30 May 2011

Stressed-out Soldiers Can Always Go to the Dogs

Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan--Since July 2010, a 3-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever named Sgt. First Class Timmy, along with U.S. Army handler and occupational therapist Capt. Theresa Schillreff, have reached out a helpful paw and hand to service members struggling with deployment stresses, whether those stem from combat experiences or problems at home.

"It's helping people understand that if I have 'X, Y, and Z' going on in my life, how can I cope with that and make sure that I can do my job, meet our mission, and not be sent home," says Schillreff, a member of 254th Medical Detachment, an active-duty U.S. Army combat-stress unit stationed at Miesau Army Depot, Germany. On Bagram Airfield, the unit's Freedom Restoration Center is a 3- to 5-day program that offers a restorative environment to critically stressed-out soldiers. "We really try to fit them up for success."

While soldiers catch up on sleep, nutrition, and physical fitness, the center also offers classes on anger and stress management, resiliency, positive thinking, and leisure and life skills. Staff includes psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists, chaplains, social workers, and nurse practitioners. Service members from all military branches may be referred to the center by a healthcare provider or chaplain. They can also self-refer, although only with approval from a commander.

Timmy and 3-year-old Sgt. First Class Apollo, a black Lab, are the only two military therapy dogs in Afghanistan. The first such dogs deployed to Iraq in 2007, Schillreff says. Timmy and Apollo are part of an ongoing study on the effectiveness of dogs in addressing soldier stress downrange.

Under General Order No. 1, soldiers stationed on Combat Outposts ("COP") or Forward Operating Bases ("FOB") are not allowed to maintain "morale dogs" or mascots. That doesn't always stop soldiers from adopting animals as pets, however, which places those soldiers at risk of disease and injury. "My personal opinion on it is that we seek out affection and comfort, and that's something that dogs can do for us," says Schillreff. "We're trying to use it in a therapeutic way. Having the dogs with the combat-stress teams, you can still have that morale boost, but you have a dog who is well-trained, and who doesn't come with the risks of these wild animals."

Timmy wears either a Universal Camouflage Pattern (U.C.P.) uniform while on duty, or a similarly colored bandana during hot summer months. In addition to long walks and playing fetch, the calm and steadfast canine has made a hobby of collecting the uniform patches of those soldiers with whom he has visited. His collection includes the distinctive emblem of the Iowa Army National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT), scheduled to return to the United States later this summer.

Timmy has been trained to be approachable and non-aggressive, Schillreff says. The dog was donated to the U.S. Army by America's Vet Dogs, an affiliate organization to the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc., Smithtown, New York. According to the organization's website, military therapy dogs placed in combat-stress clinics provide a supportive, non-judgmental presence to service members during interactions with healthcare providers. "The dogs' handlers have reported that soldiers have talked longer, and more meaningfully, to mental health professionals when the dogs were present."

While considered a service dog, Timmy's role as a therapy or emotional support dog differs from that of a "Red Bull" litter of psychiatric service dogs currently being trained by Paws & Effect, a Des Moines, Iowa-based non-profit.

"Timmy fits in to our mission in a lot of different ways," says Schillreff. "For the Freedom Restoration Center, he is here when we do our one-on-one interviews with service members. He is available during leisure time, to play. We sometimes have him in our classes with us, so there can be some interaction there as well. Just petting a dog helps lower your heart rate, which reduces stress. He can provide comfort to people just by laying at their feet ..."

"Our other mission with Timmy is with outreach and prevention. We do what we call 'walkabouts'--we take the dog for a walk. [...] We just go around and let people pet him and play with him. It's kind of a morale boost--he provides a comfort of home that people don't otherwise get--but he also gives us an 'in.' He opens doors."

Timmy's rank is something of a military tradition--the animal normally outranks the handler. It's unusual for an officer to be lucky enough to be tasked as dog-handler, says Schillreff. Still, Timmy is unlikely to promote to major prior to Schillreff's return to Germany in July. Timmy has one more year on his 2-year deployment to Afghanistan. "I have never actually owned a dog before ..." she says. "I think I've had one of the best deployment jobs ever."

As part of his duties, Timmy occasionally attends memorial services, and mission debriefings after convoys have experienced significant injuries. At such times, Timmy serves as an easy-to-recognize, easy-to-approach reminder of available behavioral health resources. "Going out regularly helps us become familiar with units, so that when they do have hard times--a significant injury or death--they can call me up," says Schillreff. "Then we go out, and provide comfort and support."

"People stop by all the time to visit him, media included," says Schillreff. "That's the nice thing about him. He doesn't discriminate. He doesn't care who you are or what your rank is. When he puts on his uniform, it says, 'I'm doing my job. I'm here for you.'"

27 May 2011

A Hard Turn at Najil

My reception at Bagram Airfield ("BAF") last week was warm, jovial, and downright overwhelming. Soon after my arrival, the deputy commanding officer snatched me out of the brigade public affairs office, and plunked me down in front of the commander of the Iowa National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT).

Jet-lagged and time-zoned as I was, I might've have been hallucinating a bit, but there may have even been hugs exchanged. Either way, it was a good vibe.

The brigade command sergeant major came into the office, and took a knee on the hard linoleum floor. Together with the brigade public affairs officer, we discussed my personal "rules of engagement" while traveling around Area of Operations ("A.O.") Red Bulls: Mostly Parwan, Panjshir, and Laghman provinces.

"You've made an investment getting here," says Col. Ben Corell, 2-34th BCT commander. "I think we're invested in getting you back."

That means no overnight stays at Combat Outpost ("COP") X, Y, or Z. That means movement by helicopter and not by ground. While Corell's guidance makes my wife very happy—and I make sure he knows it—I realize that it makes things here more difficult, both for his soldiers and for me.

Thinking back on it, my experience in the box National Training Center (N.T.C.) was ideal training—not only for the terrain and weather conditions, but for the administrative and logistical restrictions as well. Just because you see something nearby on a map, doesn't mean it's easy to get there.

Task Force Ironman—Iowa's 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment (1-133rd Inf.)--is currently headquartered in Mehtar Lam, Laghman Province. I'd spent a memorable couple of days with Alpha Company at NTC last September, while the unit conducted a Combined Arms Live-fire Exercise ("CALFEX"). When Task Force Ironman asked what COP I wanted to see while here, I asked to visit Alpha Company again. That required a "hard-turn"—two helicopter flights in one day to the same remote site.

Bottom line: Task Force Ironman moved earth and sky to make it happen.

COP Najil sits at the crux of three valleys. Afghan Security Guards man some of the guard towers and the entry control point, and a company of Afghan National Army soldiers live in a compound adjacent to the Alpha Company quarters. "They are our brothers," says Capt. Matthew Parrino, acting Alpha Company commander. (Capt. Jason Merchant, the Alpha Company commander whom I'd met at NTC, is on a couple of weeks of leave.) Most every operation is conducted "shoulder-to-shoulder."

Bad guys regularly harass the COP from all directions. Attacks range from 4 or 5 shots from a Soviet-made machine gun in the middle of the night, to full-on complex and coordinated efforts. The Red Bull soldiers point out that the bad guys no longer come at them as directly as they did starting in November of last year, when the Iowa unit first moved into position.

The bad guys are now more likely to rely on Improvised Explosive Device (I.E.D.) attacks , trying to stay out of the Red Bulls' reach. On the day that I am there, Parrino and I sit on the roof of the Tactical Operations Center ("TOC"), watching as a team of two Kiowa Warrior helicopters fly north to engage a reported Vehicle-Borne IED (V.B.I.E.D., also called a "VEE-bid").

Living conditions at COP Najil are Spartan, although the Red Bulls have made many improvements during the deployment. "I like to compare it to a camp up in Canada," says acting First Sergeant Tim Fiedler. "Except the fishing around here isn't as good." There's running water--the Red Bulls have increased the COP's water-tank capacity--and a brand-new shower tent. There's a kitchen-in-a-box the soldiers call the "Red Bull Grill," which is one of only two such systems in country.

Meeting up with soldiers and buddies, I keep re-telling the joke about Col. Corell telling me—way back at NTC—that I should look at Afghanistan as a potential article for Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

Latrines, however, are still a little rustic. Urinals are "piss-tubes"--PVC pipes stuck at an angle into the ground. Toilets are even more basic. As an entry-level job, local nationals are hired to burn the feces collected in cut-off 50-gal. drums; the smell over the COP is constant. Fiedler says that one of the Afghan youth working the latrine detail recently offered this observation:

"Americans sh-- too much."

The kid was promoted to a different job.

25 May 2011

We Apologize for the Inconvenient

The dining facility lunch lady is saying something in sign language to me. She points to the Camelbak I'm wearing, then folds her hands as if in prayer. She repeats the gestures a couple of times, while saying in English: "No backpacks ... please!" The request is routine, but I find the delivery a little unnerving. I begin to suspect that the lunch lady was bothered by something other than my personal hydration system.

Later, I ask the media liaison whether there is indeed a no-backpack rule, and whether it has anything to do with the suicide bomber threat.

"No," he says. "Just part of the protocol."

Like any communal activity, life on a Forward Operating Base ("FOB") is chockfull of rules. Some of them are unwritten. Others are posted on nearly every available surface. The no-backpack rule? Turns out it was hidden in plain sight, amongst a shuffle of other notices about meal times, proper footwear, and people selling things they no longer need.

Waiting outside the dining facility prior to an evening meal, I happen upon a flag display. Each previous U.S. Army rotation on this FOB has commissioned a marble placard with the unit's emblem, and the name of its commander and command sergeant major. The unit markers are arranged beneath flag pole. Because it offers a quick summary of those units who had come before, I take some snapshots of the display.

Suddenly, a first sergeant appears. We'd worked together for a couple of years while I was in uniform, and he has a familiar smirk on his face. He asks, "What are you taking pictures of?" I point at the display.

"Base Ops just called about some guy who was taking pictures and measuring out distances to the dining facility," he tells me. (There's a big camera in the sky that Big Brother Base Ops uses to keep tabs on things.) I roll my eyes. "Hey," he says, "at least they're paying attention."

Here's a selection of signs posted on various FOBs here in Afghanistan. Some seem to have lost something in translation, or to be overly specific--particularly given illiteracy rates in these parts:

- "No dip or urine bottles." If you don't know what these are, don't ask.

- "Do not defecate in the showers. If there continues to be an issue with defecating in the showers they will be closed." Note: This sign appears in both English and local languages.

- "No dumping, washing, rinsing of coffee, tea, etc.--and pick up your cigarette butts!" This sign is posted on a tree.

- "If you hear 'Rampage' or 'Alamo' over the loudspeakers--STAY PUT! We will come get you." If they say "Oxenfree," you apparently have to find them.

- "Afghan Style Toilet." Note: This sign appears in English only. Which may explain why, on one particular day, the floor of my 'U.S. Style Toilet' is so ... messy.

- "Military personnel are authorized two (2) take-out Clam Shell Trays. NO CIVILIAN is authorized take-out meals." Given the way it's capitalized, I'm pretty sure some military person really wanted to make "Clam Shell Trays" an acronym.

- "Disinfected water. Not for drinking."

- "IAW ["In Accordance With"] Ventcom Circular 40-1 and with the approval of CENTCOM, all shell eggs must be cooked thoroughly. Food service personnel are not allowed to cook or serve "over-easy," "over-medium," "over-light," or "sunny-side up" eggs. Eggs will be cooked or served "scrambled," "fried-hard," or as an "omelet" only." What's with all the underlines?
- "Bottom line: Be alert. Know what sector you are in. Follow your unit's plan. Stay alive!!!!" Four exclamation points? They must be serious!!!!

- "Machine out of order. We apologize for the inconvenient."

23 May 2011

What I Am Doing Here

In my re-introductions to Red Bull leaders and soldiers here in Afghanistan, I'm still working on getting my task and purpose down to a manageable 25 words or less. Maybe I've worn too many hats and too many masks for there to be a simple answer. Still, I'll admit that to some small pleasure in causing people to do a double-take, when they see me out of usual context--in country but out of uniform.

After multiple attempts, the best I've been able to muster is that I'm a "freelance historian writing a book about the Red Bull deployment." That seems to contain most of the right sentiments:

- I'm not necessarily writing for immediate publication.

- I might be working at a larger scale or word count than a just a couple of newspaper or magazine articles. Hence, the mention of a "book."

- I'm trying to capture not only the "what" of the deployment, but the "why" and "how."

In many ways, I'm continuing some of the same roles I pursued while I was a uniformed member of 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th "Red Bull" Division. As a Knowledge Management (K.M.) guy for the 2-34th BCT, it was partly my job to ask questions about how things get done, and to document and disseminate stories of success throughout the organization.

There are many such stories of success to be found here. Hardship, too. And sacrifice. But the thing I've found so gratifying is that you can see progress here. Perhaps more accurately: You can sense progress here. Together with its Afghan and coalition partners, the Red Bulls here in Laghman Province, at least, seem to have have brought together the conditions necessary toward more Afghan self-protection and -policing, self-government, self-development.

In Army-speak: That's the "security," "governance" and "development" lines of effort. You can't have one without the others.

Of course, transition to full Afghan governmental control is best still considered a journey, not a destination. I am pleased that so many soldiers can articulate not only what it's been like to be separated so long from friends, family, and the farm fields of Iowa, but how they feel they've made a difference on the ground in Afghanistan.

It is a story I look forward to telling and re-telling.

I find that I'm doing a lot of interviews on the fly and on the run, with a digital recorder in hand. I'm filling up notepad after waterproof notepad, too, but it's still hard to keep up with some sources. My shorthand isn't want it used to be. Neither is my penmanship. I'm sure that means many painful weeks of transcription when I return to Iowa later this summer.

In the meantime, my dispatches may seem somewhat random, and perhaps not as considered or comprehensive as I'd like. I do not have regular Internet access; when I do manage to borrow a cup of connectivity from strangers, my priority is first to write my wife and kids, to tell them where I am and how much I miss them.

I look forward to telling them some stories, too.

19 May 2011

The Things I Carried

With apologies and acknowledgements to the bound-for-Walden-Pond Henry David Thoreau and the bound-for-Vietnam Tim O'Brien, here's a partial laundry list of my potential laundry downrange:

Things I Packed for the Trip:
  • 3 pairs of antimicrobial underwear.
  • 3 pairs of antimicrobial socks.
  • 1 inflatable travel pillow.
  • 3 long-sleeved shirts.
  • 1 short-sleeved shirt.
  • 2 pairs of desert-tan cargo pants.
  • 1 pair of stone-colored convertible pants. (At least once during the trip, I plan to walk around Afghanistan wearing shorts, and loudly "I am not wearing pants!" We'll see how many sergeants major come running.)
  • 1 pair combat sandals.
  • 1 pair hiking boots.
  • My "go-to-war" laptop computer.
  • My six-shooter coffee cup, with dry-powdered reloads.

Things I Did NOT Pack:

  • Anything made of cotton. I miss the feel of it already.
  • My "deployment copy" of Henry V. While it's once more into the breach for me, this time I opted to replace my usual hip-pocket inspirational with some military-themed science fiction. I used to read a lot of David Drake ("Hammer's Slammers") and Orson Scott Card ("Ender's Game"). I figured that a couple of mass-market science-fiction paperbacks would: (a) fit into a cargo pocket; (b) provide easy distraction from half-day layovers in foreign airports; and (c) avoid barracks discussions about how much Shakespeare does or does not suck. Besides, I got suckered in by this John Scalzi title: "Old Man's War." Don't know why.
  • My Kevlar helmet and vest. When I still worked at the Magazine Factory, my fellow workaday editors and I were appalled to hear about upper-crust editors-in-chief who sent their luggage via overnight delivery, rather than be hassled by carrying-on or checking-in. Schlepping a gym bag full of heavy-but-still-breakable bulletproof plates on my way to Fort Irwin, Calif. last fall, however, convinced me to send my gear on ahead, courtesy of U.S. Postal Service. As a bonus, now I don't have to worry about them being "confiscated" along the way.

Things I will do while overseas:

  • Embed as civilian media to cover the current deployment of the Iowa National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division.
  • Attempt to post occasional reports to the Red Bull Rising blog.

Things I Promised Household-6 I would NOT do while overseas:

  • Take any unnecessary chances.
  • Grow a moustache.

17 May 2011

Going to Afghanistan

In the past 15 months, the phrase "I'm going to Afghanistan" has proven a particularly difficult phrase to use effectively. Once used, it tends to hang there ... in the air ... turning slowly ... loaded with meaning. Then, it explodes in a hundred unexpected ways, clearing a room like some sort of conversational grenade.

I am going to Afghanistan.

When I was still in uniform, preparing to deploy as a citizen-soldier of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT), even friends and family with little familiarity with the military could make sense of my pending departure. They could tell themselves I didn't have a choice in the matter.

They would have been wrong, of course. There are always choices.

When you choose to become a U.S. soldier, you take an oath. You pledge to defend the U.S. Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. "Duty, Honor, and Country"? Those just come along with the territory. As a bonus, when you enlist in the U.S. National Guard, you gain the additional opportunity to serve your neighbors in times of "natural disaster and national emergency."

You affirm that choice every time you leave everything--your family and friends, your civilian job, the comforts of home--to run either toward the sound of guns, or to the call of sirens.

It's hard to leave that Minuteman mentality behind.

I am now retired. I no longer wear camouflage, or the shoulder-patch American flag that comes with it. Without the easy cover and concealment of a government-issued identity, how are the people I love supposed to make sense of my going to Afghanistan? After all, don't I have a choice now?

I'm 40-something years old. I'm not an overly brave man, and anything but a risk-taker. I originally wanted to deploy to Afghanistan, not because I was important or critical to the mission, but because I thought I could do a small and unique Army job very well.

Someone had other ideas, however. I dropped off the deployment list only a few weeks before Mobilization-day. Yet, God and Uncle Sam each work in strange and mysterious ways. Sometimes, they must even talk between themselves, to better coordinate their efforts.

I have been extremely lucky and blessed in the past 18 months or more. So has my family. First, we prepared for a deployment that never came. We learned a lot--emotionally, spiritually, legally--in the process. After reassignment within the Iowa Army National Guard, I stayed in uniform for a few months. I was assigned to regularly visit and assist my unit at Camp Shelby, Miss. and again at Fort Irwin, Calif. Instead of being separated from my family for the better part of 12 months, I've mostly been able to sleep in my own bed, live my own life, write my own words. In these months, I've been a parent to my kids, and partner to my wife. I am a lucky man.

Not only that, but I've been able to witness the life of the Red Bull here at home: send-off ceremonies and temporary homecomings, funerals and fund-raisers.

Back December 2009, I started the Red Bull Rising blog because I wanted to be able to someday explain to my children--Lena is now 6, Rain is about to turn 4--why their daddy left them for more than a year, and what he and his fellow citizen-soldiers did on their behalf.

While my family and I sought to recover from the shock of my non-deployment, a fellow mil-blogger observed that my new role should be likened to "bard of the brigade." I should find ways to explain the experiences of citizen-soldiers and their families, and how they relate to a larger picture.

I decided that I should go to Afghanistan, not as a citizen-soldier, but as a citizen-journalist. Here's the quick story-pitch: "Middle-aged Midwestern Boy meets deployment. Boy loses deployment. Boy goes to Afghanistan anyway."

Uncharacteristically, given my obsession with secrecy, I set this trap for myself: I told people ahead of time I was going to Afghanistan. I said the words aloud, but not too loudly. I said them to my wife. I said them to my peers and friends. I said them to my leaders and my readers. They all listened. Quietly. And let me work things out for myself.

Whenever chances came along to back down, to slide right, and to be overcome by events, I had all the right people asking what they could do to help get me downrange. A couple of them even taunted me, although they didn't mean to. One of the best ways to get me to do something, however, is to tell me that I can't. "You aren't going to make it over there, are you?" It takes a village to deploy a soldier. Or a writer. Trust me, every jab and push helped.

So, at an age most men live lives of quiet desperation, I have chosen to be a man of my words. I still have some Red Bull stories to tell. I need to illuminate why we did what we did--soldiers, families, the U.S. National Guard. I owe it to my buddies. I owe it to our wives and husbands. Most of all, I owe it to our kids--and the world we intend to leave behind.

I am running toward the Sirens' call one last time. One more Pamplona moment, chasing the Red Bull, looking for some answers, trying to sift between ground truth and the usual barnyard excrement.

I am going to Afghanistan.

In fact, I'm already there.

04 May 2011

A Few Quiet Words on Justice

Today is the funeral of Staff Sgt. James A. Justice, 32, killed April 23 in Kapisa Province, Afghanistan, during a mission to secure the crash site of a downed U.S. Army scout helicopter.

I knew Justice, although not well. We worked alongside each other last summer at Camp Shelby, Miss. Each of us was a non-deploying soldier assigned to help the Iowa National Guard mobilize 3,000 troops of 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division. We were to help get them out the door to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., and onward to Afghanistan.

In September or October, we'd each subsequently gone off to different assignments back in Iowa. I eventually retired from uniformed service. Justice somehow managed to volunteer to re-join the Red Bull. He was assigned to Iowa's 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment (1-113th Cav.). The unit had been in Afghanistan since November. Justice arrived in February.

I didn't find out that he'd deployed until I heard the news reports of his death.

The press release announcing Justice's death said that everybody called him "Juice," but I didn't know that. I've got another, smaller story to tell: Justice was a hard worker. He'd single-handedly set up training events for deploying soldiers, working late hours into the night, then happily adapt to last-minute changes demanded the next morning by less-dedicated soldiers, civilians, and contractors.

Taking offense on his behalf, a few of us on the team shared a running joke--a word-play on his last name.

"At least," we would say, admiring his cheerful diligence in the face of Army bureaucracy, "we have Justice on our side."

02 May 2011

Red Bull Funeral, Fund-raiser Updates

A member of the Iowa Army National Guard's 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment, Staff Sgt. James A. Justice, 32, of Grimes was killed April 23 during a mission to help recover a downed U.S. Army helicopter in Kapisa Province, Afghanistan. Also injured in the mission was Spc. Zachary H. Durham, 21, of Des Moines.

Services will begin with a visitation from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., Tues., May 3, at the IKM-Manning Middle School gymnasium, 755 Main St., Manilla, Iowa. Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. (doors open at 1 p.m. for visitation prior to funeral), Wednesday, May 4, IKM-Manning High School gymnasium, 209 10th St., Manning. Graveside service and burial will be conducted at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va. at a later date.

Memorials may be made to:

James Justice Benefit Account
c/o Veridian Credit Union
5910 University Ave.
West Des Moines, Ia., 50266


A "Military Family Benefit" will be held Sat., May 7, from 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., at the Iowa Army National Guard armory in Red Oak. The event benefits the families of 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment soldiers injured or killed April 11 in an Improvised Explosive Device attack Paktiya Province, Afghanistan.

Killed in the attack was Spc. Brent M. Maher, 32, of Honey Creek, Iowa, posthumously promoted to sergeant. Wounded in the attack were:
  • Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Jedlicka, 31, of Council Bluffs.
  • Spc. Justin Christiansen, 24, of Nebraska City, Neb.
  • Spc. Dustin Morrison, 20, of New Market, Iowa.
The event will include a $5 spaghetti dinner, silent auction, raffle, and a disc jockey.

Address for the Iowa National Guard Armory in Red Oak is:

RR1 Park West Road Old HWY 34
Red Oak, Iowa 51566

Monetary donations may be made to any Bank Iowa branch office under the "Military Family Benefit / Barb Lombard" account.

For Facebook page regarding the event, click here.


According to posts on its Facebook event page, approximately 1,350 people attended an April 23 benefit for Spc. Adam Eilers, 21, held at the Lakeside Ballroom, Guttenberg, Iowa. The Garber, Iowa soldier was injured in a Feb. 21 IED attack in Laghman Province, Afghanistan. Also injured in the attack were:
  • Spc. Caleb Redell, 22, of Erie, Ill.
  • Pfc. Andrew Zimmerman, 20, of Camanche.
All three soldiers are members of the Iowa National Guard's 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry "Ironman" Regiment 1-133rd Inf.).

The event included a hog roast, auction and silent auction, a bake sale, and dance. At times, the ballroom was stuffed to near capacity, as well-wishers chatted with Eilers family and friends, while listening to the patter of auctioneer Jim Funk of Guttenberg. In a sample 5-minute period, Funk helped sell everything from Green Bay Packers tickets, a weekend in a secluded cabin resort, a child's 18-inch bicycle painted in John Deere green and yellow, and a stuffed duck that seemed nearly as big as a prize-winning pig.

Eilers is currently in physical and speech therapy at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Minnesota.

Monetary donations continue to be accepted at:

Adam Eilers Benefit Fund
c/o Garnavillo Savings Bank
P.O. Box 100
Garnavillo, IA 52049