Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tears of Gratitude

Tonight on 60 Minutes the story was told of an Army Staff Sergeant, Salvatore Augustine Guinta - the first living person to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.

In 2007, Giunta was stationed at Firebase Vegas in the Korengal Valley - an area described as Hell on earth near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, nicknamed by the soldiers as the Valley of Death. In late October, his company launched a six-day mission -  one that would kill several soldiers, a nurse and wound two other infantrymen.

Shortly after nightfall on October 25, 2007 Giunta and the rest of the seven troops of 1st Platoon had just finished a day-long overwatch of 2nd and 3rd Platoon in the valley below. They walked about 10 to 15 feet apart through the thin forest, and within 50 to 100 metres of leaving their position, armed with AK-47 assault rifles, 10 RPG launchers and three belt-fed PKM Machine Guns -10 to 15 Afghan insurgents ambushed the main body of the squad from cover and concealment only about 10 metres away. 

Sergeant Joshua Brennan, leader of alpha team and one of Giunta's best friends, was followed by SPC Frank Eckrode, squad leader Erick Gallardo, and then Giunta, who was then a specialist. PFC Kaleb Casey and Garret Clary followed Giunta. A 13-man HQ unit led by Lt. Brad Winn, including a five-man gun team from weapons squad, along with a nurse who volunteered for the mission. When the Taliban opened fire, Brennan was struck by eight rounds and Eckrode was hit by four rounds. Gallardo attempted to sprint forward, but RPGs exploding around him along with machine gun and small arms fire stopped him. Unable to advance, he fell back to join Giunta's bravo team. While backpedaling and firing at the same time, he fell and was in the same moment struck in the helmet by an AK-47 round. An RPG round struck very near Giunta, who was returning fire and directing bravo team.  

Giunta saw Gallardo take the bullet to his head and fall. Assuming Gallardo had been shot, Giunta rose and ran through the intense wall of fire to his side. As he helped the uninjured sergeant find cover the lower right portion of his protective vest was struck by a bullet. Another round struck the SMAW-D weapon slung over his back. Giunta recognized that the extremely heavy tracer fire was coming not just from his west but from the north as well, a classic L-shaped ambush that threatened to roll over the squad. He ordered Casey and Clary to pull back a few steps to prevent the Taliban from flanking them.

The platoon leader in the HQ unit, Lieutenant Brad Winn, radioed Captain Kearney to advise him that their unit had five wounded men. The squad's medic, Specialist Hugo Mendoza, was among them. He had been shot through the femoral artery at the beginning of the ambush and died. Kearney ordered Second Platoon to assist Winn's platoon, but Second Platoon was in the valley below, some distance away, and had to first cross a river to reach them.

Giunta and Gallardo gathered Casey and Clary. They were pinned down by the concentrated small arms and cyclic machine gun fire from a number of Taliban positions at close range. Less than 15 seconds into the ambush, Giunta and his men acted to disrupt the attack. They alternated throwing volleys of fragmentation grenades towards the Taliban about 15 metres  to their west and moving north. Firing Pfc. Casey’s M249, Clarey's M203, and their other weapons, they advanced until they reached Eckrode. Shot twice in one leg and with two other wounds, Eckrode was attempting to unjam his M249 SAW. Gallardo, who later received a Silver Star for his actions, dressed Eckrode's wounds and called for MEDEVAC.

Giunta continued with Pfc. Clary to advance over the exposed, open ground of the ridge in the dark, looking for Brennan. When they could not locate him where they expected to find him, they ran after the retreating Taliban. The anti-coalition militia covered their rear with effective small arms fire but the Americans ran after them. Giunta saw three individuals and then recognized that two of them were Afghans dragging Sgt. Brennan, one by the legs and one by his arms. Giunta pursued them, firing his M4 Carbine as he ran, killing one. The second Afghan dropped Brennan and fled; Brennan was grievously hurt.The ambush had lasted three minutes. Later the next day, Brennan died while in surgery, but many of the other men were still alive - and the Taliban didn't get what they wanted - a US Soldier to tote around like some suvenir.

While the story was harrowing, the thing that really got to me was the torture that the medal has bestowed upon Guinta. Like any true hero, Guinta doesn't feel like he's done anything to deserve the medal, he was just doing what any other soldier would do. He doesn't feel that he sacrificed all - he is still here and many other men are not. He seems to be under the impression that one has not sacrificed all unless he has given his life. He has decided to leave the Army for good next month, to move to Colorado, pursue education and prepare for the birth of his first child. When asked why is leaving he stated that serving the Country has changed for him - that the medal he now wears follows him wherever he goes. He's a Staff Sergeant, but when he goes anywhere he sits with the highest of ranks - people recognize him on the street and shake his hand - congratulating him for a job well done. But his stance is what about all of the other men and women that serve; he doesn't feel he should have any special recognition. It has been said among the men who wear the Medal of Honor that doing the job it takes to receive the Medal of Honor is not nearly as difficult as having to wear it. 

I say anyone who serves this country and is willing to give life and limb to keep us free is deserving of the highest merit; and to all of them I say thank you - two words that cannot even begin to express the gratitude and appreciation I have. This Memorial Day I will remember those that have given their lives for this great Country and also all of those who are currently serving, that they may return to US soil safely and quickly.

And in closing - a tribute to the best soldier I know - Dad.  De Opresso Liber - You will always be my hero.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Zoned out

So yesterday I decided to ditch work and take a moment to breathe...alone, with nothing by my thoughts - I took a trip to Malad to buy some Lotto tickets, and stopped along the way to take some pictures. As you enter Malad the sky seems to go on for days, and to my delight there was blue in that sky - finally! The air is clean and it's quiet - crickets chirp and in many areas the unpaved ground crackles beneath your feet - giving way to the scent of earth, a particular scent only found in small towns.

On the way back I was going to stop at the North Marina of Willard Bay to take some photos but accidentally passed the exit. I had never been to the South Marina so I thought what the hell. Talk about a treasure trove of various birds, and what appeared to be Golden Yarrow, but I don't believe that to be what it is - if someone can answer that one for me that would be awesome. I also came across a Bullock's Oriole and several other birds, but the oriole was the only one I got a decent shot of.

Needless to say, it was a good day and a much needed time to 'check out' for a bit.


Yellow is the color of happiness

You can go ahead and try to tell me that I don't have the cutest kid in the world, but I will laugh in your face and call you a fool. This kid is so awesome, and I cannot believe she is going to be a year old! She LOVES nature; being outside is her favorite thing of all time, rain or shine. And she sure loves her Daddy.

She changes on a near daily basis, and it amazes me how quickly she learns. She's a bit on the stubborn side and definitely knows what she wants. She has the best smile and an even better laugh, she drools like a leaking faucet and she is simply the best.

 I GOT A DOLLAR!!!! Mwahahahaha.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Raindrops in my coffee cup

I have been thinking about taking a photo at this spot for a while, but today was the right day to do it - with an overcast sky and a drizzle. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Somewhere on a tilted horizon

I heart tilted horizons, and tonight's sunset made for the perfect photo op. It also reminded me of something I once wrote...

Tumultuous by nature and swallowed in a sea of mayhem
Floating under the beefy brow of her majesty
in a silent conundrum

A conundrum for which there is no correct answer
and an answer that holds no rhyme
Lazy eyes and mute daydreams amplify this ludicrous lucidity

A heart lukewarm and in love
beating to a lyric and a song that has no end

Surrounded by a loquacious lulling transponder that beacons this lullaby

This lullaby that says love like you've never loved before
And be not afraid for you will be loved in return

Live like there is no tomorrow
for the shuffling of this mortal coil will come to us all

And be not afraid for there is an unbelievable beauty that awaits you on the other side

Listen as though you have def ears
And be not afraid for you will hear the most admirable melody

A melody in which only you alone will understand

Imagine the unimaginable
as though your mind is a precious coffer of treasures

And be not afraid
for there is no dream to large to be accomplished

Take a quick view from aloft through a birds eye
and marvel at life's splendors

For life on this Terra Firma can often be
a muffled and hazy distortion of what it really is

Tumultuous by nature and swallowed in a sea of mayhem
Floating under the beefy brow of her majesty
in a silent conundrum

A conundrum for which there is no correct answer
and an answer that holds no rhyme

Lazy eyes and mute daydreams amplify this ludicrous lucidity

Copyright Michelle Kawahara

Mother's Day

I have made it nearly a year as a Mom, and I tell ya, its hard work. The saying “it takes a village to raise a child”, well it’s really no joke. Lailah learns so much everyday from the help of Grandma’s Lynnie and Tami and we couldn’t be more lucky to have them in her life. I am unable to fully express my gratitude for all their help in words alone, so I tried to put it together in a package, fit with a vintage inspired theme and things that reminded me of being a child. Lailah has got the best Grandma’s ever, and Andy and I were blessed with some amazing Mother’s.

And, Andy, talk about a stud. He surprised all of the Mom’s with gorgeous necklaces. The grandmas’ are hearts with mom inscribed throughout the middle adorned with diamonds and a sapphire to represent Lailah’s blue eyes, and I received one with 8 diamonds and a sapphire around a heart to represent the 9 months of pregnancy. WOW, talk about blown away, I had no idea what he had in mind and I was amazed on Mother’s Day. Not only do I have the best kid ever, but I have an amazing husband too – how lucky am I? VERY!

Days Off

I was privileged to take a couple of days off last week and got to spend both of them with my little Lailah-Bean. Tuesday was a little windy and overcast so I opted to stay a little close to home, but we ventured out to Highland Glenn Discovery Park and chatted with the ducks, strolled around the lake and enjoyed being outside. Lailah thought the ducks were the best thing ever, and one duck was quite smitten with her as well – a true buddy standing idly by her side. The park used to be owned by Andy’s family and was once well maintained; sadly it is now strewn with trash, unkempt twigs and the like. Never-the-less it was still a lovely day. We even managed to catch a glimpse of what I believe to be a western scrub jay, whom was kind enough to allow me to take a photo, albeit not the best; he had things to do and didn’t feel like hanging around for long.

Thursday we decided to take advantage of the Tulip Festival at Thanksgiving Point. Having never been there before I was quite impressed with the vast acres of grass, plants, trees and pathways. And the waterfall was pretty incredible; Lailah thought the rushing water was a site to behold pointing her little finger in its direction to ensure I hadn’t missed it. Tulips are probably my least favorite flower, but they had quite the variety and I was glad that we got to see it. I would probably be more impressed any other time of the year when other plants and various flowers are in bloom, and I am sure we will be going back. One thing’s for sure, walking shoes are an absolute must, we spent nearly 2.5 hours walking around and still didn’t see everything…I do have to admit though, I was kind of bummed at the amount of people there for so early in the morning on a weekday. I am wondering if it’s like that all the time, or if it’s just because the tulip festival only had a couple of days left? We will have to give it another shot sometime and try to determine when the best time to visit is. Hopefully we can get someone to tag along next time; Lailah doesn’t like me to make photo pit-stops – someone needs to assist in keepin’ her movin’.


There’s no doubt that we have a nature child, and I couldn’t be more delighted - for “Nature is always lovely, invincible, glad, whatever is done and suffered by her creatures. All scars she heals, whether in rocks or water or sky or hearts.”  In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.

I hope that she continues to point to the birds as they fly, hoot with the morning dove as she sings, explore the earthen soil in accompaniment of the shy potato bug, pick flowers and rocks with in-discrimination - holding tight with white knuckled fists; determined to not lose such precious gems.

May she always be thankful for the sky – ever changing; the clouds, ebbing and flowing day to day; rocks polished by rivers and streams holding forth to grand ancient histories. May she treasure the moments of each day, lit by the sun and blanketed by the moon. May she climb mountains to fill her lungs with cleansed air, discover grandiose landscapes, and relish in the beauty of nature’s bounty – for she holds more wisdom than any textbook, and provides answers to the most complicated of questions.