by Senior Airman Cheyenne A. Powers
355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
10/30/2015 - Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. -- In
August of 2006, a patient lounge in the 332nd Expeditionary Medical
Group Contingency Aeromedical Staging Flight Facility at Joint Base
Balad, Iraq, turned into a place where wounded Soldiers, Sailors,
Marines and Airmen could relax and write messages on the walls, forming
what became known as the Walls of Balad.
Wounded warriors would go through the CASF to be airlifted to Landstuhl
Regional Medical Center in Germany where they would receive further
treatment. These service members would spend a couple hours up to a few
days at the facility waiting for their airlift. Retired Air Force
Reserve Senior Master Sgt. Karen Loalbo, CASF mission manager, came up
with an idea to make the patient lounge more comfortable for the service
"It was a simple idea," said Loalbo. "I talked with some troops while I
was at the clinic in Balad and I thought if they ever came through the
CASF I would make it a welcoming facility."
With the approval of U.S. Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Michael Fellows,
the CASF executive officer at the time, Loalbo and her team of three
planned the layout of the lounge, obtained furniture, cut out and
painted wooden letters to spell Warrior Wall, the original title. They
also painted the walls and provided pens for patients to write on the
"My vision was to have a blank canvas for them to graffiti and have fun
with it," Loalbo said. "It really took on a life of its own after that."
It wasn't until a year later that Loalbo and Fellows learned about the
success of the Warrior Wall. A member from her team was sent on a second
rotation to CASF where she took pictures of the walls and sent them to
"Back then, each deployment rotation was four months and each group
wants to make their mark," said Fellows. "It was a huge surprise when
the rotation the following year sent us back the pictures. "We weren't
sure if the next rotations would paint over the walls and do something
else or not."
For the next five years, patients along with visitors signed the walls,
covering them with signatures, farewell messages, thank you notes and
memories of their fallen comrades on the lounges walls.
"I love history and when I look at events such as the Civil War, a lot
of what we know is from the Soldiers' diaries, Fellows said. "So that's
what I see in these walls is the diaries from one perspective, the
One wounded service member quoted John F. Kennedy on the wall: "In the
long history of the world only a few generations have been granted the
role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink
from this responsibility, I welcome it!"
Maj. Gloria Scott from Camp Victory in Baghdad wrote a message to her sister on Dec. 12, 2006:
"To my big sister, I've spent my whole life following you. Now that you
are gone and have given your life for us all, I must find my way without
you. I will NEVER forget you. We all miss you and love you Alexis! SSG
A.R Scott COB Speicher 2009-2010."
In December of 2011, the Walls of Balad were saved and sent to the
National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air
Force Base, Ohio, and then shipped to 309th Aerospace and Regeneration
Group at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz.
"It didn't strike us about the permanence of these until 2012, when we
had heard that they were being cut out and saved," Fellows said. "I was
stunned and excited to learn that the walls would be saved."
On Oct. 20, 2015, Fellows, Loalbo and their spouses traveled to D-M to
visit the walls nine years after they were created. Both became
emotional upon seeing the success of the walls.
"We understood that it would grow and people would continue to write on
them, we didn't think it would go around the whole facility," Fellows
Both Fellows and Loalbo hope that word of the Walls of Balad reach anyone who has signed them.
"It was our honor to serve in Balad and we got some phenomenal stories
from the Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen coming through," Fellows
said. "They are all real heroes, but we only got little snippets of
their stories and that's something we would love is to learn about the
folks that signed the walls and how they got there and what they have
been doing since then."
The walls are now safely stored in a warehouse at the 309th AMARG and have only been displayed during Base Open House events.