeling from the aftermath of the Viet Nam experience
and had a serious threat from the Soviet Union when then, President
Carter, had to do something. He chose to conduct a clandestine raid in
the desert. The ill-fated mission ended in ruin, but stood as a symbol
of America's inability to deal with terrorism. America's military had
been decimated and downsized / right sized since the end of the Viet Nam
war. A poorly trained, poorly equipped and poorly organized military was
called on to execute a complex mission that was doomed from the start.

Shortly after the Tehran experience, Americans began to be kidnapped and
killed throughout the Middle East. America could do little to protect
her citizens living and working abroad. The attacks against US soil
continued. In April of 1983 a large vehicle packed with high explosives
was driven into the US Embassy compound in Beirut. When it explodes, it
kills 63 people. The alarm went off again and America hit the Snooze
Button once more. Then just six short months later a large truck heavily
laden down with over 2500 pounds of TNT smashed through the main gate of
the US Marine Corps headquarters in Beirut. 241 US servicemen are
killed. America mourns her dead and hit the Snooze Button once more.
Two months later in December 1983, another truck loaded with explosives
is driven into the US Embassy in Kuwait, and America continues her
slumber. The following year, in September 1984, another van was driven
into the gates of the US Embassy in Beirut and America slept.

Soon the terrorism spreads to Europe. In April 1985 a bomb explodes in a
restaurant frequented by US soldiers in Madrid. Then in August a
Volkswagen loaded with explosives is driven into the main gate of the US
Air Force Base at Rhein-Main, 22 are killed and the Snooze Alarm is
buzzing louder and louder as US soil is continually attacked. Fifty-nine
days later a cruise ship, the Achille Lauro is hijacked and we watched as
an American in a wheelchair is singled out of the passenger list and
executed. The terrorists then shift their tactics to bombing civilian
airliners when they bomb TWA Flight 840 in April of 1986 that killed 4
and the most tragic bombing, Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland
in 1988, killing 259. America wants to treat these terrorist acts as
crimes; in fact we are still trying to bring these people to trial.
These are acts of war...the Wake Up alarm is louder and louder.

The terrorists decide to bring the fight to America. In January 1993,
two CIA agents are shot and killed as they enter CIA headquarters in
Langley, Virginia. The following month, February 1993, a group of
terrorists are arrested after a rented van packed with explosives is
driven into the underground parking garage of the World Trade Center in
New York City. Six people are killed and over 1000 are injured. Still
this is a crime and not an act of war? The Snooze alarm is depressed
again.

Then in November 1995 a car bomb explodes at a US military complex in
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia killing seven service men and women. A few months
later in June of 1996, another truck bomb explodes only 35 yards from the
US military compound in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. It destroys the Khobar
Towers, a US Air Force barracks, killing 19 and injuring over 500.

The terrorists are getting braver and smarter as they see that America
does not respond decisively. They move to coordinate their attacks in a
simultaneous attack on two US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. These
attacks were planned with precision, they kill 224. America responds
with cruise missile attacks and goes back to sleep.

The USS Cole was docked in the port of Aden, Yemen for refueling on 12
October 2000, when a small craft pulled along side the ship and exploded
killing 17 US Navy Sailors. Attacking a US War Ship is an act of war,
but we sent the FBI to investigate the crime and went back to sleep.

And of course you know the events of 11 September 2001. Most Americans
think this was the first attack against US soil or in America. How wrong
they are. America has been under a constant attack since 1979 and we
chose to hit the snooze alarm and roll over and go back to sleep.


In the news lately we have seen lots of finger pointing from every high
official in government over what they knew and what they didn't know.
But if you've read the papers and paid a little attention I think you can
see exactly what they knew. You don't have to be in the FBI or CIA or on
the National Security Council to see the pattern that has been developing
since 1979. The President is right on when he says we are engaged in a
war. I think we have been in a war for the past 23 years and it will
continue until we as a people decide enough is enough.

America has to "Get out of Bed" and act decisively now. America has
changed forever. We have to be ready to pay the price and make the
sacrifice to ensure our way of life continues. We cannot afford to hit
the Snooze Button again and roll over and go back to sleep. We have to
make the terrorists know that in the words of Admiral Yamamoto after the
attack on Pearl Harbor "that all they have done is to awaken a sleeping
giant.

Thank you very much.

Dan Ouimette
Pensacola Civitan
19 Feb 2003

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

249

Baumholder mourns another 2nd BCT soldier killed in Iraq

By Terry Boyd, Stars and Stripes


BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Spc. Manuel J. Holguin liked to show the world his tough side. And he was a tough soldier, says his friend, Staff Sgt. Nathan Holtgrewe, 26, from Phoenix.

But if you knew him — really knew him — you’d see the real Manuel Holguin, “who had a joyous heart,” said Cindy Salas.

Holtgrewe and Salas were among a group of Holguin’s friends quietly grieving after Holguin’s memorial at Good Samaritan Chapel in Baumholder. Holguin, 21, of Woodlake, Calif., died July 15 when his foot patrol was hit by a roadside bomb and small-arms fire in Baghdad. About 300 people packed the chapel Friday on a hot afternoon to pay tribute to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team’s 13th fallen soldier since March.

In her remarks, Maj. Jeanine White, 2nd Brigade rear detachment commander, noted the losses and their collective effect on this 1st Armored Division base.

“What makes us so unique, so special to each other, is the way we live,” White said. Soldiers in U.S. Army Europe communities “live for each other”: work and play together, from the spouse working in the shoppette to the captain volunteering as a T-ball coach.

“And today, we mourn all together, all of us, in our own way, but together,” White said. In such communities, people become close and know each other well.

Holguin was one of those soldiers “you don’t have to tell to keep working,” said Holtgrewe, his fellow soldier in Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment. “He kept working till the job was done.”

His friend did two Iraq deployments without going home on leave. He came from a military family, and his cousin, Ian Holguin, is a first lieutenant with the 3rd Infantry Division, Holtgrewe said.

Get past the tough soldier, and you found a California guy “through and through. He was lighthearted, always smiling,” Holtgrewe said. His friend loved cars and owned an old Chevy Impala and a Silverado truck. “But when he saw someone was going to take a picture, he put on that tough face. That’s not how he was. He was like a little kid.”

Salas said losing Holguin was especially tough for her family. Her husband, Sgt. Castulo Salas, and Holguin had served in Iraq together during the 1st AD’s first Iraq rotation. She knew a soldier so close to his parents that he was always talking to them by phone. She knew a soldier who, instead of ignoring her 6-year-old daughter, Yasarah, became a favorite friend.

“He was my daughter’s big brother,” said Cindy Salas. “That’s why it’s so heartbreaking.”

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

248



Baumholder community honors soldier killed in Iraq
California flags ordered flown at half-staff in honor of Pfc. Ryan J. Clark

By Terry Boyd, Stars and Stripes


BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Baumholder has suffered another tough loss, this one made that much tougher by how Pfc. Ryan J. Clark fought to live.

“We all wanted this 19-year-old to pull though,” said Capt. Catherine Carlson, rear detachment commander for the 40th Engineer (Combat) Battalion, 1st Armored Division, during Clark’s memorial Friday. “He fought to get home to family and friends,” Carlson said. The young soldier won that fight, his family and friends with him when he passed away, she said.

Clark died June 29 at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. He was wounded June 17 in Ramadi when a roadside bomb hit his Humvee during a patrol. Two other 40th Engineer soldiers — Sgt. Reyes Ramirez and Cpl. Robert L. Jones — died instantly in the attack.

Clark was badly hurt in the explosion, “but was up walking around,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Best, who was in the Humvee just behind Clark, Ramirez and Jones. “The medic and I went to get him, and we radioed to base. (Clark) was talking … all the way back. He was in shock, but he was talking,” said Best, platoon sergeant for Clark’s unit, 2nd Platoon, Company C.

Best and speakers at his memorial remembered Clark, a .50 cal gunner, as an ardent baseball fan.

“He loved baseball. They were right on the money about that,” Best said. When the 40th Engineer Battalion was in Kuwait from November 2005 to last May before deploying to Iraq, Clark was always ready for a pick-up softball game. “He was very athletic,” the platoon sergeant said. “He played shortstop.”

Clark was also devoted to his Jewish faith, Best said.

The Lancaster, Calif., native “loved his family, baseball and hanging out at Chili’s (Restaurant) at Ramstein,” said Sgt. John Goodrow, who gave one of the memorial tributes. Clark was funny and spontaneous, Goodrow said. When a new soldier came in to the squad, Clark went up and introduced himself: “He said, ‘I don’t know you, but I really like you because now I don’t have to carry the SAW anymore,’” Goodrow said, referring to the squad automatic weapon, much heavier than an M-4 carbine.

Ryan Clark is survived by his parents, Pennie and Keith J. Clark, and his brothers, Sean and Justin Clark.

Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered flags flown at half-staff Thursday at the capitol building in Sacramento, according to a state news release. “Today Maria and I join all Californians in expressing our sadness over the loss of (Pfc.) Clark,” Schwarzenegger was quoted as saying in the release. “We wish to extend our heartfelt sympathies to Ryan’s family. Every person willing to sacrifice their life for this country and our freedoms deserves our utmost respect and gratitude.”

Monday, July 24, 2006

247

Baumholder lost some more soldiers since June. My next few posts will be about them.




Baumholder-based soldier remembered as loyal, reassuring

By Terry Boyd, Stars and Stripes


BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Spc. Michael Potocki was a guy who would do anything for you — for his fellow soldiers and for his friends.

“He’d give you the shirt off his back,” said Pfc. Matthew Stern, his friend.

Potocki, 21, with the Baumholder-based 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Division, was shot June 26 during a firefight in Hit, northwest of Baghdad. He died later at a U.S. Army medical facility at al-Asad Air Base.

The Baltimore native was the first 1-6 soldier killed in this deployment, the unit’s second Iraq rotation since 2003.

Stern’s remembrances and news stories paint a portrait of an exceptional soldier and human being.

A Marine Corps News story about his Iraq memorial quoted Potocki’s team leader, Cpl. William McCoy, as calling Potocki “a helluva person,” a new breed of infantryman he’d like to show other countries as an example of an American.

Potocki made a big impression on him, Stern said.

“He was the first person I met when I first arrived in Baumholder,” the Houston native wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes. “He was there to show me around post, and there to make Germany feel as much like home as possible.”

Potocki was also there when he needed him most, Stern said in an interview. After Stern collapsed with a seizure last month in Iraq, “I don’t really remember anything except him. Just his hand on my shoulder. Just his voice reassuring me everything was going to be OK.

“He never left my side as they were loading me on the [helicopter] to be evacuated,” Stern said. “Loyalty is something that cannot be taught. Specialist Potocki was loyal.”

Potocki was on his second Iraq deployment, having spent five months in 2004 during the 1st Armored Division’s first rotation. He joined the Army in March of 2003, just before graduating from Patterson Senior High School that June.

He was awarded posthumously the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. He had already been awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge and other medals and citations. He is survived by his mother, Debra Potocki, his father, Joseph Munn, and his brother, Kevin Potocki.

Potocki loved his country and loved being a soldier in the U.S. Army, Stern wrote.

“He once said to me that birth and death are the two noblest expressions of bravery.”

Potocki’s memorial was held June 30 in Baumholder. The Department of Defense didn’t announce his death until that day.

Friday, July 21, 2006

244 - All about R&R!

I’m back again. Bryan left on Wednesday morning and I came right to work that afternoon. Here’s how the previous two weeks went though.
He arrived on the morning of the 3rd. I got up at around 3:30 that morning so I could get ready and look nice for him. I left for Frankfurt around 5am and was a nervous wreck the whole way there. I found what I thought would be where he arrived and waited not very patiently for him to walk through the door. Everytime the door opened and someone walked through, we (all of the people obviously waiting on soldiers from downrange) would all strain to try to see if we could spot our loved one back there somewhere. I wasn’t sure how I would react when I finally saw Bryan. I always thought I would cry, but the closer it got to seeing him, I decided that I would be too excited to cry. Well, I was wrong! Seeing him walk through that door after 8 months was a very surreal experience for both of us. I casually walked toward him, but when we hugged it all came out - eight months’ worth of emotions all in one moment. We couldn’t stop saying to one another how surreal it was to be together again.
Bryan’s main goal was to just spend time together and relax over the 2 weeks so that’s what we mostly did. We did want to celebrate the 4th in some way though. Bryan had never been to the lake near Baumholder so we decided to invite our friends and go there. Our friends from home, Josh and Erin, came down from K-town and brought a friend of theirs. Laura and Tally and Vanessa and Victoria also joined us. We had a nice afternoon and I’m really glad Bryan got to spend some time with one of his guy friends since there’s obviously nothing in Baumholder but our female friends!
That first week we ate at a few of the restaurants that Bryan had been missing.
On the 10th, we packed our bags and headed to the Bavaria region of Germany. There is a “military resort” in Garmisch called Edelweiss. They offer special packages for soldiers who are on their R&R leave or have just returned from a deployment. We paid $60 a day for our room, breakfast, and dinner. It was such a great deal and I’m so thankful that they do something so nice for the servicemembers.
On Tuesday we drove to the Neuschwanstein Castle and Linderhof Palace. I have been wanting to see these since we first came to Germany. They were beautiful and we had a lot of fun traveling on our own that day. After we got back to Garmisch, Bryan wanted to check out the golf course. He ended up being able to play for free as one of the R&R package perks. That may be the prettiest setting he'll ever play golf in.
On Wednesday we took a trip with Edelweiss to Berchtesgaden and the Eagle’s Nest. The Eagle’s Nest was really interesting and the scenery from up there was amazing.
Thursday on our way home, we visited the Dachau Concentration Camp outside of Munich.
Friday afternoon we went to K-town and pre-ordered our first new car! We ordered a 2007 BMW 3-Series through a military car sales program. We won’t actually get the car until around November but we are so excited!!
Saturday we went to the little photo shop on post and had our pictures taken. They were fine, but you can’t expect much more since our resources are so limited here. Tomorrow I’m going to pick up the prints that we ordered and the disc with all the pictures on it. I’ll put them online next week.
Monday we took Misha to the vet to have a biopsy on a spot on her back. The vet thinks there is a chance that she may have skin cancer. She didn’t like one bit of the procedure but she was such a trooper. I’m taking her next week to have her stitches removed and the vet hopes they’ll have her results back then.
On Tuesday Bryan and I celebrated our anniversary since we really wouldn’t be able to on Wednesday. We watched our wedding video and I think Bryan enjoyed it more than me! He kept rewinding it and re-watching some of the funny parts. He gave me some clothes and jewelry that I had wanted and I gave him an engraved compass. We also went to dinner at a restaurant in town and to the eis café for dessert.
We left Baumholder around 7 on Wednesday morning to go back to the airport. We hung out for a little while at the airport and said goodbye around 10am so Bryan could go to his gate. He actually just called to let me know that he has made it back to his camp in Baghdad okay.
Overall, we had a great time together. Both of us said it was just what we needed to motivate us to make it through these last four months. Hopefully they are nothing compared to the 8 that we’ve already been through. I definitely feel like we are on the downhill side of the deployment though. Even though the halfway mark was 2 months ago, it really feels like it now.
I put our pictures from the 2 weeks online. They are under the July section at:
cristin.fotopic.net.

Monday, July 03, 2006