December 31, 2013

Name: RN Clara Hart
Stationed in: a civilian military hospital in the U.S.
Email: [email protected]

Two years ago I read a Washington Post story that really hit home. It spoke of two Marines, General John Kelly and his son, LT Robert Kelly. There was a short sentence that mentioned a nurse, and reading it I realized that nurse was me, and I saw how a small, seemingly insignificant act had turned into something with deeper meaning than I could have imagined.

The phones are always ringing in the ICU, and multiple times a day I answer. On one particular day I heard "Hello Ma'am. This is LT Kelly, calling from Afghanistan. I'm trying to reach LT ---, would it be possible to talk with him?"

There are no phones in the patient rooms in the ICU, cordless or otherwise. And there is an issue of keeping unstable/semi-stable patients attached to all the monitoring devices. However I knew this Marine wanted to talk with one of his guys and that he was calling from a combat zone, and I was going to do whatever it took to get a phone to this particular patient. 

After telling LT Kelly it might take me a few minutes and asking him to please not hang up, I proceeded to pull the phone off the nursing station counter as far as it would reach. I dragged a trash can into the middle of the hallway and placed the phone on top of the closed lid. I went into the patient's room and told him his buddy wanted to talk with him. Since the phone wouldn't reach all the way I had to do some rearranging. I released the brakes and rolled his bed as far as the monitoring wires would allow, turning it around so the patient's head was in the doorway, closer to the hallway and thus the phone. 

Running back to the phone I picked it up off hold and said, "Are you still here?" 

"Yes Ma'am."

"Ok, I'm bringing the phone to him right now, don't hang up."

"I won't."

Stretching the receiver cord as far as I could I held the phone out to the patient. "Hello?...Hello?" he asked repeatedly, phone up to his ear. Then he looked at me, handed the phone back and said, "There's no one there." The call had been disconnected.

Argh! All that maneuvering for naught. Back went the bed into proper placement, the phone came off the trash can and back to the nursing station. Just as I was sitting down the phone rang. Picking it up I once again heard, "Hello Ma'am, this is LT Kelly calling from Afghanistan, I was trying to reach..."

"It's me, the nurse who you talked to before," I said

"Sorry Ma'am, the phone cut out here and I lost the call."

"No problem, hang on, I'll get LT ---." Running back to the patient's room I told him LT Kelly was on the phone again and once again proceeded with the maneuvering necessary to get these two Marines connected. As he answered his call and identified himself I watched the smallest glimmer of a smile appear on this critically injured Marine's face. Walking by in the hallway my coworkers took it all in -- the phone, the backwards bed in the doorway, and a Marine talking with his battle buddy thousands of miles away.

Shortly the call was over and the patient handed me the phone.

"Hello?" I said.

"Thanks for letting me talk with him, I really appreciate it. It means a lot to know he's doing okay," said LT Kelly.

"No problem, we're taking good care of him."

"I know you are. Can you please tell him my dad and sister will be up to visit him? They're gonna be checking on him."

"No worries, I'll pass it on. You and your Marines be careful there and stay safe."

"We will. Thanks a lot Ma'am."

Nine days later LT Robert Kelly was killed in action. It was the last time his friend would ever speak with him.

General Kelly, we've never met and I only briefly spoke with your son. However, he left a lasting impression on me as a Marine who cared deeply for his men. I am sorry for your loss. I will not forget him and all the others like him who have made the ultimate sacrifice.


December 23, 2013

Name: Charlie Sherpa
Previously embedded: with former unit in Afghanistan
Boone, Iowa
Milblog: Red Bull Rising



I. SITUATION: TASK FORCE SHERPA continues holiday sustainment operations vicinity FOB LIVINGROOM.
1. Enemy Forces: 
Refer to Appendix X, "Naughty List." 
2. Friendly Forces / Attachments: 
a. One (1) soldier, callsign "SCOOP," from TF GI-JOE Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, location OP ELFONSHELF.  
b. One (1) Pathfinder-qualified soldier from 1225th Special Operations Aviation Regiment ("The Night-stockers"), callsign "RUDOLPH," location AO ROOFTOP.
c. Five (1) soldiers from 334th Brigade Support Battalion, 2-34th BCT attached as Forward Logistics Elf Element (FLEE), callsign "WORKSHOP," location AO UNDERTREE.
d. Ten (10) 03s-a-leaping from HHC, 2-34th BCT attached as command-and-control cell.
PHOTO: 34th Combat Aviation Brigade, Minn. Army National Guard
3. Weather and Terrain: 
High of 29 degrees Fahrenheit; low of 18 degrees. No effects on current snow cover. Condition WHITE for sleigh-borne operations.
4. Illumination:
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow will give the lustre of mid-day to objects below. Moonrise is 250005DEC13; peak illumination is 53 percent. Civil twilight is 250710DEC13. Sunrise is 250742DEC13. 
As noted in After Action Reviews of past holiday ops, however, SUGARPLUM elements have been known to stir well before light conditions warrant, or even Christmas Reveille.
"TF SHERPA secures LANDING ZONE CHIMNEY NLT 242330DEC13 and conducts resupply via reindeer-drawn miniature sleigh during hours of darkness prior to 250710DEC13. On order, commences opening of presents and distribution of holiday themes and messages."
1. Commander's Intent:
TF SHERPA will conduct safe and secure receipt of Christmas gifts, minimizing boots-on-ground time and distractions for RED-RYDER-6. Endstate is a Happy Christmas to all personnel, and to all a good night.
2. Concept of Operation:
We will start by ceasing all garrison activities, troop movements, and roving patrols beginning 242100DEC13. No personnel should be stirring. Not even a mouse. Stockings will be hung by the objective with care. All SUGARPLUM elements will be nestled all snug in their bunks. 
RED-RYDER-6 will arrive LZ CHIMNEY during hours of darkness, and will successfully evade detection by SUGARPLUM elements and local civilian air-traffic control. 
Following the operation, TF SHERPA personnel will prepare to conduct Key Leader Engagements with both sides of the family. 
Throughout this operation, TF SHERPA personnel will also reinforce themes and messages of "Peace on Earth, goodwill to all" via appropriate official STRATCOM channels, including social media and telephone.
3. Maneuver:
Under no circumstances should unauthorized personnel stir to investigate clatter from exterior areas, including rooftops.
4. Fires:
On order, 1-194 Field Artillery will provide 1.55 cm artillery-delivered tinsel as chaff to defeat detection of TF RED-RYDER by regional air-traffic control radar.
5. Coordinating instructions:
Authorized sleeping uniform is kerchief, cap, or green fleecy hat; MultiCam pajamas; and red-and-white "candy stripe" reflective safety belt. Noise and light discipline will be maintained per SOP. Senior personnel are encouraged to employ red-light headlamps or night-vision devices.
6. Specific instructions:
Headquarters will redeploy public affairs team member SCOOP from OP ELFONSHELF to vicinity LZ CHIMNEY for documentation of gift-giving operations NLT 250700DEC13. Mission focus will be on "telling the Christmas story by telling our Army story."
1. 334th BSB will provide (1) Meal, Ready-to-Eat to RED-RYDER-6. Ranger cookies and shelf-stable milk are appropriate. On order, also provide one (1) 64 lb. bag of Reindeer Chow.
2. Religious services are 241900DEC13, and 251000DEC13.
1. Location of Key Leaders: 
HOUSEHOLD-6 and HOUSEHOLD-7 will be in the command bunker after 242100DEC13. 
2. Succession of command: 
3. Callsigns: 
Holiday callsigns are NOT authorized. Under no circumstances should SUGARPLUM elements refer to HOUSEHOLD-6 as "NUTCRACKER-6." The previously published SOI was in error. HOUSEHOLD-7 is very, very sorry. 
4. Challenge / Password for 24DEC13 is: "SMOKE" / "WREATH." 
5. Challenge / Password for 25DEC13 is: "BOWLFUL" / "JELLY." 
6. Running password is "FIGGY PUDDING."
1. Use ground guides when backing reindeer. 
2. Use drip pans and chocks when parking sleighs. 
3. Don't drink nog and drive. 
4. "Safety first, Christmas always."


December 11, 2013

Name: Mikey Piro
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Lindenhurst, NY
Milblog: ptsdsurvivordaily
Email: [email protected]

“I always won in my imagination. I always hit the game-winning shot, or I hit the free throw. Or if I missed, there was a lane violation, and I was given another one." -- Mike Krzyzewski

If you listen to athletes and coaches long enough you will invariably find a few talk about the importance of mental preparation. So many aspects of sinking a putt or making a free throw exists between our ears and in hours of preparation before the real competition begins. Athlete after athlete will comment about visualizing the medals placed around their necks, or throwing the game winning pass.

In combat, the preparation is similar, but just different enough to have side effects. As any good leader will tell you, being prepared is an imperative. I remember many a night before a mission reviewing battle drills or nine line medevac requests. I spent hours staring at maps of objectives and playing out the worst case scenarios. Thinking about your Soldiers getting shot or killed is no picnic. Unlike Coach K’s quote above, the luxury of relative inconsequence in sports is not afforded to a Soldier. We have to take exceptionally hard looks at negative paths to minimize their impacts.

One of the more difficult tasks as a leader is keeping a positive attitude while staring down everything that can go wrong. I fully believe that over time this task becomes harder and harder. When bad scenarios transform from mental preparation to real world experiences the validation of negative ideas are more difficult to explain away as outliers.

When I returned home I had enough reinforcement of traumatic experiences that these patterns of thinking were deeply entrenched. In mental health profession parlance they are “Stuck points." Contrary to an athlete who is mindful of scenarios but is focused on success as the prize, I don’t know if I ever really emphasized “winning” in combat. The reward for success was having to roll the dice again on another mission, and after more than a few close calls, that eventually didn’t really feel like a reward.

Goodness knows the consequences in my new profession are not nearly as dire as in combat. Still, the need to mentally prepare to face each day does not simply melt away with a job in civilian life and certainly should not be limited to athletes and Soldiers. In the early days of my therapy it took me a long time to work past the crippling effects of those negative patterns. A key to my early small successes was thinking about how I would tackle the next day. However, as my therapy better prepared me to handle each day my habits relaxed. When time is short and the family and work life stack up, making time to prepare is tough.

My milblog is my mental preparation, especially this time of year. It helps me listen to my inner dialogue and challenge being depressed or moody. I wind down thinking about how to handle tomorrow and it is critical to take one day at a time. I run through scenarios with one conscious change from combat: I think more about winning and success now. I don’t ignore potential problems, but I focus more attention on the positives than the negatives.

This past week I am forcing myself to prepare for the days to come. I know there are challenges ahead of me. Staying positive and thinking through the definition of success is even more important. I encourage you, no matter your profession, to take some time to mentally prepare for whatever it is you have coming up. Be mindful of scenarios, but be positive in your outlook. I believe it will pay dividends.


December 03, 2013

Name: Derek Eland
Returned from: Afghanistan
Hometown: Carlisle, UK
Website: In Our Own Words
Email: [email protected]

I have mounted an Indegogo campaign in order to raise funds to publish In Our Own Words, a book of extraordinary handwritten stories written by people on the front lines in Afghanistan. The book tells their stories, it is their self portrait.

I'm an artist, based in the UK, and in 2011 I volunteered to go to Afghanistan as a war artist. I spent a month on the front lines and wanted to find a way to get inside the heads of the people I met: soldiers and civilians, Afghan and Western.

I asked everyone I met to write their unique story or a poem on a postcard, and collated these stories in a series of Diary Rooms. Here is one of the postcards:

In my time in Afghanistan I was shot at and was with a patrol that was targeted by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) as I went to remote areas to collect the stories. Hundreds of people wrote their stories to form a unique self portrait of what it's like to be human in a war zone: men and women, soldiers and civilians. The people who wrote their stories revealed extraordinary things about themselves, their lives, their losses and their hopes and fears.

What was the end result? The Diary Room walls filled up, hundreds of stories were written, mostly on the coloured cards, but sometimes on scraps of paper, on cardboard ripped from ration boxes or scribbled on blank medical forms. One soldier took an empty packet of semolina and wrote ‘Yummy’ on the side. A female medic wrote what it was like to treat her first casualties and save their lives; a chef described cooking and distributing Christmas dinner to hundreds of soldiers scattered about the front line; a bomb disposal expert described what it felt like to go to Afghanistan as a battle casualty replacement for someone who had been injured. Some of those who wrote stories went on to be killed or seriously wounded.

Overall, the response I got was staggering and included excerpts such as:

"Your mind clicks into a gear that you never knew you had, and you bark orders like your life depends on it … and GUESS WHAT: IT DOES!"

"My abiding memory of Afghanistan? … it will be a humble local farmer who one day took me by surprise by asking after my family. ‘You are far from home. You must miss you family very much. We are very grateful.'"

"The young soldier was brought to me following an IED blast…I didn’t need to ask more questions – his eyes told the whole story. As wide as possible and conveying such a sense of bewilderment, uncertainty and terror that I shall never forget them."

"I’m going to write about the day to day struggle of being away … what your girlfriend was wearing last time you saw her, what she did, said, what she smelt like, what she will look like and if anything will have changed while you have been away and if you will put up with the changes when you get back … if you are close to someone that is away out here know that you will always be in their minds because there are two wars being fought, one which is publicised and one which goes on in a soldiers head when everything goes quiet…."

These extraordinary stories describe the war which goes on in a soldier's head when the fighting stops, as in this excerpt below:


This campaign is to help produce and publish the book In Our Own Words, containing these powerful stories, poems and some of the photographs I took whilst I was in Afghanistan. I am determined to make this book happen, to help tell the stories of those who wrote.


It's important that these stories are published and seen by people because they tell the human spirit in war. These dusty handwritten postcards, written there and then on the front lines, provide an insight into this and other conflicts never before seen. All of the people who wrote their stories had a strong need to write about what it felt like to be there.

  Readers of this book will be moved by the stories and poems and what they reveal about the human spirit. It will also challenge and perhaps change perceptions about war, soldiers and the conflict in Afghanistan.

The project has already been described by the international press as 'groundbreaking', for more information please read these selected press reviews:






We need to raise £17,500 to get this unique book published in time for a book launch and exhibition of the original art work in November 2014 at the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art in the UK, at: http://www.visitmima.com



I volunteered to go to Afghanistan on a not for profit basis and the book has a charitable link where proceeds from it's sale will go to the British charity Combat Stress, The Veterans's Mental Health Charity, at: http://www.combatstress.org.uk


Funds raised will go into the physical production of a high quality book which will include the images of the handwritten postcards, photographs I took, and essays. I'm working on the book design with Ned Hoste at the fantastic 2H Design in the UK, at: http://www.nedof2h.net

We plan to publish an immediate 1000 physical copies of this book for distribution in the UK, with an ebook being available globally. In our second run we plan for a second UK print run and a physical book in the US.


2014 is the year when British troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan. It is also the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.


In Our Own Words will add considerably to the global public's view of war and conflict and what it is like to be involved. These handwritten postcards are vital and essential in a digital age and need to be read. There is nothing more honest and revealing than a person's own handwriting, written at a time of stress in a war zone. Readers will be enormously touched and at times shocked by these extraordinary stories, as in this excerpt:




Please help by sharing this story using the Indiegogo share tools.  Many thanks!


If you want more information about me please visit www.derekeland.com or drop me an email at  [email protected] if you have any questions.

Many thanks for reading, I'm very grateful if you can help, and please spread the word!



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