The True Story on the Heroism of PFC Justin Casillas

I am so humbled and honored when a family member of a fallen warrior reaches out to me via my blog. It has happened several times and I am always in awe that a family going through the tragedy of losing a loved one takes the time to reach out to me.

On July 6th, I wrote about two young paratroopers who were killed on the fourth of July whom were not old enough to even drink a beer.

I then wrote about this same incident again on September 2nd as there was a series of videos put together by the 4th BCT, 25th ID about the specific attack that happened on July 4th and these videos discuss the brave acts of one young man, PFC Justin Casillas.

The original report from the Army and to the family was that PFC Casillas and PFC Fairbairn were killed when their checkpoint was attacked. Part of this story gained worldwide attention when PFC Fairbairn’s father tweeted on Twitter “They killed my son..”.

We now know the initial report given to the Fairbairn and Casillas family was not accurate. The videos released by the unit mentioned above tell the real story.

Thanks to PFC Justin Casillas Mom reaching out to me and sharing some stuff with me, I now have the first-hand account also. This first-hand account came in the form of a letter sent from the Sr. officer on the ground at COP Zerok to Ms. Casillas. I have re-typed the contents of this letter below, verbatim.

I will tell you first-hand knowledge of the day of the attack. Our Combat Outpost (COP) took heavy indirect fire (IDF) and small arms fire (SAF) from almost all directions. Your son, being a mortar gunner (mortars are the company’s most lethal weapons), knew we needed to get suppressive fire on the enemy’s positions. He ran to the Command Post (CP) and received a fire mission to destroy those enemy positions. Justin was able to run back under fire and return fire with our 60mm mortars. Due to the effectiveness of the enemy fire, one IDF round landed next to the mortar pit and wounded one of the other mortarmen. At that point, they all ran back inside and Justin along with another Paratrooper dragged the other wounded Paratrooper back in to safety. Realizing that the Paratrooper needed to be taken to the Medics, Justin picked him up and ran back outside under enemy fire to get him immediate medical fire. Justin made it outside the mortar pit when another IDF round landed about five feet away and mortally wounded him. Justin paid the ultimate sacrifice for this country while trying to save a fellow Paratrooper. Your son’s actions on July 4, 2009, speaks volumes on his character. Justin most definitely has left a lasting impression on me and on the entire company.

Now you know the whole story.

From what I understand PFC Casillas has been put in for a Silver Star because of his actions on this day. Not that an award will bring him back, but it is important to recognize the unselfish and heroic actions performed on that day. PFC Justin Casillas and PFC Aaron Fairbairn ran out under enemy fire to perform their jobs. They were doing what they were trained to do, put effective indirect mortar fire on the enemy in order to suppress the attack. Both had more courage than can ever be measured. Then after being hit themselves and Aaron Fairbairn being seriously wounded, Justin Casillas took it on himself to get Aaron to the medical help he needed in order to survive. Justin did this without any regard for himself or his safety. Because of his courage, his training and the care he had for his fellow soldier, he gave his life. He gave it not only for his country, his Army, his unit, but for his fellow man. I hope this story is told far and wide, because there is a lot that not only soldiers could learn from, but also Americans in general.

Justin’s actions remind me of a quote from a book that I have carried with me since about 1991. To me it says it all….

“..And men don’t exhibit uncommon valor for scraps of metal and ribbon to pin to their uniforms. They don’t do it for a couple of hundred bucks a month they’re paid. They don’t do it because they want promotions or because they’re afraid of a court-martial. When the chips are really down, they don’t even do it for the Constitution of the United States. That may be why they enlist, but it isn’t why they become heroes. When the chips are down, they do it for each other…” (William Roskey, 1988, “From the novel Muffled Shots”}

 

flag A 60’x20’ flag that was flown by a crane over the cemetery on the day that Justin Casillas was buried (Photo provided by Ms. Casillas)

Awesome Videos from July 4th Attack on COP Zerok

H/T to www.mudvillegazette.com for this video.

This is probably one of the best, if not THE BEST videos I have seen come out of country. This will make you proud, sad and in awe all in one video. This is from a famous battle that happened on the Fourth of July. I wrote about this attack and have the pictures up of the two paratroopers who lost their lives that day in this blog posting, http://www.bouhammer.com/2009/07/they-werent-old-enough-to-drink-on-the-4th/

Little did I know at that time, that they were both brave mortarmen which is what I was all of my career and little did I know what brave and awesome things PFC Casillas did on that day. He was truly performing heroically trying to save his fellow soldier and friend. He gave his life doing it. He more than deserves the Silver Star they have put him in for (posthumously). You will see in the videos below, both Casillas and Fairbairn working that 120 Mortar to get as much fire downrange as possible.

This video is professionally produced, but interlaced with a lot of soldier’s video footage.

Part 1 of the July 4th attack on COP Zerok

The second video highlights the desperation the men of Able Company of 1/509th had to prevent themselves from being overrun by calling “Alamo, Alamo, ALAMO”.

I know Zerok as does several guys that were on my ETT team (Prophet and Puss). In the video below you see an Apache gunship smoking a kulat and to the left of that kulat is a road. That road was the only way in the Zerok valley and one I have been on a few times. In the blog posting I wrote the other day (http://www.bouhammer.com/2009/08/firefights-can-happen-in-medical-clinics-too/) I have a picture of a leader of the bad guys we captured in 2007.

Where this battle happened and where he (bad guy in photo being treated) was captured is just west of Zerok on the other side of the mountains. This bad guy was known to be tied in and work with the enemy in Zerok. I also wrote more about Zerok and how bad it was there for us and others in this posting, http://www.bouhammer.com/2008/11/silver-star-earned-in-some-bad-countryside/

Part 2 of the July 4th attack on COP Zerok

PLEASE watch both videos in order, please forward this posting to your friends, families, and co-workers. If you write a blog, point to it. All of America should know what our men are going through everyday while we get to enjoy hot dogs, parades, fireworks and beer.

Mother and Son Serve in Combat together

4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division Public Affairs
Story by Pfc. Andrya Hill

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SALERNO, Afghanistan – Deployed Soldiers have all kissed their families good-bye, and headed off to war with the expectation of learning to handle the constant heartache of missing their loved ones.

However, in a rare exception, two Soldiers in eastern Afghanistan have found unexpected relief from this typical situation by being assigned to the same location at Forward Operating Base Salerno in the Khost province.

U.S. Army Maj. Una Alderman, the chief nurse officer for the 452nd Combat Support Hospital, received deployment orders after her son had already been serving in Afghanistan.

"His [mailing] address said Salerno, and then I found out that was where I was going. I just couldn’t believe it," she explained.

Her son, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Seth Alderman, a military policeman with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, out of Alaska, was equally surprised.
"When I came here with 4-25 in March, she was on orders waiting to deploy, but we didn’t know where," he said. "When I found out she was coming here, to Salerno, I just thought ‘Wow.’ It was a huge surprise to both of us."

Seth works on Combat Outpost Sabari, just a few miles from FOB Salerno, and convoys between the two locations each month.

"Having her here really gives me something to look forward to when I come to Salerno," he said.

While their close proximity is unique to the deployed environment, and provides a form of solace in the midst of war, it also enables more frequent visits than they have experienced in the U.S.

"It is nice because I live in Wisconsin, and Seth lives in Alaska. We’ll be able to see each other on a more regular basis here, instead of every year-and-a-half," Una said.
Both Soldiers said they have tremendous support from their colleagues, and other Soldiers are excited about their opportunity.

"There is a lot of joking around from my Soldiers, but there is also a level of respect. They think, who else’s mom is over here, really?" Seth said.

Combat brings a level of daily danger and with Una working in the hospital, and her son working on the ground, they each have had to face the possibility of continuing their jobs in an unfortunate tragedy.

"I am a mom, he is my son, so I do worry," said Una. Despite her motherly worry, Una, with help from others is able to focus on her mission. "I have a lot of support from the colleagues that I work with, and we will do the job regardless," she said.

Seth has a half-year remaining in his year-long deployment, and Maj. Alderman has just begun hers. They said they are appreciative of the time they will get to spend together, and are looking forward to the new level of camaraderie, as fellow Soldiers, as well as mother and son.

"I am really proud to be in the Army," Una said. "The people I am here with are just outstanding Soldiers, so I think it is going to be a very good year, a very meaningful year. Besides my children, this is probably one of the most meaningful things I’ll ever do in my life, and adding that Seth is here, at least until February or March, it makes it that much better."

 

6008_132108018453_69621718453_3140213_1491114_nU.S. Army Maj. Una Alderman, the chief nurse officer for the 452nd Army Reserve, from Wisconsin, tends to a patient at the hospital on Forward Operating Base Salerno, Aug. 5. She is stationed in the same area of operation as her son, Staff Sgt. Seth Alderman, a military policeman with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division Public Affairs Photo by Pfc. Andrya Hill

Video Tribute to LT Brian Bradshaw

I have blogged about LT Brian Bradshaw many times on this blog. My readers have written in guests posts and the comments on the blogs about him have been more than I have ever received on any other posting.

I am so honored and flattered to have had this blog visited by dozens of Brian’s family and friends, to include his own parents.

The video below was produced by CBS and I think it is a great testament to not only Brian’s life but also how this country has become so misguided in its priorities.

NOTE-You may want a tissue handy before watching this.

A Day To Remember – watch more videos

Thank you to www.greatamericans.com for hosting this video.

Missing Soldier Update with video of PFC Bowe Bergdahl

As all who have been following this blog or following me on twitter know, I have been following this missing soldier issue ever sine it has happened. I have had multiple sources in and outside of Afghanistan feeding me info that I have pretty much been keeping to myself out of respect for the soldier’s safety, OPSEC, and the family.

A week or so ago my fried PJ Tobia put up a blog story about this soldier which told how it is referred in country by the soldiers as Operation Where’s Waldo. Of course that is not the official name of the operation looking for this soldier, but it is what all the troops on the ground have been calling it.

Within a day of putting up my posting which pointed to PJ’s, I took it down. In hindsight and after much consideration I decided to not spread the word on this yet. There was something in me that knew many, many family members of deployed service-members read this blog and I didn’t want my blog to be the conduit of more pain in this family’s life.

However now that the video is out and it is very clear that the soldier is not under any duress, stress, strain, etc. I think it is safe to call it like it is. I have said from the onset that this was a very fishy case and it did not add up.

After seeing the video, I feel even more so now. The rumors of desertion and walking off his base voluntarily have been out there for the last 10 days. The video speaks volumes if you know what to look for and I don’t mean having to be trained to read body language, etc. It is common sense.

He has no marks, no visible wounds, he is eating well (not scarfing it down), he is talking in a calm demeanor and overall looks very stress free. He is even sporting one nice looking Taliban haircut and beard. The Taliban and most in the rural areas of the mid-east shave with straight-razors. They don’t have Gillette and Schick out in the middle of nowhere. This kid’s head has been neatly shaved with a straight-razor yet he has no cuts, or scrapes. Even a twitch or a shake of the head would guarantee a slice of the scalp somewhere. So what that tells me is he was calm and still as they shaved his head. Just something to think about.

I know exactly the area he went missing and I know the base he went missing from very well. I, along with many others I am sure, are trying to figure out how he ended up getting off the base and nobody seeing this soldier with apparently no tactical gear walking in the open. I am sure there are a lot of questions being asked of his chain of command. Regardless of how this turns out for this soldier, I think there are many leaders in his unit who’s careers are over. I hope not (unless they are guilty of negligence). I think one must also look at the mental state of this soldier and evaluate if he ever showed signs that would cause those that know him to think he would be capable of this.

He came in the Army just one year ago. He enlisted in June of 2008, went to basic training, AIT, and airborne school before being assigned to the Geronimos of the 1/501st ABN. We now know he was home-schooled, and was very active in the ballet and in fencing. Not exactly the type of person that wants to excel and be part of a high-speed Airborne Infantry Unit, if you ask me. Could it be his fellow soldiers knew of his past and harassed him? Could they have made him feel like an outsider? Who knows, and really it does not matter as what he did (if desertion as PJ implies) is inexcusable. I am confident that as the past comes to light we will see this soldier demonstrated behavior that would be considered outside the norm.

I saw an AP report that stated this soldier lagged behind on a patrol and it implied he was kidnapped that way. But the same article said he was not noticed missing until a formation the next day. I can tell you that story is complete BS. No leader of any kind takes his unit on dismounted patrol and then comes back into the base without knowing he has everyone. Afghanistan is not the type of environment where everyone walks “Ranger File” or “Ducks in a Row” and you lose someone because they are walking slow. Were not talking about triple canopy jungle here, we are talking about desert. Regardless, that story is completely false and shame on the Associated Press for even thinking about printing it, much less actually printing it.

Overall this is a sad case for all except the enemy. This is a huge IO (Information Operations) campaign for them and they will come out smelling like a rose to those they can influence.

This is sad for the soldier, sad for his unit and the chain of command (who’s careers are probably over), sad for all the soldiers in Afghanistan who are working non-stop night and day looking for him and not doing their regular missions, sad for Afghanistan whom should be using the American assistance to get ready for the national elections one month from today. I can guarantee that in this area of Pakitika, Ghazni, and Paktia provinces they aren’t focusing on election preparation and probably are focusing on nothing but finding this soldier. It is also very sad for the Afghan and US family members of soldiers who have been killed or wounded as a result of the exhaustive and extensive searching that has been going on.

Most importantly it is sad for his family, who is probably getting no sleep or rest ever since they found out it was him missing back on June 30th (when they were first notified). If he did break ranks or if he does go to the other side it will even be more painful for them.  They will suffer forever because of this. Unless our military is able to rescue him, I doubt he will ever be released alive. The Taliban will use him for everything they can to sway Afghan and US public opinion.

As a parent of a combat vet myself, I cannot imagine the heartbreak or anxiety they feel. I am very sorry for them if the indications and allegations are true. With all that said, I will close this posting for now. Stay tuned here to Bouhammer.com as I will post updates as they become public knowledge.

The link to PJ’s article is here, http://trueslant.com/pjtobia/2009/07/20/source-bergdahl-deserted/

The entire 28 minutes of video (and not just the parts that the MSM wants you to see) is below.

The start of Brian Bradshaw’s Journey Home

Bouhammer Note- H/T to Blackfive.net about this story being published. Since this is a letter from the aircrew to the Washington Post and not a article written and owned by them, I am re-publishing it here. The WaPo likes to remove stories from their website after a few days and I don’t want this one to be missed. I originally wrote about LT Brian Bradshaw HERE. I have follow up blog posts HERE, HEREHERE and HERE. This letter to the Bradshaw family is a powerfully unsolicited piece from the Air National Guard crew that started his last journey home.

 

 

On July 5, The (Washington) Post published a letter from Martha Gillis of Springfield, whose nephew, Lt. Brian Bradshaw, was killed in Afghanistan on June 25, the day that Michael Jackson died. The letter criticized the extensive media coverage of Jackson’s death compared with the brief coverage of Lt. Bradshaw’s death. Among the responses was the following letter, written July 9 by an Air National Guard pilot and a fellow member of the crew that flew Lt. Bradshaw’s body from a forward base in Afghanistan to Bagram Air Base. Capt. James Adair, one of the plane’s pilots, asked the editorial page staff to forward the letter to the Bradshaw family. He and Brian Bradshaw’s parents then agreed to publication of these excerpts.

 

Dear Bradshaw Family,

We were crew members on the C-130 that flew in to pick up Lt. Brian Bradshaw after he was killed. We are Georgia Air National Guardsmen deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom. We support the front-line troops by flying them food, water, fuel, ammunition and just about anything they need to fight. On occasion we have the privilege to begin the final journey home for our fallen troops. Below are the details to the best of our memory about what happened after Brian’s death.

We landed using night-vision goggles. Because of the blackout conditions, it seemed as if it was the darkest part of the night. As we turned off the runway to position our plane, we saw what appeared to be hundreds of soldiers from Brian’s company standing in formation in the darkness. Once we were parked, members of his unit asked us to shut down our engines. This is not normal operating procedure for that location. We are to keep the aircraft’s power on in case of maintenance or concerns about the hostile environment. The plane has an extremely loud self-contained power unit. Again, we were asked whether there was any way to turn that off for the ceremony that was going to take place. We readily complied after one of our crew members was able to find a power cart nearby. Another aircraft that landed after us was asked to do the same. We were able to shut down and keep lighting in the back of the aircraft, which was the only light in the surrounding area. We configured the back of the plane to receive Brian and hurried off to stand in the formation as he was carried aboard.

Brian’s whole company had marched to the site with their colors flying prior to our arrival. His platoon lined both sides of our aircraft’s ramp while the rest were standing behind them. As the ambulance approached, the formation was called to attention. As Brian passed the formation, members shouted "Present arms" and everyone saluted. The salute was held until he was placed inside the aircraft and then the senior commanders, the sergeant major and the chaplain spoke a few words.

Afterward, we prepared to take off and head back to our base. His death was so sudden that there was no time to complete the paperwork needed to transfer him. We were only given his name, Lt. Brian Bradshaw. With that we accepted the transfer. Members of Brian’s unit approached us and thanked us for coming to get him and helping with the ceremony. They explained what happened and how much his loss was felt. Everyone we talked to spoke well of him — his character, his accomplishments and how well they liked him. Before closing up the back of the aircraft, one of Brian’s men, with tears running down his face, said, "That’s my platoon leader, please take care of him."

We taxied back on the runway, and, as we began rolling for takeoff, I looked to my right. Brian’s platoon had not moved from where they were standing in the darkness. As we rolled past, his men saluted him one more time; their way to honor him one last time as best they could. We will never forget this.

We completed the short flight back to Bagram Air Base. After landing, we began to gather our things. As they carried Brian to the waiting vehicle, the people in the area, unaware of our mission, stopped what they were doing and snapped to attention. Those of us on the aircraft did the same. Four soldiers who had flown back with us lined the ramp once again and saluted as he passed by. We went back to post-flight duties only after he was driven out of sight.

Later that day, there was another ceremony. It was Bagram’s way to pay tribute. Senior leadership and other personnel from all branches lined the path that Brian was to take to be placed on the airplane flying him out of Afghanistan. A detail of soldiers, with their weapons, lined either side of the ramp just as his platoon did hours before. A band played as he was carried past the formation and onto the waiting aircraft. Again, men and women stood at attention and saluted as Brian passed by. Another service was performed after he was placed on the aircraft.

For one brief moment, the war stopped to honor Lt. Brian Bradshaw. This is the case for all of the fallen in Afghanistan. It is our way of recognizing the sacrifice and loss of our brothers and sisters in arms. Though there may not have been any media coverage, Brian’s death did not go unnoticed. You are not alone with your grief. We mourn Brian’s loss and celebrate his life with you. Brian is a true hero, and he will not be forgotten by those who served with him.

We hope knowing the events that happened after Brian’s death can provide you some comfort.

Sincerely,

Capt. James Adair

Master Sgt. Paul Riley

GA ANG 774 EAS Deployed

Fox News now covering what Bouhammer already did

I first talked about this story of Lt. Brian Bradshaw on June 27th here, www.bouhammer.com/2009/06/someone-more-important-than-michael-jackson-died/ and again here two days later, www.bouhammer.com/2009/06/great-words-from-1lt-brian-bradshaw/.

Now it is the lead story on FoxNews.com this morning, www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,530361,00.html

I am glad that this story and that outrageous behavior of the media is being highlighted.

 

H/T to jw for tip.

They weren’t old enough to Drink on the 4th

On July 4th, our Nation’s independence day, this country lost two of its sons whom had not even reached the age to drink a beer on the holiday yet. I know the area they were killed and it was a nasty area in 2006, so I can only imagine how bad it is now.

I wrote about it here, http://www.bouhammer.com/2008/11/silver-star-earned-in-some-bad-countryside/

May these warriors rest in peace, and may their families know they will be missed by many, most of which never met them. Thank you Aaron and Justin for the sacrifice you have made for all of us.

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
No. 479-09
July 06, 2009


DoD Identifies Army Casualties

The Department of Defense announced today the death of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. They died July 4 at Combat Outpost Zerok, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked the outpost using small arms and indirect fires. They were assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, Fort Richardson, Alaska.

Killed were:

549-ArmyCasillas.thumb.prod_affiliate.7

Pfc. Justin A. Casillas, 19, of Dunnigan, Calif.

632-ArmyFairbairn.thumb.prod_affiliate.7

Pfc. Aaron E. Fairbairn, 20, of Aberdeen, Wash.