Guest Authors

A Whisper


LTC Sam Aldridge, Vascular Surgeon

Published: 16 April 2010
By: MAJ JF Sucher, MD

A singular sentence in reply to a common, simple question. A whisper from Afghanistan has returned a loud echo from Laconia, New Hampshire, a small town of 12,000 (40,000 in the summer) nestled amongst the glacial lakes in the center of the state.

Dr. Sam Aldridge has practiced peripheral vascular surgery in Laconia, NH for the past 15 years based solely on a gentlemen’s handshake with Tom Clairmont, CEO of Lakes Region General Hospital, who has been a stalwart supporter of Aldridge’s military commitment.

On January 15th, 2010 LTC Aldridge left for his third active duty deployment since joining the Army Reserves Medical Corps. Before leaving, Danielle Mostoller, the hospital’s PR representative, had LTC Aldridge promise to write regular updates that would be placed in the hospital’s email newsletter, which reaches 1600 people.

FOB Shank, Logar Province, Afghanistan

By February, 2010 LTC Aldridge was settled in with the 909th Forward Surgical Team (FST) in Forward Operating Base (FOB) Shank located in Logar Province, Afghanistan.

Soon after Aldridge’s “updates” hit the hospital newsletter, people began to respond. Danielle asked if there was anything they could send him. Maybe some care packages of snacks or books and such? LTC Aldridge, knowing that there were so many people around him that really did need something, responded with a simple request of socks for the Afghan soldiers and school supplies for the orphaned children of a nearby local village. A singular sentence. A simple whisper.

LTC Sam Aldridge sorts through boxes of socks and school supplies

Within a week, boxes started to come in. Tens of boxes, filled with school supplies, socks, clothes and snacks. Thirty boxes alone came from Danielle and her co-workers. Before he knew what was going on, the people in his community began to organize a concerted effort to send more supplies.

Local national day laborer builds new supply building for the 173D Airborne BSB Charlie Med Company

At first, LTC Aldridge could give supplies to the day laborers of FOB Shank, who were very thankful. One laborer had 7 brothers and sisters that benefited well from the generosity. But soon, he became nearly overwhelmed with the deluge of boxes.

SPC DeLeon of the 909th FST delivers became a torrent of school supplies and socks

Everett McLaughlin, a community activist and Aldridge’s next door neighbor, wrote letters to the 3 local newspapers and arranged for drop boxes to be placed around all the local high schools. Mr. McLaughlin sent over 30 boxes of supplies personally.

Team members from the 909th pitch in to help LTC Aldridge (1st on left) sort through the boxes

Then, as a testament to the personal character of Dr. Aldridge, his self-termed “human network” began to take hold. Several thousand dollars began to pour in to pay for shipping.  Hundreds of boxes began to arrive from the far ends of our nations shores. They came from New Hampshire, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Idaho, and California.

LTC Sam Aldridge (left) and CPT Chad Zielinski (right) stand outside the 909th FST with a new arrival of boxes

LTC Aldridge then teamed up with FOB Shank’s Chaplain, CPT Chad Zielinski as well as the 173D Airborne’s Alpha Company, and Civil Affairs.  The civil affairs group was able to channel the bulk of supplies to the local villages with the 173D Alpha company providing the movement and security. They delivered socks, clothing and school supplies. They even built soccer goals out of angle iron and delivered those to the children (who incidentally love to play soccer).

CPT Zielinski with SGT Flores flying out on a CH-47 Chinook to deliver school supplies to local village children *

Father “Z” as he is known to us makes personal trips out to the surrounding smaller FOBs and Combat Outposts (COPs) to see the troops and provide them with spiritual comfort.

CPT Zielinski (2nd from left) and his spiritual team at FOB Airborne *

CPT Zielinski (3rd from left) visits with sniper team at an observation post somewhere above 10,000 feet *

Father 'Z' shoots a picture while trudging through mud to get to a village in the Logar Province, Afghanistan *

Once Father "Z" has provided for our troops, he then sets out to provide for the children of the local villages. He slogs through the mud, personally carrying the supplies.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Seth Jackson · 11 years ago
    this is great to see people so willing to help those boys must be the happiest in the world!:-)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Peggy Kane · 11 years ago
    Brought tears to my eyes... warmth to my heart.
    We are the greatest nation because of our people.
    May that never change...
    Our military will always be there for us..
    Thank you again for a great story...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Maureen Mullarkey · 11 years ago
    I am humbled by these photographs--by glimpses of the daily
    life our troops have chosen for themselves. All of it aimed, ultimately,
    at guaranteeing the rest of us the safety and comfort of our lives at
    home in the United States. God bless everyone in these photos. A
    glad and safe homecoming to all. What an amazing group of young
    people these are.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Betsy · 11 years ago
    I know you have to take baby steps in winning the hearts and minds, but, isn't there something that can be done to help the girls out too? I'm sure they would love nice soft clean socks too-
  • This commment is unpublished.
    AFSister · 11 years ago
    That is so cool, Michael. Many many MANY thanks to those who supported this effort and made it happen- both through donations and the distribution on the ground. Fantastic pictures by the good Chaplain, too!

    I hope the MSM picks his one up. You can't look at those faces without seeing sincere gratitude an NO FEAR of our troops. We are not the monsters the MSM likes to portray us as. Thank you so much for getting the word out, Michael!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    AF Retired · 11 years ago
    LTC Aldridge and Capt Z, thank you for the wonderful story and the sacrifics that are made in your daily walk. I felt so many emotions, joy, pride, and had tears reading the "Whisper". We will always be greatful and pray for our servicemen and women who are serving. Thank you for your service. Home of the FREE because of the BRAVE.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    irene · 11 years ago
    My brother, Commander Henry Zielinski is a trauma surgeon with a forward surgical team in Afghanistan. I did a double-take while quickly reading your article and had to go back and read it again!

    The really ironic part is that he just wrote to tell us that a chaplin asked him to conduct services in his place when he was not able to be there. (No doubt, it has something to do with his rank and his age [60 this month], in addition to his strong Christian faith.) Hence, his teammates have jokingly started calling him "Fr. Zielinski".

    Thanks for your great article about our dedicated and caring men and women, AND for reminding me to get a birthday present off to my brother!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Robert · 11 years ago
    damn, its great the people at home sent so much stuff. Is there any other groups that one could send a package? Our Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen, are truly the best. It does hit ya in the heart when you hear bad news. Godspeed to all..
  • This commment is unpublished.
    matt h · 11 years ago

    Exactly why is Gen. McChrystal disembedding you? Spooks just can't seem to get their heads around the whole "folks back home" thing and the information battle. Every time they shut you down, they shoot themselves in the foot.

    Stay Thirsty, My Friend.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Benson · 11 years ago
    This dispatch was from "MAJ JF Sucher, MD", right? Is Mike going to utilize reports from troops to keep the ground picture clearer? Would be cool.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dori · 11 years ago
    Yes, no matter what some people may think, the United States is the greatest nation in the world. Not perfect but we have the capacity for greatness and these pictures and captions are just the tip of the iceberg. Thank you, Michael, for continuing to show us what goes on "over there" - pictures are indeed worth a thousand words. As America goes, so goes the world. We must stand now for our freedoms and our country. I get fired up when I read your articles and see the pictures.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bill Cattley · 11 years ago
    All of us fall short of the ideal that is "America", but that doesn't stop that Ideal from being the light in this darkened world. All this aid, support and help provided through the resourcefulness and generosity of the American people, INSPITE of being taxed to exhaustion by it's government. No nation on earth actually fears the American Soldier as a group, due to the inherent goodness of it's people. The reason that American atrocities attract so much attention is precisely because of their rarity.
    Humbling story that helps us hold and strive to live up the the best of the ideals that make us great,

    Bill Cattley
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mikko · 11 years ago
    I was left wondering how the locals see the fact that it's the Christian chaplain distributing the aid. Pragmatic people will probably accept the supplies, but what do they think about the motives of the suppliers?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    shailen · 11 years ago
    That was a heartwarming tale of human kindness.
    Would love to be able to contribute.
    Anything we can do from India?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    NaSa · 11 years ago
    This is a story that tugs at the heart strings - i worked and lived in Campton, New Hampshire for a while - my address was literally 12 Main Street :=) Small Town America is what makes the country Big Time America.

    Would love to be able to contribute.
    Anything we can do from India?
    We ALREADY ARE contributing a lot to Afghanistan - our military is not there in Afghanistan because the US does not want out military there - and the US does not want our military because Pakistan says so.

    You may want to read Emily Wax's recent article in the Washington Post as to how India's non military help to creating a decent Afghan society comes at a steep price to American interests in the region - in other words America is asking India to completely stay out of Afghanistan - kapish ?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    NaSa · 11 years ago
    I am not able to post HTML links - so let me try this one more time 1 .html
  • This commment is unpublished.
    RJ · 11 years ago
    Just think:

    Some years from now we just might read or see a story where a young Afghan child who has grown up to be a fine emerging adult tells a story of how when just a kid the American troops came to his village and gave away free clothes and school items.

    You know what this person will say, now don't you? It turned one life into a dream of what America is all about, even thousands of miles distant.

    And, as the day that most surely arrive for this Doctor, just before he closes his eyes for the final time, his mind may recall that period when strangers more than half way across this planet, looked upon his person wiith such glee while receiving some socks and school supplies.

    He will leave knowing that he did in fact spend his life trying to help and heal others, as every Doctor pledges in the Oath.

    Thanks for being there so that we who are here, know that our nation's goodness is at work! Your efforts are noble and brave indeed!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    SALMA · 11 years ago
    Mr.Michael Yon
    I really hope you will read this
    Even though i am not American, i greatly appreciate your generosity and the efforts u put into this.
    I'm an Iranian girl living in Iran.i read your dispatches as soon a si get them and i know we are all blessed to have u in our and all of your supporters.
    There is something i believe in when i am asked why i am a supporter.
    I am too near to be indifferent.In my eyes....i am in the heart of the war.(the map of Iran between Iraq and Afghanistan)
    I will continue writing poems for those who deserve it and i will dedicate them to the ones who are the most inspiring in this cruel life....
    God bless America
    To the day i can finally publish my poems....
    Rock and Roll America
    we are still here and WILL be!
    to peace..
  • This commment is unpublished.
    RJH · 11 years ago

    Thank you for putting a face on the Iranian people. We in America sometimes forget that the rantings of our leaders does not apply to the people under them. Your bravery is appreciated, and we wait for the day when we can finally meet you.
    Khayli mamnoon.

    Khoda Barekat Bede
  • This commment is unpublished.
    SALMA · 11 years ago
    Dear friend
    W are all humans and what we should not that the dignity of all people can be Iran or in America.
    This is not Mr President Obama's war...THIS is world war the third!!!
    This is what makes the difference my friends.
    I do not need to be American to care. and passion can be find in any human beings who believes in God.
    I love you all.
    Thank you for your support.
    To peace...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tracy · 11 years ago

    As always, the photos and write-ups are excellent! Your contributions are unique and essential. May you remain safe and healthy. You are an American treasure. Please extend our love and appreciation to our brave, courageous, wonderful service members.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Terri Turify · 11 years ago
    Thank you, Major Sucher, for sharing the whisper of a man trying to provide a "good deed in a naughty world". It is stories like this that help to put our Western life back into perspective. We are the Greatest Nation on Earth, but sometimes we get so wrapped up in our petty lives of gas hogs SUV's, over inflated latte coffee, taxes, lastest technological gadgets, office gossip, and stormy weather to see that there are those who would give anything for a clean pair of socks. There are no words to express how humbling this carefully written story was to read. It is amazing how the power of a whisper can heard louder than a 100 cannonballs being expelled. May the Blessing of God continue to shine brightly on you, all those who serve a greater good, and those who give to it. God Speed!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Aurora · 3 years ago
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