Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A very busy week...

MN Patriot Guard members.

We have a very few busy mission days ahead. Please keep your eyes on the Mission and Event Calendar.

We have one especially sad Mission this week. MAJ Henry T. Vakoc/Rev Tim passed away this last weekend. The visitation will be Thursday night in Plymouth, services on Friday in St Paul, and interment at FSNC immediately after.

Rev Tim was injured by an IED in 2004 but battled back like a warrior as hard as he could. The fight is now over and he is now an warrior for God. While Rev Tim has lived long past his injury we are treating his death as a KIA. He deserves our best...

I am copying in an article from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on Rev Tim. Please do what you can to help this week and weekend... we need you.

Five years after being gravely wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq, the Rev. Tim Vakoc, a well-known and much-loved Roman Catholic priest from Minnesota, has died, his family said Sunday.
Vakoc, 49, who most recently had been living at St. Therese Care Center in New Hope, died about 8 p.m. Saturday after being taken to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, said Barb Rode, president and CEO of St. Therese.

"Certainly, our thoughts and prayers are with the family right now," Rode said. "We are doing an investigation to make sure we have all the answers."

Vakoc died surrounded by family and friends, according to an entry on his CaringBridge website.
"A man of peace, he chose to endure the horror of war in order to bring the peace of Christ to America's fighting men and women," Archbishop John Nienstedt wrote in a prepared statement. "He has been an inspiration to us all, and we will miss him."

Father Tim, as he was known, was the first military chaplain grievously wounded in the Iraq war. He was injured by a roadside bomb as he was returning from celebrating mass with troops on May 29, 2004, the day before the 12th anniversary of his ordination as a priest.

The blast cost him an eye and severely damaged his brain. He was hospitalized at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and transferred to the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Medical Center in October 2004.

After numerous surgeries and life-threatening infections, he slowly started to recognize friends and family, and to communicate with a squeeze of the hand or a slight smile.

For more than two years, he was in what doctors called a "minimally responsive state." Then, in the fall of 2006, he spoke for the first time in 2 1/2 years, raising hopes of recovery.

The Rev. Bob Schwartz, pastor at Our Lady of Grace in Edina and a longtime friend of Vakoc, said he would mime words with his lips. During a visit Schwartz paid him three months ago, Vakoc offered to give him a blessing. Later that day, he struggled but succeeded in maneuvering his motorized wheelchair down a hall and into an elevator to get to his therapy session, bumping against the wall the entire way because he lacked good motion control in his hands, Schwartz said.

"My sense of Tim is that if he was asked to walk across a landmine for somebody, he'd do it," said Schwartz, who served as priest at St. John Neumann Church in Eagan while Vakoc was associate pastor there. "He'd go where angels fear to tread."

Tens of thousands of people around the world followed Vakoc's story through his CaringBridge website. He had dozens of regular visitors, many of whom came to pray with him.

Teri Heyer of St. Paul visited him every other Sunday for three years, reading the newspaper to him. He communicated primarily with a "yes," "no," nod or facial expressions, she said.

"He was very aware of his surroundings," she said, adding that he once flashed a raised eyebrow at a story she recounted.

When she last saw him a few weeks ago, he was doing well, she said. Patricia Vacik of Colorado Springs, Colo., visited him three times, compelled by the friendship her family forged with him when he was their pastor at Fort Carson, Colo., in the 1990s. "He use to take the babies and walk the babies on his shoulders during mass," she said. "He said the babies were so close to heaven [that] they really were still in touch with God. He was just so special."

Vakoc celebrated the 17th anniversary of his ordination on June 10 of this year, according to his CaringBridge site.

Vakoc, the youngest of three children of Phyllis and Henry Vakoc, grew up in Robbinsdale and entered St. Paul Seminary in 1987. He served as a parish priest in St. Anthony and Eagan before becoming an Army chaplain in 1996, and served extended tours of duty in Germany and Bosnia.
He shipped out to Iraq shortly before his 44th birthday. There, he was promoted to major and traveled to danger zones to pray with his fellow soldiers. He was returning to base from one of those trips when the roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Patriot Ride.... Wow!

We will have something more formal put together but the day was outstanding for attendance and meaning. We had more than 2,000 people attend and it was a great program.

There were a couple incidents... one accident as the day began even before registration, some issues with heat exhaustion, and one person running off the road. My understanding is that no one was hurt seriously.

This ride was huge... we matched or exceeded last years ticket sales for the bike, our Patriot Guard store did well, the military honors for SFC Lyle Mackedanz were powerful, Governor Pawlenty speaking, being able to donate to a number of worthy charities, and that awesome fly over by the helicopters that included a hover exercise at about 40 feet.

Thank you to Dennis Kirk and their vendors. Thank you to Crow River Harley. Thank you to Fatboys. Thank you to Jeff and Deb Good and the planning committee.

Most of all thank you to all who attended. You made it worth it all.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Vietnam Vet Welcome Home

Dearest friends,
Thank you is woefully inadequate to express to you my gratitude for your gift of service and love shown to the families of the Vietnam fallen heroes at Central Presbyterian Church on Saturday, June 13. I kept hearing people say - "you gotta look outside! You just gotta look outside!" For these families, who grieved alone and rarely, if ever, shared their hero's story outside their immediate family - the sight outside the church took their breath away. They finally knew that Minnesota cherished all of their military heroes including the Vietnam era heros - and especially the Vietnam fallen heroes!
Thank you for sharing this day with them, but more importantly, thank you for giving honor back to their beloved heroes!
Merrilee Carlson, Chair - Shrek's Mom
Families United for Our Troops and Their Mission
Phone 651 319-1194
America - Home of the Free because of the Brave!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

2009 Patriot Ride - 20Jun09 - East Bethel, MN

We are only days away from the ride!!!

I hope to see many of you Saturday at the Patriot Ride. It is one of the biggest rides in Minnesota and the day is packed all the way through with activities that remember our fallen heroes, support our military, and show our respect for our veterans.

The day looks almost perfect for the first day of summer. After a few rain clouds move out Friday it looks clear with temps in the low 80's on Saturday.

We will also be unveiling our Remember the Fallen 2009 shirt. John Redfield and his team of designers have knocked it out of the park. It sums up what we do in one picture.

It isn't to late to pre register and save $10 www.thepatriotride.org

See you there!!!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


As you all may know E Btry 151st FA Mission requires our unit to split up and augment other units. Some of you may have many questions due to this and I will try answering most of these questions. On the 14th of May, E Btry received a message that our mission in Iraq had some changes to it, which required us to create 3 Target Processing Sections (TPS) out of the 1 Section that we had at that time. These three TPS Sections would augment all three Division that are in Iraq. One of these Section is stationed at Speicher, another in Baghdad, and the last in Basrah. Speicher is located toward norhern Iraq, Baghdad in Center/East , and Basrah South/East in Iraq. Each of these sites you can google to get exact locations. This mission change also changed the location of the Btry Headquarters to Joint Base Balad (JBB) which is located between Speicher and Baghdad. Some of you may want to know why our mission changed. There are many factors that contributed to this but the main reason was the draw down of troops. Iraq used to have 2 Target Acquisition Battery (TAB) HQ's within Iraq but with this draw down it will only leave 1 TAB in Iraq and that is us; this is a big mission for our Battery to control 16 radar Section throughout Iraq.

The Radars Section still have the same mission that they have always had and that is to provide Force Protection to the Bases within Iraq. It is a big mission but our Radar Section are more then capable of completing this mission and in fact normally exceed all other Radar Section within the Army. Yeah, I may be saying we are the best but the fact is that our Radar Sections and Personnel are the best.

Moving out of Fort Sill our unit spent 14 days in Kuwait were we conducted mandatory training. This training only lasted a couple days but the rest of the time we were allowed to get acclimated to the horrendous heat that lied ahead in Iraq. While we were in Camp Buerhing, Kuwait we saw a few days that reached 140 degrees. I am not kidding about the temp, as some of you may already know it gets hot over here. You will need to remember that it gets hotter in Kuwait then it does in Iraq and we all for the most part have a place to go to get out of the heat.

After our 14 day stay in Kuwait all of us took of a couple day adventure to get to our final location. For some of us, it only took a day and for others it took many days to get to their final destination. Some areas where our radars and TPS Section are station are remote and take time to get to. Also, sand storms create just another obstacle for flying into each of these bases. All of us are at our final location now and should have contacted there loved ones that they have made it. We are all going through what is called a RIP (Relief In Place). This is where we take over the for the unit that is going home. This normally takes any were from 4 to 12 days for each section to learn the jobs they are taking over. Also, during this time the unit is also conducting inventories of equipment and signing for equipment that the other unit is leaving behind for us. Most of the Radar Section have completed their RIP and are conducting business like they normally would.

Now, some of our Radar Section are in remote location like FOB Gary Owens and FOB Delta. This doesn't mean that they have no way to communicate to the outside world it just means that they don't have all the opportunities the other Section do to communicate via internet. I hear from our sections daily and we are doing everything we can to support them even though we are apart. Please be patient with them to communicate with you but if you haven't heard from them and are worried please let me know. I will do whatever it takes to help you all out.

Our men are doing great things and are showing the Army once again that E Btry 151st FA is the best TAB in the Army.

I apologize for not getting this out to you all earlier as there is no excuse on my part. As the Commander it is my job to ensure that you all get updated on our unit activities. If any of you still have question regarding our units mission or any other general question please let me know. I would ask you to use the FRG so that I can reply to all of you at once.

Signed CPT Mark Gile.

CPT Mark D Gile
E Btry 151st FA (TA)
Joint Base Balad, Iraq
APO AE 09391

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Reflections on the passing of a friend and veteran

At 2:20 AM on June 4, 2009, my friend John Gorman passed away.  Born in 1925 it might seem a bit strange I considered John one of my close friends.  But he was and a role model as well.

I met John when I first moved to my house and he was a very friendly neighbor.  Often chatting in the back yard he helped me plant better and when I travelled he often took care of my plants outdoors.  My granddaughter adored him because he would patiently let her "help" him with his planting.  John had avidly collected fossils his entire life and let her look at them and would explain to her in terms a 6 year old could understand what they meant.

John was a very smart man.  Receiving PH. D. in Chemical Engineering he holds many patents and is a fellow with the American Statistical Association and was published extensively in his career.

He was a kind, gentle, smart, and generous with praise for everybody.  I try to live up to his example.

Make no mistake though.. he was a warrior.  He served in the Rangers 2bn in WWII.  He was part of the first special forces of the US Army.  Washout rates were in the 90% range for those who volunteered.  He saw action all the way through Europe in WWII and was ready to go to Japan as he didn't have enough points to go home after VE.

He recently published a book on his WWII experiences.  One part that really got me.. "Colonel Rudder, our battalion commander, said one German wanted to go back and get some of his friends to surrender.  He went back all right, and gave them our exact position, and they shelled the sh*t out of us.  Our company commander was a smart one.  When the Germans surrendered, we immediately moved forward into their positions, leaving the prisoners in our old positions.  The Germans were killing their own.  Such hell."

I say that because John considered himself very lucky.  When diagnosed with Mesothelioma (that he believes he contracted while in Graduate School melting different types of asbestos) John quietly accepted his fate and worked to make sure his affairs were in order.  His comment to me was "I should have died 20 times when I was 18.  I was given 65 years of extra life."

I had the honor of visiting his battle buddies who fell in Europe at the Brittany American Cemetery in St James, France.  I took pictures of the head stones and made a DVD for him of all the pictures I took.  It was my honor to sweat the details and the timing of the music that went into that.  I did it for my friend because I loved him.

This week we have been asked to attend a mission for him.  John asked me himself for when the day came.  I had come home from a long, sweaty, day with about 5oo miles behind me.  John asked what I was doing and after I explained what the Patriot Guard is about he looked at me and asked if we would ride for him when he died.  I am my friend...

Stand down Ranger Gorman...  your mission is complete.

Rangers Lead The Way!