Our Soldier/Sons were really WELCOMED HOME!

Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012 – Members and friends of University Congregational United Church of Christ in Seattle welcomed the soldiers of 5-20 Battle Company back home today after their year of deployment in Afghanistan.

The welcome home was the main part of a service where the church recognized of 30 years of ministry for the Rev. Dr. Jerry Montgomery and his wife, Ruth, who devoted themselves to the soldiers in the Battle Company Project for the past year.

Among the speakers was U.S. Representative Jim McDermott, who told the soldiers about an early moment in his career as a physician when he cared for soldiers after their time in a war zone. The experience with the soldiers changed his life and pointed him into his career in politics where he could do more for them.

The congressman told them they were heroes and, speaking for himself and for the nation, he said: “WELCOME HOME. Thank you for your service!”

Amen.

———-
And with that event, the Battle Company Project has come to a close. We have been honored to be a part of the soldiers’ lives and cherish the fact that many of them are now our honorary sons for life. Indeed, we welcome them home and wish them well as they find new adventures in the days and years to come. We invite them, their families and friends to stay in contact with us.

Everyone is back – WELCOME home soldiers!

The final planeload of Battle Company soldiers returned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in the early morning hours of Sunday, Dec. 8, 2012.

The final moment of their deployment had actually arrived and was celebrated by the family of Jeff and Storm Schoonover. Enjoy their photos:

First there’s the waiting … and waiting … her T-shirt says it all

FINALLY in the crowd, Storm Funston-Schoonover and Jeff Scott Schoonover and their family connect.

Schoonover family is back together again – notice smiles

The same wide smiles happened about a week earlier when a previous group of Battle Company soldiers came home …

Dugan Girrens (left), Kevin Teixeria (center) and Antwan Evans (right)

Dugan Girrens (left), Kevin Teixeria (center) and Antwan Evans (right)

Kevin Teixeria and his daughter, Riley

Finally – WELCOME HOME … all of you!

UPDATE – the puppy parade is a success

This video was prepared by Frank LeMaire especially for two Battle Company soldiers – Justin Pilla and Steven LeMaire (his son).

These two American heroes, each with a big heart for little puppies, fell in love with Chloe and Charlie when they were puppies in the battlefield of Afghanistan this year. Both soldiers went to went to considerable effort and expense (with a lot of help from back home folks!) to bring their beloved dogs to their respective homes in America where both dogs now live and wait for their soldiers to come home too.

After preparing this video during the Thanksgiving holiday, Frank said it best: “Chloe and Charlie are living a better life, because these two soldiers and The Puppy Rescue Mission family made it happen. Welcome to America, Battle Puppies.”

Look around this blog and you’ll find the stories of both soldiers and their dogs.

A Soldier’s Christmas

This traditional poem was appropriate when our soldier/sons began their deployment in Afghanistan last Christmas … and it is still true.

T’was the night before Christmas,
and he lived in a crowd.
In a 40-man tent, with warriors so loud,
I had come into the tent with presents to give,
and to see who in this rack did live.
I looked all about, and a strange sight I did see.
No tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stockings were hung, just boots close at hand,
and on the locker hung a picture of a far distant land.
He had medals and badges and awards of all kinds.

A sobering thought came into my mind,
for this place was different,
it was so dark and dreary;
I had found the home of a Soldier, and this I could see clearly.
The Soldier lay sleeping, silent and alone,
curled up in his rack, dreaming of home.
The face was so gentle, the barracks in such good order,
but not how I pictured a United States Soldier.

Was this the hero whom I saw on TV?
Defending his country so we all could be free?
I realized the families that I’ve seen this night,
owed their lives to these Soldiers who were willing to fight.
Soon round the world, the children would play,
and grownups would celebrate a new Christmas Day.

They all enjoyed freedom each month of the year
because of the Soldiers, like the one lying here.
I couldn’t help but wonder how many lay alone,
on a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home.

The very thought brought a tear to my eye,
I dropped to my knees and started to cry.
The Soldier awakened and I heard a rough voice,
“Santa, don’t cry, for this life is my choice.”
“Defend my country this day, the peace do I keep.”

The Soldier then rolled over and drifted to sleep,
I couldn’t control it – I continued to weep.
I kept watch for hours so silent, so still,
and we both shivered from the night’s cold chill.
I didn’t want to leave on that cold, dark night,
to leave this guardian of honor so willing to fight.

Then the Soldier rolled over and with a voice soft and pure,
whispered, “Carry on Santa, it’s Christmas … All is secure.

– traditional, adapted

Thank you Battle Company soldiers for your service, your commitment to our nation and to your families, and especially for your friendship. You all have indeed been the soldier in this poem.

We are proud of you and grateful for the opportunity this year to support you in small ways. Please stay in touch with us in the years to come as your adventures in the Army and in life continue. We will continue to pray for each one of you. – Jerry and Ruth Montgomery

More Battle Company soldiers are home!

Nov. 12, 2012 – Another group of Battle Company soldiers arrived back home at Joint Base Lewis-McChord today.

Perry Williams is re-united with his family on Nov. 12

Perry Williams’ daughter and her sign.

Sueann Teixeira welcomes home her dad, Kevin Teixeira

The smile on Sueann Teixeira’s face says it all as her dad, Pfc. Kevin Teixeira, came home from his deployment in Afghanistan today.

Why should we care about Nov. 11th – Veteran’s Day?

The American flag flying over an outpost in the Afghanistan mountains

Some thoughts from Dr. Jerry Montgomery

Nov. 10, 2012 – Last December when our 160 Battle Company soldier/sons deployed for their year of duty in Afghanistan, I saw an amazing thing.

Like many of us, I suspect, I had been looking at these young men as just that, “young men.” They were embarking on what probably would be the great adventure of their lives. Some of them would probably die because they faced the real danger of fighting a war. Two of them died.

These young men are infantry soldiers who actually are the boots on the ground, proud of their skills, confident that they are the best trained infantry soldiers in the world and like most young folks, fearless.

Yes, I expected to see some hints that fear was present when they left. It probably was, I suspect, but it wasn’t apparent.

Instead, as I read their many Facebook postings, the main fear among them – always expressed by these proud young men in discreet language that required careful reading – was that they would be forgotten. In fact, they expected to be forgotten by Americans long before their year in battle was even over.

Since they left, I’ve wondered why these young warriors would be afraid of being forgotten. They are the embodiment of Isaiah’s description of a warrior:

“The Lord goes out to fight like a warrior: he is ready and eager for battle. He gives a war cry, a battle shout: he shows his power against his enemies.” (Isaiah 42:3)

Why should they be afraid of being forgotten?

It’s a fear I intend to vanquish from their hearts … and with the help of many folks, like the our volunteer partners who sit in the pews of University Congregational UCC and in many other communities across these United States, that is indeed coming true. They will NOT be forgotten.

Forgotten?

They will never be forgotten by their family or friends and maybe a few acquaintances from their hometowns, of course.

But sadly I fear that the rest of America will soon forget them and all the others who have fought America’s wars in this 21st century. These soldiers remember their dads, uncles and grandfathers coming home from Vietnam and being dishonored for doing their duty … and then immediately being forgotten by America.

I doubt that anyone had ever said something so clear to these Battle Company soldiers but nevertheless to them the message of forgotten soldiers was clear.

All of that suggests to me that our greater community has nearly forgotten what Veteran’s Day actually represents.

When I was a young man in the Navy in the 1960s, as a nation we remembered November 11th as “Veterans Day” as a day to remember fallen American soldiers in World War I and eventually it was expanded to include the service men and women who died in World War II. In the years following the Vietnam War, remembering things military wasn’t very popular and Nov. 11th received scant attention. Until recent times, this particular holiday has been one of the few ‘holidays’ to be unsullied by commercialism. Newspaper ads this weekend show another new low in advertising and retailing standards.

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” – officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

In 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479), which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action supported the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans service organizations and the American people. – U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs

Restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserved the historical significance of the date, but focused attention on the main purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

At least the folks of University Congregational UCC and others who have shared the Battle Company Project with Ruth and me for the past year won’t forget today’s soldiers quickly or easily.

Why? Because our soldiers are not anonymous figures without names or families or hopes or dreams or all those other things we find to be good.

They are real men who did hard, dangerous work in a faraway place. Their boots have Afghan dirt in the soles. Their Multicam uniforms which were so fresh and new last December have come home faded. They enjoyed our notes and care packages. They connected with us in new ways service members of my generation can hardly imagine. They were far from home but constantly in touch with us via that new-fangled thing called the Internet. And, most importantly, all but two of them came home alive.

The only thing Ruth and I have done – other than be willing to care for them, or about them, without reservation or limit; and to love them as our sons – is learn their names. These young men are real; they have families, spouses, children, friends, hopes and dreams, histories and hometowns, and a lot of all the stuff we find in our own sons and daughters.

The Battle Company soldiers left as a single group. They came back a year later in four small groups. It’s was a long year.

The youngsters who left us a year ago have come home as buff, mature and changed men. Yes, there still is a bit of ‘boy’ in each of them and for that detail, I’m grateful.

Sgt. “Grizzly” Adam Flechsig and Spc .Justin Walker on patrol


To illustrate, let me tell you about Spc.Justin Walker. We stored his car and a lot of stuff from his barracks room for the past year. During the late winter here, I spent a few days cleaning out his car, packing Justin’s ‘stuff’ into plastic storage containers. A flat tire from the final hours before deployment was replaced for him; gas was in the tank and it was ready to roll.

Within a few hours of arriving at McChord Airfield, he and another soldier, Pfc, Uriel Velazquez, were in our home grinning from ear to ear.

We talked and shared stories, of course, but the part of that afternoon that gives me pause and hope was the fact that Justin just couldn’t stop hugging me. He was really glad to be back and for me it felt so good to be bear-hugged many times.

Justin was a sort-of scrawny teenager with a perpetual grin when he left. When he returned, I was hugged by a real man, a real man who had spent a year running UP mountains carrying a weapon and wearing 70 pounds of body armor. He had been hiking (the Army calls that foot patrol) many miles each week and fighting a war FOR ME. And his grin was just as bright and wide as ever.

Just to make sure he kept his head squarely on his shoulders during his down time in the middle of a war, Justin had fun with his buddies. They had a mustache-growing contest. Like many of his buddies, Justin many days spent a couple of hours working out in the ‘gym’ at their forward operating base.

So what comes next for him and the other soldiers of Battle Company, for me and Ruth, for wonderful folks who have participated in the Battle Company Project with us, for the folks of University Congregational UCC, and for all Americans?

I can confidently assure Justin and the rest of the Battle Company soldiers that we will NEVER FORGET them, nor anyone who preceded them in military service. Nor will we ever again be so trite as to trivialize the deaths of those service members who have died in service to their nation over the years.

The media of today will treat November 11th with appropriate politeness but with little passion and almost no military experience among reporters and editors.

But for me – and I hope for all who may read this – Veterans Day always will be a day of remembering all veterans and honoring those who died in service to their nation. It is, for me, a very important day, especially for our Battle Company soldier/sons who are veterans-in-training.

We will remember, in particular, the lives of two Battle Company soldiers who lost their lives in service to their nation this past year: Sgt. Michael A. Ristau and Pfc. Jon R. Townsend.

Thank you veterans Thank you veterans.

They’re coming back … HALLELUJA

OCTOBER 28, 2012 — This morning we received the best news any of us have had in a long time: the first group of Battle Company soldiers set foot on the paving of McChord’s airfield.

During the new few weeks the remainder of the soldiers still on the ground in Afghanistan will complete their final field missions and finish packing up their gear so they can begin the long trek back to the United States. Obviously for security purposes, their travel plans are not announced but this first group of returning soldiers is a sure sign that their deployment is ending.

After landing and turning in some gear, the soldiers were bused to a gymnasium where they formed up behind a curtain and stood at attention while first the only things folks could see was their boots,

Finally – the troops!

… then their Multicam uniforms

… and then their faces were facing family members for the first time in a year.

Finally – boots on the ground at home

After a few formalities, the troops were released to the shouts of joy from their families and friends.

Morgan Marklin Jr and Loni Walter (left couple) and Alexis and Chris McGinty (right couple) when they came home

Morgan Marklin Jr and Loni Walter (left couple) and Alexis and Chris McGinty (right couple) when they came home

Now the Flechsig family (Sgt. Adam, 6-month-old Jack, and Natalia) is whole. That’s what this day was all about.

No comment necessary other than a couple of ‘amens’

Not long after the arrival activities were over and he was settled, Spc.Justin Walker called to be sure he could come to the Montgomery house and reclaim his car (we’ve been taking care of it and a lot of other soldier stuff during the deployment). He brought along one of the unit’s medics, Pfc. Uriel Velazquez.

So we did what any proud parent/partner would do – we took them out to dinner at the nearby RAM for anything they wanted to eat and the infamous Mile High ice cream dessert. Best time of the years. As other soldiers connect with their local partners, they can expect more joy-filled dinners too.

Welcome home guys. Thanks for all the hugs.

(For those whose soldier wasn’t in this group, fear not for he will be here soon. As the rest of the troops, return, their arrival will be featured here as well so check back frequently.)

The Puppy Parade continues …
Welcome Charlie to the USA

Frank LeMaire Sr. and li'l Charlie in Minneapolis 10-20-12

Frank LeMaire Sr. and Charlie in Minneapolis 10-20-12

Getting any puppy loved and hugged by an American soldier from the mountains of Afghanistan to the soldier’s home in the United States take a lot of work and cooperation, and some money. But dogs once cursed as strays in Afghanistan find themselves loved once they attach themselves to an American service member, including Battle Company troops. Some are lucky enough to get a new home and become an American dog.

This time the center of attention was a puppy, Charlie, whose soldier is Pfc. Steven LeMaire.

We don’t have the whole story of how Charlie entered this soldier’s life yet (hint) but with a full family of LeMaires helping, Charlie landed at Seattle, Friday, Oct. 19th, and then enjoyed the care, attention and hosting of Burien Veterinary Hospital and Dr Erin Witty, plus care from volunteers Carol A. Reddell, and Anne Howley. Then the next morning, Charlie boarded another plane to begin the final leg of his journey to a new home in Iowa.

“It was so much fun welcoming Thor, Alfalfa and wee Charlie to the USA today. Thank you to the military folks who fell in love with them and the families who are opening their heart and homes to these awesome pups! Paw Salute to all!” — Anne Hawley

This rescue effort for Charlie was under the auspices of the Puppy Rescue Mission, great folks in Celina, Texas. Please visit their website at Puppy Rescue Mission. With donations from many of us, our soldiers will have their four-legged partners to love again when they get home in a few short weeks.

Finally on Saturday, Oct. 20, 12012, Charlie arrived in Minneapolis and was picked up by the LeMaries and driven to his new home on an Iowa farm.

There is more, however, to Charlie’s arrival story.

Sometime ago when Frank mentioned that their farm was near Nashua, Iowa, wasn’t far from Minneapolis and that they might drive up to the Twin Cities some day this fall, I recommended he add some time to his travel plans to include lunch at a special place near my hometown (Howard Lake, Minnesota, only two miles from the farm where I was born). They made that trip Saturday, Oct. 20th, and before Charlie arrived they enjoyed lunch at this farm-based restaurant in the middle of a rural orchard (really!)

“So we went to Carlson’s Orchard, walked in the door and there was a sign ‘Frank Lemaire check in at front desk.’ What a surprise!”

Dr. Jerry Montgomery had called ahead and got us one of their world famous pies. That place was amazing. Little Afghan Charlie is a dream 🙂 Thank you all for your generosity and kindness — at Carlson’s Orchard Bakery and Restaurant,” Frank said.

Mr.and Mrs. Joe Carlson, the orchard’s owners, presented Frank with one of their pies as a gift honoring Steven’s service in Afghanistan even though I had arranged to cover the cost with my credit card (they declined my offer). “Awesome; such wonderfully nice people there and the food was terrific,” Frank said.

Pfc. Steve Lemaire and Charlie in Afghanistan

Pfc. Steve Lemaire and Charlie in Afghanistan

Pfc. Steven LeMaire on duty in Afghanistan

Pfc. Steven LeMaire on duty in Afghanistan

Charlie aand Dr Erin Witty at Burien Veteraniay Clinic south of Seattle

Charlie and Dr. Erin Witty at Burien Veterinary Clinic south of Seattle – almost to Charlie’s new home in Iowa

Apple pie time for Frank and Gabby LeMaire

Iowa at last!

Iowa at last!

Let’s meet the family:

Now Charlie is on local television:

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Click here to view in a separate tab–> KIMT-TV story about Charlie.
Broadcast October 25, 2012, on KIMT-TV in Mason City, Iowa

Reported by Shane Delaney

NASHUA, Iowa – The saying goes “A dog is a man’s best friend,” and that couldn’t be any truer in this story.

Army Pfc. Steven Lemaire of Nashua is currently serving overseas in Afghanistan, and while there he met a four legged friend he decided he couldn’t live without.

“We were online and he said, ‘Oh look at this puppy,’ and he took some pictures and shared the pictures with us,” said Frank Lemaire, Steven’s father.

Steven told his dad about how he found the dog, Charlie, one day while out on patrol. Steven was originally going to just hand the dog off to the next unit but that didn’t happen.

“Earlier that month one of his buddies had been killed and he took it kind of hard,” Lemaire said. “He wasn’t happy you could just tell he wanted it to be over but when he got Charlie you could see he was chipper.”

Steven knew he had to get Charlie back home to Iowa and he found an organization willing to help. The family welcomed Charlie home this past weekend.

“The first day, I don’t think he’d ever seen a cat and grass, he had never seen grass until he got to Minnesota,” Lemaire said.

Now that Charlie is in the United States he’s giving that same kind of support he gave to Steven to his family right here in Iowa.

“They brought in the kennel at the cargo part where we picked him up and I instantly started crying because it’s like I got a piece of my brother home,” said Gabrielle Lemaire, Steven’s sister.

Gabrielle isn’t surprised her brother connected so well with Charlie, even while in harm’s way.

“It’s typical Steven because he’s warm-hearted, if he finds something he loves he’s going to work to get it,” Gabrielle said.

And as this family gets used to having their newest member by their side, they know this dog will always be more than just a pet.

“That is a care package they provided for my son that he will have for a lifetime; Charlie may not live past 15 years but the memories are there forever,” Lemaire said.

Steven is due to come home in a couple months, just in time for Christmas. The organization that got Charlie back to the U.S. is called the Puppy Rescue Mission. They, along with donors across the country, help bring back numerous dogs that soldiers rescue overseas.

Battle Hymn of the Republic

A Tribute to the Battle Boys

“Many a men and women have fought and died to give me the right to express my gratitude in the way of these videos. These men here are the future of our once proud warrior nation. This song is what our nations core and values once used to be. Where is that now?

Battle Boys please help bring it back. God bless you and America.”

Frank Lemaire, father of Pfc. Steven Lemaire of the Battle Company

After watching the video, the mother of another Battle Company soldier (Pfc. Justin Pilla) posted this comment:

“Hope everyone watches this video; the last two boys holding their babies can no longer hold them because they paid the ultimate price for us!”

Ivy Walsh Ladyko

Frank Lemaire credits Mrs. Ladyko for being his inspiration for several of the videos he has posted. What a great duo!

Sometimes the good guys just need candy, not bullets

SGT Antonio Barajas and Afghan kids

SGT Antonio Barajas and Afghan kids

Sometimes the good guys just need some candy, not bullets. Take a look at this photo of a Battle Company soldier doing some effective community relations in Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt. Antonio Barajas, Battle Company, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, Task Force 1st Squadron 14th Cavalry Regiment, hands out candy to children from Janan Keley, Afghanistan, Sept. 5, 2012.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Chris McCullough, Combined Task Force Arrowhead Public Affairs)