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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

US Marine - John Hammer

Please take the time to watch this clip on US Marine Veteran (OIF/OEF), John Hammer.  He is being held on bogus charges in a Mexican prison.  Lets get his ass home for Christmas, Obama Administration!!

CLICK ON PICTURE TO WATCH VIDEO CLIP
 
 
Visit my homepage for more current events and links to my book; Combat Support "The True Burden Of Sacrifice."

Monday, December 17, 2012

Violence in the USA

Due to recent events in Newtown, CT, I will try and choose my words carefully.  All I have been hearing from the pundits on the left and right are what we are accustomed to hearing, the extremes as usual as it pertains to each party.  From the left I hear mainly the need for tighter gun control, or event he possibility of a ban of some sort, creating the illusion that some magical force will come and remove weapons from houses across the USA, houses in which law abiding citizens purchased and legally own and operate their weapons with the responsibility that comes along with living under our constitution.  To imagine that firearms will be confiscated from owners homes is as much fantasy as "THE HOBBIT" which opened in theaters this past weekend.  What reality would bestow upon us is the knowledge that if we confiscate, or try to confiscate firearms form law abiding citizens, it could certainly, in the long run, lead to violence that would far exceed that of what is seen, or has been seen in recent mass shootings from Arizona to Connecticut. 

The following is all hypothetical, again, most likely the far extremes in both cases, but this is what I am constantly bombarded with from all the lemmings bee-bopping along with the left and right.

First of all, the purchase of the firearm was and has been the right of the citizen, to try and take it from them is not just infringing on their rights, but removing from their ownership an item that they legally purchased and own.  Ownership is key here, because the items I have purchased legally on the open market regardless of whether it is electronics, furniture, motor vehicles, a house, or food, these items I own, I have placed my hard earned money into acquiring these things, and I be damned if anyone (lest it be God, or Jesus in the flesh), shall take these things from me if I personally have not violated a specific law that we are governed by.  Now, laws can change, I understand that, and if the law becomes one that we must give up our firearms, then I expect that it will take more than local law enforcement to enforce and seize all legally owned weapons.  This most likely means that the National Guard will be involved, which would make sense, but I hate to see the confrontation between gun owners, the National Guard, and other law enforcement agencies, it truly could be a civil war, that is how passionate some gun owners are - giving up their firearms would literally be over their dead bodies, being pried from their cold dead hands. 

On the other hand, we want to argue for the rights of citizens to bare arms, that is fine and dandy, but I guarantee if an individual is of sound mind to own a firearm today, that doesn't mean they are of sound mind to own one tomorrow.  Anyone who owns a gun can become a loose canon at anytime, regardless of their past, regardless of if they have a squeaky clean background check prior to purchasing the firearm.  It only takes one stressful situation for someone to snap, for an otherwise sane individual to fall off the deep end.  To become unstable, to fall so far down that all they feel they have left is to unleash a barrage of hate and violence at the most innocent and defenseless of individuals.  Defenseless is the key here, everyone has heard this statement before, it is about gunfights, don't be the one who shows up with a knife, what the hell good is that gonna do ya?

Mental health is at the core of this problem, the health care community needs to do more and be aggressive when addressing possible homicidal and suicidal individuals within our society.  There was a homicide in my hometown over a year ago, it was known the guy had a history of mental illness, he even recently had a hospital visit and was examined and interviewed by the psychiatric services at a local hospital.  Eventually he was discharged, now, I do not know the reasoning for his discharge, why the decision was made, or the guy's demeanor, judgment, or mood at the time this all occurred, but some licensed physician gave him the clearance to return to society.  Then he promptly stabbed his wife/fiancĂ©/live in girlfriend numerous times all while their little child was in the house.  Now, can't necessarily blame the medical provider for this, but it leaves us wondering how, after recently being hospitalized, this guy made it back into society, especially with a history of violence and mental health illnesses.  How can we be certain someone who is bipolar or schizophrenic will not go off their meds and become a ticking time-bomb, how can we prevent, or deter individuals with mental health illness from taking legally purchased firearms from sane law abiding citizens and using them for evil.  You can't, this is an impossible task, and treating mental illness is not like treating a heart attack, or a stroke, or a broken arm, there is no special imaging that is going to lead you to your diagnosis and drive your treatment, it is all based off taking a history and completing a physical exam to include a mental status evaluation.  This is not all conclusive however, it is simply a game of chance, and each provider most likely prays that when he leaves that individual who two weeks ago had homicidal ideations walk out the front doors of the hospital, he doesn't return n a body bag after acquiring a firearm and killing dozens of defenseless people.

This is such a monumental task, gun control, violence, mental health, that it would be simple to throw together a law quickly and pass it to try and resolve an issue that is ongoing and truly not resolvable with any one certain idea or discussion.  Multiple discussions on each topic briefly mentioned need to be hashed out, thoughtfully, diligently, and thoroughly if there will ever be a true movement that the entire nation can agree upon.  But there will never be a solution, there is simply too many variables to this equation for an answer to be found, for a permanent solution to be etched into law.  This will not be the last school shooting, but it certainly can be the last with such a significant amount of lethality and innocence lost.

Just remember...
Don't be the guy who shows up with a knife, to a gun fight......

Sunday, November 25, 2012

144th ASMC and Iraq... Part Four (Bye, Bye, USA... Hello Kuwait)

The most satisfying part of the pre-deployment phase, was when it was over.  Knowing we had fulfilled all the nonsense the Army required of us prior to shipping out to a combat zone.  It was November 2005, our whole company was ready to get on with our wartime mission and eventually get back to our families and lives back home in the states.  We had to complete a few weeks of training at Camp Bullis near Fort Sam Houston prior to shipping overseas.  Between the training in and around Fort Bliss and Camp Bullis we had an opportunity to go home for nearly a week.  It was a breath of fresh air, for me it would only be a couple months before I returned on my mid-tour leave, with a baby on the way I would be allowed to go home after her birth, albeit a month after the baby arrived.  This visit would be when we said our final goodbyes with out homeland below our feet.  After the training in Camp Bullis, we would be headed straight to Kuwait, with the eventual destination of war-torn Iraq. 


Ireland Layover
As I mentioned, this was without a doubt the best moment of the pre-deployment phase.  We were finally going to deploy and complete the mission that was laid out before us months ago.  There still was some uncertainty as to what we would be doing, but we knew our tight little medical company would be split into several teams to be placed in various locations throughout Iraq.  As far as the locations, we had no immediate reliable intel on what the locations were truly like, if there had been recent or many attacks, or how volatile the world we were walking into might be.  Fortunately, it would be a pretty benign atmosphere for most of us, for at least half the year we spent with "boots on ground."  As it should have been considering that the majority of us did not have missions that were likely to take us "outside the wire" and into uncertain circumstances in what could be unfriendly parts of Iraq. 


Kuwait awaited, one long flight with a nice short layover in Shannon, Ireland.  I mention Ireland in my book, it was simply a beautiful place from the views I had behind the large windows of the airport.  I need to go to that country sometime in the future, guess I will add that to the bucket list.  As beautiful as Ireland was, we would soon be in the desert, some of the Army facilities, are plopped perfectly in sparse desert lands of the Kuwaiti nation.  In stark contrast to the greenery of Ireland, we were about ready to drop landing gear into Kuwait City, which is full of life, then be bussed straight into the nether region of Kuwait.  It was an interesting couple of days, from Texas to Ireland, to Kuwait.  From the freedom of the USA, to the frailty of the Middle East.  But it was "mission go" time and the time was ripe for the taking, and there was plenty of time to be had, 12 months of it.

Below is a trimmed excerpt from my book, Combat Support "The True Burden Of Sacrifice." This piece never made print as I nixed it on my way to shrinking the overall length of the book.

Friday, November 25, 2005

            Today we encountered our first experience with Soldiers involved in an IED attack.  Luckily for them it blew up 25 meters in front of them, and besides being a bit shaken over the experience, the only problems they had were headaches.  The fact that they are going home in a week also may have played into the things they were feeling during that near miss. 
            Of course our young friend came in for his daily dressing change, modern medicine is great, his burns are healing, but it will take months to replace the skin he lost.  So we will continue to change his dressing and monitor him for signs of infection.  Infection is the complication that will kill burn victims.  If not prevented or caught early, with the significance of his injury he could run the risk of death from infection.  Let’s just hope we can continue to clean it sufficiently and keep any infection away.
             We are starting to get into the groove of things, everyone here is working their butts off and as the Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge, I couldn’t be happier or more pleased with how everyone on this team has jelled and stepped up to the plate to do what it takes to make this a successful mission.  I just hope that it will continue for the next 12 months.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
            Shannon and the kids had a nice Thanksgiving, everything went well and I am glad to hear that they are all doing fine.  Shannon told me that her mother (surrogate) is going to move down to live with her when she has the baby, which is good news, she can use all the help she can get.  I miss them all and as always can’t wait to be reunited.  Good night from Camp Scania, Iraq.
            I still remember the encounter with our first combat casualties.  I was awakened late at night and told that the casualties were on their way in.  We expected the worse, as it turns out there was no serious injuries and the initial high wore off once the casualties arrived and there was no immediate cause for rapid action on our part.
Shannon’s surrogate mother is Kathy Crow, a woman that was nice enough to take Shannon in when her biological parents seemed to have little role in her life.  It takes a special person to welcome a near total stranger into your home and then treat them as one of your own.  That is how Grandma Crow is, she has been that way with Shannon and although she was initially concerned about the relationship Shannon started with an active Army Soldier she eventually warmed to my antisocial ways and welcomed me into the family also.  It was a welcome relief to know there was that little bit of extra help as the due date for our fourth child neared.  It is sacrifices like that that again show the all encompassing sacrifice of not just the Soldier, but the individuals that are involved in the Soldier’s life also.

Monday, November 19, 2012

144th ASMC and Iraq... Part Three

The initiation into a National Guard Deployment is the pre-deployment phase.  Prior to flying out of state to a mobilization site (which site you go to partially depends on the type of unit you belong to) there is usually a short pre-mobilization training period in your home-state.  Unfortunately, the worst part of deployment for the National Guard soldier is the pre-deployment portion of the activation.  At this point in the game the pre-mobilization training usually takes 3 months, it has been known depending on what type and size of unit you belonged to, to take upwards of 6 months.  I was extremely frustrated at this point, I vented often in my journal about how much of my time was being wasted, along with the taxpayer dollar.  I don't think individuals in the planning of these mobilizations were looking at the big picture.  If there was a little more coordinating and preparation we could save soldiers so much anxiety and discontent from the pre-deployment circus.

We left the Salt Lake International Airport on a direct flight to El Paso, Texas, and Fort Bliss.  There was nothing blissful about this part of the country for me, however, I left there with the knowledge that it would not be a very appropriate place for me to live.  I had horrible allergies during the last few weeks of training.  Seemed like I was under constant assault from a nerve agent, runny nose, stuffy head, cough, and no relief regardless of what I took, except Benadryl.  The unfortunate side effect of Benadryl is that it makes you tired, so at best I could only take it at night.  We are still subjecting National Guard soldiers to these long pre-deployment training adventures, some of it is needed for certain, but much of it, especially the down time sitting on your ass away from family, is gross negligence.  That is simply my opinion, and my opinion only. 

Regardless of how I felt about it, pre-deployment training was the first leg of our journey.  We only spent a week at Fort Bliss before being shipped out to Dona Ana, New Mexico to live for the next couple months while we trained.  I describe in my book the living conditions and the dilapidated buildings we used, however, 80 years ago they were most likely in excellent shape.  The best part of the time we spent in the southwest USA was the camaraderie that developed between the soldiers in our unit, so regardless of how poorly the time was managed, in the long run it brought the unit closer together.

A journal entry from the pre-deployment phase is below, you can get the whole story here:
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Friday, September16, 2005

Miserable, that’s how I feel, as if I’ve been run over by a freight train. No energy, no motivation, no will to do much of anything. That’s probably why we were out conducting more training for which I need energy and motivation. At least I’m not sitting around doing nothing, but the way my allergies have been hammering me lately, I’d rather just be sitting around. Yesterday and today we have been conducting quick reaction force (QRF) and traffic control point (TCP) training. Today the treatment platoon got a chance to set up the TCP, and we had much more action than yesterday.

For today’s mission I was reduced to a private; we let the junior enlisted get a feel for being in charge, and I was a member of the initial security team that went in and set up a 360-degree security perimeter as the rest of the platoon set up our AO (Area of Operation), which included vehicle and personnel search areas. All this meant was that I got to fire off more rounds, even though they were blanks. I definitely didn’t let the opportunity to fire my weapon pass me by. I had sixty rounds to begin with, but in a real situation I would have much more. The first time our AO came in contact with enemy fire I unloaded my whole magazine, thirty rounds, at the van firing at us. From that point on I decided I would conserve my ammo and only fire a few rounds at each encounter. If the rounds had been live and the enemy a true enemy, he would have been dead pretty quickly. I made sure my sights were aligned center mass on each individual; I don’t think I would have missed because the insurgents we encountered were less than 150 meters away.

The unfortunate part of a medical company pretending it’s an infantry or MP Company is the fact that some individuals don’t know that firing a weapon with your buddy in your line of sight is a bad thing. (Yes, I’m serious.) We were using blanks, but the instructors caught two individuals firing with friendly personnel in their line of sight. What does that mean? It is called fratricide, death by friendly fire. We had two, and that is absolutely unacceptable, no matter how you look at it.
The first was questionable. One of our SSGs fired at the enemy while a soldier was on one knee, trying to clear a weapons jam, about ten feet in front of him. The rounds he fired would have passed over the soldier, but if the soldier stood up, it would have been tragic. The second was absolutely negligent. The soldier was working in personnel search in the middle of AO and came in contact with enemy fire. This soldier decided to return fire from the middle of the AO, and continued to follow and fire at the insurgent as her line of fire took her straight into our Platoon Sergeant (PSG) who was working personnel search less than five feet from her. At the moment it was pretty funny, from what the others told me, but we’ll be using live rounds at some point, and the last thing I want is to get shot by a fellow soldier because they forget the basics of muzzle control with their M-16. It’s all fun and games until someone shoots an eye out.

Overall, it was a positive experience; the instructors didn’t have many negative things to say. We cleaned up the AO, police called the whole area for trash and brass, then returned to our barracks to enjoy the rest of the day. For me it wasn’t enjoyable, because all the dust and pollen that I’d been inhaling the last two days left me with a nose that was constantly running and uncontrollable sneezing fits.

I called Shannon and the kids. They were at Rick and Doris’s, so we had a short conversation—just long enough for me to say goodnight to each of them and find out Dylan’s soccer team won their game 6–2. Dylan scored another goal on a corner kick, something that rarely happens at any level of soccer. I’m pretty impressed. Hopefully he’ll keep pushing himself to get better than the next guy. If he doesn’t then he’ll be good, but possibly not the best. Good night.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day 2012

Here we are, another Veterans Day, a day to remember those who have served in the past, those that have placed their lives on the line in foreign land, for country, and for freedom.  The significance of this day, personally, resides in the fact that I returned to my "home of record" from deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom on this very day in 2006.  It was the end of what would be the biggest accomplishment of my professional career, and may forever be just that, never being outdone again. 

I was invited to be a guest speaker following the Veterans Day parade in Bloomsburg, PA yesterday, November 10, 2012.  Honestly, I was hesitant, mainly because I suck at speaking in public.  That isn't may be a harsh judgement of myself, but, it is simply the truth.  However, I felt I had to accept, not to prove anything to myself, but simply because thoughts of my grandfather (POW in WWII) and all the veterans that have come before me, who am I to refuse such a privileged request, who am I to say no when offered such an honor.  I said yes.  So yesterday I reported to the Fire Hall in Bloomsburg with my wife, kids, and mother in tow. 

I had planned what I was going to say, had it all written down.  I was going to run through a brief introduction, tell where I am from, when I joined the Army, where I had served, etc.  I was then going to talk about the near epidemic plaguing the military now, behavioral health disorders, what I feel we can do to help move towards resolving these issues.  Then of course get into what the military has done for me, what it has given me in my life.  That was the plan, that isn't what happened, but that was the plan.

What happened when I arrived was a culmination of emotions that were unbearable for me to control, especially in front of all the grizzled vets that were present.  As soon as the veterans started to make their way in from the end of the parade I could already tell that I was going to have issues.  I started to have tears well up in my eyes, simply with the thought of what many of these men lived through years ago.  As my family and I were standing waiting for remaining individuals from the parade to roll in we spoke to a gentleman named Mr. Ed Livsey.  He was a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam Wars.  He would end up playing the national anthem on the clarinet before I spoke, but at this moment he was telling us how he learned to play the clarinet, but never knew how to read music.  He would just need to hear the music one time and he could play it as though he was reading it from a sheet of music.  Pretty amazing, but as he was talking, he spoke of his wife and then of his service.  He stated he went to Vietnam and never saw any action there, then starting to well up with emotion he stated that he saw horrible things and good friends die in Korea all rolling out through a quivering voice while tears appeared in his eyes and rolled down his cheeks.  He is 81 years old.  A prime example of why service is so important to me, men like this.

So, as pleasant as my visit with Mr. Livsey was, it increased my emotional anxiety, dramatically, I knew I was going to have trouble getting through my short talk.  So, after the invocation, Pledge of Allegiance, National Anthem, I was called to the microphone as the "guest speaker."  Honestly, I probably left a lot to be desired by the dozens of people gathered and awaiting their lunch.  I never pulled my written speech from my pocket.  I simply went up there, said who I was, mentioned my book, then could barely get anything else comprehensible out before thanking everyone and walking off.  It didn't last very long, my wife said I did fine (but what else would she say?), but I have no clue today what I said, none idea what so ever.  I would loose my composure every time I looked at my wife, she would be wiping away tears, then I would break down with emotion, voice cracking, tears forming, then compose myself again.  It is all a blur.  We stayed and ate lunch, it was a nice meal, I also spoke to several other individuals, veterans, and spouses of veterans.  All pleasant, but I wish I would have got some pictures with some of the elder vets.  That is my only regret, along with giving such a poor speech, but like I told my wife afterwards - I just have to live with it, regardless of how good, or bad it may have been.

Below is what my game plan was for the guest speaker spot, just notes to keep me on track (not edited).  Next time, I am pulling it out of my pocket.  Just need to make sure there is a next time.


·        Terry Cropf, born and raised in Danville, just down the river
·       Spent my childhood running the streets around the Memorial Park in Danville, grew up a block east on Bloom Street, in the home my parents still live
·        16 years of service in the US Army, or Army National Guard
o   enlistment began in January 1997 – basic training, advanced individual training
o   Korea for a year as a combat medic assigned to 1st of the 9th Infantry, Camp Hovey, (PCS) permanent change of station
o   Dugway Proving Ground, the best kept secret in the Army, a biological and chemical test facility in the west desert of Utah.  It was in Utah I met my wife, my future family, and decided I should leave the active Army
o   ETS (End/expiration term of service) - took a civilian Department of the Army position as an EMT/Occupational Health Technician in January 2001
·        September 11th – Re-enlisted in the Utah Army National Guard – love what the National Guard has to offer – unit stability
·        As a member of the Utah Army National Guard I spent approximately 45 days working security for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games, a couple weeks in Nicaragua as part of New Horizons 2005, a humanitarian mission to build schools and provide medical services, and then the honor of serving my country in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005 to 2006.  Three months of pre-deployment training at Fort Bliss, Texas, and Dona Ana and McGregor Ranges, New Mexico.  Then a 12 month deployment as the NCOIC of the Troop Medical Clinic at Convoy Support Center Scania, a small rest, refuel, and refit camp along MSR Tampa between Tallil in southern Iraq and the capital city of Baghdad. 
o   During this deployment I kept a journal, that journal became the foundation I built my first novel around – Combat Support – The True Burden of Sacrifice.  This is not a war story, but a story of service.  It is a comprehensive reflection of my life leading up to and through my service in Iraq.  A reflection of both good and bad choices, a look into the combat support role my unit, specifically my small team, played in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and my view of what simply is the True Burden of Sacrifice.  Which is larger than the individual, and encompasses the entire support system of the individual service member.
·        I returned from Iraq, to my hometown of Danville, transitioning to Physician Assistant school in Williamsport to further my educational goals and civilian and military careers.
·        During this time I transitioned to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, serving in the 109th Field Artillery in Wilkes-Barre prior to ending my enlistment and beginning my commissioned career as the battalion physician assistant for the 3rd of the 103rd Armor Regiment, now located in Danville.
·        One of the main drivers of the book was my personal struggle emotionally when returning from Iraq.  I wasn’t suffering from PTSD, there was some bad stuff over there, but I have seen worse in the nearly three years I have worked as a neurosurgery PA at Geisinger in Danville, more pain, more suffering, and much more death.  But what I suffered from was a significant adjustment disorder, leaving a place I where I had become so comfortable, everything had become so routine, I had my mission, my fellow soldiers, and little else to be worried about.  I discuss this all in the book, how upon returning I became someone to this day I do not recognize, a person that I honestly can say I despise.  In the moment however, I didn’t realize any of this, and from this I learned a valuable lesson.  That is to listen to the ones who have been there for me, in the good times and the bad, and understand that they can see things from the outside that I am oblivious to on the inside. 
·        Mental, emotional and behavioral disorders have become an epidemic in our small community, this great fraternity we share. 
o   Recent Reports:
§  Suicides
§  Estimated BH
·        How to improve on these issues
o   I call it Prepare, Persevere, and Pursue
§  Prepare, both on an individual basis and leaders preparing their troops more effectively not just on battle drills and the necessary psychomotor skills to navigate the battlefield, but also the emotional conditioning needed to prepare for all aspects of a combat or combat support deployment
§  Persevere, because life is not easy, it wasn’t meant to be.  If it was we all would be living lives where service to country would not be a priority.  But this is what we have chosen, or this is what chosen us.  And the life of a service member will never be easy for the individual or family
§  Pursue the needed help when life spins out of control and you lose grip of what is most important to you.  When you get knocked down and are in the darkest of moments in life – reach for those that have been there for you, your fellow service members, family, or the educated behavioral health providers that now form an Army of professionals that want to tame this current epidemic plaguing our brothers and sisters.
·        What else service to country has taught me
o   Respect – it is not necessarily something you deserve, but certainly is something you earn – earn by showing the same respect to others that you expect in return
o   Overcome hardship – because what we see in the small picture that is the vacuum of our lives, is just that, small in the big picture of this world we live in.  Regardless how bad our lives may seem at any given moment, we are almost guaranteed that someone in this world is suffering worse
o   The realization that the sky is the limit when it comes to what can be accomplished with a little team work – it speaks volumes and goes a very, very, long way
o   Finally – to take ownership of my actions whether good or bad, and to stand and face all challenges head on
·        In closing
o   Thank you for your time and attention
o   Honored to be here among true heroes and your families
o   Thanks you and your families for your collective and individual sacrifice





Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hurricane Sandy - State Active Duty - The Future

It has been way too long since my last blog post, unfortunately this past week has been one of initial wonder, then preparedness, and eventual horror for many families throughout the New York, New Jersey, and Maryland coastline and also many families that felt the wrath further inland from Hurricane Sandy.  Last weekend, the last weekend of October 2012, we all prepared for Sandy to make landfall, no one in the northeast truly knew what to expect, I planned on going about my weekly routine, reporting to my neurosurgery physician assistant job early Monday morning as the storm began to show signs of making it's way through New Jersey.  I did just that, went to work, continued my normal daily duties as I always do and kept an eye on the weather, and some attention to my iPhone in case I received a call from my National Guard unit as Pennsylvania had 16,000 Guardsman on standby for what was feared to be a repeat of last year when we had significant flooding throughout out region in central and northeastern Pennsylvania. 

About 1000hrs I received that call, asking if I could report by 1200hrs for state active duty for what would become Operation Hurricane Sandy.  I reassured I could come in, but at the time I got the call I was inundated with work, as is our norm in neurosurgery, and said I could show up by 1600hrs.  I also had to shave my beard and get my uniform and other items together since I wasn't sure how long I would be asked to stay on orders, it would depend on the effect the storm had in our area of operation.  I left work shortly after 1500hrs and eventually made my way to my National Guard Armory which is conveniently located across the road from the subdivision where I live in Danville, PA.  This was not something that was planned, it just worked out that way, shortly after my family and I moved into our home they broke ground on the new armory.  I transferred to the unit that would eventually occupy that armory a little over a year before the armory opened.  Couldn't have worked out any better. 

Being a physician assistant I figured I could be available for the soldiers in case there was any injury or illness that I could manage locally without sending them to the emergency department.  Since the unit was operating with a strict number of soldiers I asked the powers that be if there was any other specific mission they might require from me.  There was, they asked me to man the tactical operations center (TOC) from 1900 to 0700 as the Battle Captain (officer in charge) and of course I couldn't refuse.  Being a medical officer I had no idea what was expected of me or what I needed to do, but after one shift it started to fall into place.  That first night I worked without sleep for 27 straight hours, from the time I woke up for work that Monday until I went to bed Tuesday morning after my shift ended on state active duty, 27 hours had elapsed.  That was the most difficult part of the state active duty in our area.  Our area of operations included eleven counties from where our armory is located north to the border with New York.  There were no missions during my shift and no requests from the Pennsylvania Emergency Medical Agency (PEMA) for help from our unit.

It was obvious from watching the weather channel all night that evening and early morning that the majority of the damage from this storm would be the Jersey Shore/East coast areas and New York.  West Virginia received significant snowfall, but by the grace of God north central Pennsylvania was spared major damage.  There were trees down in local towns and power outages, but no flooding, or other cause for significant concern.  We dodged a bullet, unfortunately many did not.

My state active duty ended Wednesday evening, only three short days and two long overnight shifts, I was back to neurosurgery by Thursday at 0645.  I can't help but think of all those who are suffering now, in those hard hit areas of Jersey and Staten Island.  I want to do more, sure I gave a very small amount of cash to the Red Cross, but more needs to be done.  I have tossed around an idea to gather a group of soldiers together and head down to Jersey for a weekend in the next few weeks to assist in recovery efforts.  Mainly to help clean up, give our time to help with labor, where it may be needed. So far I have a few of the guys from my platoon on board.  I need to resource some of my coworkers with ties in Jersey to see if there is a neighborhood we can adopt for a weekend and help in any way we can.  We could also take food and clothes down if we manage to get donations prior to heading down.  This idea is in the infancy of planning, but this is something we need to do, we need to help our fellow Americans in this time of need.

If you have read this post and are someone in the Jersey area in the need of some free labor, or you know of a neighborhood that is in need of such help, please go to www.terrycropf.com and go to the contact link and send me a message and contact information.  Or click the link below and post a message on our newly created Facebook page.  We are looking at the weekend prior to or after Thanksgiving to lend a hand if needed.

Also available on www.terrycropf.com is information to for the Red Cross and donations in support of those affected by Sandy.

God Bless the USA!!

http://www.facebook.com/103rdARMed?ref=hl

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

144th ASMC and Iraq... Part Two

Preparing for deployment is certainly the worst part of the big picture of serving overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, at least for the National Guard.  It takes a few weeks of preparing in state, then re-locating to a pre-deployment site and spending a couple months there, mostly sitting on your ass, waiting to deploy to serve in the capacity you have trained and prepared for your entire career.  Now, that isn't to say you aren't prepared, but I know in my case, and I bitched about it in my journal and to my chain of command, that it was a gross injustice of scheduling on the training site's part.  Now, this may just be "the way it is," but you know what, when you are leaving your family for a year "boots on ground," well, it is kind of hard to take spending three months of pre-deployment training away from the family to actually only do 6 weeks of training.  Maybe I am exaggerating a little, but I certainly know we spent a good two weeks, a day here, a day there, of doing absolutely nothing.  Either way, that was then, but there are Guardsmen that have done five or six tours, and each time, they had to do pre-deployment training. 

So, the time building up to the deployment was literally stress free, not sure why, but it was almost as nothing was going to happen, like I wasn't getting ready to tear free of my family for the better part of fifteen months.  But I was, in early August of 2005 the 144th ASMC had it's official federal activation, a small ceremony in Springville, Utah, little fanfare, a short time later, we would be gone, flying out of the Salt Lake International Airport, en route to Fort Bliss, Texas for a process I soon won't forgive my Army for making me go through.  But, as we said then, "check the box," all the training needed to be done.  And we completed it, mostly with motivation and to the best of our ability.  We were taught tactics as if we were military police, like we would be going door to door and operating in close quarters combat.  It was, when we trained, fun, for the most part, but the sitting around frustrated me to no end. 

Now I am getting into the portion of my military career that is covered in pretty good detail in my book.  Pre-deployment, deployment, and the post-deployment time frame.  I will not go into too much detail about the Iraq deployment, but will post selected excerpts from my book throughout the next few blog posts.  Then I will move on to the present and where I am in the here and now with my continuing military career.

Part of the first journal entry in what turned out to be a word document nearly 250 pages long:

Saturday, August13, 2005
Tears, heartache, and sorrow are the three words that come to mind to describe today. Saying goodbye to the ones I love is, without a doubt, the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with in my life so far. Although I still feel that, in the end, this will be one of the proudest experiences of my life, I still feel that sinking feeling when reflecting on this morning. I was happy to see some friends, Al and Cindy, with their kids, Matt and Walt, and of course Rod (my co-worker from Tooele and fellow 144th soldier, because he was going, too), Nikki, and their little girl.

0420 hrs

I wake up and the full realization of today’s events begins to unfold. I couldn’t really focus and think about the upcoming goodbye without tears welling in my eyes. For most of the morning I shook them off, but I knew when the moment arrived it would be difficult. All of the kids, Dylan, Destiny, and Dakota, were up and ready to go on time. We left the house, picked up our family and my wife’s friend of many years, Doris, and drove to the Air National Guard Base without any consequence.

0600 hr

Formation, final accountability for our journey to the unknown. OK, I’m being a little dramatic, but hell, this is a big deal. There are no guarantees when entering a hostile country and situation—but we aren’t there yet. A few words from various high rollers in the Utah Guard, and the waiting began; our flight was scheduled to leave at 0900 hrs. For the next hour-plus we sat and talked, while through our minds ran the constant thoughts of missing each other for this extended period of time. There were pictures, words of comfort and of course, that sinking feeling in my heart.

0800 hrs


We exit the building we’d been waiting in and make our way to a grassy area across the road from the fight line. The waterworks start; Dakota tells me she doesn’t want me to go. Why did she wait until now? Because she’s four years old, of course. I can’t contain the emotions that have been building in me for weeks. I cry, grab my kids, hug them and struggle to say I love them with the strain of emotion coursing from my mouth. I love them more than I probably will ever be able to explain. I tend to avoid emotional issues due to my inability to control emotions at times, and I apologize to my loved ones for that. This buildup to deployment might have been easier had I been talking to my wife and kids, working up to this point, and for that, Shannon, Dylan, Destiny, and Dakota, I apologize from the deepest part of my heart. I love you all beyond any comprehension of the word and will forever.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

144th ASMC and Iraq... Part One

The 144th Area Support Medical Company was stood up sometime in early 2005.  There were rumblings across the Utah Army National Guard medical community about a new ambulance unit being put together, something that was most likely a direct result of a need in this new century and what would be greater than a decade of warfare for our military community.  My first encounter with the 144th was in Nicaragua, the unit was sent down there for New Horizons 2005, a mission to build schools and provide medical care to some of the more remote areas in Nicaragua.  Engineer and medical units spent time down in the rural areas in over several months constructing schools and treating locals for various medical issues. 

The 144th rotated it's soldiers through the camp placed next to a Nicaraguan military compound in two week rotations for the most part, some of it's soldiers may have spent the entire time down there which was between 3 and 6 months.  The time frame they were there escapes me now, but irregardless, they were there providing medical support for the supporting units of the mission.  I went down with a contingent of soldiers from Utah's Medical Command to provide the treatment for the locals.  It was a great opportunity which I touch on in my book, and it was great getting to work with those soldiers whom I had grown to respect and bond with in the Medical Command.  At the end of our two weeks in which we treated over two-thousand Nicaraguans we spent two days at an all inclusive Pacific coast resort.  While there I spent some time on the beach, it was empty, not what I am used to back in the states, and then visited one active,one dormant volcano, and then did some shopping for my wife and kids at a marketplace in a local town.  It was a beautiful country, but they certainly do not live like us, or have the luxuries we do.  Unfortunately I don't think many Americans realize how lucky they are to live in this country, with the freedoms, and the comforts that are afforded us.  Even on the worst day for an American, there is someone worse off in the world. 

We returned to Utah happy with what we accomplished as a group in Nicaragua.  It was shortly after we returned home that the news about the 144th activation spread through the Utah Army National Guard.  They would be going to Iraq, and they would need our unit to back fill their empty slots.  I didn't think they would need a Staff Sergeant, the higher you climb in the ranks, especially in the National Guard, the less spots there are for you to serve in.  Eventually there is an bottleneck effect at the top and some individuals may stay in the same position for years and years before promotion opportunity arrives unless they are willing to transfer units or change specialties.  The details of how I ended up transferring to the 144th for their deployment to Iraq are well established in "Combat Support; The True Burden Of Sacrifice," so I will not repeat them here, but it is certainly worth picking up the book and reading, especially considering my wife was pregnant with our fourth child and MSG Rackham (mentioned in previous blog post) made all his Staff Sergeants exempt from the deployment due to our "essential-ness" to the Medical Command mission. Most in my situation would not have made the choices I did, but I did what I thought I needed to do at the time and would do it again if given the same circumstances.

One thing that was certain, I was headed to Iraq, as a member of the 144th Area Support Medical Company.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Idea For a Book - putting it all together

I didn't start writing my book until after I finished physician assistant school.  There certainly wasn't time during school, mainly due to the frame of mind I was in and the demands the physician assistant program in general.  So after finishing, I figured I would sit down and start writing, I knew that the journal I kept in Iraq would make up the meat of the book, knowing going in that at least one fourth of the book was written already made it a little bit easier to pursue this task. 

I knew that putting my pre-deployment life into perspective would be of great importance to the overall story.  Telling the story of a life that was much different from what I had come to know as a service member in the U.S. Army was important because they clashed so much, but also because you can not truly understand the sum of a whole if all the variables are not included in the equation.  My life before the military and deployment were crucial variables in this equation that came together in "Combat Support; The True Burden Of Sacrifice" that without them I would have just had an equation that was not solvable, that wouldn't have had an answer.

Dona Ana, New Mexico
Just as important as the pre-deployment and deployment parts of the book is the post-deployment aspect of the story which I have often referred to as the "post-deployment chaos."  I say that for one reason only, it was chaos, but chaos that I had never understood or lived through before.  I couldn't manage it, and as close as I was physically to my wife, kids, and family I felt very far away emotionally and couldn't cope with simple conflict that entered my life during those first couple of years after returning home.  I left my deployment family too soon, I wish I had stayed in Utah and got some closure, said proper good-byes and closed some doors that would have made my transition 2000 miles back to my hometown of Danville, Pennsylvania a little easier.  However, this isn't how life transpired for me, or for my family, but it was at the time we wanted.  We arrived in Utah on November 11th, 2006, Veteran's Day, and 2 days later I was back in Danville, preparing to attend college as a 30-something Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

I wish I could somehow summarize the insanity that had entered my life during those years, right after Iraq, I couldn't understand a damn thing that was going on in my life, I had difficulty concentrating, sleeping, and feeling attached to my wife and kids.  But I didn't question it at all during that time, I just thought this was how everything was before, I didn't see any difference from pre-deployment Terry than post-deployment Terry, but there were differences, those differences were as contrasting as night and day.  I was blind to them, as many returning veteran's are.

As much as we have brought attention to the post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) world, we still have mountains to climb to completely reel in all the veterans who come home with behavioral health issues.  Now, to the fault of veterans like myself, we don't look for help, or seek it out, at least not initially.  This is what has been bred into us to be a sign of weakness, and a possible career killer.  But, these disorders, PTSD, adjustment disorder, depression, and most anxiety disorders can be cured.  Yes cured, not buried under drugs and masked from reality, but literally wiped from the cortex of brain parenchyma that houses these feelings and emotions.  Okay, it may not be wiped clean, but it can be buried and locked away for good.  It is not easy, and there may be many failures before success, but I can tell you without doubt, that if one truly wants to conquer these diseases, the means, the vehicle for correction exists.  You just have to know where to find it and understand that you are not alone, especially in this uniformed services fraternity we live in, you have company.

You physically came home from the war, it is time to walk away from the emotional battle that continues to rage inside your mind.  All veterans, you need to come home emotionally, you are needed, you are wanted, and open arms await you......

Links to helpful websites:
PTSD Hotline
Make the Connection
National Center for PTSD - Veterans Affairs
National Institute of Mental Health
Family of a Vet.com



 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Return to the Army green... Part four (Staff Sergeant)

In September of 2004 I was promoted to Staff Sergeant (SSG), a promotion that came less than 2 years after my promotion to Sergeant (SGT).  This is a rank for which I was honored to finally achieve, it was the one promotion I never saw coming, didn't have a clue it was going to happen, to date it the only promotion or advancement that was kept quiet prior to being awarded to me, I was very, very surprised.  The promotion would be my last as an enlisted soldier, and it would come in a unit for which I still have fond memories and great respect for the individuals I served with during those years in Utah.  As a SSG I joined a core group of NCOs, all SSG, that I feel was collectively, one of the strongest NCO groups I have ever been associated with.  Our mentor and acting First Sergeant, Chuck Rackham, was a man I still am in contact with to this day (thanks facebook), and a man who was instrumental in my promotion to SSG.  He has been, and always was, a huge supported in my endeavors as an NCO and my decision to become an officer.  I almost wasn't an officer, my most cherished military goal was to be a Sergeant Major, not gonna happen, but now I have different goals for my military career, and none have anything to do with my personal rank.  They have to do with maintaining medical readiness for my fellow Guard soldiers, so when the state, or nation calls, they can perform their duties.

CPT Horning (right) and SSG Thompson
(left) in Nicaragua, date stamp is wrong,
butuniform of those years was the 
Battle Dress Uniform (BDU)
I am sure early on, Master Sergeant (MSG) Rackham, had his concerns with me.  I was not completely sure after being promoted to SGT if I wanted to continue to serve in the Guard.  I had even at one point tried to contact a recruiter to see if I had an option to transfer back to the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), that never materialized.  I am certain MSG Rackham thought closely about whether or not I should have been an NCO during those early years, but his patience paid dividends in the end.  I stayed with the Medical Command and as difficult as it was early on to feel that I belonged, eventually, I became comfortable.  The only reason for that was my fellow soldiers.

Along with MSG Rackham, there was my great fellow NCOs SSG Troy Thompson, SSG Eric Sivertson, SSG Sherill Peacock, and SGT Dan Andrews, just to name a few.  Most of them now hold different rank, are with different units, or are out of the Army National Guard.  However, looking back, those times during the initial years of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) we had a good group of individuals, a good group of NCOs, and an absolute great group of fellow Americans I am proud to have served along side.

View into the Salt Lake Valley from
Little Cottonwood Canyon, home to many of my
former fellow Utah Guardsmen.
It is funny when looking back, reminiscing on old times, and thinking how much life has changed.  How experiences in life have changed the course or path that we as humans travel.  How the hardships, difficulties, and challenges we endure impact us in ways we never can comprehend and are blind to at specific times in our lives.  It is something that I touch on in my book, it is a fundamental aspect of being human, accepting challenge, facing fears, making mistakes, and walking through the fire to reach the other side, where ever that may be.  Looking back, knowing the great citizen soldiers I have shared my service with, I have no doubt that the strength we shared those many years ago, helped push me through to the place I am today.  For those friendships in service I am grateful, for that time we spent together I am honored to have stood side by side with each fellow soldier during those years, and for many more to come.

Visit my new website that is under construction: www.terrycropf.com



 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Return to the Army green... Part three (NonCommissioned Officer)

The U.S. Army NCO Education System (NCOES) has made some changes since I have attended the Basic NonCommissioned Officer courses in 2010.  Mainly, the names of the courses have changes, the content, not as much.  While a Specialist (SPC/E-4) during those early years in the Army National Guard I was very inpatient at advancing to Sergeant (SGT/E-5).  I had been advanced to SPC while still active duty, sometime in 1999, I would remain that rank until 2003, what seemed like an eternity, but actually, would be less time than I spent at the Staff Sergeant (SSG/E-6) rank. 

So, after the Olympics, I was placed into a slot for the first of the NCOES schools, what is now known as the Warrior Leaders Course (WLC), but at the time was the Primary Leadership Development Course (PLDC).  I attended in early 2003 and accepted a SGT position at Utah's Medical Command located at Camp Williams in Riverton, Utah.  This was also the location I attended PLDC.  I had some excellent instructors in PLDC, good NCOs, that took their jobs seriously and wanted to pass on the required resources and knowledge to those of us attending to make us better junior leaders in the Army.  I understand the need for the NCOES schools, but honestly, not anyone can, or should be, an NCO.  I have had this discussion with some close military friends in the recent past.  Years ago,the Amry had SPC rank that advanced past the pay grade of E-4, it was meant to allow for soldiers to advance through the pay grades, but not have the burden or responsibility of an NCO.  It may be time to look at bringing this advancement of the SPC rank back, that way we are not pushing individuals not qualified into NCO positions.  This doesn't mean that the individuals are not worth retaining in the military, most can do their job well, but fall short in leadership ability and skills.  I went through PLDC, graduated, and was promoted to SGT in May 2005 within Utah's Medical Command (MedCom).  I was hesitant going to this unit, it is purely medical and "top" heavy.  That just means there is many officers, seems most medical units are like this.  Medical professionals have rank handed to them, even if they com in off the street.  This is another topic I touch briefly on in my book, Combat Support; The True Burden Of Sacrifice.  As unfair as it seems, it is hard to get and retain physicians and physician assistants, the demand of their civilian jobs are exceedingly keeping those in provider positions from joining the military ranks.  I am one of those individuals now, and I can honestly say, we are treated different than basic branch officers.  I can save that story for another blog post.

I transitioned into MedCom without issues. Found a home as part of the Screening and Immunizations team.  During the time I transitioned to MedCom, the state of Utah was deploying soldiers to both Afghanistan and Iraq at a rapid pace.  Seems like all we did during my early days there was have Soldier Readiness Processing (SRP) events multiple times a month.  It was a pace that would slow, but never completely stop while I was a member of the Utah Army National Guard.  Eventually it would be my turn to attend an SRP, but before that, I had a job to do in MedCom, and another promotion awaiting me before I ever saw an SRP.  The job would take me to Fort Bragg for the first time to help the demobilization process for one of the Army National Guard's Special Forces Groups.  Then it would lead me to a very rewarding 2 week humanitarian mission deep into the countryside of Nicaragua to witness 3rd country living at a level greater than what I saw in the countryside of Korea.  It was a good time, with some great people, it was the beginning of my career as an NCO, as a SGT, a rank I had finally achieved and was grateful to have.  And I was ready to lead from the front.