Another leader worth following

Today, all over our country many people will celebrate the lives of men and women who have preserved our freedom in the armed forces. It’s Veteran’s Day – and they deserve our honor and appreciation.
It is in that spirit that I honor a man who is currently serving in our military. One who I have a close personal connection to. My cousin, Kellen Blythe.
Kellen and I grew up ‘playing war’ in the woods behind my house. Today he isn’t playing, and Call of Duty isn’t a game – it’s his life. Kellen is in his second tour of duty in Iraq, and he recently wrote this letter:

To all of the wonderful supporters,

The days pass with ever growing frequencies. While we have been here for nearly 7 months, it seems both much longer and much shorter at the same time. Time passes different during a deployment than when not deployed. Perhaps it’s the constant work every day where back in Baumholder, Germany, it is 5 days a week and a steady schedule of 0600-1700 (6-5) with weekends off. We count the weeks by our weekly game of Gator Ball every Thursday. Gator Ball is a unique game that the 1-35 Armor Staff and leadership played for Officer Physical Training once a week back in Baumholder. Once we settled into a routine here in Iraq, many of the staff started looking for a good way to relieve stress and blow off steam. Gator Ball was overwhelmingly chosen as that outlet. The game is kind of difficult to explain but I will give it a shot. Imagine a game that combines soccer, and ultimate football. It is played on a field, or in our current case, where ever we can find an open area. We usually play in a dirt and gravel area on the end of our helicopter landing zone. We set up two hard plastic panels about 3’x4’ as “goals” on either side of the field. The object is to make contact with the board with a soccer ball. If you throw the ball and it hits its 1 point and if you kick it, it is 2 points. Basic rules are start playing by passing the ball with your hands to move the ball up the field. Players can only advance the ball by taking three steps before they have to pass. Once the ball hits the ground, it is then played like soccer. The only way to begin passing with your hands again is if the ball is grabbed while in the air. Then teams can move the ball by throwing again. Needless to say, it is fast passed and aggressive, making Gator Ball the sport of choice for the 1-34 AR Staff. After an hour of running, throwing and grappling, the staff comes away sweaty and dirty but refreshed and ready for another week.

While moments of excitement and fun exist through the weeks of work, work is ever present. The fruits of our labors are always rewarding as well. The Soldiers of the Task Force continually impress me. Professionalism and selflessness are never in a short supply. The needs of the Iraqi people are always at the forefront of all of our efforts. With the ever improving security here, our efforts become more focused on essential services and improving the standard of living. I am amazed how much the country has changed in the last couple years since I was here last. My last deployment to Ramadi in 2006 was about taking the fight to the enemy. That was what we needed to do last time, this time, the enemy is far less effective and the people are standing against the terrorists and criminals that threaten their future. As a result, the people and the government are focusing on things like clean drinking water, power and education. All anyone wants is a good and fulfilling life and that their children have an even better one. It is still sobering to see children running in streets strewn with trash and flowing with sewage barefoot. Even still they have smiles on their faces. It makes me grateful for the life that I have had so far and what luxuries we take for granted on a daily basis like drinking water from a TAP or new shoes.

I am currently trying to help collect shoes and school supplies for these kids. If anyone could and is willing, please send things like pens, pencils, crayons, paper (lined or construction paper), rulers and other things like that, that would be much appreciated. Shoes that are most liked and used are sandals. Please do not send stylish shoes. We are going for practicality here. For girls, especially do not send heels or similar shoes. Just want to clarify that before anyone sends anything. Thank you for being understanding.

(In Picture: Soldiers and Iraqi National Police conduct a joint mission.)

Another amazing thing to watch is the ever improving Iraqi Security Forces. We have the privilege to work with some pretty amazing Iraqi patriots. The Iraqi National Police, whose mission it is to hunt down and defeat terrorists, in our area are truly inspiring. They work diligently to track down terrorists and criminals that threaten the people in the area. We have conducted many missions in cooperation with them and intend to do many more. They are efficient and capable and several have given their lives to protect others since we have been here. Two Iraqi Police Officers were killed stopping a terrorist from detonating a suicide vest inside a Mosque. He detonated it outside the Mosque only killing the two IPs who kept him from entering the mosque. The two have been recognized on many occasions in the area.

While the ISF continues to get better every day, it is evident that they still require our help. They value our experience and help any time they get it and are grateful for it. The government leaders are appreciative of all that we do as well. They routinely say how thankful they are we came to Iraq and are staying here to help establish an independent nation. They look back to the days of Sadaam and thankful they are here and look forward to a free Iraq. While your thoughts and prayers are always welcome to we Soldiers, please do not forget why we are here. The Iraqi people.

Thank you again for all you do on the home-front. Please feel free to share my letter with family and friends.

CPT Kellen Blythe

We salute you Kellen, and all the other brave men and women who have served, and are serving in the Armed Services of the United States of America.
– Brad

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