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Friday, Apr 18, 2014
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Unveiling of Iraq War Memorial at Veterans Park now Dec. 14

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Tuesday marks the 10th anniversary of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, so I thought this would be a good time to update plans for an Iraq War Memorial at Veterans Memorial Park and Museum.

The original plans called for the memorial – honoring the 196 Floridians who died in that war - to be unveiled during the Memorial Day weekend. Then the plan was changed to Veterans Day.

But organizers have decided to move the dedication ceremony to Dec. 14.

Why Dec. 14 you ask?

I did.

Mark Goujon, who is spearheading the memorial efforts, explained why.

The war ended on Dec. 15, 2011. And Saddam Hussein was captured in his spider hole on Dec. 13, 2003.

“We wanted to have a significant Iraq War theme,” said Goujon, 33, a former Air Force technical sergeant who served as a senior intelligence analyst while in Iraq from 2006 to 2007.

Dec. 14 is right in the middle of those two dates, said Goujon, who was inspired to create the memorial because he lost six team members.

That date also works because it gives more time to fundraising efforts and Memorial Day and Veterans Day are both crammed with other events that might keep people away.

The memorial will be in a section of the park dedicated to the Iraq War theater. It will feature a 6-foot-tall bronze statue of a battle cross. The statue includes a helmet, boots, M-16 rifle and two dog tags hanging from the rifle. The two dog tags will have the names of the first and last casualties of the Iraq War. The statue will be on top of a 6-foot-tall pedestal bearing the names of all 196 Floridians killed in action. And there will be an Iraq War mural etched on granite and displayed on a T-Wall Barrier.

The total cost of the project is $165,000. The park is using $100,000 granted by Hillsborough County cement and construction work. The remaining $65,000 has to be raised, said Goujon.

So far $15,000 has been raised.

Organizers are looking to find the rest.

Last month, Goujon’s employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, which has backed the memorial since November, 2011, opted to increase is role. The government contracting firm is now providing overall project management, marketing, community outreach and event planning, according to Tim Flaherty, a Booz principal.

For more information about the memorial, contact Flaherty at Flaherty_timothy@bah.com.

On Nov. 26, 2010, Justin Gaertner, a Marine corporal from New Port Richey, was on his third deployment when he lost both of his legs above the knees and suffered severe damage to his left arm in an IED blast in Marjah, Afghanistan.

On April 6, Homes for Our Troops and the Lutz community are pairing up to break ground on a new home for Gaertner, who is recovering at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.

The groundbreaking is at 10 a.m. at 521 Cullaro Ln., Lutz.

Homes For Our Troops, a 9-year-old national non-profit that covers all costs over and above VA housing grants, is building the home at no cost to Gaertner.

For more information, or to donate, go to homesforourtroops.org or send a check or money order to Homes for Our Troops, c/o Justin Gaertner Project, 6 Main Street, Taunton, MA 02780.

Friday marks the Change of Command ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base, when Army Gen. Lloyd Austin takes over from Marine Gen. James Mattis, who is retiring.

Mattis, who took over the command in August 2010, told me he is going fishing after he retires.

As usual, lots of big wigs and muckety mucks will be heading to town. When Mattis took command from another Marine four-star, John Allen, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates presided over the ceremony. As of last week, Pentagon officials could not say for sure that new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will do the same.

Smart money says he does.

After more than a month of relative calm, last week was a bloody one for U.S. troops. The Department of Defense announced the deaths of four troops. Several others, including Zack Shannon, 21, of Dunedin, have yet to be officially announced.

Spc. David T. Proctor, 26, of Greensboro, N.C., died March 13, at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., from injuries sustained during a non-combat incident on March 3, in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.

Chief Petty Officer Christian Michael Pike, 31, of Peoria, Ariz., died March 13 in Landstuhl, Germany, as a result of combat-related injuries sustained on March 10 while conducting stability operations in Maiwand District, Afghanistan. Pike was assigned to a West Coast-based Naval Special Warfare unit.

Capt. Andrew M. Pedersen-Keel, 28, of South Miami, Fla., and Staff Sgt. Rex L. Schad, 26, of Edmond, Okla. died March 11, in Jalrez District, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when they were attacked by small arms fire. Pedersen-Keel was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C. and Schad was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.

The Pentagon has now reported 2,168 deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation’s longest war.

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