Image courtesy: Pfc. David Hauk, U.S. Army. Kandahar, Afghanistan, November 12, 2009

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Father's Duty

Images courtesy: Sara Beth Bedgood

Sara Beth Bedgood was only 13 years old on Sept. 11, 2001. As the Twin Towers collapsed, she felt anguish for the victims and a deep sense of concern for her father, Col. Thomas Felts Sr., who had been serving in the U.S. Army since before she was born.

"I remember thinking that my dad's going to have to go to war," Sara Beth said. "He's going to go fight people."

To this day, Sara Beth vividly recalls a conversation she had with her dad just as the U.S.-led war on terrorism got underway.

"Yeah, that's my job ... that's my duty," she quoted her father as saying. "That's what I train to do every single day."

As the oldest of four children, Sara Beth had the clearest understanding of a soldier's sacrifices. Ever since she was a little girl, she had been moving around the world with her parents and siblings, while also observing her father's shared commitment to family and country.

"Even when he was away, he knew what we were doing in school," Sara Beth said. "He and my mom talked constantly and he was very much a part of our lives, no matter what."

Sara Beth recalls going to work with her father one day when she was young.

"I remember another soldier saluting my dad and saying 'yes, sir,'" she said. "And I remember thinking that my dad was very important."

Indeed, by the time Col. Felts and his family moved to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, he was a deeply respected military officer who was known for genuinely caring about the soldiers under his command.

"He shared with me how much he admired the men around him," Sara Beth said.

While the Felts family had started preparing for a combat deployment on 9/11, it took almost five years for the colonel to deploy overseas. For such a dedicated leader, watching younger troops go to Iraq and Afghanistan while he stayed on the home front "really tore him up inside," according to the soldier's oldest child.

"These men had been away from their families so many times, and he wanted to share that load," Sara Beth said.

As Sara Beth finished her senior year of high school and prepared to leave for college, her dad deployed to Iraq in the winter of 2006.

"The father of a friend of mine was supposed to go, and my dad actually volunteered in his place," she said, adding that her friend's father had already served multiple tours.

The deployment was relatively smooth until November 2006, when a group of Sara Beth's relatives unexpectedly showed up at her dorm room. She will never forget the moment her uncle delivered the most shocking news any teenager can experience.

"God has decided to take your dad home," Sara Beth's uncle said.

On Nov. 14, 2006, Col. Thomas Felts Sr., 45, and Spc. Justin Garcia, 26, were killed by an improvised explosive device that blew up near their vehicle in Baghdad, according to the Pentagon. Suddenly, Sara Beth, who was attending Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C., was heading back to Kansas for her father's funeral.

"It was very surreal," she said. "I remember clearly thinking I was in a dream."

Her dad's memorial service was attended by military leaders like Gen. David Petraeus, as well as countless relatives, friends, supporters and even a stranger who brought her little boy.

"I needed to show my son what a hero looks like," the supporter told the Felts family.

Col. Thomas Felts Sr. is remembered for his faith in God and the people around him, including his wife, four children, fellow soldiers, and even the Iraqi troops and civilians with whom he shared a close bond.

Sara Beth, 26, is now married and lives near Raleigh, N.C. Her husband is a soldier, and the couple has already endured one overseas deployment.

While Sara Beth Bedgood will always miss her father, his spirit lives on inside her heart.

"My family and I love talking about my dad and sharing his memories," she said. "We really try to keep him alive in that way. We know we're going to see him again."


Note: Sara Beth appears in center of photo
Tom Sileo is a nationally syndicated columnist and co-author of BROTHERS FOREVER: The Enduring Bond Between a Marine and a Navy SEAL that Transcended Their Ultimate Sacrifice. Written with Col. Tom Manion (Ret.) and published by Da Capo Press, BROTHERS FOREVER will be released in May. To find out more about Tom Sileo, or to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Brothers Forever: 'Loon-Dog'

Images courtesy: Da Capo Press

The following is an excerpt from "Brothers Forever," which I co-authored with retired U.S. Marine Col. Tom Manion. The book will be released on May 13.

In this scene, U.S. Navy LT (SEAL) Brendan Looney is serving in Afghanistan three years after his friend and Naval Academy roommate, Marine 1st Lt. Travis Manion, was killed in Iraq.

"With the Taliban launching its annual spring offensive, Brendan and his platoon started to see more action in May [2010], just as he had predicted in his email to Tom and Janet [Manion]. Surrounded by jagged cliffs, extreme poverty, and acute desolation, which many of the younger SEALs had never experienced, it was Brendan's responsibility to keep them optimistic, focused, and sharp. But considering that the SEALs were sleeping on a [base] 'in the middle of nowhere,' thousands of miles from home, setting a positive tone was never an easy task.

"Rather than barking out orders to the SEALs under his command, Brendan was 'Loon-Dog.' The enlisted SEALs, or 'E-Dogs,' as they were nicknamed, loved working for the 29-year-old lieutenant, because even though Brendan was an officer, he still thought of himself as just one of the guys.

"During his deployment, Brendan spent roughly the equivalent of two full weeks on 'over watch' missions above three districts in northern Zabul province, where the lieutenant and SEALs under his command would look down from the cliffs to make sure their brothers in arms operating below were safe from lurking Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. But after only a day or two on the high ground, Brendan was concerned that his primary responsibilities as an officer and squad commander weren't enough of a contribution to his platoon. Upon returning to base, he started training on a .50 caliber sniper rifle so he could directly help his teammates blunt the enemy threat.

"After only limited training, Brendan was a consistent shot from a thousand yards. Over the next few months he made some of the most accurate shots his teammates had ever seen to protect Americans and Afghans in the villages below.

"Wearing a half-shell helmet and carrying heavy gear and the .50 cal sniper rifle in his huge backpack, the bearded warrior patrolled, exercised, ate and hung out with his entire platoon.

"When there was extra gear to carry, the officer threw it on his back instead of ordering enlisted SEALs to carry it. Regardless of the command structure or rank, Loon-Dog treated everyone with the same respect.

"When things got dicey on the battlefield, however, there was no mistaking who was in charge, like one day when gunfire rang out beneath the over watch position Brendan's SEAL team had established above a small, Taliban-controlled Afghan village.

"'Incoming!' Brendan yelled.

"As bullets pounded the mountain rocks that were shielding his team, who took cover as soon as they heard their leader's unmistakable voice, Brendan's commanding officer (CO) asked for a status report over the radio.

"'We've got enemy fire coming from just outside the village,' Brendan said. 'Nobody's been hit, and we're prepping the counterattack.'

"'Lieutenant?' the CO asked.

"'Sir?' Brendan repeated what he had said a few times before realizing the signal was dropping in and out, as it had been for most of the day.

"'Lieutenant,' the CO repeated. 'If you copy, call me on the SAT [satellite] phone.'

"As soon as Brendan heard the order, he broke his crouch and stood up. The SAT phone was a few yards in front of the boulder that was protecting him.

"'Whoa, Loon-Dog,' exclaimed a surprised fellow SEAL. 'Be careful, sir.'

"Brendan knew his CO wouldn't ask him to call unless it was extremely important, and for all he knew, retrieving the satellite phone could be a matter of life and death. Without blinking, Brendan hustled toward the phone, picked it up, and returned to his position as bullets whizzed by.

"'Loon-Dog ... you all right?' [Brendan's teammate] said.

"'I'm OK,' said Brendan, acting more like he was taking an afternoon stroll than engaging in an intense firefight.

"Brendan then told his CO that his men were ready to strike back at the enemy. Moments later he aimed his sniper rifle at the enemy position. When the day was over, the Navy SEALs had once again disrupted the Taliban's plans."


"Brothers Forever" will be released on May 13 and is available now for pre-order at

Friday, March 14, 2014

Always There

Images courtesy: Paula Boyer

When Saddam Hussein was captured by American forces, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Michael McNulty was there.

"He was just so proud and humble," Paula Boyer, then-wife of Master Sgt. McNulty, said. "But at the same time, he wasn't gloating ... it was not a time for gloating."

Like his fellow Delta Force warriors, Mike's chief concern was accomplishing a mission, rather than worrying about who got the credit.

"He would never tell us what he was doing," Paula said. "He would just say 'I have a job and I'll be out of the loop for [a certain] amount of time.'"

Growing up in northwest Chicago, Paula and Mike were high school sweethearts who would sneak around to see each other. Mike had already joined the Army when the couple got married on Jan. 3, 1987.

"Our love was bigger than any love anyone could ever imagine," Paula said.

Before she knew it, Paula was a military wife during the closing chapters of the Cold War. Even as they travelled around the world, the couple still welcomed four children in five years.

"He was a part of me and I was a part of him," Paula said about Mike. "He couldn't do his job without being whole, so we made each other whole."

Mike, Paula and their children were at Louisiana's Fort Polk when hijacked airplanes slammed into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field. They soon moved to North Carolina's Fort Bragg, where Mike quickly deployed to Afghanistan. With her husband in Special Operations during wartime, Paula knew the pattern would continue.

"He wasn't [at home] much, but when he was there, he was 100 percent there," Paula said.

Hours before the world learned that U.S. troops had pulled ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein out of a spider hole near his hometown of Tikrit, Mike called Paula with a simple message: "I'm OK." It wasn't until he came home that Mike's wife fully understood how the day's momentous events had impacted him.

"He was glowing because it was such a historical moment and he was there," Paula said. "He was just so proud to do something that he knows really affected the world and made the world a better place."

Less than two years later, on Apr. 8, 2005, Paula and one of the couple's two daughters dropped Mike off at his post for another Iraq deployment.

"I was used to dropping him off and never really got emotional, but that ride home ... my daughter and I just bawled and bawled," Paula said.

For the soldier's wife of 18 years, the hardest part of Mike's deployment wasn't caring for four kids. It was waiting to hear from her husband.

"Until another phone call, time just stood still," Paula said.

In the early morning hours of June 17, 2005, Paula was about to go see her youngest son, Eric, graduate from Junior ROTC when six soldiers arrived at her home.

"I will never, ever, ever forget that day," she said.

According to the Pentagon, Master Sgt. Michael McNulty, 36, and Master Sgt. Robert Horrigan, 40, had been killed by enemy fire while conducting combat operations in al-Qaim, Iraq.

"He was brought to the field hospital," Paula said about her husband. "The unit doc did surgery, and Mike didn't make it."

For Paula and her four children, the world as they knew it had been shattered. The only thing they could count on was each other, as well as the compassion of those around them.

"I received so many letters and cards from people ... so much support from the community," Paula said. "It was just overwhelming."

In more than eight years since the soldier's death, his four children have made the difficult adjustment of growing up without their dad's physical presence. But as Eric demonstrated by deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq, Mike's spirit endures.

"He has a huge impact on us," Paula said.

Paula Boyer has since remarried, but like her children, she will never forget an American hero who — to this day — is always there.

"I wouldn't be who I am today without every part of Mike," she said. "I will continue to live with him, for him and about him."


Tom Sileo is a nationally syndicated columnist and co-author of BROTHERS FOREVER: The Enduring Bond Between a Marine and a Navy SEAL that Transcended Their Ultimate Sacrifice. Written with Col. Tom Manion (Ret.) and published by Da Capo Press, BROTHERS FOREVER will be released in May. To find out more about Tom Sileo, or to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Day After Memorial Day

Image courtesy: U.S. Army

This year, the United States will observe its 13th Memorial Day since 9/11. Thousands of Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice since our country was attacked, yet many mark this occasion with barbeques and ballgames, while forgetting to honor our nation's fallen.

The holiday's significance will never be lost on Rachaelle Langmack. The day after Memorial Day 2005, Rachaelle was worried about her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Steven Langmack, who was deployed to Iraq with the U.S. Army's elite Delta Force. Things were never the same for the military wife and the couple's two children when Steven was in harm's way.

"That's when they came and knocked on my door," Rachaelle said.

At first, Rachaelle thought the soldiers standing outside her Raeford, N.C. home were two of Steven's friends. That hope ended when the Army wife heard five terrible words: "We regret to inform you ... "

"I just lost it," Rachaelle said. "But my first thought was for my kids."

Rachaelle met Steven near Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., shortly after he returned from serving in Operation Desert Storm.

"I definitely wanted no part of a military guy," she admitted with a chuckle. "But a lot of [why Rachaelle was drawn to Steven] was his confidence ... he was very self-assured and funny."

Images courtesy: Rachaelle Langmack

By the late 1990s, the couple was married and raising two sons. Even before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, raising a military family was a challenge.

"Before 9/11 and everything, guys were still going places and still jumping out of airplanes ... there were a lot of training accidents," Rachaelle said. "It was still a dangerous job."

After America was attacked, the danger Steven was already facing crystallized into an even more serious threat.

"My husband used to always equate a lot of things to practice for a big football game," the soldier's wife said. "All that training ... they were preparing to fight. Once 9/11 happened and we were going to war, that was the game."

Steven quickly deployed to Afghanistan, and was back and forth from the country numerous times in nearly four years.

"It was horrible," Rachaelle said. "There was one deployment when [a fellow soldier] was killed. That was really hard ... that was the first time I've seen him break down."

In 2005, Steven and Rachaelle were busy fixing up a 100-year-old farmhouse that their family would soon call home. Even though a deployment to Iraq was on the horizon, Steven fully devoted himself to his wife and two boys.

"He kept his work life very separate from his family life," Steven's wife said. "He never wore a uniform at home."

The soldier's work and family lives tragically merged in the violent Iraqi town of Al Qaim, where U.S. troops fought many fierce battles with insurgents and terrorists.

"Steven was shot while breaching a house," his wife said. "They were going after some bad guys."

The death of Sgt. 1st Class Steven Langmack, 33, was a devastating blow to the entire community, which immediately wrapped its collective arms around the fallen hero's children.

"How was I going to tell them?" Rachaelle said. "They loved their dad a lot ... they were very close."

In order to compose herself, Rachaelle waited a few hours after the receiving the dreadful news before having her kids picked up from school.

"I thought I had to be really strong for them, because if I broke down, they would break down," she said.

More than eight years after the brave soldier, devoted husband and loving father was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, his towering legacy gives daily strength to his widow and two sons.

"I've always admired him, and I try to raise my kids the same way that we tried to raise them together," Rachaelle Langmack said. "It's hard doing this by yourself, but I feel like when you bring them into this world — the military world — you kind of have to sacrifice part of yourself."

More than 12 years after 9/11, there is no doubt that our military's sacrifices continue. The only question is whether this Memorial Day — and the day after — the rest of the country will once again take notice.


Tom Sileo is a nationally syndicated columnist and co-author of BROTHERS FOREVER: The Enduring Bond Between a Marine and a Navy SEAL that Transcended Their Ultimate Sacrifice. Written with Col. Tom Manion (Ret.) and published by Da Capo Press, BROTHERS FOREVER will be released in May. To find out more about Tom Sileo, or to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website.