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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Free to Vote

Iraqi voters wait in line Jan. 30, 2005, at a polling site in Baghdad, Iraq. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Dave Ahlschwede

A Message from Arizona to our Heroes

Please forward to our troops.

We just wanted to let you know that we in Phoenix appreciate your protecting freedom and the USA. Here's to success with the Iraqi elections and a safe return for all the great US warriors.

Barbara and Mike Hulse
Phoenix AZ

A Father's Tribute to Fallen Sons, Daugthers

from the Los Angeles Times

By John-Thor Dahlburg Times Staff Writer

ORLANDO, Fla. — It was while weeping for his son, a soldier killed in Iraq (news - web sites), that Gregg Garvey realized what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

To commemorate Justin, 23, a sergeant with the Army's 101st Airborne Division, and show his love and grief, the father had designed a monument. The bronze memorial, a full-size model of an M-16 rifle thrust muzzle-down into the ground and topped by a helmet, telegraphs an immediate signal to onlookers: A soldier has died in war.

But while sitting on the porch of his home in rural Keystone Heights in northern Florida, Garvey decided it wasn't enough to honor his child's life and sacrifice in bronze. Then and there, Garvey, a sales consultant in the recreational vehicle industry, pledged that he would put one of the monuments in the hometown of each U.S. service member killed in Iraq and Afghanistan — now 1,525 — and wherever else the military might be ordered into harm's way.

"They are my son's brothers and sisters," said Garvey, 50. "I have adopted every one of them, and they all deserve to be honored."

That was in August 2003. Since then, to help keep his pledge, Garvey has raised more than $20,000 in contributions, and received a commitment from a metal foundry in the central Florida town of Sanford to manufacture the first five memorials at no charge.

Garvey has also designed a flag in tribute to the military's dead, which he hopes will become as recognizable as the black POW-MIA flag of the Vietnam War era. He has been offering the flags for sale on his website ( to help underwrite the $7,500 he estimates it will cost to build each memorial. He has sold about 500 flags at $35 apiece.

"When I got word about my son, I felt totally helpless," Garvey said. "You've got the worst pain you've ever felt in your life. You've got anger and overwhelming grief. I needed a place to channel all my feelings in a positive direction. I'm doing this for my son."

He has received more than 100 inquiries about the memorials, he said, including 40 from service widows.

The first of what Garvey calls the "Lest They Be Forgotten" memorials honors Sgt. Jason D. Jordan, 24, of Elba, Ala. Jordan and his friend, Sgt. Justin W. Garvey, were killed July 20, 2003, near Talafar in northern Iraq when a rocket-propelled grenade hit their Humvee. Both men were in the 1st Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 187th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, based at Ft. Campbell, Ky.

"It helps you realize that he is not going to be forgotten," Sandra Jordan, the Alabama soldier's mother, said of the memorial. "This way, when I'm dead and gone, somebody will read it and realize that Jason fought in the war, and that he died."

Across the country, numerous tributes to Americans who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan have sprung up. They have been as varied as websites and the repainting of a water tank in Exeter, Calif., to honor a National Guardsman who died in an Iraqi mortar attack. Some have been seasonal, such as an 8-foot-high balsam fir in Amnicon, Wis., that was decorated at Christmas with the names of 31 Wisconsin soldiers killed in Iraq.

However, Garvey's goal of placing bronze versions of "field crosses" — the rifle-and-helmet symbols soldiers use to mark comrades' battlefield graves — in each hometown with a wartime death appears to be the most ambitious plan.

"People are taking it upon themselves to honor the dead," said Howard M. Weiss, a psychology professor and co-director of the Military Family Research Institute, a government-funded center at Purdue University.

Such public homage, he said, is a stark contrast to the Vietnam era, when some opponents of the American presence in Southeast Asia refused to recognize the sacrifices of the troops who were fighting and dying there.

Lengthy delays in officially commemorating America's fallen in some previous wars have also made some families adamant that they are not going to wait for the government this time. John "Skip" Bushart of Waterford, Mich., a Detroit suburb, said he was determined to erect one of Garvey's memorials for his son Damian, 22. The private first class from A Troop, 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Division, of Armstrong Barracks, Buedingen, Germany, was killed in November 2003 when a tank collided with his vehicle in Baghdad.

"As a veteran of Vietnam, we waited 25 years for a memorial of some kind," said his father, a former master chief sergeant in the Air Force Reserve. "World War II had to wait almost 50 years for the memorial," he said, referring to the monument dedicated last year on the Mall in Washington.

For many in Elba, a town of 4,000 in southeastern Alabama, the memorial to Jordan has been a way for people to demonstrate their appreciation for what he did, and to provide moral support to his parents.

"This is a relatively small town," said Russ English, administrative officer at National Security Group, an insurance company in Elba. "Obviously everyone here feels the loss, and we just want to do something so that we don't lose sight or forget."

The memorial to Jordan is in a Veterans Memorial Park that the insurance company opened on its corporate grounds in 1988. Sandra Jordan said three businesses had contributed materials or helped build the site.

Garvey contributed the bronze sculpture of the M-16 and helmet. His son, he said, would have wanted his friend honored before himself.

In Michigan, Bushart said he had collected more than $5,000 to pay for his son's memorial, from contributions and through a carwash, a bowlathon and a monthly spaghetti dinner benefit held by a restaurant. Local companies will contribute a bronze plaque, a flagpole and the labor. A congressman will send an American flag that has flown over the Capitol.

"The biggest battle I face is going to be with local government so far as securing an 8-square-feet piece of property," Bushart said. His township's veterans committee has been reluctant to approve the use of municipal land to honor one person.

The owner of the restaurant where the spaghetti benefits are held has proposed putting the monument in front of his business. Whatever location is chosen, Bushart said, he hoped the monument could be ready by May 27, which would have been his son's 24th birthday.

"It does help with the grieving process," the father said. "And it helps knowing that with these memorials, these military service members will be remembered. I don't want to say, 'will not have died in vain,' because I don't want to get into the politics of the war. But people will see these memorials and remember these kids."

Polls Close in Historic Iraqi Elections

BAGHDAD, Iraq — The polls in Iraq have closed, ending the country's first open elections in more than 50 years and setting a course for what U.S. officials hope will be a long democratic future.

All around the country, Iraqis defied threats of violence and cast their votes. An initial estimate of turnout from the Independent Electoral Commission indicated that 72 percent of eligible Iraqi voters had turned out to cast their ballots.

FULL STORY - from Fox News

A Wounded Hero is Back in Iraq

Capt. Timothy Ozmer, a member of the Washington State
National Guard’s 81st Brigade Combat Team, shows an X-ray
of the titanium screws and tubing that stabilize his back.
Ozmer is returning to duty in Iraq five months after his injury.

Titanium spine, iron will, big heart
ADAM LYNN; The News Tribune

Capt. Timothy Ozmer, a member of the Washington State National Guard’s 81st Brigade Combat Team, shows an X-ray of the titanium screws and tubing that stabilize his back. Ozmer is returning to duty in Iraq five months after his injury.

Timothy Ozmer has good reasons to stay home.

There are the titanium tube and rods holding his spine together, a reminder that the place he’s headed is increasingly violent. There are his wife and two little girls, who already have had to say goodbye to him twice in the past 11 months.

But Ozmer, a captain in the Washington National Guard, will board an airplane at Sea-Tac Airport on Monday and fly back to Iraq. He rejoins the 81st Brigade Combat Team, which is only a few months from finishing its yearlong deployment in the Middle East.

It’s been five months since Ozmer broke his back when an insurgent’s bomb exploded under his Humvee outside Logistical Support Area Anaconda near Balad.

It was an injury severe enough that he could stay out of combat for the rest of his time in the Army.

“I had to push it to get to go back,” he said.

His return comes just days before Iraqis hold their first parliamentary elections in decades – a vote insurgents have vowed to disrupt with violence.

“I wish he could have waited until after the elections, but that’s the way it is,” said Connie, his wife of 16 years.

Ozmer, 37, a Milton resident, made a pledge to himself just days after the Aug. 4 explosion that wounded him, killed one 81st Brigade soldier and wounded two others: He would return to his troops if at all possible.

“My guys are still over there,” he said last week as he made final preparations for his journey. “As long as my unit is forward deployed and I’m medically cleared for duty, I have no business being back here.”

There are selfish reasons as well, he said – reasons that some people might not understand.
“I guess I need to prove to myself that I can still get in the truck and go outside the wire,” said Ozmer, who joined the Army in August 1986 and has had active-duty or National Guard status ever since. Before deployment, he wrote curricula for Army online training courses.

His wife said she understands his decision, even though she doesn’t like it.

“He’s very committed and he worries a lot about his guys,” she said. “If I were him, I’d probably do the same thing.”

‘Six is hit’
The bomb that nearly crippled Ozmer exploded at 5:42 p.m.

“I know,” he said, “because I had just looked at my watch.”

His Humvee was leading another back to Anaconda after several hours on patrol in the dusty farm country that surrounds the huge supply hub 50 miles north of Baghdad.

More than 20,000 coalition troops are deployed at Anaconda, including nearly 1,200 81st Brigade soldiers.

The heavily armored rig, driven by Spc. John West of Federal Way, was rolling down a dirt road alongside a canal when one of the front wheels ran over a piece of plywood buried in the dust.
The plywood was connected to a pressure-triggered detonator. The detonator was attached to three anti-tank mines stacked on top of each other.

The explosion flipped Ozmer’s rig – designated No. 6 on that day’s patrol – onto its roof.

Sgt. Chris Edwards, trailing in the second Humvee, saw the blast and radioed, “Six is hit” back to Anaconda before the sound of the explosion reached him several hundred meters away.

The blast ruptured the engine block of Ozmer’s rig, spraying him and West with battery acid and motor oil.

Ozmer’s seat detached from the floor and crashed onto the upturned ceiling, shattering his L-4 vertebrate into tiny pieces.

“When I saw the X-ray later,” Ozmer said, “it looked like space junk.”

West, a software programmer in civilian life, was crushed by the dashboard and crumpled frame. His back was broken in two places, his pelvis fractured and his leg snapped, Ozmer said. He is still recovering at home in Federal Way.

Spc. Donald McCune, who was riding in the gunner’s hatch on the roof, was thrown clear in the blast. McCune, 20, of Yplsilanti, Mich., later died of his wounds.

Only Sgt. Robert Johnson, a sniper who was riding in the seat behind West, escaped without serious wounds, although he too suffered a back injury. Johnson was awarded the Bronze Star for his response, which included using his bare hands to dig West out of the rig.

“It all seemed to happen pretty quick,” Ozmer said.

Willing a recovery
Getting back on his feet was a long time coming.

First there was surgery and a nearly monthlong recovery at Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center in Germany, where a doctor fused his spine with titanium. Then there was a weeklong convalescence at Madigan Army Medical Center at Fort Lewis.

Then came four months of physical therapy to restore strength and flexibility to his back. He spent hours on exercise machines, he stretched, he ran laps at the Puyallup YMCA with his body armor strapped to his torso.

“Every week it gets a little bit better, but I still have trouble touching my toes,” Ozmer said.
Then there was the campaign to return to duty.

Ozmer said he began lobbying the surgeon in Germany even before his operation was scheduled.
The doctor told him he’d have to see how the surgery went, Ozmer said. In the worst case, he’d be medically discharged from the Army. The best case: With work, he’d be able to go back to the battlefield.

In his mind, Ozmer focused on the best case and began working to make it happen.
“There are things I refuse to give up,” he said. “It’s all about choices. It hardened my resolve about things. You can do what you choose to do.”

But there was still Connie to convince. The Army flew her to Landstuhl shortly after his surgery.
“I started in on her almost as soon as she landed,” Ozmer said.

She wasn’t thrilled about the idea of his going back and still isn’t.

“If I would have my choice, I’d prefer he didn’t go,” Connie Ozmer said last week.
In the end, after talking to her husband about who he is and what he wants to be, she relented, she said.

“She has stuck right beside me through all of this the whole time,” Ozmer said. “I have a lot to be thankful for.”

The Ozmers are celebrating their 16th wedding anniversary today.

Escalating violence before the vote
Still, Connie Ozmer has doubts about her husband’s timing. He will arrive in Iraq a few days before next Sunday’s parliamentary elections.

Violence across the nation has increased in recent weeks as insurgents try to disrupt the vote. Attacks in cities where 81st Brigade troops are deployed – Baghdad, Mosul, Balad – have spiked in the last month, and the violence is expected to get worse in the coming days.

“There’s no doubt about that,” Ozmer said.

The scout platoon he commanded before his injury traveled to Mosul earlier this month to reinforce thousands of Fort Lewis-based troops already there. The U.S.-led coalition has poured troops into the northern city in an effort to quell violence in advance of the elections.

Insurgents have detonated at least five car bombs at coalition checkpoints in the area since Jan. 1.

On Thursday, Stryker soldiers from Fort Lewis opened fire on a car that did not heed signals to stop as it approached their patrol. Two Iraqis in the front seat were killed. Six children riding in back were not hurt.

In e-mails home, Ozmer’s troops describe Mosul as “the Wild West.”

But Ozmer probably will spend election day in Baghdad. His current orders call for him to join his parent unit – the 1st Battalion, 303rd Armor – at Camp Victory near Baghdad International Airport. The 1-303rd provides security on the perimeter of Victory and runs patrols and civil affairs missions in some nearby neighborhoods.

Another 81st Brigade unit – the 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment – also is in Baghdad, guarding the Green Zone and running combat operations in the city’s eastern suburbs.
On Thursday, four car bombs exploded in Baghdad, killing more than 20 Iraqis. On Friday, two bombings killed 20-plus more.

The increasing violence doesn’t faze Ozmer.

“I wish I could have been over there a month ago,” he said.

A promise to a 5-year-old
The hard part is preparing to leave his family for the third time since February 2004.

That’s when he first left home for training in California before deploying to Iraq. He was also home briefly on emergency leave in June when his mother fell ill.

During his convalescent leave, he shuttled his girls to gymnastics and swim practice, read to them at night and treated them to lunch at McDonald’s.

Now, he’s leaving again for what could be months.

His youngest daughter, 3-year-old Elizabeth, is too young to understand, Ozmer said. Lately, though, he’s had some long talks with his eldest daughter, 5-year-old Emily, who isn’t happy.
“She associates Iraq with being hurt,” Ozmer said. “When I tell her about some of my friends over there, she asks, ‘Have they been hurt yet?’”

The two reached an understanding recently, Ozmer said, when he promised to try to be home by her April 3 birthday. The brigade is scheduled to return home this spring.

It will be a long three months, his wife said, but it would have been a long three months had he stayed.

“For his mental well-being, I think it’s probably best for him to go, the little turkey,” Connie Ozmer said.

And her well-being?

“I left that at the beginning of the deployment,” she said, “and I’ll pick it up at the end of it.”

Thanks to Willie for passing this along.

In Today's News - Sunday, January 30, 2005 Associated Press
Iraqis vote in election, 31 die in attacks
Iraqis danced and clapped with joy Sunday as they voted in their country's first free election in a half-century, defying insurgents who launched eight deadly suicide bombings and mortar strikes at polling stations. The attacks killed at least 31 people.

Israel to conduct West Bank hand over
Israel will transfer security control over several West Bank towns to the Palestinians in coming days, Israel's defense minister said Sunday, hours after he met with a top Palestinian security official to work out the details of Israel's troop redeployment.

3 die in shootout in Kuwait's capital
Kuwaiti security forces stormed a building in a residential part of the capital and exchanged gunfire with suspected terrorists on Sunday, killing one in a battle that also left a security officer and a bystander dead, the government said.

Ministers: OPEC keeps output limit steady
OPEC will keep its output limit steady, two oil ministers said Sunday, meaning the cartel will continue producing 27 million barrels of oil a day.

CENTCOM: News Release

Command Post: Irak
BBC Forced to Aplogise
From The Scotsman :
The BBC was last night forced to issue an apology after it “misinterpreted” figures and claimed more Iraqi civilians may have been killed by coalition forces and their allies than by insurgents.
The figures, released by the Iraqi Ministry of Health, gave details of Iraqi deaths in the country between July 1 last year and January 1 this year. Command Post: Irak

Ananova: War In Iraq
17 killed in Iraqi poll attacks
Iraqis turned out to vote in their country's first free election in a half-century as insurgents made good on threats of violence, launching at least three deadly suicide bombings and heavy mortar strikes at polling stations. Just hours after polls opened Ananova: War In Iraq

Home arrests 'may be overturned'
The Government's most senior legal adviser has warned Home Secretary Charles Clarke that his plans to place terror suspects under home arrest may be overturned by the courts, it has been reported. Ananova: War In Iraq

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq
5 die in shootout in Kuwait's capital
Kuwaiti security forces stormed a building in a residential part of the capital and exchanged gunfire with suspected terrorists on Sunday, killing three in a battle that also left a security officer and a Bahraini bystander dead, state television reported. Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

Afghan authorities to collect Stingers
Afghan authorities are launching a new push to collect U.S.-made Stinger missiles left over from the 1980s war against Soviet occupiers, fearing they could end up in the hands of terrorists, an official said Sunday. Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

American assigned to Anbar province killed
A U.S. military service member assigned to Marine forces in Iraq's restive Anbar province was killed in combat Sunday, the military said. Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

Yahoo! News: War with Iraq
With Occasional Smiles, Iraqis Brave Bombs to Vote
Some smiled, some were stoic and otherskept their faces hidden as Iraqis trickled to the polls Sunday,braving anti-U.S. insurgents determined to drown the historicvote in blood. Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

The US News: Iraq News
Polls Open In Iraq Under Heavy Security
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- With its borders and bridges locked down and its hopes on the line, Iraq opened its polls Sunday for the country's first free elections in more than 50 years.At polling stations acros... [in NBC 13] The US News: Iraq News

Hoosier Marine Talks About Elections In Iraq
The following is an e-mail from Lt. Col. Mark Smith, an Indiana State Trooper currently leading a group of Marines in Iraq. Ladies, It is far too momentous an occassion for you not to share in the liv... [in WISH TV 8] The US News: Iraq News

Iraq Results May Be Slow to Show
On the eve of a historic ballot on Sunday, the hopes and plans of the country's key Sunni Arab minority remain largely unknown. That is why the weeks before the election have been consumed with politi... [in Yahoo] The US News: Iraq News

Voting Begins in Iraq's First Free Election in a Half-Century
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Polls opened early Sunday in Iraq's first free elections in a half-century. At polling stations across the country, voters began filtering into the polling stations, as poll wo... [in Tampa Bay Online] The US News: Iraq News

Shortstop-turned-Marine survives nine bombings in Iraq
ASKAN, Iraq -- The first time Lance Cpl. Tony Stevens was bombed in Iraq, a car packed with 155 mm shells exploded next to his vehicle just as a device containing five more shells detonated beneath it... [in Herald Sun] The US News: Iraq News

Polls Open, Voters File in Across Iraq
AP Photo JBM102 By HAMZA HENDAWI Associated Press Writer BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Voters trickled into polling stations under tight security Sunday in Iraq, casting ballots despite promises by insurgen... [in The Guardian] The US News: Iraq News

Procedures for Voting in Iraqi Election
VOTING CENTERS: Iraqis will report to 5,220 designated voting centers around the country. The centers will be ringed by Iraqi police and Iraqi National Guard troops, with American and other mult... [in Yahoo] The US News: Iraq News

Weather information from the Weather Channel

Al Azamiyah
Al Basrah
Al Hillah
Al Karkh
Al Kazimiyah
Al Kut
An Nasiriyah
Tall Kayf


From Fox News
A New Dawn of Democracy
Zarqawi Group Claims Credit for Violence
U.S. Nabs 7 in Embassy Attack
Bush: Iraq Vote Won't End Terrorism
Iraqi Expats Celebrate Vote in U.S.
Election Workers on Front Lines
Iraqis Stock Up on Food, Gas
Analysis: A Complex Democracy
Riot, Bomb Scare at Australia Polls
Iraq Sets Curfews Ahead of Vote
Three Zarqawi Men Nabbed
U.S. Chopper Crashes in Baghdad
Iraqi Expats Vote Around World
Hawaii Mourns Loss of Marines
Insurgents Step Up Attacks in Iraq
Chopper Crash Victims From Across U.S.
Iraqi Expats Begin Casting Ballots
Book: Gulf War Stopped Iraq Nukes

From the Department of Defense
Coalition Plays Support Role
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Predicts Big Voter Turnout
Iraqis in U.S. Cast Votes in Historic Election
Terrorists Fear Free Elections in Iraq
Casey: Elections Will Be Triumph of Democracy