June 09, 2008
In September 2003, JINSA established the Deserving Soldiers Holiday Appeal through the guidance of Major General Sid Shachnow, USA (ret.). The Deserving Soldiers Holiday Appeal distributes funds to military families who are identified by their unit commanders as in critical need of financial assistance to participate fully in the holiday season. These families have or had a breadwinner serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries where American troops are deployed or have had a family member killed in action. Funds are distributed from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. To date, annual contributors to the appeal have enabled JINSA to distribute over $450,000 from November through January 1. While the funds are primarily used to ensure a holiday celebration for all our troops, a percentage of the contributions are allocated to assist servicemen and servicewomen who have suffered grievous injuries fighting in the War on Terror. JINSA assumes all overhead and 100 percent of the funds collected are distributed.
One of the organizations that JINSA coordinates with during the Holiday Appeal is the USSOCOM Care Coalition. The Care Coalition, launched in 2005 by then-USSOCOM Commander General Bryan "Doug" Brown, USA, provides a venue for donor "benevolent" organizations to network with each other and to publicize their services to the wounded warriors.
For the second year in a row, JINSA was honored to serve as the Co-Sponsor of the Care Coalition conference in conjunction with the U.S. Special Operations Command. The 2008 conference, held in April at Fort Bragg, NC, brought together more than 50 donor groups and the veterans and families that they had supported. The work begun by General Brown has not only continued but also grown under current USSOCOM Commander Admiral Eric T. Olsen, USN.
In addition to the primary goal of the conference, those attending spent a day observing first hand the intense training that produces a U.S. Army special operations soldier. The day began with greetings and a Command Briefing delivered by Lt. Gen. Robert Wagner, Commanding General, United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC). General Wagner detailed current war fighting capabilities of Army special operations troops. U.S. Special Operations Command consists of warriors from all services, and this CAPEX was designed to showcase Army capabilities. The Naval Special Warfare Command will host the 2009 Care Coalition Conference at Navy Amphibious Base Little Creek, Virginia.
The following is a first hand account of the CAPEX by Marilyn Stern, JINSA's representative to the Care Coalition Conference and member of JINSA's Board of Directors.
A Day In the Life of a U.S. Army Special Operations Soldier
by Marilyn Stern, JINSA Board of Directors
Among the U.S. military's special operations teams are the Army Special Forces (Green Berets), the Army 75th Ranger Regiment, the Air Force 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command, Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, Navy Special Boat Teams, Navy SEALs and Air Force Combat Controllers and Pararescuemen. The flexible skills mastered by these force multiplier units include specialized training in irregular warfare, counter-terrorism, and direct action warfare.
Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations are an integral part of the Special Operations counter-insurgency philosophy established by General David Petraeus and developed in order to provide reconstruction services to enlist community support in war-ravaged neighborhoods of Iraq. This follow-up strategy has become a critical component in stabilizing military gains through plans to restore a semblance of normalcy among the resident populations trapped in the pummeled cities of Iraq and Afghanistan. In turn, these civilians are less likely to turn to the insurgency and militias for services and protection. Instead, conditions are established to promote security, stability and prosperity.
Due to the heavy lifting placed upon the Special Operations teams in theater, the representatives of the aid organizations assembled in Ft. Bragg at the USSOCOM Care Coalition Conference, under the direction of Mr. Jim Lorraine, make it their top priority to assist these wounded warriors and their families. Admiral Eric T. Olsen, the current USSOCOM commander, stressed how critical the role of private sector organizations to fill the inevitable gaps in an overburdened system charged with meeting the needs of our troops. The positive impact supplemental services provided were vital for a soldier whose world has been radically altered due to the trauma of his injuries. Admiral Olsen emphasized that volunteerism strengthens not only those who serve the military but strengthens our country as a whole.
The participants who represented the organizations varied, but all were linked by a common cause: to make a difference in the life of a disabled veteran. Among those in attendance were Thomas (Tom) Deierlein, a retired U.S. Army major who served with the Rangers and participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as John J. Regan, Jr., whose family had established a foundation in memory of Sgt. James (Jimmy) J. Regan, a U.S. Army Ranger killed in Iraq. Deierlein, a West Point graduate, had established himself as a leading executive in the technology and Internet industry. After being out of the Army 12 years, Deierlein was called back to active duty in Iraq to employ his management skills in overseeing multi-million dollar reconstruction projects. In September of 2006, after his pelvis had been shattered by a sniper bullet, Deierlein endured eight months in intensive care at Walter Reed Medical Center followed by further recovery at a trauma rehabilitation center.
Deierlein became aware of the USSOCOM Care Coalition while undergoing a difficult adjustment to his injuries at Walter Reed and expressed admiration for the care they extended to him. He resumed his career to become CEO of his own technology company and welcomed the opportunity to become a mentor to USSOCOM wounded warriors as part of the USSOCOM Care Coalition Recovery Pilot Program that is contracted to Enable America (www.enableamerica.org).
John Regan, an associate director of a New York investment firm, spoke proudly of his nephew, James J. Regan. The 9-11 terrorist attacks affected Jimmy so deeply that after graduation from Duke University in 2004, he turned down a Wall Street investment banking opportunity and deferred a scholarship to law school to join the Army. Jimmy, an accomplished athlete, became a U.S. Army Ranger assigned to C Co./3rd BN/75th Ranger Regiment, which in turn is part of the U.S. Special Operations Command. He served two tours in Afghanistan and was on his second tour in Iraq when an IED explosion on February 9, 2007 killed him. The Regan family established the Lead The Way Fund, Inc. (www.leadthewayfund.org), last year to honor their beloved Jimmy's memory. Their foundation was named to commemorate the Ranger motto, "Rangers Lead the Way."
The organizations attending the USSOCOM Care Coalition Conference this year were given a rare opportunity to observe the intense training that produces an Army special operations soldier. A Capabilities Exercise (CAPEX) demonstration day was prepared to give us a small window into a day in the life of Army special operations soldiers.
During the many on-site exercises, marksmen demonstrated their long-range shooting expertise and we were able to view a precise landing executed by the Black Daggers parachutist team in a freefall demonstration and a close-quarters battle that showcased the synchronized teamwork of soldiers working in tandem. Included in the tour of the training facilities was a small one story building with a darkened interior. As our eyes adjusted we noticed two of the walls in the room were giant video screens operated by a technician in a control room located behind us. Each participant was offered an opportunity to try their hand at a rifle outfitted with a laser to target virtual terrorists running across the life-size computer-simulated scene. Training soldiers with this technology enables them to develop honed reflexes to aid them in fighting insurgents in an urban environment.
Later, we were transported through the forested roads in yellow school buses and briefed that we were to role-play in a scenario where we would experience, first-hand, how the special operations soldiers deal with potential threats to American citizens held hostage in a foreign country. We were to play the role of aid workers in a country beset by political unrest and in sufficient danger to require evacuation.
Although we were told what to expect, there was a ripple of anticipation as we found ourselves paying close attention to the directions and serious demeanor of the soldiers around us. It became easy to imagine how it must feel to be American citizens trapped by political turmoil in a foreign land cut off from the sense of safety easily taken for granted in our own country.
Given a glimpse into this suspended reality we could imagine that we no longer assumed our environment was safe but for that protection provided by the armed soldiers chaperoning us. After radio contact was established with the rest of their team, the soldiers were to shepherd us to an American embassy for refuge but chaos erupted in the streets as restive locals began firing outside. The soldiers called in air support as we were moved and escorted to a secure evacuation site for a helicopter rescue, walking single file by foot flanked on either side by American special operations soldiers.
We walked in silence to a nearby clearing and entered a two-story building, climbing stairs to the flat roof. From there we were able to observe the battle exercise in a village constructed to train special operations soldiers for urban conflict. The cinder block buildings were criss-crossed by a warren of streets dotted with rusted cars. We watched as a noisy crowd approached from around a corner. A firefight unfolded in the street below us between U.S. soldiers and a mob shouting slogans and waving weapons. Next, a parked car was overturned by the rioters and set ablaze. There was increasing noise and confusion accompanied by live fire as our soldiers executed a full takedown assault against the armed mob.
Layered over the sound of gunfire, we heard the steady beat of rotors above us as two small, highly maneuverable MH-6 "Little Bird" helicopters hovered in place almost touching the roof of the building opposite ours. Reinforcements in full battle gear perched on the helicopters skids and systematically began rappelling down ropes, dropping onto a narrow ledge no wider than a balance beam to steadily advance towards the chaos in the streets.
As the battle escalated below us, dust and debris churned in the air amid the firing and shouting. Suddenly the commotion stopped, the smoke cleared and there was silence. We saw enemy troops lying on the ground and heard a low crackle of radio communication. The American troops had contained the uprising and stabilized the environment as we were led off the roof to a large field nearby. A soldier took accountability as we looked up and in the distance saw a CH-47 Chinook helicopter rapidly approaching to land. Through the choking dust kicked up by its twin rotors, soldiers guided us up the rear ramp into Chinook's belly for evacuation. As we took our seats along the sides, we lifted off and watched through the windows as the field and battle zone became smaller and disappeared from view.
Even though we realized this was only a drill, we internalized the enormity of the risks facing our soldiers at a moments notice. It was odd to see how many of us sat in silence as if each participant could now identify with how instability abroad can so quickly become a personal threat. How our helplessness turned to hope as the soldiers professionally translated their training into decisive action for our benefit. How the anxiety of uncertain danger changed to relief when we saw the Chinook come to our rescue.
Safely aloft in the helicopter, the events of the day reinforced our debt to the military for the demanding level of professionalism we witnessed. More than that, it renewed a sense of gratitude to have the good fortune to live in a country whose soldiers risk their lives for us. And that knowledge invigorated our resolve and commitment to do what we could to make their burden lighter.
Each one of the special operations soldiers observed in this exercise was focused and moved as one body in precise, practiced maneuvers. All the while we were confident that we could rely upon the fact that these soldiers were what stood between possible harm and us. We also knew how grave the injuries some 30,000 returning soldiers are facing as they and their families try to come to terms with the impact of their traumatic injuries.
At this conference, the Care Coalition and its aid organizations joined together to restore quality of life to our wounded troops. There is a quote in the Old Testament commentary, "He who saves one life, it is as if he saved the world entire." Many of the wounded veterans will return to their families and communities and resume their place among their "world entire." JINSA can take its place beside these wounded warriors assisting them and their families to meet their challenges.
To learn more about the member organizations of the Care Coalition click HERE.