Remembering Orlando

the_just_wanted_to_danceThis morning while browsing my Facebook feed I happened to stumble across a post about Sia’s newest video “The Greatest” being released as a tribute to the victims of the Orlando Massacre this past June. After watching the video I was moved to share my thoughts with y’all. Yes this was a tragedy that will forever scare our country and the community I call my family. The LGBT Community has been my adopted family since my coming out, and when I woke-up that Sunday morning to hear about the shooting, my world was turned completely upside down. That was supposed to be a morning of celebration, of triumph, since we as a community had overcome may adversities in the past few years, and were a more unified and stronger community. That was the morning of the LA LGBT Pride Parade, and our celebration was put on hold so to speak to mourn the losses of those precious souls who were taken from us just a few hours before. I along with thousands of others had to make a decision, to stay home in fear that we too could be attacked or continue with the celebration, in honor of all those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice so we could celebrate pride. As the history books will read, we as a community came together and stood strong, unified, saying we will not back down out of fear, or give in to terrorist threats. We fought long and hard for the rights we have and will celebrate our PRIDE in memory of those we have lost.

I will never forget that day, especially when I could have been a victim that morning of 12 June 2016, as the LA Pride Parade was threatened by a disturbed man in Santa Monica. Thanks to the efforts of the local authorities the terrorist was arrested and the attack prevented. Despite recommendations from the Sheriff’s Dept and local officials, we didn’t cancel the parade, we stepped up our guard and continued as planned. Many of us scared, many of us hurt, and many of us mad. I can say I was truly mad that this type of tragedy can still happen in today’s society, a society where we claim to be tolerant of one another. A society where two men can live their life in peace and not fear another threatening to harm or kill them for living the life the choose.

Recently, the people of Southern Florida were under threat once again by another disturbed man who was to face trial this afternoon however was postponed due to health problems. This man had been making threats on Social Media that he was going to carry out an attack on LGBT men & women over the Labor Day Weekend. A week after the posts the FBI was able to locate and arrest the man before he could carry out any of his threats and Facebook was able to remove the posts and close the man’s accounts.

Over the past few months since the tragedy in Orlando there had been other similar attacks on various groups in Florida, Mexico and other locations killing at least 125 Americans and injuring 269 by gun-violence. Nearly 300 victims of gun-violence in America, I can’t believe this. In a country where we are supposed to be safe of violence such as this, however we have the highest rates of gun-violence than any other country in the world. Gun Violence Archive (GVA) reports that in 2016, to-date, there has been 38,254 incidents of gun-violence, 9,820 deaths, 451 Child related incidents (0-11), 2,117 teenager related incidents (12-17), and 263 mass shootings. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my children or relatives to live in a society that will allow this to happen, and not do anything to protect us, to protect our children. I urge who ever reads this to reflect of these numbers, to remember the tragedies of this past year, and previous years and hold our politicians accountable. This is an election year after all, and many of our leaders are bidding for election and re-election. Demand that we as a society prevent our children from growing up in a world where they can be killed for loving someone, to be killed for enjoying a night our with friends, to be killed walking down the street. Write letters, make phone calls, don’t let the conversation stop, and always remember those who we have lost.

“Spread Love, Not Hate”

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old
Amanda Alvear, 25 years old
Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old
Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old
Juan Chavez Martinez, 25 years old
Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old
Cory James Connell, 21 years old
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old
Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old
Frank Hernandez, 27 years old
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old
Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25 years old
Christopher “Drew” Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old
KJ Morris, 37 years old
Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old
Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old
Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old
Luis Daniel Lestat Wilson-Leon, 37 years old
Jerald “Jerry” Arthur Wright, 31 years old

Below are the videos of tribute to those precious 49 that i found online, there are many more, but i share these with you here to help you remember…

Sia – The Greatest

“Hands” – A Song for Orlando

Stop the Hate: 49 Celebrities Honor 49 Victims of Orlando Tragedy in Ryan Murphy-Produced Tribute

Christina Aguilera – Change (Lyric Video)

Jennifer Lopez, Lin-Manuel Miranda – Love Make the World Go Round (Lyric Video)

“Forty-Nine Times” – Brandon Parsons

“PULSE” by Eli Lieb and Brandon Skeie

Rick Haze – One Pulse ft. Julian Velez

“Broadway for Orlando”: The Exclusive Music Video

Melissa Etheridge – Pulse

Adam Lambert – Outlaws of Love

Janet Jackson – Shoulda Known Better

Elton John’s Tribute to Orlando

Lady Gaga honors Orlando victims at Los Angeles vigil | LA LGBT Center

I am honored to be in the audience for this appearance by Lady Gaga.



Today will definitely be a day I will remember. I witnessed the decision of the US Supreme Court that Marriage Equality is now legal in all 50 States. Since moving to California in 2007 I have seen much change that impact my community. I first witnessed Marriage Equality in CA, only to have it taken away by the electorate a few months later. Then came the Repeal of DADT, then Marriage Equality again in CA along with the finding of DOMA as unconstitutional. I even witnessed my home State of Texas, fight a legal battle to limit my rights if i ever chose to move back home, all because I am an openly gay man. I put my live on the line by going to war for this country to be kicked out of the Military for loving a man, and then to be told I am a second-class citizen for the same reason. However, today I am overwhelmed with joy that my rights and freedoms are restored. That someday, hopefully soon, I can share in the happiness of marrying the man I love, just like every other citizen. That in the eyes of the Federal Government and each of the 50 States, I am to never be seen as a second-class citizen.

The fight in not over! Until my fellow LGBT Brothers and Sisters are afforded full and equal status, and treatment by the VA, DOD and other government agencies & communities, the work for Equality must go on. Today is a day of celebration on this victory. AVER and myself will keep watch to make sure that full equality comes and is never taken away.

Earlier today i wrote the official Statement for AVER-GLA congratulating my fellow Brothers and Sisters on our Marriage Equality Victory. The full text can be found here.

marriage-equality-constitutionThis morning marked a monumentous milestone in the history of LGBT Equality. The US Supreme Court issued a landmark decision on Marriage Equality yet again in the OBERGEFELL v HODGES (No. 14-556)  stating that it is unconstitutional to ban marriage to same-sex couples and cited the Fourteenth Amendment that no State shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” This 5-4 decision in affect enforces the 2014 U.S v Windsor (No. 12–307) which declared that the Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. Around the Country, civil liberty groups are celebrating years of fighting to be considered as everyday citizens and not a sub-set of the population. Before today, 37 States had Full Marriage Equality,  leaving 13 with it either banned or had some form of partial recognition. Today’s decision affirmed two important issues, 1. “The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex”  and 2. “to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.”  Meaning just that, anyone who wishes to marry the person they love can do so in any of the 50 States, and the marriage must be recognized by another state if the couple happens to move around the country. This freedom and right has been afford to opposite-sex couples going back to the start of our Great Country.

Rally GraphicAVER-GLA is proud to be on the forefront of history and witness Marriage Equality not only in our home State of California, but the entire United States of America. Please join us this evening as we gather as a community in West Hollywood, for the Marriage Equality: Decision Day Rally at West Hollywood Park, 647 N San Vicente Blvd, West Hollywood, California 90069 from 6p-10p. Similar Celebrations will be held around Southern California, in Pasadena SCOTUS Decision Day Rally at the Metro Gold Line Lake Station at 340 N Lake Ave, Pasadena, California 91101 from 6p-? and in Long Beach Day of Decision Long Beach at the Long Beach Civic Center from 5:30p-7:30p. Other Locations around the Country can be found by visiting

As you can see the earth did not swallow the County whole, the skies did not rain hell fire, the world did not end, the sanctity of marriage was not ruined, the lives of children were not threatened, none of the things that the opposition cited occurred. What did happen is couples who truly loved each other were told that their union is not recognized by the Federal Government as well as each and every state in the US. Very shortly we will see benefits and legal rights that were denied to same-sex couples by various States and Government Agencies be afford to each and every citizen of the United States of America.

Follow the discussion on-line by using these trending hashtags:

#LoveWins | #LoveIsLove | #MarriageEquality

#Equality4All | #EqualityWins | #EqualIsEqual


Same-Sex Marriage soon to be legal to over 60% of the Nation

With the news that is swarming the internet about the Supreme Court refusing to hear appeals in regards to Same-Sex Marriage Bans, I just had to share my thoughts. Below you will see what has become the anthem for the Same-Sex Movement, and it was done by a straight artist. If you actually take a min and listen to the words they really resonate on what is going on in the world today.

According to Freedom to Marry:

In 25 states – CA, CO, CT, DE, HI, IA, IL, IN, ME, MD, MA, MN, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OK, OR, PA, RI, UT, VA, VT, WA and WI, plus Washington, D.C. – same-sex couples have the freedom to marry.

In an additional five states – KS, NC, SC, WV, and WY – federal appellate rulings have set a binding precedent in favor of the freedom to marry, meaning the path is cleared for the freedom to marry there.

In another 10 states, judges have issued rulings in favor of the freedom to marry, with many of these rulings now stayed as they proceed to appellate courts: In AR, FL, ID, KY, MI, and TX, judges have struck down marriage bans, and in AZ, LA, OH and TN, judges have issued more limited pro-marriage rulings.

In NV, same-sex couples can join together in domestic partnership, which offers broad protections short of marriage. And in MO, the marriages of same-sex couples legally performed in other states are respected.

With these advances, a record number of Americans live in states that recognize relationships between same-sex couples:

  • Over 54% of the U.S. population lives in a state with the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.
  • Nearly 55% of the U.S. population lives in a state with either marriage or a broad legal status such as domestic partnership.
  • Over 60% of the U.S. population will soon live in a state with the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.

This is truly a time to remember, as things are soon to be the law of the land. As a soldier I fought in the name of freedom, only to be told i was not wanted to to my being a gay man, and returned home to Texas to be told I could not marry the person of my choosing.  When I moved to California, I new I was now living in a state where I can live freely, and someday be able to publicly marry Mr. Right when he came along. I saw that reality come alive when Marriage was first made legal in California. Then a few months later than dream was shattered before it could come to fruition when the Voters chose to Ban Same-Sex Marriage. I am glad to have lived to see that right return to the citizens of California when Prop 8 was found to be unconstitutional. And the Justices of the US Supreme Court upheld that basis of the US Constitution that states that the majority can not choose to remove the rights of the minority. One of the reasons I took the Oath of Enlistment, “that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”This first part of that oath is used in nearly every government office in the country, as we as public servants choose to live to a higher standard, one where we will fight for those with no voice, and defend ALL AMERICANS from those who wish to do harm, be it by legal means or not. Granted, I no longer am held accountable to the Oath, as i don’t currently hold a public office, nor am I in the US Military. I choose to retain these words in my day to day life, it has made me the man I today. The openly gay Veteran who freely fights for full equality. I hope to see the day when every American Citizen can marry any one of their choosing. I hope to see the day where there is no such thing as discrimination. Some day I want to be able to marry Mr. Right, and have him eligible for full spousal benefits from the VA. I want to be able to show my future husband, whomever he is, that I love him in public without being called names or get dirty looks. I want to be able to visit my future husband in the hospital when he is sick and have him be able to make the decisions for me when that time comes, and ultimately be able to have my future husband buried along side me in a federally funded VA Cemetery.

These are just some of the rights that are banned from my same-sex family in states where it is illegal. and of course the federal government still is not affording these rights to every person dictated by federal law. When part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was struck down, causing a ripple effect that still has not run its course, allowing the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal. Each Department has been dragging its feet as they have to go thru and change the wording in all the federal code that was written before and after the passage of DOMA. You would think it would be a quick fix to have a few analysts go thru the code and remove any and all reference in regards to the federal ban of same-sex marriage. It sadly is not that easy, as some departments need to submit changes to congress before anything can happen. An example is when my friend Tracy Cooper-Harris filed suit against the Department of Veterans Affairs to have her lawfully wedded wife be able to share her VA Benefits just like her straight brothers and sisters in arms. As histrory has told us, the US Goverrnment lost that battle, and the VA was ordered to give Tracy’s wife the benefits she was due. This only went so far as the lawsuit was against the Veterans Health Administration. Another branch of the VA has yet to change their policy allowing same-sex couples to be buried in Federally Funded Veterans Cemeteries. Someday soon, we should see that change for the better.

In the lyrics of the song, “Same Love – Macklemore & Lewis feat. Mary Lambert“:

America the brave
Still fears, what, we don’t know
And God loves all His children
Is somehow forgotten
But we paraphrase a book written
35 hundred years ago

We see the artist make reference to two very important things, that the country we call the “Land of the Brave” is still afraid of the unknown and anything different. Can change really be that much of a threat to our country? I think not. This great country of ours has seen change and progress since day one. I don’t think we will ever be a perfect country where we no longer have to change our laws. Since the US Constitution was first written there have been 27 Official Amendments and over 11,000 proposals. Showing that we can always change laws. We also have adopted tens of thousands of laws since the country was founded, and congress makes hundreds of changes to these laws each year. Proving that if used properly we can truly be a land of people governed by the people, creating and enforcing laws that benefit all men and women. We are not a land where a book written 35 hundred years ago is the law of the land, as we don’t know who actually wrote it, and what the context could have been as we definitely live in a land where many of the Bibles laws do not exist. Both documents are also open to debate as the reader is allowed to interpret the words as they wish. I just do not agree when that interpretation is made in a manner to place harm on any person or group of people. That is not the word I was taught in Sunday School.

If you wish to read more on what the media is saying about today’s decision not to review the appeals you can visit these and the many more found using google or the search engine of your choosing:

Get back to work, Congress

I thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on recent events. Before I go into why I sat down to put these words to paper, I feel I have to share a little on who I am. My name is Apolonio E. Muñoz III, am a Service–Connected Disabled Veteran, full-time unemployed student who happens to also serve on several organizational boards. Currently I am the Acting Chair of the San Gabriel Valley Veterans Employment Committee, Public Relations
Officer of the Southern California Veterans Employment Committee, President of the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of American Veterans for Equal Rights, National Secretary of the American Veterans for Equal Rights, the Chair of the Committee of LGBT Veterans for the Veterans Caucus of the California Democratic Party, and a Fully Professed Member of the Los Angeles Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. As you can see, I am pretty well connected in the community as an openly gay Veteran living in Los Angeles County.

I write these words not as a Board Member of any of the above organizations, I take off all the many hats that I wear on any given day and I write the following words as me, Apolonio the Service-Connected Disabled Veteran. I originally wrote these words on board the LA Metro this evening as I travelled from Pasadena, CA to Burbank, CA, after attending class at the University of Phoenix in Old Pasadena. With the news over the past few days of the government shut down gaining much media and community attention, I am losing all respect for the country’s leadership. Let me explain why I feel this way. In the summer of 2001, I decided in order to leave my small town in South Texas and to make something of myself; I would join the US Army. In October of that year I was sworn in and started basic training in Ft Jackson, SC. It was then that I learned what it meant to serve one’s own country and the sacrifices of the men and women who came before me and died in the name of freedom. It was then that I also sworn an allegiance to the US Constitution and the country’s leaders. I swear an oath to honor and defend that document from all enemies foreign and domestic, and to this very day still take that oath to heart.

As I sit here on the LA Metro, I am reflecting on the events of the day. I find myself dumbfounded to believe that the leaders I have entrusted with safeguarding my freedoms as well as that of the others on this very train have let the Federal Government come almost to a screeching stop. I say almost cause there are some select members of the Government that still have their jobs, however many have been furloughed effective Midnight of 1 October 2013. Yes, the media has been the voice of impending doom over the past few days and weeks leading up to today’s events however myself and many other American have been ignorant to think that the US Congress, our own dully elected politicians would let this happen. I find myself extremely disappointed that grown men and women who are charged with making the hard decisions on the various aspects that effect our everyday lives would fight and act like spoiled children, resulting in thousands of Americans furloughed and without a way of providing for their selves and families, all the while knowing that their own paychecks would not be affected. I have many friends and family members that have been directly affected by recent furloughs that were periodic in the sense that each had to give up only a few select days a month, however now they are being furloughed indefinitely. In theory these individuals have a job technically, however they are not allowed to report to work and earn a paycheck until the US Congress comes to an agreement on the National Budget. I know I am not alone in thinking that Congress itself should not be paid until it passes the budget, it would only be fair.

As a Disabled Veteran, I currently rely on government assistance in the form of VA Disability and VA Education payments to pay my living expenses. These payments are not very much and I don’t live an extravagant life,
however it is enough to survive from day to day. Soon, very soon this government shutdown will affect even me, as my VA benefits can be suspended if Congress doesn’t pass its budget in a timely manner. I am a little relieved to know that at the moment my VA healthcare would not be affected as the VA passes that budget a year in advance.

Just knowing that currently thousands of Americans are wondering how they are going to provide for their families, some are even thinking about looking for alternative employment options as Congress doesn’t seem to be making any headway on finding a solution to this current government fiscal debacle. If things continue thousands and possibly millions will also be in the same situation, including myself and all my fellow Veterans. It doesn’t stop there Federal student programs will eventually be suspended as well. Like I mentioned in the opening, I am a full time student and utilize Student Loans and Grants to cover what expenses the VA doesn’t cover. Word that those programs will eventually be suspended also gives me great concern, as my entire income will cease to exist. Did the US Congress consult the very citizens they represent before they made the decision that created this problem? If they did I must have missed that call, text, email or letter. They didn’t worry about the regular citizen that is forced to live on government assistance. It is estimated that in LA County alone there is 24% of its population living below poverty line. In the most populated county in the country with nearly 10 million residents and having some of the Country’s most wealthy as residents this is a travesty that so many will soon be affected by Congress not passing the budget. Many of these residents will soon be adding to the already high numbers of homeless that call LA County home.

Again, I find myself greatly disappointed and like I wrote earlier I have lost all respect for our Nation’s leaders, to allow something this severe happen on their watch. The news states that similar government shutdown have occurred in the past, and can last a few short days or as long as weeks. As things unfold, both parties are blaming each other and not wanting to cooperate and come to a mutual agreement. If this would be anyone else that
missed a highly important deadline, they would be fired immediately. 
If I had the chance to personally address Congress on this very issue, I would choose to share some words that some would think as harsh. Those that have worked with me in the past would understand and not be surprised to read/hear them as I don’t like to play games, especially when it comes to getting things done and has something to do with my fellow Veterans. I would tell Congress, “Do your jobs or step down.” I would go on the calmly explain by saying, “You were elected to your current positions and all the American public ever sees is you and your colleagues acting like spoiled children. I understand that you base this non cooperation of both sides in regards to the Affordable Care Act. If you lost the vote that created the law, and the many votes that would repeal the law after it was signed by the President, and the US Supreme Court didn’t find the law to be unconstitutional, then maybe you need to give up and move on to more important policies that deserve your attention. So grow up and get back to work.” Again I would state to them, “Do your jobs or step down. If you refuse to meet your deadlines and get along with your colleagues then maybe you don’t deserve to be in the position you are in. I’m sure there are many other capable adults that will do what is needed to make the difficult decisions and act in the best interest of the citizens of this country, all citizens not just the ones that finance the election campaigns, such leaders that would understand how the actions/decisions that are made in Congress affect the everyday lives of all Americans.”

For a while I have tried my best to stay out of the political arena, since my views can be seen as radical, however after seeing these men and women can’t do the job of the US Congress maybe we need modern day politicians that have lived the life of the everyday American. Someone that what it is like to live one pay check at a time. Someone who rents a small residence because that is all they can afford. Someone that has to use public transportation to get to and from work and other appointments. Someone that has had to choose between buying food and paying your bills. Come to think of it, I might have to step up to the plate and take a more active role in doing something to help my fellow Americans, you might just see my name on a ballot someday. All I know is right now we need leaders in DC that will get the job done and not blame the other side for them not making a competent decision.

Lover Official Music Video – Tom Goss

Another one of my favorite videos that I just had to share. This one depicts a Gay casualty of war. Something that on this day we can not forget as many men and women continue to serve openly gay and openly straight. All to spread the freedoms we as Americans love and cherish, to all those around the world.

Why I fight…

I know this is from an old episode, but it just proves that I must continue to fight for the rights of my brothers and sisters in arms. So that someday soon, NO Veteran, Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airman, Coast Gaurdsman, Reservist, or National Gaurdsman has to go thru this again. We first and foremost are men and women  that proudly served our county, and some of us happen to have loved ones that happen to be Lesbian, Gay, Bi or Transgender which deserve to be at our side when we need them the most. Personally I haven’t experienced this, but know many who have. It can be the worst feeling in the world to know that you can’t be there at your loved ones side when they need you, or to properly say good bye. That they had to go thru this tragedy alone, when you aren’t allowed to be there or even recognized as a loved one. Some day soon, we will all be able to enjoy the freedoms and rights as people, and the labels of today will be a thing of the past.


Military begins Afghanistan troop drawdown

Military begins Afghanistan troop drawdown

By Heidi Vogt – The Associated Press Posted : Wednesday Jul 13, 2011 15:00:20 EDT

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — The first troops to leave Afghanistan as part of the U.S. drawdown handed over their slice of battlefield Wednesday to a unit less than half their size and started packing for home.

When the 650 members of the Iowa National Guard’s 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment, arrived in Afghanistan in November 2010, bases didn’t have enough housing, translators were in short supply and chow halls were packed. Commanders were using a buildup of 33,000 extra troops for a major push that they said would turn the tide of the war against the Taliban insurgency.

Nine months later, it’s still unclear if that push has succeeded, but the pullback has begun. Although major combat units are not expected to start leaving until late fall, two Guard regiments comprising about 1,000 soldiers are withdrawing this month — the Iowa soldiers from Parwan province in eastern Afghanistan, and the other group from the capital, Kabul.

President Obama announced last month that he would pull 10,000 of the extra troops out in 2011 and the remaining 23,000 by the summer of 2012.

Three hundred soldiers will take over from the 650 departing troops who oversaw security in Parwan, including the area outside the main U.S. military base at Bagram.

In a ceremony at Bagram marking the transfer, a speaker read out a list of the 113th’s accomplishments: 14 high-value targets killed or captured, the largest homemade explosives lab in Parwan discovered and dismantled, 52 consecutive days of keeping insurgent fire out of the Bagram base, 3,800 combat missions completed, 400 Afghan police officers trained and a coordination center built. She also read out the cost: One soldier died when a team helicoptered into a firefight to aid a downed pilot.

The commander of the outgoing unit said he expects his successors will be able to build on their accomplishments.

“They may not be as robust as us, or have as many as us, but they certainly will have the ability to secure the Bagram security zone,” said Lt. Col. David Updegraff. He said he felt he could have completed his mission with a smaller force, but that the extra numbers made it significantly easier.

“I was very happy to have the size of task force that I had because it allowed me a lot of flexibility,” Updegraff said.

Some in the 113th said 650 soldiers were barely enough.

“Most of our platoons were short-manned quite often. We were running with the minimum amount that we safely can. And they were running long missions, long days,” said Staff Sgt. Brian Pals, 34, of Hartley, Iowa.

Outgoing soldiers said they needed all their numbers to do the type of intensive training and mentoring called for by a strategy focused on building up the Afghan forces. They had to spend extra time demonstrating techniques to Afghan police officers who were illiterate and had to teach Afghan soldiers basic map-reading skills, said Staff Sgt. Doug Stanger, 42, of Urbandale, Iowa.

“It takes a lot more of us to mentor them,” Stanger said. The 113th also spend a lot of time working with local communities — building wells, schools or other infrastructure projects.

Though commanders have said their mission in Afghanistan has not changed, manpower-intensive activities such as these are likely to lessen with smaller forces. The current push appears to be for more quick-strike missions that eliminate insurgent leaders while the Afghan security forces are left to keep the peace.

And while the Afghan army and police have improved drastically, there’s still a long way to go.

“You’ve got to pull teeth to get the ANP [Afghan National Police] to do anything,” said Pfc. Scott Silverblatt, 22, of McHenry, Ill.

As the soldiers go back, they all say they’re prepared for the same question: Should we be over there? Pals says yes, because the training is helping. Stanger also says yes, because most Afghans really want the help. Silverblatt agrees, because a too-quick departure could throw the Afghan economy built up around bases like Bagram into a tailspin.

“If we leave, we’ve just messed up the whole country all over again,” Silverblatt said.

A fourth soldier — Staff Sgt. Jesse Ross of Des Moines — says he isn’t sure given the strong words coming from Afghan President Hamid Karzai about how Americans risk becoming occupiers.

“Does Afghanistan need help? Yes. Do they necessarily want it from us? I don’t know,” Ross said.

The troops that were originally slated to replace the 113th in Afghanistan have been reassigned to Kuwait. The guardsmen just found out a few weeks ago, and had to scramble to find units to take the extra guns and equipment they were suddenly leaving behind.

The ceremony marking the handover was held in a tented-over basketball court that sometimes serves as a film-screening site. Soldiers in camouflage sat in metal folding chairs as their successes were read out.

A color guard raised the flags of both units and then stowed the Iowa flag away in a camouflage sack for the journey home. As the troops stood to sing the Army song, a jet buzzed overhead, drowning out the chorus of soldiers below.

Military Times Article

Happy 235th B-Day, US Army

Today marks the 235th Birthday of the US Army. On this day I would share with all of you that Two hundred and thirty-five years ago, the United States Army was established to defend our Nation. From the Revolutionary War to the current operations taking place around the world, our Soldiers remain Army Strong with a deep commitment to our core values and beliefs. This 235th birthday commemorates America’s Army – Soldiers, Families and Civilians – who are achieving a level of excellence that is truly Army Strong. Being Army Strong goes beyond physical endurance and mental preparedness. It encompasses an indomitable spirit, and high ethical and moral values. These are not only desirable traits in a person, but in a Nation that wishes to live up to the ideals and vision of its founders. I would like to ask each and everyone of you whom reads this to please join me in Honoring Every Soldier whom has worn the Uniform of the US Army from Past to Present.

It is the Soldier ©Copyright by Charles M. Province

It is the Soldier, not the minister,
Who has given us freedom of religion.

It is The Soldier, not the reporter,
Who has given us Freedom of the press.

It is The Soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us Freedom of speech.

It is The Soldier, not the campus organizer,
Who has given us Freedom to demonstrate.

It is The Soldier, not the lawyer,
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the Soldier, not the politician,
Who has given us the right to vote.

It is The Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag and Whose coffin is draped by the flag
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.
Filed under DoD News 2 comments

For 235 years, the United States Army has truly been the strength of our nation.  And today, I believe it is the best it has ever been.
One of the great privileges of this job is visiting our men and women in uniform, including our Soldiers, who serve around the world.  From Fort Hood to Kandahar and posts and FOBs in between, I am proud of and grateful for the courage you and your families display and the sacrifices you make every day.  You embody  what “Army Strong” is all about.
In a year that has seen historic progress in Iraq, a renewed effort in Afghanistan and a superb response to the humanitarian crisis following Haiti’s earthquake, the Army’s fighting spirit, resilience, and adaptability proved critical.  You brought fear to the enemy, hope to the destitute and security to your fellow citizens.  You proved in word and in deed that sometimes we defend our national interests best when we help others defend theirs.
I am also ever mindful of the commitment we must make to the fallen, our wounded warriors, and their families.  Their sacrifices are as profound as they are enduring, and we will always honor those who have given so much to our Army, our country, and the world.
On behalf of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Happy 235th birthday to our Army and our Army Families.  Hooah!
– Adm. Mike Mullen, USN
Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

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