Monthly Archives: March 2014

‘Mechanics of All Trades’ Maintain Equipment

I must admit I have a soft spot for women who break through societal barriers to accomplish great things. Staff Sgt. Michele Calton is one of those woman, and she is beautiful to boot.

U.S Air Force Staff Sgts. Jose Barraza (left) and Michele Calton work on a diesel generator that powers up aircraft on the flightline here. They are assigned to the 777th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron's aerospace ground equipment flight. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jamie Shultz
U.S Air Force Staff Sgts. Jose Barraza (left) and Michele Calton work on a diesel generator that powers up aircraft on the flightline here. They are assigned to the 777th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s aerospace ground equipment flight. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jamie Shultz

By U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Melissa Phillips
407th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

ALI BASE, Iraq, Aug. 26, 2005 — When Staff Sgt. Michele Calton spotted a stranded elderly woman whose car had broken down with smoke streaming from under the hood, her first instinct was not to call someone else for help.

She calmly got out of her car in her 4-inch heels and skirt that she wore for a girls’ night out a few months ago, lifted up the hood of the steaming vehicle and reconnected a loose radiator hose.

Then she handed the woman her cell phone so she could call home before she drove the woman to purchase more antifreeze.

It is all simple stuff to the 777th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s aerospace ground equipment airman, who picked up her mechanical skills in the Air Force.

“I credit the military for all my gained knowledge,” Sergeant Calton said. “I probably would have never attempted to close that gap (and learn how to fix machinery) because of the perception this career field carries.”

Sergeant Calton said she sometimes thinks women feel it is too difficult to understand all the moving parts inside engines and how they all tie together. After all, she said before technical school she classified herself as “mechanically challenged.”

“Once you learn the fundamentals of an engine, it’s actually quite simple,” Sergeant Calton said. “The ‘big metal mess’ under the hood starts to take the form of a starter, alternator, radiator, etc.”

Referring to themselves as “mechanics of all trades,” Sergeant Calton and her colleagues have to learn a little bit about everything, because not only do they deliver the equipment to their customers, they maintain it as well.

They quickly figure out how to fix light carts, ground diesel generators, mobile air-conditioning units, air compressors, hydraulic test stands and an assortment of small machinery that support aircraft operations.

Even though they fix some specialized equipment, AGE Airmen consider themselves maintainers foremost.

“I’m a mechanic; I can work on a truck right along side my fiancé,” Sergeant Calton said.

She realizes that her presence in a mostly male-dominated career field is often shocking.

“When people see me, it’s not expected,” said Sergeant Calton, who is from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. “However, I like the fact I get to know all this information. It’s pretty awesome to be able to work on these things.

“I have a (better) understanding how they actually work individually and how they come together to achieve the end result of starting your car or applying power to an aircraft,” she said.

For another AGE airman, it is important to learn the basics so he can apply them to fix just about anything.

“When it boils down to it, it’s all about remembering the basics — where’s the source power, air, hydraulic pressure, etc.,” said Staff Sgt. Jose Barraza, noncommissioned officer in charge of the AGE shop, who is also deployed from Luke.

“AGE is all about problem and solution solving,” he said.

Although AGE craftsman spend a lot of time elbow-deep in grease and wires, they also get out from “under the hood” to talk with their customers.

During her visits, Sergeant Calton said aircrews often show her pictures on their digital cameras of the people and places they see when the C-130 Hercules leaves here.

“When you see the pictures of where the aircraft has been, whether it dropped off humanitarian supplies or troops going home, it’s a great feeling knowing you helped it get there,” she said.

AGE is often a secondary thought in mission success, but without their equipment, transportation could not fix the Humvees security forces use to patrol the base and outside area to keep more than 8,000 U.S. servicemembers and coalition forces safe in this area.

“I rely heavily on AGE (light carts) to provide our lighting for the 24/7 maintenance operations here,” said Senior Master Sgt. Konrad Delger, 407th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron’s vehicle management flight chief from the Nevada Air National Guard. “Also, without their support (of an air compressor) the entire Air Force vehicle fleet here would have been driving around on flat tires.”

Even though AGE Airmen are more than happy to help out people in other units who occasionally need their equipment, their primary mission is supporting aircraft maintainers.

Without their generators the aircraft would have to burn through precious fuel to produce electricity.

“Our main piece of equipment is the (-86) diesel generator set,” Sergeant Barraza said. “That’s our prized possession for AGE out here. It allows aircraft mechanics to maintain and run system checks on aircraft.”

AGE craftsmen provide around-the-clock service, 365 days a year.

“Without AGE, we could not fly the mission or do proper maintenance on aircraft,” said Master Sgt. Jeff Wiedeman, 777th EAMXS production superintendent, who is deployed from Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

“We use the power units (air/electrical) to power the aircraft, so we can use the different systems (like the) interior lighting (and for) trouble shooting all maintenance problems from hydraulics (that lift the aircraft’s flaps), engines and all electrical systems,” he said

Realizing other agencies depend on the equipment to get their job done is a source of satisfaction for Sergeant Calton, who said she was happy to deploy here to have a closer effect on the war on terrorism.

“When I see the aircraft take off and come back, I know that’s a result of our equipment working properly,” she said.

Knowing she can fix equipment, which powers up million-dollar aircraft, has given her the confidence to fix other mechanical items.

Since her training, she seems to have a soft spot for stopping to help those in broken-down vehicles. Before she deployed here, she pulled over to help a 16-year-old girl with a flat tire.

“I pulled out my tool box from my car along with my coveralls (once again I was dressed up, heels and all). Then I showed her how to change a tire,” Sergeant Calton said.

Sergeant Calton said she loves her job because she likes being thrown into a situation where she has to figure out a solution.

“This job is great if you love to attack a challenge,” Sergeant Calton said. “Units come in broke, and you have to figure out what’s wrong with them, fix them and send them back out on their way to take care of the mission.

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Servicemember in Iraq serves to help the ‘good guys’ win

I rarely wrote many commentaries while I was in the Air Force. I am a behind the scenes type of gal so I prefer to tell other people’s stories – not my own. But this one has a special place in my heart. Sometimes it is easy to forget what military service really means and this commentary captures my feelings.

 

A picture of a little Bedouin girl in the desert outside of An Nasiriyah, Iraq. She is probably looking at the first stuffed animal she has ever been given. Photo by Maurice Hessel July 2007
A picture of a little Bedouin girl in the desert outside of An Nasiriyah, Iraq. She is probably looking at the first stuffed animal she has ever been given. Photo by Maurice Hessel July 2007
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Here a young Airman tries to communicate with a Iraqi mother and her child while on patrol near An Nasiriyah, Iraq July 2007. The vast majority of the U.S. Air Force missions around the world are humanitarian in nature. Photo by Maurice Hessel.

http://www.mccoy.army.mil/vtriad_online/07132007/Servicemember_in_Iraq.htm

By Master Sgt. Melissa Phillips, Special to American Forces Press Service (former name) 

WASHINGTON, D.C. July 13, 2007 — Before I left for my current deployment, an 8-year-old asked me out of the blue, “Why do you have to go to Iraq?” It stopped me in my tracks.

I remember thinking, “How can I possibly answer such an immense question without somehow tainting her view on this unpredictable world?”

When I deployed to Southwest Asia in 2002, a fellow Airman told me that he explained to his daughter why he had to deploy by telling her, “Daddy has to go help feed the camels in the desert.”

After about two months into his tour, he said, his 4-year-old told him on a telephone call, “Daddy, someone else needs to feed the camels. I want you to come home.”

I thought that was such a cute, bittersweet story, but I knew the camel trick definitely was not going to work on the well-informed 8-year-old bookworm who posed the question to me.

I wanted to say something profound and comforting, but I was at a loss to answer her. After all, I was headed for a war zone where people don’t always come back alive, and there is no easy explanation to ease the worries of family and friends.

After a few ums and ahhs, I heard myself tell her, “We have to help the good guys fight the bad guys who are trying to hurt them.”

She seemed satisfied with the response, gave me a beaming smile and ran off to play. I sat there stunned.

I had been trying to avoid thinking about the reason why I was going back to Iraq.

After my conversation with her, I thought, “Is it really that simple? Do good guys still win in our universe? Can U.S. and coalition forces really help a nation of people overcome their differences to rebuild a stable country? Who exactly are the good and bad guys?”

In reality, I know there isn’t a black-and-white answer to these questions. That’s hard to accept by a nation of Americans who pride themselves on their logical and forward-thinking mind set.

To servicemembers’ advantage, we are used to operating in the grey. While it’s unfortunate, and although we do our best to avoid it, it’s accepted there will be collateral damage in war.

Lives will be lost. Families and innocent people will be hurt on both sides. I don’t like that reality. However, I firmly believe we are doing more good in Iraq and Afghanistan than harm.

I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

I’ve witnessed children receiving the first stuffed animal or toy they’ve ever had, and I’ve seen their eyes light up. I’ve seen thirsty and hungry people barely surviving in blistering 130-degree heat receive life-sustaining supplies.

I know most Americans don’t have the opportunity to witness the endless parade of care packages that family members send their loved ones to give to the Iraqi people: shoes, clothes, wet wipes, diapers, food and more. I had the privilege to see the goodness in people on both sides, despite the harsh conditions that brought them together.

Many military members, and those who support them, are personally invested in helping the Iraqi people.

We admire Iraqis who are forging ahead to make their country a better place, even though they and their family members are targeted for accepting the responsibility to secure their future.

Insurgents don’t recognize freedom of speech, nor do they value human life. They don’t seek a compromise with their countrymen or neighbors for the greater good of their collective society. They are the bad guys.

Not only is our mission to destroy the bad guys, the U.S. military spends a huge hunk of time on humanitarian missions. We patch up Iraqi and Afghanistan children when they’re sick or hurt. We provide medical services that a vast majority of people could never afford on their own, and might not have access to if they could.

We build hospitals, schools and a myriad of facilities that directly improve their lives and will continue to do so long after the U.S. and coalition presence is gone and this war is in the history books.

The success stories are rarely told in the media, but they occur every day. I knew that from my last tour in Iraq, but I was still confused about how I felt about this war.

Now, when anyone asks me why I’m in Iraq, I know what to say.

I’m here to help the good guys win. It’s that simple.

(Phillips of the U.S. Air Force is deployed to Iraq from the 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs.)

Melissa LeGates freelance writer

Melissa LeGates freelance writer

Melissa LeGates is a freelance writer and retired Air Force journalist who specializes in features and B2B writing. She is also a colored pencil artist and blogs about it at http://coloredpencilenthusiast.wordpress.com/. You can commission Melissa’s work (either writing or art) by contacting her at 1-541-995-0015 or e-mail malegates@gmail.com.

Air Force Still Photographers

http://usmilitary.about.com/od/airforce/a/photographer.htm

by Tech. Sgt. Melissa Phillips (former name)

ALI BASE, Iraq — Photographers here are proving that a picture is truly worth a thousand words in fighting the war on terrorism.

“Our images tell the military story to the American public, our children and their children, and beyond,” said Master Sgt. Maurice Hessel, base multimedia center manager and still photographer.

“Military photographers have had a tremendous impact on history and document the horrors of war,” said Sergeant Hessel, who is deployed from McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. “The men and women of the U.S. military are considered heroes in the eyes of most Americans, and I believe military photographers have played a role in that view.”

Considering themselves observers to history, photographers here have captured images of Iraqi citizens and U.S. Airmen meeting each other.

“I like knowing what I see is what someone else will see, and maybe have a better understanding that not all of the locals hate us or want to bomb us,” said Airman 1st Class Jamie Shultz, a 407th Expeditionary Communications Squadron still photographer also deployed from McConnell.

“If no one saw what we were able to document, then people can assume that no one wants us here or needs our help,” she said. “We are the eyes that everyone sees through.”

The photographers have also documented the friendships formed between U.S. and Iraqi Airmen working together to refurbish the Iraqi Air Force.

“Shooting here is the truest sense of photojournalism,” Sergeant Hessel said. “We tell the story as it happens.

“It’s a target-rich environment, and I’m like a kid in a candy store,” he said. “The (Iraqi citizens) are not acting any different because I’m around. It’s survival for them, and I get to see them in their hour of need, in their own environment and uninhibited.”

But the historic documentation does not come without the danger of working in a combat zone. That fact is not lost on their family members back home, but their imagery helps provide consolation for some.

“A picture that Sergeant Hessel took of me holding a little girl in my arms has helped to put my wife and son at ease,” said Chief Master Sgt. Charles Aliff, the 407th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron security forces manager, who along with his subordinates have had their base defense and humanitarian missions documented by the 407th ECS.

“(The base photographers’) work conveys a message to a larger community, military or civilian, of the significant contribution an individual or an organization provides in the defense of our nation and the universal fight against terrorism,” he said.

“The images they create educate, motivate and inspire confidence in the U.S. Air Force and its role in the defense of freedom,” the Ohio Air National Guard chief said.

Photographers have logged many hours accompanying Chief Aliff and security forces Airmen on convoy patrols throughout the 210 square miles surrounding the base to forge relationships with the locals and keep the more than 9,000 U.S. and coalition forces on the installation safe from terrorist attacks.

“The minute I go (off base) my situational awareness increases,” Sergeant Hessel said. “What we overlook on the roads of America might kill you out here.

“The other day there was a soda can on the street,” he said. “In America, it is just a can, but in Iraq that same can could blow your leg off. I don’t take anything for granted outside the wire.”

Before deploying, photographers are treated to a crash course in convoy operations and survival techniques. While outside the base perimeter, they carry an M-16 but their preferred weapon of choice is a camera.

“My camera is like security forces’ rifle — it’s a part of me,” Sergeant Hessel said about the camera and 30 pounds of photographic equipment he hauls around to get the perfect shot.

Base photographers know that landing the picture-perfect shot is not as easy as pointing a camera at a subject and hoping magic happens.

“Good photos incorporate all the elements: background, foreground and subject,” Sergeant Hessel said.

However, the seasoned photographer says the single-most critical component of a good photo is the emotion caught in the image.

“A good photograph gives some insight into someone’s life and personality,” he said. “You almost have to be a part of the situation — to feel what they’re feeling.

“I empathize with my subjects,” Sergeant Hessel said.

Sergeant Hessel said he finds it easy to capture emotions when photographing the local Bedouin — nomadic Arabs of the Arabian, Syrian or North African deserts — population here, who often do not have basic necessities or the money to buy diapers or shoes for their children.

He is not alone.

“It’s heartaching to see kids run, sometimes barefooted over rocks and dirt, in weather that would be unbearable (100 to 130 degrees) to most, hoping that they’ll get some water or food thrown at them,” Airman Shultz said.

The photographers have to strike a delicate balance: Remain an objective observer to history in the making, yet act as a conduit of emotion to portray humanity occurring.

“You have a split second to take a picture,” Sergeant Hessel said. “If you pause to take the photo on either end of that moment, you lost the photo.”

Their photographs are not just to adorn walls for aesthetic reasons. They can also affect the shape of Airmen’s work environment.

“The battlefield commanders and the secretary of defense use our imagery as a decision-making tool for critical operational assessment,” Sergeant Hessel said.

Safety and criminal investigators also use their photos to solve criminal cases or assess safety mishaps.

“One day you may be documenting a fatality, the next day you’re documenting an awards ceremony,” Sergeant Hessel said. “The job goes from one extreme to the next.”

It is a dynamic mission that many individuals do not realize photographers perform.

Documenting Airmen and the mission is a privilege and responsibility Sergeant Hessel said he does not take lightly.

“It’s pretty cool that my images will outlive me and my children,” he said. “Imagine what history books would be like without pictures.”

 

Melissa LeGates freelance writer
Melissa LeGates freelance writer

Melissa LeGates is a freelance writer and retired Air Force journalist who specializes in features and B2B writing. She is also a colored pencil artist and blogs about it at http://coloredpencilenthusiast.wordpress.com/. You can commission Melissa’s work (either writing or art) by contacting her at 1-541-995-0015 or e-mail malegates@gmail.com.

Purple Heart Recipient Praises Pre-Deployment Training

http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=532

By Tech. Sgt. Melissa Phillips, USAF (former name)
Special to American Forces Press Service

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del., Aug. 23, 2006 – Whenever Air Force Tech. Sgt. Randy Gardner drove a short distance from the protected gates of Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan to pick up rental vehicles, he always felt uneasy.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Purple Heart recipient Air Force Tech. Sgt. Randy Gardner, a vehicle mechanic with the 436th Logistics Readiness Squadron from Dover Air Force Base, Del., recovers with his wife, Kathy, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., after a mortar attack at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Melissa Phillips, USAF
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

He told himself it was only for a few minutes, but he admits now that each time he left the protected bubble he was scared.

The sergeant, who was in charge of maintaining 30 rental vehicles and 117 government vehicles at his deployed location, never saw any “action” outside the compound. But, the action found him when a rocket slammed into his work center July 18.

“It sounded like an airbag going off,” recalled Gardner, a special purpose vehicle mechanic with the 436th Logistics Readiness Squadron here.

He said he was eating lunch in the break room when he felt as if he had been slugged in the arm and was enveloped in a cloud of smoke. At first, he thought the television exploded. In reality, a rocket sliced through the back of his left shoulder and peppered his hands and arms with metal shards.

There was only one thing going through his mind at the time: “Survival! I just wanted to make it out alive,” he said.

Even though he was hurt and dazed, Gardner kept calm and directed several airmen to grab rags and place them over his wounds.

“Combat training and self aid and buddy care really prepares you for what you need to face,” he said. “Everyone needs to pay attention to it when they go through training.”

He was transported to the hospital along with a coworker who was pelted with shrapnel. The coworker remained in Afghanistan, but Gardner’s injuries were more extensive. Within days, he arrived at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Gardner accepted his Purple Heart Medal July 26 with what his wife, Kathy, described as a stiff, military upper lip.

“It’s still hard to believe I got it,” he said. “It felt pretty good to know they recognize you for what you went through.”

Gardner’s wounds are a reminder of what he left behind in Afghanistan. “As soon as he saw his military liaison (for the first time), he kept saying, ‘I’ve got to call the guys,'” said Kathy, who chuckled when she remembered how adamant her husband was about begging the liaison to make sure someone at Kandahar would finish writing a recommendation letter for a coworker there.

His wife said pushing his own feelings aside to help others is indicative of Gardner’s low-key character. “He’s pretty laid-back, although he gets uptight about his tool box,” Kathy said.

Gardner credits his training with helping him remain calm after the attack. “People need to pay attention to what they learn when they’re going through training,” Gardner said. “You have got to be real careful, keep your eye on your surroundings, and keep your ears open.” Gardner is one of three Dover members to recently receive a Purple Heart, but the only one to suffer injuries that required prolonged medical attention back home.

“It’s always shocking to find out this happened to someone close to you. At the same time, I realize the risk,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Fulton Morris, also a special purpose vehicle mechanic with the 436th Logistics Readiness Squadron. Morris said he safely weathered 85 rocket and mortar attacks while deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq.

Although Gardner takes pride in his newly acquired Purple Heart, the best part of his duty in Afghanistan was tinkering with vehicles and keeping them running in extreme weather conditions with sparse supplies, he said.

“They send us there to fix vehicles and keep everything moving; nothing moves without vehicle maintenance’s help,” he said. “People couldn’t drive to the chow hall or use vehicles that accomplish the direct mission.

“We are just over there doing our part,” he added.

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Melissa Phillips is assigned to the 436th Airlift Wing public affairs office.)

Iraqi Boy to Receive Heart Surgery in U.S.

By Tech. Sgt. Melissa Phillips, USAF (former name) 
Special to American Forces Press Service

ALI BASE, Iraq, Aug. 23, 2005 – Eight-year-old Baher looks like a happy, healthy boy on the outside. But the members of the combined Iraqi and U.S. Air Force C-130 aircrew who flew him on the first leg of his journey out of Iraq Aug. 22 know he isn’t healthy — at least for now.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Eight-year-old Baher and his mother, Afaf, board the C-130 aircraft that took them on the first leg of the long journey to New Orleans, where Baher will have heart surgery at Tulane University Hospital and Clinic. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Brian Davidson, USAF
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Baher and his mother, Afaf, are headed to New Orleans to have a hole in his heart repaired through a new program called “Operation Mend a Heart.”

“I was very happy to (be a part of the aircrew to) help him,” said Iraqi air force navigator Atiya, Squadron 23 (Transport).

Atiya was one the C-130 crewmembers who flew Baher from Baghdad International Airport to Basrah Air Station on the first leg of his journey.

Atiya, who has three sons, ages 11, 10 and 5, of his own, held Baher on his lap to show him the airplane’s control panel.

In Basrah, a team of Army civil affairs specialists from the Humanitarian Operation Center in Kuwait was waiting to whisk the family to Kuwait to pick up the proper visas and paperwork.

Later in the week, the mother and son are to board a plane headed for their ultimate destination — Tulane University Hospital and Clinic, where Baher will undergo surgery to correct a congenital heart defect.

Tulane is donating the $100,000 surgery. Operation Mend a Heart is facilitating the effort between Tulane, the U.S. military, and coalition forces.

More than 10 different U.S. and coalition military and civilian agencies will have a part in getting Baher to New Orleans for the life-saving surgery.

“Let’s just say it’s a network of inspired people,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mark N. Matthews Sr., of 90th Regional Readiness Command, at Camp Pike, Ark. Matthews helped facilitate intra-theater airlift and began dreaming of ways to help Iraqi children with heart problems. Even though he currently isn’t in the Middle East, he helped smooth over logistical bumps and get the right people involved.

The Ali Base C-130 aircrew had only a short portion of the mission, but it left a lasting impression. “This was the first (advisory support team) mission that flew humanitarian airlift for their country,” said Maj. Bob May, a Squadron 23 advisory support team pilot instructor assigned to the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron here.

May was the copilot and an Iraqi officer piloted the aircraft. “It was a great feeling being able to do this together with so many Iraqi crewmembers on board,” he added.

At the end of the trip, the U.S. crewmembers asked one of the Iraqis to translate their well wishes to the mother and son. “We asked the translator to tell them it was an honor for us to be able to help him,” said May, who has a son Baher’s age.

“When Baher and his mother were driving away, they were all big smiles,” May said. “It’s good to know you’re making an impact and doing something good for other people.”

That spirit of kindness is what moved Matthews, who started the seeds for the idea of the organization, while helping a 5-year-old Iraqi girl named Noor get airlifted to Kuwait aboard a Japanese aircraft earlier this year. The story garnered wide acclaim and recognition through the recently deceased reporter Peter Jennings.

“On a phone call home, I described how humbled I was to have been a part of helping Noor,” Matthews said. “Later, the organization came up with the phrase, ‘You must have a heart, to save a heart.'”

The program’s long list of supporters includes Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu. “The people behind Operation Mend a Heart understand that one way we can support our troops is by supporting the people they are fighting for, the children of Iraq,” Landrieu said in a press release. “Operation Mend a Heart will help provide the humanitarian medical assistance to the underprivileged children of Iraq who would otherwise not have access to the pediatric medical and surgical care they need.”

During the expected four-week recovery period after the surgery, an Iraqi professor at Tulane will host Baher and his mother. They’re expected to return to Iraq in October.

For many of those involved, the intense logistical coordination required by U.S. and coalition military personnel is indicative of a key role the U.S. military plays in Operation Iraqi Freedom, but that is often downplayed in the news.

“Most Americans think of our military in combat roles,” said Operation Mend a Heart program founder Karen Troyer-Caraway, who is also vice president of Tulane University Hospital and Clinic. “Many Americans do not realize that our military mission also includes humanitarian assistance, rebuilding communities, and investing in the future.

“Operation Mend a Heart is ordinary Americans helping the U.S. military accomplish their mission.”

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Melissa Phillips is assigned to the 407th Air Expeditionary Group.)

Doing their duty: stories about military members living in Delaware Holiday 2011

Here is an article I did in 2011 on several military members living and working in coastal Delaware.

You can read the PDF file here: Mil Profile DE Beach Life Holiday 2011.

Melissa LeGates freelance writer
Melissa LeGates freelance writer

Melissa LeGates is a freelance writer and retired Air Force journalist who specializes in features and B2B writing. She is also a colored pencil artist and blogs about it at http://coloredpencilenthusiast.wordpress.com/. You can commission Melissa’s work (either writing or art) by contacting her at 1-541-995-0015 or e-mail malegates@gmail.com.

Outdoorsman’s Paradise Cape Henlopen State Park

Feature in Motorhome Magazine on Cape Henlopen State Park September 2011

Melissa LeGates freelance writer
Melissa LeGates freelance writer

Melissa LeGates is a freelance writer and retired Air Force journalist who specializes in features and B2B writing. She is also a colored pencil artist and blogs about it at http://coloredpencilenthusiast.wordpress.com/. You can commission Melissa’s work (either writing or art) by contacting her at 1-541-995-0015 or e-mail malegates@gmail.com.

Cancer patient’s daughter saves Seaford doctor’s life

Article published in Seaford Star April 2011
Article published in Seaford Star April 2011

The odds of this happening is like winning Powerball six weeks in a row

By Melissa LeGates

Although Sheryl Magathan of Frankford and Dr. Burton Aronoff of Seaford are some 30 years apart in age, they sometimes introduce themselves as identical twins.

The “soul” siblings are a medical marvel in the kidney donation arena.

Through his practice, Delaware Digestive Disease Associates, Aronoff was used to creating medical miracles for others.

However, when the gastroenterologist and gastrointestinal tract cancer specialist found himself in need of a life-saving miracle, he couldn’t muster up the faith to see past his own terminal diagnosis.

He had developed a fatalistic attitude, closed his practice, resigned himself to enjoy the little time he had left on earth and was on his way to buy a bright, red convertible.

That was until Magathan and her mother bumped into Aronoff in Hardees in Georgetown.

Aronoff had treated Magathan’s mother, Diana, for a rare type of Carcinoid cancer in her stomach called the Zollinger-Ellison syndrome and hadn’t seen either woman since he shut the doors on his practice in August 2008.

Magathan’s mother was in remission but it had been a slippery slope for more than a decade.

“When I found out Dr. Aronoff was out of practice, my hope for my mother went out the window,” said Magathan about her mom’s future health.

At the time, Magathan was just another face to Aronoff in a sea of patients and supporting family members, but the doctor was a beacon of hope to the young woman now 28 but just 15 when her mother was diagnosed.

When Magathan and her mom saw him that day at Hardees, they were happy to run into him.

However, he wasn’t the same optimistic man who told the mother of five children to fight and never accept the recommendation of other doctors who dispensed death sentences in days or months.

Battling despair

Something was missing in his face. Magathan was despaired to see he had no hope.

She could tell he had accepted the same death sentence that he told his patients to fight. That day he shared with the mother and daughter that his kidneys were failing.

He had lived with diabetes for 34, but had developed Antiphospholipid syndrome, a disorder where a person’s immune system mistakenly produces antibodies against certain normal proteins in their blood.

With the addition of the syndrome, he was dependent on a dialysis machine to filter the toxins out of his body for six hours a day, three days a week.

The complicated process was depleting his body and will to live.

When Magathan heard the news, she was shocked but still hopeful.

As a lifelong, devout Christian, she believed in divine intervention.

Instead of caving into the fear surrounding both her mother and Aronoff’s diseases, she thought to herself, “could this be my answer to prayer?”

She had seen countless miracles occur in her mother’s treatment, who had originally been given a 3-month death sentence by other physicians.

Aronoff helped her when no one else would, and 13 years later she felt blessed to still have her around.

Blessing others

For the last two years prior to running into Aronoff, she had been praying and asking God to use her to bless someone else.

So where Aronoff could only see medical complication upon complication, Magathan saw the beginnings of God’s promise and will.

She knew in her soul that God wanted her to bless this man.

The three sat down to share a meal together. Within minutes, she asked him if she could donate one of her kidneys to him.

“My first thoughts were that is a nice gesture but she doesn’t know what she is getting into,” said Aronoff.

As a doctor and man of science, Aronoff implicitly understood the slim statistics surrounding successful donor operations.

Several of his friends had stepped forward and asked to be donors, but didn’t make it through the screening process.

So what were the odds that this young woman, who had no genetic link to him, would be a match?

However, Magathan wouldn’t be deterred.

Throughout the year-long process, she kept reassuring him she would be the one to donate her kidney to him.

“If we hadn’t been a match, I would have still donated my kidney because it would have placed him higher on the donor list,” she said.

However, the wait list to receive a kidney donation from a deceased donor is about seven years, according to Aronoff.

He knew he didn’t have seven years to live with his current kidneys.

Against all odds, the two received the incredulous news.

Sheryl’s kidney was a 6-point match, which is extremely rare because many biological parents and siblings are only a 3-point match and still can’t donate to each other.

For a 3-point match, Aronoff said the average person is expected to live with a donor kidney for 10 to 11 years but for a 6-point match the odds increase to 20 years.

The two were ecstatic.

Meet your twin

Aronoff’s doctor told him, “Burt, you have found the proverbial needle in the haystack.

The only way you could have gotten a better match is if you had been identical twins.”

The long-time fellow of the American Board of Gastroenterology was bowled over backwards at the news.

“The odds of this happening is like winning the Powerball lottery six weeks in a row,” Aronoff said.

Still something seemed off, and Magathan sensed it as well.

Several weeks before the surgery, Magathan made Aronoff promise her he wouldn’t die on the operating room table.

The off-hand comment stuck with him, as he began to have weird unexplained symptoms. He sought medical care and was told the symptoms were “all in his head.”

He knew his body better than that and sought another opinion.

Listen to your heart

It turned out it wasn’t in his head; it was his heart.

He had a condition nicknamed the widow maker where the blood in his left ventricular was severely reduced.

Once diagnosed, he was rushed in for an immediate quadruple bypass surgery.

The recovery delayed the kidney surgery another excruciating four months.

In July 2010, the two headed up to New York-Presbyterian Hospital to the Rogosin Institute, and the surgery went off without a hitch.

A year later, both Aronoff and Magathan kidneys are back up to full function.

The surgery was uncomfortable and taxing on both their bodies.

Magathan still finds it uncomfortable to sleep on the side where her kidney was removed.

However, she believes the temporary discomfort has been a small price to pay. She can live with only one kidney and still have a full life.

Within three to six months, the remaining kidney started compensating for the other. Aronoff now has three kidneys.

Surgeons didn’t take out the bad kidneys. Instead, they installed Magathan’s donated kidney in front of his belly.

The avid gardener can’t pull his belt too tightly anymore, so it is a daily reminder of what is important in life.

“When you dealt with life and death, and death was the most likely outcome, petty annoyances don’t mean a thing,” Aronoff said.

What does matter is doing what he loves best – providing patients with hope and comfort.

For him, every day is a puzzle in the inner workings of the human body and every person’s diagnosis and recovery provides a new challenge.

Giving back

Aronoff re-opened his practice this February at 904 Middleford Road in Seaford. A plaque with Sheryl’s picture hangs in the lobby.

It reads, “If you appreciate the medical care you received today thank my kidney donor Sheryl Magathan who made it possible.”

Aronoff’s recovery happened just in the nick of time, as Magathan’s mother once again faced feelings of helplessness when her pain relapsed.

Only a short half a year after the soul sibling’s surgery, Magathan’s mother had lost hope. She was tired of almost 15 years of fighting.

Once again, Aronoff was by her side saying “no, no, no…we can do something about this pain. Don’t stop fighting!”

After all, the two now shared common blood – a young woman who wouldn’t give up on either of them.

Aronoff and Magathan kidnapped her mother and took her to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

The hospital checked her out and prescribed a new medicine for her that actually worked.

Aronoff said the results where miraculous within one month the pain was gone and within two months there was no evidence of the disease.

The senior Magathan had once again escaped death with her faithful doctor and daughter at her side.

Beating a death sentence to find faith

Magathan had restored Aronoff’s hope, and he was ready once again to pass it on to his patients.

“There is no such thing as a death sentence,” Aronoff said. “I get riled up when doctors say a person has ‘X’ amount of time to live. Frankly, they make me look good.”

Besides a new lease on life, Aronoff also received another gift from Magathan.

By observing Magathan’s faith first hand, the man of science now believes there is a higher power at work in the world.

Now the friends both attend Bay Shore Community Church in Gumboro each Sunday.

“The Bible talks a lot about God’s timing. I probably only eat at that Hardees about every five years when I buy a new vehicle,” Aronoff said.

If he hadn’t bought the little red sports car, he wouldn’t have run into Magathan and listened to a seemingly impossible idea that saved his life.

“It is improbable that I survived this surgery, improbable that I am doing this well and improbable that I am back in practice,” Aronoff said. “When you see someone acting on the word of God, never disagree with God.”

Melissa LeGates freelance writer
Melissa LeGates freelance writer

Melissa LeGates is a freelance writer and retired Air Force journalist who specializes in features and B2B writing. She is also a colored pencil artist and blogs about it at http://coloredpencilenthusiast.wordpress.com/. You can commission Melissa’s work (either writing or art) by contacting her at 1-541-995-0015 or e-mail malegates@gmail.com.

Cancer patient’s daughter saves Seaford doctor’s life April 2011

Article published in Seaford Star April 2011
Article published in Seaford Star April 2011

The odds of this happening is like winning Powerball six weeks in a row

By Melissa LeGates

Although Sheryl Magathan of Frankford and Dr. Burton Aronoff of Seaford are some 30 years apart in age, they sometimes introduce themselves as identical twins. The “soul” siblings are a medical marvel in the kidney donation arena.

Through his practice, Delaware Digestive Disease Associates, Aronoff was used to creating medical miracles for others. However, when the gastroenterologist and gastrointestinal tract cancer specialist found himself in need of a life-saving miracle, he couldn’t muster up the faith to see past his own terminal diagnosis.

He had developed a fatalistic attitude, closed his practice, resigned himself to enjoy the little time he had left on earth and was on his way to buy a bright, red convertible.

That was until Magathan and her mother bumped into Aronoff in Hardees in Georgetown. Aronoff had treated Magathan’s mother, Diana, for a rare type of Carcinoid cancer in her stomach called the Zollinger-Ellison syndrome and hadn’t seen either woman since he shut the doors on his practice in August 2008.

Magathan’s mother was in remission but it had been a slippery slope for more than a decade.

“When I found out Dr. Aronoff was out of practice, my hope for my mother went out the window,” said Magathan about her mom’s future health.

At the time, Magathan was just another face to Aronoff in a sea of patients and supporting family members, but the doctor was a beacon of hope to the young woman now 28 but just 15 when her mother was diagnosed.

When Magathan and her mom saw him that day at Hardees, they were happy to run into him. However, he wasn’t the same optimistic man who told the mother of five children to fight and never accept the recommendation of other doctors who dispensed death sentences in days or months.

Battling despair

Something was missing in his face. Magathan was despaired to see he had no hope. She could tell he had accepted the same death sentence that he told his patients to fight.

That day he shared with the mother and daughter that his kidneys were failing. He had lived with diabetes for 34 years, but had developed Antiphospholipid syndrome, a disorder where a person’s immune system mistakenly produces antibodies against certain normal proteins in their blood. With the addition of the syndrome, he was dependent on a dialysis machine to filter the toxins out of his body for six hours a day, three days a week. The complicated process was depleting his body and will to live.

When Magathan heard the news, she was shocked but still hopeful. As a lifelong, devout Christian, she believed in divine intervention. Instead of caving into the fear surrounding both her mother and Aronoff’s diseases, she thought to herself, “could this be my answer to prayer?” She had seen countless miracles occur in her mother’s treatment, who had originally been given a 3-month death sentence by other physicians. Aronoff helped her when no one else would, and 13 years later she felt blessed to still have her around.

Blessing others

For the last two years prior to running into Aronoff, she had been praying and asking God to use her to bless someone else. So where Aronoff could only see medical complication upon complication, Magathan saw the beginnings of God’s promise and will. She knew in her soul that God wanted her to bless this man.

The three sat down to share a meal together. Within minutes, she asked him if she could donate one of her kidneys to him. “My first thoughts were that is a nice gesture but she doesn’t know what she is getting into,” said Aronoff.

As a doctor and man of science, Aronoff implicitly understood the slim statistics surrounding successful donor operations. Several of his friends had stepped forward and asked to be donors, but didn’t make it through the screening process. So what were the odds that this young woman, who had no genetic link to him, would be a match?

However, Magathan wouldn’t be deterred. Throughout the year-long process, she kept reassuring him she would be the one to donate her kidney to him.

“If we hadn’t been a match, I would have still donated my kidney because it would have placed him higher on the donor list,” she said. However, the wait list to receive a kidney donation from a deceased donor is about seven years, according to Aronoff. He knew he didn’t have seven years to live with his current kidneys. Against all odds, the two received the incredulous news. Sheryl’s kidney was a 6-point match, which is extremely rare because many biological parents and siblings are only a 3-point match and still can’t donate to each other.

For a 3-point match, Aronoff said the average person is expected to live with a donor kidney for 10 to 11 years but for a 6-point match the odds increase to 20 years. The two were ecstatic.

Meet your twin

Aronoff’s doctor told him, “Burt, you have found the proverbial needle in the haystack. The only way you could have gotten a better match is if you had been identical twins.”

The long-time fellow of the American Board of Gastroenterology was bowled over backwards at the news. “The odds of this happening is like winning the Powerball lottery six weeks in a row,” Aronoff said.

Still something seemed off, and Magathan sensed it as well. Several weeks before the surgery, Magathan made Aronoff promise her he wouldn’t die on the operating room table.

The off-hand comment stuck with him, as he began to have weird unexplained symptoms. He sought medical care and was told the symptoms were “all in his head.” He knew his body better than that and sought another opinion.

Listen to your heart

It turned out it wasn’t in his head; it was his heart. He had a condition nicknamed the widow maker where the blood in his left ventricular was severely reduced.

Once diagnosed, he was rushed in for an immediate quadruple bypass surgery. The recovery delayed the kidney surgery another excruciating four months.

In July 2010, the two headed up to New York-Presbyterian Hospital to the Rogosin Institute, and the surgery went off without a hitch. A year later, both Aronoff and Magathan kidneys are back up to full function.

The surgery was uncomfortable and taxing on both their bodies. Magathan still finds it uncomfortable to sleep on the side where her kidney was removed. However, she believes the temporary discomfort has been a small price to pay.

She can live with only one kidney and still have a full life. Within three to six months, the remaining kidney started compensating for the other. Aronoff now has three kidneys. Surgeons didn’t take out the bad kidneys. Instead, they installed Magathan’s donated kidney in front of his belly. The avid gardener can’t pull his belt too tightly anymore, so it is a daily reminder of what is important in life.

“When you dealt with life and death, and death was the most likely outcome, petty annoyances don’t mean a thing,” Aronoff said.

What does matter is doing what he loves best – providing patients with hope and comfort. For him, every day is a puzzle in the inner workings of the human body and every person’s diagnosis and recovery provides a new challenge.

Giving back

Aronoff re-opened his practice this February at 904 Middleford Road in Seaford. A plaque with Sheryl’s picture hangs in the lobby. It reads, “If you appreciate the medical care you received today thank my kidney donor Sheryl Magathan who made it possible.”

Aronoff’s recovery happened just in the nick of time, as Magathan’s mother once again faced feelings of helplessness when her pain relapsed. Only a short half a year after the soul sibling’s surgery, Magathan’s mother had lost hope. She was tired of almost 15 years of fighting.

Once again, Aronoff was by her side saying “no, no, no we can do something about this pain. Don’t stop fighting!”

After all, the two now shared common blood – a young woman who wouldn’t give up on either of them. Aronoff and Magathan kidnapped her mother and took her to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

The hospital checked her out and prescribed a new medicine for her that actually worked. Aronoff said the results where miraculous within one month the pain was gone and within two months there was no evidence of the disease.

The senior Magathan had once again escaped death with her faithful doctor and daughter at her side.

Beating a death sentence to find faith

Magathan had restored Aronoff’s hope, and he was ready once again to pass it on to his patients. “There is no such thing as a death sentence,” Aronoff said. “I get riled up when doctors say a person has ‘X’ amount of time to live. Frankly, they make me look good.”

Besides a new lease on life, Aronoff also received another gift from Magathan. By observing Magathan’s faith first hand, the man of science now believes there is a higher power at work in the world. Now the friends both attend Bay Shore Community Church in Gumboro each Sunday.

“The Bible talks a lot about God’s timing. I probably only eat at that Hardees about every five years when I buy a new vehicle,” Aronoff said.

If he hadn’t bought the little red sports car, he wouldn’t have run into Magathan and listened to a seemingly impossible idea that saved his life.

“It is improbable that I survived this surgery, improbable that I am doing this well and improbable that I am back in practice,” Aronoff said. “When you see someone acting on the word of God, never disagree with God.”

Melissa LeGates freelance writer
Melissa LeGates freelance writer

Melissa LeGates is a freelance writer and retired Air Force journalist who specializes in features and B2B writing. She is also a colored pencil artist and blogs about it at http://coloredpencilenthusiast.wordpress.com/. You can commission Melissa’s work (either writing or art) by contacting her at 1-541-995-0015 or e-mail malegates@gmail.com.

The teaching power of art

Geriyln Gaskill is a friend of mine that I met volunteering for the Millsboro Art League, Millsboro, DE.

She is a watercolorist who focuses on old rust buckets and scenes of Delaware life.

You can check out the article on her by clicking on this PDF link Gaskill.

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Melissa LeGates freelance writer
Melissa LeGates freelance writer

Melissa LeGates is a freelance writer and retired Air Force journalist who specializes in features and B2B writing. She is also a colored pencil artist and blogs about it at http://coloredpencilenthusiast.wordpress.com/. You can commission Melissa’s work (either writing or art) by contacting her at 1-541-995-0015 or e-mail malegates@gmail.com.