Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Rendezvous from the Civilian Side

I have been a busy man lately.  On top of working 35 hours a week, being a full time student, and father of one of the most rambunctious, roisterous three year old gals in the Midwest, I have been throwing some traveling into the mix.

Last week, I had the chance to go back to Ft. Benning for Ranger Rendezvous 2013.  This was the first Rendezvous that I was not an active duty Ranger, but rather a civilian.  This was the first time that I had been back in the Ranger atmosphere since leaving, and I really didn't know what to expect. Throughout my drive to Georgia, memories of my run came forefront.  From crossing the bridge over the Ohio River in Louisville, to running through Chattanooga, I felt as if I never had left that moment in time. When I finally arrived to Columbus, GA, it was raining and I was exhausted (I had been up for over 24 hours at this point).  That night I got the chance to go and get something to eat with Karl Monger, Founder and Executive Director of GallantFew, as well as meet some of the nation's very best.  It was an overwhelming experience meeting Ranger Hall of Famers and many others that I am connected with via Facebook, but never had the chance to meet face to face.  

The next morning, I met up with Karl, Tim Abell, and Mike Schlitz, and we attended the 2013 Ranger Hall of Fame Induction ceremony.  There was a sea of Rangers past, present and future in the crowd. The MC recognized Rangers from past generations, dating back to WWII.  Having all that history in the building was comforting, knowing that men like this exist to conduct business when America calls upon them.  But, my favorite part was being able to recite the Ranger Creed with all of these individuals.  It was amazing to see how deep the blood of the Ranger family runs.

The next day, we attended the Change of Command ceremony.  During its entirety, I was thinking how much better it is to go through these ceremonies sitting in the stands, rather than standing out in the hot Georgia sun, haha.  But, being able to see this formidable formation from outside the ranks was truly breathtaking.  Sitting there, I couldn't help but think, "How many are going to ETS in the next couple of years, and who will be there to help them out?" Following the ceremony, I gladly attended the GallantFew Board meeting and I got to hear about everything that is going  on in the upcoming year, which I can tell that everyone is very excited about.  Seeing great minds working together for the Ranger Veteran is very motivating.  When Run Ranger Run came up, I got chills.
Knowing that I had a dream, and the supporting cast to make that journey, has now become the primary fundraising/awareness raising event for GallantFew.  

In closing, I met some great people.  All the new faces that I met, I was introduced as 'Cory Smith, the original Run Ranger Run.'  Almost everyone that I was introduced to said that they followed my story, or that they heard about it.  I didn't understand how much my run home impacted people until this trip. I am a lucky man.

Surround Yourself With Good People and Good Things Will Happen.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What About Words?

This is my first contribution to The New American Veteran BlogSpot and I wanted to start off on the right foot so to speak. I was fortunate to spend 4th of July with a friend from the Army in Ft. Worth/Dallas area. As a special treat I got to meet in person Karl Monger, founder of Gallant Few. This is a man I admire so it was a real honor to be invited to contribute here for the New American Veteran BlogSpot and I am deeply honored.

This blog for me is a collection of random thoughts and life's lessons I have experienced after leaving military service honorably and trying to assimilate back into civilian society. I am a non combat undeployed infantry service connected disabled Veteran. It has taken me more than five years to become comfortable with the idea that I am no longer in the Army. No one trains you to turn off the Soldier so to find your own off switch can be a troubling endeavor. It has cost me relationships, career opportunities, friendships and social interactions. However, it has taught me resilience and tested my faith. I will talk about these things in greater detail later, but for now let me start off with words.

Words are important to me. I believe words are important to you too. Why? Words reflect who we are. How another perceives us is only as strong as their interaction with us and that interaction is an exchange of language both verbal and non verbal. Therefore it goes hand and hand that what we do MUST be a reflection of what we say. We learned this in the military, not just in life. When what we say reflects what we do there is great power. Your words and actions are in alignment and your intention and integrity are intact.

Stew on that, feel free to ask questions, but integrity in language is where I started to learn about myself again and how I started on the long road back home.

Yours Truly
Larry Zabel

How Writing Heals Wounds of Both Mind and Body

Interesting article published in Time on how expressing emotion in words can help physical wounds heal more quickly.

This is an open invitation to any Veteran who would like to give this a try.  GallantFew's TNAV blog will publish blog essays submitted by Veterans, subject to the following parameters:

  • We will verify Veteran status prior to publication - no posers.
  • This is a public audience.  Profanity and obscenities may be edited out.
  • We will not correct grammar or spelling.  Other than these parameters the essays will remain as authored.
Veterans whose essays are selected for publication will receive a GallantFew tee.  At the end of the year, the most popular essay author (determined by pluses, comments, shares) will receive special mention on the GallantFew website, an interview on TNAV and an invitation to join the GallantFew Veteran blogger team.

Submit essays here.

V/R  Karl

Friday, July 12, 2013

Triangle Of Death

This blog is a continuation of my introduction and first blog post "Answering the Call of Freedom." I am going to try to keep this post a little shorter.

War is ruthless, war is brutal, war is hell. There are really no rules when engaged in a gun battle other than to kill the enemy and not be killed. It seems complex but in my experiences its actually very simple. As I started to look forward to getting into heated gun battles I started to realize how close I was to getting blasted and how close I was to death. I know that death is part of war but the thought of your heart stopping and your world closing in on you is hard for me to picture. I know that If I was to get hit by a mortar round or take a bullet I wanted it to be quick.

During my second deployment to Iraq, I was based out of Tikrit, Iraq and ran multiple missions mainly south of Baghdad. This areas was known as the Triangle of Death. The Triangle of Death is part of an area near Yusifiyah about 18 KM SW of Baghdad Iraq. The location was severed from occupation by coalition forces because of a fork in the River. It was a triangle of land (hence the name) that was skirted by 2 rivers that came to a fork. The enemy knew that coalition forces were unable to occupy this area because of the terrain features so they booby trapped all road access going in and out. The only way in was to be flown in by helicopter.  Basically, no one could occupy this area so it was a breeding ground for bad guys. 

The first time I entered the area, me and my mortar team were dropped off and were to set up a blocking position so other Coalition Forces could sweep the area and look for bad guys or bomb making material. We were dropped off near an old Russian built power plant built in the 80s. This same place is where members of a rebel insurgency hung 4 captured American soldiers about 8 months prior. I knew it was going to be bad. Just the name of the location, The Triangle of Death is enough to get you rattled. But I wanted to see what it had to offer and was eager to get on the ground and conduct the mission.

We stepped off the helicopter and immediately made a half circle perimeter so that the bird could take off and fly safely away. Once we got to our blocking position we started taking enemy mortar fire and some small arms fire. My gun team immediately got our base gun into action and laid in on our poles. The enemy started to get closer and we got word they were near a treeline about 200 meters from my position. I was about to hang some rounds when I got an order to direct lay on the enemy. This is when we started taking accurate enemy mortar fire and they started to move on our position. These guys knew what they were doing, something I wasn't accustomed to. Usually the enemy is very poorly lead and had no tactics other than to spray AK rounds in your general direction. I started to dial the sight to the target location and I suddenly realized that I was in a mortar dual with a seasoned enemy mortar gunner. This was a very personal moment for me because it was me or him. My training versus his training. Just knowing that I needed to execute was a lot of pressure along with the heat (120's that day) and the adrenaline flowing but I somehow maintained control of myself. Although I had never been in this position before and I started to get a little scared, I knew I had to keep my mind from wandering so I focused on the task at hand. Eliminating the enemy gunner.  Once I heard the "thunk" of his out going round I would dial my sight over to the approximate area the enemy was, level the gun and my assistant gunner would hang a round. All while my team and I were dodging the incoming rounds. This was a true test for me, as I started to see that he was bracketing our blocking position I knew I needed to eliminate the enemy and fast. The Forward Observer that was observing the rounds saw that we were in a heated dual as well. He then lased the enemy gun position (gave us an accurate grid to the bad guys location) and I dialed in on the bad guy and blasted him. It was scary, knowing you are in someones sights to be killed. We continued the mission and fired nearly 40 more High Explosive rounds as the enemy came over the river to reinforce the other insurgents. After about 2 days of fighting I was relieved to see our bird drop in on the Landing Zone. It was our ride back to safety!  I prepared to move out and would live to fight another day. Although the next time my mortar team would come back to the Triangle of Death we wouldn't be as lucky.

If you have had a scary moment in combat or in life where you feared for your life I encourage you to talk about it. This is my personal account of what was happening, I am m not trying to make myself look heroic. I was just doing my job and thanks to my mortar team we were able to eliminate the enemy and continue the deployment. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Spartan Pledge and what it means to me.

"I will never take my own life by my own hand until I talk to my battle buddy first. My mission is to find a mission to help my warfighter family."

Suicide is the result of not having a "mission" in life or a purpose.  Working as a Mental Health Clinician, I am always working with individuals who suffer from depression caused by certain conditions or stressors of everyday life.  So, here is my question to you:

Have you ever felt that life was too overwhelming that it didn't feel like you were even alive?  If so, how did you overcome this chronic feeling?

Chances are, you had some sort of support to put your life back in perspective, and help guide you through the challenging times.  Getting out of the military and entering the civilian world was probably one of the most difficult periods of my life.  I was going through a divorce, trying to find a job, living with my father and step mom, trying to raise a daughter... And the list goes on.  I can remember countless times lying in bed, crying, thinking what the hell am I going to do and who really gives a shit about me now.  I was hopeless, lost, and confused about how or if my life was going to seem worth living.  I had went from a team oriented life in the military, with a wife and daughter, and now, sitting all alone with strangers of my past life.  The only reason I kept on pushing through was because somebody had told me, "Cory, what happens when your daughter gets married one day, who is going to walk her down the aisle?"

Getting back to the Spartan Pledge...

One thing that I have noticed, is that Warfighters do not like seeking help. So, moving forward it is our duty to seek out those Warfighters and ask them how they are doing.  Tell them about the Spartan Pledge... Let them know you are the battle buddy that will be next to them as they fight on to the objective and complete the mission.  Some of us need a hand, rather than asking for one.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Run Ranger Run Revisited

I hadn't watched this in awhile, but while searching for news clips on GallantFew I can share for our new program 1kVets, I ran across the CNN HLN video interview of Cory Smith (who is now a GallantFew blog contributor).

It's been well over a year since the origin of Run Ranger Run, and many of you may have not seen the news piece.  I can tell you, it's a motivator for me to work even harder on the behalf of these heroes.

Take a couple moments, and watch.

Run Ranger Run has now evolved into an international team event that in February 2013 involved hundreds of athletes and raised over $100,000 for our efforts.  Part of that has helped us get started with 1kVets, an initiative to help 1000 Veterans improve their employment outlook (then another 1000, then another...).

Learn more about both:

Run Ranger Run


RLTW  Karl